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James Elkins

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The Yacoubian building by ʻAlāʾ Aswānī

Bacacay by Witold Gombrowicz

Eeeee Eee Eeee: A Novel by Tao Lin

The Wilderness: A Novel by Samantha Harvey

Dirty Havana Trilogy: A Novel in Stories by Pedro Juan Gutierrez

The Final Solution: A Story of Detection (P.S.) by Michael Chabon

On Pictures and the Words that Fail Them by James Elkins

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Reviews260 reviews

Tagsconservative literature (2), art education (2), translation (2), Derrida (2), academic novels (2), over-intellectual novels (1), belated romanticism (1), traditional literature (1), amnesia (1), pre-modern literature (1) — see all tags

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About meArt historian, teaching in Chicago.

I am working on two books about experimental writing that uses images: nonfiction ( and fiction (

Excepts from my books, etc., and contact form:

About my libraryMy reviews here aren't for people who haven't read the books. They are problems raised by the books. I am happy to discuss the reviews (if that's what they are), but they're mostly mnemonics for me.

Reviews here are complete up to 2013; since then I have been posting on the two sites listed above -- many more reviews are there.

Also, sorry LibraryThing made me add all my own books, in order to qualify as an author. (July 2009)



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Real nameJames Elkins

LocationChicago, IL

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URLs /profile/JimElkins (profile)
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Member sinceJul 23, 2009

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Really enjoyed your review of Knausgaard; I realise that the stylistic and other issues you raise are things you think about regularly but not everyone can bridge the gap between theoretical musing and practical criticism.
Very much agreed with your response to "Desperste characters".
Adrian B
1) Sorry you've sometimes got unruly responses re books, whether here or elsewhere. But 2) I've just come upon your review of Wittgenstein's Mistress, another excellent one and this time I wildly concur. Moreover I think the narrator of it has the strongest & most distinctive voice I've ever encountered in literature with the exception of that in a book by 3) er, Sam Savage. Best.
What an interesting review of Cry of the Sloth, and how different a take on it to mine. I didn't for a moment think that the protagonist was one the reader was meant to sympathise with. He certainly seemed to me someone I'd cross the road to avoid at the best of times, shown in the book at the worst of times--a deeply unpleasant chap who was sliding into insanity.

I didn't find the book funny (and I think the humour in it was not the aim but rather a night-light in the darkness), but I did find it great fun to read. Twice, so far. To me it's far from the best of Savage, but to me again it speaks well for it that we could have such different impressions of it.

I come upon your reviews now & again and enjoy them even whilst sometimes wildly disagreeing with them . ..
I liked your review of Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. I do not see it the same way (as a collection of self-indulgent essays (my crude paraphrase)), but it might not be that big a shift in my ideas to at least have your perspective in my peripheral vision. I see his work as more of a discussion with with the authors that came before him,and to integrate that discussion into a story that will give some sort of coherent description of his world to the future. However, it may be that in regard to my reading of his work, as Coetzee said, "there is an element of the delusional in the claim,..." Diary, p.162.
Thanks! Sometimes I think about giving that Macedonio book another try, but I think I'm better off trying to make sense of some of his shorter texts before revisiting it. I'd say that for novels you might enjoy somebody like Roberto Arlt or Juan Carlos Onetti (The Brief Life being the ideal place to start with him). Sort of the other side of the Borges coin. Or, for short stories, Felisberto Hernández or Silvina Ocampo. I'm most fond of that middle part of the 20th century, as my recommendations show.
Incredible review of DFW's Pale King - and you filed it on April 15 as well. Brilliant.
Coetzee's blurb misled in re Disquiet. Glad you noticed.
"My reviews here aren't for people who haven't read the books." Well, you may think that's true, but I've just read two of your reviews of Thomas Bernhard, who I do not know at all, and I found them very interesting. If you read Faulkner at all, please drop in to the "William Faulkner and His Literary Kin" group, and join in a discussion.
Excellent review of New Impressions of Africa, will influence my own reading of this book.
I just finished Siamese and read your review as well. Very insightful!

So if you have the time, help me out: I'm completely muddled about the ending. Olav's malevolence seems pretty clear, and I'm sure he took the money from the dresser. But was the vacuum cleaner salesman a ruse to distract the wife (the salesmen kept looking at his watch) while Olav entered through the bathroom window (???). Because she wouldn't have opened the window, and Edwin sensed a man there. The problem is, why the subterfuge at all, Olav had access to the house already and it's unlikely she would have done much anyway to stop him? I imagine he killed Edwin...taking the money likely would have felt like his due payment in regard to the discussion they had in the beginning.

Am I completely lost here?

Thanks for your help!
Wow! 1,500 page reading list! A biblioholic's dream!

Sorry again for the tardy reply-- I didn't think I would have messages on MyLibraryThing.

I will look for the book born of the hefty reading list!

Much happiness in 2010!
Hi Jim,

So sorry I never replied to your email of last July... I became overwhelmed with the task of entering all my books (I have only entered a fraction) and sort of dropped out of My-Library-Thing. I only resurfaced today when I followed a link regarding books of interest to-- of all things!-- my own collection! Ah, the difficulties of managing unwieldy collections!

I don't suppose my answer now will do any good for your seminar of last summer (!) but, in the interest of the topic, I can offer a few suggestions that come quickly to mind.

Not sure exactly what intersection of art and education you are more focused on... but here goes:

1. Art Subjects- Making Artists in the University. Howard Singerman. I read this many years ago, around the same time I read your own book, Why Art Cannot Be Taught. It was a point-counterpoint reading experience that I found mutually enriching.

2. Writing on Drawing- Essays on Drawing Practice and Research. Ed. Steve Garner. Haven't had the opportunity to thoroughly read yet-- but generous light reading of this confirms my original impression of its general helpfulness.

3. The Undressed Art- Why we Draw. Peter Steinhart. As an artist and art educator I found this book to be a delightful read from beginning to end. Have read more than once myself and also have read sections of this (aloud) to my classes at Bridgewater State College.

4. Art Making and Education. Maurice Brown and Diana Korzenik

5. Advice to Young Artists in a Postmodern Era. William V. Dunning with Ben Mahmoud

6. Student Development in College: Theory, Research and Practice. Evans, Forney, Guido-DiBrito. This is purely education based but it is a fine overview of adult/student developmental theory. It is well organized and will enable its reader to branch out into any area that captures her interest.

7. Counseling Adults in Transition- Linking Practice with Theory. Goodman, Schlossberg, Anderson. While this is a counseling/education text I find it addresses the pitfalls and patterns in transition (life changes for adults) in ways that are universally particular. I have found that my reading on developmental theory for adult learners is a particularly helpful informant of my studio teaching. I teach studio art at Bridgewater State College, the largest state college in Massachusetts.

8. Visualizing Research: A Guide To The Research Process In Art And Design. Gray and Malins (?) This is on my Christmas list- I am hopeful that it is as interesting as it appears, but as Santa hasn't visited me yet-- nor do I know his general perception of my naughtiness/niceness-- I can only hopefully await the arrival of this text.

Hoping this is helpful, however belatedly,
Debra Marek
Hi Jim! Since when have you been on librarything? I see we use it differently: I actually have ALL of my books catalogued while you are more critical/selective. And I only recently admitted to being an LT Author... --Elizabeth H.
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