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A passionate literary innovator, eloquent in language and uncompromising in his social observation and his pursuit of emotional truth, James Agee (1909––1955) excelled as novelist, critic, journalist, and screenwriter. In his brief, often turbulent life, he left enduring evidence of his unwavering intensity, observant eye, and sometimes savage wit. This Library of America v A passionate literary innovator, eloquent in language and uncompromising in his social observation and his pursuit of emotional truth, James Agee (1909––1955) excelled as novelist, critic, journalist, and screenwriter. In his brief, often turbulent life, he left enduring evidence of his unwavering intensity, observant eye, and sometimes savage wit. This Library of America volume collects his fiction along with his extraordinary experiment in what might be called prophetic journalism, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), a collaboration with photographer Walker Evans that began as an assignment from Fortune magazine to report on the lives of Alabama sharecroppers, and that expanded into a vast and unique mix of reporting, poetic meditation, and anguished self-revelation that Agee described as “an effort in human actuality.” A 64-page photo insert reproduces Evans’s now-iconic photographs from the expanded 1960 edition. A Death in the Family, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that he worked on for over a decade and that was published posthumously in 1957, recreates in stunningly evocative prose Agee’s childhood in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the upheaval his family experienced after his father’s death in a car accident when Agee was six years old. A whole world, with its sensory vividness and social constraints, comes to life in this child’s-eye view of a few catastrophic days. It is presented here for the first time in a text with corrections based on Agee’s manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. This volume also includes The Morning Watch (1951), an autobiographical novella that reflects Agee’s deep involvement with religious questions, and three short stories: “Death in the Desert,” “They That Sow in Sorrow Shall Not Reap,” and the remarkable allegory “A Mother’s Tale.”


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A passionate literary innovator, eloquent in language and uncompromising in his social observation and his pursuit of emotional truth, James Agee (1909––1955) excelled as novelist, critic, journalist, and screenwriter. In his brief, often turbulent life, he left enduring evidence of his unwavering intensity, observant eye, and sometimes savage wit. This Library of America v A passionate literary innovator, eloquent in language and uncompromising in his social observation and his pursuit of emotional truth, James Agee (1909––1955) excelled as novelist, critic, journalist, and screenwriter. In his brief, often turbulent life, he left enduring evidence of his unwavering intensity, observant eye, and sometimes savage wit. This Library of America volume collects his fiction along with his extraordinary experiment in what might be called prophetic journalism, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), a collaboration with photographer Walker Evans that began as an assignment from Fortune magazine to report on the lives of Alabama sharecroppers, and that expanded into a vast and unique mix of reporting, poetic meditation, and anguished self-revelation that Agee described as “an effort in human actuality.” A 64-page photo insert reproduces Evans’s now-iconic photographs from the expanded 1960 edition. A Death in the Family, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that he worked on for over a decade and that was published posthumously in 1957, recreates in stunningly evocative prose Agee’s childhood in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the upheaval his family experienced after his father’s death in a car accident when Agee was six years old. A whole world, with its sensory vividness and social constraints, comes to life in this child’s-eye view of a few catastrophic days. It is presented here for the first time in a text with corrections based on Agee’s manuscripts at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. This volume also includes The Morning Watch (1951), an autobiographical novella that reflects Agee’s deep involvement with religious questions, and three short stories: “Death in the Desert,” “They That Sow in Sorrow Shall Not Reap,” and the remarkable allegory “A Mother’s Tale.”

30 review for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men / A Death in the Family / Shorter Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Realini

