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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Philip Roth obituary: Poignantly humane novelist set on emancipating American literature from respectability

Tall, curly-haired Phil (as he was known in the family) was passionate about baseball. He regularly attended minor league baseball games at Ruppert Stadium in Newark, and devoted The Great American Novel (1973) to the mythologies of baseball set against the harsher realities of communist subversion and anti-communism. He was supporter of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

[The Breast] was followed by The Great American Novel. Asked by a Sports Illustrated journalist why he wrote about baseball, Roth remarked: “Because whaling’s been done.”

QLE Posted: May 23, 2018 at 05:04 AM | 105 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baseball novels, obituary, philip roth, the great american novel

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   1. GGC Posted: May 23, 2018 at 10:36 AM (#5678006)
I read The Great American Novel last year when I was on a baseball fiction jag. I think that I understood the sportswriterese in it better than I got the references to boys' books in The Natural because I had actually read prose like that before and had not the genre of books that Malamud read growing up.

IOW, I think that it aged better, but was still behind many of the other books I read @ a year ago.

My dad didn't strike me as a Roth guy, but we had a copy of Portnoy's Complaint lying around the house. 12 year old GGC found this amusing.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: May 23, 2018 at 10:43 AM (#5678009)
If I recall, The Great American Novel has a proto-stathead boy manager that bats his best hitter leadoff and such. I enjoyed the book. All the references to Moby Dick and such were a little heavy-handed, but at least it's clear he had fun with it.
   3. GGC Posted: May 23, 2018 at 10:53 AM (#5678017)
Yeah, I think it helped that I had finally read Moby Dick a few years ago.
   4. Man o' Schwar Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:04 AM (#5678029)
Roth was one of my favorites. Everyone should read Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral, and about 12 other books.
   5. Rally Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:10 AM (#5678034)
If I recall, The Great American Novel has a proto-stathead boy manager that bats his best hitter leadoff and such. I enjoyed the book.


Every now and then BTF restarts the debate about how easy/how hard it is to throw strikes, and how effective an Eddie Gaedel hitter could be. Roth covers that idea pretty well.
   6. Tin Angel Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:19 AM (#5678049)
Roth was one of my favorites. Everyone should read Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral, and about 12 other books.


Mine too. The Counterlife, Zuckerman Bound, Operation Shylock...so many great ones.
   7. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:38 AM (#5678066)
For me, The Counterlife and Operation Shylock are the best. He wrote so many good books, though. The Great American Novel is fun if you're a baseball fan as I have yet to meet or hear of a non-baseball fan who liked it. His late books are kind of hit and miss but Nemesis is a real heart breaker. He left it all on the field, that's for sure.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:43 AM (#5678071)
As I commented in OT:C, although I respect his talent, he was often too limited in his scope for me. So many books about class anxiety in his boyhood Newark, or just about himself. Maybe that's my problem though. As I get older I increasingly look for escapist entertainment.
   9. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:45 AM (#5678075)
Portnoy's Complaint cracked me up when I read it 49 years ago, and the only thing that's stopped me from reading much more of Roth is that my reading tastes run 99% to non-fiction.** I did take home The Plot Against America when it came out in 2004, and I'm now halfway to promising myself that I'll get around to reading it.

** Although I did like the movie version of The Human Stain.
   10. ESPaul Posted: May 23, 2018 at 11:46 AM (#5678078)
The recent novel Asymmetry includes a fascinating first and last section with a (barely) fictionalized Roth. The first section takes place in 2004, and "Roth" is a Yankee fan, the other main character a Red Sox fan. Although Sox fans might find this hard to believe, it's a relatively minor part of the plot.

Regardless, it's a great book, highly recommended.

http://a.co/3AK3er0
   11. ckash Posted: May 23, 2018 at 12:19 PM (#5678106)
Sabbath's Theatre is an overlooked masterpiece. I own every one of Roth's novels and a couple of his literary comment/criticism books.
   12. PreservedFish Posted: May 23, 2018 at 12:22 PM (#5678108)
Some de-lurking intellectuals. Please comment more often, gentlemen! We need you.
   13. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: May 23, 2018 at 12:38 PM (#5678118)
I didn't particularly like GAN, but the chapter on Gil Gamesh is absolutely brilliant. It's been published as a stand-alone short story in several baseball anthologies
   14. Panik on the streets of London (Trout! Trout!) Posted: May 23, 2018 at 12:44 PM (#5678121)
Some de-lurking intellectuals. Please comment more often, gentlemen! We need you.


Seconded!
   15. dlf Posted: May 23, 2018 at 01:06 PM (#5678140)
I did take home The Plot Against America when it came out in 2004, and I'm now halfway to promising myself that I'll get around to reading it.


