Italy Calvino: The Complete Cosmicomics 

“I’m currently reading this, which is a book of short stories- cosmicomics- by Italo Calvino. The way he writes set my imagination off; his descriptions and details built up crazy images in my head and I like the short story format a lot – it suits my way of working and my short attention span so he is perfect for the studio as I dart between painting, drawing writing and reading” –Molly Rose Butt

We were peering into this darkness, criss-crossed with voices, when the change took place: the only real, great change I’ve ever happened to witness, and compared to it the rest is nothing.” — from The Complete Cosmicomics

Italo Calvino’s beloved cosmicomics cross planets and traverse galaxies, speed up time or slow it down to the particles of an instant. Through the eyes of an ageless guide named Qfwfq, Calvino explores natural phenomena and tells the story of the origins of the universe. Poignant, fantastical, and wise, these thirty-four dazzling stories — collected here in one definitive anthology — relate complex scientific and mathematical concepts to our everyday world. They are an indelible (and unfailingly delightful) literary achievement.

On Amazon
Find at your Local Library
PDF

Further Reading: 

Invisible Cities (PDF)
Six Memos for the Next Millenium (PDF)
Why Read the Classics (essay)

Additional Resources: 

Gore Vidal on Italo Calvino (video)
Publisher’s Weekly: 10 Best Italo Calvino Books (article)

Henry Miller: Tropic of Capricorn 

Miller’s sprawling masterpiece was launched by the Obelisk Press, a French publisher of soft pornography as Tropic of Cancer, with a cover by Maurice Girodias, who would later become famous as the leading French publisher of erotic literature. Wrapped in an explicit warning (“Not to be imported into Great Britain or USA”), it set a new gold standard for graphic language and explicit sexuality. From the outset, Miller’s “barbaric yawp” shook US censorship and inflamed American literary sensibility to its core. Tropic would remain banned for a generation, by which time it had become part of postwar cultural folklore, smuggled into the US wrapped in scarves and underwear. Rarely has a book had such thrilling and desperate underground beginnings.

The outsider status of Miller’s novel combined with its subject (life and love at the extremes of existence) recommended the book to writers like Orwell and Beckett. In his essay Inside the Whale (1940), Orwell wrote: “I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory … Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past.”

For his part Samuel Beckett described it as “a momentous event in the history of modern writing”. In the US, as an outright challenge to the censor, Edmund Wilson noted that “The tone of the book is undoubtedly low. Tropic of Cancer… is the lowest book of any real literary merit that I ever remember to have read.”

Miller’s vision prevailed, in the end. Finally, in 1961, the year after Lady Chatterley’s Lover secured the right to be published in the UK, Tropic of Cancer triumphed in its battle with the US censor and was published by the Grove Press. The timing of this landmark verdict did not favour the ageing iconoclast. At first, his book was treated as the fruit of Miller’s complex relationship with Anaïs Nin, who was an object of veneration within the American feminist movement. Later, feminists like Kate Millett denounced Miller as a male chauvinist, while Jeanette Winterson asked, perceptively: “Why do men revel in the degradation of women?” This question still hangs over the pages of Tropic like a rebuke, but (with a few misgivings) I’m still going to add it to this series.

The Guardian
On Amazon
Find at your Local Library

Additional Resources:

The Guardian’s 100 Best Novels: No. 59, Tropic of Capricorn 

Henry Miller: Asleep and Awake, a.k.a. Bathroom Monologues, 1975 (video)
Dinner with Henry Miller, 1979 (video)
The Henry Miller Odyssey, 1969 (video)

Donna Tartt: The Secret History 

Tartt’s much bruited first novel is a huge (592 pages) rambling story that is sometimes ponderous, sometimes highly entertaining. Part psychological thriller, part chronicle of debauched, wasted youth, it suffers from a basically improbable plot, a fault Tartt often redeems through the bravado of her execution. Narrator Richard Papen comes from a lower-class family and a loveless California home to the “hermetic, overheated atmosphere” of Vermont’s Hampden College. Almost too easily, he is accepted into a clique of five socially sophisticated students who study Classics with an idiosyncratic, morally fraudulent professor. Despite their demanding curriculum (they quote Greek classics to each other at every opportunity) the friends spend most of their time drinking and taking pills. Finally they reveal to Richard that they accidentally killed a man during a bacchanalian frenzy; when one of their number seems ready to spill the secret, the group–now including Richard–must kill him, too. The best parts of the book occur after the second murder, when Tartt describes the effect of the death on a small community, the behavior of the victim’s family and the conspirators’ emotional disintegration. Here her gifts for social satire and character analysis are shown to good advantage and her writing is powerful and evocative. On the other hand, the plot’s many inconsistencies, the self-indulgent, high-flown references to classic literature and the reliance on melodrama make one wish this had been a tauter, more focused novel. In the final analysis, however, readers may enjoy the pull of a mysterious, richly detailed story told by a talented writer.

