r e c o m m e n d e d   r e a d i n g

  ‘To be sure! To be sure!’ exclaimed their brother. ‘You have no faith.... Literature nowadays is a trade. Putting aside men of genius, who may succeed by mere cosmic force, your successful man of letters is your skilful tradesman. He thinks first and foremost of the markets; when one kind of goods begins to go off slackly, he is ready with something new and appetising. He knows perfectly well all the possible sources of income. Whatever he has to sell he’ll get payment for it from all sorts of various quarters; none of your unpractical selling for a lump sum to a middleman who will make six distinct profits. Now, look you: if I had been in Reardon’s place, I’d have made four hundred at least out of “The Optimist”; I should have gone shrewdly to work with magazines and newspapers and foreign publishers, and -- all sorts of people. Reardon can’t do that kind of thing, he’s behind his age; he sells a manuscript as if he lived in Sam Johnson’s Grub Street. But our Grub Street of to-day is quite a different place: it is supplied with telegraphic communication, it knows what literary fare is in demand in every part of the world, its inhabitants are men of business, however seedy.’
    ‘It sounds ignoble,’ said Maud.
                                                                   George Gissing
                                                                   NEW GRUB STREET

Several writers and readers, friends of Archipelago, suggest some good books:

John Casey (SPARTINA, Knopf; THE HALF-LIFE OF HAPPINESS, Knopf, 1998):
    “Don DeLillo’s newest book is the work of art about America that Oliver Stone must have dreamt of in his best dream.” Don DeLillo, UNDERWORLD (Scribner, 1997)
    “Another great American novel, by Russell Banks, about the same length as UNDERWORLD but reaching back to the life of John Brown as remembered -- and struggled with -- by his son Owen Brown. A great wooden ship of a novel.” Russell Banks, CLOUDSPLITTER (HarperFlamingo, 1998)
    “This book, now out of print, tells the last days of an Irish gentlewoman’s full life. An unsentimental but acutely felt and perfect short novel.” Janet Johnston, THE CHRISTMAS TREE (o.p.)    

Robert Kelly (RED ACTIONS, Black Sparrow Press; THE TIME OF VOICE, Poems of 1994-1996, Black Sparrow, 1998):
    “A hard mosaic of unsentimental precisions from that terrible place and time [Auschwitz]. Sarah Nomberg-Przytyk was a leftist, not a religious Jew at all -- and her distance from ordinary Judaism sharpens her glance. A book I find hard to stop reading, and then it hurts so much one puts it down.” Sarah Nomberg-Przytyk, AUSCHWITZ , TRUE TALES FROM A GROTESQUE LAND (UNC Press, Chapel Hill, 1985)
    “After all these years Ellingham’s research materials on the life and work of Jack Spicer has been brought into joyous, sympathetic and detailed coherence by the poet Kevin Killian. A study of the most important of the neglected poets of the last half century.” Killian and Ellingham: POET BE WONDERFUL (Wesleyan, 1998)
    “Exciting and seemingly masterful treatise that proposes an important agenda of Dutch painting as (implicitly) a rejection of Italian Renaissance targets; Alpers studies the mapping of everyday reality, and is especially good in bringing forward the work of that great painter Pieter Saenredam, whose work astonished me when I first saw it in Amsterdam.” Svetlana Alpers, THE ART OF DESCRIBING Dutch Painting in the 17th Century. (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983)
    “I hadn’t known Woelfli until this book was recommended to me, and I find myself amazed by the man’s oeuvre -- one carried out in the very same Swiss madhouse in which the writer Robert Walser was confined. Woelfli’s work came to the art world (I guess) via ‘art brut’ and Dubuffet’s famous exhibition. Adolf Woelfli’s work is powerful indeed, intricate, inveigling. And bears comparison with ‘our own’ Henry Darger, the Chicago loner who wrote the world’s longest novel (REALMS OF THE UNREAL --- 15,000+ single-spaced legal pages) and acres of paintings -- a kind of naif Balthus, and with an almost identical focus on images of the child. Darger’s work, as far as I know, is discussed only on the Web, but well worth checking at the several sites.” Elka Spoerri, ADOLF WOELFLI, DRAFTSMAN, WRITER, POET, COMPOSER (Cornell, 1997)

Janet Palmer Mullaney (editor and publisher of Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, from 1984-1996, and currently endeavoring to re-create the magazine on the internet):
    “I devour everything by Lorrie Moore, usually twice (seven of the stories in her latest, BIRDS OF AMERICA, have appeared in The New Yorker). If she has any faults as a writer, I don’t want to hear about them. With every new work her humanity deepens, as well as her artistry. With her agile mind and inimitable wordplay she faces down the terror, pain, and desolation churned up by modern life.” Lorrie Moore, BIRDS OF AMERICA (Knopf, 1998) NB: “People Like That Are the Only People Here,” from the book, has just won the O’Henry Award as the best short story of the year.
    “ALMOST HEAVEN is the latest novel by another extremely intelligent writer and master stylist: Marianne Wiggins. Two tragedies engendered by violence -- one by nature and the other by people -- connect her two protagonists, each of whom seeks oblivion via
different paths: ‘The conscious mind can’t induce forgetfulness except by way of mind-altering substances, but the unconscious mind can and does. The unconscious mind is always ticking, ever tidal, never tidy. A dark sea through which shifting floes of pale remembrances loom and groan, wordlessly, like ice.’” Marianne Wiggins, ALMOST HEAVEN (Crown, 1998)

