- Billy Budd, Sailor
- The Castle
- Confessions of Felix Krull
- The Decembrists
- The First Man
- Fragment of a Novel
- The Garden of Eden
- The Last Tycoon
- The Mysterious Stranger
- The Mystery of Edwin Drood
- The Original of Laura
- The Pale King
- The Pink and the Green
- Stephen Hero
- The Trial
- Under the Hill
- Rainbow’s Gravity
- Vibrators Yawing
- I Saw Vibrant Orgy
- Aviary Bowstring
- Warty Virgin’s Boa
- Varsity War Bingo
- Brain Sow Gravity
- Wintry Bag Savior
- Bargain Ivy Worts
- Abstain, Wry Vigor!
- A Gravity Bro Wins
- Wry Bi Navigators
- Braying Sitar Vow
- Wait, Braving Rosy
- Raving Ways Orbit
- Vagina Bits Worry
- Bit Vaginas—Worry
- Vibrating Ya Rows
- Winy Gravitas, Bro
- Nay—Vibrator Wigs
- Avast, Worrying Bi!
- Vagrant’s Wiry Bio
- Sanitary Brig Vow
- Antiwar by Vigors
- Aviator by Wrings
- Virago Twins Bray
- Ban Ivory Wig Rats
- Warns via Bigotry
- Biting Ovary Wars
- Van Orgy Is Bit Raw
- Vying Brow Tiaras
- Boring TV Airways
- Ow! (Vibrating Rays)
- Braving Sway Riot
- Savory Brain Twig
- A Vibratory Swing
- Ivy, Aborting Wars
- Aviary Bong Writs
- Bro, Astray, Wiving
- Avow Brainy Grist
- Snowy Trivia Garb
- Grab Warty Vision
- Wrong Tibias Vary
- Stay Wiring, Bravo!
- Braising Wavy Rot
- Gator Bra Wins Ivy
- (Brag) Norway Visit
- Gratis Binary Vow
- Nab via Gory Wrists
- Aviary Brings Two
- T’is Rainbow Gravy
- Barrio Swat Vying
- Via Starry Bowing
- Big Wino’s TV Array!
- Bag Ovary, Writ Sin
- Starving Wary Obi
- Boar, Satyr, Wiving
- Any Wigs, Vibrator?
- Avian Grits (by Row)
- Orgy Twin via Bars
- Raving Was by Riot
- Giant Raw Ivy Orbs
- A Vibratory Swing
- I Grow Brainy Vats
- Wry Vagina’s Orbit
- Was Ya Rib Rig on TV?
- Angry Swob Trivia
- Ban War Orgy Visit
- Yo War’s Vibrating!
What book have you started the most times without ever finishing?
I asked this question on Twitter a few days ago (and then asked it a few more times, probably annoying some of the nice people who follow me), and I’ll write a bit about some of the responses later this week. I’m hoping too that some of this blog’s readers will share the novel (or novels) they’ve opened the most times without actually ever finishing.
I got to dwelling on the question a bit after talking with two friends, separately, over the past few weeks, both of whom were having a tough time with Gravity’s Rainbow. Up until last year, Gravity’s Rainbow would easily have been my first answer to this question. How many times did I try to read it between 1997 and 2015? Probably like, what, once a year? At least? And while I don’t think Gravity’s Rainbow is the best starting place for Pynchon, the book is endlessly rewarding, and fits nicely into a little mental shelf comprised of books I made plenty of false starts on before finally finishing (Moby-Dick, Ulysses, Infinite Jest…titles that cropped up on Twitter in answer to my silly question).
Gravity’s Rainbow impacted me so much that I immediately reread it. But I don’t think I would’ve gotten there if I hadn’t read more Pynchon first—and honestly, if I didn’t trust certain critics, if I didn’t trust the book’s reputation. But what about all the books I keep cracking open but can’t quite crack into? Am I missing something? I’m probably missing something.
I rounded up most of the novels I could think of that I’ve tried to read at least four times (conspicuously absent is Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, which I’ve tried to read, hell, what four times? Five including an audiobook?)—I’ll riff a little on them. (As an aside: There are certain books I’ll probably never “finish,” that I have no aim of finishing, which I’m not riffing on here—I’ll write about them separately. The include Tristram Shandy, The Anatomy of Melancholy, Don Quixote, and Finnegans Wake).
Nathaniel Hawthorne is one of my favorite writers, yet I can’t get past Ch. 6 of The Marble Faun. His pal Melville’s Moby-Dick is easily one of my favorite books, one that I return to again and again, and yet I can’t seem to get through Pierre without skimming. I “read” the book in grad school, but I didn’t really read it. I’m fairly determined to read both of these, if only to ameliorate my shame as a would-be completist.
Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma is another book I’m determined to finish (at some point, not now! Not today!—is there another translation besides the Moncrieff?!). If the bookmark in the edition above is true, I made it to page 43 on my last attempt (stopping in the middle of a chapter—never a good sign).
By my wholly unscientific calculations, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice is the book I’ve started and quit the most times. It’s not even a novel. It’s barely a novella. I should be able to finish it. Maybe it’s a stamina issue. Maybe if I could just sit and read it in one go…
I’ll never finish Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark, but I tried to finish it repeatedly because I, uh, took it from a bookstore without, uh, purchasing it first—the only time I ever did such a thing. When I was a kid. A stupid kid. I confessed (on this blog, years ago—not to the store. The store is gone).
I think I might have read too much Thomas Bernhard too fast, because I keep stalling out on The Lime Works. To be fair, it’s almost impossible for me to read Bernhard in hot or warm weather, and I live in Florida, so the Thomas-Bernhard-reading-weather window is slim. Next winter.
Watching Tarr’s film adaptation of Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s Satantango was difficult enough. (No, I did not do it one sitting). I tried. I tried. I doubt I’ll ever try again.
My Struggle, Book 1. Again, I tried, I tried. Several times. I can’t get down with Knausgaard.
I’ve tried to read Georges Perec’s Life A User’s Manual every summer for a few years now, and I’m not really sure why I can’t get past Part I (about 75 pages or so in). Every time I start into Life, I feel as if I’m missing something, as if some of its humor or complexity is lost on me. Maybe I need something like A User’s Manual for Life A User’s Manual.
I’m sure I’m forgetting plenty of titles (I’m really great at not finishing novels)—but these are the ones that stand out in recent years.
By way of closing: I’m almost finished with Stanley Elkin’s 1975 novel The Franchiser, which would’ve been on this list just a few months ago.
And again, I’d love to hear what novel (or novels) you’ve started the most times without finishing (yet!).
William F. Buckley
William S. Burroughs
John Clellon Holmes
- King Lear
- Henry IV, Part I/II
- The Tempest
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream
- Antony and Cleopatra
- Twelfth Night
- Much Ado about Nothing
- A Serious Man
- The Big Lebowski
- Inside Llewyn Davis
- No Country for Old Men
- Barton Fink
- Blood Simple
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- Raising Arizona
- The Man Who Wasn’t There
- Miller’s Crossing
- True Grit
- Burn After Reading
- The Ladykillers
- The Hudsucker Proxy
- Hail, Caesar!
- Intolerable Cruelty
The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon
Dockwood, Jon McNaught
A German Picturesque, Jason Schwartz
Inherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles
Flee, Evan Dara
Birchfield Close, Jon McNaught
Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera
Infinite Fictions, David Winters
Syrian Notebooks, Jonathan Littell
Girl in a Band, Kim Gordon
Can’t and Won’t, Lydia Davis
Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
Gaha: Babes of the Abyss, Jon Frankel
The Spectators, Victor Hussenot
Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed
Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
The Wallcreeper, Nell Zink
Cess, Gordon Lish
Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel
High Rise, J.G. Ballard
Millennium People, J.G. Ballard
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
Updating the reviews page to this blog today (a chore! a bore!) I realized just how many books I’d read this year and failed to write about…so far, anyway. The list above is probably incomplete, and only includes books I read cover-to-cover (or in a few cases audited on mp3)—so stuff like essays by William Gass and collections like Vollmann’s Last Stories and William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion (etc.) I left off. And yes, I’m aware that the list is heavy on white guys.
IN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION: WHAT SCENES ONE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE FILMED
Shakespeare in the part of the King’s Ghost.
The beheading of Louis the Sixteenth, the drums drowning his speech on the scaffold.
Herman Melville at breakfast, feeding a sardine to his cat.
Poe’s wedding. Lewis Carroll’s picnics.
The Russians leaving Alaska, delighted with the deal. Shot of a seal applauding.
From a 1966 interview with Alfred Appel Jr., originally published in Wisconsin Studies and reprinted in the collection Strong Opinions (1973).
