December 17, 2012

The Stones Are Gathering

I’ve just about got the collection of pieces I call Stones Gathered Together ready for publishing as an ebook. Look for it in January. I stopped bothering about there being sixty items, as that was an idea from way back that doesn’t seem relevant any more, so I could drop a few pieces that really weren’t good enough to include—judgment about this is totally subjective of course.

Where would I be without my early readers? They include my writing group, my partner Prue and sundry others and make my writing better. Here’s the cover. Making one’s own cover is easier for an ebook than for a print book because you need only the front.

The new novel, which so far exists only in my head and a folder of articles and stuff I call research, is truly on the agenda now. For the time being at least it’s called Alice Green, which is the name of the protagonist.

I’ve just finished reading another David Foster Wallace. This is a further posthumously published book,  called Both Flesh and Not and is a collection of essay-type pieces, most of them previously unpublished. In between each is a double page of words and meanings—DFW was a word collector, and was part of a panel working on an American dictionary. I’ll confine myself to just one quote:

What if we choose to accept the act that every few years, despite everyone’s best efforts, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of terrible suicidal attack that a democratic republic cannot 100 percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

My summer reading will include some classics from the library—W G Sebald and Kafka—the new James Meek, The Heart Broke In, and some others, yet to be chosen, from the “waiting” pile. I’ll keep you posted.

November 24, 2012

From Gertrude Stein to David Foster Wallace

My fascination with the writing and life of Gertrude Stein goes back a way now. I’ve been thinking about what attracts me to her writing recently, because I have a similar reaction the writings of David Foster Wallace, even though the writing of the two, one from each end of the twentieth century, has little in common. GS said herself that she was doing writing that was the first real writing of the twentieth century; earlier writing she maintained was of the nineteenth century.

In her Lectures In America she says,
Our period was undoubtedly the period of the cinema and series production. And each of us in our own way are bound to express what the world in which we are living is doing.

GS was writing a new way, a way demanded of daily life in the world of the moment. Of course, this is a simplistic statement about her work, but it is this element of wanting to write in a new way to embody something of a new (twentieth century) world that for me connects her to DFW.

As is made clear in D T Max’s biography of DFW, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, Wallace constantly searched for a way to write that embodied what he was writing about. In a world where entertainment rules and pleasure is the end game, how do you write a novel that is not just an “entertainment”? How do you write about boredom without being boring? How do you move your fiction writing from clever, smart-alecky, irony to conveying authentic experience without sentimentality? These were life and death matters to Wallace.”

In an earlier blog I wrote about DFW’s novel, Infinite Jest that it was “an evisceration of American-style, commercial, pleasure-based culture where there is so much choice that choice is meaningless, in a USA where people are over-entertained and sad and bored and lonely.” Max’s biography details Wallace’s struggles with drugs, alcohol and depression and the ways he overcame these from time to time. Finding a way to write that was true to experience, that was what GS and DFW had in common, I think. That and nothing much else, except perhaps having read extremely widely.

GS died suddenly, on the operating table, in 1946. DFW killed himself in 2008, leaving the partially completed manuscript of what would be published posthumously as The Pale King and a two-page note to his wife. This note has not been made public. (And neither should it be; if it ever is I am sure I will read it.)

October 29, 2012

More books, a little writing

I finished The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie with enjoyment. The elements of what I think is called magic realism in it didn’t bother me, as I had thought they might. It’s full of allusions to Indian history and culture, about which I am woefully ignorant, so I am sure I missed a lot of them, but I found the book fascinating and full of big ideas treated thoughtfully and with fun. What’s to not like, never mind get outraged at.

Joseph Anton, the book Rushdie wrote about his years under protection because of the (misnamed) fatwa that put his life at risk because of The Satanic Verses is another large book. I read it over three days; even though I knew (more or less) the ending it was a page-turner.

One of the things that makes the book gripping is that he—unless there is a good reason not to—uses people’s real names. I’m sure there are things left out in consideration of people’s lives and feelings, but there’s plenty left in, so the whole tale has a specificity that gives it a sense of being a real telling of Rushdie’s experiences of living under a death threat. He writes of being shamed and being ashamed of himself and, rousing himself to fight,

“…against the view that people could be killed for their ideas, and against the ability of any religion to palce a limiting point on thought. But he needed, now, to be clear of what he was fighting for. Freedom of speech, freedom of the imagination, freedom from fear, and the beautiful, ancient art of which he was privileged to be a practitioner. Also, scepticism, irreverence, doubt, satire, comedy and unholy glee.”

