Books

Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life Into Art

Out Now
A perfect introduction to Bellow’s life and work, Bellow’s People is an incisive critical study of the novelist and a memorable account of a vibrant and tempestuous circle of midcentury American intellectuals.

“Personality! Leave it to the brilliant David Mikics to find the perfect key to open up Saul Bellow’s work. Bellow is our great literary artist of Personality! Mikics himself writes with the flair of a strong and vivid personality and creates a book of high good humor that is well worthy of Bellow.” —Mark Edmundson

“In his fresh and lively portraits of a number of leading figures in Saul Bellow’s life, David Mikics has found a particularly appealing and revealing angle on Bellow’s work. This is an exhilarating excursus into the alchemy that transforms close observation and indelible recollection into deeply felt fictional portraiture.” —Morris Dickstein

“If personality is, according to David Mikics, Bellow’s key value, it is also a virtue of Mikics’ lively prose. This is his best and most personable book.” –Phillip Lopate

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Slow Reading in a Hurried Age

Out Now
Wrapped in the glow of the computer or phone screen, we cruise websites; we skim and skip. We glance for a brief moment at whatever catches our eye and then move on. Slow Reading in a Hurried Age reminds us of another mode of reading–the kind that requires our full attention and that has as its goal not the mere gathering of information but the deeper understanding that only good books can offer.

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The Annotated Emerson

(Harvard/Belknap, $35), with a Foreword by Phillip Lopate
Full of color illustrations and rich in archival photographs, this volume offers much for the specialist and general reader. In his running commentaries on Emerson’s essays, addresses, and poems, Mikics illuminates contexts, allusions, and language likely to cause difficulty to modern readers. He quotes extensively from Emerson’s Journal to shed light on particular passages or lines and examines Emerson the essayist, poet, itinerant lecturer, and political activist.

“The best possible introduction to Emerson’s prose and poetry.” —Harold Bloom

“Nineteenth-century essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson was, during much of his lifetime, this country’s ‘greatest speaker and man of letters,’ says Mikics, an expert on the man he calls ‘our Shakespeare.’ Emerson’s words retain much of their power because the writer ‘addresses, and tries to heal, the split in American consciousness between high speculation and hard experience.’ Mikics provides a generous selection of essays, poems, and journal entries, and he serves, through his annotations, as a fine guide.

Yale Alumni Magazine, May/June 2012)

The #1 essayist and pure prose stylist in U.S. literature is on grand display in this lavish edition of essays, poems, and passages from Emerson’s voluminous journals. The neophyte entering the Emersonian universe, as opposed to the scholar, is best served by Mikics’s careful annotations and cogent commentary surrounding these selections, though even the most knowledgeable scholar would benefit. —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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The Art of the Sonnet

by Stephen Burt and David Mikics
(Harvard/Belknap, paperback, $19.95)
The Art of the Sonnet collects one hundred exemplary sonnets of the English language (and a few sonnets in translation), representing highlights in the history of the sonnet, accompanied by short commentaries on each of the poems. The commentaries by Stephen Burt and David Mikics offer new perspectives and insights, and, taken together, demonstrate the enduring as well as changing nature of the sonnet. The authors serve as guides to some of the most-celebrated sonnets in English as well as less-well-known gems by nineteenth- and twentieth-century poets.

“Its best audience may be anyone who wants to delve deeply into the heart of poetry. Learned as well as passionate, this book is a delight.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Burt and Mikics have a ravishing breadth of taste and understanding….A literary tour de force.”
Willard Spiegelman, author of Seven Pleasures

“Burt and Mikics have gathered together and composed a marvelous book. Both of them give us profound commentaries on particular sonnets and on the genre. I know of no other recent book that so steadily illuminates the riches it invokes.”
Harold Bloom

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Who Was Jacques Derrida?: An Intellectual Biography

(Yale, $30)

Who Was Jacques Derrida? is the first intellectual biography of Derrida, the first full-scale appraisal of his career, his influence, and his philosophical roots. It is also the first attempt to define his crucial importance as the ambassador of “theory,” the phenomenon that has had a profound influence on academic life in the humanities. Mikics lucidly and sensitively describes for the general reader Derrida’s deep connection to his Jewish roots. He succinctly defines his vision of philosophy as a discipline that resists psychology. While pointing out the flaws of that vision and Derrida’s betrayal of his most adamantly expounded beliefs, Mikics ultimately concludes that “Derrida was neither so brilliantly right nor so badly wrong as his enthusiasts and critics, respectively, claimed.”

“David Mikics is the real thing, a gifted, polymathic reader. Writing not as a polemicist but as a humane, interpretive critic, he cuts right through the raging conflicts and often pointless debates about Derrida’s work.”
Morris Dickstein, CUNY Graduate Center

“David Mikics’s portrait of Jacques Derrida has a colossal value for poets and dreamers like myself. It’s a lucid and sober presentation of a thinker who influenced so strongly huge parts of American literary mind.
–Adam Zagajewski

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A New Handbook of Literary Terms

(Yale, paperback, $19.00)

A New Handbook of Literary Terms offers a lively, informative guide to words and concepts that every student of literature needs to know. Mikics’s definitions are essayistic, witty, learned, and always a pleasure to read. They sketch the derivation and history of each term, including especially lucid explanations of verse forms and providing a firm sense of literary periods and movements from classicism to postmodernism. The Handbook also supplies a helpful map to the intricate and at times confusing terrain of literary theory at the beginning of the twenty-first century: the author has designated a series of terms, from New Criticism to queer theory, that serves as a concise but thorough introduction to recent developments in literary study.

Mikics’s Handbook is ideal for classroom use at all levels, from freshman to graduate. Instructors can assign individual entries, many of which are well-shaped essays in their own right. Useful bibliographical suggestions are given at the end of most entries. The Handbook’s enjoyable style and thoughtful perspective will encourage students to browse and learn more. Every reader of literature will want to own this compact, delightfully written guide.

“Very few books give much more than they promise. Mikics’s New Handbook is superbly generous in offering vast stores of insight and information. It is an exuberant introduction to all of Western literature and criticism.”
Harold Bloom

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