Carol Troxell  (New Dominion Bookshop, 404 E. Main St., Charlottesville, Va. 22902; 804-295-2552):
    “The conclusion of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is out. When it appeared, I went back to read the second one; I was compelled by it. Why he is worth reading: In ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, the prose alone carries the book for me; while, in THE CROSSING, I thought the part with the wolf was beautiful, standing alone. It was one of the best things I’ve ever read about loss. The first book is about coming of age; the second is about the big issues, love and loss, mainly loss; I am very curious to see what he does with the third.” Cormac McCarthy, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES, THE CROSSING, CITIES OF THE PLAIN (Knopf, 1993, 1994, 1998)
    “Anne Michaels’ FUGITIVE PIECES, too, is a coming of age story, about the big issues of love and loss. But here, they turn on a man’s growing through the trauma of the Holocaust, and learning to love. The prose is particularly beautiful: it is the first novel of this Canadian poet. The opening scene, of the young boy coming out of the mud, is one of the most moving I’ve read, and is particularly important to this book.” Anne Michaels, FUGITIVE PIECES (Knopf, 1997; Vintage, 1998)
    “I’m taking Roxana Robinson’s novel on vacation to read, because I’ve been impressed by her short stories, and because, to my pleasure, she will be reading here, in the bookshop, on November 6.” Roxana Robinson, THIS IS MY DAUGHTER (Random House, 1998)

Jim Crace (ARCADIA, Atheneum; SIGNALS OF DISTRESS, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996; QUARANTINE, Farrar, Straus, 1998):
    “Robert Frost is somewhat out of fashion at the moment. Readers find him too unyielding and grumpy, a New Hampshire smallholder and countryman who would gladly scatter any trespassers with his twelve-bore couplets. He’s also too conservative as a poet (‘Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.’) But I like grouchy Farmer Frost. I continue to admire his cantankerous love of the land and his solid, intimate understanding of weather, water stone. Thre is nothing Wordsworthian about his experience of nature. He has fixed that dry stone wall himself, walked ‘the sodden pasture lane,’ snagged his own axe in the alder roots. Robert Frost, THE COLLECTED POETRY (Henry Holt)
    “WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS, by J.M. Coetzee, is the modern novel I would most like to have written, and Coetzee is the novelist who has most directly influenced my own books. His works are sparkling, disconcerting allegories about exploitation, opression and imperialism both in and beyond his native South Africa, but written with immense narrative drive and great clarity. BARBARIANS is the story of an ineffectual magistrate, banished to the frontiers of Empire and only realizing too late that waiting for the barbarians to arrive has blinkered him from noticing that the real barbarians are already in command. Could be anywhere.
    “THE SONG OF THE DODO, by David Quammen, is a recent personal favorite, my fantasy book in fact. If I hadn’t been a novelist I would have wanted to be a naturalist, an adventurer or a traveller. Quammen is all of these. His book is subtitled “Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction” and is ostensibly a painstaking -- almost 700 pages! -- report on the distribution of animal and plant species on islands. This could have been a work of armchair scholarship, but Quammen has the nature of a prowler and the eye of a novelist. We end up hunting dodos, marsupial tigers, dragons and a pestilential outbreak of snakes in Mauritius, Tasmania, Komodo and Guam while Quammen reveals his Theory of Everything. I have never before been so completely captivated by a work of non-fiction. A masterpiece of natural history.”

Jeanette Watson (owner of the late Books&Co., NY, and publisher of Off the Wall, a quarterly newsletter available from Books&Co./Turtle Point Press: 
    “As readers may know by now, I love erotic books and Ted Mooney’s latest novel, SINGING INTO THE PIANO (Knopf, 1998), has the most erotic first chapter I’ve read in a long time.
    “I was riveted by Christa Wolf’s new book, MEDEA (Nan A. Talese/ Doubleday, 1998), an engrossing retelling of this classical tale which offers an important commentary on the power struggle between men and women and a new take on a familiar tragic figure.
    “I thought W.G. Sebold’s THE EMIGRANTS (New Directions, 1997) was one of the great literary discoveries of last year -- a remarkable work of imagination, compassion, and intelligence, and so I’m very excited to see that May promises a new translation of this German writer’s work entitled THE RINGS OF SATURN (New Directions, 1998).”


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