12 October 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Here it is—the infamous LIVE recording of the Two Month Review! Chad and Lytton travelled all the way to Brooklyn to record this episode as part of the “Taste of Iceland Festivities.” As a result, they recap the book as a whole and reflect on the speech from Iceland’s First Lady that prefaced the recording (and which you don’t get to hear) before diving into the particulars of the final section of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. They also take questions from the audience about WWII and Kafka, and spend some time pondering the final line of the book: “i call the northern lights night rainbows.” And Chad works in multiple references to Twin Peaks: The Return.

As previously noted, the next season of the Two Month Review will feature two books by Mercè Rodoreda: Selected Stories and Death in Spring. Click here to get the full schedule, and use the 2MONTH code at our website to get 20% off. (That discount code also works for “Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller”: and “The Invented Part.”: And if you’d rather support your local bookstore, do it! They should have all of these titles. If not, shame them. Preferably in a very public way. Kidding, totally kidding. Obviously every store carries all of our books.)

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

And please rate us on iTunes and tell your friends to listen. We really appreciate your support of the podcast and want to reach as many listeners as possible.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



5 October 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Icelandic novelist and poet Kári Tulinius joins Chad and Lytton this week to talk about three of the darkest sections of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller and the history of this novel’s reception in Iceland. They also talk about the recent scandal that brought down the Icelandic government—and how it ties into Tómas Jónsson—about why the book was out of print in Iceland for a couple of decades after its initial release, the way this book is scarily prescient, and much more.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

You can read an excerpt from Kári’s latest novel (translated by Larissa Kyzer) at Words and Worlds and can find his archived Grapevine articles here.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



28 September 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

CORRECTION: Throughout this podcast, we joke about having recorded the final episode of the season live at Spoonbill & Sugartown last weekend. This is a lie! The live event will take place THIS SATURDAY (September 30, 2017) as part of the Taste of Iceland events. Eliza Reid, Iceland’s First Lady, will start things off at 2pm, and Lytton and I will follow her. So please ignore all our childish banter and please come out on Saturday for this live recording!

This week, Tom Flynn of Volumes Bookcafe returns to the Two Month Review to talk about three of the more difficult bits of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller: one section that’s a dream, one about mediums and resurrection, and one that’s a poem for going to bed and for death. Thanks to Tom’s perceptive insights and Lytton’s genius, they’re able to puzzle out all three sections and provide some solid guidance for everyone reading along.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And be sure to follow Volumes Bookstore and Tom Flynn and visit the store when you’re in Chicago.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



21 September 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week Patrick Smith (Best Translated Book Award judge, The Scofield) joins Chad and Lytton to talk about this incredibly powerful section of the book, which raises all sorts of topical ideas about adhering to national myths and the problems of masculinity. This is also the section where Hitler shows up, and where a character literally eats himself out of house and home. And this podcast is a crucial one in helping frame the way this novel simultaneously holds up and undermines a variety of dangerous, unpleasant ideas. After listening to this, we hope you will have an even broader and more nuanced understanding—and appreciation—of this great novel.

Reminder! On September 30th, we will be recording the final episode of this season of the Two Month Review at Spoonville & Sugartown in Brooklyn as part of Taste of Iceland. The First Lady of Iceland, Eliza Reid, will kick things off at 2pm with a lecture and reading, then at 3pm, Lytton and Chad will discuss the final section of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller (and take audience questions), followed by a recpetion at 4pm. It’s free to attend, so come on out and see us do this live!

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And follow Patrick Smith for a variety of literary insights and other commentary.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



14 September 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week Norwegian translator and ALTA Fellowship recipient David Smith joins Chad and Lytton to talk about the next forty pages of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. The two sections covered this week are wildly different from one another, opening with a much more fragmented, poetic bit then transitioning through a hilarious, yet creepy, moment in which Tómas pees all over the laundry room into a more straightforward section—but one that still brings out all the wild contradictions in Tómas’s character and this book itself. This week’s episode also includes Chad reading a section that’s perfect for a voiceover movie trailer. (And yes, he reads it in exactly that voice.)

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



7 September 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week author and translator Idra Novey joins Chad and Lytton to talk about one of the most challenging sections of the book so far. Not only is there a proliferation of children whose voices constantly interrupt Tómas’s thoughts, but there are a few more unsettling bits that raise questions about what we should believe about Tómas’s narrative and morality. (Questions that will be further addressed next week.) They also talk about the brilliant ways in which Lytton balances all these various registers, and the poetry that shines through Tómas’s curmudgeonly rants.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. Also, you can support Idra Novey by following her on twitter and buying her novel, Ways to Disappear, which is available now.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



31 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, Jacob Rogers—translator from the Galician and bookseller at Malaprop’s in Asheville, North Carolina—joins Chad and Lytton to talk about Tómas Jónsson’s next two “composition books.” Included in these sections are a long bit about the “board” and the general hierarchy of Tómas’s dining hall, the ways in which he’s both an insider and someone on the fringes, and the role of the U.S. military base in Iceland’s overall development. These sections are crucial in fleshing out both Tómas’s character and that of Iceland as a whole, while adding a lot of interesting—and funny—details about his everyday life.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. You can also follow Malaprop’s on Twitter, and Jacob on Instagram.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



30 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the fifth composition book and VI (pages 69-139) from Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Two Month Review Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Over the next few weeks—or the next few podcasts, next few chapters—you’re going to get a much clearer picture of the main themes of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller and, more interestingly, how complicated it is to read and react to these core ideas. I don’t want to go too deep on this before we get to those sections of the book, but to provide a sort of outline of the narrative’s engine: There’s a great tension in this novel revolving around the desire to mythologize the past/masculinity/national pride/the self, and the inherent dangers in doing so.

