The definitive collection of literary essays by The New Yorker’s award-winning longtime book critic
Ever since the publication of his first essay collection, The Broken Estate, in 1999, James Wood has been widely regarded as a leading literary critic of the English-speaking world. His essays on canonical writers (Gustav Flaubert, Herman Melville), recent legends (Don DeLillo, Marilynne Robinson) and significant contemporaries (Zadie Smith, Elena Ferrante) have established a standard for informed and incisive appreciation, composed in a distinctive literary style all their own.
Together, Wood’s essays, and his bestselling How Fiction Works, share an abiding preoccupation with how fiction tells its own truths, and with the vocation of the writer in a world haunted by the absence of God. In Serious Noticing, Wood collects his best essays from two decades of his career, supplementing earlier work with autobiographical reflections from his book The Nearest Thing to Life and recent essays from The New Yorker on young writers of extraordinary promise. The result is an essential guide to literature in the new millennium.
"James Wood is perhaps one of the most intelligent and passionate literary critics working today . . . In its entirety this is a masterful 'greatest hits' collection . . . One has the very strong sense that no essay placement was accidental . . . They are independent pieces, and it is easy enough to read any particular essay in any order, but there is a certain, almost meditative, pleasure in reading the book cover to cover." —Angela M. Giles, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Two voices vie in [Serious Noticing] . . . the professor, stately and composed, guiding the reader through forensically close readings of the text, pointing out fiction’s innovations and revolutions—the “failed privacies” of Chekhov’s characters, the “unwrapped” consciousness in Virginia Woolf’s novels. The other voice—pitched about half an octave higher, blunt, reedy, very winning — pops up in the essays . . . The reviews and essays settle into a rolling rhythm, pleasing counterpoints." —Parul Sehgal, The New York Times Book Review
"[Serious Noticing] is in effect a super-selection: The Best of . . . perhaps, or Wood on Wood, complete with an introductory account of his formation and general understanding of the practice of criticism . . . [Wood] has a notable capacity for articulate enthusiasm and a withering tongue to balance it." —Francis Mulhern, New Left Review
"What makes Wood . . . formidable? The most obvious answer is the crackling sensuousness of his prose. He writes unusually tactile criticism, thick with images you can almost reach out and grasp. . . With criticism like this, who needs fiction?" —Becca Rothfeld, Bookforum
"In the unspooling sentences and paragraphs of the many fine and often seriously dandy essays that follow in this collection . . . Wood shows himself a maestro of tone and inflection. His sustained close attention as he interrogates the writers he loves is genuinely something to behold . . . Wood set off writing in that high canonical tradition that sought to replace Bible study with practical criticism and preachers with English teachers.'" —Tim Adams, Observer