A list of 81 (or more) similes from Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666

  1. a horrible and notably unhygienic bathroom that was more like a latrine or cesspit
  2. A rather ordinary picture of a student in the capital, but it worked on him like a drug, a drug that brought him to tears, a drug that (as one sentimental Dutch poet of the nineteenth century had it) opened the floodgates of emotion, as well as the floodgates of something that at first blush resembled self-pity but wasn’t (what was it, then? rage? very likely)
  3. the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness
  4. their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings
  5. went on the attack like Napoleon at Jena
  6. demolished the counterattack like a Desaix, like a Lannes
  7. old Hanseatic buildings, some of which looked like abandoned Nazi offices
  8. like people endlessly analyzing a favorite movie
  9. the parade of immigrants like ants loading the flesh of thousands of dead cattle into the ships’ holds
  10. the little gaucho sounded like the moon, like the passage of clouds across the moon,
    like a slow storm
  11. his eyes shining with a strange intensity, like the eyes of a clumsy young butcher
  12. the lady would begin to howl like a Fury
  13. like an ice queen
  14. news spreading like wildfire, like a nuclear conflagration
  15. a rock jutting from the pool, like a dark and iridescent reef
  16. like a painting by Gustave Moreau or Odilon Redon
  17. I suffered like a dog
  18. now the fucking mugs are like samurais armed with those fucking samurai swords
  19. the appearance of the park, which looked to him like a film of the jungle, the colors wrong, terribly sad, exalted
  20. The words old man and German he waved like magic wands to uncover a secret
  21. like drudge work, like the lowest of menial tasks
  22. that abyss like hour
  23. Like the machine celibataire.
  24. Like the bachelor who suddenly grows old, or like the bachelor who, when he returns from a trip at light speed, finds the other bachelors grown old or turned into pillars of salt.
  25. like a howling Indian witch doctor
  26. like talking to a stranger
  27. like a whisper that he later understood was a kind of laugh
  28. like a hula-hooping motion
  29. you’re behaving like stupid children
  30. they attended like sleepwalkers or drugged detectives
  31. like missionaries ready to instill faith in God, even if to do so meant signing a pact with the devil
  32. they behaved not like youths but like nouveaux youths
  33. drifted through Bologna like two ghosts
  34. who once said London was like a labyrinth
  35. he could soar over the beach like a seagull
  36. which circled in their guilty consciences like a ghost or an electric charge
  37. they were so happy they began to sing like children in the pouring rain
  38. Their remorse vanished like laughter on a spring night.
  39. smiling like squirrels
  40. like a fifteenth-century fortress
  41. circles that faded like mute explosions
  42. Coincidence, if you’ll permit me the simile, is like the manifestation of God at every moment on our planet.
  43. a voice that didn’t sound like his but rather like the voice of a sorcerer, or more specifically, a sorceress, a soothsayer from the times of the Roman Empire
  44. like the dripping of a basalt fountain
  45. he and the room were mirrored like ghostly figures in a performance that prudence and fear would keep anyone from staging
  46. Aztec ruins springing like lilacs from wasteland
  47. like a river that stops being a river or a tree that burns on the horizon, not knowing that it’s burning
  48. the city looked to them like an enormous camp of gypsies or refugees ready to pick up and move at the slightest prompting
  49. the missing piece suddenly leaped into sight, almost like a bark
  50. It’s like hearing a child cry
  51. a kind of speed that looked to Espinoza like slowness, although he knew it was only the slowness that kept whoever watched the painting from losing his mind
  52. brief moans shooting like meteorites over the desert
  53. The words tunneled through the rarefied air of the room like virulent roots through dead flesh
  54. The word freedom sounded to Espinoza like the crack of a whip in an empty classroom.
  55. The light in the room was dim and uncertain, like the light of an English dusk.
  56. Literature in Mexico is like a nursery school, a kindergarten, a playground, a kiddie club
  57. the movement of something like subterranean tanks of pain
  58. The stage is really a proscenium and upstage there’s an enormous tube, something like a mine shaft or the gigantic opening of a mine
  59. like a bad joke on the part of the mayor or city planner
  60. like pure crystal
  61. like the legs of an adolescent near death
  62. his eyes were just like the eyes of the blind
  63. clung to the Chilean professor like a limpet
  64. grimaced like a madman
  65. like a reflection of what happened in the west but jumbled up
  66. The sky, at sunset, looked like a carnivorous flower.
  67. For the first time, the three of them felt like siblings or like the veterans of some shock troop who’ve lost their interest in most things of this world
  68. a smell of meat and hot earth spread over the patio in a thin curtain of smoke that enveloped them all like the fog that drifts before a murder
  69. long roots like snakes or the locks of a Gorgon
  70. like a shirt left out to dry
  71. reality for Pelletier and Espinoza seemed to tear like paper scenery
  72. lectures that were more like massacres
  73. feeling less like butchers than like gutters or disembowellers
  74. the boy on top of the heap of rugs like a bird, scanning the horizon
  75. She was like a princess or an ambassadress
  76. cry like a fool
  77. I felt like a derelict dazzled by the sudden lights of a theater.
  78. drew me like a magnet
  79. a cement box with two tiny windows like the portholes of a sunken ship
  80. a very soft voice, like the breeze that was blowing just then, suffusing everything with the scent of flowers
  81. The cement box where the sauna was looked like a bunker holding a corpse.

These similes are from “The Part About the Critics,” the first part of 2666, a novel by Roberto Bolaño, in English translation by Natasha Wimmer. I was originally going to try to record 666 similes, but then I didn’t. I’ll record similes from the other four parts of the novel though.

List with no name #67

Best Books of 1972?

A conversation with a colleague this week led me on a not-entirely successful search for the “best” books of 1972.

The gist of the conversation is something like this: Asked about the “best” books that came out last year, I admitted I don’t read that much new fiction, so I had no idea.

I also said something cavalier along the lines of, It takes like half a century to know if a novel is important or not. (This is not a statement I entirely believe in.)

So what did folks in 1972 think the best books published that year were?

The first thing I did is check the bestsellers of fiction that year.

(I should be clear that I’m mostly interested in novels here, or books of a novelistic/artistic scope, whatever that means–so I didn’t really pursue nonfiction stuff that much here.)

The New York Time’s fiction bestsellers for 1972 is dominated by two novels: Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War (21 weeks) and Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (26 weeks). Fiction bestsellers are often (but not always) entertainments that we don’t expect to last over time, and while Wouk and Bach’s titles still get reprints every decade or so, they aren’t exactly Ulysses (published fifty years earlier in 1922).