The first ~2/3 of the book was pretty good, maybe great. Then it turns to utter and complete garbage with a dividing line so bright and clear it is as if someone else mandated the plot turn and forced him at gunpoint to write it.
   16. Tin Angel Posted: May 23, 2018 at 03:14 PM (#5678325)
Sabbath's Theatre is an overlooked masterpiece. I own every one of Roth's novels and a couple of his literary comment/criticism books.


Did you read Why Write? I need to get to that one. I thought the Pierpont book Roth Unbound was excellent.
   17. Baldrick Posted: May 23, 2018 at 03:16 PM (#5678327)
Roth is objectively a very good writer, but I never even remotely enjoyed anything I read by him. Shrug.
   18. phredbird Posted: May 23, 2018 at 03:28 PM (#5678341)
i too have felt that 'sabbath's theatre' was overlooked. it came just before 'american pastoral', so it got set aside pretty quickly by readers and critics.

a long time ago, i read 'my life as a man' and was completely overwhelmed. there are a number of novels i've read that do that to me, they hit a sore spot or a soft spot or something and i'm completely caught up in the events in the plot and the inner workings of the characters. 'a flag for sunrise', by robert stone was another. it depressed me no end, as did 'libra'.

right now, i'm waiting for the sixth installment of 'my struggle'. knausgaard, for better or worse, is going to be emblematic of the writer of post post modernity. i've slogged through the first five novels, and even though the subject matter is absolutely forgettable -- he's the first to admit he's pretty much a shallow loser -- the writing is not. an odd paradox, but there you have it.

   19. phredbird Posted: May 23, 2018 at 03:33 PM (#5678345)
also fwiw, i think roth should have gotten a nobel, unfortunately the swedish academy gave one to bellow years ago, so there goes their quota of american jewish postwar novelists. big dummies. of course, if roth had lived another year or two it might have happened, but the latest mess in the academy has devalued the prize a little ...

meanwhile, the cardinals can't score any damn runs against the royals.
   20. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 23, 2018 at 03:46 PM (#5678357)
If this is going to become a book thread, 4,3,2,1 by Paul Auster is awesome. Of course, it has that Newark class stuff from a middle class Jewish perspective going on in it but this time it's in the 60's!
   21. Tin Angel Posted: May 23, 2018 at 03:50 PM (#5678361)
Really loved Auster's The Music of Chance and The New York Trilogy.
   22. perros Posted: May 23, 2018 at 04:14 PM (#5678387)
I'm boycotting the NPL 'til they give it to Chuck D.
   23. Tom Nawrocki Posted: May 23, 2018 at 04:43 PM (#5678400)
His late books are kind of hit and miss but Nemesis is a real heart breaker. He left it all on the field, that's for sure.


Indignation is really good.

American Pastoral is great in a lot of ways, but it's also the most oddly structured great novel I've ever read. The opening is all about Zuckerman's high school reunion, even though he doesn't appear in the remainder of the story, then the ending builds up to some dramatic reveal (I forget exactly what) that was a minor, unnecessary plot point, like whether Swede's wife found out he cheated on her or something. I probably missed some reason why Roth organized the book like that, but I thought the whole thing needed a good reshuffling.
   24. Man o' Schwar Posted: May 23, 2018 at 05:18 PM (#5678423)
4,3,2,1 by Paul Auster is awesome.

Seconded.
   25. AndrewJ Posted: May 23, 2018 at 08:10 PM (#5678484)
Our Gang seems relevant now, for some reason.
   26. PreservedFish Posted: May 23, 2018 at 08:45 PM (#5678505)
I read New York Trilogy when I was 22 and I absolutely loved it. I then devoured several other Auster novels but I found myself liking him less and less with each one. Part was the fact that he kept exploring the same themes, but less incisively and excitingly, which I grew tired of. Another part was how lazy he was in relying on coincidences in his plots. Finally there was the dawning realization that he's really not a stylist at all - I actually read an interview with him where he says that after he failed at poetry he essentially gave up trying to write beautiful language.
   27. . . . . . . Posted: May 23, 2018 at 08:57 PM (#5678512)
IRL, Roth was a prick who was rude to my father for absolutely no reason.
   28. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 07:12 AM (#5678667)
Anyone have any recommendations for a good, really long novel? I need to cash in this month's Audible credit and I like to get my money's worth. I just finished Moby Dick to give an idea on what I mean by really long. (Speaking of which, I've read Moby Dick twice before and even just listening to it was a good reminder of how immense that book is. I worry what it says about me that this time I read it as an allegory about depression, among other things. I don't suffer depression so I'm not sure where that's coming from. Time to self diagnose...)

