Tag: Literature

Musil’s Librarian

“‘General,’ he said, ‘if you want to know how I know about every book here, I can tell you! Because I never read any of them.’”

The general is astonished by this unusual librarian, who vigilantly avoids reading not for any want of culture, but, on the contrary, in order to better know his books:

“It was almost too much, I tell you! But when he saw how stunned I was, he explained himself. ‘The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his charge than the titles and the table of contents. Anyone who lets himself go and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian,’ he explained. ‘He’s bound to lose perspective.’

‘So,’ I said, trying to catch my breath, ‘you never read a single book?’
‘Never. Only the catalogs.’
‘But aren’t you a Ph.D.?’

‘Certainly I am. I teach at the university, as a special lecturer in Library Science. Library Science is a special field leading to a degree, you know,” he explained. “How many systems do you suppose there are, General, for the arrangement and preservation of books, cataloging of titles, correcting misprints and misinformation on title pages, and the like?’”

Musil’s librarian thus keeps himself from entering into the books under his care, but he is far from indifferent or hostile toward them, as one might suppose. On the contrary, it is his love of books – of all books – that incites him to remain prudently on their periphery, for fear that too pronounced an interest in one of them might cause him to neglect the others.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read
Pierre Bayard

Reference is to:
The Man Without Qualities
Robert Musil

Best Book of Past 125 Years – New York Times Requests Your Suggestion

Help Us Choose the Best Book

The New York Times Book Review has just turned 125. That got us wondering: What is the best book that was published during that time? We’d like to hear from you. For the month of October we’ll take nominations, in November we’ll ask you to vote on a list of finalists and in December we’ll share the winner.

Note – First Review was Oct. 10, 1896

My Nomination –
The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James
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Update 11/24 –  they are no longer accepting submissions, so above link is kind of dated.

However, here’s the link to vote on the selections (see below): https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/11/24/books/best-book-vote.html

1984
All the Light We Cannot See
Beloved
Catch-22
The Catcher in the Rye
Charlotte’s Web
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Fellowship of the Ring
A Fine Balance
A Gentleman in Moscow
Gone With the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Gatsby
The Handmaid’s Tale
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Infinite Jest
To Kill a Mockingbird
A Little Life
Lolita
Lonesome Dove
One Hundred Years of Solitude
The Overstory
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Ulysses

Looking into the Abyss – Dostoevsky Anecdote

Before having children of his own, Dostoyevsky used to regale his nieces and nephews with stories about ghosts, but the writer who peered into the abyss of the self showed that such phantoms weren’t the most frightening beings of all. His young listeners “should go into an empty room, he said, look into a mirror and stare into their own eyes for five minutes,” Birmingham writes. “It is terrifying, he told the children, and nearly impossible.”

How a Murderous Poet Inspired One of Dostoevsky’s Masterworks
Jennifer Szalai
NYTIMES

Review of
The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece
Kevin Birmingham

New York Times fiction best-seller list of January 7, 1973 – Gore Vidal on

Times Machine

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
The number one best-seller is called Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It is a greeting card bound like a book with a number of photographs of seagulls in flight.

The Odessa File – Frederick Forsyth
At first glance The Odessa File, by Frederick Forsyth, looks to be just another bold hard-hitting attack on the Nazis in the form of a thriller masked as a pseudo-documentary.

Semi-Tough – Dan Jenkins
I fear that I am not the audience Mr. Dan Jenkins had in mind when he wrote his amiable book Semi-Tough, but I found it pleasant enough, and particularly interesting for what it does not go into.

August 1914 – Alexander Solzhenitsyn
As a fiction, August 1914 is not as well managed as Mr. Wouk’s Winds of War. I daresay as an expression of one man’s indomitable spirit in a tyrannous society we must honor if not the art the author.

The Persian Boy – Mary Renault
Can your average beautiful teen-age Persian eunuch find happiness with your average Greek world conqueror who is also a dish and aged only twenty-six? The answer Mary Renault triumphantly gives us in The Persian Boy is ne!

