In response to the Epicureans, the stoic philosopher Seneca said, “No one can live a happy life if he turns everything to his own purposes.  Live for others if you want to live for yourself.”  Psychoanalyst Adam Phillips and historian Barbara Taylor trace the origins, evolution, and psychology of benevolent human interaction in On Kindness (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $20).  Chapters explore the earliest arguments for and against it, from ancient and Renaissance writers to Hobbes’s defense of individualism in Leviathan and the rebuttals from Rousseau and Hume.  The psychological root of the conflict between self-interest and the regard for others is traced from the mother/child relationship through puberty and the search for love and safety.  Insightful and erudite, On Kindness shows that the all-too-common, modern condition of disconnectedness is neither beneficial nor inevitable.

On Kindness Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312429744
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Picador - June 22nd, 2010

THE CRACK-UP, recently reprinted by New Directions, collects F. Scott Fitzgerald's working journals, essays, and letters. There are sketches biographical, as in the eponymous essay, which chronicles his downfall at age thirty-nine, and in his letters (to Eliot, Stein, Wharton). And then there are the sketches literary: snippets of stories and characters and dialogues, which the ever-writing F. Scott kept in working journals alphabetized into unconventional categories. C is for "conversations and things overheard," D is for "descriptions of girls," E is for "epigrams," and F is for "feelings and emotions (without girls)." Collected by Edmund Wilson only just after Fitzgerald's death, this genre-defying work operates on a variety of levels: it provides insight into the novelist's process, relationships, life, and the works-that-could-have-been, but it’s also just the right compromise: flash fiction avant le lettre—and from F. Scott!

The Crack-Up Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811218207
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - February 27th, 2009

James Wood, a staff writer for The New Yorker and lecturer in literature at Harvard, describes the devices a novelist uses to convey a story to the reader. How Fiction Works (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24) covers a wide range in the genre, from the novels of Austen to those of Graham Greene. Reading Wood’s slim and erudite guide to literature caused me to plan a rereading of Flaubert, who “decisively established what most readers and writers think of as modern realistic narrative.” Wood cites passages from John Updike’s The Terrorist that significantly added to my understanding of the different ways the puppeteer was pulling the strings. Wood is a friendly, plain-speaking guide, even in areas where the layers of the creative process get dense.  What do Austen, Roth, and David Foster Wallace have in common?  The use of different registers, which is a literary way of saying the author uses diction specific to different characters, whether vernacular, pompous, or clichéd.

How Fiction Works Cover Image
ISBN: 9780312428471
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Picador - July 21st, 2009