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Posts Tagged ‘Tristram Shandy’

Transitory Lifestyles; Comic Novels

February 17, 2012 | by

Because of my school’s academic structure, I pack up my possessions and move every two to three months, ricocheting between school, home, and New York. In fact, I’m leaving the city this weekend. This kind of transience can be refreshing, but it is also disorienting, and it can make life feel fragmented or compartmentalized. If you could recommend reading material that addresses the issue of the transitory lifestyle, it might make the journey a little easier.

Whether you’re looking for seekers (The Razor’s Edge), free spirits (On the Road), ramblers (the Little House books) or the Picaresque (Tristram Shandy) there’s no shortage of literary traveling companions. Keep in mind that unstable, constantly-relocating parents also make for memorable childhoods, so the memoir section is rife with tales of itinerant life!

What is the funniest book ever written?

I don’t feel this is a question one person can answer definitively for all sorts of obvious reasons, although I will say NOT The Ginger Man, since all sorts of people, mostly men, are wont to go into ecstasies about its alleged hilarity. But then, lots of the reputedly uproarious classics have left me cold, so what do I know?

You don’t need me to list the “great comic novels” for you—Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, Lucky Jim … the list goes on. I feel like the “right” answer to this question is something like Ulysses, but I’d be lying if I said it had me in stitches. (Although Mark Twain genuinely has.) Several in the canon get resounding plaudits from my colleagues here: Catch-22 and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are considered comedy classics for a reason.

Says Lorin, “The Tetherballs of Bougainvillea made me laugh longest. London Fields made me laugh hardest (Marmaduke: projectile tears of laughter). Home Land made me laugh loudest. Mark Twain’s sketches and the Jeeves books make me laugh most reliably.”

Deirdre adds that Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask should not be ignored.

As for me, I’ve mentioned it before, but After Claude was the last book to actually make me laugh out loud. I love Scoop, and early parts of The Pursuit of Love. (Although I find Waugh and Mitford’s correspondence funnier than either.) E.F. Benson’s “Mapp and Lucia” series has moments of absolute hilarity. Pictures from an Institution should be in there, surely.

Disclaimer: I find certain scenes in Excellent Women genuinely funny, but Lorin said that he didn’t laugh once, so.

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Unread Books; Changing Character Names

November 4, 2011 | by

I’ve never read Moby-Dick or War and Peace, but people think I have, because I told them so. What is the great book you have never—but should have—read?

Just this morning—at five o’clock, to be exact—I was staring at the ceiling, thinking about Krapp’s Last Tape and how shocked my favorite college professor would be if he knew I still haven’t seen or read it. At least I hope he’d be shocked. I have never got through any of Beckett’s novels (and have seen almost none of his plays, or anybody else’s). I have never got through Henry Green’s Living or Concluding, though neither one is a long book, and I have sometimes heard myself call Green my “favorite” postwar English novelist, as if I had read enough to have one. I have never got through Jane Eyre or Giovannis Room or Journey to the End of the Night or Zenos Conscience or Pierre—I have never got through chapter one of Pierre. I have never read The Life of Henry Brulard and am not sure its even a novel. I have never read Memoirs of an Anti-Semite (but have said I have). I will never reread Dostoevsky as an adult, which in my case is more or less the same as not having read him. I couldn’t finish The Recognitions: I stopped 150 pages from the end, when the words just stopped tracking, and have never managed five pages of JR. I can’t remember which Barbara Pym novels I read, it was so long ago, and there are so many I haven’t. I have never made it to the cash register with a novel by Ronald Firbank. Thomas Hardy defeats me. So does D. H. Lawrence: you can love a writer and never actually feel like reading any more of his novels. I have never read Lady Chatterleys Lover. I never got to the end of Invisible Man. I have never read Stoner or Gormenghast or Blood Meridian or Wide Sargasso Sea (see Jane Eyre, above). Or any Faulkner novel all the way through besides The Sound and the Fury. I have never enjoyed a novel by Eudora Welty enough to keep going. I think I got to the end of V., which may be even worse than having put it down, and know for a certainty I never got far in Gravitys Rainbow. I have never read U.S.A. or Tom Jones or Tristram Shandy or Pamela or any novels by Irwin Shaw, James Jones, Mavis Gallant, or Dashiell Hammet. Or Raymond Chandler. I have never read Tender Is the Night, but just the other night someone used it as an example of something, and I nodded. Read More »

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What Bloggers Owe Montaigne

November 12, 2010 | by

The weekend newspapers are full of them. Our computer screens are full of them. They go by different names—columns, opinion pieces, diaries, blogs—but personal essays are alive and well in the twenty-first century. They flourish just as they did in James Thurber’s and E. B. White’s twentieth-century New York, or in the nineteenth-century London of William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. There seems no end to the appeal of the essayist’s basic idea: that you can write spontaneously and ramblingly about yourself and your interests, and that the world will love you for it.

No end—but there was a beginning. The essay tradition blossomed in English-speaking countries only after being invented by a sixteenth-century Frenchman, Michel Eyquem de Montaigne. His contemporary, the English writer Francis Bacon, also used the title Essays, but his were well-organized intellectual inquiries. While Bacon was assembling his thoughts neatly, the self-avowedly lazy nobleman and winegrower Montaigne was letting his run riot on the other side of the Channel. In his Essais (“Attempts”), published in 1580 and later expanded into larger editions, he wrote as if he were chatting to his readers: just two friends, whiling away an afternoon in conversation.

Montaigne raised questions rather than giving answers. He wrote about whatever caught his eye: war, psychology, animals, sex, magic, diplomacy, vanity, glory, violence, hermaphroditism, self-doubt. Most of all, he wrote about himself and was amazed at the variety he found within. “I cannot keep my subject still,” he said. “It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.” His writing followed the same wayward path.

In doing this, he rejected almost every literary virtue the French were to hold dear for the next few hundred years: clarity, rigour, beauty, and elegance. Yet his rebellious style gave him immense appeal to British, Irish and American authors. For more than 450 years, they took inspiration from Montaigne and his meandering charms.

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