Finally there was the dawning realization that he's really not a stylist at all - I actually read an interview with him where he says that after he failed at poetry he essentially gave up trying to write beautiful language.


The lack of style didn't bother me because the prose is clean and the dialogue is on point. Compare the excellence of the dialogue in 4321 to the excruciating dialogue in The Goldfinch, a book I'm pretty sure used dialogue to pad another 50 pages onto the book. Not a fan of The Goldfinch, by the way. The first 2/3 of that book are excruciating and it was at least passable when it become a potboiler in the final 1/3. I guess I don't get the hype for it.
   29. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 08:16 AM (#5678679)
Anyone have any recommendations for a good, really long novel?

Have you read Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks?

No idea how it would work as an audible, but there's also Underworld by Delillo.

Sticking with canon there's Mill on the Floss, Daniel Deronda, or Middlemarch by Eliot. Avoid Romola.

I positively adored Against the Day by Pynchon, but it really isn't one of his more popular books.

And, of course, there's always Neal Stephenson.
   30. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 08:20 AM (#5678682)
I agree with PF on Auster. One of those guys I was constantly disappointed in myself for not liking more, and then annoyed with him for making me feel that way. Which also has kept me from even trying DFW, so far gone now. Maybe in another 10 years.

   31. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 08:45 AM (#5678695)
Which also has kept me from even trying DFW, so far gone now. Maybe in another 10 years.

DFW is about the exact opposite of Auster, if that helps. You could always just read DFW's essays which are magazine length and quick to read.

Didn't care for Cloudsplitter though I really wanted to. Underworld was excellent but it seemed a bit cold at times and a chore. That's sort of Delillo's MO, though, I guess. Against the Day is my favorite Pynchon book because it's the most openly angry one. He just flat out calls for revolution but, of course, the people most likely to heed his call aren't going to read his books. What's a big Neal Stephenson book to start with? Never read any of his stuff.
   32. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:04 AM (#5678705)
Didn't care for Cloudsplitter though I really wanted to.

May have been the setting for me. He and Richard Russo are full-on northern NY/Adirondack writers. You're going to be a battle on books you haven't read, I'll need to consult my library when I get home for other suggestions.


What's a big Neal Stephenson book to start with? Never read any of his stuff.

And, from OTP-C:
My very very short reviews and rankings of Neal Stephenson's novels:

1. Anathem - This was my idea of a perfect novel. Loved the setting, loved the characters, loved the themes, loved the maths, love the ending. He puts out anything that equals this in the future I'll be totally thrilled.
2. Baroque Cycle - This is kind of a cheat and generally subjective because I love epics, so the length is really a feature for me and not a bug. The economic lesson hump of the book is a massive negative, but the rewards equal the task IMO. I do not think he needs an editor. FYI, for those who weren't aware, he wrote this one out by hand.
3. Snow Crash - Game-changer
4. Zodiac - This is an incredibly fun guerilla eco-warrior book, written by a young writer who was really enjoying himself. I was surprised how much I liked it.
5. Cryptonomicon - I remember really liking this, and my policy of basically re-reading nothing, ever, sort of hurts this ranking, as it might do better upon going through again. I'd imagine, however, that it might also end up a lot more dated than his other works.
6. Reamde - Stylistic, pointless page-turner. Probably liked it more than a lot of people did. I'm not a gamer, so I think those who are have a better grasp on this book.
7. The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer - Good, but nanotech annoys me. Should probably re-read.
8. Seveneves - 1st half was very good but incredibly bleak. Payoff for living through that was unrealized in an amazingly promising 2nd half premise that went totally nowhere, and the deux ex machinas were really really annoying. Everyone goes on about Stephenson's endings, this was the only one I felt hit that nerve with a hammer.
9. The Mongoliad - Read the 1st one, which bored me, and reminded me of the endless CLANG ###########.
The Big U, Interface, The Cobweb - In my library, unread.
I don't remember your interest in sci-fi. #2 is... not really sci-fi, more kinda Baroque historical wacky fiction. But really, REALLY long - three long books. #1 is sci-fi. The one you might like the most is #5, again, only barely sci-fi, mostly west-coast ten-minutes-into-the-future stuff (from 1999) about data mining.

   33. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:15 AM (#5678714)
I don't remember your interest in sci-fi. #2 is... not really sci-fi, more kinda Baroque historical wacky fiction. But really, REALLY long - three long books. #1 is sci-fi. The one you might like the most is #5, again, only barely sci-fi, mostly west-coast ten-minutes-into-the-future stuff (from 1999) about data mining.

