Alfred Kazin's America: Critical and Personal Writings

Alfred Kazin's America: Critical and Personal Writings

by Alfred Kazin, Ted Solotaroff
     
 

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Over the course of sixty years, Alfred Kazin's writings confronted virtually all of our major imaginative writers, from Emerson to Emily Dickinson to James Wright and Joyce Carol Oates — including such unexpected figures as Lincoln, William James, and Thorstein Veblen. This son of Russian Jews wrote out of the tensions of the outsider and the astute, outspoken

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Overview

Over the course of sixty years, Alfred Kazin's writings confronted virtually all of our major imaginative writers, from Emerson to Emily Dickinson to James Wright and Joyce Carol Oates — including such unexpected figures as Lincoln, William James, and Thorstein Veblen. This son of Russian Jews wrote out of the tensions of the outsider and the astute, outspoken leftist — or, as he put it, "the bitter patriotism of loving what one knows." Editor Ted Solotaroff hasselected material from Kazin's three classic memoirs to accompany his critical writings. Alfred Kazin's America provides an ongoing example of the spiritual freedom, individualism, and democratic contentiousness that he regarded as his heritage and endeavored to pass on.

Editorial Reviews

Paul Berman
“Alfred Kazin’s combustible soul thought God might yet be sought in American literature.”
William F. Pritchard
“This most thoughtfully chosen collection is a fitting monument to the man and his work.”
Thomas L. Jefferes
“[Kazin is] one of a handful of acknowledged arbiters of critical judgment in American.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A book for which everyone interested in good writing in America should be grateful.”
San Francisco Chronicle Book Review
“A distinct pleasure.”
The New York Times
It is a yearning for God; or, in its adult and literary version, for a post-God God; or, in still a more advanced version, for the empty space where God used to be. And, lo, this yearning, this fascination with a hard-to-identify God, ended up plopping the elderly Kazin into the very center of the American literary tradition, where he had always wanted to be -- perhaps not in the exact spot occupied by the atheistic Wilson, but the center, even so. Solotaroff has called his book Alfred Kazin's America, but the book could just as well and just as accurately and just as lovingly be called America's Alfred Kazin. — Paul Berman
The New Yorker
The literary critic Alfred Kazin chose America as his subject, and his intellectual awakening is itself something of an American legend. As a young man during the Depression, in the “delicious isolation” of the New York Public Library, he immersed himself in Howells, Faulkner, and others, eventually producing “On Native Grounds,” a landmark study of American realism and modernism in which he displayed the infallible nose for a writer’s best work that distinguished his long career. Later, he turned his critical eye inward, producing three memoirs about his Jewish boyhood in Brownsville and his friendships with famous contemporaries. Kazin died in 1998, and Ted Solotaroff’s selection of his work is a fitting tribute: a book that will be a starting point for further reading, both of Kazin and of the native writers to whom he devoted himself.
Publishers Weekly
Intended as "a resource, rather than as a monument" this posthumous anthology traces a biographical arc through the work of one of America's finest literary critics, interspersing selections from almost all of his major critical works (On Native Grounds; God and the American Writer; etc.) with the remarkable memoirs published in his middle later years (A Walker in the City; Writing Was Everything; etc.). Few critics lend themselves to such integration, but as Solotaroff's extensive, nuanced introduction explains, Kazin (1915-1998) "wrote less as a literary critic than as a writer possessed by literature as moral testimony and lived history." The collection starts with his childhood in a provincial Brooklyn ghetto, where his work-dogged mother would leave her sewing machine only long enough to gaze briefly and lovingly out of the window at the world, and impoverished friends found transcendence in poetry and politics. Here, too, the teenaged Alfred, having already seized upon Blake and Hemingway, read the Gospel and found in the co-opted figure of "our Yeshua" a fulfillment of Jewish longing and "another writer I could instinctively trust." Then come Kazin's beginnings in the brave new and largely gentile literary world of the '30s; the months spent at the New York Public Library researching the brilliant study of American realism that made his career; the rise and decline of the literary left and the moral disillusionments following the war. The book ends with his canny but troubled assessment of letters in the early 1980s, the end of the American century. Kazin's great faculty as both a critic and a memoirist was his passionate belief in the voice on the page as a means of communicating historical experience. Here is a writer, and a reader, we can trust. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Considered by many the dean of American letters and the successor to William Dean Howells and Edmund Wilson, Kazin (1915-98) was arguably the preeminent literary critic of his day. This representative sampler contains selections from nearly all of his critical books, from On Native Grounds (1942) to God and the American Writer (1997), as well as excerpts from his memoirs, including A Walker in the City (1951) and New York Jew (1978). Articles and reviews from periodicals like the New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, and the New York Review of Books are also included. The subjects covered reflect Kazin's wide-ranging interests within the American literary tradition, from American Renaissance figures like Melville and Hawthorne, to Lost Generation novelists Hemingway and Fitzgerald, to later Jewish American writers like Bellow and Malamud. Edited and introduced by noted editor and critic Solotaroff (Truth Comes in Blows), this is recommended for all literature collections.-William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Selections from the distinguished late critic�s books and articles highlight his sense of kinship with American writers from Hawthorne to Didion. Writing as a literary scholar for the general public, Kazin (1915�98) coupled his criticism with three volumes of memoirs to proclaim the personal sustenance a son of immigrants found in American literature, and to assert that it belonged to everyone. Excerpts from A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1962), and the bluntly titled New York Jew (1978) paint vivid, bracingly unsentimental portraits of Brooklyn in the 1930s; of such peers in "the literary life" as Mary McCarthy, Philip Rahv, and Saul Bellow; of elder statesmen like Lionel Trilling and Edmund Wilson (the latter one of Kazin�s best character/cultural sketches). Pieces drawn from On Native Grounds (1942) remind us of Kazin�s pioneering work in tracing the flowering of realism in American literature from William Dean Howells in the 1890s through Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson to Lost Generation icons Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Only Edith Wharton seems to evade his complete understanding, but he does better with contemporary female authors like Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates in a section also notable for sharp essays on Flannery O�Connor and Walker Percy; Cheever, Salinger, and Updike; Bellow, Malamud, and Roth. WASPS, Jews, or southerners, they were all Americans first and foremost to Kazin: few critics have more penetratingly limned the "belief in the ideal freedom and power of the self, in the political and social visions of radical democracy" that informs our national literature. "Departed Friends" examines those same overriding themes in the19th-century titans, including Thoreau, Melville, Dickinson, and Twain. Editor Solotaroff�s introduction sets Kazin�s life in historical context, an important service for a critic who always insisted on the intimate, intricate links between literature and society. Despite the inevitable omissions—his warmly democratic tribute to the New York Public Library being the most egregious—an enthralling introduction to the work of a man who "lived to read" and conveyed that passion to his own readers for half a century.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060512767
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
09/28/2004
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
1,475,545
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.33(d)

What People are saying about this

William F. Pritchard
“This most thoughtfully chosen collection is a fitting monument to the man and his work.”
Paul Berman
“Alfred Kazin’s combustible soul thought God might yet be sought in American literature.”
Thomas L. Jefferes
“[Kazin is] one of a handful of acknowledged arbiters of critical judgment in American.”

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