Sunday, December 11, 2011

Samuel Beckett - Watt

For next month, Samuel Beckett's Watt, discussion at 7 PM Sunday, January 8th 2012.  Should be awesome, y'all

In prose possessed of the radically stripped-down beauty and ferocious wit that characterize his work, this early novel by Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett recounts the grotesque and improbable adventures of a fantastically logical Irish servant and his master."Watt"is a beautifully executed black comedy that, at its core, is rooted in the powerful and terrifying vision that made Beckett one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Classics I Forgot to Read

At recent meetings, I've been terribly guilty of not repping my sister (parent?) book club which also meets at Books Inc in the Marina: Classics I Forgot to Read.  They'll be reading the excellent David Copperfield by Charles Dickens for January with a meeting on January 25th (they always meet the final Wednesday of each month except December).  Info:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

etc etc

Awesome Kafka dissection tonight, I really got into the different views, thanks a bunch for participating.  I also thought the short story format worked pretty nicely, so I'll shoot for more of that in the future, although I realize if everyone hasn't read more or less the same stories it could be problematic; I'll try to be ultra specific henceforth.

Also, following up on Liz's point, here's the letter Kafka wrote to his father:

I also had a recommendation for something of Beckett's novels for January, so I'm all about that!  Happy Thanksgiving, see ya December 11th at 7 PM!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Richard Brautigan

Yep, Kafka still on for this Sunday.  See ya at 7 PM sharp!

December selection: Richard Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America, The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster, and In Watermelon Sugar, two novellas and poetry available in one volume, ISBN 9780395500767.  I've only read In Watermelon Sugar, which I think is an incredible piece of outsider literature with a distinctly bizarre American feel, simultaneously a product of its era and yet disembodied and idiosyncratic--"good for the soul" (sez the shelf talker).  I'm looking forward to discussing everything in this volume, but if you've only got time for one thing, Trout Fishing will probably be more than enough fodder for two hours' discussion.

Trout Fishing in America is by turns a hilarious, playful, and melancholy novel that wanders from San Francisco through America's rural waterways; In Watermelon Sugar expresses the mood of a new generation, revealing death as a place where people travel the length of their dreams, rejecting violence and hate; and The Pill Versus the Springhill Mine Disaster is a collection of nearly 100 poems, first published in 1968.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Franz Kafka - Metamorphosis & Other Stories

What an excellent Queneau discussion!  Thanks for coming.  I heard a couple folks mention they'd like to post their own Exercises in Style--this would be a great spot for 'em if you wish to post a reply, can't wait to have a read!

Next month (November): Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis and Other Stories.  I'm using the translation linked below, ISBN 9780143105244, but I'd love to hear reactions from folks who've read alternate translations, such as the new Oxford version, for example.  I'd love to write a few paragraphs about how Kafka has changed my life, etc, but alas! I don't have time!  Maybe I'll jot something down in this spot if I get the chance in the next couple weeks.  But please check out this Litquake event on Kafka on October 14th:

Another supplement for consideration, Wolfgang Voigt's "Kafkatrax" 12"s (2011) for readers interested in experimental techno--all sounds except the drums were taken from a Kafka audiobook and bear a strong sense of paranoia and astrangement found in Kafka's writing.  I totally dig this!!

For all his fame, Franz Kafka published only a small number of stories in his lifetime. This new translation of those stories, by Michael Hofmann, one of the most respected German-to-English translators at work today, makes Kafka's best-known works available to a new generation of readers. Metamorphosis gives full expression to the breadth of Kafka's literary vision and the extraordinary depth of his imagination.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Raymond Queneau - Exercises in Style

Thanks for the excellent meeting on Sunday--really great dissection of Sartre, good balance of topics and so forth.  Wish I had more time to go into details here, but as mentioned at the meeting, I'm pretty swamped lately and had to look for an easy escape for next month, something not too time consuming or heavy, but still interesting.... so I picked Raymond Queneau's 1947 classic Exercises in Style for October.  The book is one brief and largely incidental two-paragraph story written in 99 different styles such as mathematical, auditory and ode to mention a few.  I'm not exactly sure how we can go about analyzing it as we've been doing with previous and more "conventional" novels, but I think it'll be an engaging book to discuss (and hopefully read bits from together!) nonetheless.  We'll meet on Sunday, October 9th at 7 PM at the usual spot, Books Inc 2251 Chestnut St.