So I looked for what titles the NYT critics deemed the best books of 1972. The contemporary NYT comes up with a list of ten titles each year (five fiction, five non-), but things were a little looser fifty years ago. In December of that year, the NYT offered just “Five Significant Books of 1972.”

This list is entirely nonfiction:

The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, edited by Robert Manson Myers (“…a loving work of scholarship. From 6,000 letters written among several branches of a Southern family between 1854 and 1865, Robert Manson Myers has woven 1,200 of them into a massive and touching portrait of a bygone society.”)

The Master by Leon Edel (“With…the fifth and final volume of his biography of Henry James, Leon Edel brings to a close a literary labor of 20 years.”)

Fire in the Lake by Frances FitzGerald (“…the richest kind of contemporary history; it places political and military events in cultural perspective—something rarely done in the hundreds of books written about Vietnam during the last dozen years.”)

The Coming of Age by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Patrick O’Brian (“…confronts a subject of universal private anguish and universal public silence…she has single‐handedly established a history of and a rhetoric for the process of aging.”)

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls (“…a magisterial exercise in ‘moral geometry.'”)

Rawls’s book is the only one I’ve heard of and de Beauvoir is the only other author whose name I recognize on the list (I did know that there was a ridiculously long multi-volume biography of Henry James). Beyond the list’s being all nonfiction (if there was a fiction version somewhere, I could not find it), it’s also remarkable how long each of the books is: the shortest is 491 pages; the longest is 1,845 pages. Those are long books!

I tried searching for other newspaper and magazine lists of best books of 1972 but came up short. If anyone has anything else to offer for contemporary thoughts on the best of ’72 (by which I mean, folks in ’72 on the best of ’72), I’m all virtual ears.

I then looked into what Goodreads had to say.

I have no idea how their list works, but Richard Adams’s Watership Down tops it. That book completely fucked me up as a kid, which is maybe why I didn’t press too hard when both of my children were reluctant to read it when I pressed it on them. I think it’s a classic though (oh, and it made The New York Times year-end list in 1974–I guess it didn’t get an American publication until then?).

I don’t really think Watership Down is a children’s book, but rounding out the top three on the Goodreads list are two classics of the genre: Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together and Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day. (Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing comes in way too low at #44.)

And now, because I’m lazy, I will use the rest of the list to offer an incomplete, inconclusive, and ultimately unnecessary list of the best books of 1972. There are many books on the list I’m pilfering from I have not read (including ones by authors whose books I esteem, like Nabokov, Welty, DeLillo, and Atwood), and these books may deserve a spot, as might the many many books that have failed through no fault of their own to wind up under the right eyes, ears, hands.

A list:

Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Angela Carter

Watership Down, Richard Adams

The Farthest Shore, Ursula K. LeGuin

Ways of Seeing, John Berger

Roadside Picnic, Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

 

A (probably incomplete) list of books I read or reread in 2021


☉ indicates a reread.

☆ indicates an outstanding read.


The Real Cool Killers, Chester Himes ☆

The Bachelors, Muriel Spark

Bina, Anakana Schofield

Moby-Dick, Herman Melville ☉☆

Margaret the First, Danielle Dutton ☆

The Florida Keys, Joy Williams

Passages, Ann Quin☆

V., Thomas Pynchon ☉☆

Notes from Childhood, Norah Lange (trans. by Charlotte Whittle)

Albert Angelo, B.S. Johnson ☆

Trawl, B.S. Johnson

House Mother Normal, B.S. Johnson

Outline, Rachel Cusk

Perfume, Patrick Süskind (trans. by John E. Woods) ☆

The Unfortunates, B.S. Johnson

Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo, Ntozake Shange

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev, Dawnie Walton

Dope Rider: A Fistful of Delirium, Paul Kirchner

The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain ☆

By Night in Chile, Roberto Bolaño (trans. by Chris Andrews) ☉☆

Cowboy Graves, Roberto Bolaño (trans. by Natasha Wimmer)

Double Indemnity, James M. Cain

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino (trans. by William Weaver)☉

If on a winter’s night a traveler…, Italo Calvino (trans. by William Weaver)☉

The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino (trans. by Archibald Colquhoun) ☉☆

Mister Boots, Carol Emshwiller

Permanent Earthquake, Evan Dara

The Woman in the Dunes, Kobo Abe (trans. by E. Dale Saunders)

The Slynx, Tatyana Tolstoya (trans. by Jamey Gambrell) ☆

The Shape of Content, Ben Shahn

Anecdotes, Heinrich von Kleist (trans. by Matthew Spencer)

Hurricane Season, Fernanda Melchor (trans. by Sophie Hughes) ☆

Sixty Stories, Donald Barthelme ☉☆

Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty☉

Body Count, Francie Schwartz

The Old People, A.J. Perry

Carmen Dog, Carol Emshwiller ☆

Remain in Love, Chris Frantz

The Witchcraft of Salem Village, Shirley Jackson

In the Eye of the Wild, Nastassja Martin (trans. Sophie R. Lewis)

Rough Day, Ed Skoog

Letters from Mom, Julio Cortazar (trans. by Magdalena Edwards)

Under the Jaguar Sun, Italo Calvino (trans. by William Weaver)

The Nonexistant Knight, Italo Calvino (trans. by Archibald Colquhoun)

The Cloven Viscount, Italo Calvino (trans. by Archibald Colquhoun)

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Claudia Rankine

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy ☉☆

Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories in reverse, Part IV

I am rereading Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories, starting with the sixtieth story and working my way to the first and writing about it.

Previous entries:

Stories 60-55

Stories 54-49

Stories 48-43

This post covers stories 42-37.

47. “The Crisis” (Great Days, 1979)

“The Crisis” is a bit of a toss off, a bricolage of the last decade (’69-’79) that never coheres into a duet, monologue, theme, or even punchline. Its plot, such as it is, details (details is not the correct verb) the circumstances of an absurd failed revolution. Ostensibly a dialogue (or is it a chorus?), “The Crisis” doesn’t add up to much, and is perhaps best summarized in one of its closing images:

Distant fingers from the rebel forces are raised in fond salute.

Is Barthelme shooting his readers the bird?

The story feels like a slapdash riff on Walker Percy’s weird and wonderful satirical novel Love in the Ruins. (Barthelme was a huge Percy fan.)

