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Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Welcome earthlings to the Awful Book of the Month!
In this thread, we choose one work of literature absolute crap and read/discuss it over a month. If you have any suggestions of books, choose something that will be appreciated by many people, and has many avenues of discussion. We'd also appreciate if it were a work of literature complete drivel that is easily located from a local library or book shop, as opposed to ordering something second hand off the internet and missing out on a week's worth of reading. Better yet, books available on e-readers.

Resources:

Project Gutenberg - http://www.gutenberg.org

- A database of over 17000 books available online. If you can suggest books from here, that'd be the best.

SparkNotes - http://www.sparknotes.com/

- A very helpful Cliffnotes-esque site, but much better, in my opinion. If you happen to come in late and need to catch-up, you can get great character/chapter/plot summaries here.

For recommendations on future material, suggestions on how to improve the club, or just a general rant, feel free to PM me.

Past Books of the Month
2011:
January: John Keats, Endymion
Febuary/March: Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote
April: Laurell K. Hamilton, Obsidian Butterfly
May: Richard A. Knaak - Diablo #1: Legacy of Blood
June: Pamela Britton - On The Move
July: Raymond Chandler - The Big Sleep
August: Louis L'Amour - Bendigo Shafter
September: Ian Fleming - Moonraker
October: Ray Bradbury - Something Wicked This Way Comes
November: John Ringo - Ghost
December: James Branch Cabell - Jurgen


2012:
January: G.K. Chesterton - The Man Who Was Thursday
Febuary: M. Somerset Maugham - Of Human Bondage
March: Joseph Heller - Catch-22
April: Zack Parsons - Liminal States
May: Haruki Murakami - Norwegian Wood
June: James Joyce - Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
July: William S. Burroughs - Naked Lunch
August: William Faulkner - The Sound & The Fury
September/October: Leo Tolstoy - War & Peace
November: David Mitchell - Cloud Atlas
December: Kurt Vonnegut - Mother Night

2013
January: Walter M. Miller - A Canticle for Liebowitz
Febuary: Alfred Bester - The Stars My Destination
March: Kazuo Ishiguro - Remains Of The Day
April: Don Delillo - White Noise
May: Anton LeVey - The Satanic Bible
June/July: Susanna Clarke - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
August: Michael Swanwick - Stations of the Tide
September: John Wyndham - Day of the Triffids
October: Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
November: Iain Banks - The Wasp Factory
December: Roderick Thorp - Nothing Lasts Forever

2014:
January: Ursula K. LeGuin - The Left Hand of Darkness
February: Mikhail Bulgalov - Master & Margarita
March: Richard P. Feynman -- Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
April: James Joyce -- Dubliners
May: Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- 100 Years of Solitude
June: Howard Zinn -- A People's History of the United States
July: Mary Renault -- The Last of the Wine
August: Barbara Tuchtman -- The Guns of August
September: Jane Austen -- Pride and Prejudice
October: Roger Zelazny -- A Night in the Lonesome October

Current:John Gardner: Grendel



You can find it on Amazon here: [url]http://www.amazon.com/Grendel-John-Gardner/dp/0679723110


quote:


In a 1973 interview, Gardner said that "In Grendel I wanted to go through the main ideas of Western Civilization – which seemed to me to be about . . . twelve? – and go through them in the voice of the monster, with the story already taken care of, with the various philosophical attitudes (though with Sartre in particular), and see what I could do, see if I could break out".[1] On another occasion he noted that he "us[ed] Grendel to represent Sartre's philosophical position" and that "a lot of Grendel is borrowed from sections of Sartre's Being and Nothingness.[2]

Grendel has become one of Gardner's best known and reviewed works. Several editions of the novel contain pen and ink line drawings of Grendel's head, by Emil Antonucci. Ten years after publication, the novel was adapted into the 1981 animated movie Grendel Grendel Grendel.

