For some fullblown book reviews, see www.seltzerbooks.com/reviews.html
Richard Seltzer, email@example.com
Please consider, to add to your list: Rodney Hall : Captivity Captive and David Malouf : Remembering Babylon or curlow Creek.
I stumbled across your home page while doing a Yahoo search for one of my favorite authors, Richard Powers. I'm a 40-year old New York litigation lawyer, and I have been a compulsive reader of fiction, particularly contemporary American fiction, for most of the last 30 years. I was delighted to see the amount of overlap in our tastes, but I must say that I was flabbergasted by the depth and breadth of your reading tastes.
Of all the books I've read in the 1990's, "The Gold Bug Variations" is the one that has stayed with me the most - I get goosebumps any time I see the "Today In History" box in my local newspaper and think back on the book. And it turned me (a punk rocker from 1975) into a big Glenn Gould fan; I never go anywhere without my CD of the 1981 recording of the Goldberg Variations. "Three Farmers" was nearly as impressive, especially when you consider how young Powers was when he wrote the book - not much older than Pynchon was when he wrote V. I'm holding off on reading "Galatea 2.2," only because I don't want to run out of Powers too quickly.
I thought I would take the liberty of making a few recommendations to you. First and most important to me is a French novel that I finished a few months ago: "A Very Long Engagement" by Sebastian Japrisot. It is a breathtakingly beautiful and compelling love story/mystery set during and after World War I about a young French woman attempting to determine the fate of her fiance, who was abandoned in no-man's land after self-inflicting a wound to avoid combat. I loved it so much that as soon as I finished it I went out and bought five copies to give to my closest friends.
Although you have read a few books by the now-disappointing T. Coraghessan Boyle, you've missed his earlier and truly wonderful novels, "Water Music" and "World's End." I recommend the later in particular.
Mario Vargas Llosa is also worth pursuing, especially "Conversations In The Cathedral," which is complex but very rewarding.
You should also check out Mark Helprin, whose best books are "Winter's Tale" and "Memoir From Antproof Case."
Finally, see if you can find a copy of "Famous Last Words" by Canadian novelist Timothy Findley, a truly fascinating book about Fascism set at the tail end of WWII.
I wish you the best, and I look forward to finding new books to read by scrolling down your list.
I'm fascinated by your reading list. As a compulsive and rather eclectic reader myself and an occasional list keeper, I wish I had kept the same kind of record. I looked for some of my favorites‹Mafouz' The Cairo Trilogy and Toni Morrison (esp. Song of Solomon) and didn't see these and wondered how you could have missed them. I plan to look back through what you have read more carefully to glean ideas for myself. I'm trying at present to find Vassily Aksyonov's Generations of Winter. You've read something else by him, I think. I heard it reviewed on NPR last week, can find only the third in the trilogy at Wordsworth (Cambridge) and may order it on-line at that wonderful amazon.com I must reread Kogowa's Obasan for a Children in Literature course I am teaching this fall as well as Gaine's A Lesson Before Dying and Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, both required summer reading books for my students. I'm presently in the middle of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance (Thomas Powers) and Anna Quinlan's Object Lesson, and I browse through HTML How-To daily (small bits go a long way here).
Keep up the reading‹how do you have time? What with planning new courses, learning how to create home pages, and being a mother and wife, I find my plate full.
Tyler (Mary Tyler Knowles, Head, English Dept. The Winsor School, Boston, MA) (firstname.lastname@example.org)
All I have read of Mahfouz is a short fable --The Journey of the Fattouma. And yes, I haven't read anything by Toni Morrison. There are many gaps...
I enjoyed Aksyonov's short stories from back in the days of the Soviet Union. Then his fantasy had a hard reality to confront. Now that there is no Soviet Union and he is a rootless emigre, his works seem to have less substance. I've tried many times to read The Island of Crimea, and simply can't get through it. (I have a similar problem trying to get through Christopher Unborn by Fuentes and Midnight's Children by Rushdie -- I lose my bearings and can't get involved, though I love the imagination and the word play).
> I'm presently in the middle of Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance
Love it. That and the Goldbug Variations are his best (and he's one of my favorites).
It's good to hear from you. I have four kids -- two in college (Yale and Sarah Lawrence), one a sophomore at St. Sebastians in Needham, and the fourth a six-year-old. My daughter (the one at Sarah Lawrence) went to Newton Country Day in Newton and was heavily involved in drama; so we've been to a few play productions at Winsor.
I appreciate your reading suggestions. Actually, I probably ought to start a new Web page of books that are high on my list to read next.
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>By the way, it occurred to me that it might be useful to start a "Talk About" page related to reading. Would it be okay with you if I posted your message there?
Sure, go right ahead. I just finished *Object Lesson* and found it delightful. A girl's version of *Catcher in the Rye*. Except for Ella Lefland's *Rumors of Peace*, it's the only one that comes close. I love to talk about books and spend much of my time on the internet searching for reviews or for intelligent commentary. I must admit that much of what I see in the newsgroups is pretty superficial although I have come to correspond and learn a great deal about Japanese Lit and about Latin American Lit from people I've met there. I also came to know someone who has subsequently become a dear friend who is also an English Department Head of a girl's school (Bancroft) through our discussions of books we taught and wanted to teach, had read and wanted to read. I created a list of Resources for the English Teacher on the Internet and gave a talk about these at several conferences (Margins in NYC 1995 spring) and at the NETD (New England Teacher's Day) in Springfield in 1995 fall). I sent these off to English Journal with a post-it attached saying that perhaps they'd be interested.
The article will come out this coming year-when most of the information will be out of date I suspect!!!! At any rate, once out, it will be a good resource (on paper) for English teachers and readers. I don't think I have the patience to put it all into html and am not sure I could now that I gave it to English Journal but such a listing might be useful, especially if it could be kept up to date. I found yesterday, for example, a homepage for South Asian Women's Network with all sorts of annotated bibliography and book reviews, wonderful ones of Rushdie (a panning by the way), etc.
Most of what I did for my Resources List came from listservs such as the AP English one or the Teaching of the American Literatures one (T-AMLIT).
Please put Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and Ernest Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying VERY high on your list of to read. I have lots of other such recommendations if you find these are as wonderful as I think they are.
Cheers, Tyler (email@example.com)
ps. I have two loin children: the oldest a RISD graduate and starving artist in San Francisco, and the youngest a graduate of St. Mark's with a year off before he starts Harvard next fall. My ex-steps are producing children and living in Maine, and my foster daughter, Lauren Slater, published Welcome to My Country: A Therapist's Memoir of Madness (Random House) this past February (with a three-quarters of a million dollars from RH! and now they've given her a huge advance for her next book.) WTMC is fascinating, a bit overwritten, but I love it-esp. the last chapter which is about Lauren's living with us. Random House thought they had a bigger book than in fact it's turned out to be.
Your list of books read since 1958 is quite interesting; it's nice to find another obsessive/compulsive bibliophile out on the Internet.
I notice that you haven't read any Tom Robbins since 1986. You might take another look at his "Jitterbug Perfume" or "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas," both of which I thought were excellent.
I see you've also read most of Vonnegut as well. In a serendipitous moment, I found a hardback copy of one of his books at a used book sale several years ago. The book is now out of print-- it's a television play called "Between Time and Timbuktu."
You put two stars by "Foucault's Pendulum," I see. I'd give it at LEAST that much! It took me several months to read it, and he sent me to the dictionary every couple of pages (which is quite a feat), but the book was incredible.
I'm currently reading John Gribbins' "In Search of Schroedinger's Cat." I'd read the "sequel," "Schroedinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality" and wanted to go back and see what I missed.
I wish I'd have kept track of all the books I've read since seventh grade. I still have quite a lot of them, so I may just start making a list.
Feel free to respond or ignore my e-mail as you like, but if you want to discuss books, I'd be happy to. If you want to get to know me a little bit, check out my web page at: http://lisa.federated.com:443. (Lisa is my alter ego.)
> Your list of books read since 1958 is quite interesting; it's nice to find another >obsessive/compulsive bibliophile out on the Internet.
I guess there must be a lot of us. I've been getting quite a few messages from people who chanced upon that Web page, which I only posted as a lark, not thinking anyone would be interested.
> ... "Jitterbug Perfume" or "Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas," both of which I thought were excellent.
Thanks for the suggestions.
> You put two stars by "Foucault's Pendulum," I see....
I loved all the obscure medieval lore and scholarship, all the build up -- paranoically linking the past the present, rather like Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49 -- but toward the end it seemed to become just another action-thriller. The build up was great, but the climax just didn't work for me.
