Gass loves words. His prose is extravagant, lush, sometimes overly florid (as when he talks of Flann O'Brien's death on "the first Fools' Day of April, 1966"), and in this new collection, his words have a tendency to get in the way of his subject matter. Which is a shame, because Gass, a novelist and award-winning critic, writes about books and authors often ignored by mainstream readers: Rabelais, Robert Burton, Elias Canetti. Then again, Gass doesn't write for the mainstream. He is the strangest of academic amalgams: a self-professed lover of the avant-garde as represented by Gertrude Stein, Flann O'Brien and Robert Coover, while at the same time he extols the virtues of what he calls "the classics." His definition of classic is, to be sure, expansive, but he applies an old-fashioned standard to all literature, declaring the need for those classics as the basis for a varied literary diet. Despite the occasional gem, such as a touching, if rambling, tribute to William Gaddis, the essays often devolve into little more than a brief synopsis of plot. This volume is appropriately titled, because Gass approaches his subjects reverently, but as in a temple, the service depends as much on the ritual of devotion as on innovation in thought. (Feb. 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Essayist, novelist, and literary critic Gass (Tests of Time), three-time winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, here offers 25 essays on the art of writing. Regardless of his subjects, which range from luminaries such as Rainer Maria Rilke to relatively obscure authors like Flann O'Brien, Gass writes with spellbinding passion. In "Fifty Literary Pillars," he identifies those works that have had the most profound impact on him, often revealing more about himself than about the works he is discussing. He is a man who loves the written word both for what it says and for how it sounds; books that to some might be challenging or confusing sing to him. In "A Defense of the Book," Gass articulates the importance of books and libraries to a free society. No one who reads "The Sentence Seeks Its Form" will likely ever read or write a sentence again without appreciating its glorious power. Gass shares his lifelong love affair with books as well as his insights into the nature of humankind, religion, and art in a work that is likely to earn him his fourth NBCC Award. Recommended for academic libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/1/05.]-Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
A learned potpourri of fulminations and enthusiasms from the indefatigably stylish novelist, teacher and critic. If Gass's first three essays don't hook you, you probably aren't an inveterate work freak and won't declare this lively book a worthy companion to its author's several prize-winning essay collections (such as The World Within the Word and Tests of Time). In an utterly perfect introductory essay, Gass sings the praises of multiplicity, contradiction and polyphony in literature, urging readers to become, above all else, omnivorous ("The healthy mind goes everywhere"). "Influence" rambles engagingly about the title phenomenon's central relationship to artistic creation, meanwhile tossing off witty aphorisms with imperturbable ease. "Fifty Literary Pillars" then offers concise tributes to literary and philosophical works that have influenced Gass, acknowledging consensus classics and drawing attention to comparative arcana (Beckett's How It Is, Colette's Break of Day, Gaston Bachelard's phenomenological treatise The Poetics of Space). A well-fed yet ceaselessly hungry mind is hunting and gathering, here and in subsequent celebrations-of Renaissance masters Erasmus and Rabelais, unparalleled antiquarian Robert Burton (whose Anatomy of Melancholy is a vast treasure-trove of beguiling eccentricities), Latin America's magical realists, Gertrude Stein's annoyingly innovative prose experiments and Robert Coover's abrasive political novel The Public Burning. Gass loves Dickens's verbal energy, Henry James's stentorian complexity, postmodernist intellectuals and philosophical clowns-almost as much as he scorns hypertext ("The information highway has no destination, and the sense of travelit provides is pure illusion"). Three very different masters receive special attention: manic rhetorician Stanley Elkin, underrated satirist William Gaddis (Gass writes amusingly about being persistently mistaken for him) and the great German poet Rilke (evidently Gass's favorite writer). Don't skim any of these ebullient pages, which offer a seductive mixture of analytical precision and colloquial chutzpah.
“[Gass's] pieces pack a punch of intoxication: they are exhilarating, stimulating, invigorating, and they can make you feel greater and wiser than you really are.”
"No one is better than William H. Gass at communicating the sublime and rapturous excitement of reading."-Washington Post
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