A Nod to Literature That’s Odd

Some novels are just weird. Or absurd, surreal, and a few other adjectives. You may love or hate such books, and they may be great or not great, but they’re just…weird. And thus memorable.

I thought about that when recently reading Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. Nope, not a law-enforcement version of The Third Man, but a darkly humorous tale of a guy who meets a bunch of bicycle-obsessed cops in a disorienting netherworld. So unusual a novel that it wasn’t published until after the death of Brian O’Nolan (Flann O’Brien’s real name) — nearly three decades after he wrote the book.

Is The Third Policeman‘s protagonist actually dead for most of the novel? Hmm. That’s certainly the case in Robertson Davies’ Murther and Walking Spirits, whose murdered lead character quickly becomes a ghost and then attends a film festival where he watches “movies” of his ancestors — “movies” no other festival attendee can see.

Better known examples of odd fare include Lewis Carroll’s unnerving/delightful Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire (part poem, part text, wholly nuts protagonist?), and several novels by Kurt Vonnegut and John Irving. The latter’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, for instance, features a VERY quirky title character and the death-by-baseball of Owen’s best friend’s mother. To misquote a famous song, it’s sad to be taken out at the ballgame.

Another wacky work — Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair — references a famous novel as literary detective Thursday Next enters the pages of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre via a “Prose Portal” to interact with Jane and Rochester. The height (albeit not wuthering) of peculiar-ness.

Also peculiar is Herman Melville’s Pierre, which was lambasted by critics in 1852 for being another “p” word: perverse. The novel depicts an incestuous (or near-incestuous) relationship and also devotes many pages to Pierre ultra-obsessively writing a book that ends up being loathed — reflecting Melville’s bitterness at the harsh response to his 1851 masterpiece Moby-Dick. “I would prefer not to” be magnanimous about critics’ stupidity, a Bartleby-channeling Melville might have said.

Another 19th-century novel with plenty of eccentricity is Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in which the Karamazov dad is one crazy dude and the book’s devil scene is a wonderfully outlandish standout in literary history. Heck, that wily devil could have won the GOP caucuses in Iowa — or did he?

Additional 1800s books with strange content include Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (in which Catherine Morland is goofily obsessed with Gothic fiction), Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (about a way-out voyage way out to sea), Alexandre Dumas’ The Black Tulip (we’re talking a tulip contest smackdown here), and Wilkie Collins’ Armadale (which includes four…count ’em…four characters named Allan Armadale).

Going back to the 1700s, we have Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels — which, when you think about its big people and small people, is rather kooky amid its more sober content.

Yes, offbeat novels can also be deadly serious or satirically serious for many of their pages. A number of the books mentioned in this post fit that description — as do some of the post-1900 works I’m about to name.

Erich Maria Remarque’s The Black Obelisk, for instance, is partly a devastating look at Nazism’s early days but also gets quite zany at times with things like a recurring urination motif. Jack London’s Before Adam takes a fascinating look at early human evolution, but some of the passages — whether intentionally or not — are kind of madcap. John Steinbeck’s To a God Unknown features a dead dad as a tree — ’nuff said. Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers is intense horror/sci-fi, but also daffy at the same time. Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman is…oh, heck, you know that novel screams “outre” from the title alone.

What are your favorite novels with some or many weird moments?

(And, yes, some of Dr. Seuss’ great writing and drawing is bonkers. Hat-wearing cat? Eleven-fingered creature? The consumption of green eggs? Sheesh…)

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

160 thoughts on “A Nod to Literature That’s Odd

  1. Hi Dave…speaking of odd character or odd book how about Dracula 1897 novel by another Irish author Dublin resident Bram Stoker . I don`t know which genre the book belongs to definitely a horror book.
    Now look at all the different interpretations of TV, movie, theater series based on blood loving Dracula . Now thinking…The book belongs in a ” Horror” category. Mr. Stoker was greatly revere by the city of Dublin.

