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Mark Nadja "Literary Outlaw, author *Hardcore Romeo* and *61 Bang*" RSS Feed (New York City)

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To the Lighthouse
To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.66
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of these days you must go to the Lighthouse, April 22, 2009
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This review is from: To the Lighthouse (Paperback)
--"The subject of this brilliant novel is the daily life of an English family in the Hebrides." That's the copy description on the back cover of my edition of "To the Lighthouse." I found it hilarious. I laughed for five minutes.

--So it's an inadequate description of the novel?

--Inadequate is an inadequate word to describe just how inadequate it is.

--So what is "To the Lighthouse" about?

--Well that's just the thing. To say it's about a family vacationing by the shore, about the delicate relationships between them and their friends, about how time changes them and their relationships between each to miss the point entirely even if it is perfectly accurate.

--As I understand it, this is a novel in which ten years passes in about fifteen pages, while the rest of the novel meticulously describes two days.

--Yes, exactly. Like Proust, Woolf begins with a childhood incident that will echo down through the years. Like Joyce, she concentrates on the epiphanic moment. Reading "To the Lighthouse" is a bit like viewing a painting in which the characters move...but very slowly. Woolf passes from character to character, inhabiting each of their minds in turn, seeing the world through their eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay and their flawed but enduring marriage are the central bodies around which the rest orbit and Lily Briscoe, a spinsterish amateur painter, ostensibly stands in for Woolf herself, but it is hard to say that any of the characters are less or more important than any of the others--this is essentially the genius of Woolf's handling of psychological perspective. Everyone has a point of view and each point of view is essential to attain a vision of the whole.

--But it is a novel essentially about family relationships?

--And relationships between men and women, men and society, women and society, human beings and the inescapable fact of their mortality. Again and again, Woolf asks the question, "What does life mean? What is it for?"

--Does she have an answer?

--Yes. And no.

--It's ambiguous.

--It's provisional. But it's enough to help Lily make it through the dark storm of life to use a perfectly horrible metaphor. It's her lighthouse.

--Woolf has a reputation as a difficult author to read.

--And it's well-deserved. She is a difficult read for the majority of readers, who, let's face it, are awaiting Dan Brown's new novel as if it were a major event in world literary history. What happens in "To the Lighthouse," when anything happens at all, isn't as important as how it affects each character internally. That is to say, Woolf's focus is on the fleeting but all-important impressions that the world leaves on us and that ultimately make us who we are. Her greatest gift is to capture these gossamer-thin states in a language of exquisite accuracy--capturing in words the flavor of fleeting emotions seldom if ever described before, even as they evaporate on the tongue.

--You would have to love language, then, to fully appreciate her work.

--Indeed. Her sentences don't move the story forward; they move the story deeper. She writes a poetic prose that many contemporary readers might mistake for unnecessarily flowery and overwrought--when, in fact, it is sharp as a surgeon's scalpel and cuts to the heart. And yet for all its surgical accuracy, it is the sensuous prose of a writer for whom language is like a box of brilliant colors is to a painter, for whom sentences are like caresses to a lover, except that in this case what is touched are the most potently orgasmic areas of our brains--needles to say, the ones most difficult areas to reach.

--But Virginia Woolf reaches them?

--You might say she's a master masseuse.

--Ha ha. Does she provide a happy ending?

--No, not exactly. But it's a deeply satisfying experience all the same.
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Sixty Stories: UK Edition (Penguin Modern Classics)
Sixty Stories: UK Edition (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Donald Barthelme
Edition: Paperback
38 used & new from $2.18

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A feather, a stone, a tooth, a bit of uranium ore, an octopus sucker..., April 17, 2009
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--Lets get right to the meat. People are busy. Did you like this book? Is it worth reading?

--Yes on both counts. "60 Stories" is a generous sampling of Bartheleme's work. You'll certainly discover whether he's to your liking or not based on what you're offered here. Because it bears saying that these stories are certainly not going to be everyone's cup of blue rooibos, to coin a phrase.

--How so? Why not?