- Agapē Agape
- Billy Budd
- The Castle
- The Garden of Eden
- Hadji Murat
- Islands in the Stream
- The Leopard
- The Master and Margarita
- The Metamorphosis
- The Mysterious Stranger
- October Ferry to Gabriola
- The Pale King
- Stephen Hero
- The Third Policeman
- The Third Reich
- Three Days Before the Shooting…
- The Master
- Inherent Vice
- Boogie Nights
- There Will Be Blood
- Punch Drunk Love
- Hard Eight
Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon (incomplete)
The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy (abandoned)
Life A User’s Manual, Georges Perec (abandoned with intentions to return)
An Armful of Warm Girl, W.M. Spackman
Dockwood, Jon McNaught
The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson
The Trip to Echo Spring , Olivia Laing (incomplete)
An Ecology of World Literature, Alexander Beercroft (incomplete)
The Age of the Poets, Alain Badiou (incomplete)
Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Thomas Bernhard
Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor (incomplete)
I, Little Asylum, Emmanuelle Guattari
- The desire to manufacture and maintain happiness leads our culture, our society, our whatever to repeatedly perform contrived aesthetic scenarios.
- Happiness being, perhaps, a modern, or at least modernish, invention.
- Modernish affect.
- And happiness, we maybe telling ourselves, the goal, the telos, the whatever, of religion, politics, culture.
- Like many Americans, I have absolutely no idea what will make me happy.
- I know that happiness is not stable.
- One of Blake’s chimney sweepers remarks that because he is happy and dances and sings they (God/priest/king) are absolved from the belief that they’ve done him injury.
- Religion, or the practice and observance of religion, is the maintenance, repetition, and performance of contrived aesthetic scenarios.
- Months ago at a baptism I witnessed a man sway.
- The swayer swayed rhythmically: his eyes closed, his brow wrinkled, his mouth downturned in the pretense of ecstasy—he swayed to the guitar-strumming of an Episcopalian priest, who plucked and sang a song I’d never heard.
- The assembled witnesses mumbling through words of which they weren’t sure.
- (Or mute, glaring, like my brother, my father, myself).
- Later the priest reserved damning words for this world.
- (I’ve committed no details of the sermon to memory, but we may file the whole damn deal under “Platonic shadows of some other promised Real-to-Come“).
- And yet the backdrop of the whole affair—did I mention this baptism was outside?—this backdrop was the mighty north-flowing St Johns River, a beautiful spring day, hot, goddamn was it hot-–this backdrop was beautiful, ecstatically beautiful, the deep dark blue choppy river, so broad, coursed in the background, dotted with white sails—trees: announce them: cypress, sweetbay, oak—they swayed—or their branches swayed, their green leaves tickled in the occasional too-brief wind—the sky blazed azure, that’s the word we have, streaked with violent clouds (they were not fluffy)—birds flew—can I remember them, the birds? Let’s license my memory: let’s say white ibises beat past the spectacle, that black vultures hovered not too close. Let’s imagine limpkins and red-shouldered hawks, like the proud avian who lives in the oak across the street from me. Ospreys. Hell, throw in a bald eagle.
- The world, this world, which is to say this particular aesthetic arrangement had the potential to authorize happiness—and yet the man in black yapped on about its utter falseness, this world, this beautiful beautiful world.
- Emily Dickinson claimed to keep the Sabbath at home, by which I think she meant her back yard. Sounds nice there—the sermon is never long, and instead of getting to Heaven at last – you’re going, all along.
- (I had to preserve and repeat and maintain the aesthetics of Ms. Dickinson’s dash).
- I went and stood in the shade and tried to feel happy.
- But the man, the swaying man—his performance of ecstasy—all this, mixed with the sermon to spoil the happiness, which I probably enjoyed just as much—the which there referring to the feeling of feeling spoiled happiness, or rather the feeling of potential happiness spoiled.
- That the feeling of the feeling was as pure as it might be, mediated by Nature and its enemy Religion.
- And finding the man’s swaying performance so thoroughly unconvincing, having witnessed ecstasy my own damn self, at least once or even twice in thirty-five years.
- And maybe even experiencing ecstasy, its edges, its agony.
- (Ms. Dickinson reported that she liked a look of agony. Its truth).
- That ecstasy, or awe, or reverence, or pick your own synonym, because, hey, language is weak as usual, as always, as always-shall-be—language can’t pin down transcendence to a signifying utterance—where was I, am I?—that ecstasy might be pantomimed in the service of a service, of a system, of a religion—this is the shadow of happiness, the shadow of the ideal of happiness: the problem. The problem.
- I was never close enough to hear the infant’s cries, coos, wails, burbles, sounds, which she must have uttered—maybe she slept through the ordeal—but any sounds she made must have been the purest utterances at the occasion, the repetitions of Nature, still outside of the culture in which we had gathered to inscribe her.
- I wrote all this for me, not for you, not for anyone else—but let me end with the cloying sentimental jeering pretense that I wrote it for the baptized baby, a supporting character in this narrative, whose life I hope is mostly happy.
