0-fer Africa

In honor of Sec. Clinton’s recent trip to the dark continent, this week’s literary 0-fer is . . . Isak Dinesen!

If she wrote under “Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke,” I probably would’ve gotten around to reading her by now.

We’ll 0-fer Have Paris

A few weeks ago, I ran the 0-fer test on the first volume of the new Paris Review Interviews series. Since I’m utterly unimaginative, let’s go check out Volume 2 and see which literary titans I’ve managed to avoid completely!

  • Graham Greene (1953) — I think I tried reading The End of the Affair, because it inspired a good album by the Golden Palominos
  • James Thurber (1955) — I’m sure I read something by him, although nothing leaps to mind
  • William Faulkner (1956) — read three of his novels and some short stories. And I saw Barton Fink
  • Robert Lowell (1961) — 0-fer
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer (1968) — 0-fer
  • Eudora Welty (1972) – 0-fer, but I remember she dated Krusty the Klown once on an episode of The Simpsons
  • John Gardner (1979) — read his Grendel and his adaptation of Gilgamesh
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1981) — read him
  • Philip Larkin (1982) — read 1 or 2 of his poems, after Grant Morrison referred to him while promoting a Batman comic book
  • James Baldwin (1984) — 0-fer
  • William Gaddis (1987) — I finished two of his novels, gave up on a third, plan to read another one someday, and once called him before I’d started reading his work, because I managed to find his phone number on a database
  • Harold Bloom (1991) — read a bunch of his criticism, own a copy of his novel, The Flight To Lucifer (but haven’t read it or the book it’s a sequel of, David Lindsay’s A Voyage To Arcturus), and also spoke to him on the phone
  • Toni Morrison (1993) — read her; I oughtta go back and see if I still like Song of Solomon
  • Alice Munro (1994) — 0-fer
  • Peter Carey (2006) — 0-fer
  • Stephen King (2006) — I’ve read one article by him that was adapted from On Writing; otherwise, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read anything by him

Even 0-fers Get the Blues

In honor of Sam Anderson’s “I never liked you” review of the new Thomas Pynchon novel (a book I’m uninterested in reading), which is based in the wonderful world of 1970, this week’s 0-fer is . . . Tom Robbins!

I’ve never read a word of any of Robbins’ novels, even though he was the go-to suggestion in my early college years whenever I’d mention that I was a fan of Pynchon’s work.

In later college years, Don DeLillo was the go-to suggestion. Sadly, I have read some books by him. I’m sure David Foster Wallace took the “If you like Pynchon, you’ll like . . .” role later in the ’90s. I have no idea who it is now.

0-fer of the Week: Paris, Toilet

In Duck Soup, Groucho Marx gets locked in a bathroom by Harpo, leading him to shout, “Let me out of here! Hey, let me out of here! Or throw me a magazine!”

For reasons I won’t bother to mention, a shelf in our downstairs bathroom contains a number of essay collections (Orwell, Rosenbaum, Amis) and three volumes of the Paris Review Interviews. The latter is a new series, collecting many of the same interviews as PR’s old Writers at Work editions. I haven’t gotten around to scanning those oldies into the library, but I think I have 4 or 5 of those old volumes from the ’70s and ’80s.

The new volumes cover broader periods of time, since there’s a lot more to choose from (and maybe some of the writers they once interviewed have fallen from memory). For this week’s 0-fer, I 0-fer up the roster of the Paris Review Interviews, Volume 1!

  • Dorothy Parker (1956) – 0-fer, embarrassingly enough
  • Truman Capote (1957) – 0-fer (previously mentioned)
  • Ernest Hemingway (1958) – read maybe too much of him
  • T. S. Eliot (1959) – read him
  • Saul Bellow (1966) – read him, but not enough
  • Jorge Luis Borges (1967) – read lots of him
  • Kurt Vonnegut (1977) – read a bunch of him. In college.
  • James M. Cain (1978) – read him
  • Rebecca West (1981) – 0-fer
  • Elizabeth Bishop (1981) – 0-fer
  • Robert Stone (1985) – 0-fer
  • Robert Gottlieb (1994) – wh0-fer?
  • Richard Price (1996) – read lots of him
  • Billy Wilder (1996) – I’ve seen a bunch of his movies
  • Jack Gilbert (2005) – wh0-fer?
  • Joan Didion (2006) – 0-fer

What It Is: 7/27/09

What I’m reading: I finished A Drifting Life, and started Edwin Mullhouse, which came up in last week’s 0-fer post.

What I’m listening to: I had Underworld Day at my office last week. That kept everyone away.

What I’m watching: Things Change, Napoleon Dynamite, Get Shorty, some Arrested Development, and the second-to-last episode of this season of The Deadliest Catch.

What I’m drinking: Juniper Green, another one of my snooty-ass highbrow gins.

What Rufus is up to: Another grey-hike, a bath. We were considering taking care of the latter this weekend, and his decision during the former to start tromping through muddy puddles sealed the deal.

