Posts tagged ‘Russell Hoban’

March 25, 2012

Book Shelves #13, 3.25.2012

by Biblioklept

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Book shelves series #13, thirteenth Sunday of 2012: Four by the late great Russell Hoban. A few Philip K. Dick volumes, although it’s worth pointing out that most of the good stuff I’ve owned by him has been loaned out and never returned and/or exists in ratty coverless mass market editions. PK Dick transitions to William Burroughs to JG Ballard (another writer who I used to own other books by before they were dispersed . . .). Martin Bax’s The Hospital Ship is a thoroughly obscure volume in a Ballardian/Burroughsian vein; it deserves a reprint. Gardner, Brodkey, Gass, Kosinski. I’ve owned Raymond Carver’s Cathedral since high school, or maybe freshman year of college. It’s all the Carver that any library needs. Lish comma Gordon. Two by Malcolm Lowry. Two by Barry Hannah. Four from Sam Lipsyte.

The Carver and Kosinski volumes are part of the 1980s Vintage Contemporaries line that all feature awful, hyper-literal covers. I have about a dozen such volumes and I’m planning a piece on them in the future. Observe:

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December 14, 2011

“Here You See Some of the Clutter but You Can’t See the Danger” — Russell Hoban’s Writing Room

by Biblioklept

(From The Guardian’s Writer’s Rooms series)

December 14, 2011

RIP Russell Hoban

by Biblioklept

Russell Hoban, author of Riddley Walker and other cult classics, died last night at the age of 86. The first “review” I ever wrote on this site was for Riddley Walker (the review is so bad that I won’t link to it out of shame); that was back when Biblioklept’s primary mission was to document stolen books. I stole the book from a dear friend and subsequently lent it to a student who never returned it. Oh, the circle of theft! Riddley Walker is the sort of book that begs to be stolen (or never returned, or passed on to another). It’s an apocalyptic Huckleberry Finn, a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a new dark age. Riddley Walker is deeply weird and strongly strange; I don’t know what a “cult” novel is, but I know of no better example.

Riddley Walker might be Hoban’s most famous work (aside from his children’s works, including the Frances the Badger series), but readers who stopped there would do well to pick up some of his earlier books. The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz is a fantasy piece about fathers, sons, and map-making; Kleinzheit, a baffling schizophrenic novel, explores death and illness in an animistic world; Pilgermann plumbs the medieval intersection of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, narrated through the eyes of the ghost of a castrated European Jew on a bizarre holy quest—it’s like Hieronymous Bosch on LSD.

The Guardian has a short but lucid biographical obit for Hoban, which ends with Hoban contemplating how death might affect his career:

Death, Hoban predicted in 2002, would “be a good career move”. “People will say, ‘yes, Hoban, he seems an interesting writer, let’s look at him again’,” he said.

The grim humor there was always part of Hoban’s program, and I hope that he’s right: I hope that folks who haven’t heard of Hoban will pick up Riddley Walker, and perhaps those who haven’t read beyond that book will make time to read another.

October 7, 2011

Books Removed from Stack, 10.07.2011

by Biblioklept

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Summer wanes into fall; time to clean out the stack of books in my nightstand. Most volumes were permitted to stay, but I’m going to go ahead and find shelf space for these fellows.

The Lowry book, Hear Us O Lord from Heaven Thy Dwelling Place collects short stories and other writings. It’s a muddled, unfinished affair, and I muddled through not very much of it, leaving it unfinished.

F.O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman is full of insight and keen writing, but its voluminous scope and long essays kept making me wonder why I wasn’t just reading Hawthorne and Melville themselves. No knock on lit crit, but it seems wiser to spend reading time on the originals.

Speaking of Melville—I gave his incest novel Pierre another (third?) serious shot this summer, influenced by the Matthiessen, I guess. No go. Got distracted. It’s long.

I did finish Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban, a baffling schizophrenic novel that has thwarted every attempt of mine to review it. Here’s a review: it’s a strange, funny novel, a cult novel without a big enough cult.

I read several of the essays in A Symposium (ones by Beckett and William Carlos Williams), as well as the letters it includes (attacking Finnegans Wake) and Sylvia Beach’s reluctant intro. An interesting book but sometimes dry. Its inclusion, along with Tindall’s A Reader’s Guide to Finnegans Wake remind me of the brave week I spent trying to get a handle on Joyce’s language vortex. For whatever reason, I left the Wake in the stack. A dare? A dare.

October 2, 2011

Sunday Reading, 10.02.2011

by Biblioklept

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September 30, 2011

Book Acquired, 9.30.2011

by Biblioklept

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The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz by Russell Hoban. It’s his first novel. Picked it up at the used bookshop today. Love the cover. I’m sure it’s as weird as the other stuff I’ve read by him (Riddley Walker, Pilgermann, Kleinzheit).