    A Death in the Family by James Agee Another version of this note, together with three others on this novel and thoughts on other books are available at: - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list... As the title clearly states, one of the main characters dies. Quite early on. - Then death itself becomes a sort of a personage - And if not, its presence is felt heavily throughout the account Normally, this subject is repelling to me, not just unattractive. Nevertheless, there is a need to come to terms with A Death in the Family by James Agee Another version of this note, together with three others on this novel and thoughts on other books are available at: - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list... As the title clearly states, one of the main characters dies. Quite early on. - Then death itself becomes a sort of a personage - And if not, its presence is felt heavily throughout the account Normally, this subject is repelling to me, not just unattractive. Nevertheless, there is a need to come to terms with the final episode of our lives and there are literary and philosophical works that deal with it and recommend a peaceful acceptance, an intense use of the limited time available. - One of the main themes, messages of this exquisite novel is that we need to savor and enjoy life - An accident puts an end to the life of a hero and it could happen to any of us…indeed, it will come to that sooner or – preferably- later. The person who dies- I will not divulge the identity, suffice to know there is a death as an intended alert- is extraordinary. The deceased is remembered with fondness, not just by family but by all that knew him- perhaps we can say just that he is a man…well, was. There is a twist in the plot, for at the very start we are under the impression that an old man is about to die and therefore we have the Death. But there is a surprising occurrence. The tone of the beginning is jocular, with Charlie Chaplin and his exploits making an appearance, enjoyed by the father, Jay and disliked by his wife. Rufus appears to be based on James Agee himself, seeing as the novel is autobiographical, with the author’s father dying in the same circumstances presented in the book. I have just read on the internet about this aspect and that the book was only published after the death of James Agee. There is a controversy, with a scholar claiming that the manuscript intended for publication by the late writer is very different. - I wonder what that is like Like it is, this work is one of my favorites, and the latest read is the second encounter with this fascinating narrative. The morbid, depressing theme of death is approached with tenderness; at times we see it through the eyes of the children. There are dark characters, one of which is really despicable…and I am not thinking of the alcoholic brother, but of the priest. The priest is not just mean and cruel, he is a disgrace to the frock and the very religion he is supposed to represent and promote. He is aggressive with the children who do not understand what he is talking about and are anyway suffering a form of - PTSD- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder And he does not stop there. At the funeral, he does not give the entire sermon. Hard on the grieving family, he pretends he cannot do it because the deceased was not baptized and hence not worthy of the full service… That makes Uncle Andrew mad and puzzles Rufus…and probably James Agee himself aka Rufus in the literary version of events. There is humor. Apart from the aforementioned Charlie Chaplin and his shenanigans, we have a play with words: A guest talks to the children about the newly introduced musical machine - You know a gramophone? - Oh no, uncle said grandma cannot phone! - … - She cannot hear so that is a very bad, impossible idea - Oh no, I do not mean for grandma to phone but…gramophone Dazzling novel.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin LaCamera

    Recondite, self-indulgent, evocative, fitful, inimitable, genius. Agee makes me cry. Excerpt: “Knoxville: Summer of 1915," James Agee We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. ...It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens Recondite, self-indulgent, evocative, fitful, inimitable, genius. Agee makes me cry. Excerpt: “Knoxville: Summer of 1915," James Agee We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. ...It has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds' hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt: a loud auto: a quiet auto: people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard, and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squaring with clowns in hueless amber. A streetcar raising its iron moan; stopping; belling and starting, stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints; halts; the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter; fainting, lifting, lifts, faints foregone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew. Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose. Low in the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes... Parents on porches: rock and rock. From damp strings morning glories hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums. On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there.…They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine,...with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night. May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away. After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    I tried to turn this book into a readers theatre piece. I gave up because I couldn't cut it down to two hours of material. I loved so much of it, every cut seemed like a crime, every omission seemed like a mortal sin.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Dan Gorman

    I read the first book in this anthology, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." It's a rambling and lyrical text, formally transgressive in its structure (a mishmash of theatre, prose and verse poetry, journalism, memoir, creative nonfiction, classical allusions, and documentary photography). James Agee and Walker Evans give us a textured record of life in Jim Crow-era Alabama, showing the abject poverty of black and white residents and the racial tensions of the region. On a literary level, this book I read the first book in this anthology, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men." It's a rambling and lyrical text, formally transgressive in its structure (a mishmash of theatre, prose and verse poetry, journalism, memoir, creative nonfiction, classical allusions, and documentary photography). James Agee and Walker Evans give us a textured record of life in Jim Crow-era Alabama, showing the abject poverty of black and white residents and the racial tensions of the region. On a literary level, this book is an important work of Popular Front-era modernism — exploring themes of Marxism and class solidarity, but without a lockstep loyalty to the USSR or the Communist Party, and experimenting with new forms of prose. Plus Agee is a Christian, whereas many communists were (and are still) atheists. Agee is an idiosyncratic, sui generis voice in American letters. I had to read "Famous Men" in a rush because I'm a grad student and have too many books to handle, but it is a book to savor. The edition is handsomely produced, like all Library of America volumes. I wish LOA volumes included good contextual introductions, as do the Barnes & Noble, Routledge, Modern Library, and other classic book lines. Perhaps the LOA editors want the reader to focus on the text, and go elsewhere for additional information.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Young

    I have rarely encountered a more uneven pairing of material than the two novels included in this volume. I was reading A Death in the Family at the time I received word of my own grandmother's death and found it exceedingly poignant and comforting. There is simply no "right" way to grieve. Death is entirely alien to our conception of self, so of course it causes us to question nearly everything in our world. I felt a great connection to the young protagonist, and nearly every other character in I have rarely encountered a more uneven pairing of material than the two novels included in this volume. I was reading A Death in the Family at the time I received word of my own grandmother's death and found it exceedingly poignant and comforting. There is simply no "right" way to grieve. Death is entirely alien to our conception of self, so of course it causes us to question nearly everything in our world. I felt a great connection to the young protagonist, and nearly every other character in the novel. I found Agee's treatment to be sensitive and fair. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, on the other hand, felt like something that was banged out on a tight deadline and suffered for want of an editor willing to stand up to the author. Certainly, there were flashes of brilliant prose and excruciatingly detailed descriptions, but many arguments were rambling, disjointed, and lent no support to the work as a whole. All that being said, I recognized echoes of some of the decorative and household details as being present in the lives of my great-grandparents so I give full credit for a faithful rendition of conditions as Agee found them. I found myself outraged on behalf of the poor farmers and their families, but also frustrated with the indulgent writing style.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

