Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Friday, April 23, 2010

E.M. Forster's Howards End

Howards End
by E.M. Forster

(10: 19/50)

"Only connect,"

The entry below will openly analyze E.M. Forster's Howards End and address specifically its possible themes, symbols and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

Something that has come to my attention through writing about each book I read is that, though I read many modern classics, great authors, and well-reviewed pieces of new fiction, I am perhaps too prone to overstatement. Certainly novels such as Maurice, or The Irresistible Henry House are worthy of high praise, but It occurs to me that too often I am perhaps too distracted by literary technique for objectivity. Perhaps. These are the thoughts that come to mind as I sit down and try to explain why Howards End is such a fantastic novel, and how I can possibly give its greatness adequate perspective.

Howards End is a wonderful, successful, and undeniable true literary classic. Now 100 years old, it still has charm, and its characters are still funny. Henry Wilcox is still absurdly obtuse, Leonard Bast still endearing in his skittishness, Dolly Wilcox still a blundering gaffer. These characters are very real, and very flawed. Their dialogs make coming to the novel a pleasure because they are consistent, well-rendered characters. The last time I explicitly mentioned character was when discussing Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and what strikes me now as it did then is what good are characters without true eccentricities? If one were to meditate on the number of-- truly-- rather dull characters in even great literature, the effect would be crushing. Most characters lack the spark of the hyper-real, and its that particular spark that continues to imbue Howards End with life a century later.

That Forster's novel is plotted with equal deftness is another great relief. He allows fate to guide his narrative and does not clutter up the novel with passing, irrelevant years. Forster moves swiftly, and echoes important ideas enough for clarity but never approaching a bludgeon. Here is a master at work.

Howards End is, as one might expect of Forster, concerned with humanistic ideas. Literary critic (and great admirer of Forster's) Lionel Trilling summed Howards End up thusly:
Bringing together people of different classes and nations by way of sympathetic insight and understanding, Howards End eloquently addresses the question "Who shall inherit England?"

Trilling is here as succinct as one can possibly hope to be. Like Forster's other work, Howards End is concerned with personal connection and empathy. It suggests that the only way to live is to put people first but also that we must first understand ourselves before we can understand those around us. The salvation of everything we know is dependent upon it. This is the second point that Howards End argues: That salvation is not only dependent on the connection between people but between our ideals and practicality; the poetry and the prose as Forster calls it; personified by the Schlegel sisters and the Wilcoxes respectively.

Howards End is an immensely complex novel, my grasp on which I am only tenuously certain. Regardless, it is an outstanding, and touching achievement and one of the finest novels I've ever had the pleasure to read. The more I read E.M. Forster the more I come to believe as he believes-- and also I hope the more compassionate and tolerant I become of others-- and the more I want to emulate him in life and in writing. He makes me want to be a better person. I do not know of a clearer sign of a great writer.

Up Next: The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Regarding Interviews

The reclusive writer is as much a stereotype as the hack and the tortured genius, but like all stereotypes it is founded in fact. It's a notion that is generation after generation confirmed and reconfirmed by those literary luminaries who shy from public attention. While everyone will point to Salinger, only a handful mention the likes of Harper Lee (How many people are even aware she's still alive?), Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy.

The opinions of writers beyond those in their works have always fascinated me. Today, seized by some unknown impetus, I searched for James Baldwin on youtube. To my surprise and delight the writer conducted a number of recorded interviews in his lifetime. One of which included a contemporary, unmythologized opinion of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King before either was assassinated. The only work of Baldwin's I've read does not concern the African-American condition, though I don't doubt his other work addresses it, but even so there is an unparalleled value to these interviews that writers should not and cannot shy away from.

The popular notion is that a writer is a socital commentator through their work, and that pieces of writing are independent, ideally not requiring greater context or elaboration. I believe this to be absolutely true: A piece of writing is wholly independent but a writers responsibility to the world is greater than simply submitting to the vacuum. Writing should not need a greater context or elaboration but should be supplied corroboration.

A work of literature does not need to be explained, or commented upon. This is unnecessary. However, to simply write and submit is a snub to humanity. As a thinker and a commentator you cannot hide from the world: You help to define an age. Your artistic, social, and political views are imperative. Your novel, your play, your poem is a universal thought that makes your beliefs known but can hide your humanity by presenting you only as a mind, and will often given the appearance of disconnection from the very age you live in the general (though certainly not universal) refusal to comment on specific contemporary people, places or events.

Further, print interviews, while valid, and helpful, are pale comparisons. They expand on a writers existence but do not provide a complete picture of temperament and cognisance. Watch the aforementioned interviews with Baldwin: How he collects his thoughts, pauses, and responds in complete. A view of the man, and his writing is expanded upon exponentially without the subject of his writing ever being approached. The identity of the writer as it exists only in their work is complete but abstract; misinterpretation, always a valid threat, can be exacerbated.

In becoming a writer, you become a commentator, and that cannot be done only at your desk. There is far too much to say, too much of the present too pedantic to address in such a way, for you to simply content yourself.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Lisa Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House

The Irresistible Henry House
by Lisa Grunwald

(10: 18/50, N: 2/10)

"Did it matter that, over the course of the next few weeks, six different women would sing Henry House six different lullabies? Or hold him in six different favorite positions?"

The entry below will openly analyze Lisa Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.


In mid-century America, an infant orphan is presented to a hard-lined matron named Martha, the instructor of Wilton College's Home Economics Practice House program. The infant, assigned the name Henry House, is the college's new practice baby. The novel follows Henry from infancy to manhood; from the safe post-war forties to the turbulent late sixties, and considers with great clarity the effects of such an unusual beginning. Loaded with a knock-out of a premise, Lisa Grunwald's new novel is a charming, understated accomplishment.

