This collection of essays discusses some of the important books, authors, and literary trends of a volatile era in American and world literature whose cultural repercussions are still being felt. Peter S. Prescott was one of the most penetrating, knowledgeable, and sensitive critics to write for a general audience in the tradition of Edmund Wilson. Readers will discover not only Prescott's acute and subtle comments on the enduring and/or representative books of the time, but also his humor and style, his way with an anecdote or aphorism, his talent for parody, and his ability to laugh at himself, as well as at the authors he sometimes skewers.
Prescott's writing has an immediacy and vivacity that suggests what it was like to read new books during his time. Here is one critic's view--ironic and complex--of good books by famous writers like Norman Mailer, Jorge Luis Borges, Joyce Carol Oates, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Vladimir Nabokov, as well as of good books by little-known writers and others who would later achieve reknown. Here, too, is some astringent criticism of distinguished and popular authors who have fallen into self-indulgence. Prescott writes about the New Journalism in its early days and about fragmentary autobiography as a literary form--genres whose importance he was among the first to recognize. His essays also touch on theater, film, food, and politics.
The criticism in this volume are examples of the literary essay in its truest sense--an attempt to explore, in however brief space allowed, what the author sees around him, and connections between books and other aspects of the way people live. Always personal and urbane, these essays are often hilarious, generally moving, and exemplify the essay as an art form.