    Bought this for the deep tracks, mainly the few short stories that aren't easily found anywhere else. There are three in this collection. The first is Death in the Desert which is my favorite of the three. It's the story about the moment we get co-opted in the wrongs of the world we live in. In this case, a hitchhiker doesn't protest when the driver of the car he is in refuses to pick up an African American walking in the middle of the desert, clearly suffering from the extreme climate. The hitc Bought this for the deep tracks, mainly the few short stories that aren't easily found anywhere else. There are three in this collection. The first is Death in the Desert which is my favorite of the three. It's the story about the moment we get co-opted in the wrongs of the world we live in. In this case, a hitchhiker doesn't protest when the driver of the car he is in refuses to pick up an African American walking in the middle of the desert, clearly suffering from the extreme climate. The hitchhiker is afraid he'll get kicked out of the car if he doesn't stay silent (opening himself up for a similar fate). Also the next car will probably pick this man up. "I was dependent upon this man's charity: that closed my mouth." The second story was They That Sow in Sorrow Shall Reap. Not a great story, but it is classic Agee, using fiction as an investigation into his religious concerns. You either like this or you don't. The last story, A Mother's Tale, is a disturbing story, written from a deeply pessimistic place. Clearly written much later in his life.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David LeGault

    I've had this book on my stack for 3 years now, and after 2 or 3 previous attempts I've finally finished it. A lot of people refer to this book as the first true instance of what we'd call creative nonfiction, and although I'm not sure about that, it's easy to see its influence all over everything worth reading in the genre as it currently exists. This book probably took longer for me to read than anything else I've ever read. The first 100 pages or so were difficult to crack (both in terms of vo I've had this book on my stack for 3 years now, and after 2 or 3 previous attempts I've finally finished it. A lot of people refer to this book as the first true instance of what we'd call creative nonfiction, and although I'm not sure about that, it's easy to see its influence all over everything worth reading in the genre as it currently exists. This book probably took longer for me to read than anything else I've ever read. The first 100 pages or so were difficult to crack (both in terms of voice and the non-action, an attempt at describing everything there is to be described about the homes of Alabama sharecroppers in the 1930's) But once you get into a rhythm, get all the way into Agee's head, the book explodes into something unlike any other essay I've encountered. The movement is awe-inspiring: shifting from descriptions of the house to the impossibility of representing reality in words to attacks on journalism to failure to perfection to an Agee interview on writer's responsibilities to description to death to betrayal to God. The whole while, Agee's meandering off-topic, sometimes stopping mid-paragraph and simply starting over, and occasionally switching into a second person voice, implicating the reader in this project of turning the suffering lives of others into his own masterpiece. And don't even get me started on the pictures! Basically, this book is hard, sometimes painful, but it gets increasingly powerful as it accumulates. You owe it to yourself to read this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Carter West

    [Re. "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"] Arduous, clotted, circuitous, fevered, unwittingly solipsistic, ultimately exasperating - yet, for all that, a great book. I bailed out a little over halfway through, at the point where I could no longer bear the forcing-together of blank verse and armchair epistemology. But Agee remains true to his quest to find a vehicle for expressing his inexpressible. He finds his encounter with three sharecropper families in a 1936 Alabama summer to be so elemental, so [Re. "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"] Arduous, clotted, circuitous, fevered, unwittingly solipsistic, ultimately exasperating - yet, for all that, a great book. I bailed out a little over halfway through, at the point where I could no longer bear the forcing-together of blank verse and armchair epistemology. But Agee remains true to his quest to find a vehicle for expressing his inexpressible. He finds his encounter with three sharecropper families in a 1936 Alabama summer to be so elemental, so evocative, that it requires no less than "an independent inquiry into certain normal predicaments of human divinity." The tragedy here is that Agee's sense of the sublimity of his project comes to overwhelm its prosecution. Page after page, concerns over its nature and what it requires unspool endlessly, to the extent that relatively little room is left over for the project to actually sustain itself. The excesses of his intensely romantic soul starve out that simple exercise of the senses that might have grounded his approach to these tenant farmers - as is shown on those occasions when he allows sight, hearing, touch to operate without extraneous justifications. Still, for those with the patience to parse his sentences – a virtue I just don't have – Agee's great breathless spirit will reward them with a window onto passions of which other authors can render only a glimpse.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Sutch