Grunwald's novel is, among a number of things, about the unforeseen consequences of our benign, often well-intentioned actions, and also the difficulty of surviving and forgiving their effects. The practice house upbringing, which was-- factually-- the start for hundreds of mid-century orphans, and the notion of which leaves one aghast today, was considered once a prime foundation for orphan children. Grunwald makes point to outline this notion among others a number of times in her novel. As they say about the road to hell... but how can it be constituted as wrong or evil despite the terrible result?

Even in his youth at the hands of his many mothers, Henry is a creature of mimicry. The product of a fake home, and transitory mothers becomes a child, and then a man incapable of genuine feeling and attachment. It spreads cancer-like into his career ambition. And who is, quite simply, yearning for a true guiding hand.

At its core, Grunwalds novel is simply an argument for a strong, checked, and consistent voice in a child's life. There is an acknowledgement here that mistakes are bound to be made, scarring, terrible mistakes but that seeking forgiveness for inflicting them is all that we can hope do to, and which is, ultimately, the mark of an adult.

Grunwalds novel is not a compulsory read. It's a novel that requires a certain interest and patience to watch come to boil, but ultimately reveals its understated delicacy and heart in its concluding chapter. So I wouldn't call it irresistible, but it's the rare book whose conclusion isn't a redemption but rather a realization. A very good book, warmly if cautiously recommended.

Up Next: E.M. Forster's Howards End

Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

Pprize.com is humbled: The website, dedicated to Pulitzer Prize speculation, has only been around since 2007 or so, but for the first two years of its existence it accurately included the winner and one of the two finalists in its fiction short list. There was a lot of buzz in the comments there that Jayne Anne Philips's Lark And Termite would take the award, and just a few nods in the direction of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. The jury seems to have surprised us all.

The award for fiction went to Tinkers by Paul Harding (not even included in Pprize's speculation) and the finalists were Love in Infant Monkeys by Lydia Millet and In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin. Like last year, I know little about any of these books. I'd heard murmurs about Tinkers but nothing substantial. I can tell you though, get your hardcover now if you want it. Seems to be Tinkers was a small press release and as of an hour after the announcement, they're running for $99 used on amazon-- just forty five minutes earlier the cost was half that. That's bound to drop in the coming months, but its rarity will be true in the long term as well.

The prize for Drama was given to Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's Next to Normal, which was not selected by the nominating jury. It is now only one of four musicals to have won the Pulitzer prize for Drama. I have not seen Next to Normal, but I have heard its soundtrack a handful of times, and as is the case with a musical, it tends to give you a relatively clear idea of the whole. I can't say I'm disappointed with the selection, but I will say I'm a bit surprised. Next to Normal was generally very well received, but it didn't win the Tony (Billy Elliot did) more over I've always thought its lyrics were lacking; the rhymes are predictable and the profusion of profanity is not only distracting but annoying. Its subject may (though this is an arguable point, I've always regarded it as a bit retardataire; the kind of work needed in the mid-late 90s) be poignant and harrowing but I've begun to regard it as downright unlistenable. But what do I know about music?

The finalists were The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph, and In the Next Room or the vibrator play by Sarah Ruhl.

The last point of interest, and that which was speculated on the most, was if the awards in Journalism would finally make a notable acknowledgement of online writing after a recent slack in qualifying rules. Well. The award for editorial cartooning went to an online outlet (Mark Fiore, SFGate.com) and the awards for Investigative Reporting and Breaking News Reporting both acknowledge online outlets. Is that notable? I'm not sure. Investigative reporting is the "big" one, so I presume so, but I really couldn't say.

Last year at this time, I had a life-long count of having read 4 Pulitzer winners for Fiction(/the novel). This year I have a life-long count of 7.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reflections on a Run: Gay Fiction

A month ago to the day, I was opening up Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian and beginning a foray into gay literature, which concluded last night with the end of Baldwin's Giovanni's Room. I undertook the challenge of reading the books because, having only what I then perceived as minimal experience with gay fiction, It seemed a necessary step for me to take.

I think perhaps the most striking discovery about the experience is perhaps the least surprising; that a label does not necessarily dictate thematic subject. I had a perception (and thereby a fear) that the fiction (I think maybe because so much African American literature concerns itself with societal condition) would surround common ideas, and more or less reiterate them.

Additionally, I've always had a particular dislike of identity fiction. In the context of literature that speaks to/about a specific minority of people, it makes sense. It fosters a misguided (though not necessarily bad) sense of community; Can establish pride in an aspect of your identity that you might not have but I had always thought there was a certain polarizing effect to identity literature as well. It divides a population into boxes; these people and those people, as it were rather than a universal "Us". Not on an entirely conscious level perhaps but to the extent that certain stories are perceived as more "For" someone than others.

So, to get back on track, it was surprise for me to find that gay fiction wasn't constantly, or at least obsessively, concerned with notions of personal acceptance, and living honestly. Certainly these proved to be pivotal topics in Maurice and Giovanni's Room, and I would expect also in the other pillars gay fiction, but even in these you find more universal thematic concerns. The subjects were as diverse as the deification of mankind in Memoirs of Hadrian, to how denial manifests itself in our efforts to cope with tragedy in Mysterious Skin. However, It appears also and likely by nature, to be a foreword progression.

Forster's Maurice, written at the beginning of the 20th century, was the most concern specific novel I read. While it is a humanistic novel, much like Forster's other work, its focus is almost entirely on a homosexual man struggling to accept his sexuality in a time and place that didn't. It's the sort of novel I had expected to encounter. By the time of Giovanni's Room in the 1950s, concern specific ideas seem to have been minimized: There are still notions of self and societal acceptance but in comparison to Maurice, they have been shrunken down to serve more universal notions. With Mysterious Skin and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, concern-specific notions are in complete service of greater ideas, elements serving story rather driving it.