Seeing that there are other folks out there with similar interests, would it be okay for me to post your message in a sort of "talk about" page related to reading?
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I wouldn't mind you posting my message. I've also been thinking about doing more interesting stuff related to books in my web page, since it's mostly _a lark_ and somewhat (okay, highly) self-indulgent. So if you have any suggestions of things you'd like to see, but don't necessarily want to work on yourself, let me know.
I've enjoyed the opportunity to play with Netscape and html, and the Info systems folks at my place of employment are asking me questions about putting together web pages (I'm their auditor.) Makes for an interesting liaison relationship, when they finally begin to trust that I know what I'm doing.
Thanks for answering, by the way. I noticed after I sent the message that yours is a very busy web site...
If you are looking for the greatest English-language writer of the 20th century, in my opinion, check out Patrick White, the only Australian to win the Nobel prize in literature. Any title you pick up would be good, but here are my favorites:
Novels: The Vivisector, A Fringe of Leaves, Eye of the Storm, Riders in the Chariot, Voss
Short Story Collection: The Cockatoos (especially "The Night the Prowler")
dismayed to find that "The House Of The Dead" wasn't on the list of books you have read. I was wondering why?
I must say you are a very orderly man. Impressive list but I had some holes that seemed to need or beg filling. Enjoyed scanning it though.
No John Berger?
No William Gass?
No Rilke poetry?
Gaddis' Recognitions but not JR?
No Samuel R Delany?
Two John Grisham's (wasn't one enough for all of us?)
Only one Delillo?
FM Ford's Good Soldier but not Parade's End?
Quammen's new book?
No Peter Matthiessen?
Excellent Russian list. As well as Nabokov and Hesse. You've got a ten year jump on me though.
Quite an impressive list; but was surprised to see the novels of Joseph Roth missing. He's a major figure in Central European Literature and someone you might enjoy. (published by Overlook Press, NY) Try his "Hotel Savoy", "Flight Without End" and his masterpiece, "The Radetzky March". All of his work concerns post World War I Europe and writes in a highly accesible prose.....Also, check out the novels of George Konrad (Penguin) and Taduesz Borowoski's "This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentleman" (Penguin). Happy Reading!
Just thought it would be good to confirm Eric Eason's views regarding the work of Joseph Roth. He is without doubt an authour who has for too long been ignored in the English speaking world. Here in Wales it is only possible to obtain 'The Radetzky March' at this point in time, are there any copies of the english language version of 'Job' out there which i could borrow? If any one who visits your page can be of assistance then email me with details.
Diolch yn fawr,
From later related note: Thanks for your prompt reply. Less than four years ago about six of Roth's titles were available in the U.K (and thus Wales) but since then they have all been delated, same story in the U.S from what you tell me.
Thanks for the note pointing out your web site. I just logged in and it looks great. Your kids sound like prodigies. I hope they're getting scholarships to Yale and Saah Lawrence. I have four small children myself, and I 've just been reading "The Bell Curve". Brrrrr. Does IQ determine all that? Scary stuff. I look forward to reading some of the responses to Hernnstein and Murray that are starting to appear.
You have a real passion for fiction. I have read some of the same books. I'm not a list-maker though. I liked "The Wizard of Earthsea" Trilogy. There is a fourth book now, called "Teanu", which relelcts some of the new ideas Ursula K. LeGuin's has absorbed over the past twenty years. The issue of child abuse is covered quite sensitively in 'Teanu". I also liked the Ringworld books by Larry Niven. I see that there is a computer game version of Ringworld, but have not tired it.
My wife has read "The Kitchen God's Wife" and "The Stone Diaries". She is also big on Canadian authors, such as Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Robertson Davies, and Timothy Findley. I tend to read more non-fiction, such as history, computer science, Internet books, etc.
I will post a link to your page from mine.
John Lyon, CNIB Vancouver,http://www.wimsey.com/~jlyon/
I, too, keep a list of the books I read each year. I have done this since 1976. I am 44 years old, so my list comprises my reading for almost half of my life. My wife keeps a list of her reading as well. We don't know what we will ever do with these lists, but we do like to review them from time to time to see how our interests have changed through the years.
I enjoyed perusing your list on the 'Net. Keep it going.
Good reading to you,
David Seymour, Orwigsburg, PA
Interesting. My list serves as sort of an incentive to finish reading books (rather than leaving them half-read, procrastinating that I'd get to it eventually) -- adding an entry is a minor psychological reward I give myself. Also, I'm embarrassed to admit that there are some books that sound interesting but are actually quite forgettable. I occasionally have to check my list to see if I've already read a book that I'm tempted to pick up (e.g., all the Robert Parker mysteries sort of blend together in my mind; also while I love Lem's sci-fi stuff, and look forward to reading new ones, I can't for the life of me remember the titles that I've read.)
As I cruised through your web page (also as a result of a hit on your reference to Richard Powers) I see where I will figuratively be (I'm about halfway behind you).
I've also kept a list of books since 5th grade (when my English teacher asked us to and I kept one going). The breadth of your list is a journey of nearly 4 decades through a personal history indexed by the titles of your books. I offer my congratulations on such an achievement !
On a specific note: There is a curiously compelling character to Powers' books (I've read Galatea and am now beginning Goldbug variations). Perhaps because he combines a deep understanding of technology with an equally sensitive heart for human beings.
On some recommended pieces: Japanese authors (I see you've read Naomi, also by Tanizaki, The Makioka Sisters; Kokoro by Soseki).
On a final note: I've yet to listen to the Goldberg variations. My next step (although I understand it was in Silence of the Lambs ?).
So many variations on a theme... (Kundera's Art of the Novel)
Ran across one of your postings mentioning your "infatuation with, but commitment to" problems with Rushdie and Fuentes' "Christopher Unborn." It just smacked of my own experiences. As an undergrad English major, I read "Midnights Children" with the academic gun to my head, and was completely bowled over by it. But, honestly I would never have gotten through it in any other situation. When it comes to those two authors, I love the sentences but lose interest in the stories for some reason. I've re-read "Midnights.." twice since and still hold to my original opinion....an outstanding novel. But, later attempts to read "Christopher Unborn" never got me past page 50 or so. I was always very interested in the similar premises of the two novels, but apparently not interested enough to dedicate myself to the entirety of it.
Interestingly, though, Rushdie turned me on to a fascination with postmodern, or probably more apt, postcolonial literature, that lead to my current obsession with South American fiction. I can't get enough of Marquez, Borges, Donoso, Asturias, Paz et al. I've read them for years and they really seem to resonate with me.
A side note..."Terra Nostra", another novel by Carlos Fuentes, has also foiled me a few times. I'm bowled over by the language but can't get through the book. There's a line on page 1 that's stuck in my head for years..."Reason that never sleeps produces monsters" and I'm proud to say that since I've enrolled in law school, I've had the occasion to very appropriately insert it into legal discussions.
Any recommendations on subscription lists, online discussion groups concerning literature...I'm in the panhandle of Idaho now and long for someone or place where I can get involved in a give and take on this subject.
From: Jonathan Loschi <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Sat, 9 Nov 1996 17:40:27 -0800 (PST)
How do you feel about Cormac Mccarthy? Reading your correspondence with Rink, I noted his interest in "Conversation" by Llosa. I've read it, it's dense and very politically nuanced as per the area, and would really recommend reading say an Encyclopedia Brittanica entry on (the subject country suddenly eludes my jellied brain) so you'll understand all the references to various political movements contained therein. But, back to my original question, I'd recommend starting with "The War of the End of the World" by Llosa. It's one of his easier reads but very vivid in it's imagery. It's an apocalyptic novel based on a sort of "Koreshian" figure.
And, as way leads on to way, that reminded me of another such novel that remains one of my all time favorites--"Blood Meridian" by Cormac Mccarthy. The man owns the English language. An extremely vivid writer who creates a character in this novel called the Judge who leaps from the page. The last 30 pages knocked my socks off..probably the scariest sequence in fiction I've ever read.
I tore through all of his books shortly thereafter. Some are better than others but his writing is always to be admired.
I read The War of the End of the World last summer. It was a quick read (despite its length). I got caught up in it, but it was like Chinese food -- soon thereafter it was as if I hadn't read it at all. I can't recall any of it.
Thanks for the recommendation. I'll add that to my shopping/reading list.
for continuation of this discussion about Cormac McCarthy etc., with Deane Rink, click here
How wonderful to discover your booklist. I also kept a booklist since 7th grade, but there is a gap for about ten years. It is interesting to go back and see what I read as a kid, some of which I don't even remember.