At times Tómas is aware of how troubling this impulse can be, critical of nationalism, concerned about the men trolling the streets for drunken ladies and lewd moments. At other times we get Tómas saying some awful shit about his lodgers, and maybe doing some inappropriate things. (Although, as you’ll see, some of these implied activities are buried under heaps of ambiguous and contradictory information.)

In the “fifth composition book” we get a couple of key bits that set up future readings of Tómas’s character. Specifically, this is a chapter in which perceived humiliations—and a general discomfort with self—fuels Tómas’s current aggressive crankiness to everyone around him. This oftentimes puts the reader in an awkward position where, on the one hand, you feel sympathetic to Tómas, but on the other, he does (or says, or writes) some reprehensible shit.

Couple quick examples from this chapter, which is loaded with lines about all the disrespect Tómas has, and does, suffer.

Lying pancake-flat without moving my legs or joints in order to protect myself: the threshold, gold bronze baseboards, the faucet tips, the cabinet doors, sensitive to ridicule because of my outtie, when everyone use has a beautiful innie, each and every member of the Homeowners’ Association. I could not go to the meetings because of the risk that someone would bend down and say: There’s some sort of pimple poking out your knitted vest. Perhaps it is just a button made of bone on my trouser string, I would say. He would believe me, and soon a rumor starts that I have a wart on my belly. People’s curiosity would increase, ending with a proposal for required swimming for the organization’s members; no one is allowed to leave, or else he would lose his favorable rental terms. And when I stood there naked (having given up on finding an old-fashioned swimsuit, the sort that offers privacy above the navel; swimming trunks nowadays only cover a man’s genitals), the belly button, Angler, would be exposed (I had named my navel Angler), and they would burst out laughing and say: rent, and rent at high cost.



And then there’s this extended description of how Tómas views himself, punctuated by an invasive bit of disrespect at the end:

In a large mirror, between the nymphs and satyrs on the ashtray, I loomed large, made into a massive picture: an almost globular head with a freckled scalp and hairy ears: gray, obstinate tufts. The image turned carefully to the side: deep folds on the neck, slightly red (clear now) from friction against a stiff collar. A night-shadow beard, white and mad-spiked, peeks from the vein-split skin; a thick club nose with coarse nostrils and a greasy bridge; moss-eared; under the shoulder straps of his undershirt, by the bluish vein-marked chest, grow frost gray blotches; his abdomen swells out over thin curd-white feet which reveal the picture is sitting in a chair: the image steps onto the chair, lifts his torso and rakes white nails over the curd-white flesh of his clammy, cold belly; the image tries to perform some desperate hand movements but becomes increasingly thwarted in spite of his morning’s exercise; it presses its face fast against the mirror to examine its mouth: the red uvula dripping drool; a throat covered with blue veins; the scabrous palate; the lappet under the tongue; the darkened teeth. The treads of the teeth marked by seventy-seven years cycling past. The image got goose bumps and sighed as it thought: I’ve become this sorrowful old picture. He plunked himself on the rim of the tub and sighed again. This man deserves rewards for his age and his decency. Here you sit. This is you. No, I was not allowed to think like that for long. The door was grabbed from outside, the knob yanked, twice. What, is the door locked, who’s loitering on the toilet. I dove into my clothes, hesitated a moment, and doggedly resisted. I and I alone decide how long I will sit on the toilet, I thought.


And then there’s this succinct statement of defeat and despair:

I threw myself on the bed, defeated. Obviously I was not man enough to openly oppose disgrace even in the confines of my own home.


These self-deprecating, woe-is-me sentiments are offset in this chapter by Tómas’s general complaints about his lodgers (like the public affection between Sveinn and Katrín), and their kids, (the forever lonely Tómas is irked by both). He insults both females in various ways—the creepy bathroom scene with Katrín, then the insults of Anna as a “devious personage”—before merging them into one (Annakatrín), imaging one of them basically raping him, then creating an odd sort of folk tale in which a woman seduces the old king (stand in for Tómas) in order to get some of his royal blood into her offspring, thus giving her cause to take over the kingdom (or apartment).

Like I said at the start, there are times where you feel for this old, unrespected crank; there are times when you see him lashing out at possibly imagined abuses in ways that are pretty off-putting.

