Uncensored: Views and (Re)views [NOOK Book]

Overview

Uncensored: Views & (Re)views is Joyce Carol Oates's most candid gathering of prose pieces since (Woman) Writer: Occasions & Opportunities. Her ninth book of nonfiction, it brings together thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces from the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Times Book Review.

Oates states in her preface, "In the essay or review, the dynamic of storytelling is hidden but not absent," and indeed, the voice of these ...

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Uncensored: Views and (Re)views

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Overview

Uncensored: Views & (Re)views is Joyce Carol Oates's most candid gathering of prose pieces since (Woman) Writer: Occasions & Opportunities. Her ninth book of nonfiction, it brings together thirty-eight diverse and provocative pieces from the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the New York Times Book Review.

Oates states in her preface, "In the essay or review, the dynamic of storytelling is hidden but not absent," and indeed, the voice of these "conversations" echoes the voice of her fiction in its dramatic directness, ethical perspective, and willingness to engage the reader in making critical judgments. Under the heading "Not a Nice Person," such controversial figures as Sylvia Plath, Patricia Highsmith, and Muriel Spark are considered without sentimentality or hyperbole; under "Our Contemporaries, Ourselves," such diversely talented figures as William Trevor, E. L. Doctorow, Kazuo Ishiguro, Michael Connelly, Alice Sebold, Mary Karr, Anne Tyler, and Ann Patchett are examined. In sections of "homages" and "revisits," Oates writes with enthusiasm and clarity of such cultural icons as Emily Brontë, Ernest Hemingway, Carson McCullers, Robert Lowell, Balthus, and Muhammad Ali ("The Greatest"); after a lapse of decades, she (re)considers the first film version of Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Americana, Don DeLillo's first novel, as well as the morality of selling private letters and the nostalgic significance of making a pilgrimage to Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond.

Through these balanced and illuminating essays we see Oates at the top of her form, engaged with forebears and contemporaries, providing clues to her own creative process: "For prose is a kind of music: music creates 'mood.' What is argued on the surface may be but ripples rising from a deeper, subtextual urgency."

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Editorial Reviews

A. O. Scott
There may be some books out there that Joyce Carol Oates hasn't written, but there don't seem to be very many that she hasn't read. She doesn't so much review individual books as assess entire bodies of work, sorting wheat from chaff and finding the point at which talent meets its limits. Among the objects of her careful, passionate scrutiny are Muriel Spark, Sylvia Plath, E. L. Doctorow and Anne Tyler, as well as a host of lesser-known novelists, memoirists and short-story writers.
— The New York Times
Library Journal
Oates (The Falls) prefaces this collection of 38 previously published book reviews by admonishing herself and questioning the role of the book critic. After 40 years of publishing original works and reviews, she has developed her own governing principle as a critic: to avoid reviewing books negatively, whenever possible. She justifies this stance by asking if in America we need to caution anyone against buying a book. With this in mind, the reader is then taken on a literary adventure, as the reviews analyze not only the works of a range of writers-from Anne Tyler to Muhammad Ali-but also the literary form from the short story to the memoir. These entries offer a broad literary history covering hundreds of titles. The reviews juxtapose each book with comparable works, leaving the reader with a reverence for Oates's immense knowledge of literature and a desire to read all the books mentioned. This collection shows a lovely appreciation for the value of a finely written book. Highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Joyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas Cty., FL Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A seventh collection of the tireless Oates's industrious literary journalism: 38 recent reviews and essays. A grouping rather coyly titled "Not a Nice Person" includes understandably lukewarm considerations of the presently overrated Patricia Highsmith and the wildly uneven Sylvia Plath, a nicely reasoned defense of Willa Cather, and balanced assessments of Robert Penn Warren (whose classic All the King's Men is, Oates cogently argues, in its "restored text" version a deeply flawed novel) and Richard Yates (whose downbeat stories have a saving intensity that seems to elude her). Oates is a generous and perceptive commentator on "Our Contemporaries, Ourselves," notably E.L. Doctorow (whose City of God strike her as "that rarity in American fiction, a novel of ideas"); underrated British novelist Hilary Mantel; William Trevor (whose great strengths and frustrating weaknesses she deftly analyzes); and several writers (including Mary Karr, Alice Sebold, and Ann Patchett) of what Oates calls "the New Memoir: the memoir of sharply focused events, very often traumatic"). "Homages" include generic and only moderately interesting essays on Emily Bronte, Ernest Hemingway, and the painter Balthus-but also a welcome endorsement of Carson McCullers's brilliant early fiction and a summary meditation on the complex, often misunderstood figure of heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali. Several concluding "(Re)Visits" look backward at Hawthorne, Thoreau, emergent major novelist Don DeLillo, Tod Browning's 1931 film Dracula, and the aesthetic choices that shaped her own earlier books, lately revised and reissued. Throughout, Oates writes clearly and states cases persuasively-but does tend to burdenreviews of individual books and writers with needlessly detailed contextual information (e.g., informing us that Ed McBain/Evan Hunter "virtually created" the contemporary police procedural). Nonetheless, it's useful to know what good writers are reading and thinking about, and if Oates the critic doesn't always dazzle, she seldom disappoints. Agent: John Hawkins/John Hawkins & Associates
Booklist
“Utterly at home in literature, she writes naturally about books with vigor and pleasure.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061755415
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction, and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including We Were the Mulvaneys; Blonde, which was nominated for the National Book Award; and the New York Times bestseller The Accursed. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Biography

Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most influential and important storytellers in the literary world. She has often used her supreme narrative skills to examine the dark side of middle-class Americana, and her oeuvre includes some of the finest examples of modern essays, plays, criticism, and fiction from a vast array of genres. She is still publishing with a speed and consistency of quality nearly unheard of in contemporary literature.

A born storyteller, Oates has been spinning yarns since she was a little girl too young to even write. Instead, she would communicate her stories through drawings and paintings. When she received her very first typewriter at the age of 14, her creative floodgates opened with a torrent. She says she wrote "novel after novel" throughout high school and college -- a prolificacy that has continued unabated throughout a professional career that began in 1963 with her first short story collection, By the North Gate.

Oates's breakthrough occurred in 1969 with the publication of them, a National Book Award winner that established her as a force to be reckoned with. Since that auspicious beginning, she has been nominated for nearly every major literary honor -- from the PEN/Faulkner Award to the Pulitzer Prize -- and her fiction turns up with regularity on The New York Times annual list of Notable Books.

On average Oates publishes at least one novel, essay anthology, or story collection a year (during the 1970s, she produced at the astonishing rate of two or three books a year!). And although her fiction often exposes the darker side of America's brightest facades – familial unrest, sexual violence, the death of innocence – she has also made successful forays into Gothic novels, suspense, fantasy, and children's literature. As novelist John Barth once remarked, "Joyce Carol Oates writes all over the aesthetical map."

Where she finds the time for it no one knows, but Oates manages to combine her ambitious, prolific writing career with teaching: first at the University of Windsor in Canada, then (from 1978 on), at Princeton University in New Jersey. For all her success and fame, her daily routine of teaching and writing has changed very little, and her commitment to literature as a transcendent human activity remains steadfast.

Good To Know

When not writing, Oates likes to take in a fight. "Boxing is a celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for its being lost," she says in highbrow fashion of the lowbrow sport.

Oates's Black Water, which is a thinly veiled account of Ted Kennedy's car crash in Chappaquiddick, was produced as an opera in the 1990s.

In 2001, Oprah Winfrey selected Oates's novel We Were the Mulvaneys for her Book Club.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Rosamond Smith
    2. Hometown:
      Princeton, New Jersey
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 16, 1938
    2. Place of Birth:
      Lockport, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

Table of Contents

Preface xi
I "Not a Nice Person" 1
Uncensored Sylvia Plath 3
"Restoring" Willie Stark 10
Catherizing Willa 28
Merciless Highsmith 39
"Glutton for Punishment": Richard Yates 51
"Not a Nice Person": Muriel Spark 57
II Our Contemporaries, Ourselves 63
Irish Elegy: William Trevor 65
"Our Cheapened Dreams": E. L. Doctorow 73
"Despair of Living": Anita Brookner 82
An Artist of the Floating World: Kazuo Ishiguro 88
"City of Light": Robert Drewe's The Shark Net 94
L.A. Noir: Michael Connelly 101
Ringworm Belt: Memoirs by Mary Karr 106
Evolutionary Fever: Andrea Barrett's Servants of the Map 116
"New Memoir": Alice Sebold's Lucky 126
Property Of: Valerie Martin's Property 131
Programmed by Art: David Lodge's Thinks... 142
Ghosts: Hilary Mantel 149
An Endangered Species: Short Stories 161
News from Everywhere: Short Stories 184
Mythmaking Realist: Pat Barker 204
Crazy for Love: Scott Spencer's A Ship Made of Paper 213
Amateurs: Anne Tyler's The Amateur Marriage 219
Memoirs of Crisis: Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty 229
III Homages 235
Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights 237
"Tragic Mulatta": Clotel; or, The President's Daughter 248
Ernest Hemingway 259
"You Are the We of Me": Carson McCullers 272
Remembering Robert Lowell 281
"About Whom Nothing Is Known": Balthus 283
In the Ring and Out: Jack Johnson 291
Muhammad Ali: "The Greatest" 310
IV (Re)Visits 325
The Vampire's Secret: (Re)viewing Tod Browning's Dracula after Forty Years 327
Don DeLillo's Americana (1971) Revisited 339
Them Revisited 341
A Garden of Earthly Delights Revisited 348
On the Composition of I Lock My Door Upon Myself 355
Private Writings, Public Betrayals 359
Pilgrimage to Walden Pond: 1962, 2003 364
Acknowledgments 368
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First Chapter

