- 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.
“Sixteen Don’ts for Poets” by Arthur Guiterman
“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 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)
- 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…
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.
Click on the damn image to make it much bigger so you can read Mathews’ list (or sorites/stories/sorties). From Selected Declarations of Independence. The illustration is by Alex Katz.
“Snips of the Tongue”
from Selected Declarations of Independence
Once burned, twice snide
Every drug has its day
The road to help is paved with good intentions
Never pull of tomorrow what you can do today
When in Rome, do as the Trojans do
Half a loan is better than no bread
Every crowd has a silver lining
One man’s meat is another man’s person
Look before you leave
A snitch in time saves nine
In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is kinky
Too many cooks spoil the dwarf
Below: A (probably incomplete) list of films mentioned in Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice.
I’ve listed them in the order in which they show up, and also in the editorial style in which they appear—initially, Pynchon separates the release year with a comma or doesn’t give a year at all, before settling on parenthetical citations—with the one quirk of A Summer Place—its year is indicated in brackets. Obviously this inconsistency is actually some kind of super-meaningful clue, a key that will unlock any unresolved mysteries of Inherent Vice—right?
Black Narcissus, 1947
Dr. No, 1962
Now, Voyager (1942)
Fort Apache (1948)
He Ran All the Way (1951)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
Roman Holiday (1953)
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Big Bounce (1969)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
A Summer Place 
The Sea Wolf (1941)
Little Miss Broadway (1938)
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
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.
In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin inventoried his thirteen virtues:
Eat not to fulness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time, be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary action.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes, forbear resenting injuries as much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health and offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
D.H. Lawrence revised them—for himself, of course—in Studies in Classic American Literature:
Eat and carouse with Bacchus, or munch dry bread with Jesus, but don’t sit down without one of the gods.
Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.
Know that you are responsible to the gods inside you and to the men in whom the gods are manifest. Recognize your superiors and your inferiors, according to the gods. This is
the root of all order.
Resolve to abide by your own deepest promptings, and to sacrifice the smaller thing to the greater. Kill when you must, and be killed the same: the must coming from the gods inside you, or from the men in whom you recognize the Holy Ghost.
Demand nothing; accept what you see fit. Don’t waste your pride or squander your emotion.
Lose no time with ideals; serve the Holy Ghost; never serve mankind.
To be sincere is to remember that I am I, and that the other man is not me.
The only justice is to follow the sincere intuition of the soul, angry or gentle. Anger is just, and pity is just, but judgement is never just.
Beware of absolutes. There are many gods.
Don’t be too clean. It impoverishes the blood.
The soul has many motions, many gods come and go. Try and find your deepest issue, in every confusion, and abide by that. Obey the man in whom you recognize the Holy Ghost; command when your honour comes to command.
Never ‘use’ venery at all. Follow your passional impulse, if it be answered in the other being; but never have any motive in mind, neither offspring nor health nor even pleasure, nor even service. Only know that ‘venery’ is of the great gods. An offering-up of yourself to the very great gods, the dark ones, and nothing else.
See all men and women according to the Holy Ghost that is within them. Never yield before the barren.
- 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.
“Titles for Unwritten Articles, Essays, and Stories”
from Samuel Butler’s Note-Books
- The Art of Quarrelling.
- Christian Death-beds.
- The Book of Babes and Sucklings.
- Literary Struldbrugs.
- The Life of the World to Come.
- The Limits of Good Faith.
- Art, Money and Religion.
- The Third Class Excursion Train, or Steam-boat, as the Church of the Future.
- The Utter Speculation involved in much of the good advice that is commonly given—as never to sell a reversion, etc.
- Tracts for Children, warning them against the virtues of their elders.
- Making Ready for Death as a Means of Prolonging Life. An Essay concerning Human Misunderstanding. So McCulloch [a fellow art-student at Heatherley’s, a very fine draughtsman] used to say that he drew a great many lines and saved the best of them. Illusion, mistake, action taken in the dark—these are among the main sources of our progress.
