three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
22-May-June-2006
By: 
William Gass
user_rating: 
0

A-ATempleOfTextsWhat to read next? It’s a conundrum we strive to answer daily at Bookmarks. Thankfully, all readers have an ally in William Gass. In his most recent collection of essays, Gass flourishes attention on his literary passions, which are wide-ranging and intensely felt. The title essay, a celebration of the author’s "Fifty Literary Pillars," discusses Plato’s dialogues alongside Flaubert’s letters and the novels of James Joyce. Other pieces explore the importance of Rilke, the neglected work of Flann O’Brien, and the meanings of Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly. As always, Gass makes the avant-garde accessible and presents a compelling argument for the enduring pleasures of literature.
Knopf. 432 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 0307262863

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The collection as a whole is largely a defense of the classics, an honoring of high art and fine writing in an embattled time. … Like the grizzled gunfighter who straps on his Colt yet one more time, Gass draws on a lifetime’s skill, for invective, wit, and persuasion, to defend what matters." Michael Dirda

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"One thing that makes Gass such a disarming critic is that at work in a text he operates like a good starch, absorbing the ingredients around him and enriching their flavor." John Freeman

Richmond Times-Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Assuming you find yourself moved by Gass’s often intoxicating but slow-moving prose, you’re going to need to focus. … His turns of phrase, his architecturally dense sentences and the way he advances his arguments in giant, swirling movements give his prose an air of performance, as if we should applaud each paragraph’s new feat." Doug Chilers

San Diego Union-Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Gass’s endearing crotchets include scorn for critics and reviewers; contempt for artifice outside art’s service; and a humanist zeal less pro-Man than anti-God. But he has reverence for verbal or conceptual magic of any stripe." Jan Wildt

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"His perspective comes across as old-fashioned yet refreshing and may anticipate a post-Derrida pendulum swing back to the appreciation of literary beauty for its own sake. … Gass’s writing style at times can be difficult if you haven’t already read the book he’s discussing. In turn, for books on his list that you’ve read already, his thoughts are not as stimulating as one would expect." Richard Melo

Critical Summary

It’s unfortunate that the term critic often connotes negativity and sniping. What novelist and professor of philosophy William Gass practices in his critical essays is more in the line of learned appreciation or ecstatic advocacy. Though many of these pieces first appeared in other books as forwards, afterwards, and introductions, reviewers feel that A Temple of Texts may be his most cohesive collection yet. Gass’s allusions and elaborate metaphors don’t make for skimming. But for these willing to dig in, the author fulfills his mission "to provide suggestions of where best to start, what to expect, how to look or read or listen; and to give reasons why the work should be treated with seriousness and respect."