Have you never read anything by Pat Conroy? If you like John Irving, give Conroy a try. I consider Prince of Tides to be his best, but I have enjoyed others (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline, one other earlier one I can't think of - at least I think so - and Beach Music, his latest - I won't know how I rate that for a while.) Anyway, I highly recommend his books.
I have enjoyed some books from your list, and not enjoyed some - and I have some on hand but haven't gotten around to them yet but will have to now that I see them on your list, ie, LA Power and Light.
Let me know if you are interested my best of the best list. I may like American southern literature more than you do - I don't even see To Kill a Mockingbird on your list.
Hope to hear from you,
Greetings from another reader/list-maker! (http://sound.media.mit.edu/~kdm/personal/books.html)
I was somewhat flummoxed by your review-of/notes-on Infinite Jest. In contrast to your view, I thought that Wallace pulled things together fairly well, though it wasn't at all obvious, and it certainly wasn't handled in an orthodox manner.
The key to the whole novel, as you mention, is the opening scene, where Hal is being interviewed. On page 17, at the top, Wallace writes (as Hal): "I think of John N.R. Wayne, who would have won this year's WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father's head."
I can't remember the passage, but elsewhere it is mentioned that all of J. O. Incandenza's master tapes were buried with his remains, in the Concavity. Hal is tripping (overdosing, perhaps) on DMZ at the interview, and he's thinking about how to fend off the A.F.R. invasion. A lot of this is hazy for me, since I read the book six months ago, but it seems to me that the only real loose end is how does Hal know Don Gately?
I rather enjoyed Infinite Jest on several levels. I love Wallace's prose; his verbal acrobatics are great fun, if a bit longwinded.
I found Hal to be a much more sympathetic character than you did, as well. I also enjoy the type of book where the conspiracies are slowly revealed (I'm halfway through JaneSmiley's Moo, and I have no idea what the plot's about -- Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case was somewhat puzzle-like as well).
Anyway, that's not the real reason I wanted to write. I was in Wordsworth's on Monday and saw a trade paperback of Steve Erickson's Arc d'X, which looked interesting. I was particularly intrigued by the cover blurb by Thomas Pynchon.
I know nothing about Erickson's work, and I see that you have recently read Arc d'X, so I thought I might ask you for some comments about Erickson in general and Ard d'X in particular.
It seems we have a fair amount of overlap in 20th century American literature "likes". I've become a fan of Richard Powers, Nicholson Baker, and Thomas Pynchon, among others. I'm going through your lists looking for reading ideas (Corelli's Mandolin and Smilla's Sense of Snow are already on my bookshelf waiting to be read, along with some Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Joyce (Ulysses), but it looks like there's lots of other good stuff in your extensive lists).
I've only been tracking my reading for two years, and in fact I haven't been reading "good" stuff for all that long (In high school and college, I was a big consumer of Stephen King, Anne Rice, Tom Clancy, and Michael Crichton), but I'm 25 and a computer scientist, so it's not that much of a disgrace that I've only recently started to read worthwhile stuff. Ouch, that sentence was long.
I'd appreciate any specific recommendations if you find the time to peruse my "have read" list. I was about to recommend Mark Helprin to you, but I see you've already read AntproofCase. That's a great one.
>Greetings from another reader/list-maker! (http://sound.media.mit.edu/~kdm/personal/books.html)
I'll take a look and add a pointer.
>I was somewhat flummoxed by your review-of/notes-on Infinite Jest. In contrast to your view, I thought that Wallace pulled things together fairly well, though it wasn't at all obvious, and it certainly wasn't handled in an orthodox manner.
>The key to the whole novel, as you mention, is the opening scene, where Hal is being interviewed. On page 17, at the top, Wallace writes (as Hal): "I think of John N.R. Wayne,who would have won this year's WhataBurger, standing watch in a mask as Donald Gately and I dig up my father's head."
>I can't remember the passage, but elsewhere it is mentioned that all of J. O. Incandenza's master tapes were buried with his remains, in the Concavity. Hal is tripping (overdosing, perhaps) on DMZ at the interview, and he's thinking about how to fend off the A.F.R. invasion. A lot of this is hazy for me, since I read the book six months ago, but it seems to me that the only real loose end is how does Hal know Don Gately?
I think there's a question of how easy or difficult should a writer make it for a reader to decipher what's going on. There are individual chunks of this book that are clearly brilliant. But I had a lot of trouble trying to figure out how the chunks fit together -- not issues of "meaning", just plain plot. That seriously distracted from my understanding and enjoyment of the book as a whole.
>I rather enjoyed Infinite Jest on several levels. I love Wallace's prose; his verbal acrobatics are great fun, if a bit longwinded.
I'll second that.
>I found Hal to be a much more sympathetic character than you did, as well. I also enjoy the type of book where the conspiracies are slowly revealed (I'm halfway through Jane Smiley's Moo, and I have no idea what the plot's about -- Helprin's Memoir From Antproof Case was somewhat puzzle-like as well).
That kind of story interests me as well -- but in this case I couldn't get the usual kick from the revelation because there was too much fog for me to see through.
>Anyway, that's not the real reason I wanted to write. I was in Wordsworth's on Monday and saw a trade paperback of Steve Erickson's Arc d'X, which looked interesting. I wasparticularly intrigued by the cover blurb by Thomas Pynchon.
That's where I picked up my copy as well. Strangely, very few bookstores seem to carry his books. (And, though I'm constantly on the look out for new Erickson, I've never seen Amnesiascope, which is noted on the cover).
I was amazed to see a Pynchon blurb -- I didn't know he did blurbs. And it was both intriguing and high praise. (But I'd have bought it anyway. I'd buy anything Erickson writes.)
>I know nothing about Erickson's work, and I see that you have recently read Arc d'X, so I thought I might ask you for some comments about Erickson in general and Arc d'X in particular.
I was immediately caught by Days Between Stations (his first; which I randomly picked from a bookstore shelf -- looking back I see that that one had a Pynchon blurb as well. Individual scenes were hauntingly real and they were tied together in a physics/metaphysics that was totally bizarre. Rubicon Beach lacked the immediacy/reality that attracted me in Days, but the strange physics/metaphysics continued and fascinated me.
Tours of the Black Clock felt more like time-travel scifi historical novel, with some typical Erickson twists in the spacetime continuum. Leap Year was a travelogue (non-fiction) that I didn't find particularly interesting or memorable (though his style did keep me reading).
Arc d'X is by far the best of his that I've read. It begins with a very realistic and compelling episode of Thomas Jefferson with his slave-girl mistress, then it takes off, Erickson-style, into strange other worlds, with unpredictable links back to "reality" and with characters and their descendants appearing and reappearing unpredictably. The otherworldly scenes (as in Days) are presented with immediacy. You know it's bizarre, you know it's impossible, but you can see and smell and feel that world. It's very "real" and self-consistent on some other plane of reality (a la Kafka in the Trial and Castle).
> It seems we have a fair amount of overlap in 20th century American literature "likes". I've become a fan of Richard Powers, Nicholson Baker, and Thomas Pynchon, among others.
Yes, those (plus maybe DM Thomas) are among my favorites, though Pynchon's Vineland was a major disappointment.
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
I read very surprised all what you read...there's no doubt that you're in the way to find and understand human spirit...a why not the way to God...and I know deep in your soul the search continues...cause I think every book is a tiny part of the enourmous universe of Truth...every people of every part of the world has its own truth to tell...I make you an invitation to read Riane Eisler's book " The Chalice & the Sword"...in my " young "life of reader...comparing with your extense list ,I have read books...and I would say that this is one of the best, in my opinion, books I ever read. It summarizes the human knowledge in benefits of a better future. You'll enjoy it.
Dr. Cesar Houzvic Bravo, Las Condes, Santiago de Chile.
If you liked David Duncan's works you should love some of Wallace Stegner's. I can think of no better gift than "Angle of Repose".
I noticed while perusing your list of books read that you gave numerous stars to Captain Corelli's Mandolin (the title of the book as released in Canada. I noticed in a bookstore in Salt Lake this summer that the US version was just Corelli's Mandolin.)
Anyhow, I was also quite taken with the book. Indeed, I put it on top of my best books for 95 in the magazine for which I do book reviews here in New Brunswick, Canada.
Just this week I finished The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, de Bernieres' first book. With that, I've now read all of his books, and I'm writing to heartily recommend the others to you. They are invariably brilliant.