About the Author

quote:


Gardner was a lifelong teacher of fiction writing. He was a favorite at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.[5] His two books on the craft of writing fiction—The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist—are considered classics. He was famously obsessive with his work, and acquired a reputation for advanced craft, smooth rhythms, and careful attention to the continuity of the fictive dream. At one level or another, his books nearly always touched on the redemptive power of art.

In 1978, Gardner's book of literary criticism, On Moral Fiction, sparked a controversy that excited the mainstream media, vaulting Gardner into the spotlight with an interview on The Dick Cavett Show (May 16, 1978) and a cover story on The New York Times Magazine (July, 1979).[6] His judgments of contemporary authors—including such luminaries of American fiction as John Updike and John Barth—which could be termed either direct, courageous, or unflattering, depending on one's perspective, harmed his relations with many in the publishing industry. Gardner claimed that lingering animosity from critics of this book led to the lukewarm critical reception of his final novel, Mickelsson's Ghosts. What was seemingly lost in the furor over On Moral Fiction was Gardner's central thesis: that fiction should be moral. Gardner meant "moral" not in the sense of narrow religious or cultural "morality," but rather that fiction should aspire to discover those human values that are universally sustaining. Gardner felt that few contemporary authors were "moral" in this sense, but instead indulged in "winking, mugging despair" (to quote his assessment of Thomas Pynchon) or trendy nihilism in which Gardner felt they did not honestly believe.[7] Gore Vidal found the book, as well as Gardner's novels, sanctimonious and pedantic, and he called Gardner the "late apostle to the lowbrows, a sort of Christian evangelical who saw Heaven as a paradigmatic American university."[8]

Gardner inspired and, according to Raymond Carver, also intimidated his writing students. At Chico State University, when Carver, who was almost five years younger, mentioned to Gardner that he had read but not liked the assigned short story, Robert Penn Warren's "Blackberry Winter," Gardner said, "You'd better read it again." "And he wasn't joking", said Carver, who related this anecdote in his foreword to Gardner's book On Becoming a Novelist. In that foreword, he makes it clear how much he respected Gardner and also relates his extraordinary kindness.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Gardner_(American_writer)

Discussion, Questions & Themes:

There's Lots to talk about with this. A few angles:

1) Just straight up read the book, tell us what you think. Is it a depressing novel or not? How reliable a narrator is Grendel? Exactly how much are we supposed to agree with him? Do we agree with him?

2) Compare and contrast with the original Beowulf

3) Look at it from the angle of Gardner's philosophy and morality. What's he trying to do here? What are the twelve great ideas of western civilization? Is Gardner on to something with his analysis, or is he full of poo poo? Is Grendel?

4) Something I missed until I read a bunch of critical stuff for this re-read: there's a sign of the zodiac in each chapter (for example, Ch. 1 opens with a Ram). What the hell are they doing here? Are they supposed to be signposts to the "twelve big ideas" ?

Pacing

Let's say a chapter a day; use spoiler tags for any chapter numbered higher than the current day of the month, then on the 13th it's open season.

EDIT: scratch this this is a short book and I think everyone probably knows how it ends already. The forum rules just say spoiler tags for things published within the past six months, and I'm pretty sure Beowulf has been out longer than that.

Further Resources:

I have a first edition of this one and so I took a bunch of photos of the cover, jacket art, and the interior art illustrations. http://imgur.com/a/EBnux#zonB4Bn

I'll post further discussion articles once we hit Day 12. Lots of people have theories on how to analyze it but I'm not sure I agree with them completely.

Final Note:

If you have any suggestions to change, improve or assess the book club generally, please PM or email me -- i.e., keep it out of this thread -- at least until into the last five days of the month, just so we don't derail discussion of the current book with meta-discussion. I do want to hear new ideas though, seriously, so please do actually PM or email me or whatever, or if you can't do either of those things, just hold that thought till the last five days of the month before posting it in this thread. Thanks, and I hope everyone enjoys the book!

