Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 9

30 April 2003

Spiral-Bound Index -- An archive of back issues.


I. From the Center of the Spiral
A) Note from the Editor
B) Contest #1: Imaginary Book Review
II. Books
A) Book News
B) Featured Books (D.B. Weiss, Don DeLillo, James Kelman, P.K. Dick, mario Vargas Llosa)
III. The Modern Word
A) What's New at the Modern Word?
B) What's in the Works?
C) The Daily Muse
IV. Literary Events
A) Exhibitions/Performance
B) Conferences/Calls for Papers
V. Off-site Links
A) Interesting Articles
B) Featured Sites

I. From the Center of the Spiral

A) Note from the Editor

Hello, and welcome to the ninth issue of Spiral-Bound. A part of The Modern Word, Spiral-Bound is a newsletter for all enthusiasts of modern literature. My name is Allen Ruch, also known as "The Great Quail." (Which, coincidentally, is also the name of Thomas Pynchon's next novel.)

First of all, this issue has no music section. Instead, it has extra books. For all of you who miss it, the music section should return soon.

Now, as promised last issue: it is my pleasure to announce a CONTEST! Yes, I am using this issue of Spiral-Bound to initiate the first in a semi-regular serious of contests.

B) Contest #1: Imaginary Book Review

Borges famously wrote: "The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books."

The Modern Word is hosting the following contest, open until July 15, 2003:

In the spirit of Borges' remark, write a book review of an imaginary book. The book may be from any time period, it may be fictional or non-fictional, and its author may be either an invention or an actual writer.

The review should be between 500-1000 words, and must be submitted electronically to The Modern Word at the following email address: Entries should be submitted as a Microsoft Word attachment, or as text in the body of the email itself.

The five most creative and well-written reviews will be gathered together and posted permanently on the site. Three reviews will be selected as First, Second and Third place by The Modern Word's staff. The First Place winner will receive copies of three books: D.B. Weiss' Lucky Wander Boy, Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake, and Jim Knipfel's The Buzzing, courtesy of Plume, Picador and Vintage respectfully. Second and Third place winners will receive copies of The Buzzing, courtesy of Vintage.

Submitting a review to The Modern Word authorizes the site to have non-exclusive rights to the review for all eternity and a day. The contest closes July 15, and winners will be announced by August 1, 2003.

So study up on your Herbert Quain and Pierre Menard and have fun!

II. Books

A) Book News, with Maggie Ball

1. Pulitzer Prize

The Pulitzer Prizes have been announced. For biography: Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro. This is the third volume of Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson and is Caro's second Pulitzer. He won in 1975 for The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. For fiction: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. For history: An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 by Rick Atkinson. For general nonfiction: A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. For poetry: Moy Sand and Gravel by Paul Muldoon

2. BookSense 2002 Fiction Nominations

Atonement, by Ian McEwan; The Crimson Petal and the White, by Michel Faber; Life of Pi, by Yann Martel; The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold; The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.

3. Thomas Pynchon and 1984

Thomas Pynchon has written a new foreword to Plume's "Orwell Centennial" edition of 1984. The book will be published in May 2003.

B) Featured Books

We have three books to feature in this issue.

1. Lucky Wander Boy
D. B. Weiss' journey through an arcade of forking paths.

Review excerpt:

...If there is one facet of American culture that can be said to curse and/or plague the generation now navigating their late 20s and 30s, it is nostalgia. And not the fleeting, "warm reminder of sunny childhood days spent in the smiling embrace of friends and family" nostalgia -- this is the past served up painfully earnest and sincere. This is serious. This is ponderous. This is religion. This is a graduate thesis on the Smurf village as communist paradise. This is a grown man outfitting his apartment with thousands of dollars worth of vintage Transformer paraphernalia. This is an obsession with pop and pulp far beyond irony. Perhaps most troublesome, this kind of nostalgia is the comforting embrace of the familiar. It's looking back without looking forward. But, as D.B. Weiss seems to be asking -- albeit somewhat half-jokingly -- in his very strange, largely plotless, hysterically pretentious, and altogether wonderful Lucky Wander Boy: if this old cultural detritus that our society at large perceives to be trivial means so much to so many people, then maybe it's actually more important than we think?....