In closing, I've had on my bookshelf for a couple of years a copy of The Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, which I have not read. Taking your recommendation, I'm going to pull it down and give it a go.
Peter Simpson firstname.lastname@example.org
I recently rediscovered your WWW site via a mention of your 'flypaper' recommendation on a mailing list to which I subscribe (NETTRAIN, if you're interested).
Anyhow, I was browsing around, and I remembered why I wiped your site from my memory: I feel ashamed of how little I read, and how little I have read, when I look at your pages. At present I'm taking _Confessions of a Justified Sinner_ by James Hogg at a leisurely pace, and I recently completed _High Fidelity_ by Nick Hornby, which is something of a phenomenon on the paperback bestsellers lists over here in the UK, as it's been in the top 20 for months and months (if you've ever been young, male, in love, listened to popular music, or know anyone who has been in any of these positions, this book should touch you).
Andie -- Andrew Billington, Connect: the Internet Centre for Merseyside Businesses, http://www.connect.org.uk/
I enjoyed seeing what you've been up to the past 39 years. I would recommend favorites who you haven't read yet, but you've covered most of mine - Salman Rushdie (whose Midnight's Children and Moor's Last Sigh are superior to Satanic Verses, imho), Philip Roth, Richard Powers, Ishiguro, Huxley, Nabokov, Asimov, David Foster Wallace (I found Infinite Jest to be infinitely entertaining, but that might be more due to finally finding a writer about my age- I'm 28- whom I feel I can unreservedly support). Maybe, if hard pressed, I'd push Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates or The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover or either of the Bridge novels by Evan Connell or something, but I'm going to assume you already have a list of about 200 books you haven't got to yet.
No Shakespeare for the past 27 years? Come now, he's not that awful, is he?
Anyway, I noticed that many of your starred items are books which were both recently read and recently written. That displays an ongoing excitement with lit which I find truly admirable.
Thanks for the list. I wrote down several titles which sounded intriguing, and hope to dig into in the future.
You seem to be interested in a lot of the things that I am, i.e., Oz, Chess, and some strange authors. Of course, considering all of the books that you read, it is no wonder that we have something in common.
I am currently a graduate student in the English Dept. at Marshall University in Huntington, WV. I am a little old for a college student. I am 43. But I thought it was time to wake up and get a life - actually, my girlfriend thought so - so, here I am. I have been keeping a list of books, which I read, but I only began my list in 1982. Of course, I never read a whole lot before that anyway - except may be most of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Anyhow, I thought that a few names were missing from your list - Mervyn Peake, Richard Brautigan, and perhaps, some of the earlier stuff by William Kotzwinkle. As for chess, I would recommend "My System" by Nimzovitch. well, I have to go now. I am writing this in class. It was an interesting experience, reading your list.
Till we have faces,
Thanks for the vote of support. Good luck with college. College is wasted on the young. I'm probably old enough now to finally get something out of it.)
Regarding Edgar Rice Burroughs -- most of his books are now available for free in electronic form at the Gutenberg Project. (See my newsletter http://www.seltzerbooks.com/news20.html for the ftp and Web addresses).
Yes, I haven't tried Brautigan yet, and I had never heard of Peake or Kotzwinkle -- have to add them to the shopping list.
I've read Nimzovitch's My System, but for some reason failed to include it in my list (also missed Lasker's Common Sense in chess). I'll fix that shortly.
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I had one other author to recommend to you - since you also appear to be into Expostulation fiction, i.e. science fiction and esp., cyberpunk. Before I get too lost, I am referring to Philip K. Dick. I have also been trying to catch up on what's happening in the sci-fi field, and have enjoyed Stephenson's stuff immensely. I still carry snapshots from "Snow Crash" around in my head with me to look at from time to time. As for "The Diamond Age", I didn't used to care for that tpp much, but since taking a course in Victorian Poetry this semester, I seem to see a lot of spoofing by Stephenson on the Victorian period in that novel. As for Peake, he was a British author, who was sort of a cross between Dickens and how shall I say? probably, Lewsis Carroll and the pre-Raphaelite poets. As for Kotzwinkle, his best stuff is "The Fan Man", "Dr. Rat", and "Fata Morgana." Good luck on your highly interesting reading adventures and I hope to hear from you again in the not too distant future.
Till we have faces,
I agree with Powers' Goldbug Variations as one of the 10 best contemporary novels. But a glaring ommission - any of Cormac McCarthy's stunning novels - particularly Blood Meridian, Child of God, The Crossing, or Suttree (I think All the Pretty Horses his weakest book, despite its National Book Award). Also you might read Stephen Wright (not the comic) Meditations in Green or (my fav.) Going Native. Have you read Powers' other books - Three Farmers or Galatea (where he pays homage to my favorite writer, Marcel Proust)?
REPLY -- Thanks for the suggestions. A number of others have also suggested Blood Meridian. I ought to move that one closer to the top of the stack of books I want to read soon.
Yes, I've read all of Powers' other books. I'd rate them 1) Goldbug 2) Farmers 3) Galatea
The other two (Prisoners Dilemma and Operation Wandering Soul) didn't really work for me.
I just happened upon your page while running a websearch on T. Coraghessan Boyle. It looks like you keep your reading list pretty full, yet I feel I would be remiss in my duty as a Boyle fan if I didn't recommend Tortilla Curtain, his latest effort. His characters are, as always, simply amazing.
Brian Vinson, Seattle, WA
You are a "Book God," and I say that with all due respect. I, too, am an avid reader. I have even gone so far as to turn off the TV for the rest of the summer (how many Seinfeld reruns does a person need to see, anyway?) so I can read all the time. What book would you like to read again for the first time? I'll read that one next.
Marcy Troy, Arlington VA
Thanks for the unwarranted praise.
Your question is a tough one because I almost never read a book twice. But if I were going to, it would probably be a classic, like
Sorry you didn't finish JR -- it is excellent. You really should have another try at it. I recommended it to a friend of mine who blasted through it and loved it. Not to brag, but I actually read all 4 of Gaddis' books over a 6 month period. Not a speed record, certainly, but well worth the effort.
On the other hand, I couldn't make it through Gravity's Rainbow. That's one I have to try again. I also was slayed by Giles Goat Boy, as I see you were.
Matt Richards email@example.com
Reading Zeno now. Why isn't this guy better known? Check out Hurried Man by Emanuel Carnevali. Rare, but well worth the search. William Carlos Williams praised it in his autobiography. (Otherwise I would not have known about it.)
Richard; what an impressive accomplishment of reading! Do indeed add Anne Tyler's Accidental Tourist to your reading list. By far, my favorite "Tyler".
Liz L. Stepp, Assoc. Professor/DeVry Institute, Dallas/Ft. Worth
Like other respondents, I wish I'd kept a list. I would second the notion of adding Wallace Stegner. I'd recommend Crossing to Safety and The Spectator Bird. Others I've enjoyed recently are Robert Stone, esp. Children of Light and Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool.
Keep it up!
Hi! I'm a junior in high school in New Jersey. I just finished doing a term paper on Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War", and I just wanted to know how you felt about the book and what your favorite parts were, etc..., but I would really like to know what in the book moved you, if any?
I first got into Wouk in jr. high, when I read Youngblood Hawke and strongly identified with the hero-author, with his limitless energy and reckless abandon.
He's excellent at telling stories that catch you and compell you, and characters that are credible and with whom your sympathize and identify. As a reader, you end up really caring about the characters.
In Winds of War (what I do remember of it), the threads of history and romantic love were neatly intertwined. As I recall, he created a main character who was close to well-known historical figures and involved in major historical events, and then tied in a whole panoply of friends, lovers, relatives, etc. So the flow of the fictitious story told the mainline historical story of that time.
When I set out to write an historical novel (around the same time as I was reading Winds of War), I chose instead to write about an historical backwater -- about events that didn't make it into general history books and that did not seem to have any effect on the mainstream of history. I was interested in a particular historical person, who had all the personal characteristics of greatness and heroism, but who, by chance, was an actor on a minor stage. The book is entitled The Name of Hero.
The full text of it is available at my Web site, starting with chapter one at http://www.seltzerbooks.com/hero1.html
Glad you enjoyed Wouk.
