List with No Name #60

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Lucian Freud 1922-2011 http:/www.tuttartpitturasculturapoesiamusica.com;

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List with No Name #59

(Probably not) All of the similes in Blood Meridian

thunderIt was like…

like a wild animal

ribs like fishbones

like thin red leeches

they drank like dogs

It was like a sermon

true as a spirit level

like a string in a maze

He was bald as a stone

like rival bands of apes

silently as a bird alighting

mute as a tailor’s dummy

men or creatures like them

they buried their stool like cats

like effigies for to frighten birds

Yonder sun is like the eye of God

They rode either side like escorts

dark falls here like a thunderclap

The men looked like mud effigies.

like an army asleep on the march

their chins in the sand like lizards

like some naked species of lemur

something like a pound of powder

like a man beset with bees or madness

black waters all alight like cities adrift

like beings for whom the sun hungered

great steady suck­ing sounds like a cow

fingers spiderlike among the bolls of cotton

the fires on the plain faded like an evil dream

abdomens like the tracks of gigantic millipedes

leather wings like dark satanic hummingbirds

us behind him like the disciples of a new faith

he come along and raised me up like Lazarus.

jerking and lurching like a deputation of spastics

holding the coins cupped in her hands like a bird

the mules clambering along the ledges like goats

they labored on sideways over the sand like crabs

shambling past the fires like a balden groundsloth

whores call to him from the dark like souls in want

Men whose speech sounds like the grunting of apes

A hardlooking woman with a wiry body like a man’s.

They were shambling along the road like dumb things

our mother the earth as he said was round like an egg

The watchers looked like forms excavated from a bog.

is voice passed from him like a gift that was also needed

the old man sitting in the shrubbery soli­tary as a gnome

the parasol dipping in the wind like a great black flower

in his sleep he struggled and muttered like a dreaming dog

dragging themselves across the lot like seals or other things

an old anchorite nested away in the sod like a groundsloth

blackened and shriveled in the mud like an enormous spider

the kid behind him on the mule like something he’d captured

he had codified his threats to the one word kill like a crazed chant

the squatting houses were made of hides ranged like curious dorys

little cloven hoof-prints in the stone clever as a little doe in her going

a watered figure like the markings of some alien and antique serpent

The shadows of the smallest stones lay like pencil lines across the sand

the top of the sun rose out of nothing like the head of a great red phallus

the tent began to sway and buckle and like a huge and wounded medusa

he comes down at night like some fairybook beast to fight with the sailors

the blackened rings of the burnedout fires lay in the road like bomb-craters

Buzzards shuffled off through the chaff and plaster like enormous yardfowl

he naked bodies with their wounds like the victims of surgical experimentation

a deeper run of color like blood seeping up in sudden reaches flaring planewise

Then he waded out into the river like some wholly wretched baptismal candidate.

the barman labored over the floor toward him like a man on his way to some chore

He looked like a great clay voodoo doll made animate and the kid looked like another.

the burnt tree stood vertically in the still dawn like a slender stylus marking the hour

he looks like a raggedyman wandered from some garden where he’d used to frighten birds

the bloody stump of the shaft jutted from his thigh like a peg for hanging implements upon

The wagons drew so dry they slouched from side to side like dogs and the sand was grinding them

They crossed a vast dry lake with rows of dead volcanoes ranged beyond it like the works of enormous insects. Continue reading “(Probably not) All of the similes in Blood Meridian”

Notes on Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list

Did you see Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list? I saw it this morning, and on the whole it ain’t half bad, despite including way too many novels from the past 10 years. Lists are stupid and maybe we already live in a dystopia, but our dystopia could be way way worse and lists are stupid fun…so—my stupid thoughts on this stupid fun list. (They organized it chronologically, by the bye)—-

Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift, 1726: Good starting place, although I’m sure you could reach farther back if you wanted—Revelations, Blake, Milton, etc.

The Last Man, Mary Shelley, 1826: Never read it. The listmakers seem to have skipped Voltaire’s Candide (1759).

Erewhon, Samuel Butler, 1872: Hey, did you know that Erewhon is actually Nowhere backwards? Ooooh…far out. I really don’t remember it but I read it in school. I’m sure I would’ve thrown it on the list.

