web site hit counter Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts

Availability: Ready to download

A dazzling new collection of essays—on reading, writing, form, and thought—from one of America’s master writers.   It begins with the personal, both past and present. It emphasizes Gass’s lifelong attachment to books and moves on to the more analytical, as he ponders the work of some of his favorite writers (among them Kafka, Nietzsche, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Proust A dazzling new collection of essays—on reading, writing, form, and thought—from one of America’s master writers.   It begins with the personal, both past and present. It emphasizes Gass’s lifelong attachment to books and moves on to the more analytical, as he ponders the work of some of his favorite writers (among them Kafka, Nietzsche, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Proust). He writes about a few topics equally burning but less loved (the Nobel Prize–winner and Nazi sympathizer Knut Hamsun; the Holocaust).   Finally, Gass ponders theoretical matters connected with literature: form and metaphor, and specifically, one of its genetic parts—the sentence.   Gass embraces the avant-garde but applies a classic standard of writing to all literature, which is clear in these essays, or, as he describes them, literary judgments and accounts.   Life Sentences is William Gass at his Gassian best.


Compare

A dazzling new collection of essays—on reading, writing, form, and thought—from one of America’s master writers.   It begins with the personal, both past and present. It emphasizes Gass’s lifelong attachment to books and moves on to the more analytical, as he ponders the work of some of his favorite writers (among them Kafka, Nietzsche, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Proust A dazzling new collection of essays—on reading, writing, form, and thought—from one of America’s master writers.   It begins with the personal, both past and present. It emphasizes Gass’s lifelong attachment to books and moves on to the more analytical, as he ponders the work of some of his favorite writers (among them Kafka, Nietzsche, Henry James, Gertrude Stein, Proust). He writes about a few topics equally burning but less loved (the Nobel Prize–winner and Nazi sympathizer Knut Hamsun; the Holocaust).   Finally, Gass ponders theoretical matters connected with literature: form and metaphor, and specifically, one of its genetic parts—the sentence.   Gass embraces the avant-garde but applies a classic standard of writing to all literature, which is clear in these essays, or, as he describes them, literary judgments and accounts.   Life Sentences is William Gass at his Gassian best.

30 review for Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts

  1. 5 out of 5

    Nick Craske

    Gass welcomes you into his home, into his study with its surrounding library, and leads you through stacks and piles and columns of books to a large generous desk and offers you a seat in a well worn and inviting armchair and then, after his insightful, compassionate and artful chat and banter on many writers, their styles and their lives -which William began as he greeted you- and after holding you rapt in your ecstasy of listening he chooses numerous and varied works of fiction from the toweri Gass welcomes you into his home, into his study with its surrounding library, and leads you through stacks and piles and columns of books to a large generous desk and offers you a seat in a well worn and inviting armchair and then, after his insightful, compassionate and artful chat and banter on many writers, their styles and their lives -which William began as he greeted you- and after holding you rapt in your ecstasy of listening he chooses numerous and varied works of fiction from the towering library shelves around you and before your very eyes leads you across pages and into paragraphs and through the craft of each sentence... On departing, as you absently place one foot in front of the other, reeling from the cleansing and purifying feeling of seeing the craft of literature through brighter and wider eyes, as you move on through and out of his vast library; as you cross the threshold from a place of wonder out into the daytime, you mention how you would award ten stars on Goodreads.com if this glorious experience were somehow captured in an essay collection; how you would spread the word that every goodreads-goodfolk who can't live without literature should open its pages...