My name is Matt Tymchak and I am currently writing a thesis paper for my A.P. English class on J.D. Salinger. I was able to locate your address with the Altavista search. I feel that Salinger is one of America's finest authors and that is why I chose to do my thesis on him. I'll skip right to the point. I believe that Salinger's experiences at the Valley Forge Military Academy had a major effect on his writings, this can be seen mainly in "The Catcher in the Rye." I feel that Salinger needed an outlet to the feelings that he was experiencing at the academy. I believe that some of these feelings may have been that of resentment towards his strict Jewish father for enrolling him there. I would be much abliged if you could write some of your thoughts and feelings about Salinger to me. Please don't feel pressured to respond at all. Thank you for your time.
I really don't know anything about Salinger's biography. I approached his work just simply as a story, which (when I was a teenager) was very easy to identify with.
Whatever his background, he succeeded in creating characters that feel real, and that evoke numerous memories from the reader, which enrich the story far beyond what the printed words say.
For me, even more sriking than Catcher in the Rye was Frannie and Zooey. The "Jesus Prayer" which they get caught up in was the basis of a heresy battle at Mount Athos in 1912. A group of monks there, following a centuries old practice of
mediation which involved endless repetition of a simple prayer, believed that the Name of God was a part of God and therefore in itself divine. They believe that the power of the Name of God accounted for the efficacy of the Jesus Prayer mediation. Because of this belief, some 880 Russian monks at Mount Athos were labelled heretics and were forcibly exiled to Siberia and other undesirable territories of the Russian Empire. Their champion, Alexander Bulatovich, became the hero of my novel The Name of Hero. The heresy part of his life story will be told in the sequel I'm now working on. The full text of The Name of Hero is available at my Web site, starting with chapter one at http://www.seltzerbooks.com/hero1.html
I found your reading list several months ago (it was only the A-L & M-Z at that time). I was actually searching for "Recommended Reading Lists" to remind me of what I had missed or to suggest authors I had not sampled as yet.
I was humbled by the paucity of my own list but I was also very interested in the parallels. I hadn't read your bio at the time and it sometimes seemed that you must have been in sitting alongside me in most of my college classes. I was pretty close -- UCLA '68 Major English Literature, Minor Comparative Literature and Psychology, Grad school Washington University.
I believe my first official list was on 3x5 cards started in eary 1965 when I should have been studying. I had two large pasteboard card file boxes (that are sadly long gone). I would start an Author card whenever I read a new book and write down as many titles by that author as I knew or could find out. I also tried to fill in as many earlier readings as I could remember (I'm still filling in things I have forgotten). At that time I only checked off that I had read the book. A few years later I transcribed all the books I had read into a composition book and later into a Bell Labs Blue Book (which I still have and still maintain). This list only saved the author's last name and the title of the book. In 1993 I decided that I would keep track of the date, the type of book and the author's full name.
Somewhere along the line I transfered all the book information into an Excel spreadsheet (which I also still maintain). Last year the spreadsheet became a far more involved relational database in Filemaker (I had my first Mac 2 days after they were available!).
I consider the Filemaker database my official list now (I even use it to re-populate my spreadsheet) but I still keep the lab book (fountain pen on real paper). I periodically go back into the older, less complete entries and try to fill in approximate dates, first names, etc. When I think back, I literally had entire years go by without reading anything (for about four years in the 80's I knitted sweaters in all my free time). The last couple of years I've looked at all the titles I haven't read (just the one's on my book shelves are significant) and have started to get a bit more obsessive about my reading.
Last week I took the next step and exported the data needed to put my current reading list, books read inventory, etc. on the web (HTTP://idt.net/~mparker). I'm afraid I just slapped it up there (I'm no web designer, for certain) but I intend to straighten it out a bit. I've used your recommendation to concentrate on content.
Now, after all that unimportant information, I recommend Naguib Mahfouz (The Cairo Trilogy). Compare Children of the Alley with One Hundred Years of Solitude. As far as re-reading anything, I do Ulysses every couple of years.
What's your field of business? Anything to do with literature?
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From: "M. D. Parker" <firstname.lastname@example.org> Date: Tue, 23 Sep 1997 16:09:51 -0400
Thanks -- I've spent a little time fixing it up and have responded to recommendations and include trite (but insightful?) comments on the books I have read.
>What's your field of business? Anything to do with literature?
I spent my early life preparing for the English Department at a small mid-western liberal arts college and I often muse that I should still be there. Unfortunately things like Viet Nam, computers, money kinda got in the way and I am a Project Manager for a major communications, information and entertainment company. I have a team that manages the implementation of large data, voice and video solutions for the company. See what I mean about that small college?
Actually, my daughter has just entered a small liberal arts college in upstate New York and I really suspect that she will carry out the dream.
I saw that you have E. Annie Proulx's "The Shipping News" on your list of books to read soon. I read that and thought it was all right, but another book by Proulx, "Postcards", is much better. You should read that one, too.
My name is Natalie Popovic, though I am writing from the address of Stuart Kyle. I am a high school student in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I am writing to you because of your listing of Ken Follett's The Man From St. Petersburg.
This is one of the four best books I have read in my life, one of the others being A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. I thought that Feliks was by far the best character and could have easily read a whole book about him alone. Lydia I found rather irritating for her stupidity and wonder why a man as intellegent, interesting, and deep as Feliks fell in love with her.
The ending came as a complete shock to me, though it probably wouldn't have had I read the book in sequence like I was supposed to. Though this was perhaps supposed to be just a "fun" fiction book, I found that it had far more substance for thought than many of the supposedly more "intellectual" books that I have read in the past.
If you have any comments about this book, I would love to hear them. Also, if you have any information about Ken Follett.
REPLY -- Thanks very much for your comments. As I recall, I read that back a couple years after my novel The Name of Hero was published and I was researching and getting in the mood for the sequel, which I still haven't finished. I do remember that it was a good read -- but that was 14 years ago, so the details of the plot are gone.
You might want to take a look at Name of Hero. The full text is at my Web site http://www.seltzerbooks.com/hero1.html. It's set in St. Petersburg, Ethiopia, and Manchuria around 1900.
Just read you list of great books 72-97. Great stuff. I'm glad you included Thomas Sanchez. The man can flat out write. "Mile Zero" is one of the best novels I've ever read.
You know I used to be a big Tom Robbins fan, but the older I get the more I realize that it's all a big joke to him. He's cute, but he doesn't resonate.
I would definitely move Rick Moody's Purple America and Rushdie's Midnight's Chidlren in front of Jonathan Franzen's book, which I just finished reading. I guess it was okay, but maybe when you read it you can explain to me why anyone would want to read it. The story is kind of ridiculous, far fetched, whatever, and the plotting avoids the usual detective or mystery story buildup (fine, fine, you say), and there appears to be no point (needs a point, does it?) to the story -- no insight into the human condition, no growth of character, etc. At times, it is stylish, I suppose, better than pulp, but not much more than that. Read the Moody, this is a wonderful book.
It so happens that I'm on vacation right now and reading faster than I'm entering books on you list. I agree that Purple America is extraordinarily good -- compassionate, credible, insightful. It will go on my list of favorites. The 27th City was disappointing. After a build-up that was at times very well done, the ending was arbitrary and unsatisfying. There was no reason to randomly kill off the wife after she is released. And the police chief -- after having gotten everything her way -- is suddenly shot to death in the bathroom while looking at herself in the mirror, without any clue as to who did it and why. (Did I miss something?) As a substitute for insight into human nature, the author treats people from India as if they were aliens from another planet -- all in cahoots with one another, all part of the same conspiracy. Strange.
I still haven't finished Midnight's Children.
Best wishes.Richard Seltzer email@example.com
REPLY TO REPLY -- I must admit that I thought she killed herself. She takes out her uniform, and the holster, before she goes into the bathroom. I assumed she committed suicide, but there isn't much to indicate what happened one way or another. One might think that it was Singh, after the death of Barbara Probst, but this was clearly too soon after her death to be explained that way. Nor could it be Norris, the other likely candidate, because he was clearly too bumbling and half-assed (in a middle American sort of way) to commit a cold-blooded murder.
As for your criticisms, I pretty much agree completely. I think you are quite rightto note that the ending was arbitrary, which explains, at least to me, why I felt strangely unsatisfied with the ending. I knew what happened to all the characters (or most anyway), but I still don't know, on a higher level, why anything happened.
The Indian thing is kind of weird, right from the Osage Warriors to the the strange conspiracy aspect of the story. Notice how there were no Americans in the conspiracy, as if there would be no benefit from enlisting local help except through some sort of manipulation (when all the time it wasn't clear on what basis the various Indians were cooperating -- though on some level, it appeared to be financial).
One last complaint, I know I am droning on, but what explains the role that Luisa plays in the story. She seems quite significant in the early going and evaporates somewhere in the third act. Is it all part of getting Martin into the State (which seems awfully abstract and theoretical to be useful)?
