Precious Nonsense: The Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's Epitaphs on His Children, and Twelfth Night

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University of California Press, Jan 1, 1998 - Literary Criticism - 218 pages
What is it about our experience of great literature that makes us treasure these works so highly? Stephen Booth suggests that a great source, perhaps the great source, of the special appeal of our most valued works is that they are, in one way or another, utterly nonsensical. Reading the rhetorical tangles, the illogical leaps, and the most absurd imagery of three disparate texts - the Gettysburg Address, Ben Jonson's Epitaphs on his children, and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night - Booth demonstrates how poetics triumph over logic in the "mind games" that enrich the experience of reading.

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Stephen Booth teaches us to read closely enough to enjoy great literature to its fullest. That is, if we are willing to work hard and pay attention. I have never been disappointed by a Stephen Booth essay, book, or explication of a phrase, sentence, poem or scene. Anyone who has ever listened to a great passage of writing and wondered "How did the author do that?" will find satisfying insight into the way language actually works on the mind. This book, like Booth's other works, patiently reveals how the reader is brought to understand a meaning that almost miraculously transcends the momentary grammar and logic of the sentence as it flows past the ear. If you love language this much, read Booth. The heck of it is, some his work is out of print -- including this book, as I write this, though you can read it online at the U. of California Press's Digital Library. There's also interlibrary loan. In fact, 50 cents a page for a used copy only sounds extravagant until you consider you couldn't get close to that kind of cognitive pleasure out of a candy bar. 



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About the author (1998)

Stephen Booth is Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his many publications on Shakespeare is Shakespeare's Sonnets, Edited with Analytic Commentary (1979).

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