Full review at:
By Andrew Duncan

2. Cosmopolis
Don DeLillo's study of power and greed.

Review excerpt:

...It comes as no surprise, therefore, that his latest novel, Cosmopolis, rears up like a swoop-façaded, chrome caryatided, art-deco-style skyscraper from the front page of a 50s magazine like Amazing Science and clobbers us with meditations on imagination, capitalism, temporal existence, and, yes, even love.... It's a slim volume, to be sure, wrapped in a slick white minimalist cover that shows two views of a limo, front and back, chunks of a Mies Van der Rohe skyscraper, and pure white spaces that would do a Tom Wolfe suit proud, but inside it's a cornucopia, a re-iteration, a summary, an extension, an evolution, and a development of DeLillo's continuing thematic and stylistic experiments, and that's what makes this short novel so utterly compelling and amazing, even at this later stage in DeLillo's drive to dominate what we can still consider to be left of true postmodernism in an age of neo-historical nostalgia, hard feminist re-reading, and postcolonial meandering....

Full review at:
By Laurence Daw

3. Translated Accounts
James Kelman's Beckettian reports from an occupied territory.

Review excerpt:

...Fifty-four accounts of various lengths are received from "an occupied territory or land where a form of martial law appears in operation" (this from a brief preface and a table of contents). The matter of their reception is where the word "translated" comes in: the voices and stories we encounter are fragmented, deformed and broken as much by the transmission process as by the sometimes brutal and traumatic events they relate. Violence from the hands of "securitys" and "militarys" comes quick and the syntax of its description can be equally quick; rationalizations for various unjust exercises of colonial power come in unsteady steps....

Full review at:
By Tim Conley

4. Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick
Pantheon's collection of PKD tales.

Review excerpt:

.... It may well be that it was not until this catalogue of dreads and obsessions pushed Dick over the edge that he became the visionary writer he was meant to be. There were many odd episodes in Dick's life, but perhaps the most famous were the events that he and his devotees came to refer to as "2-3-74" (referring to the months of February and March, 1974.) It was in that period of time that Dick came to believe that he was receiving messages from higher forces -- whether his communicants were gods or aliens was never very clear. One significant effect of these revelations was to accelerate Dick's shift in focus -- already underway by the late 60s -- from social or political themes to religious and metaphysical ones. It was in this ground that Dick's psychedelic talents finally blossomed....

Full review at:
By Richard Ryan

5. The Feast of the Goat
Mario Vargas Llosa's novelization of the Trujillo regime.

Review excerpt:

...Vargas Llosa uses the fateful date of Trujillo's murder as the epicenter for a network of interconnected shockwaves, multiple stories that converge on Trujillo's assassination and radiate backward into the past and forward into the future. Our experience of the central event is immediate -- we are with the dictator on this, his last day, immersed in his thoughts as his mind moves rancorously back and forth from things still within his grasp to those newly outside his power. Although much of his time is spent reflecting on events from his past, he moves cagily through a series of meetings with various officials towards an anticipated sexual assignation planned for that evening. We also endure the tense hours of that same May 30, 1961, with his assassins, waiting in a souped-up Chevy for Trujillo's car to bring the dictator into their sights. As the quartet of conspirators engage in a long, testy conversation, each digresses internally on the history of how, from a career of serving Trujillo, he came to be waiting to assassinate him. And finally, we are in the present-day Dominican Republic with the middle-aged woman Urania Cabral. Returning to the island after thirty years of exile, the fictional Urania attends to her dying father, once a member of Trujillo's inner circle.... As the novel progresses through a series of internal monologues and flashbacks, this trio of central plot-lines are wound together like the strands of a cord, each slowly frayed open to reveal the glittering sub-strands of even more overlapping stories....

Full review at:
By David Klopfenstein

III. The Modern Word

A) What's New at the Modern Word?

The following notable recent additions have been made to The Modern Word:

Selected New Features:

Beckett Influence
A new section detailing writers and playwrights of note who drew inspiration from the works of Samuel Beckett.

Philip K. Dick Page
The PKD site has been updated and expanded, and now includes growing sections on his works and features on Dick criticism.

Selected New Commentaries:

Beckett: Not I
Part of the "Beckett on Film" project, Neil Jordan's film stars Julianne Moore as "Mouth."

Beckett: Watt
Commentary on Beckett's second novel.

Beckett: What Where
Commentary on Beckett's final play for the stage.