  2. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    The most recent compilation of post-millennium Gass essays is as pleasurable and eclectic as the two previous collections, A Temple of Texts and Tests of Time, despite the absence of alliteration in the title. Opening with six rare personal essays (Gass is not overly fond of childhood reminiscing) such as ‘Slices of Life in a Library,’ where he discusses his customised home-cum-library, with pictures viewable here, ‘Spit in the Mitt,’ a very rare short piece about his father and his baseball con The most recent compilation of post-millennium Gass essays is as pleasurable and eclectic as the two previous collections, A Temple of Texts and Tests of Time, despite the absence of alliteration in the title. Opening with six rare personal essays (Gass is not overly fond of childhood reminiscing) such as ‘Slices of Life in a Library,’ where he discusses his customised home-cum-library, with pictures viewable here, ‘Spit in the Mitt,’ a very rare short piece about his father and his baseball connections, and the excellent career-review ‘Retrospection,’ where the Maestro looks back over his life in fiction to our giddy delight. Up next are eleven outstanding essays on old favourites and fresh enemies, covering Gass-standards like Stein and James, alongside two staggering form-breaking masterpieces on Kafka and Lowry, the former a re-imagining of The Metamorphosis as warped biography, the latter a pseudo-script for a film. The concluding essays on Hamsun and a Third Reich tome are some of Gass’s most powerful and unflinching ruminations on war and the holocaust—the latter in particular encapsulating the philosophical darkness in The Tunnel. The last six essays comprise a series of lectures in the classics—that part of a Gass collection that will test the hardcore fans—and three on theoretics, including valuable close readings of what makes timeless sentences (with predictable references to James). Few writers take the time to close-read like Gass. The results are instructional and essential for any inkers of fiction out there . . . alongside this brilliant and indispensible collection of greatness.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    William H. Gass’s Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts is a remarkable work of criticism on several levels. Gass, who is the author of both fiction and literary criticism, is the master of his subject matter, and in the course of the book’s 350 pages, he engages the reader both through his delight in the poetry and prose of his favorite writers and his scorn for the propagandizing and sophistry of those who have earned his enmity. But where Gass’s work really sparkles is in his abilit William H. Gass’s Life Sentences: Literary Judgments and Accounts is a remarkable work of criticism on several levels. Gass, who is the author of both fiction and literary criticism, is the master of his subject matter, and in the course of the book’s 350 pages, he engages the reader both through his delight in the poetry and prose of his favorite writers and his scorn for the propagandizing and sophistry of those who have earned his enmity. But where Gass’s work really sparkles is in his ability to distill to its essence both the writing process and its devices – to understand how ideas are conveyed most elementally and powerfully. The book opens with Gass receiving the 2007 Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. In his address, he emphasizes how, in great writing, the subtleties of sentence structure can perform “miracles”: “To adorn nature with a new thing: that is the miracle that matters. Most prose flows into an ocean of undifferentiated words. To objectify through language a created consciousness, provide it with the treasured particularity we hope for for each human being – that is the cherished aim of the art.” Gass asserts that a few inspired lines can “turn a sonnet into a masterpiece," but that the critic must also be keenly aware of those writings that “merely mimic greatness through grandeur’s empty gestures.” In other words, critics of writing, as with other art forms, must retain a safe distance from imitators’ grandiose pretenses. In “Retrospection,” Gass offers a cynicism – and skepticism – about the human condition that could make Diogenes of Sinope look like a Las Vegas comic. He confesses that his own novel “The Tunnel” arose out of his belief that no race or nation is better or worse than any other; but also that the evil man does far outweighs the good. And, emphasizing Socratic and Platonic teachings, he equates evil directly with ignorance, in the process declaring D.H. Lawrence a “fascist chowderhead”; T.S. Eliot an “anti-Semitic snob”; William Butler Yeats “fatuous”; William Blake “mad”; Robert Frost “a pious fake”; and Rainer Maria Rilke “wrong more often than not.” Henry James, faring somewhat better, “might have made a misstep once alighting from a carriage.” As an octogenarian, Gass begins on a note of personal reflection, by recalling the “good, sweet” days of his youth in Fargo, N.D., and, in particular, his affection for his father, a former minor-league baseball player in the St. Louis Browns organization whose exhortation for players to “spit in the mitt” after an error – to warn a player to get ready or simply to encourage concentration – could double as one’s philosophy of life. Gass’s musings on America on the Fourth of July following the September 11 attacks, as complemented by his greater “Retrospections”, suggest the melancholy fragility not only of our own existence, but also of our cherished institutions, freedom of expression being particularly vulnerable. Here, his description of latent tyrannical elements in our society is exquisitely ominous: “The tyrant ties tongues in knots. Speech is so easy it takes more than snow to slow its course. The tyrant must frighten people from their freedom; beat the soles of their feet till they mince their step in time to his goose-wide stride.” But his tone is very much lighter when he discusses how he haunted the libraries at both the University of Illinois and Cornell University (the latter being where he completed his doctoral degree). At Cornell, “the building resembled a ship in some ways and bore me off smoothly,” which well-suited this World War II navy veteran. These experiences instilled in him a life-long love of libraries; his own library presently consists of “nearly twenty thousand books, few of them rare, many unread, none of them neglected.” James makes a number of appearances in this book, though he is rivaled by Rilke, whose poetry Gass spent decades translating. Gass also writes reverently of the enduring accomplishments – seemingly against all odds – of Gertrude Stein, the “Mother Goose of Montparnasse”; of Marcel Proust, whose “society lives like snow in a paperweight, inside the novel’s structural imagery”; and Friedrich Nietzche, for whom – in defiance of advice against “extreme physical and intellectual exertion" – "writing was [his] breathing and had to be done, no matter the pain and damage.” In Gass’s pantheon, great writers are highly perceptive observers of the human condition, though their faults are often as outstanding as their literary accomplishments. John Gardner was a reckless, yet brilliant novelist who sadly had a tendency to race his motorcycle while impaired. Gass’s essay on him commences with a telephone call from The Los Angeles Times asking if he might contribute an obituary of Gardner – a motorcycle accident had just claimed his life. Gass affectionately recalled that Gardner had “Falstaff’s gift for talk and revelry”, and an intensity and warmth in his writing reminiscent of Dickens and Thackeray. Katherine Anne Porter’s gift for “sensuous yet hard-edged prose” was matched by a powerful revulsion away from her small-town Texas upbringing with “a Calvinist’s morally severe self-righteous hand.” In part, this caused her to construct a life “made of myths, most of them planted there by Porter herself, and many meant to improve her humble beginnings, refigure the course of her early years and conceal the existence of her numerous marriages or frequent affairs.” Gass’s tribute to Malcolm Lowry is a highly stylized piece, written in the manner of a screenplay, which is a perfect vessel in which to pour Lowry’s own complex and dramatic background – his life in Vancouver, Canada; his travels in South America; and his novels, works such as “Under the Volcano” and “Through The Panama,” which feature protagonists who are restless, besotted, and always questing. Eventually, Lowry became thoroughly enmeshed with the lives of his characters, who became passengers on a ship of “hungover self-consciousness ... Malcolm Lowry at the helm, unsteady as she goes.” Gass’s evisceration of Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, obscure legacy notwithstanding, is necessary and proper, and is bookended by a chilling discussion of books chronicling the Holocaust. Gass initially focuses his ire on Hamsun, and throughout the essay, you feel – almost taste – the disgust Gass feels for this literary Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Gass notes “no one will be able to display the gold medal the Nobel hung around the [Hamsun’s] neck, because Hamsun disgraced the prize by regifting it to Joseph Goebbels, himself a great creator of fictions.” Gass delivers his most powerful essay in “Kinds of Killing,” which, in its graphic depiction of horrific acts perpetrated by man upon man during World War II, is matched only – if not surpassed by – Gass’s luminous narrative. A primary reference he cites is a monumental three-volume work by historian Richard Evans which offers, in excruciating detail, the horrors of the Holocaust as perpetrated from the earliest days of the Third Reich. Of the advent of the war in 1939, Gass remarks that “like a monstrous babe born from the brow of Rabelais, this war was only a few months old and already it had become a major crime against humanity.” Evans, whom Gass returns to frequently in the course of his essay, not only writes with the unjaundiced eye (and pen) of an experienced and sober historian, he also has actively sought out and discredited Holocaust deniers, often in courts of law. As to this unfortunate yet persistent phenomenon, Gass quotes New York Times writer Jacob Heilbrunn, who writes: “The further the Holocaust recedes into the past, the more it’s being exploited to create a narrative of redemption.” Gass’s writing here is arguably his most vivid – poignant similes and imagery abound and only serve to exacerbate the vile inhumanity of Nazidom. If there can be such a thing as “beautiful” writing about undistilled evil, Gass has most definitely accomplished this. In the latter fourth of the book, Gass demonstrates how his immersion in and affection for the classics has mightily informed his own elaborate prose. In parsing such concepts as Eidos (form), Mimesis (replication) and Metaphor, Gass clearly reveals his mastery of the written word. For him a masterfully written sentence “provokes a flight of fancy ... it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope; a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel ... a spiral stair.” For Gass, the fundamental elements of literary expression are a revelry, and this volume is more than adequate evidence of that. With “Life Sentences” Gass makes a major contribution to the understanding and appreciation of great writing – the power of words to move a reader or even mountains. Lilting, rhapsodic narrative is Gass’s trademark, and one can learn much from the beauty and subtlety of his rhetoric.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Never pass up the opportunity to read a Gass essay. He’s a master of the form. The opening section, “The Personals Column”, begins with the solaceful “The Literary Miracle” :: The finer works of art are miracles in the sense that they are so unlikely to have emerged from the ignoble and bloody hands of man that we stand in awe of them, and that they have been written or built or composed at the behest of superstitions so blatantly foolish as to embarrass reason, and cause common sense to snicker, Never pass up the opportunity to read a Gass essay. He’s a master of the form. The opening section, “The Personals Column”, begins with the solaceful “The Literary Miracle” :: The finer works of art are miracles in the sense that they are so unlikely to have emerged from the ignoble and bloody hands of man that we stand in awe of them, and that they have been written or built or composed at the behest of superstitions so blatantly foolish as to embarrass reason, and cause common sense to snicker, is itself wondrous and beyond ordinary comprehension. And “Slices of Life in a Library”. A thing on baseball, a thing on 9/11, on freedom of expression, and, given his age, an unavoidable “Retrospection”. There’s some political ranting here which may surprise the reader (like me! like me!) who understands Gass as a largely disengaged aesthetician ; but what’s more political than his masterpiece, The Tunnel? Second, “Old Favorites and Fresh Enemies” is as it (mostly) sounds :: Stein, Proust, Nietzsche (wish Gass did N as philosopher rather than focus on the biography so often), Kafka, Lowry, H. James, Gardner, Katherine Anne Porter, Knut Hamsun and his fascism ;; and a gory piece on the Nazis, “Kinds of Killing.” Then we get a can’t miss thing, “The Biggs Lectures in the Classics”, in which Gass discusses “a favorite, form--an enemy, mimesis or imitation--and an old drinking buddy, metaphor. Closing with “Theoretics” -- a charming ode to “Lust” and two on the classic Gass topic, the sentence, “Narrative Sentences” and “The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”.