The Time Machine, H.G. Wells, 1895: Great track. Some of the best required reading ever.

“The Machine Stops,” E.M. Forster, 1909: Never read it/never heard of it.

We, Yvegny Zamyatin, 1924: The list reminded me I need to reread this one—I read it twice—in my teens and in my twenties. Good stuff. (Also reminds me that I would’ve added something by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky to the list—like his collection Memories of the Future).

Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932: This is the guy. I mean, I think Huxley got it right here, y’know? Not that a dystopian novel needs to predict, but…anyway. I actually had a student come by during office hours just to visit, and she asked for a novel recommendation, and I gave her BNW after she told me 1984 was the last great book she’d read. If I recall correctly, the Vulture list only has one duplicate author (Margaret Atwood), but I’d also add Huxley’s often-overlooked novel Ape and Essence.

It Can’t Happen Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis, 1935: I think this is one of those ones where I know the basic plot, themes, etc., but I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it.

Swastika Night, Katharine Burdekin, 1937: An entry that I’ll admit I’ve never heard of, the sort of thing that shows the value in stupid silly fun lists. I’ll search it out.

1984, George Orwell, 1949: I guess this one is the big dawg, but I never want to reread it (unlike Huxley’s stuff). Maybe I’m missing the humor in it. Maybe the most important novel of the 20th century, whatever that means. Continue reading “Notes on Vulture’s “100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction” list”

25 21st-century films missing from that New York Times list

Have you seen that New York Times list of “The 25 Best Films of the 21st Century” that Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott put together? I haven’t seen about half of the films on the list, but there are definitely some good ones on there. (But damn, like, Million Dollar Baby? Really? And I’ll never get why people think Munich is a good film).

Anyway, here’s a list I put together in about five minutes of 25 films missing from their list. I did limit myself to one entry by a director for some silly reason–otherwise I’d end up with a bunch of films by three people on here. I’m sure I missed hundreds of other films. But, hey, it’s all in the name of stupid fun.

  1. Mulholland Drive
  2. Ponyo
  3. Hard to Be a God
  4. In the Mood for Love
  5. Upstream Color
  6. WALL-E
  7. The Hateful Eight
  8. Holy Motors
  9. Drive
  10. No Country for Old Men
  11. The Master
  12. Fantastic Mr. Fox
  13. Bright Star
  14. Children of Men
  15. The Tree of Life
  16. Russian Ark
  17. Only Lovers Left Alive
  18. Dredd
  19. Talk to Her
  20. Adaptation
  21. A History of Violence
  22.  Pan’s Labyrinth
  23.  The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
  24. Gomorrah 
  25. Synecdoche, New York

 

Some books I’ll try to read in 2017 (Presented by The Good Intentions Paving Company)

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I’m in the middle of Paul Bowles’s stories right now, and loving the weird sinister menace of it all. I’ll probably take a crack at some of his novels this year too (The Sheltering Sky next? I’ll need to pick them up).

Senges’s The Major Refutation is also on deck.

Not pictured, because it’s not out yet, is Leonora Carrington’s The Complete Stories (forthcoming in the spring from Dorothy); I’m really looking forward to this one. The NYRB is also publishing Carrington’s memoir Down Below, which looks really cool. I’ve only read the collection The Oval Lady (and that through samizdat means), so I’m happy to see Carrington’s words in print.

The Expedition of Dr. Ramsbottom, Leonora Carrington, 1961
The Expedition of Dr. Ramsbottom, Leonora Carrington, 1961

Also not pictured because its forthcoming (from Two Lines Press) is Atlantic Hotel by João Gilberto Noll (translated by Adam Morris). I’m anxious to read more from Noll after digging his novella Quiet Creature on the Corner.

Back to the stack in the picture: I loved Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo and The Freelance Pallbearers (which strikes me as a really under-remarked upon novel), and I plan on getting to Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down at some point this year.

I’ve had a few false starts with Arno Schmidt’s The Egghead Republic, but maybe I can knock it out in a weekend.

I’ve taken multiple cracks at the novels by Gray, Murdoch, and Hawkes in the stack…so we’ll see.

I read Leon Forrest’s There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden in a blur; I’d like to reread it and the other Forrest novel I picked up last month, Two Wings to Veil My Face.

