A New York Times Interview With Literary Critic Margo Jefferson: What’s the Last Great Book You Read?

From a New York Times By the Book interview headlined “Even Margo Jefferson Sometimes Gets Sucked Into a Bad Thriller”:

What’s the last great book you read?

Han Kang’s 2014 historical novel, “Human Acts,” and Osip Mandelstam’s 1925 memoir, “The Noise of Time.”

Can a great book be badly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?

The language might be laborious or overwrought, while the narrative and vision are thrilling. And glorious language, artfully structured, can overpower what’s limited and banal, even venal. But a book that leaves one utterly cold can still meet all the formal criteria for greatness. In which case I’d resort to a calmer, stuffier word, like “major.” “Major” signifies respect without rapture. “Great” needs rapture.