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BIBLIOGRIND

Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Critic Harold Bloom’s Ways-of-Seeing Literature

I first came across Harold Bloom’s prose in the early 1980s, as an undergrad at Illinois State University. Back then, of course, there was no easily-found information source (let’s call it “The Web” and be happy for it). Nevertheless, we college students had card catalogs, big-ass-long book-stacks, and lots of magazines on display shelves. I found Bloom’s not-yet-so-fleshy mug on the cover of a literary magazine. The title read something like, “Against the Fashion” or some-such polemic. Bloom himself might have titled it “Against the Literary Fascists” because, even then, he was against The Establishment’s ever-and-more-quickly-changing fashions of literary criticism.

Jump ahead a decade. I read The Paris Review’s ART OF CRITICISM interview, featuring Harold Bloom, who had a lot to say about “deep reading” and a shorter invective against the increasingly changing normative, and university-based, critical investigation approach to literature. The latter he expanded upon in his widely read “The Weston Canon” in which he lambasted 25 years of university-based teacher-critics who had found numerous ways-of-seeing literature, among them Historicism, Feminism, Gay-studies, Deconstructionism, Marxism, Freudianism, and Multi-culturalism.

What Bloom objected to, and I agreed with him as a 19 year old and 25 year old — and still do at 51 — was the slicing and dicing of story, character, language, and the subjectivising of writerly intent to fit these newly minted categories of literary study. Bloom stated that all of these took away from the beauty of the English language, the beauty of the stories, the deep-seated psychology of the characters (not Freud’s psychology, but Shakespearean), and the nature of literature itself: to investigate the human condition.

He asked the obvious questions: Who cares when a story/poem was written (it’s beauty rings because of the times, not within those times)? What difference does the beauty, or beauty-of-the-grotesque, have to do with gender or a writer’s “gay-ness”? And, given that we humans always-always-always act on a psychological razor’s edge, what’s the point of looking into that (especially when Shakespeare not only outlined them for us but color co-ordinated the good & bad of it all)? Finally, does the fact that a person’s “color” should be in any way incumbent on its inclusion into one’s reading list? Bloom’s answers to these questions were definitive: truth, beauty, and quality made the difference, and nothing which falls below these standards should take up our valuable reading time.

Today, Historicism & Feminism & (subsequently) Gender Studies & Freudianism … and all the rest … have fallen away. What remains, and is again hailed as the single best mode to read any book or story, is DEEP READING; that which compels you into the story, along through the characters’ plight, effort, and resolution, and what the sum total you are left with at the conclusion. And, I might ask, Isn’t this what book clubs have been doing for the better part of a century?

I think that what makes Bloom’s classic ideas of literary study worthy of all our attention, is that he approaches “story” with an idiosyncratic attention to what he reads off the page. To wit: what we bring to the page determines what we understand of the characters. What we “miss” in our over- or under-attention to characters and language makes such understanding all the more poignant, particularly on the second and third readings of these stories/novels/poems.

Now Bloom has come out with a new book, THE DEAEMON KNOWS, wherein he revisits the Romantic poets whom he had fallen for as a youth and young scholar, but who had almost disappeared under the attack of that “deamon-minded” T.S. Eliot, the conservative and anti-Semitic scourge of American & British letters through the first half of the 20th Century. But Bloom was unperturbed by Eliot, and his early years at Yale brought him all the battle that he might have been asking for.

Today those Romantics — Blake, Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop — are widely read in and out of the university classroom. So to are Whitman, Emerson, Hart Crane, Melville, and others. Bloom wrote about these, and many other, American and British authors who had made such an impression on him. “Bloom is a personal and passionate reader who prizes the face-to-face. For him reading resembles falling in love: The author who chooses you turns you inside out, making the world look utterly new and strange.” (from “The Deamon in Mr Bloom” at Tablet).

Such language must come from a romantic. Harold Bloom was and, at 84, still is a ROMANTIC. This is as much as can be asked of someone who has a love for words, and love of literature, that great artistic essay that unveils the human spirit through every age and decade wherein it can be found.

