Playing It By: Literary Essays and Reviews

Playing It By: Literary Essays and Reviews

Playing It By: Literary Essays and Reviews

Playing It By: Literary Essays and Reviews

Excerpt

Many years ago, after I had just accepted an appointment to teach English at Amherst College, my mentor at Harvard, Reuben Brower--who had taught at Amherst for many years--gave me a piece of advice. Amherst was a small college in a small town, he said, and I had better find something to do besides my teaching. There was peril in too exclusive a commitment to designing courses, reading student papers, and participating in the world of departmental and college politics; he, Brower, had found gardening to be a good alternative when the academic world was too much with him. Although the notion of creative outdoor work did nothing to make my heart beat faster, I filed away the warning.

At that time I hadn't the vaguest notion that writing essays and reviews would turn out to be my substitute for cultivating a garden and my alternative to an exclusively academic and collegial life. I got into reviewing books almost accidentally when the editor of Amherst College's alumni magazine asked me for eight hundred words about a critical study of Henry James by an alumnus. I wrote the words for free, but got to keep the book: that was the beginning, and I was hooked. A few years later the editor of the Hudson Review,Frederick Morgan , invited me to do a critical roundup of poetry published during the previous three months. In due course forty or so slim volumes arrived, were stacked on the mantelpiece or piano top, and made me feel intensely professional--after all, this time I would be paid. One thing led to another, and I soon found myself writing for various quarterlies and weeklies. This involved real mail (sometimes containing real checks) and real phone calls about subjects that had nothing to do with Amherst College; it began to feel as if my spiritual fitness depended on confronting a book or a writer and composing the occasion into a critical statement someone might be interested in reading.

The effect of all this activity was to make me feel less like a proper American academic. I directed admiration rather toward the prodigious talents of book critics like V. S. Pritchett, Geoffrey Grigson, and Julian Symons--all English, none of them university-educated--whose many-sided virtuosity could be emulated if not attained. I avoided conventions of the Modern Language Association . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.