*


One more quick thing about the “fifth composition book” before moving on, and that’s the very last paragraph in which a new “I” emerges, seemingly the musician living with Tómas who gives us a hint of Tómas’s reality:

I remember how the man was utterly opposed to her dress, practically allergic to it. It sometimes happened, especially in winter, that they would meet by chance in the hallway early in the morning, as she tussled at coat hooks “herding the kids by their ass-ears,” as she put it, off to school (the children were not particularly eager to learn). They got a lot of pleasure from the electric guitar (and also its square meter sounds; it was astonishing to me that the man Tómas could measure sound in meters); I played in a dance band at night while studying at the university. If he should pass in the corridor during this tussle, she made sure to swing her hip into him, as he made a detour in attempt to avoid conflict and sneak out. This little contact resulted in the appearance the next day of red patches on the lower part of his forehead between his eyes; they spread around his nose and eyes. These spots gave way to gray scabs, a kind of dandruff crust. He was always fiddling with his nose and rubbing the dandruff from his eyebrows with his fingertips, blowing it away so the dust didn’t land on his jacket. He twitched and groped instinctively about his eyebrows. This chaffed skin plagued him typically for three to four weeks, then disappeared, but his forehead flushed in the cold. [. . .] The first day in the refectory, I was quite surprised to see old Tómas Jónsson there, sitting next to me at the table. I partially pitied the man, how cautiously he went to dinner with that skin on his forehead it was; primarily because of the appearance of these fish-scales that his eyes seemed weary of pleasure, marked by life, though food seemed to awaken pleasure in him.

*


There’s a lot that could be unpacked from “VI.” But to keep this post somewhat readable, and to keep some surprises for the podcast and your own personal reading, I’m just going to focus on two things—The Board and Tómas’s ridicule of writers.



The Board section takes place from pages 117-139, and is one of the most lucid, compelling sections of the book so far.

In brief, Tómas—along with seemingly all other major characters—take their meals at this particular refectory. The dining hall is split into two main sections—the inner room and the outer room. As with most any lunchroom ever, the “less important” people sit in the outer area, and the most important sit at The Board—the main table in the inner room.

Although there was no visible boundary between the rooms, except the plinths and flowers, the pensioners were divided according to their rank at work. In the inner room sat people who engaged in clean work; in the anterior were others who performed dirty work. [. . .] At the long table in the inner room, which in canteen parlance was The Board [. . .] The nucleus of the Board was four bank employees (I never reached this nucleus), a woman, two ladies who worked alternately in stationary stores or bookstores, a year at each place in sequence, they said, to make life varied and diverse. They were nicknamed the porcelains. Also in the nucleus were two middle-aged women and a housing adviser who never spoke to anyone, or rarely. The Board was considerably snobbish, looking down on we who claimed to have an all-round understanding of the human being.


This section is spectacular in its detailed account of the way The Board functions. In particualr, Ólaf and Sigurdur—both of whom were introduced earlier as bank employees, with Ólaf taking the promotion Tómas believed he deserved—are fleshed out, and act as sort of stand ins for the pompousness and blather of The Board as a whole. The Board is exactly the sort of group of people who know everything, yet like to pretend they’re intellectually curious. They debate politics in passionate tones, but switch opinions whenever it will get them more attention or score some points on their opponents. They’re incredibly proud and invested in the grand history of Iceland, yet ridicule the young students who adopt traditional Icelandic names when they come over to study the sagas and folklore. It’s a ball of contradictions, and exactly what you can imagine such a group of people would be like.

And where’s Tómas in all of this? Not on The Board, but not in the outer room either. He’s on the fringes, watching and judging, feeling both slighted and superior. Being Tómas Jónsson, in other words.

There’s so much greatness in this section, in the way that Bergsson—through the voice of Tómas—lays out the internal politics of this dining hall. It’s a section that comes at the perfect moment, grounding the reader in an entertaining fashion that also fills in some gaps about what’s come before. But again, given how fun—and relatively comprehensible—this section is, I’m just going to leave things there for now.

*


And just for fun, let’s end with some of Tómas’s comments about writers. (Once again, we have his sort of line-straddling—he’s making fun of writers, in a book that he’s writing . . . a biography . . . that’s going to be a bestseller.)

In truth, fiction is a superstition spun in the fabric of people who neither know nor want to know life itself. LIFE IS NOT IN BOOKS. If the writers and poets wrote about men at work and during their leisure, fiction would be superfluous. Should a writer, however, construct some narrative that does not exist in reality but rather takes reality’s place, i.e. the only true fiction, fantasy and imagination, then no one can understand it but the writer himself (supposing even he understands it). With this eliminated, nothing should be left but writing biographies. Fictions are useless to every living human. On the path of life, people meet others who are much closer to their problems and to real environments than those in novels.



The following reasons are the basis of why I do not read literature:

I do not read novels. They are written with secret revenge in mind, the revenge of craven writers who shrink from coming clean and spitting filth and obscenities in the faces of people on the street. [. . .] Writers are not physicians but the carriers of infection who weep from their various individual sores and bestow those same sores upon the nation. [. . .] Writers are always being revived. The dead must stay dead, I say. I want to beat them all to death. I have gained a new understanding of death: I kill a writer every time I read a book. Why should writers live longer than anyone else. Do they achieve more. They have no legal right to extra days than we who complete our full day’s work up to evening.


