Aleph, alpha: nought, nought, one.

Issue 13

A) Welcome!

Hello, and welcome to the lucky thirteenth 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.” You might remember me from such previous newsletters as “Great Interviews with Beckett, Kafka & Salinger” and “Etiquette Tips from Norman Mailer.”

But before we begin, I’d like to credit a few people who have been particularly helpful lately, both in preparing this newsletter and in the material it features: Mary DeMichele, who redesigned the Rotunda; Gabriel Mesa, who helped with the Hippocampus Press interview; the Pynchon List, always a great source for literary articles; Anthony Cocciolo, who keeps the technical side of the newsletter running; and my tireless copy editor, Chris Gross, who always tries to get me to mention something about moose. But I won’t, Chris, I just won’t – no mooses here!

And now, the big news:

B) The Darkest Night of the Year...

...Also known as Winter Solstice, was the launch date for The Modern Word’s newest site, “Das Schloss,” dedicated to Franz Kafka. Arriving about seven years late, Das Schloss is a work-in-progress by Jeff Nowak and several inaccessible editors, none of whom will answer any of his questions. Jeff brings a conversational, back-to-the-text approach to Kafka’s work, not to mention a love for ambiguity, an aversion to over-interpretation, and a healthy dose of irreverence. We hope you will take some time to visit our lovely site, a cheerful black and white and grey, with a few spots blood red just for color:

C) Expanded Rotunda

You might have noticed that the front page of The Modern Word, the Rotunda, has been expanded. Thanks to Orange You Glad, a Brooklyn design firm who has donated their services out of a passion for literature (and the use of my car to move their computers), there is now enough “real estate” to feature Interviews, Columns, Contests, and our latest feature, the Small Press Spotlight.

And a small plug for the kind folks at Orange You Glad:

B) Contest #2: Adaptation

Last issue, The Modern Word announced its second general contest: “Adaptation.”

The Contest:
Imagine one of your favorite books has been turned into a movie, and write a review. The book in question may be any text – fiction, non-fiction, short stories, even a comic book; but it should be reasonably well-known. If it has already been filmed, be sure to compare the old version with the “new.” You may feature actual directors and actors, or you may invent your own fictional talent. Be creative – let your review explore the cinematic possibilities of the text itself!

The review should be between 500 and 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. Entries must be submitted by February 22, 2004.

More details, including the prizes, may be found at:

II. Books

A) Book News, with Maggie Ball

1. National Book Award

The 2003 National Book Award Finalists have been announced. The nominees for fiction are: T.C. Boyle, Drop City (Viking/Penguin Group USA), Shirley Hazzard, The Great Fire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Edward P. Jones, The Known World (Amistad/HarperCollins), Scott Spencer, A Ship Made of Paper (Ecco/HarperCollins), and Marianne Wiggins, Evidence of Things Unseen (Simon Schuster).

2. Cervantes Prize

Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas has won the $110,000 Cervantes Prize, the Spanish-speaking world’s top literary award. The 85-year-old published his first book of poems, The Misery of Man, in 1948 and has since published a further 26 collections. One of the few editions available in English is Velocities of the Possible (Red Dragonfly Press, distributed by LogJam Books). A selection by translator John Oliver Simon is online at:

B) Featured Books

We have three books to feature in this issue.

1. The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases
An anthology of imaginary ailments.

Review excerpt:

....The highly imaginative editors have assembled a motley but talented crew of modern masters of the fantastic – Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Michael Moorcock, Rachel Pollack, China Miéville, and Jeffrey Ford among many others – to accomplish something of a clever and elaborate joke. And make no mistake; The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases is extraordinarily elaborate and fiendishly clever. Thanks to an attention to detail that borders on the obsessive-compulsive, the Guide feels as genuine as it is exhaustive. A full history of the editors’ tenure with Lambshead has been devised, as have detailed reminiscences of the mysterious doctor by a host of different “colleagues.” Excerpts from the incarnations of the Guide throughout the 20th century match the tone and temperament of their time, and there’s even an excerpt – in Spanish and English – from an Argentinean spin-off of the Guide, purportedly edited by the great Jorge Luis Borges himself....