--They aren't what most people would call "traditional" stories. It's somewhat inaccurate to call them "experimental" at this point since so many years have elapsed since they were written and published, so many years since the author died, and Barthelme's influence has been shaping literary experiments ever since, but a stunning number of readers still expect the short story to adhere to conventions established two or three centuries ago. I'd go back even further but the fact is that Barthelme's stories actually employ the conventions of what might be called the "original" short stories--fairy tales, myths, dreams, visions, and the like.

--In other words, they're non-linear, ambiguous, full of fantastic and illogical occurences.

--Yes, to name just a few. What's continually interesting about Barthelme is that every story--well, practically every story--is different in technique from the others. He attempts to find a mode of expression that suits what he wants to say and that changes from story to story. A hammer for a nail, a screwdriver for a screw. But more often, he invents new tools altogether. His stories are invented tools. So you never know quite what to expect when you begin a new story. A collection of Barthelme's stories is not like a box of saltine crackers. It's not even like a box of chocolates. It's like one of those Chinese boxes full of all sorts of tiny compartments, each with something different inside--a feather, a stone, a tooth, a bit of uranium, an octopus could be anything.

--You never know what you're getting.

--Exactly. And that can be good or bad, depending on your taste. So in this collection there are stories you will love and others that won't appeal to you at all. It's a risky way to write and an exciting way to read...provided you want to be excited in that way. Lots of people like to know what they're getting beforehand. In life, in lovers, in stories. They read Hemingway because they like Hemingway. Story after story, Hemingway is a known quantity.

--Many people don't like irony either.

--And Barthelme's work is heavy with irony, World's Strongest Man type irony. If you aren't in good shape, the irony in these stories may be too heavy for you. It might crush you, that's how heavy the irony is. You might need a spotter.

--Okay, I get it. They're very ironic.

--Yes. But also heartfelt. Barthelme is a "double-minded" man, as most thinking folks are in this day and age. We see the shadow-side of every emotion we experience. The hate behind the love, the betrayal behind the loyalty, the resentment behind the generosity, etc. There's no such thing as a simple unalloyed motive, a true purity of heart. All expressions of such ring as insincere to our post-modern ears...they'd begun to ring that way to modern ears as well. What I'm trying to say is that irony, self-irony, is a way to get behind the mirror and the masks we wear on stage, it's a way to acknowledge that we can't be entirely truthful because we're always lying to one degree or's a way of saying that we cannot say what we'd like to say, like being a prisoner of war paraded in front of a camera for propoganda purposes. We give a secret sign even while we're lying through our teeth, a kind of metaphorical wink that lets you know we can't tell the truth but we'd like to and we'd like you to know that. This is the function of the irony in Barthelme's stories, as I see it.

--Anything else?

--That's enough, I'd say. What more really needs to be said? Maybe only that its quite likely not possible to fully appreciate where cutting edge literature is today without reading Donald Barthelme, who directly influenced so much of it--a kind of bridge, he was, from someone like Beckett to what we have today.

--Well, that might have been worth saying.

--And it might not have. But I said it and I won't unsay it. I think I'll go make some more green tea. Good day.

by Frederick Barthelme
Edition: Hardcover
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Imagine "Less Than Zero" for middle-aged, middle-class people..., April 10, 2009
This review is from: Waveland (Hardcover)
--Sort of. It's not for me to recommend that you actually buy this book since I got a copy absolutely free. What are they charging for this thing? Twenty, twenty-five bucks? There are very few books worth that much money in my opinion and this isn't one of them--at least I'd never have paid that much for it. That's not to say it's a bad book, it isn't; it's actually a good book, a book well worth reading, interesting, absorbing, original, and, in its own peculiar way, heartfelt. I just don't think its worth more than say five dollars.