"A work of genius in a brilliant translation by Barbara Wright....Endlessly fascinating and very funny." --Philip Pullman

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nausea notes & questions

As a bit of an experiment, I thought I'd post my notes for Nausea to the blog ahead of the discussion in the eventuality that it might come in handy.  These are the notes I took while reading with just a bit of retrospection, so please pardon the roughness--be sure to reference the text since the quotes are barely snippets.  This is only tip-of-the-iceberg stuff on a novel with incredible depth...

-1st person, diary format: does it work?
-Is this book basically auto-biographical?  To what extent?
-p22: "Some of these days" ... "nothing can interrupt it but all can break it" -- Theme reprised at end of book
-p34 First bout with Self-Taught Man" -is he real or Antoine's imaginary interlocutor/alter-ego?  Later on, when the Corsican punches Self-Taught Man, is Sartre making a metaphor about Antoine's triumph over ego?
-p37 "something is beginning in order to end"... "I like to see that minute pass"  Great!  What is "adventure?"
-p57 Adventure definition (paraphrased): "growing old w/ woman" -element of the passing of time & irretrievability of past.  Connection to Proust?
-p53 another example of lost time (bottom of page)
-p63 Excellent summation of Antoine & Anny, another example of time
-p70 "Must not think too much about the value of history" and "having made love is much better than making it" -do you agree?
-p84 "I had always realized it; I hadn't the right to exist."  p85 (top): "A right is nothing more than the other aspect of duty."  Do you relate/agree?
-p95 "True nature of the present".... at bottom -any connection to nihilism?
-p117 Categorization of humanists.  Why?  Do you agree?  Does this fit the themes of the book or seem out of place?
-p127 Sartre expounds on the nature of existence: does it hide itself?  Can we only see the ephemera and not the thing in itself?  What is "being?"  Why should we be concerned enough to ask these questions?  Related topics: terror management theory, memento mori, the inability of language to capture essence, Heraclitus ("you cannot step into the same river twice")
-p169 What does it mean to "outlive oneself?"
-Is this basically a love story?  With a person?  With existence?  With both?  Or is it a thinly-veiled philosophy book in the guise of fiction?
-Is the ending satisfactory?

I hope everyone enjoyed this book; I certainly did.  Looking forward to the discussion Sunday!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sartre: Nausea

Great Nathanael West discussion last night--intense--loved it!  Next round: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre.  Discussion will be on September 11th at 7 PM.

Winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature, Jean-Paul Sartre, French philosopher, critic, novelist, and dramatist, holds a position of singular eminence in the world of letters. Among readers and critics familiar with the whole of Sartre's work, it is generally recognized that his earliest novel, La Nausee (first published in 1938), is his finest and most significant. It is unquestionably a key novel of the twentieth century and a landmark in Existentialist fiction. Nausea is the story of Antoine Roquentin, a French writer who is horrified at his own existence. In impressionistic, diary form he ruthlessly catalogues his every feeling and sensation. His thoughts culminate in a pervasive, overpowering feeling of nausea which "spreads at the bottom of the viscous puddle, at the bottom of our time--the time of purple suspenders and broken chair seats; it is made of wide, soft instants, spreading at the edge, like an oil stain." Roquentin's efforts to come to terms with life, his philosophical and psychological struggles, give Sartre the opportunity to dramatize the tenets of his Existentialist creed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Italo Calvino

Stumbled on this great Italo Calvino resource/depository here awhile back, in both Chinese and English.  I've only read a couple of his books so far, but both (Invisible Cities and T-Zero) were utterly amazing combinations of Borgesian logical proofs and "what if?" mysticism, flights of surrealistic fancy a la Michel Leiris, approachably and impeccably written, words for the inner mind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I've also been meaning to mention, if anyone would like to suggest a book for the club to read, please mention it at a meeting!  The only restrictions are that the book be "modern" literature (or "modernist" or "post-modern" or whatever you call this stuff), in print and available at the San Francisco Public Library, and not super long.  Ditto for suggestions on format, discussion approaches, etc etc.  See you at the next meeting!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nathanael West - Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust

August selection: Nathanael West - Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust.  Both are very short and available in one extra cheap and gorgeously designed edition: isbn 9780811218221.  A very accessible (and dear to my heart) selection  after the dense, unyielding morass of Nightwood, which I was pleased to find most folks in the group found basically likable nonetheless, and were able to engage with the plot and characters more than I was able.  I thought the elemental "man vs. nature" themes, impeccably crafted prose-poetry and free association made for a very unique and edifying read in spite of the somewhat incidental plot and character elements.  Fun and enlightening discussion as always, thanks for participating.