I’ve read enough Pynchon now to make a better effort with Vineland…but again, we’ll see (I’m actually kind of jonesing to reread Against the Day).

(And oh I didn’t make a list like this in 2016, but I was 4 for 8 in the one I did in 2015).

Good intentions.

A (probably incomplete) list of books I read in 2016

The Telling, Ursula K. Le Guin

Four Ways to Forgiveness, Ursula K. Le Guin

J R, William Gaddis*

The Inheritors, William Golding

American Candide, Mahendra Singh

Crossing the Sea with Syrians on the Exodus to Europe, William Bauer

Collected Stories, William Faulkner

A Temple of Texts, William H. Gass

Cow Country, Adrian Jones Pearson

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie

Extinction, Ashley Dawson

My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante

The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Elena Ferrante

The Story of the Lost Child, Elena Ferrante

Quiet Creature on the Corner, João Gilberto Noll

The Last Gas Station and Other Stories, Tom Clark

The Weight of Things, Marianne Fritz

The Transmigration of Bodies, Yuri Herrera

Miserable Miracle, Henri Michaux

The Franchiser, Stanley Elkin

Hell, Henri Barbusse

White Mythology, W.D. Clarke

The Dick Gibson Show, Stanley Elkin

The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal

Marketa Lazarova, Vladislav Vančura

A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin

Hildafolk series, Luke Pearson

The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa

There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, Leon Forrest

Bear, Marian Engel

Jacob Bladders and the State of the Art, Roman Muradov

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon*

The Absolute GravediggerVítězslav Nezval

Beyond the Blurb, Daniel Green

Last Evenings on Earth, Roberto Bolaño*

The Missing Books, Scott Esposito

Woodcutters, Thomas Bernhard

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, Philip K. Dick

* indicates a reread

69 Gravity’s Rainbow Anagrams

  1. Rainbow’s Gravity
  2. Vibrators Yawing
  3. I Saw Vibrant Orgy
  4. Aviary Bowstring
  5. Warty Virgin’s Boa
  6. Varsity War Bingo
  7. Brain Sow Gravity
  8. Wintry Bag Savior
  9. Bargain Ivy Worts
  10. Abstain, Wry Vigor!
  11. A Gravity Bro Wins
  12. Wry Bi Navigators
  13. Braying Sitar Vow
  14. Wait, Braving Rosy
  15. Raving Ways Orbit
  16. Vagina Bits Worry
  17. Bit Vaginas—Worry
  18. Vibrating Ya Rows
  19. Winy Gravitas, Bro
  20. Nay—Vibrator Wigs
  21. Avast, Worrying Bi!
  22. Vagrant’s Wiry Bio
  23. Sanitary Brig Vow
  24. Antiwar by Vigors
  25. Aviator by Wrings
  26. Virago Twins Bray
  27. Ban Ivory Wig Rats
  28. Warns via Bigotry
  29. Biting Ovary Wars
  30. Van Orgy Is Bit Raw
  31. Vying Brow Tiaras
  32. Boring TV Airways
  33. Ow! (Vibrating Rays)
  34. Braving Sway Riot
  35. Savory Brain Twig
  36. A Vibratory Swing
  37. Ivy, Aborting Wars
  38. Aviary Bong Writs
  39. Bro, Astray, Wiving
  40. Avow Brainy Grist
  41. Snowy Trivia Garb
  42. Grab Warty Vision
  43. Wrong Tibias Vary
  44. Stay Wiring, Bravo!
  45. Braising Wavy Rot
  46. Gator Bra Wins Ivy
  47. (Brag) Norway Visit
  48. Gratis Binary Vow
  49. Nab via Gory Wrists
  50. Aviary Brings Two
  51. T’is Rainbow Gravy
  52. Barrio Swat Vying
  53. Via Starry Bowing
  54. Big Wino’s TV Array!
  55. Bag Ovary, Writ Sin
  56. Starving Wary Obi
  57. Boar, Satyr, Wiving
  58. Any Wigs, Vibrator?
  59. Avian Grits (by Row)
  60. Orgy Twin via Bars
  61. Raving Was by Riot
  62. Giant Raw Ivy Orbs
  63. A Vibratory Swing
  64. I Grow Brainy Vats
  65. Wry Vagina’s Orbit
  66. Was Ya Rib Rig on TV?
  67. Angry Swob Trivia
  68. Ban War Orgy Visit
  69. Yo War’s Vibrating!