Of course, as he says elsewhere, “Note: I am invariably writing a veiled self-portrait.” All of Tómas’s internal contractions are about to get ramped up, so prepare yourself.

24 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In this episode—covering Tómas Jónsson’s fourth composition book—a number of the themes of the overall novel are put on display: Tómas’s relationship to his body, the way he tries to create a narrative for himself, possible injustices he’s suffered during his life, the way his lodgers are like an army, and more. And there’s no one better to help parse these elements than author and critic Scott Esposito. He joins Chad and Lytton for an episode that may be a bit long, but is stuffed full of insight about this Icelandic masterpiece.

Also discussed in this episode is Scott’s interview with Lytton for Conversational Reading.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

You can follow Scott Esposito on Twitter and Instagram, or at Conversational Reading. And you can get his latest book, The Doubles, from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



21 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the IV composition book (pages 32-68) from Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Two Month Review Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

On last week’s podcast, I mentioned that I wanted to try and pay attention to the patterns in Tómas Jónsson’s thoughts, try and puzzle out the internal logic to his peculiar stream-of-consciousness. This isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do—how do you not just get swept up in the torrents of prose?—but there was on extended bit in this composition book that does illuminate some of the inner workings of Tómas’s mind. (This is all from one paragraph that begins on page 35 and ends on 38.)

In any case, I managed to wake rested and refreshed after a deep sleep as the clock rang Sunday in. I was in no hurry to dress. I needed to wake, yawn, put in my teeth, release the piss from my penis, lie back under the covers, drink from my half-thermos, and lie still on my back, my hands at my sides on top of the comforter, which swells with air and feathers, take out my teeth, doze for five minutes, wake for another five, turn again to sleep, and wake in five minute intervals. [. . .] Sleeping is not respected except for where there are sick people or the decrepit or those about to die. Before you die, you must be properly asleep. Preferable to die in your sleep. Hospitals usually turn off the lights at ten o’clock at night. I need my sleep dearly. But I would rather die than be frozen inside a retirement home. Once you get to my age, an orderly lifestyle is the surest defense against the force which fills graves. A long time ago I had to give up coffee with dinner. That was a great struggle. Almost impossible. Coffee in the evening, sitting in the comfort and privacy of a divan corner with the chair’s seat clamped between my knees, the thermos within reach on the ground, morsels of letters on the back of the chair and the cup steady in the seat’s depression, alone in your company, my puss, that was my life’s true purpose, my diversion. [. . .] But you remember nothing of this. Feline instinct has little memory. Words spoken to cats in confidence are not used later in retaliation. The absence of coffee in the evenings. Life became empty and my environment impoverished in quality. So it ends. There comes a time you have to give up evening coffee and everything of quality in the world. [. . .] No one can know me in my sleep (except my dreams). I do not need to get to work until half past eight. Until that time, when it is time to prepare for my departure, I potter about in my room, tidying up around me. I am washed and brushed. I have cleaned the sleep from my face, my scrotum, and my hands with a washcloth. I brush the bad taste of sleep from my mouth with a toothbrush. I blow the sleep from my nose with a tissue. I wipe sleep from my eyes by closing them, rolling them five times in the sun’s direction then counterclockwise the same number of times. I never feel comfortable until I have scraped off my stubble. The day begins as soon as the night’s clamminess has left my flesh, the mind ready to start earning money. Dressed, I drink my morning coffee, of which I will also be robbed before long. Once in a retirement home, you get dishwater mix instead. I am prepared for the worst. I face it with the calm and tranquility of my early days. O yes. [. . .] Complete anarchy reigns in the other parts of the apartment. The kids buzz around their parents’ heads, and objects buzz around the heads of both the kids and the parents. Blind, I could go to my closet, stretch out my hand, touch the key, turn it into a semicircle in the lock, open the door, and reach for the green pencil in a jacket’s breast pocket; I could do other tricks like this. Orderliness has come in handy now that I am blind and decrepit. I leave the house as soon as my internal organizing and planning voice says: Tómas, everything is in its ideal place within your room. Even my thoughts sit in an organized series within my cerebral cortex.


Yes, yes, that’s an incredibly long passage. And there’s so much more that I could pull out or point to! But in that bit above, we get a really good overview of the drift of Tómas’s thoughts: he wakes up and wants to put his self/clothes/thoughts into order, since orderliness is a prized attribute in his mind, and at the same time, the idea of sleep (and the Great Sleep) reminds him of his aging, of losing his evening coffee (and soon the morning cup as well), and that everything is working against him, that his life (due to his lodgers and his body’s natural entropy) is falling apart.

This idea—that there are meta-structures behind his thought patterns revealing his character—fits in well with all the references to orderliness and structure in this composition book. But at the same time, as much as he prizes these qualities, the novel itself, the “bestseller” describing his life, is so miasmic, so chaotic, that all these claims to order feel totally specious. Yet, probably aren’t?

