20 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

It’s another 2MR review with just Chad and Brian! Similar to the last guest-less podcast, this one goes a bit off the rails . . . Although this time around it gets a lot darker, as they talk about Chekov, Girl, Night, Swimming Pool, Etc., a scream descending from the skies, John Cheever’s writing prompt, and much 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.

The Invented Part is avaialble 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, and Brian Wood on Twitter for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

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

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

If you don’t already subscribe to Two Month Review/Three Percent Podcast you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere. Or you can subscribe by adding our feed directly into your favorite podcast app: http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

17 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the sixth part of The Invented Part (“Meanwhile, Once Again, Beside the Museum Stairway, Under a Big Day,” pages 405-440). 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 The Invented Part 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.

Last week I referenced my theory about how the whole of The Invented Part is structured, with the fourth section serving as a fulcrum, and the parts on either side reflecting each other. So, the first section is mirrored in the seventh, the second in the sixth, third in the fifth.

Granted, I read the book last year when we were preparing it for publication, so yes, I was cheating a bit, but I was still glad to see my theory play itself out in this section (the sixth), which features The Young Man and Young Woman and mirrors the second section, “The Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin.” Without giving away too many details, I’ll just say that this part wraps up a ton of plot points from the earlier section: Why did The Writer name The Young Man as one of his favorite living authors? What’s the deal with Ishmael Tantor? What happened to The Writer after breaking into CERN and merging with the so-called god particle? What would The Writer do with this power? Why so many pages about airplanes? (Actually, we’ll come back to that last one next week.)

On the podcast we’ve mentioned the fact that Fresán wrote the seven sections of this book simultaneously at least a dozen times. As a gratuitous reminder, here’s the section from his interview with translator Will Vanderhyden in which he mentions it:

I wasn’t saying that I write with the same degree of genius and talent that The Beatles had, not at all. I was saying, and I explained this in the interview, that after reading a memoir by Geoff Emerick, The Beatles’ sound engineer, the thing about equalizing and utilizing different channels on the sound mixer ended up having a great deal to do with the way I wrote The Invented Part, whose seven parts I wrote simultaneously. I had seven files open, and I worked on a different one each day. And, at the same time, I didn’t really know where that novel was going, until my son provided me with the key, the little toy figure that appears on the cover of the original edition, which has now become a kind of little literary icon . . . I was bogged down. I had spent years writing a novel, I knew what I wanted to say, I even had a plan, but it wasn’t coming together.

If you’re reading this book for the first time, it’s easy to see it as a sort of wild, Beat-poet inspired ramble through the mind of an aging author. (I’m reminded of a drunken conversation I once had with Wells Tower in which he complained of Roberto Bolaño, “Is there anything this guy doesn’t include in his novels?”)

But, as you reread, or think about, or revisit the book, it becomes more and more clear just how intricately the novel has been constructed. There are little clues and hints and references littered throughout, such as this bit from the second section, in which The Young Man is recounting all the writing workshops he’s attended:

The one with the guy who insisted “that everything begins and ends with Chekov.” Which caused The Young Man a lot of anxiety: because The Young Man read Chekov, enjoyed Chekov, but never understood what his genius was. And he understood even less all the people who wanted to write like that. Those endings that were so open, where nothing was resolved and where all you seem to hear was the voice of the wind slipping in and running around. Endings where, for example, a man and a woman meet beside a museum stairway, with the whole sky above their heads, just to say goodbye to each other. And that’s about it.

(An Anton Chekhov finger puppet seems appropriate.)

On first read you might think that’s pretty funny, or it reminds you of a professor you once had. But then, a mere 322 pages later, you get this bit about The Young Man and Young Woman:

Meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky, he and she wonder how and why they’ve ended up there, after so long without seeing each other (though really it was only a few minutes ago that they said goodbye, again), and only so they can say goodbye.

Or, to really drive this home, twenty-nine pages later, this section ends with:

Meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky, he says to himself that this is, in a way, the closest thing to an Anton Chekov story he’ll ever write. He wonders, also, if all the preceding might not be clearer if it were rearranged in strict chronological order, from back to front, with the most nocturnal of tenderness, until it arrived to this eternal present, meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky.

Books that reward you for paying attention are the best.


So, in relation to this section we have, on the one hand, Chekov, and on the other, Rick and Morty. There’re elegant phrasings (e.g., “meanwhile, once again, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky”), emotional partings, and a tragic death alongside a giant museum of The Writer, which is The Writer, who has been transformed into the Big Sky, an almighty figure who can control everything, including The Young Man and Young Woman, whom he keeps bringing together, beside the Museum stairway, under a big sky, to have the depart, say “goodbye” until he’s ready to intervene and replay this same moment, with slight variation, yet again.

I couldn’t help but think of this “museum” as a giant Rick-shaped head, tweaking reality over and over again, while Morty flips out on the side, “oh, oh geez Rick, you can’t just be toying with people’s existential realities that way. That’s, that’s just not good Rick. You built a museum of yourself to be worshipped and now you’re making everyone read your books over and over, with like, no regard for their free will? Y-you’ve gone too far.” (My Morty impersonation is only good in person, when inebriated.)

One way to read this section is to treat it at face value, as the culmination of the novel’s “plot.” The Writer has accomplished his goal of merging with the god particle and transcending space-time in order to rewrite reality whenever he wants. Which is crazy. Which would be glorious!

Or, you can see this as a new spin (a quantum spin? sorry) on metafiction, in which the pretense that a book is reflecting reality is shoved aside in favor of acknowledging that characters are just that—characters.