Vaughn is a guy of nearly fifty. He's living in a post-Katrina coastal town with a somewhat rough-around-the-edges gal named Greta, who was once a suspect in the murder of her abusive ne'er-do-well husband. They have a housemate, Eddie, a one-armed Gulf War veteran who's a bit on the edgy crackpot side. Vaughn used to be an architect; now he's not much of anything. Since his divorce, he's been drifting through middle age into oblivion. His flaky ex-wife gets herself into some trouble and asks Vaughn to move back in with her until she gets herself straightened out. He can bring along Greta and even Eddie. That gives you some idea of how flaky she is. That Vaughn, Greta, and Eddie accept this absurd offer gives you some idea of the sort of quirky, eccentric, never-to-be met-in-real-life characters they are, too.

Anyway, this damaged and dysfunctional "family" attempt to come to peace with themselves, each other, the world, and the whole big messy enchilada of life. It's all a bit preposterous in a Seinfeldian way but this is fiction, after all, and, like most things, if you don't look at it too closely and pick everything apart, it makes sense in an exaggerated way.

Barthelme has a distinctive style--rather stark, staccato, elliptical. He does that affectless, emotional flatline things familiar to readers of Brett Easton Ellis and his ilk. Sometimes it sounds as if Barthelme's characters are really Ellis's rich brats who'd somehow aged thirty years overnight and taken a huge financial hit during the recession. It can be a little painful to hear Barthelme's middle-aged cast sounding like disaffected young adults, prattling on about TV shows and Ipods and boredom as they too often do in "Waveland." But the despair underneath sounds real enough; that comes through loud and clear.

The end of "Waveland," which refreshingly comes on without a whole lot of pointless padding and dawdling and dancing-in-place as you'll find in most novels today, seems a bit of a non-sequitur. As if Barthelme were determined to heed the advice of someone who said, "Come on Fred, how about giving us a peep of hope this time, some sort of flicker before the abyss at the end of the tunnel?" And so he does to mixed success, I think, about half of it ringing true, the other half not so much.

If you wait a while and get this book used, or even when it comes out in what will still be an overpriced paperback, I think you'd be better served. This here is nothing you need right away, but you might like to get around to it eventually for it's message of quiet stoicism in the face of the disaster areas we make of our lives.

Troubled Sleep: A Novel
Troubled Sleep: A Novel
by Jean-Paul Sartre
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.09
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the last great fictional statements of man in search of meaning..., April 6, 2009
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The capstone to Sartre's monumental *Roads to Freedom* trilogy, *Troubled Sleep* is in itself a magnificent novel and a fitting conclusion to a series that forever remains unfinished, as Sartre had planned but never completed at least one additional volume. Here several storylines--and lives--developed in the first two books are resolved, the direction of others suggested, and the rest left provocatively open to the reader's imagination.

I've read all three novels in succession over the last couple of weeks and found each one as riveting as the other. In *Troubled Sleep,* the French have already lost the war without much of a fight and now must come to grips with their defeat. Do they collaborate, rebel, retreat further from active engagement with the politics of the world? Do they rationalize their cowardice or is it perfectly rational to acknowledge the apparent superiority of the victorious Nazis?

It's Sartre's genius as a novelist to bring these weighty philosophical questions to life in a breathtaking narrative peopled with passionate, complex, fully-realized characters. Before the pallid postmodern ennui of our own age fully set in, Sartre harkens us back to a time when ideas and principles mattered, when evil hadn't been rationalized out of existence and ambiguity dissolved truth into another species of lie, when one's philosophy could literally be a matter of life or death. Those times are gone, probably gone for good, but *Troubled Sleep* gives us an intoxicating taste of what it was like to really care about the Big Questions, even to acknowledge that there *are* Big Questions to answer.

All that aside *Troubled Sleep* is an exciting, engaging page-turner of men at war with each other--and with themselves. Along with *The Age of Reason* and *The Reprieve,* this novel completes one of the richest, most rewarding, and satisfying reading experiences I've had in recent memory.
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The Age of Reason: A Novel
The Age of Reason: A Novel
by Jean-Paul Sartre
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.95
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something like a French Dostoyevsky..., April 2, 2009
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Having already read *The Reprieve,* I have now finished two-thirds of Sartre's "Roads to Freedom" trilogy--that's over 800 pages--and I cannot wait to begin the third volume...that's how compelling I find these novels. It's difficult to explain their appeal. In *The Age of Reason,* a philosophy professor discovers his lover is pregnant and spends the next two days frantically trying to raise enough money for an abortion. His life zigzags haphazardly through a rich cast of characters whose stories and intertwined fates--complex, tragic, absurd--continue in the next volume.