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My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015 from Siren & Muse Publishing. Read an excerpt here that you won’t find at on-line bookshops.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Top 100 Books … is this possible?

While web surfing literary blog sites, I came across Larry McCaffery’s “response” to the Modern Library’s Top 100 English Language Novels (of the 20th century, released in 1998). I have to say, while any list is idiosyncratic (despite the data net-cast), I do like Mr McCaffery’s 100 for (a) it’s inclusion of “why?” for each entry, and (2) for his ability to look at every decade of the 20th Century and find a strong story.

To list a few of McCaffery’s faves: #1 Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov; #4 The Public Burning by Robert Coover; #10 Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce (“The greatest unreadable novel ever written.”); #25 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme; #40 Crash by J.G. Ballard; #65 The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton; #76 American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis; #100 Hogg by Samuel R. Delany.

I compared the two lists — McCaffery’s and Modern Library — and found I’d read 35 and 55 of the listed novels, respectively. Not bad, for as a combination they summed to nearly 80. What I have developed is a further reading list for the next two or three years.

My own Top 100 may be blogged (or asked about) some day, but that day has not come; I am grateful for this because, it would be a difficult task, and the time I’d need to make such a list would take away at least one book’s worth of reading. Nevertheless, here’s a TOP 5 from the last few years:

 

1. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

2. Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

3. The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul

4. Mating by Norman Rush

5. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (pure genius)

 

These 5 are not in a true order, but they are the books whose stories have stayed with me over the years. Next year, or in 5 years hence, the list will likely change (to be added upon, also).

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What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015 from Siren & Muse Publishing.

 

Books Read Lately: Trevor, Robinson, O’Neill

Four books this time, each a unique world of subtle human emotions, intrigue of character, and story that matches this modern world:

Two Lives (“Reading Turgenev” and “My House in Umbria”) by William Trevor

Umbria: Simply amazing. A mystery, put inside a pastoral, wrapped in human illusion. A must read for those who like well-drawn characters but are thoroughly opposed to explosions and anything with fangs.

Turgenev: A fabulous story by a writer whose nuanced prose takes you along like on a cloud (sometimes, then, a thundercloud).

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I read about author Marilynne Robinson in the LRB, and was intrigued. This short novel of hers is deftly told, strangely compelling, and, ultimately, satisfying to an imaginative minded reader. Two girls are left to the care of their grandmother, who dies shortly; Ruthie and Lucille are then looked after by their aunt, a wanderer, who comes into the teens’ lives with strange habits that make their lives turn over.

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill

Highly unusual tale of “the immigrant life in America” between Brits & Dutch & West Indians. Murder, mystery, life-stories, business-in-America, marriage & all that … this books has everything. And it’s well told.

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My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Books Read Lately: Gaddis, Eugenides, Fowles

The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Gaddis wrote the story of identity (theft), forgery, and the high price(s) we pay for fame AND obscurity, in 1955. I think, if he were alive today, he’d say things have only gotten worse. The beauty of this novel (all 490,000 words) is how Gaddis has not given anything away; he hardly lets the reader know what’s “going on” in the plot. Yet there are intricately described places, and people; there’s are dozens of pages of non-stop dialogue. This is a fun book that takes the reader into a world of danger, beauty, loveless-love, depression, and unfailing hope.

The Marriage Plot by Jefferey Eugenides

I was disappointed by the start of this book … too cute, and the whiff of commercial story-telling. And then Eugenides’s wit and erudition came out from the curtain wings and played the part I recognized from his previous books. Anyway … the love between college students is a nice flashback; the intellectualizing of affection, of lust, of “the possible.” The interwoven stories of Madeliene and her male suitors is often funny, and terribly real.

The Ebony Tower by John Fowles

This collection of five novellas has art as its link; the way, the why, the how-to, the what-for, and even the why-not? Underlying each is human frailty: in love, work, mind, and body. These are very well written stories, which take you to places, and into the minds of people, whom you have not had the pleasure of meeting before. At least, I wish I had had that pleasure.