The Invented Part has always been a book about “the invented parts” of fiction and art, and part of that inventing is rewriting, redrafting, tweaking, and rejiggering scenes and sentences. Here, in this section, we’re witness to a new version of that, in which we get to the see the Writer doing this right on the page, with comments on his own writing, or bits like this, which almost look like MS Word with track changes turned on:

Insert: “Big Sky” was one of X’s favorite songs before becoming X and ascending into the big sky, and that’s that. There was a time when X, before becoming X, could compose lyrical tirades about songs. Now, since becoming X, X prefers to let the song itself sing and he just steps aside to listen to the song being sung. That song is like the equivalent and replacement of all the sacramental hymns floating in the naves of all the churches and cathedrals. Glory to the Creator, Blessed be, Hallowed be thy name, Forever and ever, etcetera.

And right from the beginning, The Young Man and Young Woman realize that they are characters under the Writer’s control:

There was a time when, yes, they were the ones who decided and improvised how they said goodbye and how they got back together, amid tears and laughter, masters of a story that might have been poorly written but, at least, they were the ones writing it.

Now, not so much, not anymore.

Now, the goodbye is final and refined and elegant.

A carefully considered and calculated and far better written goodbye; but a goodbye written by someone else.

Written by someone who is never entirely pleased with the result and, so, starting over, saying “hello” again to say “goodbye” again. Though now the one who writes and edits them seems to be concentrating not on the twist of the reunion, but, solely, on the pogo-stick of the goodbye.

There’s even a moment in which The Young Man breaks free for a minute before The Writer (referred to here as X) takes back over with a vengeance.

Like, he suddenly remembers, those plantation owners who ceaselessly read The Count of Monte Cristo to their slaves, forced to roll Montecristo-brand cigars: as if giving the prisoners the gift of a great fictitious revenge whose smoke and fragrance they’ll never get to breathe in. And, suddenly, intoxicated by that not new but, yes, sudden memory (and frightened by the carelessness of X, who, distracted maybe, allowed him to remember it), he starts to tremble. And he feels him come back. X. Firing off shrieks like flares. And entering his head and scrambling it until, there inside, on a tropical island, plantation owners don’t read The Count of Monte Cristo to those working the land anymore; they read them Dracula—the story of a hunter who suddenly finds himself hunted. [. . .]

And X’s message is clear: “Don’t get clever, there’s no way out, I’m the only one who thinks around here, and you, now, are nothing but the writing of my writing, the ink of my ink, the blood of my blood, circulating through the tangled mess of wiring that grows inside my centrifuge brain.”

And, yes, there it is, there it remains.

The edifice of the Museum has the shape of a head.

Rick’s head!

Metafiction has been around for a very long time—long before John Barth’s Lost in the Funhouse directly addressed its own structure, and before Gilbert Sorrentino borrowed, and then trapped, two characters from other books in Mulligan Stew, Laurence Sterne was pulling back the curtain in Tristam Shandy—and there’s no real reason to go over all of that right here, but I do want to mention that this particular flavor of metafiction reminds me a lot of Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel). A fellow Argentinian writer, Macedonio’s book was a huge inspiration to Borges, and is made up of two parts: 122 pages of prologues (“The Model Prologue,” “Prologue of Indecision,” “Another Prologue”) followed by 126 pages of the “novel,” in which an author forces his characters to practice their lines and movements in preparation for his novel. Actually, there is a third section as well. This page, which comes between the two aforementioned parts:

Were those prologues? And is this the novel?

This page is for the reader to linger, in his well-deserved and serious indecision, before reading on.

So much fun. Both of these books are just a joy to read. Especially if you’re at all into the idea that fiction is a fiction, and there’s no good reason to strictly adhere to the illusion that words on a page correspond—via images and ideas—to the so-called “real” world. In these books you get to see creators at play; in more realistic books, you get Jonathan Franzen.

13 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review, Tom Roberge from Riffraff and the Three Percent Podcast joins Chad and Brian talk about 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pink Floyd, potential errors and non-errors, cultural touchstones that serve to define friendships, the overall structure of this chapter of The Invented Part, and Tom’s experience coming on the podcast having read only these forty pages of the novel. And, as per usual, Chad sneaks in a few Twin Peaks references.

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

The Invented Part is avaialble 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, Brian Wood, and “The” Tom Roberge on Twitter for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

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

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

If you don’t already subscribe to Two Month Review/Three Percent Podcast you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere. Or you can always subscribe by adding our feed directly into your favorite podcast app: http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

12 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that half of 2017 is over, Chad and Tom take a minute to reflect back on major stories, trends, and books from the first six months of the year. The conversation is quite lively (listen in to hear Chad lose his mind after reading the latest “Book Match” column), and covers issues of bookstore ownership, publicity and the state of book culture, the precarious state of nonprofit publishing, and Yadier Molina’s horrible neck tattoo.

A few recommendations from this week’s show:

Such Small Hands by Andrés Barba, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman.

GLOW) on Netflix.

Stadium Club by Mark Mulroney.

This week’s music is a clip from “The Ballad of Costa Concordia” by Car Seat Headrest.

As always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to: threepercentpodcast@gmail.com. Also, if there are articles you’d like us to read and analyze (or just make fun of), send those along as well.

And if you like the podcast, tell a friend and rate us or leave a review on iTunes!

If you don’t already subscribe to the Three Percent Podcast you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and other places. Or you can always subscribe by adding our feed directly into your favorite podcast app: http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

12 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the fourth of a five-part interview with Rodrigo Fresán. Earlier parts are all avialble on the Three Percent website (I, II, and III), as are all other Two Month Review posts.

Special thanks to Will Vanderhyden for conducting—and translating—this interview.

Will Vanderhyden: The narrator of The Invented Part has strong feelings about screen culture, about the prevalence of certain technologies—i.e. ebooks, smartphones, Facebook, twitter, etc.—and their implications for literature. To what extent do you share his feelings? How do you think technology is changing the way we read and write?

