James Wood (critic)

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James Wood (critic)
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{{EngvarB|date=November 2017}}{{Use dmy dates|date=November 2017}}

df=y11|1}}| birth_place = Durham, England| death_date = | death_place = | resting_place = | occupation = Critic| nationality = British| ethnicity = | citizenship = | education = Chorister School, Durham| alma_mater = Eton CollegeJesus College, Cambridge| period = | genre = | subject = | movement = | notableworks = | spouse = Claire Messud | partner = | children = | relatives = | awards = Young Journalist of the YearBerlin Prize Fellowship | signature = | signature_alt = | years_active = | module = | website = | portaldisp = }}James Douglas Graham Wood (born 1 November 1965 in Durham, England)"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 is an English{{Ref label|Nationality|A|A}} literary critic, essayist and novelist.Wood was The Guardian{{'}}s chief literary critic between 1992 and 1995. He was a senior editor at The New Republic between 1995 and 2007. {{As of|2014}}, he is Professor of the Practice of Literary Criticism at Harvard UniversityWEB,weblink Department of English " James Wood,, 19 August 2014, and a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine. He lives in the United States.

Early life and family

Born to Dennis William Wood (born 1928), a Dagenham-born minister and professor of zoology at Durham University, and Sheila Graham Wood, née Lillia, a schoolteacher from Scotland,NEWS,weblink Head of the class, The Economist, 9 February 2013, Wood was raised in Durham in an evangelical wing of the Church of England, an environment he describes as austere and serious.NEWS, James, Wood,weblink Child of Evangelism, London Review of Books, 18, 19, 3 October 1996, 3–8, 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.In 1992 he married Claire Messud, an American novelist. They live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with their two children (a son, Lucian, and a daughter, Livia).



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.NEWS, Jimmy, So,weblink James Wood Gets Personal, The Daily Beast, 21 December 2012, 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 and his wife, the novelist Claire Messud, are on the editorial board of the literary magazine The Common, based at Amherst College.WEB,weblink About, The Common (magazine), The Common,


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.In 2010-11, he was the Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of European Comparative Literature in St Anne's College, Oxford.weblink


Like the critic Harold Bloom, Wood advocates an aesthetic approach to literature, rather than more ideologically driven trends that are popular in contemporary academic literary criticism. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson Wood explains that the "novel exists to be 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 coined the 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 characterised 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".NEWS, Smith, Zadie,weblink This is how it feels to me, The Guardian, 13 October 2001, 17 August 2008, London, Wood also coined the term commercial realism, which he identifies with the author Graham Greene, and, in particular, with his book The Heart of the Matter. He clarified it as attention to the minutiae of daily life- taking in mind elements of the everyday that are important owing to their supposed lack of importance. He believes it to be an effective style of writing because it captures reality by depicting banal features as well as interesting ones.weblink How Fiction Works, he emphasised throughout the book, although particularly in the final chapter, that the most important literary style is realism. He said BOOK, How Fiction Works, 2008, Wood, James, James Wood (critic), Vintage, 978-1845950934, 3, weblink Wood additionally attests to the significance of Flaubert in developing the form of the novel:BOOK, How Fiction Works, 2008, Wood, James, James Wood (critic), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 0-374-17340-0, 29,

Others on Wood

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 the Updike novel Terrorist, citing it as far better than his own.Christopher Hitchens on Books & IdeasIn the 2004 issue of n+1 the editors criticised both Wood and The New Republic, writing: }} 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.


He was a recipient of the 2010/2011 Berlin Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin.

Selected works

{{Further|James Wood (critic) bibliography}}
  • BOOK, The broken estate : essays on literature and belief, 1999,
  • BOOK, The irresponsible self : on laughter and the novel, 2004,
  • BOOK, How fiction works, 2008,
  • BOOK, The fun stuff, 2012,
  • BOOK, The nearest thing to life, 2015,
  • BOOK, Upstate, 2018,


{{note label|Nationality|A|A}} Wood has written the following: "I have made a home in the United States, but it is not quite Home. For instance, I have no desire to become an American citizen. Recently, when I arrived at Boston, the immigration officer commented on the length of time I've held a Green Card. 'A Green Card is usually considered a path to citizenship,' he said, a sentiment both irritatingly reproving and movingly patriotic. I mumbled something about how he was perfectly correct, and left it at that. [...] The poet and novelist Patrick McGuinness, in his forthcoming book Other People's Countries (itself a rich analysis of home and homelessness; McGuinness is half-Irish and half-Belgian) quotes Simenon, who was asked why he didn't change his nationality, 'the way successful francophone Belgians often did'. Simenon replied: 'There was no reason for me to be born Belgian, so there’s no reason for me to stop being Belgian.' I wanted to say something similar, less wittily, to the immigration officer: precisely because I don't need to become an American citizen, to take citizenship would seem flippant; leave its benefits for those who need a new land."NEWS, James, Wood,weblink On Not Going Home, London Review of Books, 36, 4, 20 February 2014, 3–8,



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