September 5, 2011

Biblioklept’s Favorite Books of the Summer

by Edwin Turner

With Memorial Day ’11 just a memory and Labor Day warning off the wearing of white, I revisit some of the best books I read this summer:

Although I posted a review of Roberto Bolaño’s collection Between Parentheses two weeks before Memorial Day, I continued to read and reread the book over the entire summer. It was the gift that kept giving, a kind of blurry filter for the summer heat, a rambling literary dictionary for book thieves. For example, when I started Witold Gombrowicz’s Trans-Atlantyk a week or two ago, I spent a beer-soaked midnight tracing through Bolaño’s many notations on the Polish self-exile.

Trans-Atlantyk also goes on this list, or a sub-list of this list: great books that I’ve read, been reading (or in some cases, listened to/am listening to) but have not yet reviewed. I finished Trans-Atlantyk at two AM Sunday morning (surely the intellectual antidote to having watched twelve hours of college football that day) and it’s one of the strangest, most perplexing books I’ve ever read—and that’s saying something. Full review when I can process the book (or at least process the idea of processing the book).

I also read and absolutely loved Russell Hoban’s Kleinzeit, which is almost as bizarre as Trans-Atlantyk; like that novel (and Hoban’s cult classic Riddley Walker), Kleinzeit  is written in its own idiom, an animist world where concepts like Death and Action and Hospital and even God become concrete characters. It’s funny and sad. Also funny and sad: Christopher Boucher’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (new from Melville House). Like Trans-Atlantyk and Kleinzheit, Volkswagen is composed in its own language, a concrete surrealism full of mismatched metaphorical displacements. It’s a rare bird, an experimental novel with a great big heart. Full reviews forthcoming.

I’ll be running a review of Evelio Rosero’s new novel Good Offices this week, but I read it two sittings at the beginning of August and it certainly belongs on this list. It’s a compact and spirited satire of corruption in a Catholic church in Bogotá, unwinding almost like a stage play over the course of a few hours in one life-changing evening for a hunchback and his friends. Good stuff.

On the audiobook front, I’ve been working my way through George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series; I finished the first audiobook, A Game of Thrones, after enjoying the HBO series, and then moved into the second book, A Clash of Kings, which I’m only a few hours from completing. I think that the HBO series, which follows the first book fairly faithfully, is much closer to The Wire or Deadwood than it is to Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films—the story is less about fantasy and magic than it is about political intrigue during an ongoing civil war. This is a world where honor and chivalry, not to mention magic and dragons, have disappeared, replaced by Machiavellian cunning and schemers of every stripe. Martin slowly releases fantastic elements into this largely desacralized world, contesting his characters’ notions of order and meaning. There are also beheadings. Lots and lots of beheadings. The books are a contemporary English department’s wet dream, by the by. Martin’s epic concerns decentered authority; it critiques power as a constantly shifting set of differential relations lacking a magical centering force. He also tells his story through multiple viewpoints, eschewing the glowing third person omniscient lens that usually focuses on grand heroes in fantasy, and concentrates instead, via a sharp free indirect style, on protagonists who have been relegated to the margins of heroism: a dwarf, a cripple, a bastard, a mother trying to hold her family together, a teenage exile . . . good stuff.

Leo Tolstoy’s final work Hadji Murad also depicts a world of shifting power, civil war, unstable alliances, and beheadings (although not as many as in Martin’s books). Hadji Murad tells the story of the real-life Caucasian Avar general Hadji Murad who fought under Imam Shamil, the leader of the Muslim tribes of the Northern Caucuses; Shamil was Russia’s greatest foe. This novel concerns Murad’s attempt to defect to the Russians and save his family, which Shamil has captured. The book is a richly detailed and surprisingly funny critique of power and violence.

William Faulkner’s Light in August might be the best book I read this summer; it’s certainly the sweatiest, headiest, and grossest, filled with all sorts of vile abjection and hatred. Faulkner’s writing is thick, archaeological even, plowing through layers of Southern sediment to dig up and reanimate old corpses. The book is somehow both nauseating and vital. Not a pleasant read, to be honest, but one that sticks with you—sticks in you even—long after the last page.

Although David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King was released in the spring, I didn’t start reading it until June; too much buzz in my ears. If you’ve avoided reading it so far because of the hype, fair enough—but don’t neglect it completely. It’s a beautiful, frustrating, and extremely rewarding read.

Speaking of fragments from dead writers: part two of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich, published in the summer issue of The Paris Review, was a perfect treat over the July 4th weekend. I’m enjoying the suspense of a serialized novel far more than I would have imagined.