Rodrigo Fresán: A little. But not that much. It irritates and bothers me, but I can look the other way. In The Dreamed Part, the second book in the trilogy, the reason for and root of the protagonist’s luddite passion is clarified. But I don’t know if I should say or give anything away in that sense. Yes, maybe, it might be appropriate here to offer a fragment from the next book where the narrator, in the form of a list of questions, delves into a particular preoccupation of his (also mine) about how we have sold our souls and our eyes to certain gadgets. There I go, here it comes: “Think about it a little: not that long ago none of you were going around carrying those little devices with you everywhere and you lived lives that were more or less the same as the ones you live now and you were masters of the same intelligence quotient and the same powers of internal and external observation . . . Tell me, what is it that has changed so much in your lives and the lives of your acquaintances in recent years that has made you feel the obligation or need to share everything that happens to you and everything that you happen to think of, eh? Sure, if all of you had, courtesy of some fork in space-time, been in Dallas with your little phones that morning in 1963, we’d probably know exactly how many shooters there were and where they shot from and we’d be able to see JFK’s head explode from all possible angles. But seriously, I mean it, believe me: nobody is interested in that photo of what you’re eating or that sunset you’re seeing or your most recent deep thought that you just have to share with all of humanity unless you’re interested in their reflections and their sunsets and their meals too . . . Isn’t it true that not that long ago you liked many fewer things and that you took your time to think about whether something was or wasn’t worthy of a like? Isn’t it true that just a few years ago you didn’t read so much and definitely didn’t write so much? Isn’t it true that it used to make more to sense to go to the bathroom to read than to write? Isn’t it true that you used to live without wondering whether everything you did or thought was inspiring enough and worthy of being instantaneously and constantly sent out into the fullest emptiness in all of history? Isn’t it true that those lives were actually more interesting and that, every so often, it was fun to sit down with a friend, live and direct and in person, and say to them: ‘You have no idea what happened to me last week’ and then proceed to tell them with a full luxury of details, just as you had practiced in your heads, with authentic tears and laughter? Isn’t it true that it’s more appropriate to tell people about your pregnancies or tumors in private and one on one and in different ways depending on the person and not to tell everyone at the same time with the same words? Isn’t it true that there was a certain charm to coming home and—when it wasn’t bad news—finding a handwritten note on the ground beside the door or on a desk or stuck to the refrigerator door and opening it and under that cold light reading the warmth of that message? Isn’t it true that it’s disturbing to think that the activity you do most throughout the day is stare at your phone? Isn’t it true that it’s much more pleasant not to feel that already-diagnosed-by-neurologists ‘phantom vibration’ at the height of your pockets, as if it were the phone that we forgot and that isn’t even there calling and reminding us of its existence from far away, like the reflex and memory of some unforgettable amputated body part. Isn’t it true that you kind of miss that delectable torture of not being able to remember something—a name, a title, a song—and not find it and abort it immediately via Google so that, instead, you allow that forgotten thing to live and expand and, while you try to defeat it, you awaken other memories and other songs and titles and names? Isn’t it true that it used to be so gratifying to be the first to remember something in a gathering of the absent-minded? Isn’t it true that it was much easier to detect the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s and to get ahead in its treatment without the use of instantaneous memory aids? Isn’t it true that it was exciting when every time you took a photo you were also making a choice? Isn’t it true that it was better to have memories that were far more precise than all those blurry photos where you can’t even tell who is in them? Isn’t it true that it was more exciting when every time you didn’t take a photo you were also making a choice? Isn’t it true that you used to film and photograph your kids less and you looked at them more and saw them better at home or at end-of-year performances or at birthdays? Isn’t it true that life was a little better when everyone who made fun of you in high school or at work could only do it from nine to five and not like now, on Facebook (‘Facebook friend’ was a great oxymoron, he thought) or Instagram or wherever, at all hours of the day and night, and you there promising and deceiving yourself that you won’t log back on to see how they hit you and insult you and laugh in your screen-face. Isn’t it true that it’s better to go out into the street and meet up with friends and not to capture virtual monsters that cost you less and less money, which takes more and more work to earn? Isn’t it true that it was better to go out walking in the street and randomly run into people instead of knowing where they are at all times but never seeing them in person? Isn’t it true that it was so nice to go out walking and be sure that nobody could call you on the phone? Isn’t it true that it was better to go out into the street when there were none of those new stoplights, on the ground, specially located to protect people who keep getting run over because they’re walking, head down, looking at the screen of their phone? Isn’t it true that it was nobler to immediately come to the aid of the unknown victim of an accident instead of making a video and “sharing it” first? Isn’t it true that it’s weird that doctors, when it comes time to let family members say goodbye to their loves ones—many of them dying because they were so concentrated on their phones they never saw what was coming at them until it was too late—have opted, I read about this the other day, to unplug the screens of the monitors that register the dying vital signs, because many people, reflexively, ignore the dying person and stare at those devices with the sound of videogames of game over? Isn’t it true that everything sounded better when all the phones sounded more or less the same, when their voice was more or less the same? Isn’t it true that you kind of miss those days when having a good memory was something to be proud of and not something we put in the hands of that device in our hands? Isn’t it true that it was exciting to memorize the phone number of a person you loved and to dial their digits one and a time, as if they were the letters of the person’s name, instead of just pressing a button without ever knowing what those numbers might add to or subtract from our hearts? Isn’t it true that we should be prouder of the memory of our soft brain than that of our hard disc? Isn’t it true that the world seemed better ordered and fairer when it wasn’t so easy to reach anybody via email, and certain levels of friendship and hierarchies of familiarity and rules of protocol were respected? Isn’t it true that things worked better when someone asked the legitimate owner first before casually giving away their phone number and email address to just anybody? Isn’t it true that it was a pleasure to unplug the phone or to think that you had achieved enough success in your life that you could dispense with it, that you had someone to deal with those ring-ring-rings or with those ringtones personalized—like those car horns that used to sing “La cucaracha”—with songs from TV shows or movies or famous speeches or, even worse, the wailing of your own baby? Isn’t it true that you made love more often or at least thought about making love more often or slept more and more deeply dreaming about making love and not about staring at and talking on your phone? Isn’t it true that it was much more enjoyable to go to the bathroom with a book and not a phone? Isn’t it true that spy thrillers and love stories were much better and more exciting when their moles and kitty cats had to search for and locate a phone on the street or in a bar and weren’t carrying it with them everywhere? Isn’t it true that the president of the United States still looks more elegant in the oval office with an old-school telephone and not holding one of those plastic and metal wafers? Isn’t it true that everything was more comfortable when you didn’t have to declare them at airports as if they were lethal weapons? Isn’t it true that it was easier to live a calmer life in a world where phones weren’t exploding and the new model of something wasn’t worse than previous models? Isn’t it true that your lives were better when you were people who thought something, and thought about it for a while before broadcasting it, and your face and name were out in the open and not the maniacal masks of avatars and aliases and anonymous and invasive body snatchers? Isn’t it true that everything was much nicer when phone calls were much less frequent and lasted much less time? Isn’t it true that life was more relaxed when you spent time reading absolutely nothing and maybe achieved some kind of Zen emptiness, unlike now when you read all the time, and all you read are brief stupidities that, in their accumulation, end up turning you into a big stupid nothing. Isn’t it true that what makes you check your social media profiles every minute isn’t the satisfaction of seeing yourselves there but of confronting the constant dissatisfaction of not really being seen by anyone? Isn’t it true that everything was much nicer when you didn’t have to take constant and interminable seminars to be able to use new applications, suspecting that soon everything would completely flip upside down and you’d have to start from mechanics’ ground zero and take classes to learn how to hold a spoon and slurp down your soup? Isn’t it true that everything seemed much grander and much more expressive when the world was much smaller and much more incommunicado? Isn’t it true that everything felt much more exciting and adventurous and proximal and close when the long-distance thing existed? Isn’t it true that it was easier to trust those foldable and uncomfortable and silent but oh so much more believable paper maps that, in addition to showing you where you were, pointed out where you had been and where you would be? Isn’t it true that the air felt lighter and the landscape shone much brighter when the only thing you knew about writers was what was in their books or in the occasional interview and when you knew absolutely nothing about the life and work of readers because readers didn’t write? . . .” And enough, for now, right?