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 13:32 on Nov 4, 2014

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Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Or if you just aren't into books we can just watch and discuss the . . . animated version? Starring Peter Ustinov?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bX_xr-tK4WU

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Just to get the discussion rolling, there are two things I'm really noticing with this re-read:

1) Right from the very start Grendel is just flat-out insane from loneliness and isolation. The opening to this is like what Howl might have been if Allen Ginsberg had been raised by wolves in a frozen marsh.

2) This isn't a book that's worrying at all about anachronism, is it?

Crashbee
May 15, 2007

Stupid people are great at winning arguments, because they're too stupid to realize they've lost.

How important is it to read Beowulf before starting this?

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Crashbee posted:

How important is it to read Beowulf before starting this?

Essentially zero importance. I think one major reason Grendel is so popular in high school curriculums is because it's a way to introduce high school kids to the Beowulf story while also talking about lots of other things AND not having to teach anyone Old English.

I mean, you'll get more out of it the more you know of Beowulf, sure, but considering that Grendel dies roughly a thousand lines or so into Beowulf, but Grendel is a twelve chapter novel, yeah, most of the action here takes place before Beowulf starts.

Probably all you need to know about Beowulf is the wikipedia summary:

quote:

In the poem, Beowulf, a hero of the Geats in Scandinavia, comes to the aid of Hrođgar, the king of the Danes, whose mead hall (in Heorot) has been under attack by a monster known as Grendel. After Beowulf slays him, Grendel's mother attacks the hall and is then also defeated. Victorious, Beowulf goes home to Geatland in Sweden and later becomes king of the Geats. After a period of fifty years has passed, Beowulf defeats a dragon, but is fatally wounded in the battle. After his death, his attendants bury him in a tumulus, a burial mound, in Geatland.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf



EDIT: let me rephrase. It'll help to have read Beowulf, but it's not really necessary. This book is mostly about different philosophical ideas. He's mostly just using the Beowulf story as a framework to hang them on. There are a lot of anachronisms and even when he's making a direct reference to Beowulf he's doing so for some reason that matters for the point(s) he's trying to make in Grendel. For example, when he references the bit about the whale-battle from the original Beowulf, I'm pretty sure he's just doing it because he wants to work in the "fish" astrological sign in that chapter.

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 14:34 on Nov 4, 2014

The Vosgian Beast
Aug 13, 2011

Business is slow

Oh man, this is my literal favorite book. Had a really big effect on teenage me. I'm interested to know what people coming in as adults will think.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

It's definitely a book that reads very differently as an adult, which I wasn't expecting.

When I first read this I was fairly young and it just came across as a kind of dark primal scream. Read it again in college and it seemed like, ok, there are some puzzle pieces hidden under there but it's still mostly a single long scream. Reading it now it's like the whole thing is as intricately put together as a crossword. The thing is though that I think all three of those readings are relatively valid.

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 01:17 on Nov 5, 2014

precision
May 7, 2006

Gonna have me some good friends around
Gonna have me some good times in town




Oh Goddamn, this book is so good. Love to see first timers' reactions to certain segments, especially involving the Dragon.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Hrm. Are people having a hard time getting this one started? Seems like there's low activity this month but maybe it's my imagination.

It's available on Amazon in a kindle edition! If people are feeling intimidated by the philosophytalk above, don't be -- this really is a book you can just dive into and read, without preparation.

Hieronymous Alloy fucked around with this message at 00:52 on Nov 9, 2014

precision
May 7, 2006

Gonna have me some good friends around
Gonna have me some good times in town




Yeah I first read the book as it was assigned to us in 10th grade. It's short and can be very easily enjoyed just on the surface level alone.

thehomemaster
Jul 16, 2014

by Ralp


WHAT! I couldn't find the Kindle edition can you link?

