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Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  108 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A dazzling new collection of essays—on reading, writing, form, and thought—from one of America’s master writers.

It begins with the personal, both past and present. It emphasizes Gass’s lifelong attachment to books and moves on to the more analytical, as he ponders the work of some of his favorite writers (among them Kafka, Nietzsche, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Proust)
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published January 17th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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Nick Craske
Gass welcomes you into his home, into his study with its surrounding library, and leads you through stacks and piles and columns of books to a large generous desk and offers you a seat in a well worn and inviting armchair and then, after his insightful, compassionate and artful chat and banter on many writers, their styles and their lives -which William began as he greeted you- and after holding you rapt in your ecstasy of listening he chooses numerous and varied works of fiction from the toweri ...more
MJ Nicholls
The most recent compilation of post-millennium Gass essays is as pleasurable and eclectic as the two previous collections, A Temple of Texts and Tests of Time, despite the absence of alliteration in the title. Opening with six rare personal essays (Gass is not overly fond of childhood reminiscing) such as ‘Slices of Life in a Library,’ where he discusses his customised home-cum-library, with pictures viewable here, ‘Spit in the Mitt,’ a very rare short piece about his father and his baseball con ...more
William H. Gass’s Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts is a remarkable work of criticism on several levels. Gass, who is the author of both fiction and literary criticism, is the master of his subject matter, and in the course of the book’s 350 pages, he engages the reader both through his delight in the poetry and prose of his favorite writers and his scorn for the propagandizing and sophistry of those who have earned his enmity. But where Gass’s work really sparkles is in his abilit ...more
Ian Agadada-Davida
Judgemental as Anything

All rise! The judge is in the court: "I write to indict mankind." Gass almost said "indite", because that would have been really punny. He didn't, but he tells us anyway about the pun foregone but not forgotten. And so a little titter (whatever that is) runs through the courtroom and back out the entrance.

The Emperor Gassius is a self-proclaimed master of the declaratory sentence. Here he plumbs the depths of the imperious and obnoxious mode. As the subtitle promises, it i
James Murphy
This is Gass's latest collection of essays, grouped into 4 sections. The first part is several personal essays, and it's followed by what I think is Gass's foremost quality, literary criticism. Three of his lectures on classicism is included, and the book concludes with 3 essays on the technical aspects of writing and grammar.

For me the criticism is the backbone of the collection. Here's a precious portrait of Gertrude Stein not to be missed. I learned even new, useful intricacies about reading
Jim Coughenour
For the past few months I've dipped in and out of Gass's latest collection of essays until I've read them all. There were only a few doldrums (the essay on Malcolm Lowry) and disappointments (the essay on Kafka). And yes I could live happily without ever reading another word by or about Henry James.

But Gass is impressive whatever his subject. His essay on Nietzsche is the best meditation on that vexing, fearless and pitiable philosopher that I've ever read. "Kinds of Killing" – beginning as a re
Douglas Dalrymple
Reading Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence when it was first published, I found it difficult, but not impossible, to believe that the author was 92 years old (he’s 104 now). I say ‘not impossible’ because there’s something in Barzun’s professorial delivery – however intellectually nimble – that suggests a comfort with his topic only earned after, well, decades and decades of deep acquaintance.

William Gass, at 87 years, is by now almost the fogey Barzun was twelve years ago, but I find it e
Joseph Nicolello
Cringeworthy cornball bile; the fat lady sings.
Somewhere in the middle of Life Sentences -his collection of essays covering topics biographical, autobiographical, syntactical, critical, and classical- William Gass includes an odd quote from another author, John Gardner:
"I have nothing to say, except that I think words are beautiful. I'm a stylist; for me, everything is rhythm and rhyme. There are a handful of other stylists, like Gass, Elkin, Barthelme, Barth, and Ralph Ellison, who have nothing to say either. We just write."

I say "odd qu
Dec 20, 2012 Geoff marked it as to-read
Picked this up today as an early Twelfth Night present for myself. The lovely hardcover wasn't not unpricey-esque, but its pages have the rough-cut edges and heavy grain of newly pressed mind-fodder put to flattened and dried pulp, and overall it is not bulky, maybe say mid-bulk, and rests in my hand nicely.
As with any work by Gass, this one is full of cleverisms and a good bit of enlightenment. His writing on Nietzsche is almost worth the price of the book.
This is the good stuff right here, folks. It may take me a while before I can explain why. But almost all of these essays are awe-inspiring.
Had to return this to the library. I am reading to leisurely, which is exactly how to read this. Bother.
Wow. The essay "Kinds of Killing" (original found here: is an amazing commentary on the Holocaust. I'd love to take a class on this essay alone and discuss each paragraph. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, it's one of those things everyone should read.

"How was anti-Seimitism, so patently false in all its ages of activity, able to lodge itself in so many minds and thereafter weaken--no, remove--their moral character? How, in general, do people become slav
In reading this book, I made something of a mistake; I chose to read it much in the way one reads a novel - front to back and in a few sittings as I could manage, time-wise. Reading from the front to back, in itself was not really problematic, but my overall enjoyment of this book would have been enhanced had I set the book down for a brief time after reading an essay and before reading the next one.

Gass’ erudition is evident but , by reading these essays too closely together, some of his brill
This is learned. Refreshing for someone so long out of college. I also think, fairly astute, at least judging by its criticism of works that I've read. (Obviously, the jury's out on it's criticism of works I haven't read, which is most of its criticism.)

I think though, that William Gass plays favorites. Who doesn't? I know. But a critic really shouldn't. My approach to criticism (if you haven't glanced at my bookshelf) is to cast one's net wide, cast one's net deep, turn one's nose up at nothin
Perhaps I'm going out of order. This is the first of Gass' works I have read. I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly his literary criticism.
No matter how old he gets, his essays remain as sharp as ever. "Kinds of Killing" & "Lust" are particularly noteworthy.
The man has an eye and an ear for good prose that is almost matchless - not just his own but others, too.
I didn't read all the essays, but the ones I read were good, as expected from Gass.
Physically, this is a very handsome book. The essays were a pleasure to read.
Anthony Connolly
Great mind, exquisite prose. Not for the faint of heart.
Ingeniously intelligent essays.
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William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor.

Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cit
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