Anyway, enough complaint. I must confess, on another topic, that I haven't read the whole of Moody's book, but I did find myself hypnotized by his work at the sentence level. There are relatively few (but still very many, I admit) authors who are impressive on this level -- I think of Vollman and David Foster Wallace here, but even still these writers lack Moody's discipline.
There is real craft in this book, something, I suppose, most modern writers would find somewhat suspicious.
REPLY TO REPLY TO REPLY -- I think your comments are right on target. But I'm still puzzled by the ending.
I hadn't considered the possibility of suicide -- she has just accomplished everything that she wanted to and there was no previous indication that she was suicidal. Looking at herself in the mirror she seems to be congratulating herself, celebrating her victory. I thought it might be Singh, but we've already been told that he's at the airport. I also thought Norris might have hired someone to do it.
It's inexcusable that no explanation is provided -- just leaves a sour taste, after having invested a fair amount of time going through all those pages, and also after having invested some emotional energy getting caught up in the fates of the major characters.
Perhaps I dislike the book all the more because of the author's skill in drawing credible characters.
I noticed Burt's book "Inversions" on you list of books you have read. Burt was a part of a small group of friends who started Metaphysics Anonymous back in 1976 in San Francisco. Since then some of us have kept up with him at national Rainbow Family Gatherings.
I hear he lives in Hawaii now.
We have a home page, http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/2606
Eldon E. New firstname.lastname@example.org
REPLY -- Interesting. That's a great book, though it has been many years since I read it. I got it back in the days of Small Press Bookfairs in New England and New York. I believe I traded a copy of my own The Lizard of Oz for it. (the full text of that and of other stuff of mine is at my home page http://www.seltzerbooks.com/lizardillustrated.html
Good to hear from you. I'll check your home page.
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
The most provocative book I've ever read. Move this to the top of your list.
REPLY -- Both excellent and disturbing. On one level so realistic, in terms of the details of human emotion and self-consciousness, and yet in such an unreal, Kafkaesque world. It kept coming close to providing the key to the puzzle, and then tossing it once again into the garden. I both loved it and hated it. I kept hoping for a resolution -- just enough explanation of the past to be able to sort out what was "real" and what was happening in his mind. But, of course, such an explanation would have undermined his unique experiment.
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
REPLY TO REPLY -- Disturbing in the sense that the story isn't linear, Ryder never asks the right questions, and the action is painfully slow and frustrating, you mean? I agree, but I found the book provocative and wise in depicting the futility of allowing other people to clearly state their expectations, of expecting good results from allowing things to happen, and so on. I think the theme of the book is that we as humans aren't very good at managing our own expectations. I also like the tongue-in-cheek poke at cliched metaphors, like when Ryder literally runs into a brick wall. -- Charlyn Johnson
REPLY TO REPLY TO REPLY -- It's the kind of book that probably gains from discussion and second reading. -- Richard
I saw your reading list, quite extensive. I thought about doing the same thing in my home page, and now that I see it done, I think it is a good idea.
I read the Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis shortly after seeing the movie. I thought that Martin Scorcese did a very credible job of remaining true to the novel. I remember he took a lot of flak at the time.
I'm curious to know if you saw the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer". I haven't read the book, but I thought the screen play was very well done.
Yes, I saw the Bobby Fischer movie, read the book, and read the script. Josh Waitzkin and my son Bob Seltzer are old chess friends/rivals. You can see the moves of some of the tournament games they played against one another at my Web site. http://www.seltzerbooks.com/#chess or do an AltaVista Search for +host:seltzerbooks.com +Waitzkin
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
Look, you're obviously well-read, but I have a very hard time believing that someone who reads such good stuff as Douglas Adams and Umberto Eco hasn't read ONE BOOK by Italo Calvino in 39 years! Please! I'm not trying to insult you, I just want to let you know! He's great! Do it for your own good!
My favorite is "Invisible Cities," but my roommate's is "If on a winter's night a traveler." Both are excellent and should be enough to get you hooked! Happy reading!
Maybe you should read some. Here are some books by Margaret Atwood, since you've only read one, which in my opinion does not classify as having "read an author". Cat's Eye, Surfacing, and most importantly for you: The Edible Woman and don't forget Three Tall Women by Edward Albee.
Your list is very impressive. I could hope to match a fraction of what you have read.
I noticed that Frank Norris was absent from your list. I have read McTeague three times. I think you'll like it.
Over the week-end I read the Icon by Frederick Forsythe and started Smilla's Sense of Snow-and in searching for more information on both links to you have come up. So I am visiting your page.
I did not read a book by James Michener until I was 42-had no interest in him at all-but he is really very good. You should read at least one of his novels -- The Covenant or Centennial or Chesapeake. Texas is also excellent.
Another really good writer-very intelligent- is Charles McCarry-his best book is called Second Sight.
I read a lot but have not read many classics -- your list is overwhelming. Thanks for sharing it.
My name is Stu McLaren and I am from Southern Ontario Canada. I was wondering if you had any more information on the WP Kinsella books that you have read, summaries, etc. Anyway iIbetter let you go as you are probably busy reading another book. Thanks again.
Sorry, no summaries. I loved Shoeless Joe, but thought that this was one case where the movie was actually better than the book. I also got caught up in the Iowa Confederacy. But the collections of short stories simply didn't grab me. He's at his best in capturing the dreams and aspirations of baseball players and fanatics -- the combination of fantasy and reality that we call life.
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
Your are an admirable reader with very catholic tastes. I probably started reading 12 years before you and have read probably 20 times the books you have but you have read things which have, no doubt, improved your mind and your life while I read escapist literature. We have a few authors in common (Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Uris to name a few) but you read plays and philosophy and history. I won't say I only read fiction but most of the non-fiction is herbal medicine, botany and such. Philosophy and history would drive me crazy. Bravo for you!!! I just had to write to pay my respects.
Just to add to your growing list, the above is a book that is wonderful. Using a similar format that E. Annie Proulx and Margaret Atwood have used, in that Govier takes us on a "gallery tour". At the beginning of each chapter a description of the photograph that is in the retrospective show takes us to another part of Corey's life. The novel begins with talk of a retrospective show that will show the span of Corey's work. Anyway, it was a great novel.
I'm reading Borderliners and I was doing a search on the WWW, trying to find something that would help me to understand what the heck is going on in it. I came across your page and I thought I'd drop you a line asking if you could tell me what you liked about the book, what it means to you.
Thanks for any light you can shed..
I loved his Smilla's Sense of Snow. His other books are somewhat difficult to get into. The History of Danish Dreams had flashes of brilliance, but I eventually got lost (bored) in the maze. Woman and the Ape felt fluffy and didn't engage me at all.
Borderliners feels brilliant. It probably requires a second reading to get the most from it. From Danish Dreams, it feels like one major theme here is in fact Denmark -- the stifling life style of middleclass life there. The physical circumstances, which at times read like science fiction, may have a basis in historical fact. A second theme has to do with the history of "social Darwinism" -- this approach to children/orphanages/the poor was credible and justifiable at a certain moment in history, but seems absolutely barbaric by todays standards (like lobotomy). Another theme (once again harking back to Danish Dreams) deals with the nature of time -- human time as opposed to physical time. And yet the book can be read simply and directly as the creation of a kafkaesque world to question the nature of human nature in bizarre closed circumstances. And also, a tale of testing human limits, artificially creating life-threatening circumstances, to get a high or to get some sense of living fully for a brief moment or out of morbid curiosity (perhaps like the movie Flatliners).
Anyway, those are my thoughts. What did you get out of it?
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
Hi - I see you just read _Independent People_ by Halldor Laxness. Thoughts?
I finished it last night. I have the feeling that as it recedes in time, I will want to re-approach at least certain sections of it and re-read - and in the meantime I found the translation decent, the setting compelling, and the work itself very successful.
An amazing tale. I both hated and loved it. The author is so brutal with his characters, showing no mercy whatsoever -- making you love them and then slaughtering them, and making the main figure so incredibly hateful, yet natural, and in his own way heroic.
The whole book was a debunking of upper class heroicizing of rural life -- all the way back to the myth-making of ancient days. It is full of ironic contrasts.
But at the same time, the Independent Man is in fact larger than life.
You keep routing all the way for him to finally show some glimmer of human sympathy and love and kindness -- anything to redeem the bleak, unfeeling brutality, that is the brutality of nature itself.