I got nothing against sci fi. Nothing against any genre fiction, really, as long as it's good. I'll probably pick whatever is the longest audio book from the top half of your list. I like Richard Russo but his last one, Everybody's Fool, was kind of a miss. Straight Man is my favorite, but I read that when I was in an English graduate program so maybe it was just the perfect book at the perfect time.
   34. Hysterical & Useless Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:18 AM (#5678716)
William Gibson's The Peripheral is pretty good.

I found Infinite Jest to be fascinating, brilliant, and appalling. Took too long getting through it the first time (was reading a bunch of other things as well) so just went back to the beginning and read again. Wallace has some stylistic quirks which I can see some might find annoying, but I enjoy.

It's been 10 or 15 years since I read it, but I recall DeLillo's Libra to be a terrific and moving book.
   35. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:23 AM (#5678720)
It's been 10 or 15 years since I read it, but I recall DeLillo's Libra to be a terrific and moving book.

Agree - it's Delillo's best, but I only didn't recommend it as it wasn't long enough.
   36. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:23 AM (#5678721)
Roth was one of my favorites. Everyone should read Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral, and about 12 other books.

Can one of the Roth fans explain to me what you like about his books? I've never read any, but, from the obits I've been reading, they don't sound all that appealing to me.


   37. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:23 AM (#5678723)
It's been 10 or 15 years since I read it, but I recall DeLillo's Libra to be a terrific and moving book.

Yeah, Libra is both terrific AND a page turner. I didn't mean to, but I read Libra and American Tabloid nearly back to back which was an interesting juxtaposition.
   38. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:25 AM (#5678726)
Shooty, have you tried to tackle Knausgaard yet?
   39. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:27 AM (#5678728)
Lit thread!

Re: Long novel recommendations - I love a good megaread.... de la Pava's A Naked Singularity is phenomenal. I'm a big Denis Johnson fan, and I'm about to reread his Already Dead. Tree of Smoke is good too. Bolano's 2666 and The Savage Detectives are amazing, and he has many shorter novels so you could see if you liked his style. Delillo's Underworld is another favourite.

Shooty, I tried to read the Goldfinch, but thought it was awful. I recently thought about trying it again, but you're making me reconsider...

So 4321 is good? I loved New York Trilogy and Timbuktu, have had middling thoughts about the other Auster I've read.

I've tried and tried with Pynchon but the only book of his I've connected with is Inherent Vice. I think I don't share his sense of humour.

A contemporary author who deserves more love is Dana Spiotta. Stone Arabia is outstanding and Innocents and Others is also good.
   40. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:28 AM (#5678731)
Shooty, have you read any William T. Vollman? A mixed bag, but definitely long. You may like or you may hate The Royal Family. I'm still not sure which one describes how I feel about it.
   41. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:29 AM (#5678733)
Shooty, have you tried to tackle Knausgaard yet?

I have not. The last massive literary tome I tried to read was Parallel Stories by Peter Nadas but I've had so many house projects since I moved last year I haven't been able to read much and when I try I'm so dog-tired I just nod out.
   42. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:29 AM (#5678734)
Can one of the Roth fans explain to me what you like about his books? I've never read any, but, from the obits I've been reading, they don't sound all that appealing to me.

This might sound trite (and I'm not a Roth superfan, but someone who has really enjoyed 4-5 of his books, despite problems with some of their politics) - he's a phenomenal writer. The quality of prose is outstanding, and I got really sucked into it. Great American Novel is also really funny and clever, especially if you've read a lot about baseball.
   43. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:32 AM (#5678737)
I'm a big Denis Johnson fan, and I'm about to reread his Already Dead.

Denis Johnson is my literary hero and Already Dead is my favorite book of his.
   44. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:33 AM (#5678739)
Shooty, have you read any William T. Vollman? A mixed bag, but definitely long. You may like or you may hate The Royal Family. I'm still not sure which one describes how I feel about it.

I haven't though I always meant to. I tried reading one of his non-fiction books about math but had to put it down as it felt aggressively inaccessible.
   45. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:34 AM (#5678740)
I've been beating this drum forever here, but for a wholly different America than Roth's with prose just as excellent, I very highly recommend William Kennedy. He wrote the book that was made into the movie Ironweed, for those who may not have come across him.
   46. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:34 AM (#5678741)

Denis Johnson is my literary hero and Already Dead is my favorite book of his.

I feel like Milhouse meeting the other Milhouse here.

What do you love so much about AD?
   47. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:35 AM (#5678743)
This might sound trite (and I'm not a Roth superfan, but someone who has really enjoyed 4-5 of his books, despite problems with some of their politics) - he's a phenomenal writer. The quality of prose is outstanding, and I got really sucked into it.

What about the content? He seems mostly to write about male angst. Particularly sexual angst.
   48. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:35 AM (#5678744)
but had to put it down as it felt aggressively inaccessible.