There are also his gratitude to friends, his love and concern for his son, the domestic details of having four policemen living in his house and much more. Actually, there was nothing in this book I didn’t like reading. I haven’t come away with a picture of Salman Rushdie as necessarily an easy person to get along with, but I do admire him.

The edition of Joseph Anton on sale in New Zealand has an ugly cover. Who did that? The Random House hardback cover is much better. I can only show the ugly one from my copy.

It’s unusual for me to stop reading a book in the middle, but that’s what I did with Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. I didn’t like the characters (except for the old man who talked to his fan) or the story. I guess plenty of other people did, it’s well reviewed.

People all over the book pages, both in print and on the internet, have been raving about Allison Moore’s The Lighthouse. Perhaps I read too many of these before I read the book, but I couldn’t get fully involved in it. I did finish reading it, and I do admire her writing, but there were too many coincidences, too many repeated hints at connections between the main characters and a contrived—though darkly funny—final scenario that both amused and irritated me.

The two more pieces I need to write to complete the collection of sixty I will publish as an ebook, are slow to develop. I’ve had a few opening lines, but nothing yet that has grown into a piece of writing. I could publish a collection of fifty-eight pieces, I suppose, but I always had in mind that it would be sixty, at one point I was thinking of calling the collection Sixty Pieces. For now, it’s called Stones Gathered Together. I’m playing around with some photos I took of a pile of small stones in my study for the cover.

October 1, 2012

Five Big Books

The whole month of September without a blog post, oh dear. No more statements of intent.

I read three big paperbacks (as in many pages, brick-like shape) during the month, and am in the middle of a fourth in preparation for a fifth. Ten days on holiday in Samoa, a place where the weather, the sea and the people are all warm, provided the context for a large part of this reading: five days in Apia at the famous Aggie Grey’s:
The dining room at Aggie Grey's
And five in Lolomanu:

Taufua Beach Fal├ęs
Richard Ford’s Canada is told in the first person by Dell, looking back from his retirement as a teacher to the events of his year of being fifteen, when his parents robbed a bank. Dell reflects a lot on how to get going in his own life, rather than having things happen to him, and on what sort of people people are, beginning with his twin sister and his parents. Canada is quite different from Ford’s Sportswriter series. I liked the issues it raised, while not being sure they are fully worked out—or whether they could be.

Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, follows on from the brilliant Wolf Hall, and is every bit as good. Her constructed character Thomas Cromwell continues to be the centre of the story, set in the world of Henry V, in this volume during the time of wife number two, Anne Boleyn. An inconsistent king with mood swings desperately strives for a legitimate son among a court full of people full of their own importance bent on power, influence and wealth. The young Elizabeth is in the background and Mary hovers. Mantel portrays Thomas Cromwell as socially enlightened, with concern for orphans and the poor. Court life is fraught with rumour and intrigue and while Thomas Cromwell’s position is powerful, the nobles patronise him for being of low birth. It’s a great read, and I’ll certainly read volume three.

John Lanchester’s Capital  is a large ramble of a book. The title is nicely ambiguous for a book set in London with characters variously affected by the financial events of 2008 and beyond. The main characters live in a street named after Pepys. The resolution of the main threads—one concerning postcards with the message “You Have What We Want,” and the fate of Roger Yount—are a bit feeble. But then, it could be that life is like that, with more whimpers than bombs and maybe that is Lanchester’s point, or one of them. I did enjoy reading Captital, it was when I finished it I was left feeling “so what”ish.

I am currently—back home—over half way through The Satanic Verses, which I am reading in preparation for Salman Rusdie’s opus on his years in hiding as the result of the fatwa declared against him because of this book. Magical realism is not generally my favourite writing, but the mixture of fantasy and reality in The Satanic Verses is keeping me engaged. Joseph Anton is the title of the book about the effects of the fatwa. More about these two books in a later post.

August 30, 2012

Reading on and off the rails

I haven’t written something for  this blog every week, so I guess that was an unrealistic idea.

We are going to Samoa for ten days next week, with our lovely house and dog sitter coming to stay in the house. I’m taking three solid  novels to read. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies  is our book group choice, so we’ll definitely both read that. And there’s Canada by John Ford and Capital by John Lanchester.

