Cover image for Sea battles on dry land : essays
Sea battles on dry land : essays
Brodkey, Harold.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : H. Holt, 1999.
Physical Description:
vii, 452 pages ; 24 cm
Celebrity and politics -- Wit and whimsy -- Life, love, and sex -- Language and literature.
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3552.R6224 S4 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A brilliant, provocative collection of essays, profiles, and criticism, from one of the great literary figures of our time. Renowned worldwide for his fiction, Harold Brodkey may actually be better known among American readers for his work as an essayist. By turns witty and contemplative, sympathetic and scathing, Brodkey's essays, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker, treat a remarkably broad range of subjects. Whether writing on the New York City subway or country gardens, on presidential politics or haute couture, on Woody Allen or Walter Winchell, Brodkey was a master of the subtle and unexpected observation. Sea Battles on Dry Land gathers the best of Brodkey's essays into a single volume-among them lighthearted Talk of the Town pieces, the prophetic Notes on American Fascism, and a profile of Frank O'Hara, one of the most eloquent portraits of a legary American writer. Gifted with a capacious and searching intelligence, Brodkey was equally skilled at writing film reviews, celebrity profiles, and erudite discourses on the nature of fiction. Sea Battles on Dry Land provides some of the finest critical writing of our era and will remain an essential collection for many years to come.

Author Notes

Harold Brodkey was a novelist, short-story writer, and essayist. He was born in Alton, Illinois, in 1930. He graduated from Harvard University.

Brodkey worked briefly as a page at NBC before a story he had shown to an editor at The New Yorker was published in 1953. His first short-story collection "First Love and Other Stories" was published in 1958.

Brodkey was also a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker. He became legendary for a novel that he spent much of his adult life writing with parts being published in his 1988 short-story collection, Stories in an Almost Classical Mode before it was finally published as The Runaway Soul.

In 1993, Brodkey announced to the readers of The New Yorker that he had AIDS. He chronicled his illness in a diary that was published in The New Yorker.

Harold Brodkey died on January 26, 1996.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The late Harold Brodkey established a considerable reputation for meaty yet stylish writing, whether in the short-story form, the novel, or the essay; and the best of his work in the latter genre is now gathered in one exceptional volume. At one point, in an appraisal of Jane Austen and Henry James, Brodkey posits, "I am not a scholar, merely a writer having a go at this subject." And that is both his charm and purpose in all these pieces--not insisting on anything, simply offering defensible and carefully articulated judgments on a considerable variety of personal interests. Books and writing, of course, are the primary wellsprings of his thoughts and words; two new books on Marlon Brando, for instance, launch him into fashioning a profile that is almost flirtatious in tone. At other times, Brodkey has things on his mind other than books, such as in "Sex and Looks," a wonderfully cogent and personal definition of good looks. There is such force and fluidity of language to be found here. (Reviewed March 15, 1999)0805060529Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

The late writer best known for his fiction (First Love and Other Sorrows) demonstrates in this provocative, if somewhat uneven, collection of essays an impressive range, examining subjects as diverse as the Western literary canon, American fascism and Carol Burnet. Brodkey's styleÄat once conversational, confessional and scholarlyÄproves flexible enough to accommodate his diverse subjects. Particularly rewarding are his forays into literary criticism, an art he practices with rigor, precision and a striking seriousness of purpose, employing mercifully little jargon. "Jane Austen vs. Henry James," notwithstanding its flippant title, presents a convincing and elegantly argued case for the superiority of Austen, while his meditation on John O'Hara, "The Roar of the Canon," showcases an ability to discriminate between fluff and substance in other writers' claims to greatness. The shorter pieces in the collection, which appeared as "Talk of the Town" items in the New Yorker, are often unsatisfying, and several of the essays are unqualified disasters (in "The Woody Allen Mess," for example, Brodkey awkwardly ties reflections on his, and his fictional character Wiley Silenowicz's, status as adopted children with musings on celebrity culture). But these pieces show just how talented and careful a writer and critic Brodkey was, and how versatile the essay can be in such capable hands. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Noted novelist and short story writer Brodkey (This Wild Darkness, LJ 10/1/96), who died in 1996, also wrote criticism and essays. This collection includes a number of pieces previously published in such magazines as The New Yorker. They are divided into four sections: "Celebrity & Politics," "Whimsey & Wit," "Life, Love & Sex," and "Language & Literature." As in many compilations of this sort, the quality varies, with some of the more general pieces (such as the author's thoughts on American fascism or on time and language in his writings) rather fragmented and extremely complex. Best are the profiles (Marlon Brando, Walter Winchell, Frank O'Hara, William Shawn) and personal reminiscences. In the latter category, the essay "AIDS and Loss in City of Ghosts" is both moving and thoughtful. This is recommended for public and undergraduate libraries, especially those that have Brodkey's fiction in their collections.‘Morris Hounion, N.Y.C. Technical Coll. Lib., Brooklyn, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.