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What Is a Book?

In this study 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 work are Kirby's beliefs that "devotion is more important than dissection" and "practice is more important than theory". Covering a range of writers - from Emerson, Poe and Melville to James Dickey, Charles Wright, Richard Howard, Susan Montez and others - Kirby considers the evolution of critical theory from the 19th century to the late-20th 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 volume, "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, 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, seeks to offer an insightful excursion into how books are valued. Kirby aims to make us think about the books we love and why we love them.
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About the Author

David Kirby is W. Guy McKenzie Professor of English at Florida State University. He is the author of many books of poetry and criticism, including Mark Strand: The Poet as No One, My Twentieth Century, and The House of Blue Light. His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Southern Review, Paris Review, and other publications.

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