I’ve just re-read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and understood it better this time. Maybe I read it more thoughtfully as some of its themes relate to the new novel I am thinking about. Not that I could write anything as clever and complex and this book.

Scifi/fantasy is not a kind of book I read much of these days, though I have in the past. As an example of a happy reading accident I read China Mievelle’s Railsea thinking it was one of the three shortlisted book for the Pullitzer Prize for fiction this year, the year the prize was not awarded. (David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King was also on that list, and should have won the Prize.) The actual shortlisted book was Train Dreams by Denis Johnson, which I haven’t read.

The point of this anecdote is that Railsea is a terrific book, well-written, with a clever, if unlikely, premise, great characters and a very satisfying ending. 

July 31, 2012

Research for writing

I don’t come out of an academic tradition, where research involves applications for funding and ethical approval along with a detailed exposition of methodology. Nor have I been a journalist in the usual sense, even when I was a magazine editor. I do understand about getting the facts right, and checking things, and information being as reliable as its sources, and giving credit where it is due and so on.

I’m thinking about research because the novel I have embarked on requires me to do some so I can write about subjects on which I do not already have expertise. For my second novel, Poppy’s Return I wanted to Poppy to go to Whitby, in England. So, as part of a holiday, my partner and I went to Whitby. That was a good call. All the places in my novels that have any significance at all are places I have been to, albeit for entirely different purposes from those of my characters. That, and checking dates and weather and the current locations of some art works and the habits of a few sea birds, and such has so far been sufficient research.

For this novel I have folders, both the sort that holds paper and the sort that live on my computer. And I have a fresh view on how the research can take over. It’s fun, and it involves the internet and the public library, both places I like to go. It’s easier than working out and writing a story, too, doesn’t require such hard thinking. So I’m being firm with myself, not reading and taking notes from every book that touches on my subject/s not saving every website into my electronic filing system. I’m looking for what I need to know so that I don’t write rubbish. Of course I will find out more than I could ever use—information is not the point of the novel, it’s a setting, a demonstration of my characters and what they are about.

There are writing programmes and apps that promise fool-proof ways of organising materials for writers and I decided not to spend the time learning to use one. I’m doing fine with my folders and a table or two for dates and names. 

July 24, 2012

Narrators and News

This week I finished reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Pnin. The only other book of his I have read is Lolita. Pnin is about Russian Professor Pnin, an unlikely lecturer at a minor American university, first published in 1953. Nabokov died in 1977.

I read it because I kept seeing references to Nabokov as “master prose stylist”—I quote from the back of the recent Vintage (Random House) edition. It’s a short book and I read it over a couple of weeks, which is slow for me, studying the style. I think I get it; it’s discursive, with a Narrator who carefully describes his relationship to Pnin at the end of the book and gets inside Pnin's head. A random example:

He seemed to be quite unexpectedly (for human despair seldom leads to great truths) on the verge of a simple solution of the universe but was interrupted by an urgent request.

The urgent request was from a squirrel wanting someone to activate the drinkng fountain in the park where Pnin was walking. Pnin is both funny and tragic.

Coincidentally I’ve read another book lately that has a narrator who is also a character; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I was surprised at how short it is, almost a novella. Nick is a character with a strong narrator role, and he’s an interesting side-line to the main story of the nouveau-riche Gatsby, a high-liver, bound to self-destruct. A book of flappers and car crashes, as the man who wrote the annoying Introduction says. This is one of those books I am glad to have read because it gets referred to often.

Teju Cole’s Open City is a book I heartily recommend to everyone. Written in the first person it’s a novel set largely in New York, with a side trip to Brussels. Julian is from Nigeria, a psychiatrist, registrar in a New York hospital, and he walks in the city. There’s no plot to speak of and few other characters. It’s like a riff on modern life, and is described on the cover as, “A meditation on history and culture, identity and solitude,” which is close enough. The detail—what Julian notices—is often original and the reflections on modern life and experiences thoughtful and thought-provoking. It’s not at all hard to read and I think everyone should read it. Nice writing, nothing fancy, does the job extremely well. One example of many, many possible examples:
… there isn't anything that immunizes us from a plague of one kind or another … we are just as susceptible as any of those past civilisations were, but we are especially unready for it. Even in the way we speak about what little has happened to us, we have already exhausted ourselves with hyperbole.
 It’s three weeks since my last blog entry, so I have a FAIL on my resolution to write in here weekly. So be it, no gnashing of teeth. I’ll see if I can Do Better.