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

Kindle edition is here :

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B003N9AZGE/ref=r_soa_w_d

Complete with a "read first chapter for free" button =)

thehomemaster
Jul 16, 2014

by Ralp


I'm in Oz, doesn't seem to work.

bleeding pebbles
Sep 23, 2010


Finished the Dragon chapter and holy poo poo.


The Dragon posted:

The essence of life is to be found in the frustration of established order. The Universe refuses the deadening influence of complete conformity. And yet in its refusal, it passes toward novel order as a primary requisite for important experience. We have to explain the aim at forms of order, and the aim at novelty of order, and the meaning of success, and the measure of failure..

The correlation between philosophy and this book is definitely here.

I wonder what The Dragon meant by "Seek out gold and sit on it" Does he want Grendel to leave behind a legacy?

The Vosgian Beast
Aug 13, 2011

Business is slow

bleeding pebbles posted:

Finished the Dragon chapter and holy poo poo.


The correlation between philosophy and this book is definitely here.

I wonder what The Dragon meant by "Seek out gold and sit on it" Does he want Grendel to leave behind a legacy?

Fun fact: a large part of the Dragon's speech is taken from Alfred North Whitehead's book Process and Reality.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

The Vosgian Beast posted:

Fun fact: a large part of the Dragon's speech is taken from Alfred North Whitehead's book Process and Reality.

Which adds a few layers of subtext all on its own. Grendel's befuddlement isn't unique:

quote:

This is not to say that Whitehead's thought was widely accepted or even well-understood. His philosophical work is generally considered to be among the most difficult to understand in all of the western canon.[45] Even professional philosophers struggled to follow Whitehead's writings. One famous story illustrating the level of difficulty of Whitehead's philosophy centers around the delivery of Whitehead's Gifford lectures in 1927–28 – following Arthur Eddington's lectures of the year previous – which Whitehead would later publish as Process and Reality:

quote:

Eddington was a marvellous popular lecturer who had enthralled an audience of 600 for his entire course. The same audience turned up to Whitehead's first lecture but it was completely unintelligible, not merely to the world at large but to the elect. My father remarked to me afterwards that if he had not known Whitehead well he would have suspected that it was an imposter making it up as he went along ... The audience at subsequent lectures was only about half a dozen in all.[101]

Indeed, it may not be inappropriate to speculate that some fair portion of the respect generally shown to Whitehead by his philosophical peers at the time arose from their sheer bafflement. Distinguished University of Chicago Divinity School theologian Shailer Mathews once remarked of Whitehead's 1926 book Religion in the Making: "It is infuriating, and I must say embarrassing as well, to read page after page of relatively familiar words without understanding a single sentence."[102]

Grendel's befuddlement is an injoke; everyone is confused by Whitehead, even other philosophers.


My favorite bit in that chapter is something I just caught on this read-through; the Dragon's statement that "A certain man will absurdly kill me. A terrible pity -- loss of a remarkable form of life. Conservationists will howl."

Emphasis on that word absurdly. If we view Absurdist philosophy as a counterpoint to materialist, concrete, realist philosophy . . .


bleeding pebbles posted:


I wonder what The Dragon meant by "Seek out gold and sit on it" Does he want Grendel to leave behind a legacy?

I *think* the Dragon is deliberately giving Grendel pointless, worthless advice. You could also argue that the Dragon is advocating pure hedonism --- find something you enjoy and wallow in it, and bedamn to morality. The Dragon isn't one for clear statements.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

quote:

"Poor Grendel's had an accident," I whisper. "So may you all."

Suggestions for next month? Christmas themed? Right now I'm leaning towards Christopher Moore's The Stupidest Angel.

thehomemaster
Jul 16, 2014

by Ralp


Alternatively.

LaughMyselfTo
Nov 15, 2012

by XyloJW


Aw, poo poo, I read this book my freshman year of high school! Really loved it, too. Made a (really lovely) interactive fiction game in Inform 7 based on the philosophical themes for my final project and got an A on it (it was an open-ended assignment where you could create any original creative work based on the novel or its themes). Good times.

bleeding pebbles
Sep 23, 2010


I'll have to look into this Alfred North Whitehead person. Never heard of him before and by the look of it he sounds pretty interesting.