Wayne Koestenbaum’s Humiliation is probably the funniest, wisest, and most moving work of cultural studies I’ve ever read.  Unlike many of the tomes that clutter academia, Humiliation is accessible, humorous, and loving, a work of philosophical inquiry that also functions as cultural memoir. Despite its subject of pain and abjection, it repeatedly offers solutions when it can, and consolation and sympathy when it cannot.

So the second posthumously published, unfinished novel from a suicide I read this summer was Ernest Hemingway’s The Garden of Eden, the sultry strange tale of a doomed ménage à trois. (I’m as humiliated by that last phrase as you might be, dear reader. Sorry). Hemingway’s story of young beautiful newlyweds drinking and screwing and eating their way across the French Riviera is probably the weirdest thing he ever wrote. It’s a story of gender reversals, the problems of a three-way marriage, elephant hunting, bizarre haircuts, and heavy, heavy drinking. The Garden of Eden is perhaps Hemingway at his most self-critical; it’s a study in how Hemingway writes (his protagonist and stand-in is a rising author) that also actively critiques his shortcomings (as both author and human). The Garden of Eden should not be overlooked when working through Hemingway’s oeuvre. I’d love to see a critical edition with the full text someday (the novel that Scribner published pared down Hemingway’s unfinished manuscript to about a third of its size).

Also fragmentary fun: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Notebooks. Like Twitter before Twitter, sort of.

These weren’t the only books I read this summer but they were the best.

May 21, 2011

How to Enjoy the Apocalypse: A Post-Rapture Reading List

by Biblioklept

We published this list last year under the heading Ten Excellent Dystopian/Post-apocalyptic Novels That Aren’t Brave New World or 1984, but what with the Rapture going down and all, why not post it again, this time with links to pieces we’ve written on these novels—

1. Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban

2. Camp Concentration, Thomas Disch

3. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

4. Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood

5. The Hospital Ship, Martin Bax

6. Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs

7. VALIS, Philip K. Dick

8. Ronin, Frank Miller

9. Ape and Essence, Aldous Huxley

10. The Road and Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

November 26, 2010

Russell Hoban on What Inspired Riddley Walker

by Biblioklept

At The Guardian, Russell Hoban writes about how a viewing of The Legend of St. Eustace at Canterbury Cathedral inspired his post-apocalyptic classic Riddley Walker. The anecdote will be familiar to anyone who’s reread the introduction to Riddley Walker, but Hoban’s essay still interesting. From his essay–

The first time I stood in Canterbury Cathedral and tilted my head back to look up, up, up to that numinous fan-vaulting I felt the uprush past me of all the centuries of prayer, of hope and fear and yearning, yearning for answers and, if possible, salvation.

Breathing in this atmosphere I made my way through the nave to those stone steps trodden by successive waves of pilgrims, some with beads, some with cameras. Up those worn- down steps, past the place where the remembered blood of Thomas Becket seethes on the stones, to the north aisle where on one wall remains the faint earth-green tracery ofThe Legend of St Eustace. Facing it on the opposite wall is Professor Tristram’s reconstruction of the 15th-century painting.

Whatever talent I have for writing lies in being friends with my head: I know its vagaries, its twists and turns, its hobo journeys in fast freights, riding the blinds to unknown destinations. Sometimes I get thrown off the train in the middle of nowhere; sometimes I get to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. If you Google for Eustace you’ll find that he has no official standing among the beatified. Perhaps his legend turned up on the back of some Middle-Ages cornflakes box and grew from there. Being thus non-factual, Eustace is quite at home in a work of fiction. According to the legend he was a general in the Roman army to begin with, but one day hunting in the forest, he saw a little crucified Jesus between the antlers of a stag, as vividly shown in the 15th-century painting by Pisanello.

 

October 20, 2006

Riddley Walker–Russell Hoban

by Edwin Turner

I never gave Riddley Walker back to Patrick Tilford (aka TLFRD). A few years ago I loaned it to a student who never returned it. Said student never returned Dune, or The Left Hand of Darkness, or several Jules Verne novels either. Doesn’t matter, I know that he read them.

This book is a favorite. Russell Hoban’s coming-of-age story takes place in a future that has regressed to the iron age due to a catastrophic war. Hoban writes in his own language, a mutated English, full of fragments of the 20th century.

I couldn’t find an image of the edition I stole/lost. This edtion from 2000 features an introduction by Will Self, whose latest book, The Book of Dave, apparently was directly influenced by Riddley Walker. Will Self’s book Great Apes deeply, deeply disturbed me. Nothing repulses me more than images of chimpanzees dressed as humans; Great Apes is the literary equivalent.

Great Apes was an airport bookstore buy; I suppose at some point on this blog I will address the “airport bookstore buy.”

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