Two pieces of writerly news have made the major media in the last twenty-four hours. The first is intriguing: the discover of some previously unknown Katherine Mansfield stories which have the pundits out in force. The second is sad: the death of Margaret Mahy. Her wonderful books are not, of course, lost to us but her eccentric presence is; there's an empty space in New Zealand’s cultural world. 

July 2, 2012

Writers on Writing

Neil Gaiman, famous for writing The Sandman series, American Gods, Coraline and a lot more, says, “I make things up and write them down.”

The pieces of my writing that I’m collecting for Stones Gathered Together, are partly made up stories, partly to do with things I think about and partly close to being memoirish, derived from my life. I think I remember what is remembered and what is made up, and am aware that the remembering and writing down add layers to the original memories, which become something other than the original experience, even though the thing remembered has its core of this-thing-happened-to-me.

(Unattributed photograph from (
Willa Cather said, “Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” And Chekov said, “When men ask me how I know so much about men, they get a simple answer: everything I know about men, I learned from me.” Both of these suggest that writing is largely memoir in different forms, in opposition to Neil Gaiman’s “making it up.”

What writers write about writing is one of my favourite areas of reading. As with, as it is said, the bible and Shakespeare, you could find a quote from a published writer to fit just about any opinion on what writing/ literature is and how it happens. That’s one of the things that makes it interesting; writing is more complex than learning how to fix a bicycle, or knit a jumper.

Susan Sontag writes in the second edited (by her son, David Reiff) collection of writings from her diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh, that she  wanted to “play only with the top team,” who she defined as “Those who become reference points for successive generations in many languages (eg, Kafka).” Earlier in the same book she says, “I’m good at understanding things …. But I’m not a genius, I’ve always known that. My mind isn’t good enough, isn’t really first rate … ultimately too conventional … I’m not mad enough, not obsessed enough.”

Gertrude Stein [Internet]. 2012.

Gertrude Stein, on the other hand, knew she was a genius, and said so, often. (There are a few references to her in Sontag’s diaries but she doesn’t put Stein in the same team as Kafka.)

I could do this for a long time—quote writers and compare what they say about writing to what other writers say about it. However, the one central idea, the incontrovertible core, is that a writer writes. And if, as Gertrude Stein said, “Remarks are not literature,” then I had better stop these remarks and do some writing. Whether what I then write can be called “literature” involves a whole other discussion which I’ll pick up in a later post.

June 25, 2012

Why I read the LRB and the NYer

The London Review of Books is published fortnightly, The New Yorker weekly with a few double issues. I subscribe to the printed version of each which gives me electronic access to back issues.

As its title suggest the LRB consists largely of book reviews, though it does include occasional articles on contemporary issues/politics and a nod at a few art exhibitions. The reviews are long and discursive. Reviews of non-fiction books are often written by someone with extensive knowledge of the subject area. Writers of fiction reviews tend to be published writers or university teachers of literature.

So, LRB reviews are not necessarily an easy read, and a few defeat me altogether. Mostly, though, I am interested and stimulated and get an idea from the review about whether or not I want to read the book. I don’t make myself read every review to the end!

This New Yorker cover is by Bob Staake and is called "Spectrum of Light." 
The issue came out just after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

The New Yorker is not a literary magazine as such, though it has reviews, long, highly-researched articles about writers (as well as about sportspeople, politicians, dictators and any other category of people you can think of) and a short story in every issue. (And a lot more, I’m focusing here on the booky bits.) Again, I get pointers on what I want and don’t want to read. If I wanted a purely book-related magazine from the US, I’d get The New York Review of Books, but that I read from the Wellington Public Library shelves when I have time to spare in the library.

Both LRB and The New Yorker give me a sense of some slight connection to that big wide world of literature out there, and pander to my book-snobbery—that is, my wanting to know something about what is the “best” published writing, whatever that means. One of my other favourite kinds of reading is writing by writers about writing; not “how to” books so much as books about how they live as writers.

One final point about subscribing to these magazines—the cost per issue is about one fifth of the cost off a magazine stall, even with international postage.

June 18, 2012

Reading to write

The new writing idea I’m developing involves finding out about things I have ideas about but not a lot of information, so I’m reading, both on the internet and in books (oh, hail to the Wellington Public Library!) and writing a little. And there' a lot of thinking going on, and sketching of family trees to keep the generations clear in my head and hence on the page. (Once I inadvertently had a minor character have a baby at age 11, when I didn’t pay enough attention to dates and generations.)

