Except When I Write: Reflections of a Recovering Critic

Except When I Write: Reflections of a Recovering Critic

by Arthur Krystal


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From Montaigne in the sixteenth century to Orwell, Eliot, and Trilling in the twentieth, the best literary essayists combine a gift for observation with an abiding commitment to books. Although it may seem that books are becoming less essential and that a revolution in sensibility is taking place, the essays of Arthur Krystal suggest otherwise. Companionable without being chummy, engaged without being didactic, erudite without being stuffy, he demonstrates that literature, even in the digital age, remains the truest expression of the human condition.

Covering subjects as diverse as aphorisms, dueling, the night, and the 1960s, the essays gathered here offer the common reader uncommon pleasure. In prose that is both vibrant and elegant, Krystal negotiates among myriad subjects-from historical writing as exemplified by Jacques Barzun to the art of screenwriting as not so happily represented by F. Scott Fitzgerald. His cardinal rule as a writer? William Hazlitt's "Confound it, man, don't be insipid." No fear of that. Except When I Write is thoughtful in the most joyful sense—brimming with ideas in order to give us the flow and cadence of someone actually thinking.

Keenly observant and death on pretension, Krystal examines the world of books without ever losing sight of the world beyond them. Literature may be the bedrock on which these essays rest, but as F. R. Leavis aptly noted, "One cannot seriously be interested in literature and remain purely literary in interests." Except When I Write is a reminder of both the pleasure and the power of a well-tuned essay.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780190494360
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Publication date: 03/01/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Arthur Krystal has written for The New Yorker, Harpers, the American Scholar, the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Times Book Review, and other publications. He is the author of The Half-Life of an American Essayist and Agitations: Essays on Life and Literature. The title essay of Except When I Write was selected for inclusion in the 2010 edition of Best American Essays. He lives in New York City.

Table of Contents


Author's Note

1. When Writers Speak

2. Carpe Noctem: A Little Night Music

3. Slang-Whanger: William Hazlitt's Impetuous Prose

4. Too True: The Art of Aphorism

5. The Usual Suspect: Edgar Allan Poe, Consulting Detective

6. A Man for All Reasons: Jacques Barzun

7. En Garde! The Duel in History

8. Some Remarks on the Pitfalls of Biography: Especially Where Writers are Concerned

9. Slow Fade: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood

10. The Worst of Times: Revisiting the Great Depression

11. The Long Goodbye: The Sixties; In Pace Requiem

12. The Night Man-or Why I'm Not a Novelist

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