Category Archives: Joseph Heller

Links: Cleaning Up

A handy database of what appears to be all the fiction that has run in the New Yorker. Have fun with the tag function: “Dogs” appears 82 times; “Cats” 38 times; “prisoners” seven times; “littering” once.

I haven’t read a romance novel in forever, but I’ll read anything Jessica Tripler writes about the genre. She considers A Visit From the Goon Squad though that filter: “It struck me that the dominant emotion in VGS is one not so often encountered in romance: shame…. [T]he kind of abject shame so many of VGS characters inhabit is not one that makes for a romantic read. I think the difference is that in romance, the shame is either (a) not really earned (it’s really a virtue in disguise), or (b) centers on a character flaw that gets fixed in the narrative (the cop who is afraid of commitment, for example). The shame in VGS is, at one and the same time, both unique to the characters and universal.”

Gertrude Stein gets an iPhone: “Stopping everything is something. Stopping everything and stopping all of that thing is something. Stopping everything and then doing nothing in stopping everything is something.” (via)

Egyptian translator Hala Salah Eldin Hussein: “I have recently been contemplating the value of literature in these times, where your step in Tahrir Square—protesting and demanding civil rights—should be more valuable than translating fiction. Can fiction really take second place after revolutionary activism? How can fiction help us in a time of political unrest? Should I stay in my office finishing this marvelous piece by Susan Straight, or should I just go out with my fellow countrymen, six hours or more every day, in the square? It seems that translating political articles will be of more use to the revolution, but for the time being I’ll keep the belief that a day translating Lorrie Moore or Edward P. Jones will teach me how to be a better human being, I’ll get to see the world in its true colours, I’ll learn about myself, others and humanity.”

Andrew Seal isn’t blogging these days, alas, but his very busy Tumblr, Fuck Yeah, Historiography, is stuffed with gems from texts on American literature, sociology, political history, and more.

Catch-22 at 50. (via)

Lynne Tillman: “I think it’s true that unless human beings experience something, they simply don’t understand what people are going through. Now that I am conscious of the world of chronic pain, when I see somebody walking down the street who’s having trouble, I feel a sadness for them. I notice. I’m very lucky that I could get a hip replacement.” (via)

“If you really want to publish a book one day you will publish a book. The time that you spend getting there is kind of wonderful. Don’t cut it short. The emotional range is valuable.”

Robert Pinsky unearths a document listing three reasonable rules for writing a book review.

On Tobias Wolff‘s debut novel, 1975’s Ugly Rumours, which few know about and which the author himself is disinclined to discuss.

Defending Herman Melville‘s poetry.

We will always want narratives, but will we always want endings?

John Steinbeck‘s affection for Arthurian England.

Dept. of Sausage Making: Stuart Dybek and an editor discuss whether the name of a public housing project in one of his stories needs some additional explanation. (via)

Well put, by Rae Bryant: “One of the masteries in Nabokov’s stories, what I admire so much, is how smoothly the stories turn readers into accomplices.”

Somewhat less well put: “Maybe Vladi­mir Nabokov wasn’t referring to America’s favorite confectionery on a stick when he wrote Lolita,’ but he should have been.”

Happy Thanksgiving

It was actually all Sergeant Knight’s fault that Yossarian busted Nately in the nose on Thanksgiving Day, after everyone in the squadron had given humble thanks to Milo for providing the fantastically opulent meal on which the officers and enlisted men had gorged themselves insatiably all afternoon and for dispensing like inexhaustible largess the unopened bottles of cheap whiskey he handed out unsparingly to every man who asked. Even before dark, young soldiers with pasty white faces were throwing up everywhere and passing out drunkenly on the ground. The air turned foul. Other men picked up steam as the hours passed, and the aimless, riotous celebration continued. It was a raw, violent, guzzling saturnalia that spilled obstreperously through the woods to the officers’ club and spread up into the hills toward the hospital and the antiaircraft-gun emplacements. There were fist fights in the squadron and one stabbing. Corporal Kolodny shot himself through the leg in the intelligence tent while playing with a loaded gun and had his gums and toes painted purple in the speeding ambulance as he lay on his back with the blood spurting from his wound. Men with cut fingers, bleeding heads, stomach cramps and broken ankles came limping penitently up to the medical tent to have their gums and toes painted purple by Gus and Wes and be given a laxative to throw into the bushes. The joyous celebration lasted long into the night, and the stillness was fractured often by wild, exultant shouts and by the cries of people who were merry or sick. There was the recurring sound of retching and moaning, of laughter, greetings, threats and swearing, and of bottles shattering against rock. There were dirty songs in the distance. It was worse than New Year’s Eve.

Joseph Heller, Catch-22

Here’s hoping for safe travels, warm homes, and good times with family and friends over the holiday.

Heller in Hebrew

Readerville points to an interesting story in Haaretz about the struggle to bring out a new Hebrew translation of Joseph Heller‘s Catch-22. The timing was right—the prior translation came out in 1971, and its publisher had been in decline. Yehuda Meltzer, head of Books in the Attic—which also put out the Harry Potter books in Israel—picked up the slack. But when it comes to translating English works into Hebrew, one must pick one’s spots:

According to Meltzer, he paid a relatively low price for the rights to the translation, apparently, several thousand dollars. “We paid a fairly ridiculous price given the inflated contracts that the big publishers have been dishing out of late,” he says. “In any case, I buy very few rights to fictional books in America and England. Both because I don’t want to get involved in auctions – it’s not worth it – and because in my opinion, English is actually the hardest language to render into Hebrew. It’s a rich, flexible and deep language. Israeli publishers think there is no problem translating from English, but in the end, it’s very hard to read Hebrew versions of books by Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth or Saul Bellow.”

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So the bailout is foundering, the weather’s gonna to be awful, and Sarah Palin is scaring the bejesus out of everybody, but I’m still planning to attend the National Book Festival tomorrow on the National Mall. Likely tents to find me hunting for shelter in: Stanley Plumly, Neil Gaiman, Francine Prose, Richard Price, Louis Bayard, Paul Theroux. Tiki Barber, maybe not so much. Heading out yourself? Care to meet? Drop me a line.

War Stories

At the Oxford University Press blog, Keith Gandal writes something of a, er, call to arms to academic critics to engage more deeply with the subject of literature and war. Gandal is a Northern Illinois University English professor who’s written The Pen and the Gun, which has a great thesis: “Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner were motivated, in their famous postwar novels, not by their experiences of the horrors of war but rather by their failure to have those experiences.”

Gandal figures he knows what’s created the dearth of war stories in academia:

We know why the subjects of war and the military have fallen out of favor, and why most professors in English, as well as history, prefer to oppose war and criticize the military rather than to study them. The Vietnam War changed the meaning of war and of the military in this country, at least on the left, and the cohort of professors that for the most part has dominated and set trends in these fields in the last twenty years is of the generation that came of age during the Vietnam era; most of these professors were students when the huge protest against the war took place, and most of them were against the war.

What struck me here is that thinking back to my high school and college days (late ’80s and early ’90s), I can recall that a great many novels about war were recommended to me, appearing on supplementary reading lists and the like, but I can’t think of an occasion when they were actually taught as part of the syllabus. I had to find Catch-22 and Going After Cacciato on my own; I never even heard of books like Dog Soldiers until I was out of college. This may speak more to the shortcomings of my schooling, but it’s interesting how rarely war literature made it to the discussion table.