A very accurate criticism of Vollman in general.
   49. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:37 AM (#5678745)
Denis Johnson is my literary hero and Already Dead is my favorite book of his.

I don't want to start with his best one. What's his second or third-best one?
   50. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:37 AM (#5678746)
Thanks Lassus - added some Kennedy to my library wishlist.
   51. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:38 AM (#5678750)

snapper, he does, which isn't super-appealing, but he also writes a lot about Jewishness, ethnicity and America, communism and anticommunism, mid-century pop culture, politics, and urban change.
   52. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:39 AM (#5678751)

A very accurate criticism of Vollman in general.


Yeah, Rising Up and Rising Down is really tough. I liked Poor People.
   53. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:40 AM (#5678752)

Lassus, for a short book by Johnson that shows what he can do, I'd recommend Angels.
   54. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:44 AM (#5678754)
Denis Johnson

Oh man, I'm just remembering how much I loved Train Dreams, and yet I never picked up another work of his.
   55. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:48 AM (#5678760)
Jesus' Son is the obvious starting place for Denis Johnson, but I'd agree Angels is the best entry novel.

What do you love so much about AD?


That's hard to pin down. Maybe because he casually uses the word "sesquipedalian"? Really, it's hard to pin down. I think he burrows as far down into his characters as humanly possible in that book without coming across as a wheezing philosopher or psychologist. And it's a masterpiece of style. He was really on fire writing that book.
   56. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 10:01 AM (#5678775)

Yeah, it's hallucinatory in all the best ways. Big and weird and unstoppable. He was definitely tapped into the source. Have you read The Name of the World?
   57. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 10:06 AM (#5678780)
Have you read The Name of the World?

I have read everything of his except his play and his latest posthumous collection of short stories. That one is sitting on my desk waiting for a day I have completely free so I can really savor it. His book of collected poetry is also excellent. I used to buy that book to give away as gifts I was so excited by it. Probably not the best idea in hindsight but what can you do?
   58. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 10:19 AM (#5678794)
I think that's a wonderful idea.

A weird feeling when you only have one-two books left to read by a beloved author, isn't it?
   59. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 10:24 AM (#5678800)
A weird feeling when you only have one-two books left to read by a beloved author, isn't it?

Yeah, it will be bittersweet. Maybe there will be a miracle and he has a stack of material to release like Bukowski but I doubt it. How many posthumous Bukowski books were there? Eleventy million is the answer.
   60. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:06 AM (#5678861)
A weird feeling when you only have one-two books left to read by a beloved author, isn't it?
Yeah, it will be bittersweet.


My GF refused to watch the last episode of Firefly in my box set (when I introduced it to her 10 years after it aired) because it would be too depressing for there to be no more. (She's not even a sci-fi nerd.)

Iain Banks' death was especially awful in that regard.
   61. Perry Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:09 AM (#5678865)
Anyone have any recommendations for a good, really long novel?


Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina are two of my faves, can't go wrong with either. DeLillo's Underworld is great too, if you want something modern, and even has a fair bit of baseball.
   62. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:20 AM (#5678875)

snapper, I think you would like American Pastoral. There is some of that middle-aged male angst but it's more about the relationship and conflicts between parents and children, the 70s counterculture, Jewish identity, class identity and similar themes.

The Great American Novel is fun if you're a baseball fan.
   63. Hysterical & Useless Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:20 AM (#5678876)
I love Dostoevsky, particularly Brothers Karamazov. Which seems completely implausible to me, because I can't abide the whole mystical Mother Russia thing. Never have cared for Tolstoy though.
   64. Shooty would run in but these bone spurs hurt! Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:28 AM (#5678885)
I also love Dostoevsky. I was able to con the English department at my undergraduate school to let me study him as an independent study course, which just meant reading the books and talking it over with a professor. Good times! I am very partial to The Possessed (or Demons) depending on your translation.
   65. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:30 AM (#5678891)
is going to be emblematic of the writer of post post modernity. i've slogged through the first five novels, and even though the subject matter is absolutely forgettable -- he's the first to admit he's pretty much a shallow loser -- the writing is not.

the whole Knausgaard thing fascinates me .... from everything I see about the work I feel like I would hate it, yet people seem to be transfixed. I'd love to hear from others about their experiences reading him.
   66. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:33 AM (#5678894)
I am very partial to The Possessed (or Demons) depending on your translation.

One year at college I was assigned this book and I read the entirety in 3-4 days while on a bleak empty campus during Thanksgiving break. Probably had to read for 8 hours a day. Only other kids at the dining hall were the weird foreign students that didn't make American friends to hang out with during the break. Great memory!
   67. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:40 AM (#5678902)
i've slogged through the first five novels, and even though the subject matter is absolutely forgettable -- he's the first to admit he's pretty much a shallow loser -- the writing is not. an odd paradox, but there you have it.


