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19 October 2011


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I read a lot too and I've never heard of any of these books either. It's not a category I read in very often. I've found books by/about Katharine Hepburn interesting. I've never read an art book, except some stuff on Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture. I've recently been reading some lit crit on (of all things) Golden Age mystery writers and Dorothy Sayers in particular. Probably not high-brow enough for the editors of TIME. I'd rather read books (f or nf) than read others criticism of them.

Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris is a good film book about Hollywood in the 1960s and the transition from the studio era to the New Hollywood. It is definitely geared toward the general reader and is not criticism.

A lot of the influential literary criticism can be hard to get through (and I write this as a former English major). I can't think of anything I would recommend to someone as general pleasure reading and not as part of a course or to a person who wanted to understand a particular theory or work. I liked Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt, which was a mix of biography, speculation, and history of Renaissance England.

Most of the books listed under the culture heading are books someone might read in a 100 level college course; not things that people would necessarily seek out for pleasure.

I enthusiastically second Pictures at a Revolution. Loved it! I remember that Robert Hughes' American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America got great reviews and was recommended for the general reader. I confess, although I own it, I've never read it. I also found Live From New York: an uncensored history of Saturday Night Live a very interesting look at the personalities involved and the logistics of putting on a weekly live TV show. All three of these are much more accessible than the titles listed on the original list.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments about these books. As started reading the titles I thought I was terribly unknowledgeable. What an awful list.

Mystery Train was the only book on the entire Time list that's also on my top 100 list. It's really great -- in some of his work, Greil Marcus gets a little too riffy and cool for me but this book is honestly brilliant. And it will give you a nice background in American popular music, capped with the section on Elvis called the Presliad.

Eh, for film criticism I'd take any book of Pauline Kael's reviews.

For literary criticism... Well, I suppose Tolkien's "On Fairy Stories" is more of an essay, but it's immensely readable and very influential.

For music criticism, I adore anything written by Nicholas Slonimsky -- maybe his LEXICON OF MUSICAL INVECTIVE.

Would Perry's TRUCK: A LOVE STORY? count as "culture"? Howzabout that marvellous Time-Life series, THIS FABULOUS CENTURY?


I suspect I am not taking this category as seriously as it deserves.

Hm, Katharine Hepburn. An interesting life and an interesting time for film. Although in lieu of reading a bio about her I might just have to watch "Philadelphia Story" again, and I've always meant to watch "Bringing up Baby." Thanks for the reminder.
And oh yes, architecture. I suppose that would come under culture too. Perhaps something by Paul Goldberger might be good on that subject?

Carly, Nancy,
Oh, "Pictures at a Revolution" got so much good press. I think I tried to read it at the time and it was a little dry for me; maybe it was just my mood. But I appreciate the plugs for it from both of you--definitely a culture book to consider. And it go great reviews. (So did Alex Ross's And the Rest Is Noise, about music, but I couldn't get through that one either. Perhaps culture, and/or well-reviewed books, are just not my cuppa?)

Thanks to both of you for your other suggestions too!

I agree about the great books listed here--that's why I love the comments section of this blog the most. To hear suggestions from real READERS is always such a pleasure. I also agree that the Time list, on this score, is a stinker.

Yes, I will have to try the Greil Marcus; good to know it's in your top 100 also! I'm certain I read something by him once but what was it? I'll have to do a little research.

Well, you came up with more and better titles than I could, even if you weren't taking the category seriously enough. "Culture." Come on. Who CAN take that seriously?

Interesting idea as to what to do when you are interested in art. After all, it's pretty visual, isn't it??

I don't actually know anything about lit crit, but as a reader, I've enjoyed Italo Calvino's essays in The Uses of Literature and Six Memos for the Next Millennium, Guy Davenport's The Geography of the Imagination, and (to show just how old-fashioned I am) anything by Lionel Trilling or Douglas Bush.

Well, no one ever accused me of being a terribly original thinker. :) But yes, looking at big ol' art books is the only way to fly. I wish I could afford them, I'd love to have a big stack at home. I'd use them as an end table when I wasn't reading them, then I could have one less piece of furniture!

You know, I like Calvino, but sometimes I find it hard to concentrate on his stuff too. I think I'm just not intellectual enough (this is most likely my problem with lit crit in general). But thank you for the awesome suggestions! Where should I start with Lionel Trilling, do you think? Always wanted to read something by him.

I'm with you -- haven't read or heard of any of these. Except -- an artist friend had mentioned recently that she was reading Gombrich, whom she positively adores.

Hey, that's good to hear about Gombrich. I'm going to have to look him up--I always felt bad that I didn't take an art history class in college. That was very dumb of me.

For Trilling, my friend loves Sincerity & Authenticity. I'd probably start with The Liberal Imagination (but I actually haven't read the whole thing -- I just skipped around to the essays that interested me).

Thanks for the suggestion--I'll have to look into it!

Most art writing is really dense and difficult even if you are interested and have an art background. I would read any article on any art exhibit by Holland Cotter in the NYTimes. They're smart, understandable, and never make you feel stupid. Or just go down to the new Chazen Museum and lose yourself in the art for a couple of hours.

Huh, that's good to know--as I lack the art background and much patience for dense and difficult, I will happily leave most art crit writing alone. Thanks for the Holland Cotter recommendation--always good to have a few "go to" names.

I've been wanting to get to the Chazen! I did love it as the LVM (can never remember how to spell the actual previous name) so I'm hoping I'll like the changes.

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