“He was a glutton for books who treated each text as a plate he was required to clean.” Author and critic William Gass died this week at 93, reports The Washington Post. The recipient of three National Book Critics Circle awards for criticism and four Pushcart prizes, Gass was awarded the PEN/Nabakov Award for lifetime achievement in 2000. See our reviews of Middle C, a novel that took Gass almost 20 years to finish, and his most recent essay collection Life Sentences, which amply demonstrated his background as “a former philosophy professor, but more appropriately a philosopher of the word and an esthete.” We were also lucky enough to have him pen a Year in Reading entry for us back in 2009: “I miss the leisure that let me read just for fun, not to critique, or pronounce, or even to put on a list, but simply to savor,” Gass lamented. Nonetheless, he continued,“I do, from time to time, pick up old friends who never disappoint but will promise me a page or two of pleasure between art and ordinary life.”
This month, a Brentwood School archivist unearthed a two-page poem entitled “A Dissertation on the task of writing a poem on a candle and an account of some of the difficulties thereto pertaining.” The kicker? It was written by a 17-year-old Douglas Adams, nine years before he published The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Dwight Garner, writing in the current issue of The New York Times Magazine, laments that so many high-end American novelists seem to be working on “the nine-year plan,” delivering a new novel roughly once a decade. He cites Jeffrey Eugenides, who will be out soon with The Marriage Plot, his third novel in 18 years, along with such slow cookers as Jonathan Franzen, Donna Tartt and Michael Chabon. One name Garner neglected to mention is the Pulitzer Prize-winner William Kennedy, who will be out next month with Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, the eighth installment in his Albany cycle and his first novel since Roscoe appeared nine years and nine months ago. Look for our review of it here next month.
The Times is reporting that a new film and companion book (Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno) “include detailed assertions that Mr. Salinger instructed his estate to publish at least five additional books — some of them entirely new, some extending past work — in a sequence that he intended to begin as early as 2015.” One of the books is said to include a retooled version of Salinger’s unpublished (but available at the Princeton library) story “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans.” Kristopher Jansma (The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards) wrote about the story for us in 2011. Bonus Link: Garth Risk Hallberg on Salinger’s legacy.