The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Tag William Gass

Readings for March 2014

While I try to stay sharp with "literary" fiction, I cannot layoff the popcorn fare. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. Sometimes the literature smarties need to relax and read a page-turner.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Here ends the Harry Potter series as well as my re-read. I had actually forgotten a lot of details from the final book in the series - likely due to the film abridging much in service of the film format. What I rediscovered I liked, particularly the narrative of how Dumbledore's youthful pursuit of power shipwrecked his family life.

The series as a whole is of course recommended. It has become an important part of our culture, and it is good reading.

Middle C by William Gass

Gass tells us the story of Joseph Skizzen, the very average man. Skizzen's upbringing was the product of his father's deceptions and ultimate abandonment. Joseph, along with his mother and sister, end up in America, where they must learn their own ways to navigate the American life. In spite of being undocumented and uneducated, Joseph becomes Professor Skizzen, on the music department faculty of a small midwestern university. There he begins cultivation of his private "Inhumanity Museum" and his attempt to express an idea, a single sentence, in its perfect form.

I can honestly say this is the best novel I have read in quite some time. The character Skizzen and his neighbors are a delight to read. Recommended.


  • Harper's March 2014
  • Scientific American September 2013 - I learned a lot from this food-centric issue. One of the most interesting factoids was that humans really need to cook food in order to survive.

Readings for September 2013

Reading truly is a discipline. It takes much effort to stay on top of my goals in this distractable life.

Cartesian Sonata by William Gass

Cartesian SonataI was introduced to the work of William Gass by way of his twin billing in a recent issue of Tin House magazine - a short story and an interview. So once in Powell's bookstore I dropped by the row containing "G" to see what I could find. I selected Cartesian Sonata, a collection of four novellas.

In the eponymous first novella I struggled. Gass' prose is quite lovely and ornamental but a bit too stream of consciousness for me. This style servers the nature of the story, which involves the frame of reference slipping between a biographer and subject. The result was that I struggled at times to follow the narrative, as I have at other times whilst reading other "literary" fiction, notable my abortive attempts at Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Joyce's Ulysses.

Perhaps the most redemptive feature of novellas is that they are short. For after the first tale ended, I enjoyed the subsequent three quite a bit more. My favorite was the chronicle of a rootless, unscrupulous accountant who finally gains the desire to settle thanks to his infatuation with the homeyness of a bed and breakfast. The prose suddenly became crystal clear, which shows, I think, Gass' range. The characters are all a bit grotesque and compelling enough to make you care in only about 60 pages. I recommend this, for anyone wanting a challenging read.

Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher

I have been reading Dreher's blog for years now, so I decided to finally read his book which launched him to national recognition. For the uninitiated, a "crunchy" conservative is someone who combines traditional culture and values with a concern for the environment, a consistent ethic of life, and other features not traditionally accepted within mainstream American conservatives. I hate to generalize, but a crunchy con is basically a conservative who has not capitulated to global capitalism.

This political category strikes me a necessary element of the US political discussion. Dreher challenges the consensus of the left and right on many important issues. And his down to earth writing and appeals to our traditional heritage will be strangely appealing across the political spectrum.

The book is not one hundred percent solid, however. Dreher advocates homeschooling in part because he harbors paranoid ideas about the origins and purposes of public education, namely that the whole purpose of the enterprise is to usurp parental authority. For those of us who view public education as a net good which is worth fighting for and saving, we must at the least open our minds to his arguments.

I recommend this book, especially for anyone who does not feel wholly comfortable with the traditional political parties in the US.


  • Harper's September 2013 - For me the highlight of this issue was William T. Vollmann's account of the reading of his FBI file. Vollmann was once suggested a suspect for the Unabomber case. Even after that was solved, his name was continually mentioned as a possible suspect for other cases. Once he was in the system, he was a perennial suspect.
  • Harper's October 2013 - Jay Kirk's "Bartok's Monster" was a very compelling sketch of the composer known for his arrangements of folk tunes. I had first been exposed to Bartok not long ago at an Oregon Symphony concert. After finishing the article, I downloaded recordings of several of his works from
  • Journal of Biblical Literature 131:3 - As always, JBL was an eclectic mix ranging from fascinating to fanciful.
  • Scientific American April 2013 - S. Alan Stern brought an interesting report about the near-future of commercial spaceflight. I must admit that I am disappointed by this general consensus that NASA is just a big, useless juggernaut now. It was NASA which took all the initiative, and the risk, to learn spaceflight, which decades later made cheap commercial spaceflight possible.