46. “Our Work and Why We Do It” (Amateurs, 1976)

“Our Work and Why We Do It” is self-consciously postmodern, a mash-up of Beckett’s absurdism, Benjamin’s seminal “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” burgeoning Marxist aesthetic philosophy, and the modes and means of modernism. The opening line seems to satirize capital’s relationship between art, artist, and the means of production: “As admirable volume after admirable volume tumbled from the sweating presses . . . ” The ellipses are not mine; rather, Barthelme sets the stage here for a print economy of capitalist transactions. The Wells Fargo man arrives, gun in hand, to pick up the “bundle of Alice Cooper T-shirts we had just printed up.” He hurries the “precious product” — that’s all it is, product, content — to the “glittering fans”.

We then learn there’s a bit of conflict between the owners and the workers.

A few lines later, the narrator quips, “And I saw the figure 5 writ in gold.” Barthelme copies-cuts-pastes the modernists into his collage here—we get the visual of Charles Demuth’s painting, itself copying-cutting-pasting Willliam Carlos Williams’ “The Great Figure.”

Publication is a rough business: “If only we could confine ourselves to matchbook covers!” laments the narrator–

But matchbook covers are not our destiny. Our destiny is to accomplish 1. 5 million impressions per day. In the next quarter, that figure will be upped by twelve percent, unless

The hanging “unless” is Barthelme’s rhetorical trick and not my oversight—the punchline is “leather,” by the way.  “Leather is the way to accomplish more impressions. But the real hanging punchline is that word “impressions,” with its many connotations.

45. “The Great Hug” (Amateurs, 1976)

Such a great weird little story—is it about a toxic relationship between the Balloon Man and the Pin Lady? is it a metaphor for relationships in the modern era? is it an autobiographical riff, Barthelme’s love woes scribbled into a weird parody? —an oblique comment on e.e. cummings “in Just” — look, I don’t fucken know, maybe read it here. It’ll only take a few minutes, and then you can think about it for a week or so.

44. “The School” (Amateurs, 1976)

“The School” is wonderful stuff, and will take you like, what, 9, 10 minutes to read, if not less.

It’s a monologue I guess, delivered by a sorry educator whose schooling has killed off all manner of creatures. In the first three paragraphs we learn about the school’s failure to keep alive trees, snakes, and herb gardens, but then there’s a more drastic turn:

Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise. Those numbers, you look at them crooked and they’re belly-up on the surface. But the lesson plan called for a tropical fish input at that point, there was nothing we could do, it happens every year, you just have to hurry past it.

We weren’t even supposed to have a puppy.

We weren’t even supposed to have a puppy—goddammit Donald Barthelme. This line made me laugh out loud. And then it made me sad.

Reviewing my summary of the first three paragraphs, I’m tempted to make something religious out of it all—trees, snakes, gardens, and the like—but I don’t think that’s the gist. Or maybe it is the gist (Barthelme grew up Catholic). Is this a goof on the Eden thing? Humanity’s failure to be good stewards of the planet, etc. etc. etc.? I don’t know. Look, it’s a funny little story, read it.

43. “The Sergeant” (Amateurs, 1976)

“The Sergeant” reads like an oddity in Barthelme’s catalog—although not really, I guess, when that catalog is all oddity.

On one hand, “The Sergeant” is narrated in a seemingly-straightforward Hemingwayesque first-person I. This narrator is clearly based on a version of Barthelme. Barthelme served in the Korean War, but the real backdrop of “The Sergeant” is the Vietnam War–which was also the backdrop of much of Barthelme’s writing career (he arguably best addresses that folly in his 1968 story “The Indian Uprising,” which I’m still a ways from).

On the other hand, “The Sergeant” comes from the school of Kafka—it’s the bad dream we’ve all had, the nightmare repetitions of past duties we didn’t even sign up for. “The Sergeant” reads like a short blueprint for much of the Kafkaesque fiction that would follow it, including the labyrinths of Kazuo Ishiguro.

But Barthelme punctuates his nightmare-tale with a mythological touch: “Penelope!” cries the narrator, extending Barthelme’s anxiety riff into an ageless epic.

42. “I Bought a Little City” (Amateurs, 1976)

I Bought a Little City” is likely regarded as one of Barthelme’s greatest hits, possibly because it’s a more straightforward affair than his collages, pastiches, and oblique parodies. There’s a mean streak to this story about a rich man who buys Galveston, Texas. The story is about a lot things—control, desire, community, and creativity, maybe best summed up in two of its early lines: “What a nice little city, it suits me fine. It suited me fine so I started to change it.” People love to blow up their lives, but the asshole narrator citybuyer starts to blow up other people’s lives. He shoots six thousand dogs, for example. He humiliates a cop by making said cop buy him some fried chicken. He tries to steal another man’s wife, but it doesn’t work out. Maybe “I Bought a Little City” is about creative failures; maybe it’s a satire of capitalism. Or maybe it’s just another Barthelme goof.

Summary thoughts: Uh…the stories in Amateurs are generally better than those in Great Days. The weakest one here is “The Crisis,” from Great Days; the other stories feel more of a piece with each other. I enjoyed “The Sergeant” the most, but mostly because it has a different flavor from the other stories. “The School” is probably the best of the batch.

Going forward (in reverse): We continue backwards through the seventies, where we eventually hit (what I think might be a top-ten Barthelme hit) “Eugénie Grandet.”

Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories in reverse, Part III

I am rereading Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories, starting with the sixtieth story and working my way to the first. I wrote about stories 60-55 here and stories 54-49 here,

This post covers stories 48-43.

48. “The Death of Edward Lear” (Great Days, 1979)

Like many of the stories culled from Great Days, the humor in “The Death of Edward Lear” is tinged with melancholy. Perhaps it’s because of its subject matter, or perhaps it’s knowing that Great Days was the last collection of originals Barthelme would write, but “The Death of Edward Lear” feels like the work of a much older man. In fact, it was first published in The New Yorker in 1971, when Barthelme was forty, barely middle aged. (For whatever reasons, Barthelme didn’t include the piece in his collections Sadness (1972) or Amateurs (1976.))

The story begins in the most straightforward manner:

The death of Edward Lear took place on a Sunday morning in May 1888. Invitations were sent out well in advance. The invitations read:

Mr. Edward LEAR
Nonsense Writer and Landscape Painter
Requests the Honor of Your Presence
On the Occasion of his DEMISE.
San Remo 2:20 a.m.
The 29th of May Please reply

One can imagine the feelings of the recipients. Our dear friend! is preparing to depart! and such-like. Mr. Lear! who has given us so much pleasure! and such-like. On the other hand, his years were considered. Mr. Lear! who must be, now let me see… And there was a good deal of, I remember the first time I (dipped into) (was seized by)…But on the whole, Mr. Lear’s acquaintances approached the occasion with a mixture of solemnity and practicalness…

Lear treats his many guests to a strange spectacle of rants, rhymes, and mandolin-playing. He also delivers a “short homily on the subject of Friendship.” Then he dies.

