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Book Review: The Broom Of The System by David Foster Wallace


“You can trust me,’ R.V. said, watching her hand. ‘I’m a man of my'”

– Final, incomplete sentence of The Broom Of The System, by David Foster Wallace

_________

Dang.

I was really eager to like this book…

As someone who has only ever read maybe 50 pages of Infinite Jest and an essay or two, my perspective wasn’t one of comparison on this read. But with all the hype surrounding someone as intelligent and well-received as David Foster Wallace, you feel like a real loser for not wholly enjoying his work. He reputation is openly built on pretense by his fans, bringing with it an aire or fear of intelligentsia snobbishness. Alas, while tuning the risk of being accused of “not getting it,” I still can’t help but admit disappointment with the way this one ended.

The characters Wallace employees are amusing and he does a fantastic job of fleshing them out. Just about every character is shown to be somehow complex and altogether shallow. It’s a striking and honest indictment of innate human hypocrisy and disconnection. The absurdity of the names and language all hark back to Wittgenstein and language games and I really enjoyed these elements as well. Most of the crazy circumstances throughout the plot are also really enjoyable. Overall, the plot and elements were dense and dripping with possibilities to make deeper connections and bring about some sort of fully developed concepts, but ultimately the only satisfying elements seemed to be the character studies.

I suppose, as I think about it, that most of my dissatisfaction with this novel comes from its post-modernness. It sets up about a thousand hilarious elements and characters. It contains about as small of a world as one could dream up, as every character ends up with previous connections among the cast. It rolls along on a ridiculous, often sidetracked plot, but as connections are made, nothing comes of them. In the end, the book goes nowhere. People’s fragile realities are crushed, they lean further into their insecurities and psychological issues, and then it just ends.

I enjoyed the book enough to keep plowing through, eagerly hoping for a grand, inspired finale somewhere between Flann O’Brien and John Kennedy Toole. I really expected an impressive and equally absurd resolution to come together, perhaps like A Confederacy Of Dunces. I expected to be dazzled. But there was no point. That was the point.

The last sentence of the novel is poignant in itself, but it would make more sense if followed by a trailing pen line. . .it feels completely unfinished. I suppose the only point is that there is none. When you search for answers from Wittgenstein in the midst of deep relational distrust and psychological breakdown, your story rightly ends by dismantling itself. Makes complete sense, but it’s not every satisfying.

_________

David Foster Wallace On Empathy

Bill Watterson On The Importance Of Playtime

J.R.R. Tolkien On Creativity And Death

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55 Classics Review #7 – The Giver by Lois Lowry


I expected to enjoy The Giver more than I did. Then I enjoy it more than I suspected I had.

Almost everyone else read this book in like 5th grade. I missed it. My impression has long been that most people hold a relatively positive memory of the book, so I have been looking forward to it for some time. All I really knew is that it was set in some type of dystopia; I always get excited to start a classic title whose plot is relatively unknown to me.

Although I wasn’t too discouraged, I was immediately put off by the writing style Lowry employs. I tend to have trouble reading dystopian stories because of their sterility and Lowry’s style felt more sterile than her fiction environments. It was easy and interesting reading though, so I had little trouble continuing. She really does a good job of keeping you guessing on a lot of the details of the future world she creates and of making you begin to wonder whether the characters will ever even grow discontent with the world they have been given. I caught myself nervously wondering if perhaps she was actually promoting this world when I reached the halfway point in the text and still no one was revolted by the strictly-governed world at hand. Then, in the blink of an eye, the book became a roller coaster of emotions, rebellion, and deep, impactful character decisions.

Eventually, I realized that Lowry had tricked me with her disturbingly sterile writing style. I expected her characters to revolt immediately. She made me understand them in their original state for so long that I was afraid I would be asked to approve of their world. She also forced me to approach the very old questions of death, war, beauty, art, and human relationships from an altogether new direction. I think about these issues constantly, yet I found myself looking at them from a different vantage point. I asked myself “If art and war require one another, would it be better to forgo both or accept both?”

Without giving away the plot, I will say that the end of the book is both jarringly abrupt and quite open to interpretation. I turned the page expecting the text to continue and read THE END. Then I flipped back again. Then I wet my fingers and tried to separate the pages. No, that’s just the way it ends. And it’s actually a great and important way to end the book.

