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James Wood's preternatural gift for picking apart fiction and rationalizing its beauty is illustrated best in his essay about Kazuo Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO. Wood explains why this is an easy novel to love (the sophisticated mechanism Ishiguro uses to trigger out sympathy) and why it's so difficult to articulate reasons to do so (it's exotic use of science-fiction tropes). He also points out how the weak ending betrays the powerful allegorical nature of the novel. It's an earnest, yet enlightening essay that will enrich your perception of Ishiguro's most praised work. That's essayism at its best. It helps you anchors an articulate perception about something you really love. While Wood's essay on Ishiguro mentions a lot of specifics, it leaves room for further debate and deeper analysis.
What set James Wood apart as an essayist, prior to THE FUN STUFF was his ability to create a composite argument, using several essays to cover the different facets of his theme. In HOW FICTION WORKS for example, Wood deconstructed the fundamentals of successful fiction through several aspects, point of views and novels. That gave him a richness of argument that's not present in THE FUN STUFF. Literary essays are a tricky thing, because if your reader hasn't read the author discussed (or worse doesn't know him/her) he needs a frame of reference to keep interest. That overarching theme is absent from THE FUN STUFF, which pulled a certain number of essays from my grasp, despite Wood's best attempts to wrap up an author's complete career and identity within a few pages.
So THE FUN STUFF doesn't really solve anything, but it highlights the very interest of his career as a public intellectual: bridging the gap between academic concerns and the democratization of reading. Obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done and James Wood should consider going back to his overarching theme structure, because it works so much better for him. I can't see other people than the occasional die-hard essayism fan like me (and maybe the academic-type) take interest into THE FUN STUFF. Maybe sixty percent of the essays work as a piece, but it's a collection with too little cohesiveness to gather major interest like his previous works. James Wood is still a tremendous writer and his work will keep collecting enthusiasm upon publication, but not enough enthusiasm for several readers to make their way to THE FUN STUFF.