Following his two-volume venture “The Novel: An Alternative History,” in which he surveyed the innermost roots of literature, author and literary critic Steven Moore has come out with a newer, fresher take on the written word.
“It’s mostly about innovative fiction of the late 20th century,” Moore wrote about his upcoming book, “My Back Pages: Essays and Reviews,” in an email interview. “The first half consists of a couple hundred book reviews written over the last 40 years and the second half about two dozen essays.”
While not officially the third volume, “My Back Pages” serves as somewhat of a final installment to Moore’s exploration of the history of the novel.
“I didn’t have the energy to write the huge concluding volume on modern fiction that I intended,” Moore wrote. “So I decided it might be time to gather all my scattered writings into one convenient place. As I assembled them, I realized that I had already written about many of the novelists I planned to cover in that final volume, so this new book is sort of a surrogate for that unwritten third volume.”
Moore’s writing is reflective of his untraditional approach to literary criticism. He started his collegiate studies as a history major, and this background is seen as he strays from theoretical styles, opting instead for more historical angles on fiction.
“I was more concerned with locating modern writers in the continuum of literary history, and drawing attention to the little-known ones, rather than deconstructing their work,” Moore said.
Having played in several bands throughout college, popular culture references and glimmers of folk-inspired idiosyncrasy shine through in Moore’s work. His texts are casual and attainable for contemporary audiences.
“The music of the 1960s was my first love, especially the innovative lyrics of Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Robin Williamson (of the Incredible String Band), Syd Barrett, and Keith Reid (of Procol Harum),” Moore wrote. “So when I turned to literature I carried their sensibility with me: their fanciful use of language, their alternative worldviews, their iconoclasm and nonconformity, their willingness to be different. I’m not your typical literary critic (no academic affiliation, bookselling background), and I owe part of that to them.”
An avid listener, writer and thinker, Moore is, above all else, an ardent reader. He holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University, for which his dissertation on William Gaddis (“William Gaddis”) was published in 1989. Drawn to him from shared interests in mythology and religion, he resonated with Gaddis’s works and the ways in which he resembled James Joyce, an author Moore deeply admired in his 20s.
“Since hardly anything had been written about him (Gaddis), I decided to rectify that. Both my first published article and first book were on Gaddis,” Moore said. “I liked his style, his outlook on life, his humor and sarcasm, his encyclopedic range — he was Mr. Right as far as my literary tastes were concerned.”
Now a prominent force in the realm of literary criticism, Moore encourages burgeoning writers to do the unthinkable: to be themselves.
“Before I began writing the first volume of my novel history, I assumed I would be writing it in standard academese, and dragged my feet because I had grown tired of that style,” Moore said. “Then one day I just decided to write it in my own voice, quirks and all, and the floodgates of creativity burst open. I dashed off the 36-page introduction in a week, and I think it’s that personal tone that separates my criticism from the academic variety. Similarly, my favorite writers are those with a distinctive, even eccentric voice of their own.”
Moore has been living in Ann Arbor since 2001. If you haven’t seen him around Hatcher, where he’s done the bulk of his research for the past 16 years, you can catch him promoting “My Back Pages” at Literati this Monday.