Where I’m going: Scotch-Bowl night this Saturday! It’s a big benefit evening for our greyhound rescue group. I get to show off my dainty wrists by weakly flinging a bowling ball. Joy!

What I’m happy about: That Rickey Henderson’s Hall of Fame induction speech was as entertaining as I’d hoped.

What I’m sad about: Having to revise my opinion that Fight Club was 2/3rds of a good movie before going off the rails. Upon review, it’s turn-for-the-bad takes place almost exactly at the halfway point.

What I’m worried about: That you guys will get get mad if I use bit.ly URLs instead of the original URLs for Unrequired Reading links. Let me know if that would bother you. That is, do you roll over my links and see where they point before you click through? If you do, then my converting over to bit.ly would be a problem.

What I’m pondering: Whether the process of re-scanning all my books for Delicious Library will lead to my chucking at least 100 more of them into the “I’ll never read this in my lifetime” pile.


Gil in his 20s couldn’t have imagined that he’d one day put a thousand-plus-page Thomas Pynchon novel back on the shelf and think, “I will never get around to reading this.” He also couldn’t have imagined that he’d spend years reading Montaigne’s essays and, upon finishing that thousand-plus-page volume, think, “I have to go back and start this from the beginning.”

But there you are. It’s the same theme you read from me a dozen times before: As I’ve grown older, I have less and less interest in contemporary fiction. Especially the (poorly defined) postmodern stuff.

I was quite a pomo in my college days, but I’ve learned to appreciate the merits of a, well, traditional lifestyle in my later years. Unlike other college-era decisions, this one had little to do with trying to piss off my parents. I think rather I had a desire to be New. I wanted to treat This Very Moment as an unprecedented one, unconstrained by past rules and laws. I imagined that novels had to be Encyclopedic in order to capture the world.

In short, I was a bullshit artist.

In grad school I started wending my way back to the beginnings of literature — as well as science & math, politics & society, and philosophy & religion, not to mention poetry, but I’m still a sucker for novels — and began to understand how much of modern writing was merely an echo of the trends, themes and devices that were in use nearly from the beginning.

Still, the occasion of this LA Times piece on the 61 essential postmodern reads interested me a little, at least in an 0-fer kinda way. (There’s also a good 2-part interview with John O’Brien (1 and 2), the publisher of The Dalkey Archive. My tastes and interest have diverged pretty far from Mr. O’Brien’s mission, but I respect his vision for the press, his tenacity, and his attempt to justify publishing such esoterically unreadable works as Carole Maso’s AVA. It’s almost like the Bizarro World version of the Criterion Collection’s decision to put out a high-end version of Michael Bay’s Armageddon.)

Unlike previous times I’ve broken down literary lists for an 0-fer post, I found that I needed to granulate this one a little more finely. In addition to “Read it,” “Read something by the author,” “0-fer” and “Who?”, I found that there were a bunch of books on this list that I started and never finished. Rather than put them in the “Read something by” list, I decided to add “Started, never finished.” It’s probably meaningful that this list has so many books that fall into that category. I should probably add “Will never attempt to finish” and “Why did I waste my time with this?” or “Read, but regret”, but no need to go overboard. I’ll just make little annotations on some of ’em instead.

Without further ado:


  • New York Trilogy – Paul Auster – WHY?!
  • Labyrinths Jorge Luis Borges
  • Naked Lunch – William S. Burroughs – this appreciation of it will make you not want to read it
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler – Italo Calvino – I like Invisible Cities more, but it was my first experience with Calvino and the book was given to me by a high school teacher who meant a lot to me
  • House of Leaves – Mark Danielewski – did have some genuinely creepy sections, but also some useless typographical gimmicks and descents into unreadability
  • The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick – I gotta reread this sometime
  • The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne – high school; it’s on my Kindle
  • Absalom! Absalom! – William Faulkner – the favorite book of one of my best friends
  • “Metamorphosis” – Franz Kafka
  • Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov – whoa, nelly, what a mind-blowingly wonderful book . . . and Mary McCarthy agrees with me!
  • Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon – I liked it less when I reread it a few years ago, but I dug the Rilkean segments more; it’s sorta like how I was all into Rorschach when I read The Watchmen as a teen, but feel more sympathy for the Night Owl now.
  • The Counterlife – Philip Roth – reread it a year or two ago; might be my least favorite of his Zuckerman books
  • Hamlet – William Shakespeare
  • Maus I & II – Art Spiegelman
  • Slaughterhouse-Five– Kurt Vonnegut – “There’s a time and a place for everything, children, and that’s college!”
  • Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace – I’m glad that I finished this book, if only because it enables me to warn people away from reading it, if they’re on the fence. That said, some people consider it the most important book in their lives; those people tend not to be friends of mine, so hey


