A Treat

There’s been a mildly interesting, or interesting in parts, discussion at Crooked Timber about more obscure (or relatively obscure, slightly obscure, not really obscure but not on any of those Top 100 lists either) favourite books. I got in early with Randall Jarrell’s Pictures from an Institution, and it’s had more seconds than any other choice that I’ve noticed. Three, plus a link to a quotation on Terry Teachout’s blog, which I’ve just added to Quotations and will also offer up here. It is so generally apposite.

With her brightest students Miss Batterson was always on terms of uneasy, disappointed admiration; their work never seemed to be helping their development as much as the work of the stupider students was helping theirs. Every year there was a little war—an eighteenth century one, though—about whether the school magazine was printing only the work of a clique. Miss Batterson was perfectly good-hearted in this: if you cannot discriminate between good and bad yourself, it cannot help seeming somewhat poor-spirited and arbitrary of other people to do so. Aesthetic discrimination is no pleasanter, seems no more just and rational to those discriminated against, than racial discrimination; the popular novelist would be satisfied with his income from serials and scenarios and pocket books if people would only see that he is a better writer than Thomas Mann.

And yet that book was written in the 50s. How he would have enjoyed Stephen King’s whinge at the National Book Awards, and the spectacle of literature professors attacking dead white guys.

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