It may seem strange that I was surprised by that, but I was. Ultimately, this feeds into the point I made earlier, the feeling that identity fiction is divisional. I think that the new reality is that it is: Writers seem less and less inclined to classify themselves by their identity; they don't want to be a Woman/Gay/Black/Asian/Indian/Latino author, they want to be a writer. Toni Morrison and Amy Tan may be some of the last (possibly despite claims, I'm not checking for what they've said, but looking at their subjects) identity specific authors. We're reaching a point, I believe, that identity literature can only retrospectively be a subdivision. The need to present identity specific literature is passing; those stories have been said, in some cases to exhaustion, and the need now is to disassemble the barriers that make "Us" and "Them" without losing the expression that was striven for.

This run of fiction at least did that for me. It has allowed to me appreciate identity literature, and at the same time recognize why I had disliked it to begin with. Specific concerns can still be expressed but they must be done so in the service of a greater concern, generally speaking. There will always be exceptions based on necessity.

This run was a fantastic experience. It has a way of shaping up to be a self-taught class; between the books, the blog, and wikipedia for biographical and historical information is adds up about right. I'm looking forward to another course, as it were. I even have some ideas. I also wouldn't be surprised if I eventually came back to gay fiction for another set, as five books is hardly exhaustive.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room

Giovanni's Room
by James Baldwin

(10: 17/50)

"I was thinking, when I told Hella that I had loved her, of those days before anything awful, irrevocable, had happened to me, when an affair was nothing more than an affair."

The entry below will openly analyse James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

Ranking on par with Maurice, James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room, published in 1956, is another of the few canonized pieces of gay literature. Its blonde haired American protagonist, David, staggers about Paris in the 1950s, while his would-be-fiance travels Spain, and he begins a liaison with the dashing Italian, Giovanni.

As it is so well illustrated in the quote above, plucked the novel so early on (page three!), this is a novel about the irrevocably of love; That love is something that, once it has been discovered, cannot be forgotten or escaped. It is a revision on the adage that one cannot go home again, which Baldwin uses to illustrate his point as well. David refuses to go back to the United States, and Giovanni cannot return to Italy.

David is essentially a coward, forever running from love; Giovanni's Room, the major symbol of the novel, is representative of Giovanni's past love affairs, and naturally, the situation between he and David. It's wallpaper, with its quaint depiction of 19th century lovers in a garden, is indicative of the love affairs which have come before; ghosts on the wall, omnipresent. The promise of its repair, that laborious construction, representative of the promise of a stable, lasting relationship with its ability to cleanse. And the filth and stench that David despises, its honesty.

The desire to vacate places by the various characters of the novel is futile. These places, which they view as prisons (another fantastic parallel Baldwin incorporates)-- which are prisons, will haunt them wherever they go. Once experienced, there is no escape. Which, I believe, points to a great tragic irony: While the experience of love is irrevocable, the ability to live in it is not interminable.

Giovanni's Room is a novel of elegant precision and craft, that which only a master of the form can wield so expertly. It's characters are raw nerves, aching openly. Their arguments are imbued with desperation and pain, suggesting that their collapse is only a sentence or a word away. A work, in short, of exquisite technical prowess and deep empathetic concern for its characters, perfect to the last sentence and faulty perhaps only in that it is so short.

It accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, and for that I can only be praised, but what brevity doesn't allow it is time for its readers to entrench themselves with its characters to be equally effected. Still. It's hard to argue against something so well done, and unquestionably, a classic.

Up Next: Lisa Grunwald's The Irresistible Henry House

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Library of America Fail (And Win!*)

Dear friends and loyal readers may remember that a few months ago, after finishing Shirley Jackson's complex and suspenseful The Haunting of Hill House, I mentioned that Library of America would be publishing a volume of Jackson's work which I hoped would include one of Jackson's three (four if you count The Sundial, as I tend to) out-of-print novels.

After two months of checking the Library of America website twice a week for a table of contents for the upcoming volume, it has finally been posted.

I certainly understand that Library of America is a prestige publication, in fact, it is the unofficial cannon of great American authors, and therefore I also understand why it is necessary that Jackson's major work (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle) be included. However, while I appreciate that the volume will include previously uncollected stories and unpublished short stories, the omission of all of these other novels is a sore disappointment to me.

The consolation is, at least, that I can now spend largish sums of money without buyers guilt to obtain copies of them.

*Check out the comments!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
by Michael Chabon

(10: 16/50)

"'You weren't the same person when you came out as you you went in. Houdini's first magic act, you know, back when he was just getting started. It was called 'Metamorphosis'. It was never just a question of escape. It was also a question of transformation.'"

The entry below will openly analyse Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and address specifically its possible themes, symbols and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

Back in 2007, author Bret Easton Ellis called The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay one of the three greatest novels of his generation; a strong statement by an author who is himself greatly admired by many. While the man is certainly welcome to his opinion, I can't help but feel that the praise is exaggerated.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a vibrant chronicle of the most exuberant and tremulous periods of a quintessentially American art form, the comic book. It is a portrait that is both inseparable and disparate from one of the darkest epochs of history, World War II and the Holocaust.

Chabon's novel is concerned with escape: From the physical, choking restrictions and dangers of Nazi-occupied Prague, from the innermost secrets of ourselves, from the painful struggle of domesticity, from the hard truths of reality, and from past escapes that in their new reality have morphed themselves into traps of their own. Yes, it's a novel about escape, but more importantly it's a novel about how our escapism is not, as we often perceive it to be, disparate from our reality but rather intimately involved in shaping it. It is a notion that Chabon makes manifest in the characters of Carl Ebling and Tracy Bacon who become physical embodiments of the fictional characters within the world of the novel.

The notion that Kavalier and Clay is Chabon's magnum opus is accurate. It insists upon escapism's importance in our lives, and that the "lower" crafts (television, comics, genre fiction, etc) are in no way inferior to their "loftier" peers. It's a belief that Chabon has enacted upon since the publication of Kavalier and Clay with The Final Solution, Gentlemen of the Road, and the Yiddish Policeman's Union. This is the battle Chabon has devoted himself to, and in Kavalier and Clay there is a passionate, articulate argument for it.