His audience is initially confused, before realizing that Lear had crafted his death into a piece of absurdist art:

People who attended the death of Edward Lear agreed that, all in all, it had been a somewhat tedious performance. Why had he seen fit to read the same old verses, sing again the familiar songs, show the well-known pictures, run through his repertoire once more? Why invitations? Then something was understood: that Mr. Lear had been doing what he had always done and therefore, not doing anything extraordinary. Mr. Lear had transformed the extraordinary into its opposite. He had, in point of fact, created a gentle, genial misunderstanding.

And Lear’s performance engenders future performances:

The death of Edward Lear can still be seen, in the smaller cities, in versions enriched by learned interpretation, textual emendation, and changing fashion. One modification is curious; no one knows how it came about. The supporting company plays in the traditional way, but Lear himself appears shouting, shaking, vibrant with rage.

That final angry image is sad, haunting even. It recalls that other Lear, mad on the heath, as well as Dylan Thomas’s most famous villanelle.

In his biography Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty speculates that the idea for “Lear” might be attributed in part to the “farewell parties” Susan Sontag hosted in the mid-seventies when she thought she might die from cancer. There’s a human reality coursing under the story’s apparent absurdity that makes it a memorable, enjoyable tale about making art out of life and death.

Edward Lear’s actual death sounds much sadder. According to the Edward Lear Society, “Lear’s funeral was said to be a sad, lonely affair by the wife of Dr. Hassall, Lear’s physician, not one of Lear’s many lifelong friends being able to attend.”

47. “Morning” (Great Days, 1979)

In Hiding Man, Daugherty claims that “Morning” is about “the limits of the educational system,” but I don’t see it. It’s an absurdist dialogue, almost impenetrable in its obliquity—which would be fine if the sentences were better. There had to have been better stories in Great Days than “Morning” — the superior “Concerning the Bodyguard” is from that collection, and eventually ended up in Forty Stories—but I’m sure Barthelme had his reasons for including it. Those reasons, like the story, are inscrutable to me.

46. “The King of Jazz” (Great Days, 1979)

A great little ditty told (almost) entirely in dialogue, “The King of Jazz” takes place over the first few minutes of Hokie Mokie’s reign as the new, um, king of jazz. Hokie’s tenure comes under threat almost immediately when Hideo Yamaguchi, a stranger from Tokyo, appears seemingly from nowhere to challenger the new king. A musical duel ensues, helpfully described by one of the musicians in attendance:

“What’s that sound coming in from the side there?”

“Which side?”

“The left.”

“You mean that sound that sounds like the cutting edge of life? That sounds like polar bears crossing Arctic ice pans? That sounds like a herd of musk ox in full flight? That sounds like male walruses diving to the bottom of the sea? That sounds like fumaroles smoking on the slopes of Mt. Katmai? That sounds like the wild turkey walking through the deep, soft forest? That sounds like beavers chewing trees in an Appalachian marsh? That sounds like an oyster fungus growing on an aspen trunk? That sounds like a mule deer wandering a montane of the Sierra Nevada? That sounds like prairie dogs kissing? That sounds like witchgrass tumbling or a river meandering? That sounds like manatees munching seaweed at Cape Sable? That sounds like coatimundis moving in packs across the face of Arkansas? That sounds like – ”

“Good God, it’s Hokie! Even with a cup mute on, he’s blowing Hideo right off the stand!”

Barthelme here and elsewhere excels at pushing and pulling language in ways with which we are unfamiliar. There’s a synesthetic quality to his best writing, writing which so frequently attempts to engage with and evoke other arts—visual, arts, poetry.

“The King of Jazz” also continues the thread of Oedipal anxiety that courses throughout Barthelme’s work. That anxiety here is not necessarily father-son oriented, but rather the anxiety of the outsider who becomes established, the experimenter who succeeds—and then finds his work challenged by new comers.

45. “The Zombies” (Great Days, 1979)

“The Zombies” is another fun story—and one of the rare late stories not told entirely in dialogue. I’m not really sure if “The Zombies” is a specific parody or just a goof, but it makes me laugh:

In a high wind the leaves fall from the trees. The zombies are standing about talking. “Beautiful day!” “Certainly is!” The zombies have come to buy wives from the people of this village, the only village around that will sell wives to zombies. “Beautiful day!” “Certainly is!” The zombies have brought many cattle. The bride price to a zombie is exactly twice that asked of an ordinary man. The cattle are also zombies and the zombies are in terror lest the people of the village understand this.

There are good zombies and bad zombies. Gris Grue is the hero of the good zombies. There’s a Bishop involved. Watch out: “The kiss of a dying animal, a dying horse or dog, transforms an ordinary man into a zombie.”

And watch out too for bad zombies: “If a bad zombie gets you, he will scarify your hide with chisels and rakes. If a bad zombie gets you, he will make you walk past a beautiful breast without even noticing.”

44. “The New Music” (Great Days, 1979)

“The New Music”: Another dialogue, another synesthetic excursion into Oedipal territories—this time focused on the mother:

–She had a lot on her mind. The chants. And Daddy of course.

–Let’s not do Daddy today.

Two brothers discuss “the new music,” which both is and is not music. As in much of Barthelme’s work, elements of art and culture might be patched and pasted in new designs, new collages.

–The new music burns things together, like a welder. The new music says, life becomes more and more exciting as there is less and less time.

–Momma wouldn’t have ‘lowed it. But Momma’s gone.

With their disallowing mother out of the way, the boys can now move forward into the new music.

43. “Cortés and Montezuma” (Great Days, 1979)

“Cortés and Montezuma” is the strongest tale in this batch. The story tells a version of the “friendship” between the Spanish conquistador and the Aztec emperor. Unlike the quippy, often absurd dialogue pieces, “Cortés and Montezuma” is told in a simple, direct (even flat) third-person voice. Here’s how the story opens:

Because Cortés lands on a day specified in the ancient writings, because he is dressed in black, because his armor is silver in color, a certain ugliness of the strangers taken as a group-for these reasons, Montezuma considers Cortés to be Quetzacoatl, the great god who left Mexico many years before, on a raft of snakes, vowing to return.

Montezuma gives Cortés a carved jade drinking cup.

Cortés places around Montezuma’s neck a necklace of glass beads strung on a cord scented with musk.