  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers – bored me silly on a biz trip in 2000
  • Hopscotch – Julio Cortazar – all my pomo friends tell me it’s amazing, but I gave up when it occurred to me that it should’ve been printed in the same font as my old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books
  • Everything Is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer – I think the sections with the eastern European guy narrating were just text that was run through a thesaurus, with deliberately clunky words chosen to replace the regular ones; I quit after 50 pages
  • JR – William Gaddis – I’ll probably go back and give this a shot someday
  • The Tunnel – William Gass – I will never go back and give this a shot, despite how beautifully some of it is written, which is why I recently gave it away to someone
  • Edwin Mullhouse – Steven Millhauser – one of David Gates’ favorite books, and something I just need to make time for; I promise I’ll get back to it, not least because of its similarities to Pale Fire
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy – Laurence Sterne – it’s on my Kindle


  • The Atrocity Exhibition – J.G. Ballard
  • Giles Goat-Boy – John Barth – I don’t believe I ever finished anything of his, but I liked the jaunty style of The Floating Opera, as I recall
  • The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker – I read Vox, and wondered why a guy with such a tin ear would write a novel comprised solely of dialogue
  • Great Jones Street – Don Delillo – don’t get me started
  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera – I used to read The Unbearable Lightness of Being back in college, whenever I went through a breakup; it got to a point where I could finish the book in under 2 hours
  • The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana – Umberto Eco
  • Tours of the Black Clock – Steve Erickson – I read some of his essays, and started a nonfiction book of his on the 1996 election
  • Motherless Brooklyn – Jonathan Lethem – I liked his redo of Omega the Unknown but haven’t tried his prose
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami – read most of his non-fiction book about the Aum Shinri Kyo gas attack on the Tokyo subways
  • American Splendor – Harvey Pekar – I’ve read a bunch of these comics, but not everything, because I couldn’t stand some of the more prosaically drawn strips
  • The Rings of Saturn – W.G. Sebald
  • John Henry Days – Colson Whitehead


  • In Memorium to Identity – Kathy Acker – should that be “Memoriam”? I’m too lazy to check. Maybe I’ll just appropriate the spelling from a canonical work instead.
  • The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
  • 60 Stories – Donald Barthelme
  • G – John Berger
  • The Loser – Thomas Bernhard – I think I owned this and Concrete, because someone suggested I reissue a few of Bernhard’s books, back when I was a publisher, but I never opened ’em. Sigh.
  • 2666 – Roberto Bolaño – I believe no one has actually read this book, and that it will actually become the hipster pickup book of its time
  • Anatomy of Melancholy – Robert Burton
  • The Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor – Robert Coover
  • City of God – E.L. Doctorow
  • Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence – Geoff Dyer
  • Remainder – Tom McCarthy
  • The Lime Twig – John Hawkes – I have a copy of Second Skin down in my library; I like to think I’ll get around to it
  • The Lazarus Project – Aleksandar Hemon
  • Dispatches – Michael Herr
  • Skin – Shelley Jackson
  • Wittgenstein’s Mistress – David Markson
  • Women and Men – Joseph McElroy
  • At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
  • The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien – my pal Elayne lent me this a while back, and I really need to get to it
  • Mulligan Stew – Gilbert Sorrentino - I think I used to own a Grove edition of this, but I don’t think I ever opened it
  • Trance – Christopher Sorrentino – Like father, unlike son; I didn’t even own a copy of this book


  • The Hundred Brothers – Donald Antrim
  • Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine – Stanley Crawford
  • I Am Not Sidney Poitier – Percival Everett
  • Notable American Women – Ben Marcus
  • PopCo – Scarlett Thomas

If you want to find out what I have read over the past 20 years, it’s just a click away!

Worse than Ezra

Ahoy, ahoy, dear readers! I’m way too busy reading pharmaco financials and analyst reports to spend much time blogging. Updates will be pretty light until July 4thish. (Of course there’ll be an Unrequired Reading this Friday! Don’t be silly!)

Just so you get your fix, the 0-fer of the week is . . . Ezra Pound!

Now I gotta get back to work. Later!

0-fer 20th century edition

Because I’m not some commie pinko, I don’t listen to NPR. So I don’t know if Dick Meyer has worthwhile literary opinions or not. What I do know is that he posted this list of his top English-language novels written last century.

He organized the list in terms of “how much the book hit me, moved me, made me see — and how it stuck with me.” He listed Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man at #1, and History of Love by Nicole Krauss (0-fer!) at #100.

I, on the other hand, reorganized his list in terms of whether I’ve read ’em, whether I’ve at least read something by the author, and whether they’re on my 0-fer list.

Since some authors have multiple books on his list, the 0-fer numbers won’t add up to 100, but hey:

I’ve read 32 of the books on his list, at least something by 12 other authors, and my 0-fer list is a remarkable 50 titles! (but only 45 authors, because of dupes)

Wanna see what’s what? Just click “more”!

Continue reading “0-fer 20th century edition”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: