David Copperfield

Two centuries after his birth, Charles Dickens's greatness is still up for debate. 

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To remember J. D. Salinger is, of course, to remember The Catcher in the Rye—though not, perhaps, how some critics didn't like it in 1951. Catholic World noted its "formidably excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language," and there seemed to be some question as to whether an alienated, hard-drinking, chain-smoking flunkie like Holden Caulfield was going to prove a good influence on the young. Other critics did say it made them "chuckle and ... even laugh aloud," and many immediately compared Holden to Huck Finn.

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White Teeth by Zadie Smith (Random House, 462 pp., $25.95) A genre is hardening. It is becoming easy to describe the contemporary idea of the "big, ambitious novel." Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and a parent can be named: he is Dickens. Such recent novels as The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Mason & Dixon, Underworld, Infinite Jest, and now White Teeth overlap rather as the pages of an atlas expire into each other at their edges.

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