Montezuma offers Cortés an earthenware platter containing small pieces of meat lightly breaded and browned which Cortés declines because he knows the small pieces of meat are human fingers.

The story repeats the image of Cortés and Montezuma walking and holding hands, exchanging gifts, and not really trusting each other. There is plenty of intrigue and paranoia. Cortés is sleeping with his translator, but she’s also taken a high-ranking Aztec for a lover. The nobles are starting to turn on Montezuma. Various folks employ detectives to trail other folks. Assassination plots loom.

Much of the strength of “Cortés and Montezuma” derives from Barthelme’s decision to tactically employ the occasional anachronism. Consider the “powdered wigs” and “limousines” here:

Montezuma writes, in a letter to his mother: “The new forwardness of the nobility has come as a welcome relief. Whereas formerly members of the nobility took pains to hide among the general population, to pretend that they were ordinary people, they are now flaunting themselves and their position in the most disgusting ways. Once again they wear scarlet sashes from shoulder to hip, even on the boulevards; once again they prance about in their great powdered wigs; once again they employ lackeys to stand in pairs on little shelves at the rear of their limousines. The din raised by their incessant visiting of one another is with us from noon until early in the morning.”

These anachronisms highlight language’s inability to accurately translate reality. Barthelme gives us images that we identify with wealth and power — “powdered wigs” and “limousines” — but they do not fit within the historical context of Montezuma’s Aztec Empire, and they do not square historically with each other. The anachronisms do offer the contemporary reader an idea of the power of the Aztec aristocracy, and at the same time, their inclusion highlights how incomplete our picture of historical reality is—absurdly incomplete.

Indeed, Barthelme was working from a translation when he crafted “Cortés and Montezuma.” His fourth (and final) wife, the writer Marion Knox, had brought home a copy of Bernal Diaz del Castillo book about Spain’s invasion of the Aztec Empire. Barthelme translated that translation into a new translation, adding a postmodern wink to his story in the process: “Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who will one day write The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, stands in a square whittling upon a piece of mesquite.”

Behind the metatextual cleverness and intentionally-flat tone though, there is a strong, sympathetic core to “Cortés and Montezuma,” a deep sorrow summed up in the final line:

The pair walking down by the docks, hand in hand, the ghost of Montezuma rebukes the ghost of Cortés. “Why did you not throw up your hand, and catch the stone?”

Summary thoughts: It was a bit of an unexpected relief to get out of the dialogue stories. I appreciate what Barthelme did with them, but they are too often constrained but their form, despite highlights like “The Emerald,” “The Leap,” and “The King of Jazz,” which is the strongest dialogue in this batch. I found “Morning” an ugly irritation, some sub-Gertrude-Stein stuff, and “The New Music,” while better, is not especially strong. “Cortés and Montezuma” was the highlight of the six for me.

Going forward (in reverse): One last Great Days stories, and we get into the (stronger) collection Amateurs. 

Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories in reverse, Part II

I am rereading Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories, starting with the sixtieth story and working my way to the first. I wrote about stories 60-55 here, stories collected in 1981.

This post covers stories 54-49.

54. “How I Write My Songs” (previously uncollected, 1981)

Like his postmodernist contemporaries Robert Coover and William H. Gass, many of Donald Barthelme’s stories are, on at least some level, about the act of writing itself. “How I Write My Songs,” is, as its title suggests, a story about writing. Our narrator the songwriter offers tips and advice, most of it pretty straightforward, and he peppers his monologue with recitations of his own songs. Each time he offers up a song though, we’re treated to copyright notice at the end—little interjections from a faceless corporate voice. The copyright notices are ironic, especially given that the narrator’s songs are clearly based in folk traditions like blues and Appalachian music. The narrator acknowledges these traditions, positing his writing as a synthesis:

Songs are always composed of both traditional and new elements. This means that you can rely on the tradition to give your song “legs” while also putting in your own experience or particular way of looking at things for the new.

In the end, the story’s ironies don’t bite too hard—it it’s a parody of teaching creative writing, it’s loving, and full of practical advice. The narrator’s revelation of his name—Bill B. White—is also a nice punchline.

53. “The Emerald” (previously uncollected, 1981)

I love “The Emerald.”

It’s the longest story in Sixty Stories, a 29-page epic that Barthelme culled from an aborted novel, according to Tracy Daugherty’s biography Hiding Man. Unless I’m wrong, it’s the only piece Barthelme published in Esquiremost of his stories showed up in The New Yorker, whose editor Roger Angell was an early champion of Barthelme. Angell rejected “The Emerald” though. In his biography, Daugherty points out that Angell initially did not like Barthelme’s turn toward stories composed entirely in dialogue.

“The Emerald” (and the other stories discussed in this riff) is such a story. Barthelme adeptly commands the various voices here, but without exposition or stage directions of any kind, the story is challenging the first time around. Repeated readings reveal a rich, funny, strange fable.

Here’s what happens: Our hero Mad Moll, a bearded witch, is impregnated by “the man in the moon,” Deus Luna (she has a three-hour orgasm). After a seven-year pregnancy, she gives birth to a sentient emerald. This strange birth attracts the attention of the news media as well as hordes of would-be kidnappers who are after the emerald. Most of the bandits after the emerald want him because, well, he’s an enormous emerald. The emerald understands that they “want to cut me up and put little chips of me into rings and bangles.” When the emerald asks Moll if she values him, she replies that he’s “Equivalent I would say to a third of a sea.” However, our villain, a mage named Vandermaster, has different designs. Vandermaster wants to imbibe the emerald to obtain a second life: “Emerald dust with soda, emerald dust with tomato juice, emerald dust with a dash of bitters, emerald dust with Ovaltine.” He’s discovered a formula, “Plucked from the arcanum,” which will let him live again—and hopefully, find love. Oh, and Vandermaster has a secret weapon: The Foot, a sentient reliquary with devastating powers.

The final moments of “The Emerald” are lovely. Hero Moll gives an exit interview to Lily (“a member of the news media”) in which the young witch states that the gods are not done with us yet:

But what is the meaning of the emerald?  asked Lily.  I mean overall?  If you can say.

I have some notions, said Moll.  You may credit them or not.

Try me.

It means, one, that the gods are not yet done with us.

Gods not yet done with us.

The gods are still trafficking with us and making interventions of this kind and that kind and are not dormant or dead as has often been proclaimed by dummies.

Still trafficking.  Not dead.

Just as in former times a demon might enter a nun on a piece of lettuce she was eating so even in these times a simple Mailgram might be the thin edge of the wedge.

