Tuesday, February 2, 2021

I Read the 'Updated and Expanded' second edition of James Wood's HOW FICTION WORKS, so you don't have to...

If any readers of the first edition of James Wood's How Fiction Works are wondering whether to check out the new(er) enlarged revision, I would tell them not to bother. The book has not been noticeably improved by revision. Wood has added a brief, forgettable chapter on 'form,' updated a few references and examples, dropped some passages that I thought interesting and valuable (a long footnote on character names, and the long pastiche of average 20th century English prose, for example), trendied-up other sections with examples from Knausgaard, Ali Smith, and the egregiously overrated David Shields, and toned-down (almost to the point of reversal) the first edition's criticism of David Foster Wallace. None of this greatly impressed me. In fact, I preferred Wood as a harsher critic of DFW, for that stance gave his genuine insights into Wallace's work a penetrating authority missing from his more fanboyish current position, which inevitably resembles bandwagon-jumping.

BTW, I read Wood's most recent novel, Upstate, last summer and found it entirely forgettable. Don't remember a damn thing about it.

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