What Sartre does is immerse us in the struggles of these characters as they each attempt to define and make sense of their lives...this struggle informed, of course, by the existential principles of Sartre's own philosophy. What Sartre does so well in *The Age of Reason* is to portray the psychological torment of men and women under even fairly ordinary circumstances. Here is the quiet drama of consciousness, the sufferings of daily least as it is experienced by those who give it any thought.

What does it mean to be free--to have a life that means something? These are the questions that obsess Mathieu as he runs into one dead-end after another in his search for the abortion fee and at the same time wallows in a hopeless erotic obsession with a self-destructive young female student. All the distinctive trappings of a French existential novel are here--the drinking, the brooding, the café's, the jazz bars, the intellectual dissection of every act and motive, the relentless's a riveting read if you don't require a lot of explosions, kidnappings, and sordid murders to entertain you.

Unlike his stylistic experimentation in *The Reprieve,* Sartre narrates *The Age of Reason* in a traditional, straightforward style, but it's no less briskly-paced; if anything, there is a higher pitch of emotional intensity in this novel and less ennui than in *The Reprieve.* Its not absolutely necessary to read *The Age of Reason* first, I didn't, but I would definitely recommend doing so, as it enriches vastly your understanding of the characters in the second book.

As I mentioned in my review of *The Reprieve,* I can hardly believe that the Sartre of *Being and Nothingness* fame was capable of writing in such a lively and entertaining manner, *Nausea* aside. So this series has so far come as one of the most pleasant literary surprises I've had in years. If the French, their philosophy, or existentialism appeal to you at all--or just a good novel about interesting characters facing the void within life--then I'd unreservedly recommend you take a look at *The Age of Reason.*
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The Reprieve: A Novel
The Reprieve: A Novel
by Jean-Paul Sartre
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.56
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A philosophical potboiler..., March 28, 2009
This review is from: The Reprieve: A Novel (Paperback)
*The Reprieve* is the second book in Sartre's epic World War II trilogy, which starts with *The Age of Reason* and ends with *Troubled Sleep.* Because it happened to be the one I found in the library, I started in medias res, so to speak, with *The Reprieve.*

Maybe the greatest compliment that I can pay this novel is that even after 450 pages I immediately ordered the other two in the trilogy and can hardly wait to start *The Age of Reason.* It's hard to believe that the same author who, in *Being and Nothingness,* gave the world what is probably the most turgid philosophical masterpiece since the works of Hegel can write a novel as quickly paced, as compulsively readable, and as utterly absorbing as *The Reprieve.* Indeed I'd been prejudiced for years against reading this trilogy because I couldn't imagine it being anything but the dullest sort of fictional clunker.

I couldn't have been more wrong!

The war hasn't even started in *The Reprieve* and yet the drama is perhaps all the more intense for the oppressive sense of the storm of blood and steel about to break. The novel covers about a week in France during which the major European powers attempt a last-minute negotiation with Hitler to maintain the peace. Sartre tells the story of this tense week through the viewpoints of a wide variety of characters from every strata of French society. In doing so, he dramatizes the impact the shadow even a looming war can throw over individual lives--paradoxically defining and negating the very concepts of freedom and individuality. On the verge of being swept into history, Sartre's characters are also on the verge of being annihilated...and on some level, whether it's instinctual, intellectual, or emotional, each of them know it and each experience a kind of terrified exhilaration.

