The Recognitions

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I hate William Gaddis. As a would-be writer, Gaddis has had no direct influence on me. And yet, pretty much everything I have done, or planned to do, or started to do, as a writer, which I genuinely thought to be fresh or innovative, I have come to discover has pretty much already been done by him. The invasion or …

Winter’s Tale

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If someone had told me what Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale was about, I don’t think I would have read it. Written in 1983, the plot is three parts Gangs of New York, two parts Age of Innocence, with a dash of Dickens and a pinch of Lord of the Rings. A turn-of-century “period piece” set in and around the city …

American Pastoral

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I love the last sentence. “What on earth is less reprehensible than the life of the Levovs?” I love the Swede Levov character. I don’t know if I have ever identified with a fictional character (or even another real person) in the same way I identified with Levov. (Who, whether coincidentally or by design, is a literary alter ego of …

Infinite Jest

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From: Steve Herman To: Bill Chisholm Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 12:36 AM Subject: Book of Last Ten Years What was “the” book of the last 10 years I am supposed to read? ————————————– From: Bill Chisholm Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2006 11:12 AM infinite jest by david foster wallace ————————————– From: Steve Herman To: Bill Chisholm Sent: Sunday, March …

The Castle (with a touch of Michael Chabon and a lot of James Frey)

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The Castle is one of those books that is sitting on a shelf which I have been meaning to read for years. It really wasn’t as Kafkaesque as I would have expected. Why didn’t the guy just leave? But the book did have those great passages. The Castle, whose contours were already beginning to dissolve, lay silent as ever; never …

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Is John Updike the Shakespeare of Our Time? (The Centaur) (and a touch of Seinfeld)

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It seems like every piece of literary criticism I read lately uses Updike’s work as some sort of benchmark for great literature in the 20th Century. (X is the new Updike…; as Updike and X replaced Faulkner and Joyce…; there isn’t a clear figure from the latter part of the century whom you can point to like you could point …

What to Put on Your i-Pod

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In the new John Sanford mystery, the protagonist receives an i-Pod as a gift, and refuses to load it until he has determined exactly which 100 songs he wants to include. He spends the novel composing his list, while entertaining suggestions and defending against criticisms from his friends. At the end of the book, he publishes the list. To his …