I’m still working toward a more complete understanding of how any one of these composition books is structured as a whole, but in this particular case, we have a few mentions or motifs that play off one another and give this chapter a fairly circular structure. For example, Lóa is mentioned twice—at the beginning in reference to being raped, and at the end, when she’s taking the trash out of the bank. The above quoted section about getting ready for work and the way that Tómas organizes his mind and life is a nice complement to the bit near the end about the bank, in which he’s either passed over for a promotion because he can’t keep up with technology (“Faced with the complex electrical accounting machine, I shattered like a thermos. Here in my solitude I have demanded my brain reveal what my supervisors said. Everything is beautifully ordered, but where is the corpse.”), or because life is just unfair. There’re also two invented stories in the book, one a biography, one a sort of parody of a country folk tale. And there’s the relationship between Tómas and his body and his body in relation to women.

*


In case you haven’t noticed, Tómas talks about his body a lot. So many bodily functions! Not only peeing—which, I feel like he doesn’t take a piss that he doesn’t also feel obliged to write into his composition books—but also references to his oxygen tank, his size, even his daily washroom routine (see above). All you have as you approach the end is your body. And in this particular section, the idea of the body takes on an even greater significance:

I had a body the body is dressed on its exterior in skin under the skin there is flesh on the skin there is hair      I touch my body           I have a body      inside it: bones and entrails      But I could find no memories inside the body. I had never thought that my travels were entrusted with memories. I was told that as age increases and the flesh softens, drowsy memories awaken in the mind. That is not my experience.        for me, nostalgia awakens in the flesh


And then:

Maybe I’m too fat to be able to remember anything for more than a moment. The outer surface of my body is too far away from my soul. Aristotle probably came to this same conclusion after he grew older and fatter.


At the same time that Tómas is happy to talk about his pissing and flesh, he has a strong dislike for even allusions to sex. Like with that opening scene—which keeps being referenced, making me think that a lot of this book is taking place around this one single moment—in which he hears his lodgers getting busy in the hallway, which pisses him off. Not only are they having sex right outside his door, but they have the lights on (!), and end up ruining the cloth hook used to hang up his overcoat (!!). Not to mention that sex leads to children, and do we really have to talk about the disruptive nature of children in an apartment?

This aversion to that particular bodily function bleeds over into Tómas’s uneasy relationship to women as a whole. There’s the aforementioned allusion to Lóa being raped (a central scene to come),
followed by recounting the weird—and very inappropriate—pranks that are played on Gerður.

His thoughts about Gerður are particularly complicated in this section. At times, he describes her in fairly sexualized ways:

She perches one ass cheek on the desk’s edge beside me, dangles a foot, her thickened thighs vibrating and jarring at her old, rusty, arthritic groin. I momentarily become a street urchin       her legs have no fat


And then, after running through some of her flaws, refers to her as good wife material . . . sort of:

However flawed Miss Gerður is known to be—and she is certainly a very flawed person—she is still excellently qualified in her areas. As a wife, she would certainly stand in good stead running the apartment, keeping it hygienic and clean: she would brush dust from the baseboards daily, wash the kitchen down after every meal, open a window when she fries, go into all the corners with a floor cloth, clean the cobwebs from all the crannies, and wash her underwear nightly—but surely would neglect me, forgetting to tighten my oxygen mask at the right time.


And although his mind constantly swerves in her direction when he thinks of romance or having a family or whatever, he ends his thoughts on her in this chapter pretty harshly:

She shuffles bundles and stretches a band quick around them. The whole time I was as a joker and mockingbird; a jolly companionship. Our Tómas is becoming a comic, I make people think about me. I watch her behavior and gestures which are nothing because Miss Gerður as a woman has been pasteurized. From now on, I will only write badly of her.


(At times reading this is like reading some of the old notebooks I find that my kids have written in. My daughter one day: “Aidan is a brat and a jerk and gets away with everything.” Then, 24 hours later: “I love my brother and I’m going to write a nice thing about him in here every day and then give it to him as a present.” The next page is torn out. The end.)

*


All this is great, but really, the part that I love the best is his rant about ghostwriters and biographies:

No chance, then, that I’ll be able to commission a ghostwriter to write a bestseller in my name in time for the christmas market—I will have to write it myself—the way those others did, Schiaparelli the fashion queen, Rockefeller, and old Kalli, the lumpfish king. These are the labors of rich people in this country who do nothing for the arts, when they plead their existence, the publishers and the royalties there on the table to support writers, who do not need to focus on anything but spelling.


And then, after writing a bit of a faux biography of “old Kalli, the lumpfish king,” he drops in this amazing breakdown of those sorts of books that read like something from one of the writer’s guides that Fresán mocked in The Invented Part:

20% places and the names of people; 2% trials, peril at sea, and amazing rescues; 19% scenic descriptions scattered throughout the book’s chapters; 3% poetic sex, which runs together with the poetry of the scenic descriptions (in bestsellers it’s traditional to save sex for near the end of each chapter, so that the reader feels his brain has been mentally masturbated prior to reading the next section the next night. What’s literature but mental masturbation for the emotions?); 7% reflections and conversations with intelligent animals the character has acquired as friends; 11% food and conditions on ships (comparisons of past and present); 15% forebodings and dreams (dream women, Kalli is far too healthy to get dream pussy at sea); 7% Kalli the lumpfish king himself, the creation of this character who is, of course, “driven by powerful contrasts” as the academics term it. A “lively final surge and conflict at the culmination.” This is important stuff.