  5. 5 out of 5

    James Murphy

    This is Gass's latest collection of essays, grouped into 4 sections. The first part is several personal essays, and it's followed by what I think is Gass's foremost quality, literary criticism. Three of his lectures on classicism is included, and the book concludes with 3 essays on the technical aspects of writing and grammar. For me the criticism is the backbone of the collection. Here's a precious portrait of Gertrude Stein not to be missed. I learned even new, useful intricacies about reading This is Gass's latest collection of essays, grouped into 4 sections. The first part is several personal essays, and it's followed by what I think is Gass's foremost quality, literary criticism. Three of his lectures on classicism is included, and the book concludes with 3 essays on the technical aspects of writing and grammar. For me the criticism is the backbone of the collection. Here's a precious portrait of Gertrude Stein not to be missed. I learned even new, useful intricacies about reading Proust. One delight of Gass's criticism is his exquisite writing and fresh insight which is even more interesting than those he writes about, like his comments on myth in an essay on Katherine Anne Porter or, my favorite, Knut Hamsun seen in terms of the city mouse and the country mouse. Gass always writes clear prose which at the same time burns white hot in the mind with original and jarring images. And yet it has the fluidity of conversation and colloquialism. In 3 days (30 July) he'll be 89 years old and he's still a student of the sentence, though master might be the better word. The volume's final 2 essays are "Narrative Sentences" and "The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence." Both display his understanding of the technical aspects of sentences and how they've been demonstrated in literature. That's the salient feature of Life Sentences and what we'll always remember about the prolific writing of William Gass, beautifully crafted sentences about elegant thought.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Accentuating the positive, Gass did make me want to read John Gardner. Not sure that's soon to be actualized but a tempting case was made. I do not care for Gass' avuncular style. I shuddered every few pages imagining he was patting my back. I was also bothered that the focus of these essays were titans of the humanist tradition: Proust, Nietzsche, henry James. I longed instead for the esoteric. Accentuating the positive, Gass did make me want to read John Gardner. Not sure that's soon to be actualized but a tempting case was made. I do not care for Gass' avuncular style. I shuddered every few pages imagining he was patting my back. I was also bothered that the focus of these essays were titans of the humanist tradition: Proust, Nietzsche, henry James. I longed instead for the esoteric.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ian "Marvin" Graye

