cover image Fame and Folly: Essays

Fame and Folly: Essays

Cynthia Ozick. Alfred A. Knopf, $26 (289pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44690-3

Ozick is a spectacular essayist. In that most difficult and often self-indulgent of forms, she can make readers feel as if whole new vistas of ideas have been opened, analyzed and communicated. The first piece in this collection, ""T.S. Eliot at 101,"" will remind college students of the 1960s of how much the poet meant and of how intently they listened to his voice. Eliot ignored and no longer taught-how can that be? Ozick is equally amazing when she spoofs literary pretension in ""Helping T.S. Eliot Write Better,"" a piece one wants to copy and fax to friends. But like all serendipitous collections, this offering is frustratingly uneven, with fictional riffs and meetings with bibliophiles and long-dead writers adjacent to disquisitions on Henry James and attacks on the shortsighted American cultural establishment. At the risk of feeling ungrateful, the reader will wish to have encountered these pieces one at a time, in different seasons. All the same, however bumpy the ride in this collection, Ozick's insights and observations on writers such as Eliot and Saul Bellow and her intense awareness of the implications of this post-Holocaust world cannot be duplicated. (May)