Book Acquired, 9.09.11 — Or, I Buy Yet Another William T. Vollmann Book Against My Better Judgment

Books, Literature, Writers

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I like William T. Vollmann the persona probably more than I like William T. Vollmann the writer. That isn’t to say that I haven’t thought that the handful of books I’ve read by him were brilliant, strange, and engrossing—because they are—but I’ll admit that his methods, his back story, his sheer and absolute not-giving-a-fuckness is a major attraction. Voluminous Vollmann, unreadable Vollmann; smartypants Vollmann, fragile Vollmann. Vollmann, producer of travelogues, alternate histories, hagiographies for hookers; Vollmann, Ice Age chronicler; saga-slinging Vollmann. I can’t think of a writer who does more and says more and, because of his maximalist approach, will be largely unread, both for his career and for posterity—unless he concedes to edit. I think the irony is that, in wanting to give everything to his reader and wanting to preserve everything about his subjects—an act of love, compassion, empathy, what have you—in these grand, hopeless gestures, Vollmann paradoxically displays that intrinsic not-giving-a-fuckness. He needs an editor.

So, this afternoon, browsing at my favorite bookshop, a labyrinthine twisty thing, I ambled innocently past the ‘V’s of General Fiction, looking for a novel by Karel Capek in the sci-fi section, which abuts said ‘V’ aisle. Again, this was all innocence. I had no intention of picking up anything by Vollmann, despite the huge stack of his works there, used testaments to the futility of trying to read Vollmann perhaps—at least a dozen souls who said “fuck it” to Europe Central. Here are the Vollmann volumes (volmumes?) I possess—

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I’ve read Butterfly Stories, The Rifles, and The Ice-Shirt; I’ve read most of 13 Stories & 13 Epitaphs. I’ve read bits of The Rainbow Stories and mostly nothing of Europe Central, which migrated out of the “to read” stack a few years ago. So, yeah, I wasn’t looking for another Vollmann. But I’m too frequent a visitor at this particular labyrinthy, somewhat famous North Florida bookshop, so I noticed a “new” Vollmann in the stack, Expelled from Eden. And I started thumbing through it. Against my better judgment. 20 minutes later I was brainstorming reasons not to pick it up, but honestly, the credit in book trade I have with the store nails most economic arguments, and really, I’m thinking this is exactly what I wanted someone to do with Vollmann: edit that shit.

Larry McCaffrey and Michael Hemmingson have excised, chopped, moved around, and pulled from all over Vollmann’s massive world, putting together a book organized around Vollmann’s grand themes—travel writing; war; violence; prostitution; literature. There are lists, drawings, photographs. There is biography. I came home and read for an hour. I’m sure I’ll be sharing some citations down the road.

As a sort of bonus—and I always love to pick up a book where something is neatly tucked away—is an entire 2005 feature from The New York Review on Vollmann, focusing on Expelled from Eden and Europe Central.

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13 thoughts on “Book Acquired, 9.09.11 — Or, I Buy Yet Another William T. Vollmann Book Against My Better Judgment

  1. I’m so glad you share all my feelings about this dude. Sometimes I even doubt that it is humanly possible for him to write as much as he does. Wouldn’t it be great if they found out that he was a book factory like Tom Clancy? That he just slipped under the radar about it because no one cares.

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  2. Me too! (though I think I like the books more than I like him).

    Royal Palace. You don’t need to, but you should.

    I wonder if he’s abandoned Seven Dreams.

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    1. Hey, smoke ‘em if you gots ‘em. But, now I will go pick up Royal Family, which I’ve made myself not do for two years now.

      I dunno, if he can do “Rising Up, Rising Down” he can probably pick up the Seven Dreams. Who the fuck knows.

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    1. Okay explain further thanks (not sure what your thesis is here brother—is this like an either/or choice? I’m confused. You’ve assigned some background reading/auditing with no real context, and referred to “arguments” that are ghosts of jokes at best. . . ).

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  3. A second hand copy of The Rifles is on its way to me. I’ll decide soon enough if I should ‘ Pay no attention to the Man behind the curtain’ for myself. Can’t wait.

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