Book reviewers observe a law that Moses forgot to bring down from the mountain: Thou shalt not praise miscellaneous collections of periodical pieces. When I read censure of an author for gathering fugitive pieces, I usually respond by buying the book. Second-rate work from a first-rate writer has its utility. We would not read Henry James’s potboiling short stories or travel sketches or letters if we did not love Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors; and by-blows cast light on the great work. The perfected work of art stays within itself; the dashed-off journalism releases incoherent, suggestive, sometimes brilliant flashes of illumination. Why else should we read disquisitions on Pee Wee Russell and Fats Waller by a middle-aged English librarian? Even Philip Larkin’s praise for James Bond sheds minor light on The Less Deceived, The Whitsun Weddings, and High...


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