The fifth and final part of this interview will go live on July 26th, just before the final podcast of the first “season” of the Two Month Review podcast. In the meantime, click here to check out earlier episodes and all other Two Month Review related posts!

11 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Fans of challenging, cerebral, modernist epics, rejoice! Today marks the official release date of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller by Guðbergur Bergsson, a masterpiece of twentieth-century Icelandic literature, the fifth Icelandic work Open Letter has published to date. This is a book that is sure to launch a thousand dissertations and books of commentary—both about the book itself, and about Lytton Smith’s masterful translation.

Joyceans, Pynchonians, and David-Foster-Wallacians (yes, I just made that word) should be especially drawn to Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. But to aid those who are unfamiliar with the novel’s author, background, and allusions (i.e. the 99.9 % of the world’s population not from Iceland), Three Percent will be rolling out a lot of secondary material in the months to come: essays, interviews, and podcasts to help orient the brave reader who decides to take the plunge. (As previously mentioned, this title will be the focus of the second season of the Two Month Review podcast. Subscribe now so that you don’t miss a single episode of this entertaining deep read of this incredibly funny book.)

For the next couple months, we’ll be selling copies of the book for 20% off via our website. Just enter the code 2MONTH at checkout.

To whet your appetite, here is the (rather unusual) press release Lytton and I came up with to promote the book to reviewers and booksellers. It gives a good idea of why this book is so rewarding, even if it is so hard to pin down.

For Immediate Release: Tómas Jónsson—Bestseller

Translated from the Icelandic, Guðbergur Bergsson’s Tómas Jónsson is a pulp commercial novel about a stalwart hero defying his times.

No, that’s not right. A compendious, genre-twisting modernist novel, it keeps retelling itself, correcting itself.

Second Attempt: Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller?

We need a clickbait gallery of the books that are the Ulysses of their particular country. Three Trapped Tigers by G. Cabrera Infante is the Cuban Ulysses for its inventive, manic wordplay. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass could be the German Ulysses for its historical importance and length.

The representative from Iceland would have to be Guðbergur Bergsson’s Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. Flip your copy open to any page and you’ll realize immediately that you’re encountering a novel that, like Ulysses, rewrote the rules of what a novel can do. Lists, false starts, sections without punctuation, italicized stories within digressions, flashes of concrete poetry—all within the mindscape of Tómas Jónsson, a man bed-bound (or not), his mind wandering and failing him (maybe).

No one wrote like this in Iceland in 1966 when Tómas Jónsson’s polemic hit the scene. Halldór Laxness had won the Nobel Prize a decade earlier, and Tómas took swings at his historical, realistic novels with their noble rural characters and dramatic plots. International bestsellers, they were seen as the most sophisticated and praise-worthy representation of Icelandic art and the spirit of Icelanders.

Bergsson didn’t just veer away from that mold: he shattered it, calling into question and undermining the core values of Icelandic nationalism. An iconoclast of the artistic order, many writers in Iceland today think Bergsson—born in 1932, the author of over twenty-one books, including novels, poetry collections, and works of children’s literature—is the Icelandic author who really deserved the Nobel Prize.

Which is why everyone in Iceland owns a copy of Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller. Although not that many of them have actually finished it.

Third Draft: Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller

No. Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is less like Ulysses, and more like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude—which Bergsson translated into Icelandic.

As with Marquez, reality is stretched past its limit in Bestseller: the idiom “eaten out of house and home” takes physical shape as characters find their apartments shrink in size with every bite of every meal they take.

Considered to be Bergsson’s masterpiece, Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller is, at its most basic level, a novel about a retired bank clerk who, senile and enraged at contemporary culture, decides to write his memoirs, ambitious to pen a bestseller like celebrity CEOs do, using his book to rage against the dumbing down of Iceland, against what he sees as moral dissolution, how the number one value in modern life is how “driven” or “enterprising” you are, and so on and so forth for notebook after notebook, filled with starts and stops and revisions and rants and so much more.