I thought I would enjoy The Giver as a thoughtful and youthful read, but it turned out to be a bit trickier. As I read on, frustrated at every turn, I looked back and realized that all the things I didn’t enjoy made immense sense in retrospect.

Although it’s hard to find another category for it, I would argue that The Giver is not a dystopian story in the classic sense. Most dystopias are strife-filled quasi-allegories meant to highlight the extreme errors available to humanity if there is not a healthy political and technological balance. The Giver makes its new, relation-less world look, well, okay. Once we can begrudgingly agree to this, it asks us if okay is something we can settle for.

Then we wrestle.

Author Quotes: Mark Twain, Alcohol, and Amusement


Here is another absolute gem I came upon in Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals.  This time it is none other than Mark Twain being described by a personal friend.  

“In those days he was troubled with sleeplessness, or, rather, with reluctant sleepiness, and he had various specifics for promoting it. At first it had been champagne just before going to bed, and we provided that, but later he appeared from Boston with four bottles of lager-beer under his arms; lager-beer, he said now, was the only thing to make you go to sleep, and we provided that. Still later, on a visit I paid him at Hartford, I learned that hot Scotch was the only soporific worth considering, and Scotch whiskey duly found its place on our sideboard. One day, very long afterward, I asked him if he were still taking hot Scotch to make him sleep. He said he was not taking anything. For a while he had found going to bed on the bath-room floor a soporific; then one night he went to rest in his own bed at ten o’clock, and he had gone promptly to sleep without anything. He had done the like with the like effect ever since. Of course, it amused him; there were few experiences of life, grave or gay, which did not amuse him, even when they wronged him.”
*Bold emphasis mine.  

This little anecdote seems to summarize the popularity of Samuel Clemens’ work and a good many of his famous thoughts quite well. There is something very comforting and reassuring about an author (or any human) who is capable of sharp cultural and personal analysis while maintaining a good-humor. We trust people who are well aware of the travesties of humanity in general and their own brokenness while maintaining hopefulness and engaging others. We know the truth, we recognize it together, and we keep renewing our faith.

Author Quotes – Charles M. Schultz and Creativity Through Anxiety


As a child, I was obsessed with comic strips. I spent years filling spiral bound notebooks with fan fiction and rip-off strips of my own design, sprinkled throughout with drastic, emotional diary entries. I never got into comic books or super heroes, but I loved goofy, highly-stylized caricatures, political cartoons, and any form of a panel-based gag. I even indulged regularly in the eye-rolling puns of Garfield. Calvin and Hobbes was (and still is) more breath-taking and thought provoking with every reading, not to mention a great vocabulary expanding tool. Along side The Far Side, Baby Blues, Zits, Tintin, Family Circus, and many others of my preteen world were Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Charles M. Schultz.

The death of Charles Schultz was perhaps the first celebrity death I can recall impacting me. Schultz was the first person I ever researched and studied biographically from purely personal interest.

I’m not a die-hard Peanuts fan to be perfectly honest. I prefer a good simple twist in the third panel, and most of Schultz work stuck to self-deprecation or anxious social commentary in a way that most artists in the field had long abandoned. I loved him more for what he was than for attachment to his work. He was the last standing giant from an age of world-renown innovators in the field.

It was interesting then to read the following in Daily Rituals concerning Schultz.

“He would begin by doodling in pencil while he let his mind wander; his usual method was to ‘just sit there and think about the past, kind of dredge up ugly memories and things like that.‘”

And

“The regularity of the work suited his temperament and helped him cope with the chronic anxiety he suffered throughout his life.”

As I mentioned concerning Samuel Beckett, it continues to impress me that great art comes not from overcoming our troubles and idiosyncrasies  or ignoring them, but from exploring what they actually mean about us.

Have You Been Publishing Online?


For a long time now I have stood on the outside wondering where people go to read and write fan-fiction and other online fiction resources. I know that there are large numbers of people writing and reading online and that a number of recent best-sellers originated from serial-writing that gained mass audiences online before finding publishing.

A couple of days ago I stumbled upon Wattpad. I don’t read very much current fiction unless someone like Neil Gaiman is writing it, so for me this is completely uncharted territory. My question for those of you who keep up with current fiction trends is this.

Have you used Wattpad or any similar services, either as a reader or author?

What’s have you found is the best format to publish novels or other works in a serial, read-as-completed kind of format?