Thin edge of the wedge.

Two, the world may congratulate itself that desire can still be raised in the dulled hearts of the citizens by the rumor of an emerald.

Desire or cupidity?

I do not distinguish qualitatively among the desires, we have referees for that, but he who covets not at all is a lump and I do not wish to have him to dinner.

Positive attitude toward desire.

Yes.  Three, I do not know what this Stone portends, whether it portends for the better or portends for the worse or merely portends a bubbling of the in-between but you are in any case rescued from the sickliness of same and a small offering in the hat on the hall table would not be ill regarded.

Moll’s final questioner though is her child the emerald:

And what now?  said the emerald.  What now, beautiful mother?

We resume the scrabble for existence, said Moll.  We resume the scrabble for existence, in the sweet of the here and now.

52. “Aria” (previously uncollected, 1981)

Another monologue, this time in two paragraphs. Like “Grandmother’s House,” (story #60), “Aria” is an oblique reflection on parenting. In a 1982 interview, Barthelme claimed that the story was a mother’s monologue, but it could just as easily be a father. The monologue condenses the parent’s experience of parenting after the children have left home into an often absurd catalog of pleas, mixed metaphors, and bits of received wisdom. Like a lot of the later work, there are tinges of an empty nester’s melancholy here.

51. “The Leap” (Great Days, 1979)

Another dialogue–however, I think that this piece can actually be read as an internal dialogue–a central consciousness engaging in self-debate. That debate centers (“centers” is a very loose verb here) on whether or not to take the titular leap of faith. As David Gates points out in his explanatory notes for Sixty Stories,

In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments (1846),
Kierkegaard rejects the notion of a ladder of logical steps to spiritual certainty in favor of a “leap of faith” toward the Absolute.

Those familiar with Barthelme will know his early deep engagement with existentialism, and with Kierkegaard in particular. (In his biography Hiding Man, Tracy Daugherty makes a strong case that it was not just Kierkegaard’s ideas that informed Barthelme’s work, but Kierkegaard’s style as well—disparate voices, pseudonyms, juxtapositions, aesthetic and literary references deployed ironically, etc.)

The interlocutor(s) of “The Leap” begin by trying to catalog the glories of the creator before realizing that the task is impossible. They eventually work themselves into the existential crises of the day (some of which seem dated, and dare I say, downright lovely compared to our current, ahem, climate).

In the final moments of the story, one of the speakers—or, in my estimation, one of the singular speaker’s internal voices—declares “Can’t make it, man.” What can’t he make? The leap. And again: “Can’t make it. I am a double-minded man.” (The latter phrase underlines the notion that a single voice authors this dialogue.) And so well: “What then?” Barthelme echoes lines of one of his other heroes, Samuel Beckett:

–Keep on trying?

–Yes. We must.

The conclusion is sad and beautiful, a list of earthly consolations that can inspire the leap:

-Try again another day?

-Yes. Another day when the plaid cactus is watered, when the hare’s-foot fern is watered.

-Seeds tingling in the barrens and veldts.

-Garden peas yellow or green wrinkling or rounding.

-Another day when locust wings are baled for shipment to Singapore, where folks like their little hit of locust-wing tea.

-A jug of wine. Then another jug.

-The Brie-with-pepper meeting the toasty loaf.

-Another day when some eighty-four-year-old guy complains that his wife no longer gives him presents.

-Small boys bumping into small girls, purposefully.

-Cute little babies cracking people up.

-Another day when somebody finds a new bone that proves we are even ancienter than we thought we were.

-Gravediggers working in the cool early morning.

-A walk in the park.

-Another day when the singing sunlight turns you every way but loose.

-When you accidentally notice the sublime.

-Somersaults and duels.

-Another day when you see a woman with really red hair. mean really red hair.

-A wedding day.

-A plain day.

-So we’ll try again? Okay?

-Okay.

-Okay?

-Okay.

50. “On the Steps of the Conservatory” (Great Days, 1979)

I initially started rereading Sixty Stories in reverse order as a fluke, but I quickly found it interesting to think about Barthelme’s development as a thinker and writer by going backwards instead of forwards. I think I would have enjoyed “The Farewell” (story #55) much more if I had read it after “On the Steps of the Conservatory,” to which it is the sequel. It’s a neat little parody, but I think the sequel is even funnier, even meaner.

49. “The Abduction from the Seraglio” (Great Days, 1979)

A postmodern riff on Mozart’s opera Abduction from the Seraglio. Barthelme told an interviewer the story originated from an assignment he gave to his writing class that he ended up doing himself. We have pure monologue here; the speaker seems to be a sculptor. He crafts “welded-steel four-thousand-pound artichokes” and plays around on his “forty-three-foot overhead traveling crane which is painted bright yellow.” He occasionally breaks into song.

There are a number of references to architecture and architects in “Abduction.” Again, it’s tempting to read for autobiographical traces here. Barthelme’s father, Donald Barthelme Sr., was a modernist architect who cast a large shadow over his son’s life. But I’m not too tempted by those traces—or, rather, I’m not sure what to make of them, just as I’m not sure of what to make of “Abduction.”

Summary thoughts: “The Emerald” is a fabulous late-period Barthelme–the best in this batch for sure. It’s much, much longer than most of Barthelme’s stories though, so my other pick would be “The Leap.” I didn’t remember “The Abduction from the Seraglio” even as I was rereading it, and I reread it once more before writing about it, and I don’t really think Barthelme pulls it off here.

I’ve enjoyed these late-period dialogue stories, but I’m also looking forward to some new (older) flavors ahead (behind).

I will keep going forward (in reverse) and resume the scrabble for existence, in the sweet of the here and now.

My Oscars: I give meaningless awards to films that I had never seen before 2020

This morning in my Twitter feed I saw that the 93rd Academy Awards will happen tonight. I realized that I could not name a single movie that was likely up for an award. Like many people who love films, I do not give a fuck about the Oscars, but am nevertheless aware of the buzz around certain films. This year though, I have no clue.

So I googled it. It turns out there are 56 films nominated for Oscars in the 93rd Academy Awards. I have seen three of them: OnwardSoul, and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. None of the three are particularly memorable (apart from that one scene in the Borat film–you know, that scene with that guy).

The last year has been a weird one, to say the least. I’m pretty sure the last film I saw in a theater was Uncut Gems, way back in January of 2020. (I did see Beetlejuice at a drive-in last October.) Despite (or maybe because of) the glut of streaming options, I ended up watching almost no films that came out in 2020, including films by filmmakers I’m generally interested in, like Spike Lee and Charlie Kaufman.