First published in 1933, Miss Lonelyhearts remains one of the most shocking works of 20th century American literature, as unnerving asa glob of black bile vomited up at a church social: empty, blasphemous, and horrific. Set in New York during the Depression and probably West's most powerful work, Miss Lonelyhearts concerns a nameless man assigned to produce a newspaper advice column but as time passes he begins to break under the endless misery of those who write in, begging him for advice. Unable to find answers, and with his shaky Christianity ridiculed to razor-edged shards by his poisonous editor, he tumbles into alcoholism and a madness fueled by his own spiritual emptiness.During his years in Hollywood West wrote The Day of the Locust, a study of the fragility of illusion. Many critics consider it with F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished masterpiece The Last Tycoon (1941) among the best novels written about Hollywood. Set in Hollywood during the Depression, the narrator, Tod Hackett, comes to California in the hope of a career as a painter for movie backdrops but soon joins the disenchanted second-rate actors, technicians, laborers and other characters living on the fringes of the movie industry. Tod tries to seduce Faye Greener; she is seventeen. Her protector is an old man named Homer Simpson. Tod finds work on a film called prophetically The Burning of Los Angeles, and the dark comic tale ends in an apocalyptic mob riot outside a Hollywood premiere, as the system runs out of control.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Word of the Day: Pulchritudinous

Found in Robert Walser's "The Marriage Proposal" from the Microscripts collection, which is chock full of bizarre and unorthodox literary vocabulary, but I have to say, not quite as satisfying as the earlier short story collection from NYRB or Masquerade.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Djuna Barnes' Nightwood

Back home and suitably drained after an intense and wonderful discussion of Jakob Von Gunten by Robert Walser.  Though we didn't delve into his interesting biographical information much at all, divisive opinions on the accessibility of the book led to plenty of analysis of the content, particularly Jakob as a character, plot elements, dreams and passages within the book, and the trajectory of modernity (!?).  A very complicated and compelling book.  Thanks for coming!

Next installment will be Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, a notorious classic from 1936 which has been lurking on my "to read" list for years--maybe it's been on yours as well?  Maybe?  Well, then!  Join us on July 10th at 7 PM at Books, Inc in the Marina in any case.  I'll try to dig up something compelling blurb-wise in the meantime, maybe a slice from the T.S. Eliot introduction once my copy arrives.  By the way, I hear Djuna Barnes is portrayed in Woody Allen's latest film Midnight in Paris....

August: Miss Lonelyhearts and Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
September: Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Orwell and Walser discussions

This club will soon be listed on the Books Inc website--seems like a great occasion for an update!?

Last month, Down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell was discussed.  Stellar discussion, thanks to all participants.

This unusual fictional account, in good part autobiographical, narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society.

Tune in (or drop in) next episode; we'll be discussing Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser on June 12th at 7 PM.

The Swiss writer Robert Walser is one of the quiet geniuses of twentieth-century literature. Largely self-taught and altogether indifferent to worldly success, Walser wrote a range of short stories, essays, as well as four novels, of which Jakob von Gunten is widely recognized as the finest. The book is a young man's inquisitive and irreverent account of life in what turns out to be the most uncanny of schools. It is the work of an outsider artist, a writer of uncompromising originality and disconcerting humor, whose beautiful sentences have the simplicity and strangeness of a painting by Henri Rousseau.
Walser (1878-1956) left school at fourteen and led a wandering, precarious existence while producing poems, essays, stories, and novels. In 1933 he entered an insane asylum—he remained there for the rest of his life—and quit writing. “I am not here to write,” he said, “but to be mad.”

Monday, March 7, 2011

April 2011--The Third Policeman

Our first selection is The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.  Discussion is April 24th at 7 PM.

The Third Policeman is Flann O'Brien's brilliantly dark comic novel about the nature of time, death, and existence. Told by a narrator who has committed a botched robbery and brutal murder, the novel follows him and his adventures in a two-dimensional police station where, through the theories of the scientist/philosopher de Selby, he is introduced to "Atomic Theory" and its relation to bicycles, the existence of eternity (which turns out to be just down the road), and de Selby's view that the earth is not round but "sausage-shaped." With the help of his newly found soul named "Joe," he grapples with the riddles and contradictions that three eccentric policeman present to him.The last of O'Brien's novels to be published, The Third Policeman joins O'Brien's other fiction (At Swim-Two-Birds, The Poor Mouth, The Hard Life, The Best of Myles, and The Dalkey Archive) to ensure his place, along with James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, as one of Ireland's great comic geniuses.