This is a deeply philosophical novel but not in a heavy-handed or didactic way. There are very few "philosophical digressions" in the true sense in *The Reprieve*; rather Sartre's philosophy permeates the entire novel from beginning to end in so seamless and un-intrusive a fashion that you experience an understanding of existentialism from the gut. And this is perfectly as it should be; for existentialism is a response as well as a manifestation of a felt sense of being, the nausea resulting from the absurdity of human life, not an arid and wholly theoretical intellectual exercise. What is so riveting, rare, and admirable about *The Reprieve* is that Sartre--a bona-fide major philosopher--was able to repackage his ideas with the skill of a first-rate novelist.

Sorry Jean-Paul. I had you pegged wrong. You beat the pants off Camus hands-down.
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by Jean-Paul Sartre
Edition: Paperback
56 used & new from $0.01

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bellyache no amount of Tums can relieve..., March 19, 2009
This review is from: Nausea (Paperback)
*Nausea* is quite simply one of the major touchstones of the "literature of alienation" that so marked the 20th century--a sickness we may have survived but never really recovered from, sort of like a spiritual AIDS.

Sartre's psychologically claustrophobic tale of a youngish historian overwhelmed by existence sounds all the notes of paranoia, pointlessness, disgust, and dread elevated to a pitch of hysterical self-consciousness and over-sensibility that we find in the biographies of the antiheroes of Hamsun and Kafka. The world is not only too much with us--it's suffocating, crushing, and raping us with its overbearing and inescapable sweaty presence.

Of all philosophers who tried it, no one writes a better novel dramatizing his ideas than Sartre--not even Camus, the lesser, in my opinion, as both novelist and philosopher. Roquentin is the perfect foil for Sartre's core "revelation"--the horrible insight that we are free in the most radical sense of all. Free, that is, of everything, including such comfortable "slaveries" as meaning, connection, even identity. In the years to come, Sartre may have softened his position some and even found religion (a.k.a. Marxism), but here, in *Nausea,* he compromises nothing. This is a text such as a prophet crying in the wilderness might have written.

It's an astonishing thing when an author can have you at the edge of your seat, mouth dry, riveted by a philosophical discussion between two characters having lunch in a café or during a pantomime of tawdry misfortune set in a library--but Sartre manages this and much more.

*Nausea* is a sick book about a sick man in a world sick unto death even if it doesn't quite know it. Reading it will likely make you sick, too, or, rather, aware of your illness. It won't cure you of anything but your chronic ignorance.

by Mark Polizzotti
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.48
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Beauty will be convulsive...", March 11, 2009
This review is from: Nadja (Paperback)
In this slender, elliptical, eccentric and poetic book, Andre Breton distills the essence of surrealism and in the process offers what is perhaps the best and most concise single-volume description of what the surrealist movement is/was about. Ostensibly about a feverishly intense ten-day affair with an enigmatic woman he meets while crossing a Paris street one afternoon, *Nadja* is really about a way of living life, which is what, primarily, surrealism is really about. In this sense, *Nadja* is also a call to arms against the deadening conventions of consensual reality, of reasonable commonsense, and of a life wasted in pursuit of the menial and in the shelter of the mediocre.

What is unique about Breton's approach in *Nadja* is its cool, clinical approach to recording the most fantastic mental delirium; its attempt to ground the highest poetic flights of the soul in the precise language of science. The result is a unique stylistic hybrid of stream-of-conscious automatism and psychiatric monograph. As if Nadja were a ghost, Breton attempts to record her haunting of him over the brief span of their acquaintance, faithfully recording what endures in his memory as singularly significant of her elusive mystery: the places they visited, the conversations they shared, the drawings she made, the latter of which--along with interpretation--are among the photographs included with the text.

Nadja, the woman, is the surrealistic muse par excellence--troubled, inspired, destitute, probably mad...and ultimately unknowable. She appears about a third of the way through the book and effectively disappears with a third of it still to go. But her effect on Breton is profound--if inconclusive. The book itself is the result of this effect and a consequent attitude of open-endedness to life, to art, to love, to beauty.

A remarkable text, dense and not always easy of comprehension despite the ultra, even hallucinogenic, lucidity of its prose, *Nadja* will certainly inspire those capable of inspiration; it is one of those books that open a door in your imprisoned mind and don't so much invite you to walk through as force you to decide if you're going to close and lock it again, perhaps this time once and for all.

