Category Archives: fiction

Eunoia

EunoiaBy Christian Bok (2001)
‘Eunoia’ which means ‘beautiful thinking’ is the shortest English word to contain all five vowels. This book also contains them all, except that each one appears by itself in its own chapter. A unique personality for each vowel soon emerges: the courtly A, the elegiac E, the lyrical I, the jocular O, and the obscene U. A triumphant feat, seven years in the making, this uncanny work of avant-garde literature promises to be one of the most important books of the decade.

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Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities (A Harvest/Hbj Book)By Italo Calvino (1972)
“Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.” So begins Italo Calvino’s compilation of fragmentary urban images. As Marco tells the khan about Armilla, which “has nothing that makes it seem a city, except the water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be,” the spider-web city of Octavia, and other marvelous burgs, it may be that he is creating them all out of his imagination, or perhaps he is recreating details of his native Venice over and over again, or perhaps he is simply recounting some of the myriad possible forms a city might take.

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Invisible Man

Invisible ManBy Ralph Ellison (1952),
Invisible Man is a milestone in American literature, a book that has continued to engage readers since its appearance in 1952. A first novel by an unknown writer, it remained on the bestseller list for sixteen weeks, won the National Book Award for fiction, and established Ralph Ellison as one of the key writers of the century. The nameless narrator of the novel describes growing up in a black community in the South, attending a Negro college from which he is expelled, moving to New York and becoming the chief spokesman of the Harlem branch of “the Brotherhood”, and retreating amid violence and confusion to the basement lair of the Invisible Man he imagines himself to be. The book is a passionate and witty tour de force of style, strongly influenced by T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Joyce, and Dostoevsky.

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A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces (Evergreen Book)By John Kennedy Toole (1980)
Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole’s tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. (“Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.”) But Ignatius’s quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso–who mistakes him for a vagrant–and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.

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Geek Love

Geek Love: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)By Katherine Dunn (1983)
A wild, often horrifying, novel about freaks, geeks and other aberrancies of the human condition who travel together (a whole family of them) as a circus. It’s a solipsistic funhouse world that makes “normal” people seem bland and pitiful.

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Ulysses

Ulysses (Vintage International)By James Joyce (1934)
Ulysses has been labeled dirty, blasphemous, and unreadable. In a famous 1933 court decision, Judge John M. Woolsey declared it an emetic book–although he found it sufficiently unobscene to allow its importation into the United States–and Virginia Woolf was moved to decry James Joyce’s “cloacal obsession.” None of these adjectives, however, do the slightest justice to the novel. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. And despite the exegetical industry that has sprung up in the last 75 years, Ulysses is also a compulsively readable book. Even the verbal vaudeville of the final chapters can be navigated with relative ease, as long as you’re willing to be buffeted, tickled, challenged, and (occasionally) vexed by Joyce’s sheer command of the English language.

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Penguin Classics)By James Joyce (1916)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays Stephen Dedalus’s Dublin childhood and youth, providing an oblique self-portrait of the young James Joyce. At its center are questions of origin and source, authority and authorship, and the relationship of an artist to his family, culture, and race. Exuberantly inventive, this coming-of-age story is a tour de force of style and technique.

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Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot ClimatesBy Tom Robbins (2000)
A witch doctor with a pyramid-shaped head, an aged parrot whose only words are “People of zee wurl, relax,” and an isolated band of nuns that possesses the last remaining copy of the Virgin of Fatima’s mysterious third prophecy all figure into Robbins’s latest seriocomic foray. Wheelchair-bound Switters, the “fierce invalid” of the title, is a wisecracking CIA operative and James Joyce aficionado. While in South America meeting a new recruit, he journeys to the Amazon, where a witchdoctor places a bizarre curse on him: he will die immediately if his feet ever touch the ground. Switters takes on a mission to the Middle East for a renegade ex-agent. Sidetracked in the Syrian Desert, he forms an unlikely alliance with the nuns as they battle the Vatican for ownership of the prophecy. Best-selling author Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) balances the comic and the cosmic much as a juggler might balance a kitchen chair on a spoon.

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Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings

Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings (New Directions Paperbook, 186)By Jorge Luis Borges (1964)
Borges’s stories are redolent with an intelligence, wealth of invention, and a tight, almost mathematically formal style that challenge with mysteries and paradoxes revealed only slowly after several readings. Highly recommended to anyone who wants their imagination and intellect to be aswarm with philosophical plots, compelling conundrums, and a wealth of real and imagined literary references derived from an infinitely imaginary library.

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayBy Michael Chabon (2000)
Like the comic books that animate and inspire it, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is both larger than life and of it too. Complete with golems and magic and miraculous escapes and evil nemeses and even hand-to-hand Antarctic battle, it pursues the most important questions of love and war, dreams and art, across pages brimming with longing and hope. Samuel Klayman–self-described little man, city boy, and Jew–first meets Josef Kavalier when his mother shoves him aside in his own bed, telling him to make room for their cousin, a refugee from Nazi-occupied Prague. It’s the beginning, however unlikely, of a beautiful friendship. In short order, Sam’s talent for pulp plotting meets Joe’s faultless, academy-trained line, and a comic-book superhero is born. A sort of lantern-jawed equalizer clad in dark blue long underwear, the Escapist “roams the globe, performing amazing feats and coming to the aid of those who languish in tyranny’s chains!” Before they know it, Kavalier and Clay (as Sam Klayman has come to be known) find themselves at the epicenter of comics’ golden age.

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