The Best of RALPH:
The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy and the Humanities

Lolita Lark, Editor

For five glorious years, the upstart Fessenden Review managed to bemuse literary America with its saucy take on books and the publishing industry. Our reviews were the subject of articles by media writers at the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Library Journal and on National Public Radio among others.

Writer Herbert Gold said, "I enjoy your quirky take on things, although you don't seem to review my books." The late Max Lerner said, "The reviews break all conventions and are the stuff of life." Other encomiums came in from Writer's Digest, American Libraries, The New England Review/Bread Loaf Quarterly, The Bloomsbury Review and Dædalus.

Despite its critical success, The Review was bludgeoned to death by its many creditors, but, in 1995, made a spectacular return online as The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities, or, more succinctly, RALPH. To date, over 250 issues have gone up in hyperspace at


This elegant boxed set consists of what we believe to be the best of the best drawn from the on-line magazine and its immediate predecessor, the late-lamented Fessenden Review. These are articles, reviews, readings and poems that have consistently garnered the most praise, attracted the most hits --- or, in a few cases, sparked the most noisome complaints.

Volume One
[ISBN 0 - 917320 - 31 - X]
466 pages

Volume Two
[ISBN 0 - 917320 - 45 - X]
513 pages

Boxed Set of Two Volumes,

Library of Congress Control Number: 2012939592

E-book versions are also available at
Apple, Barnes & Noble, Sony,
Kobo, Amazon, Diesel, Page Foundry,
Baker & Taylor, Library Direct, Baker Taylor Axis 360

ISBN 9780917320408 --- Volume I ($7.50)
ISBN 9780917320415 --- Volume II ($7.50)

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A bounty of tasty literary morsels --- acerbic, whimsical, incisive and moving --- spills from this anthology of short pieces culled from the online magazine Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and Humanities.

RALPH, descended from the much-praised Fessenden Review, is known for lively, opinionated book reviews that aren't afraid to draw blood. An impressive selection is included here, including Lolita Lark's barbed dismissal of Laura Esquivel's Malinche (2006) ("the language heats up and runs off the page and falls into the toilet") and Carlos Amantea's revisionist attack --- who hasn't longed for one? --- on James Joyce: "My own reading of Ulysses is that there are probably 300,000 words too many." There's also a generous helping of poetry, from García-Lorca --- accompanied by a winsome account of an English class entranced by the idea that he had an Afro --- to Joseph Brodsky, Quan Berry and Sharon Olds. There are short stories, including Joyce Cary's droll vignette on the class war between artists and rich dilettantes. And there's a wide-ranging miscellany of nonfiction feuilletons, some original and some reprinted: Javier Marías' evocative biographical sketch of William Faulkner; a snippet of food memoir by M.F.K. Fisher; L.W. Milam's celebration of student diaries as literature; S.W. Wentworth's atmospheric tribute to Mississippi Delta juke joints; a raft of light think pieces on humanistic design and urbanism à la Jane Jacobs; an interview with S.J. Perelman on the horrors of Hollywood; excerpts from Werner Herzog's diary on the ghastlier horrors of the Amazon; a funny take on the similarities between academics and house cats, and grave speculation on the extraterrestrial origins of Bach. Sometimes, as in R.R. Doister's Freudian-pacifist reading of a volume of letters from a West Point cadet, contentiousness tips over into heavy-handed polemic. Still, almost every page crackles with sharp writing and offhand --- occasionally off-kilter --- insights that will fascinate readers.

A thoroughly addictive collection.

--- Kirkus Reviews
(Starred Review)

These writings crackle with sarcasm and satire and never pull their punches: legendary figures are shredded, mocked or parodied; books are called out for their pretension or mediocrity with acerbic wit; and every time we catch a glimpse of editor Lolita Lark, we know that she lives and dies by the laws of sarcasm and unbridled honesty. Call RALPH the literary journal equivalent of The Onion (or their Arts & Entertainment division, The A.V. Club) --- publications that try to reach greater truths through mockery and parody...

[The] implicitly polarizing nature is one of the reasons that The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World is so electric. These writings may make you laugh or enrage you, confuse you or challenge what you think you know, but they will never bore you, and that's something that cannot be said for every literary journal out there.

