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Showing posts from May, 2011

JR by William Gaddis

{I inadvertently deleted this post a few weeks back, and am finally reposting it with some alterations.  It's originally from LT, circa Feb. 2009, back when the economy was truly inside the toilet, compared to today's economy being, say, perched precariously on the toilet seat}

If you thought David Foster Wallace wrote obscenely long convoluted sentences, try reading this two pound behemoth that has not one (not one I tell you!) chapter break in its entirety.  It's like reading The Neverending Paragraph.  If that sounds daunting enough already, factor in that the narrative is ninety per cent dialogue.  Factor in also that the dialogue of JR is atypical dialogue that doesn't increase reading speed because it's dialogue that William Gaddis has purposely not clearly delineated who's speaking what to whom ninety-nine per cent of the time (sound confusing?, try reading it!), for one must deduce who's speaking without any he said/she saids to help you sort it al…

Columbine by Dave Cullen

Very well written and especially researched book by a reporter, Dave Cullen, who was there at Columbine and followed the case long after the rest of the media moved on to the next horror show.

Columbine demythologizes so many of the absurd and, what have sort of become urban legends about the killers:  They were racists, skinheads, goths, trench coat mafiosos on a mission from Marilyn Manson, satanists, haters of jocks on the hunt for Christians .... Wrong.... They weren't any of those things, regardless of how the media and some local law enforcement officials erroneously depicted them at the time.

Turns out, those two lost teenage boys were even worse than those evils misapplied to them.  They hated everybody, including themselves.  Had they been as proficient in transforming propane tanks into homemade bombs as they were at shooting students and teachers on the run with chilling accuracy, they may not have had to shoot anybody, except perhaps the first two they killed walking o…

On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry by William H. Gass

Blue's more than a color, mood, or groove of a jukebox tune.  The symbology of blue, along with its definitions, are as infinite as its nuanced hues.  Aqua, azure, turquoise, cerulean, indigo, cobalt, ad infinitum ...  There's endless shades of adjectives on the adjective, blue.  Or so posits William H. Gass (and I tend to believe him), in his idiosyncratic, intertextual synthesis, On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry (1976), of all that's ever been --or could be-- blue.  Besides blue ontologically and blue philosophically, Gass covers blue cross-culturally, literarily, aesthetically, psychologically, epistemologically, phenomenologically, erotically, metaphorically, and practically every other word ending, "-ically," that one might encounter in the O.E.D. too.

At the book's core, I believe Gass is asking: How do blue's meanings become blue's meanings and what do blue's meanings then mean to our very being?  Even an intrepid or sadomasochistic-…

Alphabetical Africa by Walter Abish

(**Please go herefor an improved version of this review**)

Alphabetical Africa is one of the wittiest, most cleverly constructed books I've ever read.  Here's why:   The first chapter, "A,"only contains words that begin with the letter "a"; the second chapter, "B," only contains words beginning with either the letters "a" or "b"; and so on and so forth goes the rest of the novel, chapters C, D, E, F, G and on to chapter "Z".  Then, the novel starts erasing itself, so to speak, as it contracts from having access to the full gamut of the English alphabet in chapter "Z" back to hyper-restrictive chapter "A", filled with alliterative paragraphs like this:

"After air attack author assumes Alva's asexuality affected African army's ack-ack accuracy, an arguable assumption, anyhow, army advances, annilihating antelopes, alligators and ants.  Admirable attrition admits Ashanti admiral as autho…

Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts by Raymond Federman

**{Unimportant note to the Possibly Nonexistent--but Nevertheless Prized--Reader Interested in the Writing of Raymond Federman:  Somehow, I missed copying this review over from LibraryThing.  I thought I'd caught them all; not so.  A few more to hunt down, I see, as well.  I'm particularly proud of this piece because it helped turn several people in my online circles on to Raymond Federman, an under read, under-appreciated, underground "surfictionist" or "critifictionist" (both Federman's own invented terms) or "experimentalist" or "avant-garde-ist"; all in all an innovative writer I've come to greatly admire over the past couple years.  Go here to learn more about this remarkable author, and man.  Rather than revise and update this piece, I've left it alone in order to preserve its neophyte-feel of a reader (yours truly) having just "discovered" an exciting writer brand new to him.  Originally posted in LT on Apri…