    Judgemental as Anything All rise! The judge is in the court: "I write to indict mankind." Gass almost said "indite", because that would have been really punny. He didn't, but he tells us anyway about the pun foregone but not forgotten. And so a little titter (whatever that is) runs through the courtroom and back out the entrance. The Emperor Gassius is a self-proclaimed master of the declaratory sentence. Here he plumbs the depths of the imperious and obnoxious mode. As the subtitle promises, it i Judgemental as Anything All rise! The judge is in the court: "I write to indict mankind." Gass almost said "indite", because that would have been really punny. He didn't, but he tells us anyway about the pun foregone but not forgotten. And so a little titter (whatever that is) runs through the courtroom and back out the entrance. The Emperor Gassius is a self-proclaimed master of the declaratory sentence. Here he plumbs the depths of the imperious and obnoxious mode. As the subtitle promises, it is more plural than singular: there are more judgements than judgement on display. Also, perhaps, more accounting than taste. Beyond the reach of his acolytes, his spawn shall be spurned! Does that sound right? Is that how you do it? [The remainder of this essay is on temporary loan to The Phat Batarde Review of Contemporary Fiction Studies.]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    For the past few months I've dipped in and out of Gass's latest collection of essays until I've read them all. There were only a few doldrums (the essay on Malcolm Lowry) and disappointments (the essay on Kafka). And yes I could live happily without ever reading another word by or about Henry James. But Gass is impressive whatever his subject. His essay on Nietzsche is the best meditation on that vexing, fearless and pitiable philosopher that I've ever read. "Kinds of Killing" – beginning as a re For the past few months I've dipped in and out of Gass's latest collection of essays until I've read them all. There were only a few doldrums (the essay on Malcolm Lowry) and disappointments (the essay on Kafka). And yes I could live happily without ever reading another word by or about Henry James. But Gass is impressive whatever his subject. His essay on Nietzsche is the best meditation on that vexing, fearless and pitiable philosopher that I've ever read. "Kinds of Killing" – beginning as a review of Richard Evans's The Third Reich at War – is stunning in its survey of the horror inflicted by Hitler's patriots, which concluded for the Nazis in "a vast wave of suicides without precedent in modern history," and sadly included survivors of the camps who "would kill themselves because they were alive." Despair (and its summation) doesn't get any darker. The book concludes with brighter reflections on the art of literacy: on form (eidos); mimesis (which Gass finds overrated – "Falsehood and error have played a far larger role in history than truth and correctness, for falsehood always finds a way to be convenient and of use."); and the structure of the sentence. I've been collecting Gass's remarkable essays ever since I came across On Being Blue in the late 70s. Those collections are still on my shelves – alongside my favorite, Reading Rilke. The writing is strong, the philosophy as bitter as bright metal, and the measured wisdom certain.

  9. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is the good stuff right here, folks. It may take me a while before I can explain why. But almost all of these essays are awe-inspiring.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Graychin