The Camerons – Robert Crichton
Mr. Crichton has elected to address himself to characters that seem to be infinitely remote from him, not to mention his readers. A UK mining town in what I take to be the 1870s (there is a reference to Keir Hardie, the trade unionist).

The Winds of War – Herman Wouk
The Winds of War: 885 pages of small type in which Herman Wouk describes the family of a naval captain just before America enters the Second World War (there is to be a sequel).

On the Night of the Seventh Moon – Victoria Holt
On the Night of the Seventh Moon belongs to a genre I know very little about: the Gothic novel for ladies. But I do recall the films made from the novels of Daphne du Maurier, the queen of this sort of writing. In fact, I once wrote the screenplay for one of her most powerful works, The Scapegoat, in which the dogged (and in this case hounded) Alec Guinness played two people.

The Eiger Sanction – Trevanian
The Eiger Sanction, by Trevanian (just one name) is light years distant from Two from Galilee. For one thing, it is sometimes well-written, though hardly, as the blurb tells us, “vintage Huxley.” Actually The Eiger Sanction is an Ian Fleming byblow and of its too numerous kind pretty good.

Two from Galilee – Marjorie Holmes
Since the film Love Story really took off, what about a love story starring the Mother and the Stepfather of Our Lord? A super idea. And Marjorie has written it.

From the essay:
THE TOP TEN BEST-SELLERS ACCORDING TO THE SUNDAY NEW YORK TIMES AS OF JANUARY 7, 1973
The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal

Nanny Barron – Emerson’s Tortured Neighbor

And surely this journal entry should refute Henry James’s view that Emerson possessed no awareness of “the dark, the foul, the base”: “Now for near five years I have been indulged by the gracious Heaven in my long holiday in this goodly house of mine, entertaining and entertained by so many worthy and gifted friends, and all this time poor Nanny Barron, the mad-woman, has been screaming herself hoarse at the Poorhouse across the brook and I still hear her whenever I open my window.”

Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education
Michael Dirda
from a review of:
Emerson: The Mind on Fire
by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.

Halloween / Spooky Quote – The Willows, Algernon Blackwood

He lowered his voice at once to reply, leaning forward a little over the fire, an indefinable change in his face that made me avoid his eyes and look down upon the ground.

“All my life,” he said, “I have been strangely, vividly conscious of another region—not far removed from our own world in one sense, yet wholly different in kind—where great things go on unceasingly, where immense and terrible personalities hurry by, intent on vast purposes compared to which earthly affairs, the rise and fall of nations, the destinies of empires, the fate of armies and continents, are all as dust in the balance; vast purposes, I mean, that deal directly with the soul, and not indirectly with mere expressions of the soul—”

“I suggest just now—” I began, seeking to stop him, feeling as though I was face to face with a madman. But he instantly overbore me with his torrent that had to come.

“You think,” he said, “it is the spirit of the elements, and I thought perhaps it was the old gods. But I tell you now it is—neither. These would be comprehensible entities, for they have relations with men, depending upon them for worship or sacrifice, whereas these beings who are now about us have absolutely nothing to do with mankind, and it is mere chance that their space happens just at this spot to touch our own.”