- The Elements of Immorality for the Use of Earnest Schoolmasters.
- Family Prayers: A series of perfectly plain and sensible ones asking for what people really do want without any kind of humbug.
- A Penitential Psalm as David would have written it if he had been reading Herbert Spencer.
- A Few Little Crows which I have to pick with various people.
- The Scylla of Atheism and the Charybdis of Christianity.
- The Battle of the Prigs and Blackguards.
- That Good may Come.
- The Marriage of Inconvenience.
- The Judicious Separation.
- Fooling Around.
- The Diseases and Ordinary Causes of Mortality among Friendships.
- The finding a lot of old photographs at Herculaneum or Thebes; and they should turn out to be of no interest.
- On the points of resemblance and difference between the dropping off of leaves from a tree and the dropping off of guests from a dinner or a concert.
- The Sense of Touch: An essay showing that all the senses resolve themselves ultimately into a sense of touch, and that eating is touch carried to the bitter end. So there is but one sense—touch—and the amœba has it. When I look upon the foraminifera I look upon myself.
- The China Shepherdess with Lamb on public-house chimney-pieces in England as against the Virgin with Child in Italy.
- For a Medical pamphlet: Cant as a means of Prolonging Life.
- For an Art book: The Complete Pot-boiler; or what to paint and how to paint it, with illustrations reproduced from contemporary exhibitions and explanatory notes.
- For a Picture: St. Francis preaching to Silenus. Fra Angelico and Rubens might collaborate to produce this picture.
- The Happy Mistress. Fifteen mistresses apply for three cooks and the mistress who thought herself nobody is chosen by the beautiful and accomplished cook.
- The Complete Drunkard. He would not give money to sober people, he said they would only eat it and send their children to school with it.
- The Contented Porpoise. It knew it was to be stuffed and set up in a glass case after death, and looked forward to this as to a life of endless happiness.
- The Flying Balance. The ghost of an old cashier haunts a ledger, so that the books always refuse to balance by the sum of, say, £1.15.11. No matter how many accountants are called in, year after year the same error always turns up; sometimes they think they have it right and it turns out there was a mistake, so the old error reappears. At last a son and heir is born, and at some festivities the old cashier’s name is mentioned with honour. This lays his ghost. Next morning the books are found correct and remain so.
- A Dialogue between Isaac and Ishmael on the night that Isaac came down from the mountain with his father. The rebellious Ishmael tries to stir up Isaac, and that good young man explains the righteousness of the transaction—without much effect.
- Bad Habits: on the dropping them gradually, as one leaves off requiring them, on the evolution principle.
- A Story about a Freethinking Father who has an illegitimate son which he considers the proper thing; he finds this son taking to immoral ways, e.g. he turns Christian, becomes a clergyman and insists on marrying.
- For a Ballad: Two sets of rooms in some alms-houses at Cobham near Gravesend have an inscription stating that they belong to “the Hundred of Hoo in the Isle of Grain.” These words would make a lovely refrain for a ballad.
- A story about a man who suffered from atrophy of the purse, or atrophy of the opinions; but whatever the disease some plausible Latin, or imitation-Latin name must be found for it and also some cure.
- A Fairy Story modelled on the Ugly Duckling of Hans Andersen about a bumptious boy whom all the nice boys hated. He finds out that he was really at last caressed by the Huxleys and Tyndalls as one of themselves.
- A Collection of the letters of people who have committed suicide; and also of people who only threaten to do so. The first may be got abundantly from reports of coroners’ inquests, the second would be harder to come by.
- The Structure and Comparative Anatomy of Fads, Fancies and Theories; showing, moreover, that men and women exist only as the organs and tools of the ideas that dominate them; it is the fad that is alone living.
- An Astronomical Speculation: Each fixed star has a separate god whose body is his own particular solar system, and these gods know each other, move about among each other as we do, laugh at each other and criticise one another’s work. Write some of their discourses with and about one another.
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..