    Reading Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence when it was first published, I found it difficult, but not impossible, to believe that the author was 92 years old (he’s 104 now). I say ‘not impossible’ because there’s something in Barzun’s professorial delivery – however intellectually nimble – that suggests a comfort with his topic only earned after, well, decades and decades of deep acquaintance. William Gass, at 87 years, is by now almost the fogey Barzun was twelve years ago, but I find it e Reading Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence when it was first published, I found it difficult, but not impossible, to believe that the author was 92 years old (he’s 104 now). I say ‘not impossible’ because there’s something in Barzun’s professorial delivery – however intellectually nimble – that suggests a comfort with his topic only earned after, well, decades and decades of deep acquaintance. William Gass, at 87 years, is by now almost the fogey Barzun was twelve years ago, but I find it even harder to believe in his personal antiquity reading these essays. Not that Gass and Barzun have much of a common perspective. If Barzun is the wizened professor of yore, Gass (though a professor in real life too) is the snarky, trouble-making student that disrupts class with impertinent questions and leaves a collective sigh of relief in his wake when he finally drops the course. Gass makes some very excellent prose, but I don’t like him much. He manages to be an irritating adolescent and a dirty old man at the same time. He’s a misanthropist of the unpleasant sort. He's snarky. He likes to quote himself. Of course Gass doesn’t care what I (the reader) think about him personally, but he has better qualities too. If I (fingers crossed) manage to make it to the doorstep of ninety, I hope I’m still as aggressively curious about things as Gass is. Curiosity counts for a lot.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    William Gass's essay collection, Life Sentences, is, for the literary minded, worth reading. Gass excels not only in writing sentences, which he plays with in his title and I in mine (above) but in the scope of his literary and philosophical knowledge. There are acute observations here about Kafka, Ford Maddox Ford, Wallace Stevens, Plato, Aristotle, Knut Hamsun (highly critical), Katherine Anne Porter, Henry James (one of Gass's heroes), Malcolm Lowry and others. There is a wonderful exposition William Gass's essay collection, Life Sentences, is, for the literary minded, worth reading. Gass excels not only in writing sentences, which he plays with in his title and I in mine (above) but in the scope of his literary and philosophical knowledge. There are acute observations here about Kafka, Ford Maddox Ford, Wallace Stevens, Plato, Aristotle, Knut Hamsun (highly critical), Katherine Anne Porter, Henry James (one of Gass's heroes), Malcolm Lowry and others. There is a wonderful exposition of the evolution of the ancient Greeks' philosophical thought, self-observation, and self-consciousness. There is a strong, imaginative essay on Nietzsche, and there are two fascinating essays on "narrative sentences" and the aesthetic structure of the sentence. For a working writer, like myself, this volume is a treasure trove of canny observations and judgments. Gass takes a position here that he's taken before but perhaps not so explicitly. He contends that fiction is not about story-telling but rather about providing compelling experience (literal experience, for one is in fact experiencing something when one reads) and significance. Gass says stories can be related anywhere--in conversation, on TV, in magazines, in gossip and dinner talk--and that's not what readers, ideal readers, read for. What readers, ideal readers, read for is the mental/imaginative experience of actually entering into a moment or series of moments that flickers with beauty, interest, ugliness, peculiarity...that spends time on airing out the dimensions of reality that exceed the average person's talents for self-expression... so rhythmically, perversely, ironically ... as might be found in the work of a master prose stylist like Conrad or Joyce. Sentences, Gass contends, should breathe, look over their shoulders, wink, knock hard on the mind's door...effectively take over the reader's, or ideal reader's, mind. And ultimately, he proposes, fiction, great fiction, should resolve itself not in a surprising or gratifying plot but rather in a grander kind of significance which is the sum total of the experiences presented. Gass supports his contention with many, many good examples but there are times when he seems to overemphasize fabulous word-play writers like Joyce or James and underemphasize the effects achieved by writers like Kafka or Chekhov. He tips his hat to Kafka for writing in a straightforward way, doesn't criticize him in the least, but there's more to praise about Kafka than Gass manages even in a full-length essay. Lately, I've been rereading Kafka's short stories in German. and my observation is this: yes, exactly, Kafka is beautifully concise and straightforward but at the same time his deliberately flat rendition of the incredible creates as big or bigger echoes in the mind as parades of Jamesian splendor. Beyond that, there is the translation issue. The "sense" of Kafka comes right at you in German or English. But the sound of German and the odd way it winds the springs of a sentence because of German's peculiar syntax is something else again. In effect, I'm not taking issue with Gass (a masterful translator of Rilke), just pointing out that the more exquisite writers (Nabokov, for example), who completely submerge you in their verbal worlds--or dispossess you of your own--sometimes are not the most thunderously effective...thunderous in a quiet way, thunderous in the way of a sound, even a little sound, piercing you when you think you are alone in a church and are not. Kafka, Chekhov, Hemingway, Raymond Carver and others achieve a mental something that isn't mechanical plotting but is anti-aesthetic, if you will...and yet they all confirm Gass's larger point: we who read to experience, to live, do find fiction more compelling when it is powerfully rendered than when it is powerfully plotted. The opposite of this coin is shown when Gass quotes a ghastly series of sentences by the crime writer Chester Himes. I can't imagine an editor letting these wretched word burps spatter a page. But I think Himes and others sell pretty well because many, many people are in fact after the story, the plot, the whodunit, the what happened, etc. They are not aesthetically engaged in the writing, they are just taking their daily dose of storytelling in book form as opposed to movie or TV form. Storytelling is long-lived, and it's an ineradicable aspect of being human. But it doesn't have to, and often doesn't, come close to literary fiction in terms of the importance of the experience of perfectly chosen words that are utterly present and satisfying in and of themselves, making you see the hairs in an ugly nose, hear the bark of a defeated politician, pull away from the hapless panhandler who reminds you too much of your personal fear of destitution, or memories thereof. Anyway...by now you will want to read Life Sentences by William Gass or you won't...you will feel you need to or you won't...you will have recognized through him, and my reporting of him, that you are someone whose life is a sentence, works itself out in sentence, and will never stop seeking out sentences that are revelations of what you always thought but never were able to put into words.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This book is like no other, and not a quick read. There are four sections: The Personals Column, Old Favorites and Fresh Enemies, The Biggs Lectures in the Classics, and Theoretics. The Personals Column includes six chapters of personal reflections, and was the most entertaining of the four book sections. Two of my highlights from The Literary Miracle chapter in this section: "The fact that a gay guy painted the Sistine ceiling is not nearly as dumbfounding as the papacy's protection of pederasts This book is like no other, and not a quick read. There are four sections: The Personals Column, Old Favorites and Fresh Enemies, The Biggs Lectures in the Classics, and Theoretics. The Personals Column includes six chapters of personal reflections, and was the most entertaining of the four book sections. Two of my highlights from The Literary Miracle chapter in this section: "The fact that a gay guy painted the Sistine ceiling is not nearly as dumbfounding as the papacy's protection of pederasts in spite of their official attitude toward such "objectionable" practices--one of which ought to be the ceiling itself, for if anything is unnatural, for them, genius is. The secular miracle is an incomprehensible juxtaposition of events, not a rare or occasional break in the order of things, but a paired regularity that persists in making no sense: the first being the creation of inspired art, and the second requiring a wonder equal to it, namely, that such accomplishments, often, by quite ordinary or even subpar human beings." "What does make a sentence or a line of verse rise from the dead and walk again, run for a record, and even dance as dancers do when blessed?" Reading the second section, "Old Favorites and Fresh Enemies", left me feeling stupid and inadequately read (and I thought I read a lot.) Writing of 11 authors (a range of Proust to Hamsun), Gass refers to multiple biographies, the author's corpus of work, critical reviews, and personal critique. I confess to skimming some of these chapters, each about a specific author, generally because I couldn't understand the references. Sometimes Gass comes across as pompous. I forgive him though, because it is only through my illiteracy that I can label him thus. If I were more well-read, the adjective would be esoteric. At the end of section two I was left inspired to read the discussed authors, using this text for consult. The third section covers three concepts: form, mimesis, and metaphor. This section of the book is worth the price of admission alone. These are brilliant essays. From Form: "Although science may use cause, philosophy substance, or theology soul in a distinctive way, individuals living and thinking and coping on a day-to-day basis may actually have a profile that reflects their own particular personality and intellectual character. Some of us will feel persecuted by a lengthy red light; others will clock it and prepare to mail a complaint; a few of us may even admire the wisdom of such a simple system of permission and restraint. In any case, there will be concepts (or more vaguely, words) which will have special significance for each of us, terms that will usually provoke an obstinate opposition, a boil of ire, or a benevolent feeling of approval whenever they appear— totemic words, talismanic or irritating." The final section, Theoretics, feels like an appendix, in the useless worm-like appendage sense, with the exception of The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence, that could have been a delightful introduction or solo essay. Definitely a book for the reader and/or writer; you know, those who enjoy the challenge of mixing philosophy, epistemology, ontology, and grammar.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Had to return this to the library. I am reading to leisurely, which is exactly how to read this. Bother.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    As with any work by Gass, this one is full of cleverisms and a good bit of enlightenment. His writing on Nietzsche is almost worth the price of the book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mbogo J