Early in the pandemic, I rewatched a lot of old favorites. I’ve decided not to add any of them to My Oscars below. Instead, I’ve limited My Meaningless Awards to films that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t seen until 2020 (or early 2021). I followed the hierarchy that the Oscars follows, but led with their end point, best picture (you get the idea). I tossed out some categories that seem meaningless to me (like best foreign-language film), as well as the short film categories, which has always seemed a bit hard to define to me.

Anyway: Here are my stupid Oscars:


Best picture: Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier (2011)

Best actor: Robert Pattinson, Good Time (2017)

Best actress: Renée Jeanne Falconett, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Best supporting actor: Elliott Gould, California Split (1974)

Best supporting actress: Lisa Eichorn, Cutter’s Way (1981)

Best directing: Jean-Luc Godard, Week-end (1967)

Best original screenplay: Bruce Robinson, Withnail and I (1987)

Best adapted screenplay: Ari Folman’s adaptation of The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem, The Congress (2013)

Best cinematography: Manuel Alberto Claro, Melancholia (2011)

Best production design: François de Lamothe, Le Samourai (1967)

Best editing: George Hively, Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Best original score: Daniel Lopatin, Uncut Gems (2019)

Best original song: “The Dead Don’t Die,” Sturgill Simpson, from The Dead Don’t Die (2019)

Best costume design: Antonio Castillo and Marcel Escoffier, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Best makeup and hairstyling: Hagop Arakelian, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Best visual effects: René Clément, Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Best animated feature film: Angel’s Egg, directed by Mamoru Oshii (1985)

Best documentary feature: Robby Müller: Living the Light, directed by Claire Pijman (2018)

grammies, etc.

List with no name #65

  1. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  2. Rushmore
  3. Moonrise Kingdom
  4. The Royal Tenenbaums
  5. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  6. The Darjeeling Limited
  7. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
  8. Bottle Rocket
  9. Isle of Dogs

 

A list of twenty novels I loved in 2020, presented without comment and in no particular order

Flight to Canada, Ishmael Reed

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake

Anasazi, Mike McCubbins and Matt Bryan

Gringos, Charles Portis

The Wig, Charles Wright

Bleeding Edge, Thomas Pynchon

Animalia, Jean-Baptiste Del Amo; translation by Frank Wynne

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark

Loitering with Intent, Muriel Spark

Zeroville, Steve Erickson

Citizen, Claudine Rankine

Oreo, Fran Ross

A Rage in Harlem, Chester Himes

Satantango, László Krasznahorkai; translation by George Szirtes

Lancelot, Walker Percy

Dunfords Travels Everywheres, William Melvin Kelley

Motorman, David Ohle

Fat City, Leonard Gardner

List with no name #64

Blog about “Authors’ Authors,” a 1976 round up of various authors’ favorite books that year

The New York Times published “Authors’ Authors” on 5 Dec. 1976. The piece “asked a number of authors, ranging from Vladimir Nabokov to John Dean, to tell us the three books they most enjoyed this year and to say, in a sentence or two, why.”

There’s of course something silly and even gossipy about such articles, which fall far from literary criticism, of course. But, simultaneously, these kinds not-really-lists are fun. I came across the article looking for something else, and ended up reading it all. There are plenty of my favorite authors as well as notable authors who contributed to the piece: Ishmael Reed, William H. Gass, Eudora Welty, Maurice Sendak, Henry Miller, Joan Didion, and loads more. What’s most interesting to me are the “new” books many books include—I mean books published in (or around) 1976. Some I’ve never heard of, others are classics (of one fashion or another) and many are long long forgotten.

John Cheever’s answer opens the list with an appropriate warning:

I’ve always thought the response to these questionnaires cranky and pretentious and associated them with the darkest hours of Sunday. I mention this only to make it clear that you are free to throw my reply away.

He selects the only book by John Updike I’ve retained, Picked-Up Pieces, cites Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate as an airplane read, and reflects on Daniel Deronda:

It may be a reflection on George Eliot’s refinement or my grossness but my most vivid recollection of this estimable classic is a scene where Deronda enthusiastically seizes the oar of a wherry. It seemed the only robust gesture in the book.

(I had to look up the word wherry.)

Cheever’s pick Updike is on the list, providing a bit of satire on the whole business:

I also found some of Nabokov’s response amusing, although I don’t think it was his intention. He gives us “the three books I read during the three summer months of 1976 while hospitalized in Lausanne”: Dante’s Inferno (“in Singleton’s splendid translation”, The Butterflies of North America by William H. Howe (natch), and his own book, The Original of Laura. Nabokov describes it as

The not quite finished manuscript of a novel which I had begun writing and reworking before my illness and which was completed in my mind: I must have gone through it some 50 times and in my diurnal delirium kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible. Perhaps because of my stumblings and fits of coughing the story of my poor Laura had less success with my listeners than it will have, I hope, with intelligent reviewers when properly published.

Nabokov never finished The Original of Laura. A version of it was published in 2009.

Conservative commentator William F. Buckley picked books by John McPhee, Hugh Kenner,  and Malcolm Muggeridge. Joyce Carol Oates liked Ted Hughes’s Season Songs. Despite having “has no taste for contemporary fiction,” Maurice Sendak recommends Leonard Michaels’ collection I Would Have Saved Them If I Could. Maxine Hong Kingston breaks the rule of three, adding Nabokov’s Ada to her trio. Philip Roth includes Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, which was part of a series of translations Roth “edited.” Robert Coles liked Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle. Lois Gould lists Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, possibly one of the most enduringly popular books of 1976. Saul Bellow enjoyed Richard Yates’s The Easter Parade. Richard Yates enjoyed Larry McMurty’s Terms of Endearment. Nora Ephron loved Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer. Joan Didion loved Renata Adler’s Speedboat. Cynthia Ozick gives only one title, Leon Edel’s biography of Henry James.

Henry Miller kept it short and sweet:

James Dickey loved something called Dreamthorp by Alexander Smith:

A book of gentle meditations on death in the remote English village: the quietest book of essays I know. To read it is like sinking under the leaves and views and grass of a gentle and caring cemetery and being profoundly glad to be there.

Eudora Welty sticks mostly to Virginia Woolf, recommending the second volume of Woolf’s letters (“Nothing in this book to get between the reader and the writer: Virginia Woolf in her own words, her own mind, speaking for herself”) as well as Mrs Dalloway’s Party. Welty also references Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which I now must track down.