....Of course, the heart of the Guide resides in its fifty-odd essays on “imaginary” diseases, each a short but detailed treatise with a description and history of the disease, a list of symptoms, directions for treatment, and index of endnotes and cross-references. The maladies range across a broad variety of types, including gleefully disgusting, Monty Pythonesque splatter (Michael Barry’s “Ballistic Organ Syndrome”), intelligent satires of the modern age (Cory Doctorow’s “Pathological Instrumentation Disorder”), wry literary homage (Martin Wesley Newell’s “Poetic Lassitude”), and just plain bizarre (Stepan Chapman’s “Motile Snarcoma”). Like many anthologies, the Guide tends to be a hit-or-miss affair; although the worst that can be said about the lesser contributions is that they are only mildly amusing. The best pieces are smart, enjoyable, and inventive small fictions in their own right, exploring the effects of diseases on history, society, and culture; and peppered with loving allusions to H.P. Lovecraft and the aforementioned Borges – without whom playful subversions of literature like the Guide would be entirely impossible, and perhaps, implausible....

Full review at:
By Andrew Duncan

2. A Whistling Woman
A.S. Byatt’s conclusion to the Frederica quartet.

Review excerpt:

....Byatt’s publisher claims that A Whistling Woman, although the conclusion to the quartet, stands on its own. On the contrary, I found its full appreciation to be dependent on having read its predecessors. Prior to reading A Whistling Woman, I had read Babel Tower, with which it shares a populous cast and an embedded narrative which begins in the one and ends in the other. I then read all four novels successively, and having read the first two, found the final pair to be quite different books the second time around. All four share a complex mega-structure, multifaceted symbolism, repeated scenes, sub-rosa dialogues with innumerable literary voices, and uncountable self-referential allusions.... The publisher calls the series a quartet, but it would be better served by the more rigorous term “tetralogy,” which puts demands on both reviewer and reader to treat the series as a unified work. The word derives from the Greek for four, the number of plays required of each playwright for the City Dionysia competition. Originally consisting of three tragedies and a satyr play, the tetralogy was expected to reflect both narrative and thematic unity. Modern examples include Thomas Mann’s Joseph novels and John Updike’s Rabbit novels....

Full review at:
By C.J. Sullivan Reynolds

3. Blankets
Craig Thompson’s illustrated novel about coming of age in a religious community.

Review excerpt:

....The capacity to seamlessly fuse an array of visual approaches is one of the many strengths of comic books, and Thompson takes great advantage of his medium. He applies a rich artistic vocabulary to illuminate the inner lives of his characters, and while his story is utterly unrealistic, his skillful use of formal devices adds a welcome layer of otherworldliness to the tale. Nearly all of the adult authority figures appear as giants, their bulky frames about to smash through the panel borders. His main characters are drawn in slightly differing styles – Craig’s nose is cartoonishly angular, whereas Raina’s facial features are made out of soft curves – and yet everything functions together in harmony. Among the most fascinating of his tropes are the angelic and demonic creatures of Craig’s vivid imagination. When Craig and Raina are about to sleep next to each other for the first time, she appears before him shimmering and accompanied by a group of angels. The feelings of remorse and fear Craig has associated with religion for most of his life are pushed aside, and words from the Song of Solomon (4:7,9) come to him....

Full review at:
By Ismo Santala

C) Small Press Spotlight

A new section just added to The Modern Word, “Small Press Spotlight” takes a look at independent publishers doing quality work in the literary field. Our first spotlight illuminates Hippocampus Press.

Founded in 1999, Hippocampus Press specializes in horror and classic science fiction, with an emphasis on the pulp writers of the 1920-30s. Based from publisher Derrick Hussey’s library-like home in Manhattan, Hippocampus approaches their work with an enthusiastic sense of mission, bringing to light the writers who influenced the pulps as well as preserving the nonfiction and poetry of their core authors, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Closely associated with the tireless litterateur S.T. Joshi, Lovecraft’s leading biographer and an expert in early twentieth century fiction, Hippocampus is known for the amount of research and scholarship they bring to their titles, most featuring introductions, notes and annotations.