    Also you mention John Irving..so many of his books have odd characters particularly “A Prayer for Owen Meany” , then in “In One Person”..all the characters are odd starting with young Billy / grown up well known author William a bisexual man, his cross dressing grandpa ( straight ), librarian Miss Frost ( man before) to whom Billy lost his virginity in very young ago, and then so many other characters.

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    • Great mention, bebe! “Dracula” is definitely an odd book. As you note, there has been a lot of vampire fiction in recent years (Anne Rice, the “Twilight” series, movie stuff, TV stuff, etc.), but when Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was published in 1897 it was a very unusual novel. Sort of in the horror and/or Gothic-fiction tradition of the 18th and 19th centuries, but with a new twist.

      And, yes, John Irving’s fiction can be wonderfully eccentric. I still need to read “In One Person” at some point!

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      • I was taking a break from news and politics..was listening to music and watching nature on PBS and just looked in the other blog. Scalia is dead in a luxury resort, oh my.
        Hope Obama is able to have someone there before to nest cycle.

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          • bebe, like you I hope Obama can get a Supreme Court pick approved this year. Unfortunately, I have a sinking feeling Republicans will block anyone he nominates.

            I hate to see anyone die, but Scalia was so right-wing and vile… 😦

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            • Your feelings are your feelings. I was born and raised a Catholic, same as Scalia. I didn’t exactly break down in tears and say a prayer once I heard of his death, nor do I plan on lighting a candle to honour his life and soul. No guilt here. He was a vile human being, and believe me, you have every right to feel the way you do.

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                  • Yes, Roz, that definitely would have been better. Many of Scalia’s Supreme Court votes were just so inhumane and right-wing and racist and sexist and homophobic. While Scalia was smart and witty, he was hardly sympathetic at all.

                    Interestingly, I wonder what Scalia as a supposed strict Constitutionalist would have thought of the Republicans’ vow to block Obama’s Constitutional right to appoint a successor. He might have been partisan enough to support that nonsense.

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            • Dave I agree with Ana and you Scalia was vile and mean spirited and the media is going overboard with this. I am sure O for his legacy is gearing up with his nominee and ready for a fight.
              Funny how Republicans are so sure they will win the WH.
              last night I watched one hour of the debate, it was a bar room brawl. Trump being so hateful said things so many of us were saying, blamed W for everything.and was booed by the audience.

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              • You said it well, bebe. I was just reading The New York Times story about Scalia’s death, and it was TOO respectful.

                Yes, quite a fight shaping up. The Republicans are going to look very bad blocking Obama’s Supreme Court nominee — and, as you say, the GOP has no guarantee they’ll win the White House in November, no matter how much they might cheat, suppress votes, and demonize Clinton or Sanders.

                I didn’t watch last night’s debate, but did see one clip of Trump blasting Jeb’s brother’s decision to invade Iraq, the fiction of weapons of mass destruction, etc. Had to agree with Trump there. 🙂

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                • Trump was on a role..did not care ( why is he a republican now?) when booed..he was saying they are all special interest people, he has only his wife and son in the audience..and i think he is right. Bush said his bro saved the country and Rubio said the same thing and it was all Bill Clinton`s fault. They call Rubio a winner ? he was robotic again.
                  .Carson was all over the place 😆

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                  • Nice summary, bebe! Yes, as weird and nasty and racist and sexist as Trump is, he has some relatively liberal positions here and there. All the other Republican candidates (the current ones and the ones who have dropped out) have virtually similar far-right positions on everything. And it’s appropriate that “Rubio” and “robot” are both five-letter words that start with “r.” 🙂

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    • *off topic*

      bebe, a family friend from Nashville just posted this video on my family’s Facebook page. One of our mutual friends is a member of the Nashville Roller Girls, which is a roller derby club/group. They will be profiled next week on the Tennessee Crossroads show. I don’t know why, but my mind immediately went to you when I saw their segment. As a former Nashville resident, I’m sure you can appreciate these ladies:)

      http://www.tennesseecrossroads.org/program-info-watch/?selected_segment=nashville-roller-girls

      Let’s do it, bebe. Let’s go back to Tennessee and become Nashville Roller Girls. Since we both love the works of John Steinbeck, we can call ourselves The Steinbeck Skaters. Dave will be our manager. And Dave, I know the standard fee for managers is like 10%, but that’s not gonna happen. We’ll pay you two bucks plus a small soda and popcorn per match. You’ll accept that, and you’ll like it.