I've read three of them. Knausgaard has a beguiling appeal. The subject matter is fine - he has led a fairly regular life, and his issues are familiar to any modern human. The writing isn't terribly memorable either, it's certainly not flashy. So why is it compelling? I'm honestly not sure. It's kind of like listening to a semi-interesting person tell very detailed semi-interesting stories for hours. But at times I couldn't put the book down. The second half of the first volume, where he has to deal with the fallout of his father's death which includes rescuing his grandmother from squalor, is really etched in my mind.

I expect the books to get increasingly post-modern as he begins to write about his own writing process and the resulting fame.

To be honest some of the appeal is the (very mild) exoticism of Scandinavia.
   68. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 11:56 AM (#5678919)

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey is also a great long novel, and doesn't get as much attention as it deserves.

I really liked the first 90% of the Goldfinch, although I found the ending disappointing.
   69. Tin Angel Posted: May 24, 2018 at 12:03 PM (#5678925)
Agreed with the Denis Johnson comments above. Already Dead and Train Dreams are fantastic. Enjoyed Nobody Move too.

Currently reading Willy Vlautin's Don't Skip Out On Me which is pretty great. He is the author of Lean On Pete, if anyone caught the film based off of it.
   70. Hysterical & Useless Posted: May 24, 2018 at 12:20 PM (#5678935)
Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey


When I first read that, age 20ish, early 70s, I was blown away. Reread it a few years ago, and it really didn't hold up. Haven't dared to go back and reread "Cuckoo's Nest," because I'd read that before SaGN, thought it was great, but then loved SaGN more. Would hate to find neither held up.
   71. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 12:45 PM (#5678945)
When I first read that, age 20ish, early 70s, I was blown away. Reread it a few years ago, and it really didn't hold up.

I also read it when I was about 20, but that was in ~2000. Haven't gone back and re-read it.
   72. Jorge Luis Bourjos (Walewander) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 03:15 PM (#5679091)

I've read almost all Vlautin's novels, and they are really good but hoo boy are they grim.
   73. . . . . . . Posted: May 24, 2018 at 04:23 PM (#5679140)
So my facebook feed is full of fellow neighbors of Roth talking about what an absolute ####### he was . . . and I was thinking about the friends of mine who have become successful fiction writers - surprisingly, there are 3 of them - and they are all, to some degree, complete ########. And then I thought about the interviews I've heard on NPR and podcasts and such with other famous fiction writers, and they all kind of came across as ########.

Is there something about being a great writer of fiction that correlates with being an #######? One of my problems with fiction generally is that people who love fiction explain it as like entering into someone else's mind and life, and I'm like, yeah, true, but it's like entering the mind and life of an #######, and life is too short for that.
   74. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 04:29 PM (#5679145)
So my facebook feed is full of fellow neighbors of Roth talking about what an absolute ####### he was . . .

Do these people meet ######## all day?

I don't deny that Roth is probably an #######, but from what I recall about the neck of the woods where I recall you living, patience seems generally thin.
   75. . . . . . . Posted: May 24, 2018 at 04:35 PM (#5679148)
I don't deny that Roth is probably an #######, but from what I recall about the neck of the woods where I recall you living, patience seems generally thin.


This is not the neck of the woods where I live, but where my parents (now) live. Reasonable googling should be able to reveal that these are not thin-skinned people. Roth was just gratuitously and unnecessarily mean to a whole road-worth of neighbors.

Here's an indicative example - this isn't my work, but a neighbor's post from FB:

"My strongest memory [of Roth] was a brief conversation we had after his book, "The Human Stain", was made into a movie . . . I asked Philip what he thought of the film. 'As long as the check clears,' he said.

He wrote 30 books, so there are plenty of ways to remember him."
   76. Baldrick Posted: May 24, 2018 at 04:51 PM (#5679156)
Many writers of genre fiction--even very successful ones--seem to be pretty reasonable, nice people. Many writers of Big Important fiction tend to be absolutely dreadful.

I certainly don't have comprehensive data here, but anecdotally this feels very true.
   77. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:02 PM (#5679158)

I have a handful of friends who are successful fiction writers and they are generally wonderful people. All but one happen to be women, however. My male writer friends are generally good people too, but they are mostly non-fiction writers or reporters.