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My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

WayBack Machine: reading list from 2014

Under the category “Better Late than Never”, my list of books read for 2014 appears below. The selection is not so random as it may seem (however one goes about selecting a book  or “the next book”). Between finishing one book and beginning the next, I think about differences in tone, characters, theme, setting, mood, and of the course writers. What fascinates me are the possibilities, and the anticipation of beginning a new book:

On Muted Strings by Knut Hamson

Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

The Names by Don DeLillo

Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Ratner’s Star by Don DeLillo

The Bachelor of Arts by R.K. Narayan

Rights of Passage by William Golding

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The English Teacher by R.K. Narayan

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Pure by Andrew Miller

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The Gift by Vladimir Nabakov

The Punisher’s Brain by Morris Hoffman

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch

Stoner by John Williams

Canada by Richard Ford

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Gripless by Sophie Hannah

King Jesus by Robert Graves

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Everyman by Philip Roth

Indignation by Philip Roth

The Humbling by Philip Roth

Nemesis by Philip Roth

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellbecq

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The Faithful Executioner by Joel Harrington

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The Moon and Sixpense by William Somerset Maugham

Tale of the tape: 31 books … 9,794 pages … 4,407,300 words …

Top 3 books: A Death in the Family; The Map and the Territory; Ada, or Ardor

Do you all have lists? Give me some ideas for 2015, please.

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My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

New Year’s Book Total — 2013 Reads

The year 2013 was good for many things, and books also, but not for total books read. At least, not according to my standards. Lots of reasons can be sited, but none particularly worthy of the let-down. I had time, and while not having wasted it, made use of those minutes and hours for other — equally important — passions: food, travel, writing work, loving, thinking.

Yet I did read some good books in 2013, some of them having big page-counts. The statistics hold up well:

22 books read

7,924 pages

3,317,125 approx. words

 

So without anymore fanfare nor excuses, her is my list, in chronological order:

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Tunc by Lawrence Durrell

2666 by Roberto Bolano

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

Nunquam by Lawrence Durrell

In the Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester

 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

Cordial & Corrosive by Sophie Hannah

Letting Go by Philip Roth

Bleeding Edge by Pynchon (suck!)

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Aligheri

The Night Train by Carl Purdon

Art & Lies by Jeanette Winterson

Darkness Visible by William Golding

Under the Autumn Star by Knut Hamson

Max, the blind guy by Mark Beyer (pub 2014)

 

I shan’t give my faves, though you all must understand, I don’t read bad books (ie. anything with vampires, zombies, or sentimental love, and, NO, I am not sorry for that). Please tell me, on FB or in the comments below, what you’ve read, your list, your stats, or just your faves.

Happy New Year!

Couples Reading

I’ve started reading Philip Roth’s “Operation Shylock” (1992) and Asia is into the late first-quarter of Roth’s “Letting Go” (1961). This is not a battle, and we refrain from trading quotes (even though I recently re-read LG). Roth’s books, for us, are dense with human feeling and psychology, not to mention many beautiful sentences and ways of describing small parts of life we all know but often overlook. These happen on every page, at least once.

Sometimes we’ve read the same book, but not at the same time (no point in owning twin copies, considering the number of books now collected). When we do this, the person who’s already finished the book often asks the present reader “Where are you now?” or “What’s happening to …?” with that anticipation and look of the dramatic irony even the characters in the book can’t match. But we never ask “Haven’t you gotten to the part about …?” We’re ultra sensitive to never giving away what’s to come, even the smallest moment, or snatch of dialogue. This has been 99% successful.

Couples who read together love together. Before reading time begins, there’s some short chat to set the excitement level; after our couple’s reading has run its allotted time, a recap of emotions and character traits, or “what it all means” lets out the anxiety of what’s been discovered. I use “anxiety” because reading Roth — or any strong writer — is a time spent in media dramatica and sometimes one simply needs to get out of that world and into your own. Few enough authors do this to us on the level Roth is capable of inducing. The tension his characters create is incredibly real. You hate them, pity them, envy their audacity, despise their stupidity, and laugh with them. Seldom do you want to laugh at them; they are that real in their conflict, and only a jerk laughs at people for that.