List of writers mentioned in Gordon Lish’s Paris Review interview

A list of writers mentioned in Gordon Lish’s Winter 2015 (No. 215) Paris Review interview

Jean Baudrillard

Harold Bloom

Harold Brodkey

William F. Buckley

William S. Burroughs

Raymond Carver

Neal Cassady

Cormac McCarthy

Don DeLillo

Jacques Derrida

Denis Donoghue

Tess Gallagher

Leonard Gardner

Jack Gilbert

Allen Ginsberg

Barry Hannah

Giles Harvey

 Victor Herman

Noy Holland

John Clellon Holmes

Jack Kerouac

Ken Kesey

Stephen King

Romulus Linney

Sam Lipsyte

Atticus Lish

Gary Lutz

Norman Mailer

Ben Marcus

Patty Marx

Cynthia Ozick

Grace Paley

James Purdy

J.D. Salinger

Christine Schutt

Jason Schwartz

Allan Temko

Joy Williams

Tom Wolfe

List with no name #56

  1. King Lear
  2. Henry IV, Part I/II
  3. The Tempest
  4. Othello
  5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  6. Hamlet
  7. Antony and Cleopatra
  8. Twelfth Night
  9. Much Ado about Nothing
  10. Macbeth

Reasons I didn’t read your novel

  1. The first sentence is not compelling.
  2. Neither are the second, third, or fourth sentences.
  3. Nor the fifth.
  4. (I’m sure the later sentences are sterling, stunning stuff, but I’m sorry, I’m sorry, those earlier efforts couldn’t propel me onward).
  5. Those blurbs: So thickly pasted in glowing praise is your novel that its spine I dare not crack.
  6. Swarming with spiders. Scores of mean spiders. A horde, exploding from your novel’s pages.
  7. Too long.
  8. Your novel is part of a trilogy.
  9. Your novel is basically a fan fiction of a nineteenth-century literary novel.
  10. Your novel is basically a fan fiction of a twentieth-century literary novel.
  11. Your novel-memoir-thing is basically a blog.
  12. All the ghosts in your novel are metaphors.
  13. Ceaseless cyborg sex scenes.
  14. Four chapters in, my only thought is “I’ve read this novel before.”
  15. Your novel is in French.
  16. Your novel is too good and I am too stupid.
  17. Your novel is morally instructive.
  18. Printed in pink ink.
  19. I left it on a plane.
  20. Your novel is upside down.
  21. All of your characters have quirky hobbies; this I cannot abide.
  22. Oh cool, a stranger comes to town?
  23. Every verb attributing speech to a character is modified by an adverb.
  24. Too short.
  25. Too few swamps.
  26. That cover!
  27. Your novel is overtly engaged in social issues.
  28. Your novel is about baseball.
  29. Your novel is “erotic.”
  30. Your novel is extraordinarily well behaved.
  31. Your novel’s extended metaphor is too obvious.
  32. Written on rope.
  33. You are a conceptual poet with bad ideas and boring books.
  34. You had me at Rags to Riches—but back to Rags again?! Not this time.
  35. Exposition!
  36. Not enough cyborg sex.
  37. Your novel is a Word doc.
  38. Your novel is part of a tetralogy.
  39. Your novel was so goddamn excellent that it made my right eye twitch. As if it, my eye, were doing some manic jig. Then, my other eye—the left one—well, your novel was just so literary that that eye got to twitching something awful as well. By the second chapter, my eyes were fairly vibrating, and a clear but steady stream of snot was leaking from my nose. By the fourth chapter, I could no longer feel my lips, and by the beginning of chapter five, I was literally insensate. It took me months to recover, aided by family and friends alike. I will try your novel again when I am stronger.
  40. I drank too much.
  41. Your novel is filled with pressed flowers which I’d rather not disturb.
  42. Deader, better novelists await.
  43. 600 pages of a woman brushing her teeth.
  44. The main character is too likable.
  45. Your novel’s extended metaphor is too oblique.
  46. Your novel’s central character worries about poetry all the time. Poetry!
  47. The batteries died.
  48. No pictures.
  49. I’m too cynical.
