The novel: The Radetzky March *by*James Roth
The first critic: James Wood in How Fiction Works
The second critic: Lev Grossman in *Time *magazine, July 28, 2008
Since I am only a critic of a critic of a critic, it is not necessary for me to read the book that started all this. The article that I read attempts to explain the role, if any, that books about how to read novels play in society today. The subject used by James Wood is *The Radetzky March *by Roth. Lev takes a powerful stance at the beginning by opening with the scene from *The Radetzky March *of a servant who is on his deathbed approached by a military officer. “When the officer enters, the old servant tries to click his heels together, even though he is under the covers and his feet are bare.” The words “deep” and “lancing” following this sentence further etch the incident into the reader’s mind for instant retrieval at the end of the article, where Lev ends with a referral to this episode. The paragraphs between the first and the last are intransitive, with Lev taking brief and varied stabs at other books along the way, including Adorno’s *Aesthetic Theory, *Woolf’s *The Waves, *and *Swann’s Way *by Proust, along with an example from Tolstoy. The article well brings out both the ambiguous and deserving ranks that books of this category retain in our society.
Lev uses several good analogies to deliberately convey his assessment of the topic; to quote one, when comparing Wood’s glorious enthusiasm of *The Redetzky March *to “going birding with somebody who has better binoculars than you, and is willing to share.” Such anecdotes allay any boredom the reader may feel while reading such an underwhelming subject.
This article is both informative and inconclusive at the same time. But that is the intent -no, the fate of any writer on such a topic. “The novel is corrosive to systematic thought- whatever is good about it is precisely that increment that resists theorization.” Well said, Lev, but it sure is fun to try.