10. The Beekeeper’s Daughter by Sissy Sextuplington
By turns uproarious, scandalous, and emotionally-moving, this kaleidoscopic novel tells the multi-generational story of the Apis clan, from their humble beginnings starting a clandestine honey-service in the catacombs of Ellis Island in the 1890s, to their triumphant crest in the honey-boom of the Buzzing Twenties, to their decline and rebirth from their own ashes/wax over the course of the 20th century. This sting stuns!
9. Cacanisius’ Crossing by Caomh-Caolan FitzSimmons-Hughes
How wonderful that this “lost classic” has been recovered anew! FitzSimmons-Hughes of course wrote the novel over a series of decades; each section was written in the language of the European country he was living in self-imposed exile in at the time. Cacanisius’ Crossing was then translated into Irish Gaelic, and has finally been translated into English. The 1085-page story details the last five minutes in the life of its central character. Kaleidoscopically stunning.
8. Dovetail by Samuel Samold
In this dystopian romance-thriller, society is split into two groups: those who have earned their genetically-grafted tails, and those who must go “SansTail.” Will plucky Becky Fang pass the Trials of Wattle and earn her place in the dominant tribe (along with dreamboat Crispin’s affection)—or will she follow the strange mysteries of the secret resistance force, The Cloacal Tunnel? A compelling stunner.
7. The Kite Runner 2 by Khaled Hosseini
The whole book club bawled. Again.
6. Jimmy Hat Johannson and the Crystal Creeper Caper (A Charleston ‘Nights’ Mystery) by Edwin Turner
I feel a little weird putting my own NaNoWriMo novel on here—not the least because it hasn’t come out yet (FS&G in hardback in the US, March 2016; Penguin in the UK, Australia, Canada, and NZ in May 2016; Japanese and Latvian translations TBD)—but it’s really, really good. I even let a friend look over it to check for any bad writing (there wasn’t any) before I sent it to the Wylie Agency. The plot: Jimmy Hat Johansson is just a good ole boy from a backwoods burg…but a summer job with his Uncle Ray’s lawn business plunges him headfirst into a world of sinister intrigue–housewife murderesses, a corrupt sheriff, and a crystal meth syndicate!
5. The Lumberjack’s Apprentice by Knob Hayden
Knob Hayden’s remarkable journey comes to life in this remarkable collection of stories (The Lumberjack’s Apprentice is a novel-in-stories). Remarkably, this book was Hayden’s thesis for an experimental MFA program offered by the EGS (via Transylvania University, Kentucky). Each short story is a remarkable entry in this angry young man’s tour-de-force-of-truth. Hayden is only 24, but he’s hardly tender—six days as a lumberjack’s apprentice will roughen any soft palms! Our hero also tries his hand as a busboy, a mail clerk at Monsanto, and a cabin boy. This guy has definitely read Jesus’ Son!
4. Working On My Screenplay by Angela Criss
Kudos to Penguin for this achievement. This is a book of tweets from people who have included the phrase “working on my screenplay” in their tweet, interspersed with sketches of kittens. Sure, you might criticize it as lazy, not particularly insightful, barely interesting, the sort of joke that others like John Cage played decades ago, a gimmick, cruel, boring, or smug. But it’s art and it’s subversive and it provides much-needed metacommentary and it can be yours for only 10 bucks!
3. Too Many Cooks: The Novelization by Jonathan Franzen
Stunningly remarkable work from Franzen, who slowly teases out the Adult Swim’s immediate cult-classic 11-minute video to 475 pages in this sweeping multigenerational epic. Stunning to think that Mr. Franzen never even watched the short film!
2. Brooklyn Novel Title TK by Daktoa Rugburn
Wyoming Strongniece has no idea what to do after college—an internship at a Fortune 500 company offered by one of her father’s friends? An experimental MFA program offered by the EGS? Should she work the summer at her favorite bar, making artisanal cocktails for the surly locals, and continue to support her suicidal roommate Hershey as she tries to launch her acting career? Or maybe—just maybe—she can have it all. A dazzling debut sure to stun and reward.
1. The Sector of Attention by Moses Kingson
In vivid prose, Kingson’s unforgettable 27th novel explores the nadirs and acmes of the human soul. A swirling kaleidoscope of epiphanies and soul-searching, this kaleidoscopic stunner makes us reexamine all we thought we knew about WWII. I can’t wait to actually read it.
- Charles Weedon Westover killed himself on February 8th, 1990.
- He was 55.
- He shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
- Between the eye and the ear.