  50. Your novel was a brightly-colored bunch of helium balloons—beautiful, sure—but I gave them to my daughter and she—almost immediately—surrendered the string to which they were tethered. Your novel is in heaven now, where it certainly belongs.
  51. Your novel is about a math problem.
  52. Mimesis, ugh.
  53. I gave it to a friend I don’t like.
  54. Not enough chainsaws.
  55. Your novel kept sending me to look up obscure references on Wikipedia, and the Wikipedia pages were more intriguing.
  56. Oh cool, you backpacked through Europe?
  57. Unnecessary end-notes.
  58. You keep emphasizing how brilliant and intelligent and talented this character is, yet nothing in the prose harnesses that brilliant intelligent talent.
  59. Your novel is extraordinarily well meaning.
  60. Your novel is carved into the bark of a very tall tree atop a very tall mountain which I am too physically weak to climb.
  61. Your novel is in Italian.
  62. Your novel is too bossy.
  63. Your central character is invisible, and yet no one is having any fun.
  64. You’ve mistaken “imagination” for “research.”
  65. Too much furniture.
  66. Your novel is just the May 1968 issue of Playboy with your name written on the cover in Sharpie. (Okay, I did read your novel).
  67. Magical realism, eh?
  68. You are a brilliant young novelist, perhaps, but you’ve forgotten to read so many of the brilliant young novelists who came before you.
  69. Your novel is made of poison, which is admittedly appealing, but which I fear will kill me.
  70. Your novel’s characters repeatedly reference other, much better novels (by much deader writers), reminding me that those novels exist.
  71. Pages and pages and pages of weather.
  72. I tucked it under the wheel well of a stranger’s automobile.
  73. All the Southern characters’ speech is rendered in bad phonetic transcription.
  74. Did you buy these epigraphs in bulk?
  75. Your novel is very clever and very unfunny.
  76. Not lurid enough.
  77. I left it out in the rain. It turned to pulp and became a temporary home to small suburban animals—do you find some measure of joy in that? No?
  78. Oh cool, you backpacked across Southeast Asia?
  79. Your novel is cursed.
  80. Your novel is a sustained argument against breakfast, and I can’t get down with that.
  81. Hero’s journey, eh?
  82. The first paragraph is too good. I would only be disappointed by anything that came after.
  83. I like my dirty realism much dirtier.
  84. Your novel was actually a salad, so I ate it.
  85. Having every other character be a Christ figure sounds like a cool idea, but it isn’t.
  86. No dial tone.
  87. Your novel is in Japanese.
  88. Your characters earnestly cite long passages from philosophy.
  89. I’m lazy.
  90. Not enough orcs.
  91. Your novel seems to mistake postmodernism, which is a description, for a prescription.
  92. Your novel is “like X on Y times Z.”
  93. Your “literary novel” fetishizes “genre tropes.”
  94. I didn’t drink enough.
  95. I’m just jealous.
  96. The prose is too dazzling.
  97. Look, we’ve all read Kafka, we get it.
  98. Time is limited, life is short, ashes ashes we all fall etc.
  99. I’ll wait for the movie.

List with no name #55

last-supperthe-last-supper-1311the-last-supper-1523the-last-supper-1547the-last-supperthe-last-supper-from-the-winged-altar-in-st-peter-in-leuventhe-last-supper1last-supper-coburg-panelhdthe-last-supper-1546the-last-supper-1594halfhdlord-s-supper-1903the-last-supper-of-jesus-1911d3ed11f9-6a23-4b7b-89af-1fec31c40f48

List with No Name #54

  1. Fargo
  2. A Serious Man
  3. The Big Lebowski
  4. Inside Llewyn Davis
  5. No Country for Old Men
  6. Barton Fink
  7. Blood Simple
  8. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  9. Raising Arizona
  10. The Man Who Wasn’t There
  11. Miller’s Crossing
  12. True Grit
  13. Burn After Reading
  14. The Ladykillers
  15. The Hudsucker Proxy
  16. Hail, Caesar!
  17. Intolerable Cruelty

A probably incomplete list of books I’ve read so far this year

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.