Uncensored: Views & (Re)views

Chapter One

Uncensored Sylvia Plath

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Edited by Karen V. Kukil

Who in February 1963 could have predicted, when a thirty-year-old American poet named Sylvia Plath committed suicide in London, distraught over the breakup of her marriage to the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, that Plath would quickly emerge as one of the most celebrated and controversial of postwar poets writing in English; and this in a golden era of poetry distinguished by such figures as Theodore Roethke, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Richard Wilbur, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, John Berryman, May Swenson, Adrienne Rich, as well as W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot? At the time of Plath's premature death she had published a single volume of poems that had received only moderate attention, The Colossus (1960), and a first novel, the Salingeresque The Bell Jar (which appeared a month before her death in England, under the pseudonym "Victoria Lucas"), in addition to a number of strikingly bold poems in British and American magazines; her second, stronger volume of poems, Ariel, would not appear until 1965, by which time Plath's posthumous fame assured the book widespread attention, superlative reviews, and sales that would eventually make it one of the bestselling volumes of poetry to be published in England and America in the twentieth century. Plath's Collected Poems (1982), assembled and edited by Ted Hughes, would win a Pulitzer Prize.

"I am made, crudely, for success," Plath stated matter-of-factly in her journal in April 1958. Yet Plath could not have foreseen that her success would be almost entirely posthumous, and ironic: for, by killing herself impulsively and dying intestate, she delivered her precious fund of work, as well as her two young children Frieda and Nicholas, into the hands of her estranged husband, Hughes, and his proprietary sister Olywn, whom Plath had perceived as her enemies during the final, despairing weeks of her life. As her literary executor, Hughes had the power to publish what he wished of her work, or to publish it in radically "edited" (that is, expurgated) versions, like The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982); or, if he wished, he might "lose" or even destroy it, as Hughes bluntly acknowledged he had done with two of the journal notebooks written during the last three years of Plath's life. As the surviving, perennially estranged husband, Hughes excised from Plath's journals what he called "nasty bits" and "intimacies," as he had eliminated from Ariel "some of the more personally aggressive poems," with the excuse that he wanted to spare their children further distress. This new, unabridged and unexpurgated edition of the journals assembled by Karen V. Kukil, assistant curator of rare books at Smith College, is "an exact and complete transcript of the twenty-three original manuscripts in the Sylvia Plath Collection," that suggests that the person Ted Hughes most wanted to spare from distress and exposure was himself.

The Unabridged Journals document, in obsessive and exhausting detail Plath's undergraduate years at Smith College and her term as a Fulbright fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge; her marriage to Ted Hughes; and two years of teaching and writing in Northampton, Massachusetts, and in Boston. With the exception of appendices and fragments from 1960 to 1962, the most vivid of which describes the birth of Plath's second child, Nicholas, in January 1962, the Journals break off abruptly in November 1959 as Plath and Hughes, their marriage undercut by Plath's suspicions of Hughes's infidelity, prepare to return to England to live. The last entry of the 1959 journal is enigmatic as a typical Plath poem: "A bad day. A bad time. State of mind most important for work. A blithe, itchy eager state where the poem itself, the story itself is supreme."

The most memorable of Sylvia Plath's incantatory poems, many of them written during the final, turbulent weeks of her life, read as if they've been chiseled, with a fine surgical instrument, out of Arctic ice.

Her language is taut and original; her strategy elliptical; such poems as "Lesbos," "The Munich Mannequins," "Paralytic," "Daddy" (Plath's most notorious poem), and "Edge" (Plath's last poem, written in February 1963), and the prescient "Death & Co." linger long in the memory, with the power of malevolent nursery rhymes. For Plath, "The blood jet is poetry," and readers who might know little of the poet's private life can nonetheless feel the authenticity of Plath's recurring emotions: hurt, bewilderment, rage, stoic calm, bitter resignation. Like the greatest of her predecessors, Emily Dickinson, Plath understood that poetic truth is best told slantwise, in as few words as possible.

By contrast, the journals are a tumult of words, and present a very mixed aesthetic experience for even the sympathetic reader. As a corrective to Hughes's "editing," a wholly unedited version of Plath's material would seem justified, in theory at least. Uncritical admirers of Plath will find much here that is fascinating. Other readers may find much that is fascinating and repellent in equal measure. Nor is the book easy to read, for its organization is eccentric: following journal entries for 1959, for instance, we revert jarringly back to a fragment for 1951, listed by the editor as Appendix I. It would have been more practical for scattered fragments to have been integrated chronologically with the journals. The Unabridged Journals is impossible to read without a reliable biography in tandem, for it lacks a simple chronology of Plath's life and the editor's headnotes are scattered and minimal.

Uncensored: Views & (Re)views. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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