I also plan to get my collection of short pieces, the one I tentatively call Stones Gathered Together, into final shape and published as an ebook. My self-imposed deadline for this is the end of this year, so I must remember to give it attention; the excitement of a new project tends to take over my mind. Here’s a photograph I took that might make it onto the cover. Although design experts say you should not use obvious images on a cover, I do l like this one.

Pleasing news of the week—a story I entered into the New Zealand Flash FIction contest ( has made it to the next round.

My ideas about the new project change as I read, and I’ve never been keen on talking about the content of work in progress, so there’s not going to be a lot of plot revealed in these notes.

June 11, 2012

Books Books Books, or, What I’ve Been reading

I missed the brilliance so many others have found in Emily Perkins’ The Forrest, as did the five other members of my book group. None of the characters engaged me, not even Dorothy, who loves Daniel all of her life in a way he will never love her, which should have been moving, but I was irritated. At the beginning I enjoyed the detail involving the characters’ senses of things in the physical world, but, while each separate piece was excellent, the cumulative effect was—that word again—irritating. By page 64 I wanted to scream at this:

"He dug a ready-rolled cigarette from the pocket of his jacket. Tiny brown curls of tobacco dangled from the end of the cigarette paper and when touched by the flame from his match they illuminated bright orange and disappeared."

It’s good description, but there have been so many good description of small details by page 64 that the characters are buried under the sensations, the detail, and I’ve had enough. Clearly many others hadn’t, because there have been rave revues from all over the world. (The last time I remember being so badly out of step over a book was when Sandra Coney and I seemed to be the only people who hated Lynley Hood’s biography of Sylvia Ashton Warner.) On page 201 Dorothy throws away a pen without bothering to put its two pieces together, because, “there was nothing left to protect.” That bald statement had a strong emotional impact. I guess that was what I wanted more of, but then, Emily Perkins was writing her book.

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is actually three books, published in English as one large volume, so I took a break between them and read the whole thing over several weeks. It certainly works as a story and I had a good time reading it. After I finished I wondered whether I had forgotten some details from the early book because some of the things about time shifts and odd creatures and their purpose seemed unexplained. Yet they are probably unexplainable. An over-riding theme about the need for balance between good and evil is played out kind of weirdly, but it was fun to read.

The second of Alison Bechdel’s comic-form memoirs about her parents is called Are You My Mother. Full marks for courage, publishing this while her mother is still alive—with her mother’s acceptance, if not full-scale approval. It gets a little bogged down in the psychology of WInnicott and the author’s therapy, but the portrait of her mother that comes out of it all is satisfyingly complex and interesting.

I’m in the middle of a re-read of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and in total admiration of his erudition and ability to handle so many big themes in one book—faith, politics, pride, greed, power, love—along with a murder inquiry.  I’m going  to have another read of  his earlier novel Foucault’s Pendulum and then take on his latest, The Prague Cemetery, which is on my to-be-read pile.

I’m going to aim at more frequent—weekly—entries and alternate reading and writing as topics in separate entries. Maybe I can maintain a schedule.

May 16, 2012

Write on

The well of writing has been a bit low over the past few moths. Absence of ideas that excite me enough to want to write something has been the issue. I can always make myself write something but I prefer to be driven by an idea that lights up my mind. I have no idea in advance what will do this, it just happens from time to time.

However a couple of things have bubbled up. One of them, which will be a short story I think, is to do with Gertrude Stein and a “what if ….” Such as “what if a Gertrude was born in the forties on a diary farm in the Waikato?” A crazy notion, maybe, but I’m going with it for a bit. It involves a fair bit of re-reading what she wrote and what has been written about her as well as doing some writing "in the style of."

The other idea is, well, too embryonic to say anything about. I need to so some background reading, which is a fun idea in itself. This could turn out to be a short story or something longer, depending on how complicated it gets. Or nothing at all. More some time later.

Keeping on reading

In the meantime, there’s been a lot of reading going on. Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, is not my usual reading, but as fantasy—or realism with fantasy elements or something—goes, it’s very grown-up and compelling. Terrific writing, a highly original story, even if it is based on mythology, achingly good characterisation and a satisfying ending that is neither too bleak nor too clappy-happy. I read it because Margot Lanagan came here for an earlier Writers’ and Readers’ week and I liked Tender Morsels. I think Sea Hearts is even better.