You may read more about Hippocampus and their work at the Small Press Spotlight. The feature includes notable publications, resource links, and an extensive interview between The Modern Word and Derrick Hussey, who discusses Hippocampus, H.P. Lovecraft, and pulp fiction:

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:

Grossman on García Márquez
Edith Grossman’s speech delivered at the 2003 PEN Tribute to Gabriel García Márquez, held in New York City on November 5, 2003.

Eco on Libraries
Umberto Eco in Al-Ahram, 20-26 November 2003. Eco’s lecture at the opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina.

Selected New Commentary

Eco: Mystery of the Abbey
A look at a board game partly inspired by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

Selected New Papers

Gaddis:Recognizing Recognition
Garrett Rowlan speculates on the nature of Gaddis’ idea of recognition, and what it implies for Wyatt’s art.

B) What’s in the Works?

The next few months should see reviews of Edith Grossman’s new translation of Don Quixote, Gabriel García Márquez’s Living to Tell the Tale, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Angélica Gorodischer’s Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire that Never Was, Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake, Rhys Hughes’ A New Universal History of Infamy, and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Repetition. Das Schloss will continue to be fleshed out, and future Scriptorium pages will include Edward Albee, William S. Burroughs, A.S. Byatt, James Kelman, and Ezra Pound. We are also planning on expanding the pages on Kobo Abé.

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, 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!

Congratulations to Vladimir Dixon for Bertrand de Jouvenel’s “A society of sheep must in time beget a government of wolves.” He has been sent a copy of García Márquez’s “Living to Tell the Tale.”

IV. Literary Events

A) Exhibitions/Performances

1. Kafka’s Dick
Feb 5-28, 2004, Lancaster, UK. Alan Bennett’s comical play about Franz Kafka, Max Brod, and a tortoise.

2. Pynchon-inspired Artwork at the Whitney
March 11-May 30, 2004. Whitney Biennial, NYC. Zak Smith’s “Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page Of Thomas Pynchon’s Novel Gravity’s Rainbow.”

B) Conferences

Pynchon: Pynchonalia Seminar
April 3, 2004. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. Brian McHale leads an all-day seminar on Pynchon at the Smithsonian. Also, Larry Daw’s “The Illustrated Complete Summary of Gravity’s Rainbow” will be on exhibit.

Joyce: American Friends of James Joyce: Bloomsday Centennial
May 2004, New York. This celebration will recognize several people from the world of finance and the arts who have helped nourish Irish literature.

Pynchon: Malta Pynchon Conference
June 8-10, 2004, Malta. To be held during the Transit of Venus.

V. Featured Links

A) Interesting Articles

Harry Potter and the Childish Adult
A.S. Byatt’s cranky take on the popular Harry Potter series. (Which counts your humble editor as a big fan!) Originally from The New York Times, July 11, 2003.

After the Flood
The Guardian, November 15, 2003. “For 50 years the fast-talking, high-energy American novel has dominated English literature. But, argues Gordon Burn, recent US fiction – packed with lists and analyses – seems stale and wearisome.”

How to Get Real
“Is Postmodernism finally on its deathbed? Roger Caldwell examines the evidence and takes a look at its would-be successor: Critical Realism.”

Cultural Theorists, Start Your Epitaphs
New York Times, January 3, 2004. Dinitia Smith on Terry Eagleton and the death of the “postmodern giants.”

B) Featured Sites

1. Literary & Cultural Sites

A catalog of science fiction inventions.

Reviews of Books
An archive of online book reviews.

This New York City club runs numerous literary events and readings.

2. Humor & Games

Literary Insults
Great words about bad books!

Hipster Bingo
Do you mean that, or are you being ironic? I don’t know any more....

The Most Unusual Books...
The strangest books under review at the complete review.

Thank you, and I’ll see you in a few weeks! And don’t forget – on January 25, Thomas Pynchon will be on The Simpsons!