Gaddis, Wallace, McCarthy, Cooper (Books Acquired, 3.02.3012)

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Picked up these four yesterday afternoon during my weekly visit to the bookshop (can’t help said visit; I live too close). Spent the afternoon reading Neal Stephenson’s introduction to David Foster Wallace’s Everything and More and a few of the pieces in All Ears, a collection of essays and interviews by Dennis Cooper. I read the interviews with Stephen Malkmus and Leonardo diCaprio. There’s something so nineties about the book.

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A nice afternoon of reading with a few homebrews.

Everything and More, DFW’s history of infinity, is one of the only books I haven’t read by him (I even got to read a big chunk of his rare early work Signifying Rappers years ago because a friend found it in a library book sale). Anyway, to the point: None of the DFW editions I owned, up to this point were posthumous (they were, uh humous (?))—so it was a little weird to see this on the back of the book:

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Finally: No, I didn’t need another copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree (let me plug my review), but I’m a huge fan of these awful 1980s Vintage Contemporaries editions, so when I found a first ed. of Suttree, I couldn’t pass it up (I’m pretty sure this is the same edition DFW owned):

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Books Acquired, 12.21.2011

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So, obviously I can’t manage to do these “Books Acquired” posts in a timely fashion, let alone chronologically. Anyway, I’m certain of the date I picked up these four because I ended up writing this post about why novels make lousy gifts later that day. As always, the iPhone pic is a bit blurry. It’s tough work lighting books, believe it or not, and they’re usually different dimensions, etc., gripe, whine. Jeez. So these books are: The Crimes of Love by Marky de Sade, which I dunno, I’ve been compelled to read him lately; The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell, which did you know is written entirely in questions? And did you know that Powell was (is) the big-time writer in res at my alma mater? And do you care? And why? The Dennis Cooper novel is Frisk. I always scour this particular bookshop for Cooper, but have never had any luck. So on this particular trip, of course someone has let go of his entire collection of Cooper, like six or seven novels (not God Jr. or the short story collection though, which seemed like good starting places). I picked Frisk sort of at random. I’ve been looking for Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual for a while too, so I was happy to pick it up. I consider it assigned reading in 2012.

I also picked up books as gifts that day, including some children’s books for my kids, and a first edition hardback copy of Brugo Partridge’s A History of Orgies. 

Dennis Cooper Talks About Being a “Cult Writer”

Again, raiding the Dennis Cooper interview from the new issue of The Paris Review (198/Fall 2011). Cooper discusses what a “normal” novel is in the interview, and here he talks about what it might mean to be a “cult writer.” I’ve long been interested in simply the idea of a “cult novel,” so I liked this bit, and thus share with you, kind reader—

You almost never see my name in print without the phrase cult writer glued to it. When I see that word, cult, attached to an artist, it always seems to be a begrudging way to acknowledge that the artist is talented and valuable to a moderate number of people whose passion for that artist’s work is understandable, to some degree, but nonetheless foreign. It’s a weird term because it’s complimentary but condescending and hierarchical at the same time. My work just seems to be a really odd duck. I feel like I’m on my own. I don’t mind that, but it’s a strange place to be sometimes.

Dennis Cooper on “Normal” Novels

The new issue of The Paris Review (198/Fall 2011) is outstanding, to say the least—Roberto Bolaño, a fantastic essay on translation by Lydia Davis, Geoff Dyer on Tarkovsky, an interview with Nicholson Baker—but one of the major highlights is the interview with Dennis Cooper. From the interview—

Interviewer: What are normal novels?

Cooper: Too much story, too much realism, too much overfamiliarity in general. They bought into the traditional, majority approach in opinion among American writers and arbiters of literature that life is most effectively depicted in fiction via one streamlined, time-proven method—the narrative arc, the sympathetic character, the snowballing plot, et cetera—and when I read a work like that, all I saw were the writers’ slight variations on a central formula that seemed reductive and arbitrary and bogus.

Books Acquired, 10.11.2011

20111011-180342.jpgA nice little gang today: First up is Barry Hannah’s short novel Ray, which I ordered from my favorite local bookstore last week. (On a side note, said bookstore was robbed this week for cash—no books were stolen).20111011-180425.jpg

I found Jean Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles somewhat randomly, hunting through the “Co”s for something by Dennis Cooper. Sample illustration—

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Roberta Allen’s The Dreaming Girl  is forthcoming from Ellipsis Press; the book looks pretty cool and I’ll dip into it tonight. It actually was sent to my old abode, but the folks who live there now are kind people and alerted me. Some serendipity perhaps. Here’s Ken Foster (Village Voice) on The Dreaming Girl:

Told in a series of elliptical tableaux and bound by stream of consciousness, Roberta Allen’s The Dreaming Girl is an example of everything that shouldn’t work, and yet it does. Like a literary descendant of Duras, Allen places her unnamed narrator in an exotic Central American limbo that propels her mind into a mesmerizing state somewhere between memory and fantasy.