Alongside this though, there’s an absurd play that he writes for the “Icelandic Opera” followed by a sort of parody of a folk tale about a man who falls for a farmhand, which ends with three people sleeping in a bed feet-to-head and having to avoid getting toes in the crotch or the nose. What do we do with this?

Bit of a spoiler, but in the next few sections there are more of these literary inventions. And, although this is a bit obvious or almost trite to say, I see these as attempts on Tómas’s part to find the right form through which to tell his story. He’s looking for a pathway to writing a bestseller, which could take the form of a biography, or an opera, or a countryside tale in the fashion of Laxness. I don’t know that it’s necessarily that explicit, but this is something to sort of track over the next few composition books.

*


Finally, I want to end by saying how funny this book is. But that it’s a weird sort of humor in the vein of Samuel Beckett. Sure, there are straight up funny bits (see above bit about literature as masturbation for the emotions, or the story of what happens to the CEO in Switzerland after he loses the 20 million and has to have his blood completely replaced), but a lot of the humor comes from the vacillations of ironic distance between Tómas’s situation and his verbosity.

Here you have a old man, unable to get out of bed or wash himself, who is pissed about people in the hallway banging with the lights on, getting all worked up internally and on the page, but who can’t really do anything. Someone who praises himself with a Gatsby-esque list of how ordered his thoughts are throughout the day, but who loses his job because he can’t work an adding machine. And sometimes he covers up the squalor of his present moment with memories and rants against the new, weak Icelanders, but at other times, everything breaks down, collapsing into a true representation of the present, in which he’s just a man who wanted to be great but is now about to die alone, bringing out all the pathos of a more conventional epic.

And in some ways, this humor is most present when you go back to the book. In the present moment, reading it, I’ve found myself focused mostly on trying to figure out the whats and whys. Is this what’s really happening? But the second I get on the podcast with Lytton and start talking through what I just read, all the humor comes to the surface.

17 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This week, Ph.D. candidate Anastasia Nikolis joins Chad and Lytton to talk about the real meat of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller—chamber pot usage! They also discuss the way our grumpy narrator’s mind works, the way he finds beauty in ambiguity, how Lytton translated a very specific word game, and a couple cues to help keep track of “when” particular sections are taking place. A lively and learned episode—just like the novel itself.

Feel free to comment on this episode—or on the book in general—either on this post, or at the official GoodReads Group.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

Follow Open Letter, Chad Post, Lytton Smith, and for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests. And listen to Anastasia’s poetry podcast, Black Box Poetry, to hear more of her thoughts about writing and literature.

And you can find all the Two Month Review posts by clicking here. Please rate us on iTunes and/or leave a review!

The music for this season of Two Month Review is Long Year by The Anchoress.



14 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the Biography, first composition book, second book, and third composition book (pages 1-31) from Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. As a bit of preparation, below you’ll find some initial thoughts, observations, and quotes.

You can also download this post as a PDF document.

As always, you can get Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller for 20% off from our website by using the code 2MONTH. It’s also available at better bookstores everywhere.

And be sure to join the Goodreads group and subscribe to the Two Month Review Podcast on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

This initial post is probably going to be straightforward and short, but I think it’s worthwhile getting things started by trying to lay out the most basic elements of this book—like who’s talking, and when is this taking place—while also starting to hone in on Guðbergur’s unique sense of humor.

Let’s start with a bit of a simplified timeline for these four sections based out of quotes from the book:

I think it would be easiest to begin this way, this First Book, and move without further delay right to the kernel of the matter, thus: during the first years of World War II, I took some lodgers into my apartment, Sveinn and Katrín, a married couple with five children: Stína, who died; Dóri, their son; an infant boy; and a small cat, Títa,           he naps soft and warm against me as I write and has come back, together with Anna and Magnús and Dóri           I think they’re all grown up and moreover there’s a new addition to the crowd, Hermann, I hear them call him,           cursed forever is the day they returned,           and the musician, who rented the small bedroom on the other side of the partition, i.e. this bedroom where I now live, after he moved into the other bedroom, which is much smaller.



And then a bit later in that same section:

I have been forced to take ignorant people into my property’s square footage           but are there any laws against lawlessness           who makes laws dictating that apartments cannot stand empty and unoccupied in the struggle over housing           am I bound to be a sacrifice to the homeless and improvident, me who is almost blind, deaf, enfeebled [. . .] my mistake from the start consists in being frugal, from deciding to own whyever I did so and Sveinn and Katrín gave notice and left the apartment standing empty for a while           the option was to welcome Magnús and Anna following their relationship with Katrín and Sveinn and Anna is a distant relative of mine, both on the side of the great Bergsætts, the chief family of this country, descended from the kings of Norway at the time of the Settlement, all the kings and queens and princes and princesses on the way to inherit a country a family with joint ownerships it is split into entrepreneurs and intellectuals


In other words, due to Icelandic law (I assume, although can’t find reference to this on the Internet), Tómas Jónsson was forced to take lodgers into his apartment. First off, during World War II, Sveinn and Katrín lived with him. Then, they left, and for a time he was alone. After that (starting in the 1950s and running through the 60s?) Magnús and Anna came to live with him, Anna being a distant relative who also agreed to take care of him in his bedridden state. There’s also a musician, who will become a major character later in the novel.