What I know about many of my favorite male fiction authors indicates that they are pretty lousy people IRL, but those are mostly guys who have reached an entirely different level of success and fame than my friends. I'm sure the two are related.
   78. BDC Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:05 PM (#5679159)
Virtually all poets are lovely people.
   79. BDC Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:07 PM (#5679160)
I don’t read many long contemporary novels - just a personal preference - but one I liked a lot was Perdido Street Station by China Miéville.
   80. Perry Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:08 PM (#5679161)
Many writers of Big Important fiction tend to be absolutely dreadful.


Didn't Updike have the reputation of being a very nice, unassuming man? Can't cite specifics, but that's the impression I have of him.
   81. Hysterical & Useless Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:24 PM (#5679168)
"My strongest memory [of Roth] was a brief conversation we had after his book, "The Human Stain", was made into a movie . . . I asked Philip what he thought of the film. 'As long as the check clears,' he said.


I don't see anything particularly assholish about that. He wrote a novel, somebody wanted to make it into a movie, he wasn't going to have control over what happened, but he wanted to get paid. People in the arts like having money same as the rest of us.

I have of course read elsewhere that PR was not the nicest guy in the world, perhaps.
   82. Lassus Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:29 PM (#5679172)
"My strongest memory [of Roth] was a brief conversation we had after his book, "The Human Stain", was made into a movie . . . I asked Philip what he thought of the film. 'As long as the check clears,' he said.

Beaten to it. Very odd example of being "gratuitously and unnecessarily mean" to any of his neighbors.
   83. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 05:59 PM (#5679186)
Great capital A Artists need some arrogance, which is often accompanied by insecurity/Narcissism/dickishness.
   84. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 06:03 PM (#5679190)

A lot of them were also raging alcoholics.
   85. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 06:10 PM (#5679193)
It's interesting. I've never liked "Important" fiction.

Pretty much all the "great novelists" I was introduced to in my education either leave me cold, or I actively dislike.

The only fiction I read is historical or genre (largely detective stories).
   86. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 08:34 PM (#5679254)
To tie it back to the top, have you read Moby Dick, snapper? Packed with more historical detail than you can shake a Michener at but with an astonishingly vibrant authorial voice. Might well be my favorite book.
   87. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:55 PM (#5679297)
To tie it back to the top, have you read Moby Dick, snapper? Packed with more historical detail than you can shake a Michener at but with an astonishingly vibrant authorial voice. Might well be my favorite book.

No.

We read Billy Budd in HS, and that pretty much turned me off Melville. Don't know why they went with that instead of the famous one.
   88. asinwreck Posted: May 24, 2018 at 09:59 PM (#5679300)
The Anatomy Lesson had some uncanny similarities to my household when it was published.
   89. PreservedFish Posted: May 24, 2018 at 10:10 PM (#5679321)
I bet that most teenagers would find Moby Dick intolerable. I don't think I would have been ready for it.
   90. Jay Z Posted: May 24, 2018 at 10:45 PM (#5679344)
A weird feeling when you only have one-two books left to read by a beloved author, isn't it?


Lordy.

My mom grew up in the country, went to a one room schoolhouse. Her library was a box of books. Periodically, the books would get changed out, but not before she had read all of them. So she read some more than once.

I am never worried about running out of entertainment in this world. I'll never get to it all.
   91. Tin Angel Posted: May 25, 2018 at 01:17 AM (#5679425)
I am never worried about running out of entertainment in this world. I'll never get to it all.


There's always going to be "entertainment"- the issue is finding something that really connects with who you are and the experiences you've had.
   92. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 25, 2018 at 08:43 AM (#5679439)
There's always going to be "entertainment"- the issue is finding something that really connects with who you are and the experiences you've had.

Interesting comment. That's not really something I look for in my reading, or any entertainment really.

Mostly, I like to learn something new, and explore interesting issues, problems, situations, etc. along with the author.

My favorite characters in literature have virtually nothing in common with me.
   93. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: May 25, 2018 at 08:53 AM (#5679444)
We read Billy Budd in HS, and that pretty much turned me off Melville. Don't know why they went with that instead of the famous one.


It's a fraction of the size.
   94. Lassus Posted: May 25, 2018 at 09:13 AM (#5679450)
Yes, we know that's what she said; but what about the book?
   95. Hysterical & Useless Posted: May 25, 2018 at 02:42 PM (#5679663)
It's interesting. I've never liked "Important" fiction.

Pretty much all the "great novelists" I was introduced to in my education either leave me cold, or I actively dislike.


This, not anything he's ever posted about politics, is what keeps snapper in the "history's greatest monster" race.
   96. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 25, 2018 at 03:34 PM (#5679677)
This, not anything he's ever posted about politics, is what keeps snapper in the "history's greatest monster" race.