--- Craig Manning
The Independent Publisher Magazine

Though excerpts from famous others offer a change of pace from the anthology's reviews, the stars here are the reviewers. They scarcely relinquish the opportunity to hold back their opinions, but the writing is strong enough to give the reader the feeling a book is never unnecessarily attacked or praised...

The main stable of RALPH's writers deserve credit for using their voice, no matter the forum, to correct any book, writer, or organization attempting to lie to the public. One of the lessons of this anthology is never underestimate the power of the critic...

The joy of The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World that beyond being a collection of thoughtful and humorous writings, it serves as a road map to anyone willing to open themselves up to new types of books. Not everything reviewed in these pages will interest every reader. Despite being presented with a well-written review on the subject, I'm still not inclined to read a book on Shy Bladder Syndrome, or a history by Derek Jarman on the color wheel. But a history of the Old English Dictionary, Aleksander Topolski's Without Vodka, and maybe even an examination of water rights in the United States have been added to my reading list.

--- Christopher Connor

For the lover of books, philosophy and the humanities, this two-volume set will be a treasure that will offer countless hours of enjoyment.
--- Bookviews by Alan Caruba

A beautiful, two-volumed boxed set.
---Tricycle Online

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Ms. McGowan Before Reading Noise

To: Lolita Lark

From: C. McGowan

RE: The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World

Dear Ms. Lark:

These gorgeous books deserve better. Nevertheless, I am eating while reading The Book, dripping bits of my lunch, a nice chicken sauté with cous-cous onto its creamy pages. Page 33 now has a tiny translucent smear over the word "Okie." ...

My copies of The Book will have one shirt-tail untucked, frayed pants cuffs, Broad Shoulders and a head full of curly hair. It will laugh "Hee Hee Hee." I am reading every word and always eating, so it is fate, as well as untidiness, reshaping my The Book.

It made me laugh out loud. It took my breath away. I bled with Quan Barry. I read "When I was a German" and "Surviving as a Musician" in Bikrenau and they spoke to that question, "What Would I Have Done?"

I still don't know how to kick a duck, and I won't look at trees quite the same way again. It is so fine that I haven't even finished it and I want to read it all over again. I want to read it all tonight and I want to savor it.

I wish I could visit with you and sit right next to you and talk about every piece I've read. Doug Cruickshank's ghost dog. Blue Cloud's horses. Outing J. S. Bach as an alien. But I ramble. In summation, it really is the best of the best. You have every right to be proud of your baby.

--- C. McGowan

Ms. McGowan After Reading Noise

Lolita Lark has been the editor of RALPH since 2000, and was editor of a book of poetry drawn from the magazine, A Cricket in the Telephone at Sunset. This is what poets and crickets --- I mean critics --- said about that volume:

"Forty years ago I decided never to write comments for publicity. If you have seen me on the back of a book, it is something quoted from a publication. I am sorry to let you down, but I cannot change my policy now."
--- Donald Hall

"Sorry, I don't do blurbs though I love the book."
---Bob Hass

"This quirky volume claims to reprint poems from The Fessenden Review, a short-lived but unrepentantly forthright magazine. The poems are not afraid to work with subjects that many people would avoid but in doing so use language with a freedom and reassurance that turns the most unpromising subject into art. The editors have truly succeeded in their aim to free American verse from the steely grip of the establishment poets. This book is good to look at, pleasant to hold and fun to read. Buy it, enjoy it and be inspired."
--- Polly Bird
New Hope International Review Online

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Mho & Mho Works
Box 16719
San Diego CA 92176
"Books Beyond All Reason"

On the Library of Congress page of the new book,
the ISBN for the hardback version of Volume One appears as 0 - 917329 - 31 - X and
the ISBN number for the hardback version of Volume II appears as ISBN 0 - 917329 - 45 - X.
These are wrong (wrong) (wrong!)
The correct numbers, as noted above, are
ISBN 0 - 917320 - 31 - X for Volume One and
ISBN 0 - 917320 - 45 - X for Volume Two.