As you can tell from the very start, the chronology in this book is jumbled. (Total understatement.) Which is why keeping track of these names—and when they lived with Tómas—can be really helpful. Sveinn and Katrín were first, Magnús and Anna came later. This won’t always be a key to deciphering things, but it is a definite help at the start.

*




Who is Tómas Jónsson?

What we know so far is that he is—at least in the most current now—an old, nearly blind (see all the bits about the government provided guide dogs), bedridden man who needs Anna’s help.

yes: according to the terms of the lease it is Anna’s duty to come three times per day at a minimum and change me though she does not come when needed most so it dries on me all by itself and what does Anna do then but turn her nose up and fuss over the strong odor in the room


He’s also someone who refers to himself on several occasions as being “frugal.” Which is a quality that shows up a lot in Laxness’s Independent People as well. (I’m reading that in conjunction with my reread of this, so I can’t help but see parallels and divergences.) And even when he’s not talking about his “General Thrift” money envelope (oh man, does he remind me of my mom), he’s demonstrating his fiscal conservativeness in other, more rant-like ways:

Clearly someone was wasting electricity late into the depth of night. After this incident, I set myself this rule: to take out the fuses from the board each evening. Before I went to bed I made sure to check that the lights everywhere were extinguished. The electricity bill was enough of a burden on me already, sparing as I was with light. And I dropped into the lease conditions some new clauses about light-times in the apartment (I was idiotic enough to include light and heat in the rent): on weekdays in all the shady months, lights must be turned off after 11:30 p.m.; moreover, the housework must stop by then and the apartment must be silent, with the exception of weekends, when the light-time is extended by one hour. And a clause about the use of lights around the major festivals: a) A week before the big festivals, christmas and Easter, the rules that apply on weekends will be observed (to allow for baking and the consumption of baked goods); b) On christmas eve, according to ancient traditions, the lights shall stay on, but the tenant shall replace their bulbs, ones with a smaller wattage. Instead of conventional bulbs, only 15-candle bulbs are allowed. In a chandelier with more than four arms, there must only be two bulbs. All wall sconces and standing lamps must be extinguished. Special provisions for light over the summer months: the homeowner reserves the right to remove all the fuses from the fuse box, other than the one labeled kitchen, and store them in his own room. Final clause: should a situation arise in which someone needs light after the lawfully-approved light time, he must have a flashlight available so he can go in and out of the house. Non-negotiable clause: The use of oil- or candlelight is strictly prohibited because of the risk of fire. Exemption from these regulatory clauses: If a student is in the apartment, he shall be authorized to have a night lamp on, provided the landlord is notified in advance of the bulb size and how long the student intends to read into the night.

Reykjavík, 13. January 1943.
Tómas Jónsson.


(Going back to the first point about the “when” of this novel, the incident he refers to seems to be the first one related in the book, in which he hears some somewhat sexual sounds in the hallway and can see a light through his keyhole. He makes reference to Katrín later, which would fit with the idea that in 1943, after this “incident” in which light was wasted, he made these amendments to the lease.)

Frugal. In poor health. Nearly blind. Basically alone in the world. And yet, also someone who is rather learned. See this bit about naming the new guide dogs:

Tómas, as you know, we have gained a foreign import license from the necessary parties regarding a new shipment of dogs arriving after the New Year. So we have an opportunity to choose appropriately symbolic names for them. And it popped into mind, because the union of shop stewards has heard you’re outstandingly accomplished in many fields—didn’t you teach final exams outside school?—whether such a learned man as you might advise us. We were thinking of choosing dog names from famous dogs from history, or names that refer to the dimming of the sight. We already have, as you know, dogs with names like Trygg, Höðr, Oðin, Heimdallr. These are extremely popular. Höður was blind. Oðin one-eyed. Heimdallr had ears instead of eyes. I had to hold myself back from christening dogs after famous dogs in the movies: Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, although I know that this would prove amiable to most sponsors. Do you have any ideas for names?


And he also has this really great paragraph in which he touches on the impact major works have had on history and ideas of the self:

nothing is left but chaos           not since the great conquest of Gibraltar has the world been safe           after On the Origin of Species I am not explicitly created in the image of god           after the publication of Das Kapital the proprietary rights to my apartment are cast in doubt           undoubtedly I do not sleep the innocent sleep of a child following the publication of The Interpretation of Dreams even dreams are not innocent anymore nothing is innocent           the damned nineteenth century woke us up from innocence


*




And along with Tómas’s learnedness comes his edge. His ranting style, that takes off from one idea and runs scattershot (should be a mixed metaphor, but it also makes a ton of sense in the context of this book) until trailing off in a moment of repose and/or senility. (Footnote! This book reminds me of House Mother Normal by B. S. Johnson in its representation of the inner workings of a senile mind. I’ll try and get into that more next week.)