    This collection has some spectacularly good essays, essays which earn the title of classic effortlessly, in the same vein it has large swathes where Gass serves us a cardboard buffet, essays which are a sea of words crashing against our brains failing to draw any interest or even be clear on what exactly is the central thesis of the essay itself, essays whose closer examination reveal them to be a waste of time... This winnowing dance between wheat and chaff is a constant companion while reading This collection has some spectacularly good essays, essays which earn the title of classic effortlessly, in the same vein it has large swathes where Gass serves us a cardboard buffet, essays which are a sea of words crashing against our brains failing to draw any interest or even be clear on what exactly is the central thesis of the essay itself, essays whose closer examination reveal them to be a waste of time... This winnowing dance between wheat and chaff is a constant companion while reading this, which makes it hard to review such a book. There are essays such as The Literary Miracle which are instant classics but as you are still singing odes to Gass you come across essays such as the one he butchered Kafka and you start wondering why you picked the book in the first place. On the overall sum of things, its better to have read this book rather than the opposite. Even a rose has thorns in its composition. I wouldn't be quick to recommend this, you should get to it organically. I came across it from Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present and was impressed that both men wrote these great books in their late 80s, a time when they could be expected to take it easy and yell at the clouds, they instead kept at their craft and were rather good at that. We are thankful for their efforts. Both men have since died, eternal rest be granted to them, I hope that if I live that long I should borrow their example.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Iľja Rákoš