Terry Castle’s The Professor was recommended by a good friend. It’s seven essay/memoir pieces, the longest about her profoundly disturbing relationship as a grad student with a professor. Castle spares neither herself nor the professor. She (Castle) is neurotic, needy, and desperate, the professor cruel, dissociated and manipulative. Tears before bedtime is not the half of it. Something about the very clever telling of this sad tale was disturbing. Nonetheless I was fascinated, compelled along to the end. There’s an element of snarkiness in Castle’s writing which I didn’t like myself for enjoying. Her piece on Susan Sontag, “Desperately Seeking Susan,”is a particularly strong example; I’m not sure it’s enough of an excuse for what at times seems like mean-spiritedness, to acknowledge it in oneself. My friend, the one who recommended the book to me, would not agree at all I think, with what I have said about The Professor. She said it was “brilliant.”

In Anne Enright’s The Gathering one of the siblings in a large Irish family has committed suicide. The protagonist and voice of the novel, Veronica, was particularly close to Liam when they were children. She is married to Tom, who she either hates or loves, it’s hard to tell, and they have two daughters.  Veronica is uncertain. “I need to bear witness to uncertain events,” she says. The book evolves into her trying to know why Liam killed himself, and portrays the family as messy and dysfunctional. It’s wonderful writing, kind of bleak, kind of funny.

I read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights in a couple of hours one evening. It purports to be about the death of her daughter, but really it’s about her own aging. These are both topics of close interest to me, so I didn’t mind. The observations are sharp, the emotion raw. It’s a book I am glad to have read.

Other books I have read recently that are worth the attention are: State of Wonder by Ann Patchett; Look At Me, an earlier novel by Jennifer Egan of A Visit From the Goon Squad fame; The Bear Boy by Cynthia Ozick; and Granta 118: Exit Strategies. The story by Alice Munro in Exit Strategies disappointed me, but I guess not even AM can be brilliant every time.

April 22, 2012

Consider David Foster Wallace

I might be done for now with David Foster Wallace, having finished his posthumously published, novel-in-progress The Pale King. Which, as I write is embroiled in an internet brouhaha over the fact that it, along with two other books, was a finalist for the Pullitzer prize for fiction and no prize was awarded this year. “Outrageous!” shouts one lot. “I should think not,” opines another, “you can’t give the Pullitzer to an unfinished novel cobbled together by the author’s editor. And, anyway, it's tedious.” There’s even, “Whatever, let’s stop talking about this dead guy.” 

I haven’t read the other two finalists so I don’t know whether they would have been worthy winners, but I would have no problem with The Pale King winning that or any other prize. David Foster Wallace is described by some as a genius, an attribution that bothered him; in a manner most unlike that of Uriah Heep , he seems to have strived to be humble.

I struggle to identify what it is that I find so compelling about his writing. There’s something about his attention to the details of people being people, the internal monologues, the self-consciousness, the uncertainties, that appeals, but it is more than this. Perhaps, in The Pale King,  his capacity to examine the special boredom, the tedium, of workers auditing tax returns in the US Inland Revenue Service, in the context of a change in culture in that Service from the service aspect, of doing necessary work, to a business model. The business model means that the tax returns that will be followed up on are those where the additional income to the IRS, in the form of previously unpaid taxes, is greater than the cost of doing the follow-up. “Bottom line” over “justice”. But it’s complicated. Always, with DFW it’s complicated, and that may be another way in which his writing appeals to me.

The Pale King, unfinished as it is, is a collection of pieces concerning how people in the IRS deal with the organisation, their jobs at various levels, each other and themselves. There’s no coherent plot, which, surprisingly, didn’t bother me. He captures something of the way many of us profess disdain for the very things we indulge in, like television or buying new things. Also, he sidles into people’s mental states and their relationship to reality—is how I think about myself how others think about me?.

I’ve written two earlier blogs about DFW’s writing (21 December 2011 & 28 Jan 2012).

It’s impossible to give a real flavour of DFW’s writing in short quotes, but here are a few anyway:

“Something has happened where we’ve decided on a personal level that it’s all right to abdicate our individual responsibilities to the common good while we all go about our individual self-interested business and struggle to gratify our various appetites .”

“Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is .”

“… all accountants wear hats? They are today’s cowboys.… Riding hard on the unending torrent of financial data.”

And I’ve not managed to say or quote anything to show how laugh-out-loud funny Wallace can be.