Thursday, June 08, 2006

William T. Vollmann's ten favorite books

Looking for a schema with which to evaluate your favorite books? Try William T. Vollmann's.

First, consider his key:
A = Perfect Language
B = Construction of a coherent, alien (to me) world
C = Profound investigation of love
D = Richly complex pattern
E = Revelations about memory vs. loss
F = Political lessons
G = Erotic Beauty

Then plug in the appropriate variable for each book. Two examples from Vollmann's list:

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot (D, E, G)
Lady Murasaki, The Tale of Gengi (A, B, C, D, E, F, G)
Interesting. Click here to see the remaining eight titles on Vollmann's list as well as a brief interview.

Vollmann's Europe Central won the 2005 National Book Award. Click here to read his acceptance speech.

Daniel Lukes praised Europe Central in the Times Literary Supplement:

Vollmann intends the reading of his works to be an emotionally traumatic experience, and Europe Central is harrowing, in part because of its depressing subject, but also because of the raw and often sadistically insightful way the material is treated. To portray the novel as a thoroughly ominous and doom-laden affair would be unfair, however; Vollmann is still a master storyteller and bravura stylist, and he sustains and constantly reignites interest over the course of this lengthy book. He is well served by his acute eye for emotional impact and the now trademark literary cubism of his style--first-person "collective" narrators, dispassionate reportage, see saw chronology, biographical music criticism, prismic Faulkneresque interior monologue, and more. Overkill is still largely Vollmann's preferred method of literary construction. "Can music attack evil?", Shostakovich asks one of his lovers, while grappling with what will become one of the struggles of his life: how to avoid capitulation to the regime. "Certainly not", she answers. "All it can do is scream." And there is a lot of screaming here.

Thankfully, there are passages of beauty and intensity amid the wintry corpse-laden gloom in Europe Central.

Interested in another take on The Tale of Genji? See Jane Smiley's view here.

--Marshal Zeringue