Fourth Press Release: Sjón on Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller

Sjón, one of Iceland’s most famous writers, was recently asked which contemporary Icelandic authors were current inspirations to his work. He had this to say:

The grand old man of Icelandic literature is Guðbergur Bergsson and I keep being influenced by his modernist novels from the 60s as well as some of his later works. Luckily for English readers his early masterpiece Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller will be published by Open Letter in the U.S. next year. It is the greatest attack ever launched against the overblown ideas behind the official image of the Icelandic national character. It is a picaresque, Rabelaisian, joyful experiment where the main character even assigns a passport to his penis: Occupation: Toy. Height: 18 cm. Eye color: Red. Etc. Like all works that are watershed events his best novels have made writing both easier and more difficult for those of us who followed in his wake.

This is good blurb material, even if some readers don’t like penis jokes and others aren’t familiar with Rabelais. But the world needs attacks against overblown, nationalistic ideas. It’s both good and scary how timely this novel is.

The Fifth Release: Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller

Better yet: the comparison should be William H. Gass’s The Tunnel, what with the old man rants and textual games. This is not an easy novel to understand—a statement Tómas Jónsson embraces right from its start. Is art supposed to be something we understand? Should it reflect the values and trends of the moment, regurgitating what the occasional book reader—who has never read Ulysses and owns an un-opened Book Club edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude—would like so as to reaffirm their preexisting ideas?

These are some of the questions that will be addressed in the weekly Two Month Review podcast (and series of posts on Three Percent) for Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller taking place over August and September. Co-hosted by Open Letter’s Chad W. Post and poet-translator Lytton Smith (who has referred to this as the most difficult and important translation he’s ever done), the podcast will provide a deep dive into Bergsson’s novel chunk by chunk, recapping and appreciating the book while exploring its more Joycean-Marquezian-Gassian bits, providing a wider historical and literary context. All of these podcasts will be available on iTunes, Stitcher, the Three Percent website, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Be sure and take advantage of the 20% discount (enter 2MONTH at checkout), subscribe to the podcast, and join in the discussion about Tómas Jónsson, Bestseller over at Goodreads. And stay tuned over the next week for a number of other posts about this incredible novel.

10 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the fifth part of The Invented Part (“Life After People, or Notes for a Brief History of Progressive Rock and Science Fiction,” pages 361-404). 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 The Invented Part 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.

As has been noted on a few occasions, The Invented Part is made up of seven clear sections (one of which has three chapters), which are grouped into three different parts. So far, we’ve read five of them:

Part I

“The Real Character”: The Writer as The Boy nearly drowning at the beach.

Part II

“The Place Where the Sea Ends So the Forest Can Begin”: Young Man and Young Woman are working on the movie about the absent Writer.

“A Few Things You Happen to Think About When All You Want Is to Think About Nothing”: In which The Writer feels his own encroaching mortality and wants more time to write all the stories that flood his brain.

“Many Fêtes, or Study for a Group Portrait with Broken Decalogues”: Notes about a book The Writer wants to write (which seems to be The Invented Part) and his various inspirations.

“Life After People, or Notes for a Brief History of Progressive Rock and Science Fiction”: Features Tom, a childhood friend of The Writer’s, who gets a call from The Writer right after The Writer breaks into CERN and does what he does to end up “floating through time and space, happily multidimensional.”

Before listing the two sections we haven’t read, I want to take a second to point out a structural pattern that I’m only noticing now, on this re-read. Namely, that this is a symmetrical book with sections 1-7, 2-6, 3-5 reflecting each other, with section 4 being a sort of fulcrum around which the rest balance.

For example, in section 3 we’re in the mind of The Writer, approaching a false death (remember—he thinks it’s the end times, but tests prove that his chest pain was nothing serious at all) while constantly constructing ideas.

In section 5, The Writer has gone beyond, and we’re in the mind of a friend of his—who receives an incredibly powerful story from The Transcended Writer. First approaching death, now on the other side of it. Initially making stories to maybe write, now dropping a story into someone’s mind.

If I’m right about this sort of overarching, almost mathematical, structure, then section 6 (“Meanwhile, Once Again, Beside the Museum Stairway, Under a Big Sky”) should be about the Young Man and Young Woman from section 2, and the last section—the only one of Part III—“The Imaginary Person,” should end back with The Writer, fully grown, no longer The Boy from section 1.

Just something to keep in mind (maybe!) as you contemplate the book as a whole. Fresán may have written all seven sections at the same time, but he’s a genius, and the connections and underlying structures are far from random. Again: genius.


Speaking of structure—and this came up at the very end of the podcast you’ll hear on Thursday—this particular chapter is really interesting in terms of how much time actually elapses during the course of these pages.

Here’s the opening:

“Dun dun dun da-DAdun, da-DAdun . . .” He realizes that he’s in big trouble when, hearing a strange sound in his house and not being able to locate its source, he finally discovers that the sound is springing (springing, ah, such a sonic verb) from his own mouth. Through clenched teeth. And that it’s nothing but his own voice singing low, deep, martial, the ominous and instantly catchy and unforgettable musical theme that marks the entrances and exits of the dark and asthmatic and uniformed and reconstructed Darth Vader in the movies of the Star Wars saga.

So that’s what he’s doing, advancing through a house that’s too big for him now. And he moves through its hallways and bedrooms with the sneaking suspicion that, behind and beneath them, are more hallways and more rooms. [. . .]

“What year is it?” he wonders.

“Does it matter?” he answers.

For a couple months now—since his wife left him, taking their little son with her—he’s been living in the near-suspended animation of the minute-to-minute. It’s harder—but it hurts less.

I never noticed how many references to time are embedded in this opening page until copying this out. References to what he’s doing “now,” questions about the year (and it not mattering), the couple of months since his wife left, living in the “near-suspended animation of the minute-to-minute.” Given the ending twist to this chapter—The Writer living beyond it all, having merged with the god particle or whatever—this focus on time passing feels not at all coincidental.