Selected New Papers:

Borges: Searching for Cyberspace: Joyce, Borges and Pynchon
Davin O'Dwyer's examination of how the Internet is anticipated or prefigured in the works of James Joyce, J. L. Borges, and Thomas Pynchon.

Borges: Fact or Fiction? Historical Narratives in Borges
Tim McGrath discusses the blurring of historical and religious truth in storytelling.

Joyce: "The Sisters" and the Case of the Broken Chalice
Faith Steinberg explores "The Sisters" in light of a question asked by Adeline Glasheen: "What about Father Flynn...who was up to something funny with a chalice and a little boy?"

B) What's in the Works?

The next two months should see reviews of Tom Carson's Gilligan's Wake, Jim Knipfel's The Buzzing, Alain Robbe-Grillet's Repetition, Siddhartha Deb's The Point of Return, Jeff VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen, and Michael Moorcock's The Skrayling Tree. I am (still) editing and laying out a Scriptorium piece on William S. Burroughs, and future pages include Paul Auster, Edward Albee, Neil Gaiman, and James Kelman. We are also planning on expanding the pages on Kobo Abé, William Gaddis, and Jeff Noon. Jeff Nowak is currently at work on a major Kafka site for inclusion this summer. Also over the summer, the Rotunda will expand a bit, leaving rooms for possible columns, more contests, and additional literary features.

C) The Daily Muse -- A Call for Submissions:

One feature on The Modern Word's main "Rotunda" page is the "Daily Muse," a literary thought which changes daily, such as a quote, trivia question, or word of the day. If anyone has a favorite quote they would like to contribute, or a literary trivia question, or a literary word of the day, please email it to me at If your submission is selected, your name will be entered in a drawing for a free book!

IV. Literary Events

A) Exhibitions/Performance

1. Joycean Art

Roger Cummiskey's "A Stroll Thro' Ulysses "
On display in Ireland: May 8-30, at the Monaghan County Museum; and June 4-30, at the Bank of Ireland Arts Centre in Dublin.

2. Play about Lucia Joyce in NYC

Cara Lucia
From April 15 until May 11, Mabou Mines in NYC is staging Cara Lucia, a play about James Joyce's daughter, Lucia, who was afflicted with schizophrenia.

3. García Márquez Play in NYC

Crónica de una muerte anunciada
For the last few years, New York City's premiere Spanish theater has been staging Crónica de una muerte anunciada, a play based on García Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Directed by Jorge Alí Triana, the director of the play Erendíra, and sometimes collaborator with Gabo himself, Crónica continues throughout 2003.

B) Conferences/Calls for Papers

Beckett: Re-reading the Ruins
May 31, 2003; University of Westminster. A one-day symposium on Beckett's prose fragments. Call for papers until April 6.

Beckett: Page and Stage
June 20-22, 2003; University of Leeds. A 2-day conference on performing Beckett.

García Márquez: Songs Spun on Island Time
Margin, the online magazine devoted to magical realism, is issuing a call for papers around the theme of "Magical Realism from the Caribbean Islands."

Joyce: Hypermedia Joyce Studies, Call for Papers
The online journal of Joyce studies is looking for papers "on all matters Joycean" for their next issue.

Pynchon: Malta Pynchon Conference
June 8-10, 2004, Malta. To be held during the Transit of Venus. Call for papers until October 2003.

V. Featured Links

A) Interesting Articles

Finding Reason in an Age of Terror
David L. Ulin, LA Times, April 15, 2003. With DeLillo during a reading of Cosmopolis.

A Fantasy Rainbow
Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column, March 26, 2003. Kleffel discusses modern fantasy novels, aligning them on a humorous reading rainbow.

B) Featured Sites

1. Literary & Cultural Sites

This poetry magazine, named for Wallace Stevens' sound of thunder, features Latin American poetry in their most recent issue.

Silva Rhetoricae
In case you are ever in an argument with Cicero....

2. Humor & Games

First Lines
A test of famous literary "first lines." Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road....

Homestar Runner
No, this site has nothing to do with books. But, uh, everyone I know who loves Homestar Runner also reads books! And I'm sure Marzipan is a famous Kafka scholar.

The Inscrutable 8-Ball Revealed!
An very careful autopsy of a magic 8-ball, which is actually a very useful guide in reading Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Thank you, and I'll see you in a few weeks!