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An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic 
by Daniel Mendelsohn |
San Francisco Chronicle

The critic James Wood begins his book “How Fiction Works” with this little dictum: “The house of fiction has many windows, but only two or three doors.” The same basic tenet can be applied, I think, to literary criticism. There are only so many ways one can write about a book. There is the New Critics-style textual approach: a no-frills method that sticks to the text itself, analyzing its properties and techniques wholly from within. One may take the historical stance (think of New Historicist critic Stephen Greenblatt) — that is, telling the history of the work itself, its cultural peculiarities, as well as its influence on subsequent generations, in order to gain insight into the time in which it was written. Also, a writer can enumerate his or her own personal experience with a book, a category Joyce Carol Oates referred to as “bibliomemoir”: how it changed, challenged or charged them. A writer can parody a novel or play or poem, employing the same techniques and stylistics, often for the sake of poking fun of the author’s quirks. Then, finally, there is the extrapolative technique, which is predicated on the idea that literature can matter to our everyday lives, or that books can be used to demonstrate principles of other intellectual discourses, like those Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture books that all end with … and Philosophy. Continue reading…