Get notified of Words&Dirt updates

Tag: historical fiction

Review: Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove”

Assuming that Larry McMurtry’s depiction can be trusted, the post-Civil War American frontier must have been a wild and treacherous place. In Lonesome Dove, McMurtry offers up a lively account of cowboy life that blends leather-booted realism with big-sky romanticism. This epic tale gave me lots to think about, even as it left me emotionally placid. This [...]

Review: Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”

“All successful books are alike; each failed book fails in its own way.” So reads my ungainly rehashing of one of literature’s most famous opening lines. It takes a fair bit of temerity and not a little arrogance to posit that one of the great works of literary history is a failure, but that is [...]

Review: Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend”

I often hear readers of contemporary literature speak of Elena Ferrante in hushed, reverential tones, so I’ve been curious for a while now to see what all the fuss is about. The brilliance of My Brilliant Friend was so subtle and supple that it almost escaped my notice, but in the end I came around, and can [...]

Review: Peter Matthiessen’s “Shadow Country”

This book became known to me when a friend spoke of it with reverence during a long walk in the woods. I was immediately captivated by his description of an historical novel derived from Peter Matthiessen’s “Watson trilogy,” originally published in the 1990s. In 2008, Matthiessen published Shadow Country, the definitive fictional rendering of his decade-spanning obsession [...]

Review: Miguel de Cervantes’s “Don Quixote”

I read Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote more out of obligation than inspiration. For people who care about the history and possible futures of the novel, Don Quixote is impossible to ignore. So, aided by the encouragement of a close friend and Edith Grossman’s deft translation, I set out with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on a journey so [...]

Review: Ken Follett’s “The Pillars of the Earth”

This is one of the strangest and most disappointing books I’ve ever read. Reaching back to 12th-century Britain, The Pillars of the Earth vividly describes the architecture, landscapes, and challenges faced by denizens of the Middle Ages. Sadly, this potentially great project is brought low by Ken Follett’s shockingly poor writing. Follett combines the deep [...]

Review: Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”

American philosopher John Dewey defines art as “the living and concrete proof that man is capable of restoring consciously…the union of sense, need, impulse and action characteristic of the live creature” (Art as Experience, 26). In this sense, novels can be understood as records of imagined experience that harness a reader’s mental apparatus in order to [...]

My Year of Bookish Wisdom: 2015

Prefatory Note: This essay constitutes a new experiment for words&dirt. I’ve recently been inspired by some of my readers, as well as an excellent interview with Maria Popova, to write a reflection on my last year of reading. Many book enthusiasts use the New Year as an opportunity to create “Best Of” lists, but I’ve [...]

Review: James Joyce’s “Ulysses”

Right so asking a guy like me to critique James Joyces Ulysses is like asking a blind man to critique a silent film Ive neither the know how nor the gumption to properly assess something I have little chance of understanding and would be skeptical of anyone who claimed to comprehend it comprehensively so rather [...]

Review: Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick seems to instill in prospective readers the same trepidation felt by the whalers who pursue its eponymous sea monster. During the two weeks I spent reading it, multiple people inquired as to why I would put myself through such an agonizing ordeal. Early on, I could provide no better answer than that [...]