The Willow
Algernon Blackwood

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE ISSUE – Exquisite Corpse

BOOKS RECEIVED:
COMPARATIVE LITERATURE ISSUE

Self-Reflexivity in the Serbo-Croatian Folk- Tale, by Mzsczy Mczszy.
Comic Structures in Holocaust Literature, by Horst Wessel and Elie Wiesel.
101 Uses for a Dead Explicator, by D. Funcke Katz.
Derrida and the Neutron Bomb, by Gerald Pantagraff.
Vomit: The Stow of Reader-Response Criticism, by David Yech.
The Joy of Socks: Foot Fetishism in France, by Henri Pair and Germane Brie.
The Condemned of Altoona: Late Existentialism in Eastern Pennsylvania, by J-P Salaud.
Punishing the Text: An Archaeology of Literary Leather, by Michel Godemiche.
Praxis und Taxis: Rilke als Schmarotzer, by Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe.
Sexist Repression and Counter-Revolutionary Imagery in the Later Poetry of Trumbull Stickney,
by Medusa Petard and Gloria Monday.
Dust from the Chickenhouse Floor: Coprophagy in American Colonial Literature, by Frank “Temps” Perdue and Bruce Jackson.
The Rhetoric of Secondary Aphasia, by Pablo Lacuna, Ph.D.
The Dirty Denizens: Black Semiotics, by Nathan A. Detroit and Seymour Sebeotnik.
Tickling the Text: A Primer of Literary Tact, by Lillie Bullero and Belle Bottoms.
The Kitchen Kink: Recipes for Critical Boredom, by “Big Al” Cook, the Galoping Gourmet.
The Joy of Gay Deconstruction, by F. Neechie and E. Coli.
The Philologist in the Attic, by the late Lev Spritzer.
Doing Her Thing: Auto-Eroticism in ‘Silas Marner’, by Raveloe Weber.
Cretins and Hydrocephaloi: Chips from My Buffalo, by El Fiddler.
The Skeleton Key to ‘Love Story” Revisited, by Eric Siegel.
Come in Your Trunks: A Reader’s Guide to the Beach Epics, by Annette Funicello, D.Phil.
Metonymy Is My Middle Name: Reflections on a Life in Language, by Roman Jakobson.
Phallic Imagery in the Notebooks of Henry James, by Leonardo Gaffito.
The Art of Darkness: Up the River with Conrad, by Francis Ford Coppelius.
Poetry and Flatulence: Petomania in the Romantic Ode, by H. Boom, Ph.D.

The Stiffest of the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader Paperback
Andrei Codrescu, editor

The Capote Tapes – Trailer

Answered Prayers was meant to be Truman Capote’s greatest masterpiece, an epic portrait of NYC’s glittering jet-set society. Instead, it sparked his downfall. Through never before heard audio archive and interviews with Capote’s friends and enemies, this intimate documentary reveals the rise and fall of one America’s most iconic writers.

With unprecedented access to access to George Plimpton’s taped interviews for his biography, Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career. The documentary features interviews with Dick Cavett, André Leon Talley, Jay McInerney & Dotson Rader and introduces audiences to Kate Harrington, who the daughter of one of his lovers, John O’Shea, and in which Capote served in a surrogate father role. Previously never disclosing any details before, Kate opens up about living life with Truman Capote during this period, and shines a new light on his character through their close relationship.

Plague Driving People Nuts – Journal of the Plague Year – Daniel Defoe

Nay, a few were so enthusiastically ambitious as to run approximately the streets with their oral predictions, pretending they were despatched to evangelise to the town; and one mainly, who, like Jonah to Nineveh, cried within the streets, ‘Yet 40 days, and London will be destroyed.’ I will not be superb whether he said yet 40 days or but some days. Another ran about naked, except a pair of drawers about his waist, crying day and night time, like a person that Josephus mentions, who cried, ‘Woe to Jerusalem!’ a little earlier than the destruction of that city. So this terrible naked creature cried, ‘Oh, the remarkable and the dreadful God!’ and stated no extra, but repeated the ones words continually, with a voice and countenance complete of horror, a speedy tempo; and nobody should ever discover him to stop or rest, or take any sustenance, at least that ever I ought to hear of. I met this terrible creature several times within the streets, and might have spoken to him, however he might not enter into speech with me or anyone else, but held on his dismal cries always.

A Journal of the Plague Year
Daniel Defoe

Some time in the first few months of Covid, in 2020, there was a guy walking down the street outside my place. “Fuck Covid!” He yelled, loud enough for the neighborhood to hear. My guess was that he’d just lost some job prospect, or something fell through due to the shutdown.