Litlove is tempting me to read William Gaddis’s The Recognitions with her and any others who are interested. I’ve had this book on hand for a while now but have felt a bit too apprehensive about its difficulty to start it. It’s long, which is not a problem, but when I start hearing about its complexity, I get a little nervous. I do like to read challenging books, but … sometimes I have to get my courage up to do it. But what better company can one have than Litlove? Anybody else want to join in?
I have begun reading David Foster Wallace’s collection of essays Consider the Lobster, and so far I think it’s wonderful, although I haven’t gotten any further than the first three essays. Speaking of long and difficult books, I am now more curious than ever about his novel Infinite Jest, which is something I will probably read one day but will have to get my courage up to do it. Anyway, Wallace’s essayistic voice is one I particularly like; it’s very smart and also witty and conversational.
The subject matter isn’t always exactly what I would choose to read, if the author were somebody not quite so interesting — the first essay is about the Annual Adult Video News Awards, the porn industry’s equivalent of the Oscars — but I’m beginning to think that Wallace is someone I will like to read no matter what he’s writing about (and I’m sad there will be no more writing from him). It seems that some people get all bothered by things like his use of footnotes (and footnotes on those footnotes) and titles such as “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness, from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed,” not liking that kind of playful postmodern style, but it works for me. I like the playful postmodern style as long as it stays playful and doesn’t wander over into pretentious and boring.
In those first three essays, he’s also got a review of an Updike novel, which is pretty scathing, but kindheartedly so, if such a thing is possible; I mean, he doesn’t like the novel, Toward the End of Time, but he would really like to like it, having liked Updike in the past, and his tone exudes a wistfulness for lost talent. He’s also got the essay on Kafka’s funniness, which talks about how impossible it is to communicate that funniness to students. He moves from descriptions of teaching into a discussion of what it is about American culture that makes it so hard for us to appreciate Kafka’s kind of humor:
The fact is that Kafka’s humor has almost none of the particular forms and codes of contemporary US amusement. There’s no recursive wordplay or verbal stunt-pilotry, little in the way of wisecracks or mordant lampoon. There is no body-function humor in Kafka, nor sexual entendre, nor stylized attempts to rebel by offending convention. No Pynchonian slapstick with banana peels or rogue adenoids. No Rothish priapism or Barthish meta-parody or Woody Allen-type kvetching. There are none of the ba-bing-ba-bang reversals of modern sitcoms; nor are there precocious children or profane grandparents or cynically insurgent coworkers. Perhaps most alien of all, Kafka’s authority figures are never just hollow buffoons to be ridiculed, but are always absurd and scary and sad all at once …
This gives you a taste of his writing, which is so full of energy you can feel it pouring out of his sentences. His essayistic style seems similar to what I found in George Sanders’s The Braindead Megaphone, which I liked so much.
And finally, I’m very excited to be receiving an advanced copy of Brian Lynch’s novel The Winner of Sorrow, a historical novel about the 18C poet William Cowper. Here’s a description:
A fictional imagining of the gentle but troubled zealot William Cowper–best known as a precursor to Romantics such as Wordsworth and Burns–Brian Lynch’s The Winner of Sorrow brings to life the mind and times of an eighteenth-century poet … you’ll want to savor every word as Lynch traces Cowper’s tragic descent into madness, which is presented matter-of-factly so that the novel is not sentimental but austere, not precious but serious, and yet, remarkably, lively, sensuous, and blackly comic.
Sadly, I don’t know as much about Cowper as I should, but I’m very excited to read the novel and learn more.