Thursday, April 12, 2007

Wining, Reading, Grading

From Tony Hoagland's "When Dean Young Talks About Wine," in What Narcissism Means to Me:

He says, Great first chapter but no plot.
He says, Long runway, short flight.
He says, This one never had a secret.
He says, You can't wear stripes like that.

This suggets a good writing exercise: Elaborate descriptions for wine.

* * *

Dan Rhodes's Guardian list of his favorite books under 200 pages has been much linked to. (Dizzyheads, any candidates?) Off the top of my head, The Mezzanine would be high on my list, something by Richard Brautigan, and of course something by Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle, probably). Bernhard's The Loser is 183 pages. I'm also, randomly, a fan of Isherwood's Prater Violet...and Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means must be sub-200. . . .

* * *

Here is the Guardian obit for Vonnegut—the Times one is more interesting, I think. His official website is here, and today its splash page features an opened bird cage.

Wikipedia mentions Vonnegut's self-assessment of his books (in Palm Sunday); it reminded me of Nabokov's annotated copy of a collection of short stories, in which most things received C's or lower, except Salinger's "Bananafish" (A+) and...something by VN himself, if I'm not mistaken.

Here's Vonnegut's list:
Player Piano: B
The Sirens of Titan
: A
Mother Night: A
Cat's Cradle: A-plus
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: A
Slaughterhouse-Five: A-plus
Welcome to the Monkey House: B-minus
Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
Breakfast of Champions: C
Slapstick: D
Jailbird: A
Palm Sunday: C
This seems pretty clear-eyed—though I remember seeing this before reading Breakfast of Champions, then thinking BoC must be pretty mediocre...then reading BoC and being pleasantly surprised—the result of lowered expectations? Anyway, what a nice chunk, from Sirens to S-5. Enough for any writer, no?

UPDATE: Excellent set of online Vonnegut resources, compiled by the Mirror Ed.

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13 Comments:

Blogger Thomas said...

What about Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star, Elizabeth Hardwick's Sleepless Nights, or something by Jocelyn Brooke?

12:03 PM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...

Tlooth by Harry Mathews
Europeana by Patrik Ourednik
Dreams and Stones by Magdalena Tulli
By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño
Berg by Ann Quin
Dark Property by Brian Evenson
Forever Valley by Marie Redonnet
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Things by Georges Perec
Motion Sickness by Lynne Tillman

5:29 PM  
Blogger Adam Siegel said...

English:
1. A Sentimental Journey (Sterne)
2. A Sport and a Pastime (Salter)
3. Jesus' Son (Johnson)
4. Junkie (Burroughs)
5. Pamela (Pamela Lu)

German:
6-7. Eine glückliche Liebe and Forschungsbericht (Hubert Fichte)
8. Zigaretten (Einar Schleef)
9. Untertauchen (Paul Nizon)

Russian:
10. Kubik (Valentin Kataev)

6:58 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

These all sound great...Tlooth is the only one I've read. Let me add:

1. Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls
2. Christie Malry's Own Double Entry by B.S. Johnson

More, please...

7:55 PM  
Blogger Adam Siegel said...

I can't believe I forgot Joseph Roth's Flight Without End. And Tender Buttons. And Milos Crnjanski's Carnojevic Diary. A baker's dozen.

8:00 PM  
Blogger GS said...

"Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?" by Lorrie Moore
And I hate to say it...but what about "The Great Gatsby"? And Camus' "The Stranger"

8:44 PM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...

And of course the one and only The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.

Not to mention O'Brien's lesser known, not as great but still fascinating, The Dalkey Archive.

12:27 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Paul Poissel's THE FACTS OF WINTER...

11:14 AM  
Blogger Adam Siegel said...

Thought of some more:

Jakob von Gunten (Robert Walser)
Pornografia (Witold Gombrowicz)
I Look Divine (Christopher Coe)
Something by Jean-Philippe Toussaint
Beckett's The Unnamable

12:01 PM  
Blogger S. said...

The Big Sleep (Chandler)
The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway)
Ethan Frome (Wharton)
At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom (Hempel)
Sylvia (Michaels)
Vectors (Richardson)

2:59 PM  
Blogger Jenny Davidson said...

Victor Pelevin's Omon Ra.

Thomas Warton's The Logogryph must be under 200, eh?

Muriel Spark is the queen of the short novel as far as I am concerned.

Ken Bruen's novels are almost all very short, at least one of those should be here too...

P.S. Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 really do seem to me Vonnegut's supreme achievements, I wonder how many other writers have such accurate/realistic self-assessments...

8:31 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Definitely The Crying of Lot 49 tops my list, and I'll gladly add Siddhartha and Invitation to a Beheading. Beckett's On Proust is the skinniest book in view right now, but wouldn't make the novel list...

3:00 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

S. Weir Mitchell's DIARY OF A QUACK

11:46 AM  

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