The book is slow-going. It was a real battle to get through the first hundred pages and then to have the characters you identified with the most killed off pointlessly one after the other. But Laxness creates a complete and credible world. It's an amazing and at the same time extremely aggravating book.
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
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>The whole book was a debunking of upper class heroicizing of rural life -- all the way back to the myth-making of ancient days. It is full of ironic contrasts.
I have a particular perspective on this, and agree with you. I used to live in Rhode Island, where "The Independent Man" (gold leafed and 14-ft. tall) adorns the top of dome of the state capital, supposedly the master of all he surveys. Of course, this is a tribute to the tolerant and open-minded spirit to the state's founder (Roger Williams) who, having been evicted from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his Baptist inclination, vowed that RI would be a tolerant place where all could settle regardless of faith (except for Indians, of course!). In any case, I now am questioning whether there is such a thing as an independent man - and if there is (which I doubt, thanks to Laxness), is it such a good thing?
>The book is slow-going.
Agreed - though I enjoyed the slowness - the translation seemed quite excellent and I relived my visit to Iceland through his descriptive passages about the land itself. I'd love to re-write the sucker from the perspective of Asta...
Hi, I'm a fellow reader currently living in Japan. Years ago, I had a teacher who suggested that the average, dedicated reader would consume about 60 books a year, does this follow with your habits?
Also, personally, I tend to read one non-fiction to every three fiction books.
sincerely, Bill Fugler
60 is probably close to my average, because of a number of hears when I readly wasn't all that "dedicated." But this year, I'm at about 95 already, and am likely to wind up at more than 110.
Your non-fiction to fiction ratio is very similar to mine.
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
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By the way I like your page. If you want some recommendations I could offer James Hamiton-Paterson's The Great Deep for non-fiction about the ocean and those dwelling beneath, above and near it, and for fiction I would recommend Charles Baxter's Shadow Play.
You never gave Closing TIme, by Joseph Heller any stars, so I guess you didn't like it that much, but I was wondering if you had any insights or comments about it, (I'm writing an essay, comparing closing time and catch 22). I would really appreciate it.
The zaniness of Catch-22 struck a chord -- trying to make sense out of an insane world. Closing Time felt contrived and far-fetched -- trying to make the ordinary world look insane. It simply didn't work for me. I didn't believe the characters or the situations; and the caricatures did not ring true. He seemed to be trying hard to be funny; but it just wasn't.
I'm a bit prejudiced. I read Catch-22 when I was in college during the Viet Nam War, and it all rang true. Major Major Major was hilarious. All the mocking of bureaucracy and the whacky and tragic consequences.
While I was at Yale, I had a one-semester writing course with Joseph Heller. It was supposed to be a writing class, but wound up more general literary chatter. It turns out that while Catch-22 is set in World War II, it was actually written about the Korean War (cf. Mash), and then came into its own when we got embroiled in Viet Nam. There is something universal about the book, which has to do with the universality, the insane repeatability of war, and the tragedy of pointless impending death in war.
Closing Time feels artificial, in part, because it doesn't deal with war. It tries to show war-like insanity in the world of capitalist business.
Ironically, while inspired by the Korean War and using war as a metaphor (if I remember correctly), Heller's intent was to write about business. (Milo Minderbinder etc.) It was business he was trying to satirize -- war was just his way of make the point, vividly. The result is memorable characters and situations and a book that can be interpreted and appreciated in a variety of ways.
With Closing Time he tries to deal with this old subject of business, but without a metaphor -- simply by gross exaggeration. For me that doesn't work.
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
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just a couple more questions if you don't mind. (I hadn't realized you had a course with the man).
1) Closing Time didn't do it for myself either; everything you said rang true, and I found it to be just confusing.
2) What was Joseph like? I need to do a little thing on his life, and personality, and anything you got would be helpful.
3) Do you know of any other net-accessible resources I can get info, of if you maybe have a address (email or snail mail) that I can get in touch with him, I would be forever in your debt.
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Keep in mind that it was back in the fall of 1967 that I had that course with Joseph Heller -- that's a bit long ago to have vivid memories.
(At the last class of the semester -- a party -- he autographed books. The date on the autograph in my copy of Catch-22 is December 14, 1967).
He was living in New York and was commuting to New Haven to work on his play "We Bombed in New Haven" which as going to be performed by the Yale Repertory Theater. This was the first thing he had written in ages. At that point it looked as if Catch-22 was a one-shot miracle. He didn't seem to know how it had happened.
He was an advertising person (I believe). He acted and spoke like Joe Six-Pack. He seemed sincerely surprised and flattered by all the critical attention and avid fan attention that the book was receiving. I don't believe that it had been all that great a success when it first came out. All of a sudden the world had caught up with it -- it was a perfect metaphor for the Viet Nam War and for the bind that college students eligible for the draft were facing. I believe that the movie was on the horizon. I believe he had agreed to the deal but was feeling uncomfortable about it because he would have no control over what was done to the story.
He seemed to be seriously trying to understand what made his book work and how books were written in craftsmanlike fashion, so he could write another one. (If I remember correctly, the book had begun with the first couple sentences -- that was the seed -- the characters had grown from that, and the story-line from the characters. It just happened.)
The classes often ended up as bull sessions. (I believe he was also teaching a class of this kind at another college at the same time. He did ours once a week and the other once a week. But he didn't have much experience teaching and was sort of making it up as he went along.)
I remember one class exercise, where he read aloud to us in class the beginning of a Tolstoy story, one for which Tolstoy had written more than one ending. And he asked us to write an ending for it.
He seemed to feel uncomfortable dealing with classic literature and dealing with a bunch of students who had probably read more literature and read about more literature than he had. The author and the creation were so separate. This book had happened to him, and people kept asking him questions as if he were some literary genius, asking about meaning and structure and intent -- and he really didn't have answers.
But he wanted to have answers and wanted to understand and wanted to write again.
He had done the play We Bombed in New Haven (actually, he intended if it was successful -- and it wasn't -- to change the name for every city in which it was performed, We Bombed in...) on request, on commission (I believe) from Robert Brustein, who back then was the director of the Yale Repertory Theater. He had been prodded and cajoled into it, and he was excited because it was a new experience for him, seeing the play come to live through rehearsals (and realizing, on occasion, technical things that needed to be fixed that he hadn't realized when writing it that became evident when you saw it live.)
He also felt uncomfortable about his lack of knowledge of foreign languages. A friend had told him about Celine's Voyage au Bout de la Nuit, and that there were similarities between Catch-22 and that book, and that Celine's was a "great" book. Voyage... at that time was not available in English translation. So the friend had translated a number of passages for him, and he held that book in exalted estime, perhaps in part because it was inaccessible to him. (It's a very difficult book to translate.)
His novel Something Happened must have been in the works then. (My copy shows copyright dates of 1966 and 1974, so some part of it was probably published in 1966, but we in the class were not aware of that at the time. He was known as a "one-book" author until 1974 when Something came out.) I was never able to fight my way through that one -- despite all the motivation of having met him. It simply couldn't hold my interest. Likewise with all his other books, until Closing Time, but that was a fight as well (whereas I hadn't been able to put Catch-22 down.)
In 1981 when my own novel The Name of Hero came out, I wrote to Heller asking if you could provide a blurb/quote for the dust jacket. He didn't reply. Then I managed to catch a couple minutes with him at the Boston Globe Book Festival and asked him in person. He explained that since he was pushing a book of his own, his agent had advised him not to do blurbs for anyone else for a while. He was friendly but standoffish. I felt very awkward asking for such a favor. That sort of killed any opportunity for conversation. I haven't been in touch with him since and don't have his current address.
He was a New York person, and I wouldn't be surprised if he still lived in New York City. Checking http://www.switchboard.com I see two Joseph Hellers in New York.
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
I am studying Franny and Zooey, and I am searching for any information that you might have on the novel. Insights and personal thoughts would also be helpful. If you have time I would greatly appreciate any information you can provide.
At the heart of Franny and Zooey is The Jesus Prayer, a common practice at Mount Athos (in Greece) for many centuries. Interestingly, the Russian Orthodox Church decided to treat the practitioners of that prayer as heretics in 1912 and sent troops to Mount Athos, besieged the Russian monastery there and shipped off 880 months to Siberia. The news report of that event led me to write my own novel The Name of Hero. (That's on the Web now starting at http://www.seltzerbooks.com/hero1.html) And the original article which inspired me (from the London Times) is at my site at http://www.seltzerbooks.com/london.html
The underlying concept of the Prayer was that through discipline of breathing and concentration/meditation you could reach a point where you forgot yourself and came into direct touch with the god-within-you.