After a digression about the ex-wife and his relationship with his son, we get a minor meditation on the past:

The past is a telephone that rings like those old telephones never rang, the ones that, in the beginning of their history, only rang to inform you of something decisive, historic. And, yes, with time there will be many people (though not as many as, for example, those who fixed in their memory the precise and private context that surrounded the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy or the death of John Lennon; those moments in History, with a capital H, that turn into something almost palpable, something that’s almost breathed and enters the lungs and heart and brain) who’ll remember with millimetric precision exactly what they were doing when they found out about the disintegration of that writer.

And then amid those reflections we get the most direct statement about what happens to The Writer and a statement from The Transcended Writer himself, which really drives home this “time” theme:

But yes Tom was wide awake and with fifty years draped over him like a very heavy blanket when the writer, who’d once been his best childhood and adolescent friend, evaporated in a storm of particles and quantum physics and dark matter. And, yes, Tom remembers precisely what he was doing then. Not only when he learned of the “accident”—better and more in-depth, on the news that night—but in the exact instant that it took place. Because he’d just finished not talking to the writer but listening to him * (“I’m calling you after so long because you have to know where I am and what I’m about to do, what I’m doing, what I did; because now all times are one for me. Now I no longer have time, I’m atemporal,” his friend had said from so far away) talk on the telephone; because Tom didn’t dare interrupt him, didn’t dare say a word. Tom just listened to his sharp and clear voice for a long time on the answering machine recording, after his son came to find him in the bathroom and said: “Papi, the phone is making a weird noise.”

Now, I could be wrong—and probably am—but I think this moment of Tom’s son telling him about the phone ringing is the only real “now” of this chapter. The rest of it—memories of meeting The Writer and Penelope, of Tom’s relationship with his son Fin, the bits about Life After People, Pink Floyd, 2001: A Space Odyssey, even the words of The Writer, which are seemingly implanted into Tom’s mind along with Penelope’s story—are all memories filling in around this moment.

(The one exception is the final bit of this chapter which begins, “It’s night now. The dead of night.” A bit of a coda after the storm in which Tom remembers Penelope’s story, forever seared into his mind—“It’s late now, now it’s too late to forget—now he’ll never forget it—what Penelope did or stopped doing with her little son.”—and has the most touching of moments with Fin.)


Similar to the William Burroughs part in Penelope’s Mount Karma section, Fresán incorporates a lot of factual, real-life events and artworks here. Specifically, this is the “Pink Floyd section,” telling of Syd Barrett’s mental breakdown, his random appearance at the recording studio where Pink Floyd II was recording Wish You Were Here, along with descriptions and accounts of a few other Pink Floyd albums.

Similar to how Fitzgerald transformed the real life of the Murphys into Tender Is the Night, Fresán is transforming real-life stories about art into new art. Transforming information about creators into a creation about a creator.

All of these stories are told within Tom’s mind though, which adds an interesting wrinkle or two. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that you are what you read (or watch, or listen to), but like Brian mentions on the podcast, major works of art oftentimes serve as sort of touchstones to determine and shape friendships. (Anyone I meet who mentions The Crying of Lot 49 and Twin Peaks and Dan Deacon will become an insta-friend.)

Interpretation does play a role though, as does one’s memory. The mind isn’t a flawless recording device, but something more mysterious and active, in which things shift and morph and become something else.

For example, there is this:

And his friends are left there to cry. And to record. And, with time, Waters and Gilmour think that that might have been the moment, after wrapping up Wish You Were Here (that in the beginning didn’t entirely win over the critics, that reaches number one in sales on both sides of the Atlantic when it’s released, and that time and perspective and distance elevate as their unanimous and indisputable crowning achievement), the exact and perfect time for the band to break up. The precise instant—from which there was no going back—to conclude their life cycle, with that ode to the omnipresent absent friend. And that way avoid the imminent ex-friendships resulting from the convulsive and revulsive recordings of Animals and The Wall and The Final Cut. To go, to let go, with those airs bottled in the fullest of emptinesses, the absolute and joyously sad emptiness of their lyrics and music. With that magic moment—at the end of “Welcome to the Machine” and the beginning of “Wish You Were Here”—when someone seemed to be trying to tune in a radio, the one in David Gilmour’s car. And you heard voices and a few bars of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. And suddenly all the sound drops, like a candle blown out for the birthday of an era. A pause that it took Tom many listens (staring intently at the needle above the grooves, trying to see what was happening) to grasp wasn’t a potential defect in his parents’ stereo equipment reacting to some secret frequency so that then, after the entrance of that vintage acoustic guitar solo, everything would climb again, like the highest of rising of tides.

What’s interesting about this is the bridge between the story about Pink Floyd breaking up to Tom’s personal story about internalizing that specific moment in which Tom remembers the album incorrectly. As Rodrigo mentioned to me in an email, “Wish You Were Here” doesn’t come at the end of “Welcome to the Machine,” but at the end of “Have a Cigar.” We are in Tom’s memory here now . . . And, as a tease, I’ll just mention that Rodrigo said that this will be explained in The Remembered Part . . .


Finally, I have a few quick notes about parents and their children. This is something I’ve been honing in on throughout my re-read. From the opening section about The Boy and his parents (who lead a crazy life!) to the proliferation of stories about fathers and sons that The Writer comes up with while at the hospital to Penelope’s story to Tom and his son. Still not 100% sure of what to make of all this, but there’s a theme of disappointment and failure that runs throughout. Along with fears of death and violence.

That really comes home in this episode, in which The Writer “gifts” Tom the full story of Penelope and her son, which isn’t fully explained, but which Tom can’t get out of his mind (“now he’ll never forget it—what Penelope did or stopped doing with her little son”) and leads him to go to Fin’s room and the final, pretty emotional sentence of this section: “Sitting on the edge of the bed, he holds his son to keep from falling.”