Here follows a short list of the main risks that beset the small population of the icelandic nation from 1939 up until the Marshall Plan:

a) Gymnastics softens the bellies of young men and makes them work-shy; b) bicycle saddles destroy young virgins—“the priority being that every husband enjoys his wife on their wedding night; for girls, bicycles are no different than promiscuity”; c) the extension of school-going nourishes debility in people and hardens the mouths of adolescents (Enemy No. 1, Brynjólf Bjarnason, K. fl.); d) Contraceptives, “which are nothing but the assassination of fine upstanding citizens who are alive and fertile in the seed of those who desire nothing more than to see the creation of The One” in the fullness of time (Enemy No. 1, Katrín Thoroddsen, K. fl.); away with sheaths from the breast pockets of all men’s jackets! A prophylactic-free land! All such new products in the stores amount to the end of the world, the plucking and eradication of the icelandic family. Merchants and shady dealers contribute to this I) with brilliantine, which renders Icelanders as bald as foreigners; II) burning people’s stomachs with mustard and ketchup; III) increasing everyone’s belching and wind by means of vegetables; IV) killing tourists in tents with canned poison in canned food; V) hollowing out the insides of people’s heads via radio; VI) importing sexually transmitted diseases and sexual promiscuity with open foreign underwear, “which must be carefully boiled in a high strength alkali soap before wear;” VII) increasing appendicitis by importing overpriced raisins with pits in them; destroying women’s brains with imports of high heels (2000000 blows daily to the spinal cord and cerebellum); all this that makes one’s wife indifferent to housework and child-rearing.


OK, that one’s funny, but maybe not the best example of the wandering off of thought and sense. Here’s something that gets a bit closer to what I’m talking about:

I cannot think of anything that lets toxins into the blood through the nervous system but something that brings peace and quiet and balance and beauty ABOVE ALL BEAUTY while I pray to the reaper to come or else the messenger with the guide dog and bell collar           they reckon they can teach me to place all my faith in a dog and later care for my belongings with kind intentions they are planning to save those who will never be saved forever improvident who know nothing but foul language and create so much trouble that everything must revolve around the invalids or else the whole community will become invalids and then how will money be taken from Tómas Jónsson

And my favorite line—maybe of all time:

I could punch the friendliness of these voices right in the mouth


*


Over the next couple months, Tómas’s situation and feelings about his lodgers, family, nation, will be expanded upon greatly. But for now, at least you have a bit of a setting in which to let his words spill forth. And don’t focus too much on trying to make everything fit, or understanding every single line. His writings in these notebooks are sporadic and represent his momentary thoughts and urges. They’re not written to be a coherent narrative or novel, but as a sort of last ditch chance to understand himself and his world. As such, it’s fragmented, contradictory, and, at times, steeped in either his private history, or that of Iceland. Keep reading and listening to the podcast though, and the book will definitely open up to you.

7 August 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The first episode in the new season of the Two Month Review will release on Thursday, and in case you haven’t already heard, for the next ten weeks we’ll be discussing Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson.

We have a Goodreads group set up to talk about about this, so feel free to join in and post any and all thoughts, comments, and questions.

Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is available at better bookstores everywhere, and you can also order it directly from Open Letter, where you can get 20% off by entering 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout.

This season’s reading schedule is posted below, with the dates corresponding to when the new podcast episode will go live. (A general post about that section will appear on Three Percent a few days prior to the podcast.)

August 17: Biography, first composition book, second book, third composition book (1-31)

August 24: IV composition book (32-68)

August 31: fifth composition book, VI (69-139)

September 7: tómas’s seventh composition book, 8 (140-199)

September 14: IX. class A, tenth composition book (to “The Soprano Katrín Jónsdóttir”) (200-238)

September 21: tenth composition book (238-281)

September 28: this is the eleventh book, my 12th composition book, book 13 (282-305)

October 5: fourteen, fifteenth book, 16.notebook (306-360)

October 12: 17. composition book (361-411)

Buy the book, read along, listen to the podcast, and join in the conversation!

2 May 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Punctuated by toddler Isak’s comments about Barney, Chad Post, Brian Wood, and Lytton Smith discuss the main motivations behind the upcoming “Two Month Review” podcasts, which will be released weekly starting in later this month, and will focus on a single book for a eight or nine week period.

As noted in this post, Rodrigo Fresán’s The Invented Part will be the first featured book (episodes released every Tuesday from 5/16 through 7/27), and Guðbergur Bergsson’s Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller will be the second (8/3-9/28).

In addition to these weekly podcasts, there is a GoodReads Group where anyone following along can post comments, questions, or other opinions.

Additionally, we are offering a 20% discount on orders of these two books from the Open Letter website. Just enter 2MONTH in the discount field at checkout. And since these are already back from the printer, we’ll ship them out ASAP—well in advance of the official pub dates.

The music for the first season of Two Month Review is Big Sky by The Kinks.



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