James Wood’s The Fun Stuff is his first collection of occasional writings. In addition to his amiable, cranky novel The Book Against God and the engaging, teacherly How Fiction Works, Wood has given us two volumes of essays, each unified by a theme. His first book, The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief, examines the modern turn from religion, especially Christianity, to the arts, especially the novel, as our source of meaning, comfort, and transcendence. Various modes of literary comedy unite the pieces in The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel. The Fun Stuff, by contrast, consists of a couple dozen unconnected reviews and essays bookended by two short memoirs. All the pieces originally appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, or The London Review of Books.

Wood’s virtues were apparent from the...

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