XFX: Fourth Quarter Reading

The new quarter has snuck up on us here and we want to introduce the exellent titles which have been selected for reading over the next three months.

The first book (10-16) is by an excellent German author that should be required reading for anyone interested in post-war literature:  Hermann Broch. The title we selected isn’t one of the author’s big and hairy novels but the more approachable novel: The Unknown Quantity. Here is a little review:

Born in Germany in the early twentieth century, mild and sensitive Richard Hieck endured a quietly difficult childhood. Raised in humble circumstances, Richard was profoundly influenced by his withdrawn mother and by his father — an enigma whose devotion centered not on his five children but on his mysterious career. From his father, Richard inherited an interest in the night sky, learning to love the constellations and to take comfort in the strength of Orion and the warm radiance of Venus. At the same time, his shadowy, elusive father influenced Richard to pursue studies in mathematics, a field offering the discipline Richard had craved as a child.In The Unknown Quantity, Hermann Broch examines the underlying chaos — and, finally, the impossibility — of life within a society whose values are in decay. As Richard seeks to reconcile the conflicting demands of love and science, of passion and reason, he and those in his orbit must endure the effects of societal and family values — even as the values descend into madness.

The second book (11-01) is another sorter novel from the twisted and always fascinating mind of William S. Burroughs. Many have read Naked Lunch and do not realize that Burroughs has many other novels to his credit; this one starts the Nova Trilogy and is titled, The Soft Machine.

Reading much like the earlier Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine is Burroughs experiment in using the cut-up and fold-in method of structuring his novel:  take a piece of earlier writing, cut it up into snippets of prose, tape it back together in what might be a more expressive and honest way of communicating the real inner thoughts of the author (a takeoff on automatic writing?). The soft machine is, of course, the human body, and Burroughs dealts directly with the effects of his drug addiction on his body, including some revealing information in the appendices.

The followup novels of the trilogy are The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express.

The third book (11-16) is an extremely imaginative collection of short stories by the iconoclastic writer, Donald Bartheme. 40 Stories is collected from several earlier books of short stories written by the author and is accompanied by the similar, but much longer, 60 Stories. If you haven’t read Barthelme, then these stories are a must! Note that new collections of Barthelme’s stories have been published in the last few years and you may want to check those volumes out too. And don’t get discouraged:  like all collections there tends to be some duplication and overlap but take my word for it, reading a story by Barthelme more than once is a pleasure, not an added chore.

Frog (12-01), by the often difficult Stephen Dixon, is brilliant. Even before you read this rather long novel, you need to be aware that it all works and it is a work of genius. Now the bad news. Frog is very long (like 800 pages) with little regard for the niceties of those well-behaved novels you might find on the front rounder at Barnes and Noble. Furthermore, Frog isn’t linear … it jumps around, turns back on itself, revises and repeats itself as it goes, makes intense demands on the reader but doesn’t follow any rules itself, etc etc etc.

Reading Frog is a life changing experience and I think Dixon’s publisher should consider offering a shiny badge to anyone who finishes it and maintains their sanity.

Are you up to the challenge? Many start but few finish … go for it!

And finally the last book is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García-Marquez (12-16). If you’ve read One Hundred Years of Solitude, this one is better … or at least some readers consider it so. García is one of the premier South American authors and is generally credited with starting, or at least popularizing, the aspect of magical realism which seems to permeate so many contemporary novels around the world.

When Fermina Daza is denied her true love with Florentino Ariza, she weds Juvenal Urbino. Urbino is a medical doctor devoted to science, modernity, and “order and progress,” committed to the eradication of cholera and to the promotion of public works. He is a rational man whose life is organized precisely and who values his importance and reputation in society. He is a herald of progress and modernization and contrasts to Florentino’s traditional values and overly romantic love.

There are many recurring themes throughout this novel and despite its demands, most readers will find it a very rewarding experience.

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