One last quote:

Major Tom: until a few minutes ago I was a disillusioned writer. And there’s nothing sadder than a disillusioned writer, Major Tom. A disillusioned writer has that sadness that makes no one sad but himself.

6 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review, Chad and Brian talk about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tender Is the Night, puzzles, how to properly introduce the show, the Modern Library list of top 100 novels of the twentieth century, Booth Tarkington, and much more more.

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

The Invented Part is avaialble 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, and Brian Wood, on Twitter for more thoughts and information about upcoming guests.

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

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

If you don’t already subscribe to Two Month Review/Three Percent Podcast you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and elsewhere. Or you can always subscribe by adding our feed directly into your favorite podcast app: http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss

3 July 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

On this week’s Two Month Review podcast, we’ll be discussing the fourth part of The Invented Part (“Many Fêtes, or Study for a Group Portrait with Broken Decalogues,” pagest 301-360). 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 The Invented Part 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.

As has been mentioned time and again—in posts and on the podcast—each of the seven sections of The Invented Part operate under a different style and literary technique. Sure, there are similarities in voice and general outlook, in recurring stories, themes and ideas, but Fresán keeps experimenting with different approaches to this material throughout the book. It’s probably not completely wrong to say that this novel is as much concerned with cataloging various literary styles and structures as it is with the plot. (More on that coming!)

Last week we had the internal monologue section, with The Writer thinking his time had come and being unable to shut off his brain while in the hospital undergoing an MRI and waiting to learn his fate. By contrast, this week’s section (“Many Fêtes, or Study for a Group Portrait with Broken Decalogues”) is much more fragmented and discontinuous. (Warning: That’s what this post will likely be as well. Buckle up?)

Specifically, the rubric for this section is the “biji.”

The biji (筆記) is a genre of classic Chinese literature. “Biji” can be translated, roughly yet more or less faithfully, as “notebook.” And a biji can contain curious anecdotes, nearly blind quotations, random musings, philosophical speculations, private theories regarding intimate matters, criticism of other works, and anything that its owner and author deems appropriate.

As you’ll hear in Thursday’s podcast, Brian likens this section to a puzzle being put together. Even more than that, he sees this section as building the frame to the novel as a whole. And we do get a lot of plot pieces in this part, providing the emotional outline of The Writer’s life—especially in relation to his parents, which reminds me that I would like to write a long post about the parent-child relationships running throughout this book. I’ll just make a note of that here so that I don’t forget.

As you’ll also hear on Thursday, we weren’t sure what the daggers before every “biji” or fragment represented. We are dumb. We are also lazy. Here’s what I found in four seconds of using the Google.

The dagger is usually used to indicate a footnote if an asterisk has already been used. A third footnote employs the double dagger. Additional footnotes are somewhat inconsistent and represented by a variety of symbols, e.g., parallels (‖) and the pilcrow (¶), some of which were nonexistent in early modern typography.

One of the echoes from an early section that shows up here is the recurring phrase “have you read all these books?”

(In relation to this book and the daggers and the asterisks in the previous section, a better question might be: have you read all the footnotes AND the footnotes to the footnotes?”)

In 1998, the Modern Library put Tender Is the Night at number twenty-eight on the list of one hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century. The Great Gatsby is number two, after Ulysses by James Joyce.

Has he read all of those novels? Just those one hundred novels?

He looks on the Internet and finds it and—memo for the girl from the beginning—he discovers that yes he has read ninety-three of the one hundred on the list.

And says to himself that that is something.

Then he thinks that Christmas is coming.

This is very much a book in conversation with other books.

Actually, that’s not quite right. It’s a book steeped in a world in which books matter. There are books that are books for writers. (“He sure is a writer’s writer!” “You mean his books don’t sell, but people go to his panels at AWP?”) But this is a book that’s maybe a bit of that, but a bit more of a reader’s reader book. A book for the people who believe in books and are surrounded by them.

“Have you read all those books?”

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this here, on the podcast, or solely in conversation with myself, but I take great solace in being surrounded by way more books than I will ever read. It’s probably 50-50 that I’ll make it through the titles on my “to read soon” shelves. And I’m good with that. In no way will that reality prevent me from buying more books, being swayed by the new shiny authors, and the promise of some mind-altering literary experience. If life is mostly managing anxiety, and if I am being honest, I’m way more anxious when I feel like I don’t have too many books physically around me. I take four times the number of books I need to on every flight, breaking my back mainly because I’m scared of being on a plane and not liking the one and only book I took with me. What would I even do?

The way in which Christmas is dropped into that excerpt above is at the crux of what I think I want to write about this week: the way this novel is almost inverted in its aims, condensing the plot into little information dumps while unfurling a near-endless investigation into the mystery of how literature is transformed from facts into something more.

How the “invented part”—which is the best part, the magical part—comes to be. And why that matters.

This is the story: Christmas Eve 1977, his parents and their friends, models and artists and publicists and beautiful people, storm a prestigious department store branch and, within a few hours, are “subdued by the forces of order.” [. . .]

And “subdued by the forces of order” means that the army comes in with tanks and bazookas and many people die, among them several customers who were there buying Christmas presents. [. . .]

It was never clear if his parents died during the retaking of the department store or if, weeks later, they were thrown from a seaplane into the waters off that beach where they used to take him on vacation and where one time he almost drowned without them noticing.

Imagine another book. A book written by a writer concerned with using words to represent events in cinematic ways on the page. A QWERTY writer. (That’s an in-joke for the Rochester translation community, but I’m letting it stand.) A writer who has a name like “Jodi Picoult.” A writer who would take those three paragraphs and make them ride for a hundred pages. With emotional crescendos, endless details about the politics and emotional background that led The Writer and Penelope’s parents to “storm” a department store, a really muscular descripton of the “forces of order” shutting things down, and a charged denounment involving parents, children, and broken dreams, this imaginary book would be a lot more than three paragraphs.