All this may seem rather incongruous considering where we began. Make no mistake, Chabon's novel is a work of exquisite plotting, and literary deftness; it is very enjoyable, and undeniably the technically best of his work I've read, likely of all his work; it is a novel worthy of the Pulitzer it won but it is very often a work that lacks emotional resonance. That is a criticism that sounds harsher than I intend it to be. For myself, the hallmark of a work of genius, the stories that inevitably become my favorites, are those that move me to emotional extremes or are of staggering technical impressiveness. Chabon's novel fails to reach either of these extremes, but it is absolutely a great read.

Up next: James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room

Monday, March 29, 2010

Ruminating on the 2010 Pulitzers

The 2010 Pulitzer Prize winners will be announced in two weeks on April 12th, and it seems like that fact is stalking me. I'm reading a Pulitzer winner, I'm drafting a comprehensive list of fiction winners for the local library; even the local library's book club is doing a Pulitzer winner.

Last year when Olive Kitteridge was announced the 2009 recipient, I didn't know anything about the book or couldn't have even made any sort of prediction as to what might have won. Over the course of that year however, I read five new titles* and more importantly became more conscious of the titles being released, so I'm a little more prepared to weigh in this time around. Last year, I consulted pprize.com for their list of likely winners. This is their prognostication, in order of likelihood:
1. My Fathers Tears by John Updike
2. Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Philips
3. Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow
4. The Humbling by Philip Roth
5. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
6. The Maple Stories by John Updike
7. American Salvage by Bonnie Jo Campbell
8. Spooner by Pete Dexter
9. Generosity: An Enchantment by Richard Powers
10. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by David Mueenuddin
11. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
12. A Good Fall by Ha Jin
13. The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich
14. Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
15. Dear Husband (or Little Bird of Heaven) by Joyce Carol Oates
So that's a lot of books, not all of which am I familiar with and only one of which I've actually read. Based on reviews, I'd argue that Roth and Doctorow are both easily discounted, despite their high positions on the list; Both books were at one point priorities for me, but with mediocre reception, they've been relegated to sometime in the future.

John Updike, though his final collection My Father's Tears got very good reviews, is likely featured so prominently on the list due to his passing at the beginning of 2009. True he had passed by the time of the 2009 nominations, but the Widows of Eastwick was poorly received and would have been discrediting. I wouldn't expect Updike to win this year either. Updike has won twice in the past, and so there's no sense of career validation (though I don't feel that's a concern with the Pulitzers anyway) and additionally, there has never been a Pulitzer winning short story collection that hasn't begun with "The collected stories of" or "The stories of."

I also wouldn't bet on Oates. Her prolifacy is a bit of a detriment to her, and more over if her most successful novels such as them or Blonde were passed over, I don't think this is the year to expect a change. I do think Jonathan Lethem has a strong chance of winning. Chronic City has a strong literary progeny, has been frequently cited as one of the best books of the year, and has had -- at least for myself -- a near ubiquitous presence creating the urge for me to read it.

Call it a kind of vanity, or naivete, but I genuinely believe that the one book on this list I did read, Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, has an especially good chance of taking the award. The Pulitzer is an American award, given to American authors, yes, but also with preference given to books dealing with American life. Let the Great World Spin is a book about how lives converge in the face of massive events; a novel about New York in the 1970s, but also unmistakably tied to New York in the wake of 9/11. Not only did Let the Great World Spin win the National Book Award (which isn't a great signifier, actually. Only five works of fiction have taken both in the National Book Award's 60 year history), but I think it also, at least of what I know the books above, meets the criterion best.

However, that leaves a number of books I'm familiar with on levels ranging from having thought about buying it, book in hand to complete ignorance of both author and title. Anyway. That's my predictions for what they're worth.

*Lowboy by John Wray - Nobody Move by Denis Johnson - Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann - Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz - This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Authors and their Fan Pages

I was crawling around the internet last night, and for some reason it struck me to compare the number of fans authors have on facebook (some authors have more than one page because people don't know how to search properly on facebook, and in the purpose of cleanliness only the combined number will be shown).

Biggest Legion Found: Dan Brown, 144, 742
Smallest Group Found: Betty Smith, 91 Fans
Greatest Unexpected Reality: Paul Auster, 35, 887 Fans

J.K. Rowling: 69,912 Fans
Stephanie Meyer: 30, 400 Fans

Danielle Steel: 30, 030 Fans
Nora Roberts: 16, 077 Fans

Stephen King: 141, 521 Fans
Dean Koontz: 36, 590 Fans

Fyodor Dostoyevsky: 34, 164 Fans
Leo Tolstoy: 17, 651 Fans

Norman Mailer: 1,692 Fans
Gore Vidal: 6, 043 Fans

Harper Lee: 287 Fans
Truman Capote: 10, 437 Fans

Ernest Hemingway: 10, 631 Fans
William Faulkner: 11, 740 Fans

Nathaniel Hawthorne: 1, 614 Fans
Edgar Allen Poe: 32, 487 Fans

Philip Roth: 1, 620 Fans
Don DeLillo: 897 Fans

Kurt Vonnegut: 17, 662 Fans
Ray Bradbury: 17, 615 Fans

So that doesn't include Austen, Dickens, Salinger, Orwell, Kerouac, Joyce, Jackson, Mann, Forster, Cheever, Carver, or an absurd number of others, but I think it gets the job done.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

E.M. Forster's Maurice

Maurice
by E.M. Forster

(10: 15/50)

"There seem two roads for arriving at Beauty-- one is in common, and all the world has reached Michelangelo by it, but the other is private to me and a few more. We come to him by both roads."

The entry below will openly analyse E.M. Forster's Maurice and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

If you were to look up works of gay fiction, there are few titles-- if any-- you would find referenced as one of the best as frequently as Maurice. First published in 1971, Forster's novel actually dates back to 1914, and yet, perhaps distressingly so, its reason for literary significance, even at such a late date, hadn't seemed trivial. It's the first novel of my run on gay fiction that is of substantial note in the cannon.

Characteristic of Forster, Maurice is a novel with a humanist theme. Maurice is a normal man in almost every imaginable way: He's an attractive young man, of good social rank, capable but not impressive, nor is he very brave or especially smart. He's perfectly average except, of course, that he's gay and it's this that sets Maurice apart from other people. It is part of his private road: The way by which he comes to the world and other people that is unlike that of anyone else.

Through Maurice, Forster is making a case for empathy. Not only is Maurice misunderstood by other people, but he misunderstands them as well; two struggles that are at the heart of this novel, consistently embodied in Maurice's loneliness. Forster makes Maurice normal in every way imaginable to insist on normalcy's relativeness to personal nature. It's not something that can be weighed comparatively between people.

Maurice and Clive, at first so similar to one another become the other's foil, and the results, sparing detail here out of consideration, elicit strong emotion. Maurice, Clive and Alec each serve, in their way, Forster's assertion.

Maurice is a work of deft subtly, exploring empathy, love, and class within the confines of the old novel: elaborate craftsmanship in the guise of a simple romance. It's the sort of novel whose beauty doesn't dawn on you until the crisis of plot and cleaver turns of phrase have turned to embers in your memory: still drawing oxygen, but no longer serving to distract. The novel insists upon being read twice.

It's a book worthy of it's place in the cannon not only for its historical literary significance, but also for its genuine merit. Perhaps I come to Forster by two paths myself, but I can only expect I'll be returning soon.

Up Next: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Borders

There are a few things that when my attention is forced upon them, my heart aches as though someone is pulling apart the organ's tissue. I suppose am I the worst capitalist in America because nothing effects me quite so significantly as a failing business. I don't know if it's the prospect of the jobless, or of the spectral husks of former places of commerce, or simply the demarcation of some sort of change but any place threatening to close its doors forever has never failed to instill a sense of profound sadness.

I've mentioned the looming decline of booksellers before I believe, but if you're wanting for concrete proof, you can find it here.

I could write a long post about how terrible the world would be without actual, physical booksellers, or detail the path of the store's decline but I don't feel there is a particular need. I don't know what it's been like in the rest of the country, for you, but in my little niche of New York I've seen a lot of places, local and chain alike, close up shop. Frankly, it depresses the hell out of me.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Defining Gay Fiction

As I've mentioned previously, I'm making an effort to read gay fiction at present. For this reason, I've spent a good deal of time reading about and exploring the internet for direction as to which books I should be reading in this short period of narrowed focus. Finding a definitive list of significant pieces of gay fiction has proved a significant challenge.

If you google "best gay fiction", you'll find goodreads and afterelton at the top of the results. These are both democratic mob-rule type lists and they're helpful to an extent but if you're like me, by the time you get to the tail end of each you start the doubt the total credibility. I don't know a thing about Faith and Fidelity by Tere Michaels or A Better Place by Mark A. Roeder but if we were to judge books by their cover... they don't look like the kind of books that belong on any "best of" fiction list.

Conversely, you can find lists like the one compiled by Publishing Triangle which includes works such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Moby Dick, and Little Women among the ranks of the best gay fiction, and although I haven't read all of these, their inclusion seems to be the result of great exaggeration or radical readings.

Ultimately for my own purposes I've had to come to a decision as to what I felt was or could included among the ranks of the best gay fiction. This is how I have come to define gay fiction: Fiction written by a LGBT author, fiction concerned with gay themes or subjects, and/or ideally, a work of fiction with a LGBT central/major character whose sexuality is in some minor or major way an element of the composition.

I think this definition gives the niche the breadth it's due without being absurd about what's inclusive. I think it would be a great thing to see a list, considerate of historical and influential importance, assembled of the legitimate best gay fiction.

If the world is waiting on me to do it they'll be waiting awhile. I have far too much reading to do.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin

Mysterious Skin
by Scott Heim

(10: 14/50)

"'Yes,' Avalyn said. 'And it's okay. As hard as it is to believe, it's going to be okay'"

The entry below will openly analyse Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

A lot of debut novels are the product of a master's thesis, it's not a particularly uncommon occurrence. The downside to these works, despite that many are very good, is that they often have in them the ticks and missteps of a young writer. Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim is one of those kinds of books.

This a book is concerned with sexual trauma: exploring the different avenues in which a mind comes to cope with it, but how ultimately rooted in each is simple denial of the truth. Neil and Brian both grapple with their past in significantly different ways, and to a far lesser extent, some of the supporting characters share in that as well. However, this is a difficult book to make a case for thematically without simply outlining the plot, and that thematic monotone is just one of the problems with the novel.

The great danger of writing a novel with multiple narrators is that you have to be assured that each of your narrators as equally interesting as the others. The other great danger is that if your narrative is one that converges, as is the case with Mysterious Skin, you have to be assured that the assembling parts are equally interesting. I'm unconvinced that Heim does this successfully.

The narrative is split between its two major characters, Neil and Brian, and I believe that the major problem here is that Heim manages to imbue a fascinating perversity to the sections concerning Neil that is aptly absent from Brian's sections, but to unsatisfying effect as there is nothing equally fascinating in his narrative line. You're forced to read Brian's sections with a certain apathy as they lack anything especially compelling, and are -- I believe-- leading to an obvious resolution. Sex will always trump people talking about aliens.

Heim is also very fond of similes. He shouldn't be. His have a tendency to be silly, contrived, and on occasion, unnecessary. Do we really need to know the toothpicks were like "tiny swords"? Also, why should the toothpicks be like tiny swords when they might as well be tiny sword toothpicks? There is exactly one simile in the entire novel I remember liking, something to the effect of "like the clouds had been dunked in grape juice"-- and, well, that's all.