Looking Back at Ted Mooney's Author Chat in LibraryThing, Discussing The Same River Twice

Now that I'm about halfway into The Same River Twice (TSRT), I'd say Ted Mooney's work here belongs to that similar literary river, if you will, as what you describe going on with Conrad in Heart of Darkness. There's levels and layers and hidden passageways (if not TSRTs Paris sewers per se) leading to the themes and subtexts; and to a point, it's up to the reader to decide how much they can decipher when discovering that word or turn of phrase or descriptive which, when unlocked, opens that trapdoor descending into deeper corridors of meanings and motifs.

On the Seine River's surface, TSRT is a convoluted and complex mystery crime thriller involving the illegal smuggling of certain Soviet-era artifacts into Paris to be sold as art among Parisian wheeler-art-dealers (or so it seems). Beneath that, something else is going on. A lot of something else is going on! But what? Aren't you going to tell us, Ted!? Do I really have to read the whole book?


E-Mail Correspondence with Raymond Federman

Just over a week from today, May 15th, is Raymond Federman's birthday.  He'd of turned 83.

I sent Raymond Federman an e-mail early in 2009, through his blog, the laugh that laughs at the laugh, about six months before he died, after having just read Smiles on Washington Square: A Love Story of Sorts, a slim, satiric novel I enjoyed so much that I just had to seek out its little known author ("little known" here in the States, anyway) and say ... well, I didn't know exactly what I had to say to Raymond at that time, but I knew if I found him, I'd say ... something.

Turns out, what I said, in hindsight, was an embarrassing, gushing piece of fan mail basically, but Federman didn't treat it as such and, to my surprise, actually responded ... to me ... and did so at great length!  He responded to what for all he knew could've been a crazed stalker-U.S.A.-fan of his sending him a note out of the blue.  We corresponded four or five times that year; sadly, h…

Walter Abish: An Amazingly Awesome and August and Artful Alphabetical Africa

The Next Writer Up in My Series Spotlighting the Writers from Contemporary Novelists

2. Walter Abish (1931 - )

Listen to how Jerome Klinkowitz describes Abish's first novel, Alphabetical Africa, a book I've decided I'm just going to have to break down and order online as people don't seem to part with it -- at least in the second hand shops I haunt in SoCal. The book sounds like it had to have been an excruciatingly tedious to construct:

"...a tour de force demonstration of how words can refer to their own artificiality at the same time they operate as linguistic signifiers.

"The first chapter is titled 'A,' and every word therein begins with that letter ('Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement,' etc.).

"The second chapter, 'B,' adds words beginning with the letter B, and so for…

A Brief introduction to the Novels of Khwaja Ahmad Abbas

The majority of the material for this post is taken from Contemporary Novelists, 3rd Ed., Edited by James Vinson, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1982

Khwaja Ahmad Abbas (1914-1987)

There's only eight books of K.A. Abbas cataloged in LibraryThing (five or six different works).  He's virtually forgotten in the United States, though still revered in Indian literary circles.

On highbrow literary critics in India, Abbas said they "have sometimes sneeringly labelled my novels and short stories as 'mere journalese'. The fact that most of them are inspired by aspects of the contemporary historical reality, as sometimes chronicled in the press, is sufficient to put them beyond the pale of literary creation.

"I have no quarrel with the critics. Maybe I am an unredeemed journalist and reporter, masquerading as a writer of fiction. But I have always believed that while the inner life of man undoubtedly is, and should be, the primary concern of literature, thi…