In What Is a Book? David Kirby addresses the making and consuming of literature by redefining the four components of the act of reading: writer, reader, critic, and book. He discusses his students, his work, and his practice as a teacher, writer, critic, and reader, and positions his theories and opinions as products of "real" life as much as academic exercise. Among the ideas animating the book are Kirby's beliefs that "devotion is more important than dissection" and "practice is more important than theory."
Covering an impressive range of writersfrom Emerson, Poe, and Melville to James Dickey, Charles Wright, Richard Howard, Susan Montez, and othersKirby considers the evolution of critical theory from the nineteenth century to the late twentieth and explores the role of criticism in contemporary culture. Drawing from his experience writing poetry and reading to children at a local housing project, he answers two of his four central questions: "What is a reader?" and "What is a writer?" In the largest section of the book, "What Is a Critic?," Kirby demonstrates his passionate engagement with the function of the critic in literary culture and offers both overviews and close examinations of literary theory, book reviewing, and the historical background of criticism from its earliest beginnings. In the final section of the book, he addresses the question "What is a book?" with an examination of the reading preferences of older readers. Kirby's analysis of those responses, along with his own notions of the literary canon, is an insightful excursion into how books are valued.
Deeply learned and wonderfully entertaining, What Is a Book? is a lucid look at the whole of literary culture. Kirby makes us think about the books we love and why we love them.
DAVID KIRBY is Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. He is the author of many books of poetry and criticism, including The Ha-Ha, My Twentieth Century, and What Is a Book? (Georgia). His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Southern Review, Paris Review, and other publications.
Table of Contents
Contents Preface Acknowledgments What Is a Reader? What Is a Reader? What Is a Writer? What Is a Writer? Breakfast with the Cumaean Sibyl, or A Poet's Education Don't Know Much about History: Sameness versus Originality in Poetry Is There a Southern Poetry? The Poet as Pitchman: James Dickey, American Poet What Is a Critic? Emerson, Poe, and American Criticism in the Nineteenth Century Slouching toward Baltimore: Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism What Is a Critic? Mr. Post-Everything: The Life and Times of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch "The Thing You Can't Explain": Theory and the Unconscious Reviewers in the Popular Press and Their Impact on the Novel M. L. Rosenthal and Our Life in Poetry What Is a Book? Ghosts and Gadabouts: Gothic and Picaresque in the American Novel Born in the Marketplace: The Emergence of the American Novel It Isn't about America, It Is America: Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn What Is a Book? Bibliography Index