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Book Acquired, 9.22.2011

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Hey! Sex! Nicholson Baker, Dennis Cooper! Lydia Davis, Geoff Dyer (maybe  not so sex). You can read the cover. Bolaño didn’t make the cover this time, and the third installment of The Third Reich is kinda skinny, but, sure, hey, another intriguing issue.

 

The Novelist’s Lexicon

The Novelist’s Lexicon, new in hardback from Columbia University Press, is an auspicious and at times bewildering project originating from an international literary conference hosted by Le Monde a few years ago. Over seventy authors from more than a dozen countries were asked to write about a “key word that opens the door to his work.” A list of just a few of the authors here is probably more than enough to pique interest: Rick Moody, Helene Cixous, Colum McCann, Jonathan Lethem, Adam Thirlwell, A.S. Byatt, David Peace, Dennis Cooper, and Annie Proulx all contribute pieces, mostly short, somewhere between 100 and 500 words. By nature, The Novelist’s Lexicon is a fragmentary affair, discontinuous, open to multiplicity, and unified only by its authors’ sense of craft, as well as an abiding intelligence.

Some authors take the project in earnest, like Lethem, whose piece “Furniture,” (which we excerpted late last year) pinpoints a fundamental yet largely unremarked upon element of novel-writing. French author Nicholas Fargues taps into etymology, offering a bit of advice in his piece “Novice”–

Don’t ‘make’ literature. Don’t write because that’s what people expect of you now that you’re a ‘writer.’ Don’t write for the beauty of the gesture or the love of art. Beware of fine phrases and well-turned maxims; that’s not your thing. Watch out for words that strike a pose. But do let your memory and your instincts flow; let the aptest words, the words that resemble you most closely, come of their own accord.

Anne Weber’s piece “Waiting/Attention” suggests that a key word — or any key, really — is an impossible dream–

It would be a word that encapsulated my aspirations and expectations, my sadness and my joy, my amazement at the quince’s hairy skin, the wash of the sky, and the delicate pattern of the cyclamen’s leaves. And since everything would be contained in this single, essential word, since it would express everything, I wouldn’t need to write anymore. And good riddance, too!

Swedish author Jonas Hassen Khemiri, who goes with “Un-” also points to language’s simultaneous limitations and possibilities–

Un- as in never being satisfied with the language we have. Un- as in the realization of how difficult it is to communicate with people in a language you have invented yourself. Un- as in doubting whether you will ever succeed. Un- as in continuing to try even so. Un- as in suddenly launching yourself over a coffee table and transforming a dictionary into confetti.

Khemiri’s frustration with language (and paradoxical love) is thematic throughout Lexicon; we see it, for instance in David Peace’s “Plague.” Peace comes off like the crotchety old man in the group–

To be honest or stupid or both, but not churlish or contrary (I hope), I am uncertain I understand the premise of this lexicon. However, I am against the presumption of all premises and, equally, I am against all definitions and dictionaries, lexicons and lists, which, in their commodification and exclusivity, are the preserve and the territory of fascists and shoppers.

After this radical caveat, including the claim that he is under “duress” (did the folks at Le Monde put guns to these authors’ heads?), Peace goes on to discuss the word “plague,” tracing it through Western lit and showing how it evinces in his novel Occupied City (which we reviewed here, by the way).

Perhaps Peace should’ve just ignored the assignment, like Dennis Cooper, whose piece is “Signed D.C.” is simply a work of microfiction, imagining what would happen if Olive Oyl and Popeye who “peel like decals from the TV and live in the world.” The story is a clever, short five paragraphs, and ends with at least a trace of insight into Cooper’s writing process: “I am heavier than my constructions understand.” Maybe he didn’t ignore the assignment.

Cooper is not the only writer to let fiction reign — there are poems and meditations and strange riffs here, largely divorced of discussion from technique or craft. In any case, those interested in getting into the heads of some of the 21st century’s most prominent (and skillful) writers will wish to take notice of The Novelist’s Lexicon, a fun and repeatedly rewarding book. Recommended.