Unnecessary components are a large part of the issues with this novel too. It goes far beyond similes, and well into major narrative points: some of which aren't even adequately resolved which furthers the problem. I, for one, liked Eric Preston as a narrator and was a little tiffed when he left the story without any indication of his romantic future but was the story component necessary at all? Why play it up if you're not going to resolve it? Sure it helped give him a character, but that's all and the disinterest in resolution speaks to its general and thematic unimportance.

Heim's novel is certainly readable: It's never especially boring, and the depths of perversity that he explores are fascinating and engaging, but the novel is weak in the knees and it's only a slight push away from collapse at times.

Up Next: E.M. Forster's Maurice

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taking a Critical Lens to the Critical Lens Essay

Every state has its own education guidelines and requirements. In New York State these include the regents exams; a series of tests spread out over the four years of high school in every major subject. The English regents examine is perhaps the biggest of them. The test is taken in the Junior year, and it consists of two three-hour testing sessions. In my own experience the critical lens essay, a major component of the test, was what our school prepped us for with the greatest amount of rigor.

The critical lens essay, for those who are unfamiliar, is an essay which examines the validity of a quote, and either supports or refutes the statement using two pieces of literature to support their position. The perceived intent here is to show that our students are thinking creatures by asking them to interpret and analyse these quotes and by default the literature they have already read. That's a fine intention but the critical lens, at least within its present state, isn't the proper method of execution.

Firstly, let me share with you the quotes which have appeared on regents exam over the past two years or so
( http://www.nysedregents.org/ComprehensiveEnglish/):
"A real hero is always a hero by mistake..."
-Umberto Eco

"Fear always springs from ignorance."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

"...the strongest man upon the earth is he who stands the most alone."
-Henrik Ibsen

"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly..."
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

"Whoever does wrong, wrongs himself..."
- Marcus Aurelius
Notice anything strange about these? You can, of course, form a dissenting opinion about anything but by large these quotes conform to general ideals. They're all very safe; notions chosen to elicit a conformity of opinion. And even if one were to disagree with Marcus Aurelius or Umberto Eco, how apt are they to do so on a weighty exam when the notion of consensus is so palpable?

Moreover, consider that, at least in my neck of the woods, it was actively encouraged by our under read educators not to draw support from literature outside of the school cannon. I challenge anyone to dissent with Ibsen when your primary support is limited to the likes of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, Animal Farm. The answers and therefore the evaluation of these statements is built in; brainwashed. The suggestion of a literature pool limited to works you didn't select already conforms you to world view, even if the relative safeness of the quotes hasn't already forced a specific answer. Analysis within these parameters is a joke.

Now let's talk about the burden of proof, and literature analysis. In an ideal world a novel is written because an author wants to make statement about something. The shallow notions the regents tends to choose can conform to these intents because they're shallow. What does Eco's quote require of a text besides a reluctant protagonist? There are few components of storytelling that, to me, seem more text book. But the problem here as I see it is that the critical lens asks a student to conform at least moderately complex novels to simpler notions. The danger of this is that legitimate analysis of intent can devolve into an exposition of plot.

For instance Antoine de Saint-Exupery's quote can be interpreted as simplistically as "Our ability to view the world is dependent on a good conscience," which is in itself not an analysis but rephrased comprehension. A student can proceed to detail the events of To Kill a Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies, making point of Scout and Ralph respectively, for a legitimate "essay". Where in this are analytical reading skills demonstrated? Where are the major themes of these texts referenced in such an essay?

The truth is these types of tests are made easier by the year so that more students are able to pass and more funding is acquired. It's more important that book X be added to the curriculum next year than it is those who will read it understand it.

My two cents? Drop the critical lens essay entirely, and throw a piece of flash fiction on the test. Something like Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants or Carver's Little Things and ask students to analyse them much in the way I analyse books here, sans colloquium. Would this prove students read their assigned literature? No, but it would prove they know how to read.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beyond Prose Fiction: Graphic Novels

I've been using this blog as a forum to post my thoughts on the fiction I've read for a little over two months now, and that will continue to be my primary concern but I thought for all of you who might read this, I'd share the other things I've read recently in little groupings when the opportunity arises. Here are the graphic novels I've read since the beginning of the year:

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young.
Based on the children's novel by L. Frank Baum.

There's no denying that writer Eric Shanower got lucky on this one. Skottie Young's playful, whimsical characters and sweeping Ozian landscapes sell this adaptation on their own. Young's take on Oz manages break away not only the iconic film, but also from the not exactly unrecognizable original illustrations by W. W. Denslow.

It's good that's the case, because Shanower's adaptation is limp. I've said it before: Adaptation is Revision. Shanower doesn't do much beyond lifting Baum's original, repetitive text from the source. While it made sense for Baum to be repetitive when he wrote it in 1900, the elements of the story have become so ingrained in our collective memory at this point that to repeat basic knowledge (The Scarecrow is in search of brains) a dozen times is inexcusable, if for no other reason than wasted panel space. If you haven't ever read the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, It's a fine way to go about it, but returning readers have nothing new to look forward to in the adaptation.

American Born Chinese
by Gene Luen Yang

In an era with novels such as The Joy Luck Club, and Middlesex, there's a very high bar set for cultural identity stories. This isn't to say I'm holding American Born Chinese to quite that standard, but a work-- and a Printz medalist, at that-- audacious enough to approach the subject again best have something to worthwhile to contribute.

I feel the success and notoriety American Born Chinese is due almost entirely to the low expectations of the graphic novel. The three parallel narratives employed work well together, and Cousin Chin-Kee is an inspired literary devise, but Yang's attempt at weaving these three stories together-- or rather, incorporating one of them in particular-- left me annoyed due to tonal inconsistencies and that's damning for a work I had only felt was "pretty good" up until that point.

