February 01, 2007


Jimmy Beck

What, no "Saturday"?


read the book at Barnes and Noble this afternoon and was going to tell you about it. I found it interesting also.

Tyrone Slothrop

Not enough Pynchon!

Steven Augustine

Surprised that Banville's list contains no curve-balls! (No Mervyn Peake? Ronald Firbank? Kathy Acker? *Laugh*...)

Steven Augustine

Re: "Not enough Pynchon!" Isn't it the usual trick among famous writers to praise only the brilliant dead or the vastly inferior contemporaries?


This book is going to get me into big trouble. My house is already chockablock with books and I have a bad feeling that I will need to buy copies of all 544 books (at least those I do not own) and lock myself in my study and read until the bank comes to repossess my house.

Actually though, this kind of book could be embarrassing. I mean, what if you are a "top writer" but you have no taste at all? Sort of like DFW (unless he's just kidding). Even worse would be answering with titles you think that everyone would expect you to list but in fact you have never read. Then, at your next interview someone asks you about Book X and you get to sit there with a blank look on your face, drool beginning to form. Ugh.

I'm still wondering why I didn't appear on any of the lists though.


I went to Illinois State during the period Wallace taught there. I can say with complete certainty that Harris' novels inclusion is not "Irony." Wallace actually taught that novel to undergrads a number of times.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."