what Coetzee likes


A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing, but dangerous things are very often exciting, and only the truly saintly would deny that there is a pleasure in forming opinions of writers whom one has never read a word of. Without experience to cloud one’s judgment or information to slow one’s thinking, the passage from ignorance of a writer’s work to a vague acquaintance with its main elements — courtesy, say, of an essay or a review executed by someone better versed — can be a stimulating imaginative exercise. On the basis of brief descriptions and short quotations the reader is free to conjure up a figure who may not much resemble the artist in question but is rich in associations anyway and who will do — will have to do — for now (which sometimes, sadly, is all the time one has).

I’m thinking here of W. G. Sebald, the late German writer whom I’ve never read but am told I should by people who impress me — most recently by J. M. Coetzee, the Nobel Prize-winning South African novelist whose new collection of literary essays, “Inner Workings,” includes compressed studies of several authors who fall, at least for me, in Sebald’s category of highly ranked European worthies (Robert Musil and Bruno Schulz are others) whose pages are easy to postpone turning, but hard, in some circles, to avoid discussing.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.