Joker
by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

Joker is a solid Bat-verse story told from the perspective of no-name thug turned Joker's protege, Jonny Frost. It's a gritty crime story akin, as many who reviewed it at the time of release commented, to the movie universe of The Dark Knight. Lee Bermejo's dirty artwork goes a long way to establishing a tone, and his quasi-realistic take on the Batman villains are, at least, interesting to see.

Frost isn't a very unique protagonist; characters of his ilk are as common his profession but Azzarello does at least make some nice use out of the familiar. Azzarello has a tendency to be subtle to a fault here, but in contrast to the crushing obviousness frequently found in cape-and-cowl dialog it's almost forgivable. The plotting is a bit tenuous but what else can you expect about a story starring the Joker?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian

Memoirs of Hadrian
by Marguerite Yourcenar*

(10: 13/50)

"But the gods do not rise; they rise neither to warn us nor to protect us, nor to recompense nor to punish."

The entry below will openly analyse Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

French writer Gustave Flaubert wrote in correspondence, "Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone." This observation, carefully plucked from published letters, would become the genesis of Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian.

Hadrian, so long entombed at the foot of Rome's seven hills, is resurrected in these pages. This book is not a novel but a laboriously achieved possession. Here is a voice of candor, eloquence, and placid, careful consideration; of perfect recollection of time, place, and company. Yourcenar ceases to exist in these pages; There is only Hadrian. It is with bitter resentment that one remembers that this great voice, this god of a man, is now only a shade upon the Earth.

And therein is the perfect beauty of Yourcenar's novel. Fixed within a period of history where the Roman gods were fond tradition but of no substance, and the cult of Christ had no more credence than that of Mithra, Yourcenar deifies Man. Embodied within Hadrian, the strong but largely pacifistic Emperor; the passionate and later mournful lover of the fair Antinous; the brilliant and read but far from diluted intellectual, is the paradigm of mankind. The Man who is as worthy of deification and veneration as any god.

Yourcenar doesn't use history to her ends; From the transience of religion to the common deification of mortal men like Antinous, it bends to her.

Memoirs of Hadrian is an exhaustingly precise, exquisite rendering of one man, and his place in history. Through his triumphs and failures, his virtues and vises, his passion and his heartbreak, Yourcenar tenderly insists on Man's assent to godhood and place in a pantheon, which surely already houses at least one charlatan or two.

Memoirs of Hadrian is beautiful, and impressive, filled with insights both familiar and fresh, and written in the voice of a man whose inability to continue existing is almost painfully lamentable. And as Hadrian-- or rather, Yourcenar-- tells us, the gods do not rise.

*Translated by Grace Frick

Up next: Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why I Won't Read Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Almost exactly two years ago, over the course of a week long recess from classes, I hunkered down in the common room of my all but abandoned dormitory and began to read John Green's Looking For Alaska. There's nothing particularly special about Looking for Alaska; It's a printz medalist, yes, and also a very good, if flawed, young adult novel but these aren't the reasons for my strained recollection. Looking For Alaska, if I may be so indulgent to say so, was a baptism of sorts into this epoch of my life. Zeitgeist or no, one way or another, I owe John Green a hefty debt. Which is why I can't help but feel a margin of guilt for not planning to read his new novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, due out in April.

The primary reason for my betrayal stems from John Green's 2008 novel, Paper Towns. His third novel, like his first and second, featured an intelligent, forlorn, nerd protagonist and an enigmatic, wild, and ultimately misunderstood love interest. The themes, at least of Alaska and Paper Towns, are identical twins, different in appearance only under pedantic, critical inspection. I'll spare you further details, but needless to say I was very disappointed.

In addition, Will Grayson, Will Grayson is co-authored by fellow YA writer David Levithan, best known for the novels Boy Meets Boy and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Levithan is one of the few young adult authors I'm aware of writing stories about gay characters, which I regard to be of particular importance. I don't have much first-hand experience (though I'm working on it, as you'll see by my next few book choices) but most adult gay fiction seems to be cynical or smut. Neither is what a young gay teen needs and so I have a lot of respect for him, but because his work seems to be sticky adolescent faith-renewer, I have always hoped to avoid reading him. I'm far too much of a cynic myself.

And then, of course, there's the description of the novel itself:
One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.
If using fabulous and musical in the same sentence weren't enough of a turn-off, If I were to hazard a guess, this novel is going to concern itself with self-appreciation or-- God help me-- truly understanding other people. Two characters with the same name? Really? There's only so many places you can go with that in a YA novel.

John Green, I want to support you, I do. I owe it to you to try, and I enjoy being a loyal reader, honestly. So why do you have to make it so goddamn hard?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No Comprendo

I am a bit of a purist/perfectionist when it comes to experiencing literature. For example: I won't read Zadie Smith's On Beauty until I've read E.M. Forster's Howard's End because I know Smith's work is intimately tied to the novel. By large, I simply consider this good, albeit frustrating, practice. There's no sense reading a work if you don't have the proper tools for comprehension.

This isn't to say I'm fanatical. If I were, Side Effects by Woody Allen would have required countless philosophical perquisites; Gentlemen of The Road by Michael Chabon mounds of adventure fiction. However, I'm now reading French writer Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian. I consider myself fortunate that the English translation of Hadrian was written in conjunction with the author, otherwise I'd probably be waiting until I learned French.

Translations, for me, pose a particularly challenging problem. There is, of course, no perfect translation. Literarial meaning, brevity, tone, and prose quality all battle against one another in translation. This being the case, I have it in my head that I should wait until I know German to read Thomas Mann; Spanish to read Gabrial Garcia Marquez; French to read Gustave Flaubert; Russian to read Dostoevsky. And while I hope to learn some of these languages in the future, it's inane to think I can learn all of them.

While I am aware of this consciously, my mind continues to work in absolutes: What I have read, and what I have not read. I regard each translation as one should: as a separate individual work. After all, how can you say you've read these authors when the words you're reading weren't strung together by them? The author's conceits and the translator's aesthetics. Perhaps most frustrating, a translation is also corrupted by a translator's interpretation.