    Somewhere in the middle of Life Sentences -his collection of essays covering topics biographical, autobiographical, syntactical, critical, and classical- William Gass includes an odd quote from another author, John Gardner: "I have nothing to say, except that I think words are beautiful. I'm a stylist; for me, everything is rhythm and rhyme. There are a handful of other stylists, like Gass, Elkin, Barthelme, Barth, and Ralph Ellison, who have nothing to say either. We just write." I say "odd Somewhere in the middle of Life Sentences -his collection of essays covering topics biographical, autobiographical, syntactical, critical, and classical- William Gass includes an odd quote from another author, John Gardner: "I have nothing to say, except that I think words are beautiful. I'm a stylist; for me, everything is rhythm and rhyme. There are a handful of other stylists, like Gass, Elkin, Barthelme, Barth, and Ralph Ellison, who have nothing to say either. We just write." I say "odd quote" because Gass seems to take good-humored umbrage at Gardner's assessment, though I can't believe his intent was malicious, nor can I understand how William Gass can disagree: he is a master stylist, and he can just plain write. About the "nothing to say" part, well, that can't be helped; that's just Gass living up to his surname, so to speak. William Gass is not every(wo)man's writer, and while there is certainly something in this collection for everyone, only those resolved to read the sentences to their conclusions will be rewarded. In the age of Twitter even the pithiest Gassian metaphor will tax the 140-symbol limit. His lexical perambulations will test your patience. His insistence that the Classics matter and that a modern liberal education that excludes them is a waste of time will be passed off as the grumblings of a curmudgeon. He will irritate, flabbergast, pontificate. But one thing William Gass will never do: confuse. He is perspicuity personified (and he would hate the alliteration). You know where he stands because he is tenacious in his quest to allow every thought to resolve itself syntactically, grammatically, and logically. Even if it pushes the paragraph to the near-breaking point. This may seem like a negative criticism, but it is not. Make no mistake: William Gass is worthy of your time, whether you are majoring in the humanities or better, just majoring in being human. The sentences alone - even those which, despite their astounding complexity, don't seem to say much at all - are worth the effort. With Gass, like gas, the effect is cumulative and, ultimately, explosive. Life Sentences offers twenty-two essays filling nearly 350 pages of compound-complex sentences couched in pristinely ordered paragraphs. Brief reminiscences from the life of a man of letters lead off the collection, with the ultimate essay - "Retrospective" - likely the standout of the group. In remarkable homage to exactly the type of verbal smothering that he has been accused of, Gass reveals an interesting taxonomy of the places where good writing - including his own - tends to go wrong. It is impossible in this space to sufficiently describe his seven deadly literary sins, so a simple listing will have to do: naming, (whoring and) metaphoring, jingling, preaching, theorizing, celebrating, and translating. Enlightenment with every turned page. Section two offers the author's inevitable commentary on the lives and work (more on the life than on the work) of Gertrude Stein, Malcolm Lowry, Proust, Nietzsche, Kafka, and certainly, Henry James, et al. It is here where Gass's obsession with form - in my opinion - gets the best of him, and he allows politics or simple preference to interfere with his hermeneutic. Said another way, Gass loves Gertrude Stein for what was clearly the hugeness of her character - a character in which there was surely much to admire. But her books? A superior vocabulary, quick wit, and a life of privilege are not prerequisites for "timeless prose" and the essay consumes lines that would have been better devoted to a writer of greater significance. But this is William Gass's book, not mine, so Gertrude Stein, again. Overall, the section offers interesting discussion on the abuse of Nietzsche, a Kafka piece that is borderline genius, and a take on Knut Hamsun worth a read and re-read. Section three features three installments from lectures he delivered on the Classics. Simply, these essays are brilliant, and alone worth the price of the book. Here, Gass has included his considered take on the Greek literary mechanisms of eidos, mimesis, and metaphor. Stunning, thorough, and challenging, these should be required reading for anyone who would ever pick up a book to read it. Required memorization for anyone who would ever attempt to write. The mimesis essay produced the odd effect in me where I found myself pumping my fist and grunting "YES!" again and again. Really, really good. The collection closes with three essays on theory. Gass waxes philosophical on what a waste virtues are without their accompanying vices, on narrative sentences, and on sentential aesthetic structure. Good, technical stuff, with a touch of the nostalgic - diagramming sentences just like back in school. The best things truly never do grow old, and William Gass - 87 years old when he delivered this book - should know. In summary, a quote: "What does make a sentence or a line of verse rise from the dead and walk again, run for a record, and even dance...?" If you want to know, read Life Sentences by William Gass.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I don't throw five stars around lightly. Gass, as ever, makes his sentences soar no matter the subject of his musing. One of America's sharpest minds and greatest writers. I don't throw five stars around lightly. Gass, as ever, makes his sentences soar no matter the subject of his musing. One of America's sharpest minds and greatest writers.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Read a few of the key essays and skipped around some. Gass is good here, but I prefer his fiction. His books on literature are all the same, basically.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Chock full of insights, and chuckles as well. As the back leaf says, a "learned potpourri of fulminations and enthusiasms." Bears rereading. Notes: 10-19** .. Slices of life in a library 11.. traveling was cheaper by the book than by the ticket, and when you went by book you were always home in time for dinner. 15.. library, who's dust is the rust of time ... what his ultimate fate was, you shan't know, because I own the book and you don't ... on writers: no occupation can guarantee virtue the way har Chock full of insights, and chuckles as well. As the back leaf says, a "learned potpourri of fulminations and enthusiasms." Bears rereading. Notes: 10-19** .. Slices of life in a library 11.. traveling was cheaper by the book than by the ticket, and when you went by book you were always home in time for dinner. 15.. library, who's dust is the rust of time ... what his ultimate fate was, you shan't know, because I own the book and you don't ... on writers: no occupation can guarantee virtue the way hard labor makes muscle .. 20-23** 64..Proust .. this hunt, this search, this reclamation of the past... It aims at the recovery of a life. 66.. sadly, guiltily, reminded of the paucity of our own recollections. 142..bachelor because career must not be compromised by family obligations 162..K Anne Porter's reported life was made of myths, most of them planted there by Porter herself, ... Kinds of Killing ... The Holocaust 292..lust: truthful people are a big pain ... Lies are more fun, far pleasanter to hear. Grandpa: Lust is the "restiest thing thar are." 298** 320... no grumbling Thought for the day: The true alchemists do not change lead to gold; they change the world into words.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    Wow. The essay "Kinds of Killing" (original found here: http://harpers.org/archive/2009/08/00...) is an amazing commentary on the Holocaust. I'd love to take a class on this essay alone and discuss each paragraph. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, it's one of those things everyone should read. "How was anti-Seimitism, so patently false in all its ages of activity, able to lodge itself in so many minds and thereafter weaken--no, remove--their moral character? How, in general, do people become slav Wow. The essay "Kinds of Killing" (original found here: http://harpers.org/archive/2009/08/00...) is an amazing commentary on the Holocaust. I'd love to take a class on this essay alone and discuss each paragraph. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, it's one of those things everyone should read. "How was anti-Seimitism, so patently false in all its ages of activity, able to lodge itself in so many minds and thereafter weaken--no, remove--their moral character? How, in general, do people become slaves of foolish ideologies, support them with treasure, allegiance, and time, and act, at their behest, so vilely, so contrary to their own interest? History is full of absurdities masquerading as absolutes. Like whooping cough, beliefs get to children early, make their symptoms chronic, hold out useless hopes, and offer vain excuses. It is reason's business to disbelieve, but the voices of reason have as much effect here as frogs in a swamp."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Julianne

