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The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard by J. G. Ballard

A Man of Extinction: J.G. Ballard’s Distinctive Cast of Mind

A review by Nicholas Fraser

(Editor's note: Due to the recent release of The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard in trade paperback, we offer you this review by Nicholas Fraser. This review, courtesy of Harper's Magazine originally ran in the Review-a-Day program November 6, 2009.)

For a long time, the spirit of pinched traditionalism pervaded postwar British culture. Writers such as Angus Wilson and C. P. Snow vied with one another to reproduce old-fashioned narratives, upholding the values of gentility via the tired means of drawing-room comedies or novels of manners. In the tabloid press, violence was freely described, but it remained localized, confined to gory particulars. Something must have appeared attractive about this culture of self-imposed restraint, but it was hard for writers to confront with any confidence the contemporary condition of the human race.

Sometime in the 1960s, however, a rawer Britain emerged. One way out of dying Britishness was ribaldry or irony, and at this the novelist...



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Mary Shelley by Miranda Seymour

It was with a high heart that I set out to begin my planned survey of the science-fiction scene by reading Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio. Bear can write, something a lot of science fiction types don't do very well. He is not a stylist in the way of fantasy novelist Ray Bradbury (and thank God for...


The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

The endless paeans to good American behavior in World War II hide the brutal but obvious reality that war rarely brings out the best in people. Juan Gabriel Vasquez's Informers (Riverhead, $25.95) shows the devastating effects of that war on a single family in Colombia, a country seemingly at a...


The Room and the Chair by Lorraine Adams

One such person who, for no particular reason, love the history and music of language, is the novelist Lorraine Adams, whose The Room and the Chair (Knopf, $25.95) is packed with the kinds of verbal flourishes that will send the editors of the OED scrambling to update their database. What, for...


Londongrad by Reggie Nadelson

On a warm summer's day, cold is too depressing to think about -- which, Reggie Nadelson suggests in Londongrad (Walker & Company, $25), is what bad weather has in common with Russia, that vast, shambolic empire of thawing permafrost, radioactive sushi, and sleazy "businessmen" of the kind whose...


The Red Prince: The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke by Timothy Snyder

Not long ago, Ukrainians polled on behalf of a television show were asked to identify "The Greatest Ukrainian." Lenin, whose likeness once disfigured every Soviet-bloc square or railway station, finished in twenty-third place, behind Nikolai Gogol, author of Dead Souls. Perhaps inevitably, a row...


Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

Her plight was dire; so, too, are the lives in Adam Ross's first novel, Mr. Peanut (Knopf, $25.95). "No matter what they did, David thought, no matter how hard they tried, they'd always come back to this place of disappointment," Ross writes, and this place -- where one can carefully nurture...


The Microscripts by Robert Walser

The magnificently humble. The enormously small. The meaningfully ridiculous. Robert Walser's work often reads like a dazzling answer to the question, How immense can modesty be? If Emily Dickinson made cathedrals of em dashes and capital letters and the angle of winter light, Walser accomplishes...


History of Beauty by Umberto Eco

Beauty is a mess, a sinkhole, a trap. Approach it philosophically and you're immediately bogged down in questions of idealism, empiricism, subjectivity, and objectivity. Plato began the conversation, Kant tried to finish it, and Santayana, embracing Plato and Kant, tried to encapsulate it. Take...


Homesick (Hebrew Literature) by Eshkol Nevo

"A Life based on survival as opposed to love was perhaps desirable," David Peplin speculates, a line that could almost serve as an epigraph for another novel of fraught coexistences, Homesick (Dalkey Archive, $15.95), by the young Israeli writer Eshkol Nevo. Castel, a crummy hilltop village...


Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard

"To make a character ring true it needs must be in some way contradictory, somewhere a paradox," says Muriel Spark's writer-heroine Fleur Talbot in Loitering with Intent. Contemplator of God, party-going sybarite; unpretentious working girl, resplendent queen bee; generous friend, vengeful harpy...


2000 Years of Mayan Literature by Dennis Tedlock

Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber by Many Farber

Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962 by Megan Prelinger

The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century by Alan Brinkley

Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt

Twilight of the Superheroes: Stories by Deborah Eisenberg

Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic by Michael Scammell

Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places by Bill Streever

Taming the Gods: Religion and Democracy on Three Continents by Ian Buruma

Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black by Nadine Gordimer

It's Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower by Michela Wrong

Spring, Heat, Rains: A South Indian Diary by David Dean Shulman

Occupied City by David Peace

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman

Armenian Golgotha: A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918 (Vintage) by Grigoris Balakian

Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary: With Additional Material from a Thesaurus of Old English by Christian Kay

Knut Hamsun: Dreamer & Dissenter by Ingar Sletten Kolloen

Fanon by John Edgar Wideman

Alien Hearts (New York Review Books Classics) by Guy De Maupassant

Letters of Ted Hughes by Ted Hughes

The Myths of Liberal Zionism by Yitzhak Laor

The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald by Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell

Cheever: A Life (Vintage) by Blake Bailey

The Third Reich at War: 1939-1945 by Richard J. Evans

For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus by Frederick Brown

Notebooks from New Guinea: Field Notes of a Tropical Biologist by Vojtech Novotny

City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and '70s by Edmund White

The Collected Stories by Leonard Michaels

A Common Pornography Signed Edition by Kevin Sampsell

John Zorn: Tradition and Transgression (08 Edition) by John Brackett

God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis

Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right by Jennifer Burns

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein

The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Soldiers Who Saved Italy's Art During World War II by Ilaria Dagnini Brey

Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard by Richard Brody

Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi

Aesop's Mirror: A Love Story by Maryalice Huggins

Amigoland by Oscar Casares

The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes

Bite the Hand That Feeds You: Essays and Provocations by Henry Fairlie

The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard by J. G. Ballard

A Mercy (Vintage International) by Toni Morrison

Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors by Lisa Appignanesi

Why Poetry Matters by Jay Parini

2666 by Roberto Bolano

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Woman of Rome: A Life of Elsa Morante by Lily Tuck

Camus, A Romance by Elizabeth Hawes

Backstory in Blue: Ellington at Newport '56 by John Fass Morton

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike (P.S.) by Joyce Carol Oates

The Forever War (Vintage) by Dexter Filkins

The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War by Alexander Waugh

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih


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