I've read and own three different translations of Henrik Iben's A Doll's House. Sure they're the similar, but you'd be crazy to say they're all the same. One offers great heightened dialog, another exquisite subtext. If it's not the original, there is always a sacrifice. Every time Hadrian translator Grace Frick incorporates the phrase "Pell-mell" I know it comes at the expense of a much more apt French word or phrase. And all of this ignores the great trouble of actually choosing a translation.

I don't have a conclusion. Simply, it's all very problematic for me, and I don't understand why it has to be.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of The Road

Gentlemen of the Road
by Michael Chabon

(10: 12/50)

"'Well, it looks like our boy found himself an army," the African said, shaking his head. "So much the worse for him'"

The entry below will openly analyze Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road and address specifically its possible themes, symbols, and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

It can be argued that Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road is an exploration or at least a reminder of what Jewish civilization has been; that the Jewish people haven't always been stereotypically perceived as Woody Allen or Mort Goldman. Chabon even addresses these conceptions in his afterword. So yes, it can be argued, however, I wouldn't write a treatise on the subject. Gentlemen of the Road is more an adventure novel cut from the same material as the works of Dumas.

In regard to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I suppose it depends on who you ask. The novel unquestionably makes allusions to the various adventure writers of the past, Dumas coming the surface primarily because he epitomises the genre in many regards. Conscious breaks in the narrative timeline, characters masquerading in disguise; it's a grandfather's child, really. And here is where we come to who you ask.

Genre fiction, because it so rarely concerns itself with higher aims, can only be evaluated by its success as a piece of genre fiction. There's no theme to redeem a lackluster narrative. In the case of Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, it's well plotted and attention-holding but not engrossing. The narrative twists and turns numerous times (every chapter or two, really) but the things that you don't already see coming won't surprise you either. Chabon is playing in a sandbox full of toys we grew up with. Combined with sporadic, painfully overwrought passages, the novel is certainly not perfect.

It's an enjoyable read: It moves swiftly (in the good sense), his characters have a visual presence, and the accompanying illustrations are delightful. And despite being as objective as I have been here, I still be have an innate liking for Chabon and his work. I enjoy reading him even if he doesn't impress me, and he is at least unique in that regard.

Up Next: Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian

Friday, March 5, 2010

Obervations: Privilege

There are moments, rare but wonderful, when I remember what a staggering privilege it is to not only be able to be a writer, but to write at all. These moments bring with them an astounding evocation of diverse emotion that, despite not writing as I should, shame is the most minuscule component of. This is the truth of writing.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Woody Allen's Side Effects

Side Effects
by Woody Allen

(10: 11/50)

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

The entry below will openly analyze Woody Allen's Side Effects and address specifically its possible themes, symbols and intent. No plot-related spoilers will be divulged.

Having now read two of Woody Allen's four prose collections, I must profess that I still have no idea whatsoever as to why his prose are considered essays. His "essays" feature fictional characters, absurd situations, and fictional facts, quotes and studies. I understand exaggerated non-fiction, but when you win an O. Henry I think you need to call it what it is. You can call them what you want, but for my own purposes I'm sticking with short stories.

There are two kinds of stories in Side Effects: The irreverent, and funny but ultimately unmemorable satirical sketches and the small handful of genuine short stories. The first includes the likes of Remembering Needleman, a short, mocking piece on intellectual jargon, crackpot theories and general academic bullshittery and Fabrizio's: Criticism and Response, which trashes high-brow criticism and analysis by throwing a restaurant review into absurdity ("Was Spinelli trying to say that all life was represented here in this antipasto, with the black olives an unbearable reminder of mortality? If so, where was the celery? Was the omission deliberate?").

These absurdities provide the greatest amount of humor in the collection. They're all short riffs, Allen generally being very careful not to run a joke into the ground. They're fleeting enjoyments, and I'd argue for that reason really only for the Woody Allen enthusiast.

The stories that round out the collection, such as The Lunatic's Tale and Retribution deal with Allen's typical themes. Dissatisfaction in perfection, Cosmic irony and the like. The major piece of note in this collection is, of course, Allen's O. Henry winning The Kugelmass Episode.

The Kugelmass Episode shares a plot devise with one of my personal favorite Woody Allen movies, The Purple Rose of Cairo. They also share similar themes, but while The Purple Rose of Cairo is, I believe, primarily concerned with our need for escapism, The Kugelmass Episode is more concerned with our desire for the unattainable. We've all fallen in love with a fictional character at some point, haven't we? The Kugelmass Episode argues that it is our subject of affection's innate disconnection from our lives that makes them desirable. Frankly, I'm set to start a campaign for this story to be published as a preface to each volume of the Twilight Saga.

Side Effects is a very enjoyable collection, but the Kugelmass Episode is, quite honestly, a little heartbreaking because after reading its flawless concluding sentence there is a definitive sense that you've hit the peak not only of the collection, but of Woody Allen's prose as a whole. It's not a perfect story, but its damn good. If you don't ever plan on reading Side Effects, I encourage you to at least seek out that particular story. There are full-text versions of it online if you google for them.

Up Next: Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Weighing In: Auster or Roth?

Excuse me for taking so much time to find this video (I do like to share these things early on, not months later), but I did want to share it regardless. Paul Auster, whom I recently read for the first time, comments on author Philip Roth's beliefs on the future of the novel:



Personally, I want to side with Auster. I want to keep the faith, but I've written along these lines before and quite honestly I agree with Roth. Auster is correct in asserting that story is cemented, but of the novel I'm doubtful. Auster seems, and I say this without accusation of any kind, out of touch with society: No computer; Mentioning radio-plays without any sense of irony. I'm in no position to accurately compare their fiction, but I'd argue that Roth is more concerned with and therefore more aware of the status of modern society than Auster by a large margin.

A question to the void: Do you agree with Auster or Roth or neither?