Hardwick at the Review

July 27: The American novelist and critic Elizabeth Hardwick was born on this day in 1916. In 1963 Hardwick co-founded the New York Review of Books, which promised readers in an introductory note that it would waste no time or space "on books which are trivial in their intentions or venal in their effects, except occasionally to reduce a temporarily inflated reputation or to call attention to a fraud." Four years earlier, in a Harper's article titled "The Decline of Book Reviewing", Hardwick had expressed her disgust with contemporary literary journalism more pointedly:

In America, now...a genius may indeed go to his grave unread, but he will hardly have gone to it unpraised. Sweet, bland commendations fall everywhere upon the scene; a universal, if somewhat lobotomized, accommodation reigns. A book is born into a puddle of treacle; the brine of hostile criticism is only a memory. Everyone is found to have "filled a need," and is to be "thanked" for something and to be excused for "minor faults in an otherwise excellent work." "A thoroughly mature artist" appears many times a week and often daily; many are bringers of those "messages the Free World will ignore at its peril."

The first NYRB issue featured unpaid contributions by many of the famous writers in Hardwick's circle -- Mary McCarthy, Alfred Kazin, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, John Berryman, Gore Vidal, Robert Lowell, and others. Hardwick's article for the first issue, a discussion of Ring Lardner, shows that she was willing to give deserved praise, and that she could turn a phrase:

In a country like ours where there will necessarily be so much journalism, so much support of the popular, the successful, we are naturally unusually grateful when we find the genuine among the acceptable. And with Lardner there is something more: he made literature out of baseball, the bridge game, and the wisecrack. Of course he was terribly funny, but even in his funniest stories there is a special desolation, a sense of national emptiness filled by stupidity and vanity.... He wrapped his dreadful events in comic language, as you would put an insecticide in a bright can.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.