The March: A Novel
The March: A Novel
by E. L. Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.52
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4.0 out of 5 stars A swath of destruction cut for a good cause..., March 9, 2009
This review is from: The March: A Novel (Paperback)
This is the first--and only--Doctorow novel I've read and I only read it because I wanted a book on Sherman's march through Georgia and *The March* appeared as if by magic in one of those convenient moments of synchronicity--and what's more, it made itself available for free.

It was, on the whole, a far better book that I'd expected. Lucid, surprising, and beautifully written, *The March* is composed in a style something between Cormac McCarthy and the Michael Shaara of *The Killer Angels.* As does Shaara, Doctorow tells the story of Sherman's march to the sea from the viewpoints of a representative cast of characters--soldiers, slaves, citizens, cutthroats--and Sherman himself. The aggregate is intended as a panoramic portrait of the infamous March and its effect on a people and a nation. And, indeed, it does afford the reader such an eagle's-eye view while maintaining a storyline that marches double-time with as relentless a purpose and momentum as Sherman's.

On the downside, Doctorow's stock characters more than occasionally drift into maudlin stereotypes and this drift increases as the novel--and the March--dissipates towards its conclusion. Doctorow's goofy, awestruck cameo portrait of Lincoln, in particular, is downright embarrassing in its grade-school simplicity--and hard to fathom coming from an author who aspires to the caliber of the sort that Doctorow does.

Still and all, *The March* is an enjoyable and often moving novel and while I don't guarantee its historical accuracy as a literary re-imagining and human response to the Civil War it's a riveting and satisfying piece of entertainment.

A World of Ideas : The Dictionary of Important Ideas and Thinkers
A World of Ideas : The Dictionary of Important Ideas and Thinkers
by Chris Rohmann
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.81
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll discover what dialectic materialism is..., March 3, 2009
Most likely you aren't supposed to read this book the way I did--which is from cover to cover, like a novel, from a priori/a posteriori to Zoroastrianism. In other words, like an obsessive-compulsive autodidact lunatic. And yet, having done so, I can faithfully report that read even in this fairly deadening way "A World of Ideas" is a fascinating, enjoyable, and informative read.

As in any book of this type, there will naturally be entries that you can probably skip ((I didn't)) because you already know enough about the topic. For instance, if you're a Lacanian psychoanalyst--and if you are, help me, please, I beg you--then you won't find much to inform you in the entry on Lacan here since it's so basic. But if Jacques Lacan sounds to you like a fancy French way to refer to a "can of Jacques" then be prepared to be educated.

There's stuff in here like "supply-side economics" and "abstract expressionism," "queer theory" and "Baruch Spinoza"--all kinds of things you hear and read about in passing, sometimes having a vague idea (often mistaken) what they mean, but that you'd be hard-pressed for the life of you to actually define in any intelligible, not to mention accurate, way should you ever be asked. Of course, unless you're running in far more interesting circles than I (or talk to yourself as extensively, exhaustively, and almost as exclusively as I), who among your acquaintance is going to strike up a conversation about Max Weber or Roland Barthes any time soon? But wouldn't it be a shame to miss a once-in-a-gazillion lifetime opportunity like that? Perhaps they only think it's as hopelessly depressing to mention such names to a dolt like you as you do to a nitwit like them. Wouldn't that be ironic?

Cross-referenced to easily locate related concepts and important personages, this is the kind of book that can very well lead the intellectually curious to dozens of others. Does that entry on post-structuralism intrigue you? Off you go then with a few clues as to where to learn more.

So there you have it. I hardly know what else to say. Oh...the entry on's "Arthur" for crissakes, not "Joseph"!!! Okay, now I hardly know what else to say. "A World of Ideas" is a handy, happy, one-volume dictionary representative of everything important up to this very moment, give or take a few moments. If you feel like you've some holes to plug up in what passed for your official education, it's the do-it-yourself intellectual's version of duct-tape.

Coming soon: my heartstopping review of E.L. Doctorow's "The March"!!!
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