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
Really enjoyed looking over your list of books! Lots of variety and many of my own favorites are there. Four suggestions that you may enjoy:
Our Mutual Friend (the best of the Charles Dickens books in my view)
The Postmaster, Galusha the Magnificent, Doctor Nye by Joseph C Lincoln, a best-selling author in the early 1900s.... now mostly forgotten, but excellent 'yarns' of their time and generation, especially these three.
Best Regards, Scott Douglas, Sioux Falls, SD email@example.com
I was so excited to see that someone besides me has read "The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim. I had read his first novel Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World and found it both amusing and ghastly, although it didn't exactly tip any scales with me. However, after reading an excerpt of Brothers in the New Yorker, I was really curious about it. I really enjoyed the book when I first read it, but it did leave me a little baffled at first. Shortly after reading it the first time, and quite providentially, I read The Sibling Society by Robert Bly (I usually stay away from both poetry and self-help, but a friend recommended this to me). While reading Bly's book, I was continually fascinated by connections between the two books. I went back and re-read Antrim and my understanding and enjoyment of the book was greatly enhanced.
Also loved Purple America and The Ice Storm by Rick Moody... just got Garden State.
My recent reads (12/97-1/98):
Any books you might recommend, please e-mail me at
Thanks a lot.
Paul Lorentz, Monroe, Wisconsin
I am a Russian major at Gustavus Adolphus College. I was looking over the list of books you have read (http://www.seltzerbooks.com/read73.html) and it seems that you are well versed in Russian literature. I have been reading two books this January in an effort to get ahead in a slavic literature course I will be taking this spring but I am having some trouble understanding them. If you could direct me to some other books that could help me I would greatly appreciate it. The books are The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov and We by Zamyatin.
Sorry, it's been a long time since I read those and I probably don't have much to say except the obvious.
Master and Margarita is about capitalistic temptation. The devil appears in the middle of Soviet Moscow, and creates havoc with plain old-fashioned capitalistic temptation. The humor comes from the contrast between the way communists are expected to act and the way they actually do act (because of human nature).
I recall very little about We -- it really didn't engage my imagination. I remember thinking of comparing it (unfavorably) with 1984. I remember that the characters were identified with numbers rather than names. But it was all very cerebral and theoretical and did not resonate as real.
(Consider human nature at work -- when players were first identified with numbers on their jerseys in professional sports, there was an outcry that this was dehumanizing. But in fact what happened over the years was the the numbers became humanized, to the point that now it's a sign of great honor to have your number "retired" and/or raised to the rafters; that's the kind of change that a Bulgakov would have insightfully foreseen and that Zamyatin would never expect).
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
We have identical taste in literature. And I am now going to start writing them all down...I wish I had started in 7th grade too, although that would only be 1987.
I swear to god, though, I'm printing your list and reading the rest.
Good to hear from you. I constantly update my stuff. (Especially, the reading list -- check read98.html). I find keeping the list have several benefits 1) it gives me an incentive to actually finish reading a book (I only let myself enter it if I have read it cover to cover), otherwise I'd probably peck here, then peck there 2) it give me incentive to read more books (it's an illogical sort of reward to add a new book to the list) 3) as I get older, it's a way to check if I actually have read a book -- sometimes (fortunately rarely) I'll hear of a book or see a title and be vaguely tempted by it, and on checking discover that I read it 30 years ago and it left very little impression on me (this is particularly helpful for a mystery series like Parker's Spenser mysteries, that are like Chinese food -- you enjoy the experience and very quickly forget the plot, forget the title, forget everything) 4) by posting this list on the Web I get very interesting correspondence -- sometimes from authors, their agents, and their editors; more often from other enthusiastic readers like yourself.
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
Is it true? You've read all those books? As a former bookstore owner (6 years), a present day parttime book seller at local flea markets, and graduate of literature, I am impressed. I can see the covers in my mind of many of the titles you mentioned, but some are new to me (and I pride myself on knowing titles and authors). If you're wondering, I'm 45, govt. employee, weekend musician/book sales, and a former reporter for two dailies (five years). At this time I am reading Irving Stone's The Source which I find interesting since much of Darwin's discoveries are new to me. I am not a naturalist by nature and must plod through scientific reading. My library consists of perhaps as many as 5,000 books, all genres: mysteries, westerns, romances, nonfiction (war and biographies), science fiction and fantasy, some Christian, espionage, true crime, horror and more. Incidentally, I enjoyed Sophie's Choice a great deal, and could have seen William Styron when he came to visit Univ./SFla, but was too tired to attend.....anyway, I remain impressed by your accomplishment......Dave
> Is it true? You've read all those books?
It's funny. I look at it the other way around -- Is that all the books you've read? Some years I read as few as 30.
I'm 52, and an "Internet Evangelist."
Haven't read The Source. But I have read a lot of non-fiction lately that related to Darwin, including The Song of the Dodo by Quammen, The Third Chimpanzee by Diamond, and Full House by Stephen Jay Gould.
I haven't counted my books for quite awhile, but I own 99% of the ones that I've read. And I probably own twice as many as I've read. (My appetite is far greater than the time available.)
Yes, Sophie's Choice was amazing.
And books to go before we sleep, and books to go...
Thanks for the vote of support.
Richard Seltzer firstname.lastname@example.org
I thought I read more than most people . well, well.. I'm happy to see David Markson and Alain de Botton in your list, they are my current favorite. I did not find Norman Rush who wrote Mating (winner of the national book award for fiction). You had N. Sarraute but I did not find Raymond Radiguet. Rushdie, of course, but how about Hanif Kureishi. For non-fiction, "Wild Swan" by Jung Chang. Please review my website. http://www.psn.net/~eggplant/
My website was created in Prague with Ivan's technical help last year. The "Eccentric Visions" is an imaginary hypersyllabus of parallel universe, pairing our art/literary heroes, and my attempt at poking fun at gender politics.
The eggplant was a real vegetable that we executed for our dinner. The shell was a souvenir my son brought back from Spain. The toilet paper was from the Prague Castle. The photos of the tower are from Karlstejn an and the last photo is the ossuary from Kutna Hora. A shrine of bones and skulls built slowly by two monks after the Plague. What a coincidence that the photo of bone shrine should be at the last page.
G theory is my spoof on C theory. These are my chinese peasant feet, good for planting rice. About socks, the epidemic of spousal disappearance for which we have no cure.. sorry for poor English, my Fun Lin Lin style of not sounding quite right/or MY Left Foot.
I am working on my links.
Share my work with your friends.
Fung Lin Hall
P.S. My eggplant has a french name, Albigensian Aubergine. Aubergine Albigensian. (Gnostic/heretic eggplant)
> Dear Grandmaster,
At chess I'm only at 1700 :-(
I did read Mating, and it is on the list.
One of Radiguet's books (a battered second-hand paperback) has lingered on my shelves for years. Maybe it's about time I gave it a try.
Hanif Kureishi is one I never heard of. "Wild Swan" by Jung Chang is another.
One of the books on my list, Massacre at Monsegur by Oldenburg, is about the Albigensian heresy -- a bizarre and fascinating tale.
Richard Seltzer email@example.com
Great to see your list of books. I just wanted to share with you the fact that I also keep a list of every book that I've ever read--and I even mark my personal favorites with an asterisk! I find that reviewing the list every now and then helps me to recall and retain the plot, characters, content and importance of each work. The additional advantage of keeping a list is that I find myself constantly driven to expand the list!
In case you're wondering, I came upon your site while doing a web-search for secondary literature on Eichendorff's Taugenichts, which I just finished reading (in German) a few minutes ago. If you have the time and desire, please let me know what your favorite (lesser known) German book(s) are. I'm currently reading many of the German masters and would love to have a really great suggestion.
What would you recommmend?
Thanks for the suggestions. I'll have to try to track those down at Schoenhof's bookstore in Cambridge.
I just came across your book list--I love book lists. But I wanted to say that I too have a list of books that I've read kept since 8th grade in 1958; mine is in a battered wooden box on file cards. The box has followed me everywhere, even to Italy where I went to school for a bit. My rule is that I have to have actually finished the book to get on the list, so books I give up on don't make it. But your list and mine are remarkably similar.
I was looking for info on The Chess Garden, which a friend just recommended. Glad to see you do, too.
The Chess Garden is a truly bizarre book. I enjoined it
thoroughly while reading it, but strangely, I can remember very
little about it now. (Perhaps a Chinese-food book?)
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