Sixteen Don’ts for Poets (1917)

“Sixteen Don’ts for Poets” by Arthur Guiterman

from Literature in the Making (1917)


“Don’t think of yourself as a poet, and don’t dress the part.

“Don’t classify yourself as a member of any special school or group.

“Don’t call your quarters a garret or a studio.

“Don’t frequent exclusively the company of writers.

“Don’t think of any class of work that you feel moved to do as either beneath you or above you.

“Don’t complain of lack of appreciation. (In the long run no really good published work can escape appreciation.)

“Don’t think you are entitled to any special rights, privileges, and immunities as a literary person, or have any more reason to consider your possible lack of fame a grievance against the world than has any shipping-clerk or traveling-salesman.

“Don’t speak of poetic license or believe that there is any such thing.

“Don’t tolerate in your own work any flaws in rhythm, rhyme, melody, or grammar.

“Don’t use ‘e’er’ for ‘ever,’ ‘o’er’ for ‘over,’ ‘whenas’ or ‘what time’ for ‘when,’ or any of the ‘poetical’ commonplaces of the past.

“Don’t say ‘did go’ for ‘went,’ even if you need an extra syllable.

“Don’t omit articles or prepositions for the sake of the rhythm.

“Don’t have your book published at your own expense by any house that makes a practice of publishing at the author’s expense.

“Don’t write poems about unborn babies.

“Don’t—don’t write hymns to the great god Pan. He is dead; let him rest in peace!

“Don’t write what everybody else is writing.”

(Read the entire essay after the jump)

Continue reading “Sixteen Don’ts for Poets (1917)”

List with No Name #53

  1. Agapē Agape
  2. Amerika
  3. Billy Budd
  4. The Castle
  5. The Garden of Eden
  6. Hadji Murat
  7. Islands in the Stream
  8. Juneteenth
  9. The Leopard
  10. The Master and Margarita
  11. The Metamorphosis
  12. The Mysterious Stranger
  13. October Ferry to Gabriola
  14. The Pale King
  15. Persuasion
  16. Stephen Hero
  17. The Third Policeman
  18. The Third Reich
  19. Three Days Before the Shooting…

A brief note to readers new to Infinite Jest (and a very incomplete list of motifs in the novel)

David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest poses rhetorical, formal, and verbal challenges that will confound many readers new to the text. The abundance of (or excess of) guides and commentaries on the novel can perhaps have the adverse and unintentional consequence of making readers new to Infinite Jest believe that they can’t “get it” without help.  Much of the online analyses and resources for Infinite Jest are created by and targeted to readers who have finished or are rereading the novel. While I’ve read many insightful and enlightening commentaries on the novel over the years (and, in particular, over the past six weeks rereading IJ), my intuition remains that the superabundance of analysis may have the paradoxical effect of actually impeding readers new to the text. With this in mind, I’d suggest that first-time readers need only a dictionary and some patience.

(Still: Two online resources that might be useful are “Several More and Less Helpful Things for the Person Reading Infinite Jest,” which offers a glossary and a few other unobtrusive documents, and Infinite Jest: A Scene-by-Scene Guide,”which is not a guide at all, but rather a brief series of synopses of each scene in the novel, organized by page number and year; my sense is that this guide would be helpful to readers attempting to delineate the novel’s nonlinear chronology—however, I’d advise against peeking ahead).

The big advantage (and pleasure) of rereading Infinite Jest is that the rereader may come to understand the plot anew; IJ is richer and denser the second go around, its themes showing brighter as its formal construction clarifies. The rereader is free to attend to the imagery and motifs of the novel more intensely than a first-time reader, who must suss out a byzantine plot propelled by a plethora of characters. Readers new to IJ may find it helpful to attend from the outset to some of the novel’s repeated images, words, and phrases. Tracking motifs will help to clarify not only the novel’s themes and “messages,” but also its plot. I’ve listed just a few of these motifs below, leaving out the obvious ones like entertainment, drugs, tennis (and, more generally, sports and games), and death. The list is in no way definitive or analytic, nor do I present it as an expert; rather, it’s my hope that this short list might help a reader or two get more out of a first reading.


Heads

Cages

Faces

Maps

Masks

Cycles

Teeth

Waste

Infants

Pain

Deformities

Subjects

Objects

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