Four Great Books About the Artist in New York
Recommended by Noreen Tomassi
Reading around a theme is one of a bibliophile's great pleasures. Here's a powerful foursome, selected by the Center for Fiction's Executive Director.
1. Spending by Mary Gordon (1999)
From Library Journal: “This novel is a witty and graphically sexy fantasy about money, art, modern mores, and, above all, good physical partnering. At 50, Monica Szabo, New York artist, divorced mother, and teacher, is a well-regarded painter with middling financial success. Suddenly, she acquires a patron, a muse, a lover, and an artist’s model, all in the person of a moneymaking genius. In every way, he supports her latest artistic vision of re-creating classical images of the deposed Christ as post-orgasmic rather than deceased. The commotion surrounding Monica’s Jesus paintings allows the author plenty of room for satiric barbs at contemporary aesthetic and social interest groups, mixed in with the doings of uniformly interesting major and minor characters.”
Five Steps to Prep for David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest
By Barrie Zipkin
In many ways, saving a great book for later is a special pleasure. Knowing that it’s waiting up there on the top shelf among the mostly-read masterpieces, your ace-in-the-hole for that someday sabbatical or the month when the TV breaks. Your friends assure you that you will love it, and you can’t wait to shoot knowing looks to strangers lugging it around on the train—but you just keep putting it off. At some point, “saving it” becomes “avoiding it” and let’s be honest here, these books are intimidating. These are the books you’ve read to page 12 and then stopped, more than once. But we’re here to help: By selecting a few choice short (and shorter) works to get you started, we’ll ease you into those epics pain-free.
The first in an ongoing series:
Infinite Jest (1,079 pages) may be the most carefully constructed novel ever written. Not to say that it's linear or that every plotline ties up neatly, or even that it's sensible. The beauty is that David Foster Wallace, at his brilliant, obsessive best, dedicated as much thought to each sentence as any author ever has. The book is fascinating and violent and hilarious and tender and ridiculous and epic, but that's all ancillary to the starkly visible deliberation behind it all. Writing is often an expression of insecurity—Wallace lays it all out there for his reader, the doubts of a genius. A magnificent novel by any standards, Infinite Jest also examines and perfects the form before twisting it up into a delightfully complex and impossibly inclusive whole, an absolute largesse of language.
Prepare yourself by reading these first:
1. "A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life" by David Foster Wallace (1 page)
This flash fiction will get the flavor on your tongue for Wallace’s uniquely hilarious cultural despair. READ MORE
William Gass on King Arthur and Thomas Mann
Two books made me a reader. I dragged my anchor and sat through the fourth grade sullen and slow, my cargo a hold full of negativities, and even those were spoiled. Somehow I came into the possession of a child’s version of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. There was no doubt not much left of Malory after all the dumbing down... READ MORE
In his lecture titled “The Riddle of Poetry,” Borges stretches a quote from Bishop Berkley to fit over all of literature. “The taste of the apple is neither in the apple itself—the apple cannot taste itself—nor in the mouth of the eater. It requires a contact between them. The same thing happens to a book…What is a book? A book is a physical object in a world of physical objects. It is a set of dead symbols. Then the right reader comes along and the words, or rather the poetry behind the words (for the words themselves are mere symbols) spring into life and we have a resurrection of the word.” Scott McClanahan’s Crapalachia resurrects words. It’s an apple that tastes good. But not just good. Necessary.
“I just realized that I never look at a painting and ask, ‘Is this painting fictional or non-fictional?’ It’s just a painting.” This is in the book’s final section, Appendix and Notes, where Scott tells the truth about who is who. Uncle Stanley is actually Scott’s dad, we learn. Little Bill is a combination of two friends. And so on. But the real/not real distinction shouldn’t matter. Some readers might get hung up on genre specifications: Is this “A Biography” of Place," as the front cover tells us, tending more towards memoir, or are we reading fiction in the reality splitting cut of Ben Lerner and Sheila Heti? For our purposes (we are the Center for Fiction),Crapalachia is a novel. But this point doesn’t matter when you read McClanahan. There is a story here. There is lifeblood. READ MORE
Quote of the Week
“The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She...
A Novel Approach
The Center for Fiction will handcraft a year’s worth of reading for you or your loved one based on a 45-minute personal consultation. At a crossroads? Get insight from great literature on life’s big moments--getting married or having an affair, moving abroad, changing jobs or having a child. And even if you don’t plan on having a big year, we can still help select books that will be perfect for wherever you are right now!
A 45-minute consultation and a detailed reading list tailored just for you.
All of the above plus one book per month from the reading list mailed to you.
Merrill Joan Gerber's novels and stories are worth discovering and re-discovering
For decades. Merrill Joan Gerber wrote about domestic life—husbands and wives, women and children—in a manner that was highly accessible, yet always came with a bit of...prickle. Her characters sometimes led conventional lives, but if you were looking for received wisdom, you had better look elsewhere. And damn it, she was funny. READ MORE