    For my reviews of the longer works in this volume, see the individual reviews for _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,_ _The Morning Watch,_ and _A Death in the Family._ The remaining three short stories are, for the most part, quite good. Two of the three are from Agee's Harvard days in the early 1930s and reveal that, though he had not yet reached his artistic maturity, he was a naturally talented writer. "Death in the Desert" is an attack on Southern racism that poses a moral quandary for those who For my reviews of the longer works in this volume, see the individual reviews for _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,_ _The Morning Watch,_ and _A Death in the Family._ The remaining three short stories are, for the most part, quite good. Two of the three are from Agee's Harvard days in the early 1930s and reveal that, though he had not yet reached his artistic maturity, he was a naturally talented writer. "Death in the Desert" is an attack on Southern racism that poses a moral quandary for those who sat (or continue to sit) by and watch it happening without protest. "Those Who Sow in Sorrow Shall Reap" does much the same thing for issues of labor and alternative sexual lifestyles in a small town. The very fine later story, "A Mother's Tale" (1952), is an allegory that adequately expresses Agee's ambivalence toward Christianity. I've never read an allegory like it, and for that reason it was of heightened interest for me. Agee's was certainly a unique and talented voice.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jim Leckband

    It is always refreshing to read an author who has such a singular voice. He endows the mundane with the grace of myths. Obviously this is what he did in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", but it is also what he does in the other pieces in this book. In lesser hands the kinds of things he attempts would be ludicrous since it seems he grants the subject matter so much more weight than it seems to warrant - sharecroppers or the viewpoint of a child in a family death. One expects lush and grandiose pro It is always refreshing to read an author who has such a singular voice. He endows the mundane with the grace of myths. Obviously this is what he did in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men", but it is also what he does in the other pieces in this book. In lesser hands the kinds of things he attempts would be ludicrous since it seems he grants the subject matter so much more weight than it seems to warrant - sharecroppers or the viewpoint of a child in a family death. One expects lush and grandiose prose and psychological depth in other things - wars/gods/love - the whole Russian novel thing. But this is Agee's whole point - that any human's consciousness and life is worth everything a writer can summon to describe it - and the result is every bit as compelling as just about anything else ever written.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Lloyd Fassett

    Read about "The Cotton Tenets" being published in The New York Times as a book. It was an unpublished article for Fortune magazine from about 1933, with Walker Evans as photograpgher, and predecesor to Famous Men. John Steinbeck had the same pattern in the same years with a newspaper article that preceded Grapes of Wrath with Dorothea Lang as photoghapher. Library of America collections are the bomb because they include detailed year by year chronology of an author's life at the back so you have Read about "The Cotton Tenets" being published in The New York Times as a book. It was an unpublished article for Fortune magazine from about 1933, with Walker Evans as photograpgher, and predecesor to Famous Men. John Steinbeck had the same pattern in the same years with a newspaper article that preceded Grapes of Wrath with Dorothea Lang as photoghapher. Library of America collections are the bomb because they include detailed year by year chronology of an author's life at the back so you have a lot more context about the author and their work than just the work itself.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Felix

    This collection of Agee's work came as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. Although I had read both A Death in the Family and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, getting this book caused me to re-read those works as well as some of the shorter fiction. Simply reading the words again was reward enough, for Agee was a stylist of great power, and the stories were so immeasurably supported by the manner of their telling.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    I loved _A Death in the Family_. When I first moved to Knoxville for my masters degree, everyone talked dropped Agee's name frequently...Agee this, Agee that; the street called Agee. I thought it was hype. It wasn't; this book is remarkable. Especially the thoughts of the two children. Brilliant.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This book haunted me from the first reading (A Death in the Family), so I reread it in 2007. I still need to go back and read the rest of his compiled works included in this edition, but the writing style transported me into their neighborhood immediately. I will probably read this several more times in my life.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jack Chipperfield

    Great writer loved Death in the Family-IN Let us now praise famous men Agee uses the technique of maddening detailed observations of the surroundings he brings out the tragic pain, poverty and dignity of the families. Frankly Walker Evans pictures tell the whole story.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ed Mcfadden

    The first part, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, was interesting in style but tediously unreadable. The short novel, A Death in The Family was a lovely look at the impact loss has from multiple perpsectives.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Martha

    I am saving this book for Berlin...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Surratt

    A Death in the Family is one of my favorite novels ever.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Disturbing, problematic, but brilliant.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jannie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Julien Forthomme

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mark Pennington

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patricia D.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Melinda Benton

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ava

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  28. 5 out of 5

    Valeria

  29. 5 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  30. 5 out of 5

    Barry Hamilton

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