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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.


Rather than taking on the book's physicality (see review of A Book of Books above), Florida State University professor of English David Kirby uses lists of favorites to answer the question What Is a Book? in the title piece from his new collection of critical essays. Kirby finds that for most people "what counts is the personhood, not of the author, but of the book"-that novels can contain, and become, the most reliable figures of our lives. Others among the 17 essays here wonder "Is There a Southern Poetry?" and "What Is a Critic?," and come up with equally thoughtful responses. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

This book is good enough to revive the interest of general readers in books about literature. Kirby (English, Florida State Univ.), the author of many books of poetry, including The House of Blue Light, as well as several works of criticism, has gathered 17 essays so clear, relevant, and far-reaching as to address all the major working parts of literature. The book attempts to redefine the four essential components of the act of reading by posing and then answering four questions: What is a reader? What is a writer? What is a critic? and What is a book? After a brief general essay on each question, Kirby gives us three or four refreshingly witty, beautifully written, and accessible essays on topics that illustrate the nature of each of these "players" in the literary enterprise. The essays range widely and offer clear explanations without being judgmental, covering who's who and what's what in critical theory while giving a short history of reviewing and the role of criticism. In addition, Kirby confronts the claims of "outlaw poetry," examines the idea of the canon, and gives his own views on writers from Emerson, Poe, and Twain to James Dickey, Charles Wright, and Susan Montez. An important and useful book that is also surprisingly pleasurable and entertaining to read; highly recommended. [Kirby is a longtime LJ reviewer.-Ed.]-Paul D'Alessandro, Portland P.L., ME Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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