Sorry. I really don't like reading about the made up emotions of made up, usually disagreeable, people. :-)
   97. Zach Posted: May 25, 2018 at 03:54 PM (#5679690)
Anyone have any recommendations for a good, really long novel? I need to cash in this month's Audible credit and I like to get my money's worth. I just finished Moby Dick to give an idea on what I mean by really long. (Speaking of which, I've read Moby Dick twice before and even just listening to it was a good reminder of how immense that book is. I worry what it says about me that this time I read it as an allegory about depression, among other things. I don't suffer depression so I'm not sure where that's coming from. Time to self diagnose...)

Try the Baroque Cycle, by Neal Stephenson. Maybe start with Cryptonomicon -- the two stories are related, but can be read independently.

   98. The Good Face Posted: May 25, 2018 at 04:13 PM (#5679699)
The vast majority of "Important Fiction" is just another genre. A tedious one.
   99. Zach Posted: May 25, 2018 at 04:16 PM (#5679702)
My very very short reviews and rankings of Neal Stephenson's novels:

1. Anathem - This was my idea of a perfect novel. Loved the setting, loved the characters, loved the themes, loved the maths, love the ending. He puts out anything that equals this in the future I'll be totally thrilled.
2. Baroque Cycle - This is kind of a cheat and generally subjective because I love epics, so the length is really a feature for me and not a bug. The economic lesson hump of the book is a massive negative, but the rewards equal the task IMO. I do not think he needs an editor. FYI, for those who weren't aware, he wrote this one out by hand.
3. Snow Crash - Game-changer
4. Zodiac - This is an incredibly fun guerilla eco-warrior book, written by a young writer who was really enjoying himself. I was surprised how much I liked it.
5. Cryptonomicon - I remember really liking this, and my policy of basically re-reading nothing, ever, sort of hurts this ranking, as it might do better upon going through again. I'd imagine, however, that it might also end up a lot more dated than his other works.
6. Reamde - Stylistic, pointless page-turner. Probably liked it more than a lot of people did. I'm not a gamer, so I think those who are have a better grasp on this book.
7. The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer - Good, but nanotech annoys me. Should probably re-read.
8. Seveneves - 1st half was very good but incredibly bleak. Payoff for living through that was unrealized in an amazingly promising 2nd half premise that went totally nowhere, and the deux ex machinas were really really annoying. Everyone goes on about Stephenson's endings, this was the only one I felt hit that nerve with a hammer.
9. The Mongoliad - Read the 1st one, which bored me, and reminded me of the endless CLANG ###########.
The Big U, Interface, The Cobweb - In my library, unread.


I'd say
1) Anathem -- just about perfect. The peak of his more mature style.
2) Cryptonomicon / Baroque Cycle -- The more exuberant style of the early years changes into the more deliberative mature style.
3) Snow Crash -- the peak of the exuberant young style.
4) Diamond Age -- I really liked this one. Dinged a little bit for the ending.

Gap

5) Zodiac -- fun eco thriller. Would make for a good movie.
6) Interface -- Fun thriller in the vein of the Manchurian Candidate. Would make for a fun movie.
7) The Cobweb -- fun thriller with some nice small town atmosphere. Would maybe make for a fun movie, but would need to be updated.

These were all early books written in a more commercial thriller style. He didn't really use the exuberant style until Snow Crash.

Anything above this point I would recommend to a new reader.

Gap

7) Seveneves -- lots of fantastic ideas, but the second half isn't as good as the first, and the characters aren't as good as the books in the top tier.
8) Reamde -- good characters, but lacking in the fantastic ideas. I kept waiting for him to shift out of first gear and get to the good stuff.

These are both readable, but your enjoyment will probably depend on how much you like gaming or how much you care about well-worked out concepts for orbital machinery.

Big Gap

9) The Big U -- don't remember much. Has some cool ideas, but he didn't really know how to write a novel yet.
10) Mongoliad -- bored me. Did he even write this, or just contribute some ideas?
   100. Zach Posted: May 25, 2018 at 04:35 PM (#5679715)
What I mean by exuberant style is that there are a lot of elements in Snow Crash, Diamond Age, and Cryptonomicon which are really only there because they're fun. There's a multiple page digression in Cryptonomicon that goes into the main character's special technique of eating Cap'n Crunch cereal. I suppose at some level it illustrates his OCD tendencies, but it's really just there for the humor value.

In the mature style, the digressions tend to be about interesting topics that are more or less germane to the plot. There's one in Cryptonomicon about a bike that breaks down when a loose link in the chain hits a bent spoke that is fun, but also relates to the multiple period roters of the Enigma machine. The Baroque Cycle is full of this kind of stuff.

The commercial style doesn't have as many stylistic elements, but the books tend to have an interesting plot and strong characters.
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