What To Read This Month?

images.jpgThis was the month I intended to only select a half-dozen large and demanding books and blow off the lesser novels which so often interfere with the big fat ones I have been putting off for years. I started with five fat ones but then added a few very tempting texts with more manageable page counts. Then I added a few more and soon I was caught in the cycle of posting works I really wanted to read as opposed to works I really should read.

Is reading A Man Without Qualities and crossing off yet another book from my bucket list more satisfying than ready three of four novels from other authors around the world?

It was a struggle but I opted for continued variety and a promise that I will try to work at least one bucket list tome into each month’s reading pool. This month there are actually three titles that may earn me the dubious satisfaction of having read something great and challenging: The Golden Notebook, They Were Counted, and Frog.

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XFX: Stephen Dixon

Johns Hopkins has the reputation for an excellent Creative Writing program and one of its major assets was the writer Stephen Dixon. Dixon was nominated two times for the National Book Award, first for his early novel Frog and later for Interstate. I mention this because it serves to frame my experience with Dixon.

Back in the ’90s I read my first Dixon piece, Interstate. I hated it. If you look back through my early postings it was prominent on my “Worst” list and remains there to this day, even though my opinion has changed considerably. Interstate is not the type of novel that Forster describes: even though you might find the appearance of a plot, or of characters, the narrative structure subordinates all those normal novelistic things and takes over the novel. Dixon tells a simple story of a father driving along with his daughter when another automobile creates a dangerous interaction on the road, a gun is brandished, a tragedy occurs or is about to occur … and then the father is driving along the road with his daughter but the circumstances are slightly different and when the second car arrives …

That’s the book:  a short narrative, altered slightly and repeated over and over. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood to have my literature-brain poked and nudged at that time because I remember hating this novel and agonizing my way to the last page. But for some strange reason, I read more works by this author and he rapidly won me over. I could see the value of the experimentation Dixon displayed in Interstate:  variations on a theme being more common in music but why not in writing too?

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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.

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XFX: New Titles at Experimental Fiction

The fourth quarter titles for reading with the Experimental Fiction Group (XFX) are now posted. For convenience, here are the selections:

For the Fourth Quarter of 2012

  10-16 –  The Unknown Quantity – Hermann Broch

   11-01 – The Soft Machine – William S. Burroughs

   11 -16 – 40 Stories – Donald Barthelme

  12-01 –  Frog – Stephen Dixon

   12-16 – Love In the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García-Marquez