I'm requesting Return of the Solider for December. It is about a dollar on the kindle store and this will hopefully apply for all countries this time around. The book is under 100 pages so if you are busy this December, it will fit right in. Plus someone I know said it was one of the best books ever. On top of that, the Modern Library copy of I own has a reader's questionnaire type thing at the end of the book.

I do have more questions and comments about Grendel but I'll save time for that later. We still have about a week to talk about this book anyways.

Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

bleeding pebbles posted:


I do have more questions and comments about Grendel but I'll save time for that later. We still have about a week to talk about this book anyways.

Discussion can keep going after the "official" month ends -- I won't close the thread!

That said considering how slow discussion's been moving, if anyone is holding back some last-minute thoughts, please share!

bleeding pebbles
Sep 23, 2010


Well here are some real comments:

It's interesting how most of the book was Grendel demeaning the humans. Would the book worse if it was just overblown thoughtsof Grendel in some way of stream of conscious thought? I felt like half the book was just Grendel describing what was going on in the meadhalls.

He was a reliable narrator for he always told the truth in the end. He only added he personal, negative perception.

It is funny how that turns out because Grendel appears to be the only fleshed out character. He is so cynical and searching for morality that it wouldn't be as good if there was other major characters. Grendel returning the solider that tried to kill him was an interesting example of how he couldn't make up his mind. Although in the end he chose to full on attack the meadhall and decided to become what he wanted to be in his instincts.

I'm not sure if it was the boredom of his life or how he was born into his life as a monster that made him do it, but it seemed like the only way to go for him. In that case I am leaning towards to agree with Grendel's decisions. He had to take his chances to the next level.

This is not a depressing book to me for his contemplative view he had and his inevitable fate that he chose and was satisfied with, given his last words. He did have free will, which would match up with Sartre's philosophy, again given the circumstances he didn't have enough wiggle room to be a friendly monster.

The meeting with The Dragon changed his attitude despite The Dragon going over his head most of the time. I wonder what he took from it and made him angrier from that point on. The Dragon giving the pointless advice seemed like something he would do to incite Grendel's already hatred for humanity. It's like Grendel depended on a person smarter than him to give him an excuse to do all of the killings. Regardless of how badly he translated The Dragon's speech.

The 'fiction should aspire to discover those human values that are universally sustaining' statement by Gardner resonated with me to a point. Yet I don't know what Gardner meant by his morality to other author's morality. That went over my head. Along with Gore Vidal's
criticisms. Though I didn't really read into Vidal's problems with the book to be honest.

The 12 Civilizations thing is a concept that is way over my head. I might never understand with this book and I don't know where to begin. Maybe the anachronism thing you brought up earlier, Hieronymous Alloy?

I did really enjoy the book. Grendel is a book full of the processing of morality.

Safety Biscuits
Oct 21, 2010



Hieronymous Alloy posted:

Discussion can keep going after the "official" month ends -- I won't close the thread!

That said considering how slow discussion's been moving, if anyone is holding back some last-minute thoughts, please share!

You're making this book sound really fun, but unfortunately my copy's at home, so I won't be able to pick it up before mid-December.

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Hieronymous Alloy
Jan 30, 2009


Why! Why!! Why must you refuse to accept that Dr. Hieronymous Alloy's Genetically Enhanced Cream Corn Is Superior to the Leading Brand on the Market!?!



Morbid Hound

The two suggestions y'all gave were great but I got behind on my tasks this weekend due to holiday events (and video games) and didn't get a poll up in time, so I'm going to stick with putting up Stupidest Angel. It's not exactly literature but it is fun and silly so maybe that'll make it more accessible. There's a dog. I'll get a thread up later today.

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