William H. Gass cites two bona fide postmodern classics and an oddity I’ve never heard of:

J R by William Gaddis. Perhaps the supreme masterpiece of acoustical collage. A real contribution to the art of fiction.

The Geek by Craig Nova. A hard, brilliantly visual novel which is equal in quality to early Hawkes. Few American writers have such a sensuous yet masterfully controlled style.

The Franchiser by Stanley Elkin. Elkin is a genius. I am happy he is also a friend. There are paragraphs in this book in which the language leaps from the page and flies away. The critics owe Elkin much bowing and scraping.

Ishmael Reed describes a book called Dangerous Music by by Jessica Tarahata Hagedorn, a writer I’d never heard of until now:

While the boys were drawing graffiti what were the girls doing? They were writing “Ditty Bop” books, black and white speckled composition books usually, full of gossip, desire, fashion, recipes, proverbs and boyfriends. Written in fire-engine red lipstick “Ditty Bop” books spell “cause” c-u‐z. Nikki Giovanni (“Gemini”) and Alison Mills (“Francisco”) have written classics of the genre. Now Jessica Hagedorn, who makes the S.F. rounds with her West Coast Gangster Choir, has penned the Latino‐Filipino version of the “Ditty Bop.” Reviewers describe “Ditty Bop” books as “sultry”; this one is that. It is a joyous, mean, mambo book blessed by the patron Saint of Latino‐Filipino Ditty Bops, Carmen Miranda.

He also recommends Shouting by by Joyce Carol Thomas, who, thankfully, is not Joyce Carol Oates.

Two authors picked up John Updike’s Picked-Up Pieces (Joyce Carol Oates and John Cheever).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is cited three times on the list: twice for Autumn of the Patriarch (Lewis Thomas and Bernard Malamud) and once for One Hundred Years of Solitude (John Dean).

John Dean’s Blind Ambition shows up three times (Ishmael Reed, Bob Woodward, and Nikki Giovanni).

Somehow, Nikki Giovanni is the only writer to include Alex Haley’s Roots in a list.

The Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen (Round Three match-ups and Round Two results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)

Hey! Today in Distracting Dumb Ephemeral Fun, we hit the Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen of the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers. Round Two saw some fascinating match-ups between thirty-two writers. Perhaps the most interesting was the Cormac McCarthy-William Gaddis showdown:

This bracket garnered more votes than any match-up to date in the tournament, and split more than a few folks (including me—I’ll declare how I voted after this whole thing shakes out).

Other matches were also very close: Ray Bradbury—William Gibson, and William S. Burroughs—Kazuo Ishiguro.

Ishiguro is perhaps a bit of a dark horse at this point, as is José Saramago, whom I seeded at 59 of 64. Saramago handily beat out the under-read Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky to face off with Ishiguro in the Terrible Awful Sweet Sixteen of Apocalyptica.

I find all of the match-ups interesting at this point, but David Foster Wallace vs. Thomas Pynchon has a wonderfully oedipal vibe.

And again, this is all just meant to be stupid distracting fun.

Brackets below, followed by tweet results:

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Tweet polls:

Continue reading “The Apocalyptic Sweet Sixteen (Round Three match-ups and Round Two results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers)”

Round Two match-ups and Round One results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers

On Sunday, I came up with a list of 64 writers that have written novels or stories that either anticipate, reflect, or otherwise describe our zeitgeist. The first dozen or so seeds (as well as the bottom dozen or so) came rather intuitively to me, but the writers in the middle were seeded somewhat randomly. I used Twitter’s poll feature to determine the winners of Round One. In most of my polls, I included a third option, where voters could choose just to see the poll results instead of actually voting; I won’t be doing that going forward, because the data looks, if not exactly skewed, well, just a little off-putting, as in Round 1, Bracket 8 below:

My intuition is that Disch (Camp Concentration) and Walter Miller (A Canticle for Leibowitz) were either too obscure for many folks, or at least not writers very many people are passionate about.

Sinclair Lewis (It Can’t Happen Here) tied with China Miéville (Marxism, steampunk, Perdido Street Station, bold baldness) and went to a tie (I managed to misspell China Miéville’s name in both tweets)—

I was also surprised by top-ten seed Octavia Butler (KindredParable of the Sower) losing to José Saramago (Blindness). I suppose I seeded Saramago too low.

Here are the results of Round One and the match-ups for Round Two:

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Bracket 46 is particularly painful for me!

Poll results by tweet:

Continue reading “Round Two match-ups and Round One results for the 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers”

Everything Bartleby says in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”

Everything Bartleby says in Herman Melville’s “Bartleby”:

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to,” said he.

“What is wanted?”

“I would prefer not to,” he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen.

“I would prefer not to.”

“I prefer not to,” he replied in a flute-like tone.

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“I prefer not.”

“I prefer not to,” he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

“I would prefer not to.”

“I would prefer not to.”

“At present I prefer to give no answer,” he said, and retired into his hermitage.

“At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable,” was his mildly cadaverous reply.

“I would prefer to be left alone here,” said Bartleby, as if offended at being mobbed in his privacy.

Upon asking him why he did not write, he said that he had decided upon doing no more writing.

“No more.”

“Do you not see the reason for yourself,” he indifferently replied.

“I have given up copying,” he answered, and slid aside.

“I would prefer not,” he replied, with his back still towards me.

“Not yet; I am occupied.”

“I would prefer not to quit you,” he replied, gently emphasizing the not.

“Sitting upon the banister,” he mildly replied.

“No; I would prefer not to make any change.”

“There is too much confinement about that. No, I would not like a clerkship; but I am not particular.”

“I would prefer not to take a clerkship,” he rejoined, as if to settle that little item at once.

“I would not like it at all; though, as I said before, I am not particular.”

“No, I would prefer to be doing something else.”

“Not at all. It does not strike me that there is any thing definite about that. I like to be stationary. But I am not particular.”

“I know you,” he said, without looking round,—”and I want nothing to say to you.”

“I know where I am,” he replied, but would say nothing more, and so I left him.

The 2020 Tournament of Zeitgeisty Writers

Maybe you’re bored, maybe you’re stuck inside, missing NCAA March Madness, watching the world’s madness through a screen. Maybe this will be a diversion. (I’m hoping it’s a diversion for me.)

I came up with a list of 64 writers that have written novels or stories that either anticipate, reflect, or otherwise describe our zeitgeist. (I realize now that I’ve forgotten a bunch, but, hey.) After a certain point, there wasn’t much thought put into seeding the tournament.

I’ll be doing running polls on Twitter for the next few days, starting today, with brackets 1-4 launching today.

Here are the brackets for Round 1:

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