- The right eye and the right ear.
- The temple.
- Charles Weedon Westover was better known by his stage name, Del Shannon.
- The name printed on his death certificate is “Charles Weedon Westover” though.
- CWW found success as Del Shannon, performing and recording the song “Runaway.”
- The 7″ 45rpm recording of “Runaway” became a number one Billboard hit in the United States of America in February of 1961.
- “Runaway” was the number one hit in America for four weeks.
- It was later a number one hit in the United Kingdom.
- And Australia.
- But it was not a number one hit in 1967, when CWW as Del Shannon rerecorded it as “Runaway ’67.”
- In fact, “Runaway ’67” failed to chart.
- CWW, under the name Del Shannon, wrote “Runaway” with Max Crook.
- Crook played the strange, dark, jaunty, bipolar solo in “Runaway.”
- Crook played the solo on a musical instrument of his own invention, a type of early electronic synthesizer he called the Musitron.
- Crook’s Musitron was a modified version of an earlier synthesizer, the clavioline (similar, of course, to an ondioline).
- Perhaps Crook’s most significant modification was adding reverb to his organ via a custom-built echo chamber that incorporated garden gate springs.
- Crook’s solo is the haunting spirit of a haunting song.
- Or maybe the haunting spirit is actually CWW/DS’s falsetto, which cracks through the piano and baritone sax approximately 45 seconds into the song, announcing that the narrator wah-wah-wah-wah-wonders why why why why why why she ran away.
- The lyric is simple but also dark, portentous, loaded with a primal anxiety that hints at outright menace.
- Why a “runaway”?
- Why did she run away?
- And why does the narrator want her there with him, walking in the rain?
- (To end this misery).
- CWW continued recording and performing as Del Shannon for the rest of his life.
- His final performance was in Fargo, ND, not a week before his suicide.
- Of course he sang “Runaway” there.
- It was his biggest hit.
- None of his other songs came even close.
- He did the alcoholic thing, the drug addict thing, and then the AA thing.
- He was, by all accounts, a life-long manic depressive.
- And many claimed a kind man.
- A generous man.
- He played “Runaway” on the David Letterman Show in 1986, shouting the song but hitting the falsetto.
- (Back in 1961, Harry Balk, who produced “Runaway,” had to speed up the recording–from an A minor to a B flat–to match CWW’s vocal–he was nervous and flat).
- Shirley Westover, his wife of 31 years, had left him the year before his Letterman appearance.
- CWW remarried in 1987. He married a neighbor’s daughter, Bonnie Tyson (also known as LeAnne Gutierrez), who was half his age at the time of the marriage.
- Bonnie found CWW’s body.
- Slumped in a rocking chair, wearing his bathrobe but not his hair piece.
- He was working on music with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne around the time of his death.
- And clearly a Wilbury in spirit.
- CWW has no grave.
French for author, this term denotes a film director who makes the same film again and again and again.
A detailed list of the books from which the author plundered all his or her good ideas.
The rhetorical device of circumlocution can be seen by the reader or made evident to the reader when a writer chooses to compose phrases, clauses, or sentences that are inordinately complex, exaggerated, long-winded, or otherwise unnecessarily verbose in order to demonstrate, convey, show, or express an idea, image, or meaning that might have been demonstrated, conveyed, shown, or expressed via the use of shorter, simpler, more direct phrases, clauses, or sentences that demonstrate brevity.
Inexperienced writers, especially composition students, are advised to use circumlocution to pad their writing and meet the assigned word count.
A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about prescriptivists.
Telling without showing. Exposition can be extremely useful to the reader, who will slight the author who successfully employs it.
FREE INDIRECT STYLE
James Wood Approved!™
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A biography composed entirely of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies.
The funny dirty bits that make you feel clever.
Trade-specific diction employed (preferably clumsily) to confuse the average reader and offend the expert reader.
Early 21st-century reading device, often mistaken as a harbinger of literary doom.
An adverb that most often means figuratively.
The most enduring—and therefore most true—kind of story.
A writer’s ability to just chill and not know. (Also useful for lazy frauds).
OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about descriptivists.
The story-teller’s scheme. Make it up as you go along. Steal as necessary.
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
An adjective used to describe a literary work that is not quite as good as anything by W.G. Sebald.
A work often mistaken as more serious or more important or more literary than a comedy.
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A specific type of lucidity that authors sometimes use.
The emotional byproduct of attempting to maintain comforting, nebulous fantasies.
A stop-gap for bouts of Weltschmerz.
Zyzzyva is a real word, and this fact should give us all some small measure of hope..