James Wood (critic)
James Douglas Graham Wood (born 1 November 1965 in Durham, England) is an English literary critic, essayist and novelist. As of 2010[update] he is Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard University (a part-time position) and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine.
Background and education
Born to Dennis William Wood (born 1928), to Dagenham–born priest and professor of zoology at Durham University, and Sheila Graham Wood, née Lillia, a schoolteacher from Scotland, Wood was raised in Durham in an evangelical wing of the Church of England, an environment he describes as austere and serious. He was educated at Durham Chorister School and Eton College, both on music scholarships. He read English Literature at Jesus College, Cambridge, where in 1988 he graduated with a First.
After Cambridge, Wood "holed up in London in a vile house in Herne Hill, and started trying to make it as a reviewer". His career began reviewing books for The Guardian. In 1990 he won Young Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards. From 1991 to 1995 Wood was the chief literary critic of The Guardian, and in 1994 served as a judge for the Booker Prize for fiction. In 1995 he became a senior editor at The New Republic in the United States. In 2007 Wood left his role at The New Republic to become a staff writer at The New Yorker. Wood's reviews and essays have appeared frequently in the New York Times, The New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books where he is a member of its editorial board. He is also on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College. He was a recipient of the 2010/2011 Berlin Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin.
Wood began teaching literature in a class he co-taught with the late novelist Saul Bellow at Boston University. Wood also taught at Kenyon College in Ohio, and since September 2003 has taught half time at Harvard University, first as a Visiting Lecturer and then as Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University.
Like the critic Harold Bloom, Wood advocates an aesthetic approach to literature, rather than more ideologically driven trends in academic literary criticism. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson Wood explains that the "novel exists to be affecting...to shake us profoundly. When we're rigorous about feeling, we're honoring that." The reader, then, should approach the text as a writer, "which is [about] making aesthetic judgments."
Wood is noted for coining the genre term hysterical realism, which he uses to denote the contemporary conception of the "big, ambitious novel" that pursues vitality "at all costs." Hysterical realism describes novels that are characterized by chronic length, manic characters, frenzied action, and frequent digressions on topics secondary to the story. In response to an essay Wood wrote on the subject, author Zadie Smith described hysterical realism as a "painfully accurate term for the sort of overblown, manic prose to be found in novels like my own White Teeth".
Criticism of Wood by others
In reviewing one of his works Adam Begley of the Financial Times wrote that Wood "is the best literary critic of his generation".
Martin Amis described Wood as "a marvellous critic, one of the few remaining." Fellow book reviewer and journalist Christopher Hitchens was also fond of James Wood's work, in one case giving his students a copy of Wood's review of 'Terrorist' by John Updike, citing it as far better than his own.
Poor James Wood! Now here was a talent—but an odd one, with a narrow, aesthetician’s interests and idiosyncratic tastes... In the company of other critics who wrote with such seriousness, at such length, in such old-fashioned terms, he would have been less burdened with the essentially parodic character of his enterprise.
James Wood wrote a reply in the Fall 2005 issue, explaining his conception of the "autonomous novel," in response to which the n+1 editors devoted a large portion of the journal's subsequent issue to a roundtable on the state of contemporary literature and criticism.
Wood is the author of four books of criticism:
- The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief (Modern Library, 2000) (Bulgarian edition, Kralitza Mab, 2010, ISBN 978-954-533-104-6)
- The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)
- How Fiction Works (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
- The Fun Stuff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012)
He has also written a novel:
- The Book Against God (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2003)
Wood has written introductions to:
- Selected Stories of D. H. Lawrence (Modern Library, 1999)
- Collected Stories of Saul Bellow (Penguin, 2002)
- The Golovlyov Family by Mikhail Evgrafovich Saltykov (2001)
- The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (Penguin, 2004)
- Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (Modern Library, 2001)
- The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy (Modern Library, 2002)
- The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus (Penguin Modern Classics, 2000)
- La Nausée by Jean-Paul Sartre (Penguin Modern Classics, 2000)
- Novels 1944-1953: Dangling Man, The Victim, The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (Library of America, 2003)
- Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (Penguin, 2011)
- The Book of Common Prayer (Penguin, 2012)
- Wood, James (15 March 2010). "A Critic at Large: Keeping it Real". The New Yorker 86 (4): 71–75. Retrieved 16 January 2011. Reviews Lee, Chang-Rae (2010). The Surrendered.
- Wood, James (15 August 2011). "A Critic at Large: Secularism and Its Discontents". The New Yorker 86 (4): 71–75. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
- Wood, James (19&26 December 2011). "The Critics: Books: Reality Effects". The New Yorker 87 (41): 134–138. Retrieved 12 September 2013. Discusses John Jeremiah Sullivan's essays.
- "WOOD, James Douglas Graham", Who's Who 2012, A & C Black, 2012; online edn, Oxford University Press, December 2011 ; online edn, November 2011 accessed 21 Aug 2012
- James Wood’s essays: Head of the class | The Economist
- James Wood, "Child of Evangelism", London Review of Books, Vol. 18, No. 19, 3 October 1996, pp. 3-8.
- James Wood Gets Personal - The Daily Beast
- "The New Yorker Magazine". Retrieved 30 June 2012.
- About | The Common
- [dead link]
- CHAT: Center for Humanities At Tufts - Tufts University
- Smith, Zadie (2001-10-13). "This is how it feels to me". The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-08-17.
- Christopher Hitchens on Books & Ideas
- n+1: Issue 1: Negation
"John Freeman on fearsome literary critic, James Wood". The Times. January 24, 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-23.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: James Wood|
- Collosal critic reality check needed
- Celebrate the force of fiction
- The Prime of James Wood from The New York Review of Books