Publisher’s Weekly
On Amazon
Find at your Local Library

Reviews: 

New York Times
The Guardian
The New Canon

Additional Resources: 

Donna Tartt Interview, 1992 (video)
Donna Tartt Interview, 2017 (video)

Tom McCarthy: Remainder 

An assured work of existential horror from debut novelist McCarthy.
The unnamed narrator begins by explaining that there’s a lot he can’t explain. He cannot, for example, share many details about his accident. That information is subject to a non-disclosure agreement, but it’s also—more vitally—unavailable to him: He can’t remember much about the accident or his life before it. He’s become, very nearly, a blank, and the voice McCarthy conjures for this nonentity is an eerily precise, dumbly eloquent complement to his mental and emotional condition. Contemplating the crumbling plaster spilling out of a jagged hole in a wall, he thinks, “It looked kind of disgusting, like something that’s coming out of something.” That imprecision seems sloppy, but it works brilliantly to magnify the narrator’s sense of abjection. The accident, which also wrecked his body, has forced him to relearn rote tasks like walking and eating. He begins to feel disconnected from other people, and he suspects that his life is no longer quite real. He decides to create his own little universe, and the millions of pounds he won in a post-accident settlement make his wishes reality. This project begins fairly innocuously, and although it quickly becomes weirder and more dangerous, McCarthy infuses the story with an uncanny sense of foreboding long before his protagonist decides to recreate a murder scene for his own amusement. It’s tempting to call this a postmodern parable or allegory for a virtual age, but to reduce this novel to the level of the didactic is to overlook its considerable, creepy power.

Kirkus Review

 
On Amazon
Find at your Local Library

Reviews:

New York Times
The Guardian 
Additional Resources 

Bomb: Artists in Conversation: Tom McCarthy
Interview Magazine: Tom McCarthy is No Longer a Well Kept Secret
Writers In Motion: Tom McCarthy Interview (video)
Tom McCarthy on Alain Robbie-Grillet (video)
AA School of Architecture: Tom McCarthy Artist Talk (video)
 

Simon Critchley: Memory Theatre 

A French philosopher dies during a savage summer heat wave. Boxes carrying his unpublished miscellany mysteriously appear in Simon Critchley’s office. Rooting through piles of papers, Critchley discovers a brilliant text on the ancient art of memory and a cache of astrological charts predicting the deaths of various philosophers. Among them is a chart for Critchley himself, laying out in great detail the course of his life and eventual demise. Becoming obsessed with the details of his fate, Critchley receives the missing, final box, which contains a maquette of Giulio Camillo’s sixteenth-century Venetian memory theatre, a space supposed to contain the sum of all knowledge. That’s when the hallucinations begin –

On Amazon
Find at your Local Library

Reviews: 

The Guardian

New York Times
NPR

Additional Resources: 

Author’s Website
Interviews
Simon Critchley and Cornel West in Conversation (video)
Lecture: To Philosophize is to Die (video)
Lecture: Tragedy’s Philosophy (video)

Paul Auster: City of Glass (New York Trilogy)

In Paul Auster's remarkable ''City of Glass,'' the ostensible mystery drives from the book's odd and often strangely humorous working of the detective novel genre. The real mystery, however, is one of confused character identity, the descent of a writer into a laby-rinth in which fact and fiction become increasingly difficult to separate. The city of the title is New York, the only truly constant character in the book, and it is the fate of this city to be walked through and interpreted by the writer Quinn and the philosopher and former convict Stillman. Quinn has been hired to follow Stillman, to prevent him from murdering his son. In the beginning the city is transparent, a place of light and air in which Quinn can stay outside of his mind's tortured concerns, concentrating on neutral details. Later is is reminiscent of that wasted city in Nathanael West's ''Miss Lonelyhearts,'' a place begging for interpretation and order. Always its reflects Quinn's and Stillman's search for arcane truth or psychological peace. (Excerpt from NYT Review)

On Amazon
Find at your Local Library
PDF

Reviews:
The New Canon (also just a strange website to check out, supposedly cataloguing the new literary canon since 1985)
Shallow Graves: The Novels of Paul Auster (The New Yorker)

Don DeLillo: Point Omega


In the middle of a desert "somewhere south of nowhere" to a forlorn house made of metal and clapboard a secret war advisor has gone in search of space and time. Richard Elster, seventy-three, was a scholar, "an outsider" when he was called to a meeting with government war planners. They asked Elster to conceptualize their efforts to form an intellectual framework for their troop deployments – counterinsurgency orders for rendition. For two years he read their classified documents and attended secret meetings. He was to map the reality these men were trying to create. "Bulk and swagger" he called it. At the end of his service Elster retreats to the desert where he is joined by a filmmaker intent on documenting his experience. Jim Finley wants to make a one-take film, Elster its single character. "Just a man against a wall." The two men sit on the deck drinking and talking. Finley makes the case for his film. Weeks go by. And then Elster's daughter Jessie visits an "otherworldly" woman from New York who dramatically alters the dynamic of the story. When a devastating event follows all the men's talk, the accumulated meaning of conversation and connection is thrown into question. What is left is loss, fierce and incomprehensible

On Amazon
Find at your Local Library

Reviews:
New York Times Review
The Guardian Review