Instead, here are three other paragraphs from the same “bijis” that point to what Fresán is really up to.

Another note: This part of the novel (and it will be very complex) will be built around the testimonies of hostages, between terror and wonder, seeing themselves subdued by “that couple from those ads on a sailboat.” Some of them won’t be able to stop admiring the perfect cut and tailoring of their guerilla-chic style uniforms. Someone will ask for their autographs and to take a picture with them. And his parents, of course, will comply. And they smile at the camera. And that oh so Murphian photo will appear on the front page of daily and weekly newspapers in the coming days and weeks. [. . .]

The attack is filmed by news cameras and (not long ago he saw those shaky scenes again) the quality of the film is curiously similar to the postcards of battles from World War One. Something that looks much older than it actually is. [. . .]

An inconfessable confession, inadmissible admission: he’s increasingly convinced that he’d benefitted from his parents’ disappearance. And not just because it made him seem so much more interesting when he published his first book where his parents’ disappearance made an appearance. [. . .] His parents, on the other hand, hadn’t even left behind good-looking corpses. His parents were like dead stars whose light still twinkled a little, from so many dark years of unfathomable cosmic distance. His parents were, yes—a good story. [. . .]

It’s trite to point this out, but this is just as much a book about making books as much as it is a book about the life and times of its imagined characters.

Two more long quotes!

“Wuthering Heights Revisited” tells the story of a beautiful and romantic young woman who, obsessed with gothic novels, marries a rich yet bohemian heir who has come to Europe to find success as an artist. Her husband falls seriously ill and both of them return to his family’s home, on the other side of the ocean. There, the young woman suffers and, discovering that she is pregnant, runs away without saying anything to her in-laws out of fear that they won’t let her leave and will claim her child for the heir. The young woman, without a home, lives with her brother. The boy is born and the young mother, sensing that she’s going mad, discovers not only that the boy won’t ever love her, but that in addition, as the years go by, he’ll love her brother more and more. One night, the young woman takes her son for a walk along a beach that leads into a forest. And the young woman comes home alone and smiling. And she says she doesn’t know what happened, that she doesn’t remember anything, that she was “possessed by the ugliest of all the Ugly Spirits,” and, when questioned about the boy, she sings and sings and doesn’t stop singing.

“Dear: dear, dear, dear . . .”

In a paragraph and a sentence, we get the whole crushing story of Penelope’s life. And that line, “sensing that she’s going mad, discovers not only that the boy won’t ever love her, but that in addition, as the years go by, he’ll love her brother more and more.” Fuck. That’s so much more poignant than a chapter trying to capture her inner emotional states.

I’m just spitballing ideas here, treating this blog like a private notebook, but in a way, this book works really well by inhabiting a world of books, a world of books that the reader is also familiar with, and allowing the stories and aspects of those other books to fill in the outline of this book’s plot. In a less convoluted way: I don’t need more of Penelope’s story, because with this one line I realize that I’ve read it before somewhere. Or if not exactly read her story, I can imagine having read that story. Or seen it, or heard it.

What’s the fun in trying to write a story that’s all plot and characters and neo-realism? We’ve all seen that, we’ve all read better versions. Creating something new in the world of contemporary realism seems so daunting . . . and not nearly as enriching and inventive and exciting as what Fresán’s doing. Especially since there still is so much heart and emotion and meat to this novel.

Although to be honest, anyone who would ask “have you read all these books?” would probably also ask, “why do you read?”

What could his parents—in full-on process of deterioration, their morale broken—have seen in Tender Is the Night? What could their systematic serial reading of the novel—as if searching for a secret code, an explanation for everything in their world—have helped them with? Maybe, seeing themselves reflected in the Divers just as the Murphys (though they deny it) saw themselves reflected in the Divers, his parents were able to understand themselves better and maybe forgive themselves. Or perhaps, to the contrary, the bourgeoisie and comfortable image reflected back to them by that black and magic mirror—the warning from a Lost Generation that under no circumstance should they lose their generation again—did nothing but harden their respective positions and they read that book the way other people read Sun Tzu or Von Clausewitz. As a call to arms.

29 June 17 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For the first time ever, this Saturday (July 1st), Open Letter Books will have a pop-up shop in Downtown Rochester. From 12-2 and from 4-6, we’ll be outside of Hart’s Local Grocers displaying a wide selection of our books.

We’ve never done anything like this before, but since it’s the weekend of the Rochester International Jazz Festival it’s the perfect time to bring some great international literature to the people.

And to celebrate all of this, we’ll be selling the books at a pretty significant discount: any title you want for $10, any two for $18, or, any three for $20. That’s basically a 60% discount.

Another incentive: We will raffle off a year’s subscription to Open Letter (ten books!) at 6pm sharp. So swing by before then and enter the drawing!

Not really an incentive, but still: I’ll be there the whole day eating some amazing Hart’s sandwich or other and probably drinking some beers from one (or many!) of the great local breweries that they stock. While doing this, I’ll happily (if not tipsily) answer questions about Open Letter, publishing, translations, our books, authors, traveling to countries to find titles to publish, and baseball.

Hope to see you on Saturday!

A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
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Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

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A Greater Music
A Greater Music by Bae Suah
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In Melancholy, Hungarian author, critic, and art theorist László Földényi presents a panorama of more than two thousand years of Western historical and cultural perspectives on the human condition known as melancholia. In nine chapters, Földényi contrasts the hero worship. . .

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Pascal Quignard’s __The Hatred of Music_ is the densest, most arcane, most complex book I’ve read in ages. It’s also a book that covers a topic so basic, so universal—almost primordial—that just about any reader will be perversely thrilled by. . .

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In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Flaubert attempted to highlight the ordinary, tired, and often crass nature of common expressions by italicising them within the text. When Charles, Emma Bovary’s mediocre husband, expresses himself in a manner akin to that of. . .

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