Check out Santa's new ride Salon Beauty Best Books of the Year Black Friday Deals Week nav_sap_hiltonhonors_launch For a limited time. 3 months for $0.99. Amazon Music Unlimited. New subscribers only. Terms and conditions apply. STEM $24.99 for a limited time only Grocery Handmade Gift Shop Home and Garden Book a house cleaner for 2 or more hours on Amazon Black Friday deals: save 40% or more on Amazon Video Black Friday deals: save 40% or more on Amazon Video Black Friday deals: save 40% or more on Amazon Video  Echo Show Black Friday Deals Week: Fire tablets starting at $29.99. Limited-time offer. $30 off Kindle Paperwhite Shop Now HTL17_gno



on December 28, 2016
Probably America's most brilliant critic.
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
VINE VOICEon November 8, 2003
I suppose I bought this book to get a better idea of what Gass was about. He admires several of my favourite, rather obscure authors, such as Lowry and Gaddis, and has written insightful reviews on their lives and work and even introductions to certain masterworks of theirs. On the other hand, his essays for, say, The New York Review of Books, aren't even essays or reviews in any sort of conventional sense. Perhaps a new term is needed-Narrative commentaries? In any event, they always come across as clumsy and inscrutable in a not very endearing sense to me. This book has confirmed that impression, and I think the entire section on Flaubert a lot of rot. I understand that in putting the words of "The Master" in the mind of a fictional character who has memorized all of Flaubert's letters he's attempting to convey the soul or essence of Flaubert in a way in which a straightforward essay would not. He fails. It's rubbish.
I also throw my hands up regarding his essay on Calvino's Invisible Cities. - Well, that is to say, I know what I think of it. It's too esoteric by half. And the game is pretty much up when, at the height of his, er, Calvinolatry, Gass claims that this slim volume out-Proust's Proust. After such a disproportion, any attempt to take him seriously anent Calvino can be no longer seriously maintained.
But there are some good sections herein, the best being the eponymous essay on why certain works remain resonant with readers throughout the ages. This is Gass at his best. This is the Gass who motivated my purchase of this book. This is the Gass who, unbeknownst to me until I read this essay, holds another of my favourite writers in his pantheon and provides startling insights on why his work passes the tests of time: to wit, Thoreau.
So, all in all, a mixed bag. Unfortunately, the rather tedious parts tend to outnumber the brilliant ones. And Gass's style, in general, seems to me one that simply wears thin after a couple hundred pages. When Gass sticks to literature, or to commenting on the writer in the everyday world, through the ages, as he does in "The Writer and Politics: A Litany," he is scintillating and exciting. Most of the writing in this book, though, is of an unpleasantly offbeat nature that tends to the grating or soporific, by turns. So, three stars for the pearls amidst the paste.
0Comment| 10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on December 3, 2007
Although addicted to alliteration, Gass is great once he gets going. This collection boasts a plethora of provocative (and sometimes very funny) thoughts, along with prose so great you'll want to telephone friends in the middle of the night and read it aloud to them. Of special note are "The Writer and Politics: A Litany", which is just that, a VERY long list of writers' experiences with political power, and Gass's masterful anti-religion polemic, "Were There Anything in the World Worth Worship." The latter contains one of my favorite Gassean epigrams: "...the chief point in life is to die of something and never for something if it can be helped." Sane words in an insane time.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on December 9, 2002
William H. Gass is a truly unique and heart-breaking writer. This is a beautifully written collection of essays that are thoughtful, profound, and disturbing. Two of the essays, "Were There Anthing in the World Worth Worship" and "There Was An Old Woman Who...", are worth the cost of the book by themselves. An amazing essay collection that is smart, angry, sad, and funny.
0Comment| 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 26, 2007
...to waste time with a book like this.

I can't believe anyone would publish these essays in the first place. I enjoy meandering prose, but only if it is to an eventual point. These pieces go on and on. Uncharacteristically, I was constantly checking how many pages I had left before the next essay.

A few of the pieces showed promise - Invisible Cities, Sidelonging, Tests of Time and The Shears of the Censor in particular - but soon become tedious as the reader is bludgeoned with copious amounts of prose that leads to no purpose. The one exception was Anywhere But Kansas, which was a lithe 9 pages. I am assuming that the other 30 pages were eaten by Gass' puppy or something.

Just to be clear, I read many long, complex novels and enjoy them - Barth's Giles Goat-Boy, Sot-Weed Factor and Letters; Grass' Tin Drum and Dog Years; Mitchell's Cloud Atlas - but when you are writing essays they have to be tight, or at least vaguely interesting throughout, else the length becomes unbearable.

Until now, I was excited to read The Tunnel. I will still give it a shot in the coming months, but I am no longer looking forward to it.
11 comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on May 13, 2004
Daniel Myers is right in saying this collection is not so good. In _Books in Canada_ for April/May 2004 I argue that the collection is very poor.
Gass is completely off the rails when he favours Rushdie over Solzhenitsyn, for instance, and while comparisions of that type are invidious, it does make one wonder about Gass' internal compass that he can completely sympathize with the first while absolutely denigrate the second.
In general Gass' thinking process is a mess, often contradictory and, if this can be said without a brick being thrown, typical of those writers who (grow to) consider themselves philosophers or thinkers. His writing praises itself, there is too much consonance and assonance, and the lure of the jab is far more attractive to him than sober thought. It's not just the ideas that are poor, but their vehicle.
0Comment| 5 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on January 8, 2004
William Gass is a poor, sad, bitter intellectual who has the misfortune of being honest enough to carry his own tired philosophies to their inevitable conclusions: bitterness and nihilism. In these essays, as always, his exhaustion shows. He denies God (now there's an original thought for you). Then he whines incessantly because God hasn't made his world perfect. He hates life, but he hates the thought of death even more. His writing is filled with angry despair, so unfortunately this book isn't much good. But, on second thought, please buy it anyway. The poor man needs a lift.
0Comment| 6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse


Need customer service? Click here