We haven’t owned a television since coming together, and neither of us watched that thing for years before our coupling. There’s something stronger in a relationship that has books over television; I truly believe this. Because, while both mediums keep you occupied solo, the wealth of conversation that can be mined from books far outweighs whatever appears on television. Even the good TV programs have only so much in-depth-ness to them; their lack of individual character mental introspection leaves too much left untold. That’s the true failure of television, or even theater. Only Shakespeare’s drama can get away with soliloquies anymore.

Roth has stopped writing novels. Fortunately, I’ve not read all that he’s written. But almost. Yet there are other books of his that I haven’t read in ten years, or even twenty. Their impression stays with me like embossed paper; but re-reading good literature is essential, one of the true ways we pull more and ever greater pleasure from the human experience. Roth wrote more than 25 books, which makes for a good library if one only has a single author’s complete works to take with him on a desert island.

Or to take with you into your living room, where your mate is already on the couch curled up with her book, saving a spot for you under the blanket.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

What New Ways Can Lit Studies Be Wrecked?

I think that Historicism should be an afterthought to studying literature, never the focus. To push aside the characters, the theme, the setting, and thus the story in order to place the “story” in context with the time in which it is set diminishes the beauty and impact of what was otherwise the author’s point in creating that story. Most of the time — if a reader has any knowledge of history and historical eras — one can put forth with ease the simplest of explanations for historical-fiction connection: “That’s how they did things back then” … eg, slavery, war, child rearing, business, etcetera. Now the reader can get down to some deep reading in order to understand what these characters are doing and why they are doing it. Good has always been part of society; evil has always had its role as well. The people who lived within (and who shall yet do so) must tread across the same grounds as ever.

Iris Murdoch dishes some introspective paradox…

Stuart thinks: “Truth was fundamental, his life-oath. Certainty was there, honeydew was there, but meanwhile the dedication remained as a task, cumbersome, detailed, where every minute contained the likelihood of failure. How could such a paradox be lived?”

– Iris Murdoch, “The Good Apprentice”

Books Read Lately

Basic Bech by John Updike

Updike created his alter-ego, Henry Bech, and let him loose on society back in the 1960s (last century!). One overriding characteristic of Bech is that he has writer’s block; he’s had it for several years. He lives off the largess of those who remember him (colleges, societies, institutions) and hire him for weekend talks, foreign tours, etc. … Bech is a libidinous mo-fo, as are so many of Updike’s characters (men); but Bech intellectualizes his sexual excesses. These are great cause for laughter. Ultimately, the Bech stories stand up to time, although we can see the decades from which they spring (for those of us who remember those decades). This minor blip matters little to these stories, which are fun, smart, ribald, and very human.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Eight years ago I read this novel, and sort of understood its meandering time-space-continuum theme. This second reading made more connections for me. Six stories played out by the same characters, re-living their lives in identical, or new, ways, as the Earth moves forward. But does humanity ever move forward? That’s the question the author asks. And, if you’re a student of history and socio-political interconnectivity, the answer is easily graspable. Essentially a morality play, Mitchell writes in six genres, from the Victorian epistolary to science fiction, to futuristic demi-fantasy. Have fun. Pay attention. BTW… a major motion picture is scheduled to open this month.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

The pinnacle of American political novels, the story of Willie Stark, small-town bumpkin done-good by his own Lincolnesqe studies and work against corruption, this novel is more about the Stark’s “men” … a la “Humpty Dumpty” who fell off the wall and couldn’t be put back together again. This is, in fact, the real story of the American Dream: there is no dream, period. The novel is told by Jack Burden, one of Stark’s men and a one-time historian, one-time newsman, whose family’s closet has more skeletons than the town cemetery. The writing is lush, beautiful, imaginative and heavy with so many memorial images. A book you should read before you die.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

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