    This is learned. Refreshing for someone so long out of college. I also think, fairly astute, at least judging by its criticism of works that I've read. (Obviously, the jury's out on it's criticism of works I haven't read, which is most of its criticism.) I think though, that William Gass plays favorites. Who doesn't? I know. But a critic really shouldn't. My approach to criticism (if you haven't glanced at my bookshelf) is to cast one's net wide, cast one's net deep, turn one's nose up at nothin This is learned. Refreshing for someone so long out of college. I also think, fairly astute, at least judging by its criticism of works that I've read. (Obviously, the jury's out on it's criticism of works I haven't read, which is most of its criticism.) I think though, that William Gass plays favorites. Who doesn't? I know. But a critic really shouldn't. My approach to criticism (if you haven't glanced at my bookshelf) is to cast one's net wide, cast one's net deep, turn one's nose up at nothing (except perhaps the truly rotten), and judge everything using the same set of standards. I think Gass lets his own preferences and predilections, his own tastes, lead him around sometimes; that he lets the extent of his enjoyment of a certain book or author dictate how objectively good it is. Or maybe I'm just being led astray by the fact that this book is a collection of sorts of his "bests" and his "favorites."

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    In reading this book, I made something of a mistake; I chose to read it much in the way one reads a novel - front to back and in a few sittings as I could manage, time-wise. Reading from the front to back, in itself was not really problematic, but my overall enjoyment of this book would have been enhanced had I set the book down for a brief time after reading an essay and before reading the next one. Gass’ erudition is evident but , by reading these essays too closely together, some of his brill In reading this book, I made something of a mistake; I chose to read it much in the way one reads a novel - front to back and in a few sittings as I could manage, time-wise. Reading from the front to back, in itself was not really problematic, but my overall enjoyment of this book would have been enhanced had I set the book down for a brief time after reading an essay and before reading the next one. Gass’ erudition is evident but , by reading these essays too closely together, some of his brilliance starts to look too much like showing off. And certain puns and word play, which if isolated, might seem clever and unique become redundant and a little maddening. But the larger truth is, it is very difficult to encounter the breadth of Gass’ knowledge and his revealing insights in anything resembling everyday discourse so that anyone truly seeking some intellectual stimulation will find “Life Sentences” a satisfying read, indeed.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Trina

    Erudite. Like sitting through a series of lectures in college. Felt like I should be taking notes. Although he points out some interesting things about literary authors like Henry James (yay) and Knut Hamsun (boo), in the end I'd've probably dropped the class the way I did this book. Not because it was too hard, but because it was too boring. I like essays that are more cohesive like Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox. Erudite. Like sitting through a series of lectures in college. Felt like I should be taking notes. Although he points out some interesting things about literary authors like Henry James (yay) and Knut Hamsun (boo), in the end I'd've probably dropped the class the way I did this book. Not because it was too hard, but because it was too boring. I like essays that are more cohesive like Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    Picked this up today as an early Twelfth Night present for myself. The lovely hardcover wasn't not unpricey-esque, but its pages have the rough-cut edges and heavy grain of newly pressed mind-fodder put to flattened and dried pulp, and overall it is not bulky, maybe say mid-bulk, and rests in my hand nicely. Picked this up today as an early Twelfth Night present for myself. The lovely hardcover wasn't not unpricey-esque, but its pages have the rough-cut edges and heavy grain of newly pressed mind-fodder put to flattened and dried pulp, and overall it is not bulky, maybe say mid-bulk, and rests in my hand nicely.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    No matter how old he gets, his essays remain as sharp as ever. "Kinds of Killing" & "Lust" are particularly noteworthy. No matter how old he gets, his essays remain as sharp as ever. "Kinds of Killing" & "Lust" are particularly noteworthy.

  26. 4 out of 5

    James

    The man has an eye and an ear for good prose that is almost matchless - not just his own but others, too.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Alonzo

    I didn't read all the essays, but the ones I read were good, as expected from Gass. I didn't read all the essays, but the ones I read were good, as expected from Gass.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Odoublegood

    Physically, this is a very handsome book. The essays were a pleasure to read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    Perhaps I'm going out of order. This is the first of Gass' works I have read. I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly his literary criticism. Perhaps I'm going out of order. This is the first of Gass' works I have read. I enjoyed it quite a bit, particularly his literary criticism.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christ-pher

    Ingeniously intelligent essays.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.