Literary critic James Wood: ‘I’m taking a religious view of an earthly form’

This, I thought when I arrived to meet James Wood, is no place for a literary critic to be staying – a boutique hotel on Park Avenue in Manhattan that offers “karma rewards”, including “spa credits”, to frequent guests. In the lobby, the lift disgorged corporate fixers, high-styled hipsters, Japanese tourists festooned with electronic gadgets, and then the incongruous figure of Wood – slightly hunched, donnishly inward-looking despite his smile, a man who lives in books and who in The Nearest Thing to Life praises novels for a “hospitality” that is probably more welcoming than the hotel’s “luxurious Frette linens”, “in-room yoga mats” and “signature animal-print robes”.

We talked in a black den where an espresso machine hissed like an angry dragon in a corner. “It’s an experiment,” said Wood about the place where he’d spent the night away from his home in Boston. “Anyway,

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