A Fan's Notes

A new book teaches us how to read novels. But wait--didn't we already know how to do that?

In how fiction works (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 265 pages), James Wood tells a story from Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March, a novel that since its publication in 1932 has probably been read by only two people, namely James Wood and Joseph Roth. A military officer visits his servant, who is on his deathbed. When the officer enters, the old servant tries to click his heels together, even though he is under the covers and his feet are bare. It's a moment of deep, lancing pathos, when you seem to take in both characters' entire lives for an instant, as if...

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