Few could explain, let alone seek out, a career in criticism. Yet what A.O. Scott shows in Better Living Through Criticism is that we are, in fact, all critics: because critical thinking informs almost every aspect of artistic creation, of civil action, of interpersonal life. With penetrating insight and warm humor, Scott shows that while individual critics—himself included—can make mistakes and find flaws where they shouldn't, criticism as a discipline is one of the noblest, most creative, and urgent activities of modern existence.
Using his own film criticism as a starting point—everything from his infamous dismissal of the international blockbuster The Avengers to his intense affection for Pixar's animated Ratatouille—Scott expands outward, easily guiding readers through the complexities of Rilke and Shelley, the origins of Chuck Berry and the Rolling Stones, the power of Marina Abramovich and 'Ode on a Grecian Urn.' Drawing on the long tradition of criticism from Aristotle to Susan Sontag, Scott shows that real criticism was and always will be the breath of fresh air that allows true creativity to thrive. "The time for criticism is always now," Scott explains, "because the imperative to think clearly, to insist on the necessary balance of reason and passion, never goes away."
In a Democracy Now! special, we spend the hour with StoryCorps founder Dave Isay, discussing his new book, "Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work." Over the last 12 years, StoryCorps has gathered the largest single collection of human voices. In 2003, the first StoryCorps recording booth opened in New York City’s Grand Central Station. Since then, a quarter of a million of people have recorded interviews with their loved ones through StoryCorps. The new book is a remarkable collection of stories from the heart of the American workforce: teachers, social workers, public defenders, deli workers, plant supervisors and beyond. They include stories by dreamers, healers, philosophers and groundbreakers. "This is kind of a radical book," Isay says. "There’s no billionaires, there’s no millionaires, there’s no celebrities, there’s no professional athletes, but to me these are really the stories of work that matter." Video by Kevin Kino
In order of appearance:
John Leonard Prize
Kirstin Valdez Quade, Night at the Fiestas (W.W. Norton & Company)
Ross Gay, Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Terrance Hayes, How to Be Drawn (Penguin)
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things (Milkweed Editions)
Frank Stanford, What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford (Copper Canyon Press); read by editor Michael Wiegers
Leo Damrosch, Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake (Yale University Press)
Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts (Graywolf)
Terry Alford, Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth (Oxford University Press)
Charlotte Gordon, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley (Random House)
T.J. Stiles, Custer’s Trials: A Life on the Frontier of a New America (Alfred A. Knopf)
Rosemary Sullivan, Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva (Harper)
Karin Wieland, Dietrich and Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives (Liveright); read by Shelley Frisch, translator
Elizabeth Alexander, The Light of the World (Grand Central Publishing)
Vivian Gornick, The Odd Woman and the City (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
George Hodgman, Bettyville (Viking)
Margo Jefferson, Negroland (Pantheon)
Ari Berman, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Jill Leovy, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America (Spiegel & Grau)
Brian Seibert, What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Paul Beatty, The Sellout (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies (Riverhead)
Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth, translated by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House Press)
Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno (Hogarth)
Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen (Penguin Press)
The Strand hosted the Writers Studio in their celebration of the Kenyon Review. As part of the celebration, renowned authors and poets gathered in the Rare Book Room to read from their works.
Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned an MFA from Emerson College. Her first collection of stories, "What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us", was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her novel "Find Me" was longlisted for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas prize. Her stories have been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, O'Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and volume 24 of the Pushcart Prize. She is a recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, Ragdale, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Van den Berg joined the Writers Studio in celebrating the Kenyon Review by reading from her short story "The Other Daughter", published in the July/Aug 2015 volume of the Kenyon Review.