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Bookmarks Issue: 
26-Jan-Feb-2007
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Selected Essays 1993–2006

A-CreationistsE. L. Doctorow’s third non-fiction collection comprises 16 short essays, many originally written as lectures and reviews, which discuss great writers and their lives and works, from John Dos Passos and Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Doctorow also tackles such varied topics as the translation of the book of Genesis, the engineers of the atomic bomb, and the comic genius of Harpo Marx. Standouts include the essays on Edgar Allen Poe, whom Doctorow refers to as "that strange genius of a hack writer," and on Herman Melville, whose work has had a profound effect on Doctorow’s fiction. The theme of creation—"a modest celebration of the creative act"—is a deliberately loose one, which allows for a wide variety of ideas to coalesce under one broad umbrella.
Random House. 176 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 1400064953

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In this third collection of essays, Doctorow proves provocative on just about every subject he touches. … They are friendly, accessible, and highly engaged bits of brainpower." John Barron

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Doctorow’s selection of these nimble essays from slightly more than a decade’s work adheres to no literary doctrine, it covers an array of topics that shine in their joyful openness and that stand as serviceable contexts for discussions on these necessarily subjective literary themes." Robert Birnbaum

Hartford Courant 4 of 5 Stars
"[W]hen [Doctorow] sits down to write a critical essay he becomes an emissary between the magical and the mundane, a great explainer of the metaphysics of creation. … Many of these essays grew out of talks, introductions and lectures, so Doctorow’s prose is direct and simple." John Freeman

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In this luminous, slyly titled collection of literary musings, E. L. Doctorow gives us compacted worlds, fissioning into ever larger worlds, of imaginative possibility. … Creationists sustains a pitch of fascination, borne on a cascade of glittering aphorism, rarely encountered in the unforgiving genre of literary criticism." Ron Powers

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Creationists might best be read as an analogue to Doctorow’s fiction, a set of context clues." David L. Ulin

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"Most of the 16 brief essays in Creationists are enjoyable, one can learn from them and perhaps also glean some insight into Doctorow’s creative procedures and habits of mind, but they mostly make up the sort of brief bedtime reading one can do if one doesn’t want to be so absorbed by a long book that one can’t bear to put out the light." Richard Stern

Critical Summary

The brevity of these essays doesn’t prevent E. L. Doctorow (Ragtime; The March, 4.5 of 5 Stars Selection Nov/Dec 2005) from writing with strength and intensity, though it does occasionally make it hard to feel deeply engaged by the material. Doctorow treats his fellow authors with uniform respect, one of several ways that he differs from writers who focus more on literary criticism. His approach is frequently both analytic and personal as he discusses the ways each creation is assembled and explores his own connections with it. Written clearly and with passion, this collection will please both casual readers and those who share Doctorow’s deep and abiding love for great creations and fascination with their creators.