      LOL. Enjoy your week you two, and enjoy your Valentine’s Day as well.

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      • Not an easy sport, Ana!

        “We’ll pay you two bucks plus a small soda and popcorn per match. You’ll accept that, and you’ll like it” — LOL!!! Seems like a fair managerial fee. If the Joad family had roller-skated to California, things might have been so different…

        Have a great Valentine’s Day as well!

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      • Ana..Helloooooooooooooooo Happy Valentine`s day.

        Awesome picture, we need to plan then. I left my best friend behind we still talk all the time. Then another friend 92 a staunch liberal now going through chemo wish I was there so do I.
        My husband had it in here and want to go to Nashville but I am dreading going through another move. But I`ll keep you posted. XXXXX

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  2. I realize I may be going against the tide here, but books that are odd are, I think, not quite the same thing as books containing odd characters, though they could be, if the odd characters are contained in an odd book. And mostly, I think ‘odd’, in the context of the blog, is more or less equivalent to ‘experimental’. In the 20th century, the experimental was a province of modernism and its determination to make new things by means of self-conscious and radical restructuring, and the abandonment of tradition and craft, even sometimes, of the expected materials of art.

    Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and Absalom Absalom! are each odd in their way, with jumps in time and space, multiple narrators, huge multi-claused sentences, dialect, etc– but the oddness arises out of the author’s attempts to expand the range of what might be attempted within the novel form, even the definition of what constitutes a novel. James Joyce is another, and earlier, experimentalist of fame. His aim of creating an exhaustively telling and accurate picture of early 20th century Dublin and its inhabitants in Ulysses led, among other things, to his development of the much-abused stream of consciousness narrative, which he developed further, if not too far, in Finnegan’s Wake. Even Hemingway attempted to insert himself among the experimentalists in To Have and Have Not, as did Dos Passos in his USA Trilogy. Later, William Burroughs likewise worked in an experimentalist context,as a sort of neo-Schoenberg sort of randomizer, as well as a Schwitters sort of cut-up.

    There were also forerunners in the history of the novel– odd experimentalists of yore. Among writers in English, the earliest that comes to mind is Lawrence Sterne, whose Tristram Shandy anticipates aspects of modernism by more, far more, than a century. The next great experimentalist in English of whom I am aware: our own Herman Melville, experimentalist author of Moby Dick.

    Odd may be the outcome, but new was ever the intent.

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    • Many excellent points, jhNY, excellently expressed.

      In my blog posts, I often define things loosely. So, to me, odd novels can include the experimental novels you mentioned, novels that are not that experimental but kind of weird, odd novels with odd characters, odd novels with non-odd characters, non-odd novels with odd characters, etc. Sort of me “cheating” to keep the discussion wide.

      Interesting that you mentioned James Joyce, because he was a strong influence on the first novelist (Flann O’Brien) named in my column. And William Faulkner definitely deserves a place in this discussion. As you know, I recently read “As I Lay Dying,” and the structure/approach of that unconventional novel is certainly oddly experimental or experimentally odd. An experiment that works — I was impressed!

      Thanks for the terrific comment — really a mini-essay.

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      • Still, as it was only last month that we had a try at unconventional characters, it does seem a bit early for a reappearance. Still, I appreciate the effort to keep the net (if not the ‘net) spread wide to accommodate all.

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        • Oops — I hadn’t realized ’til seeing your comment that I was repeating myself a bit. Great point, jhNY. After nearly 80 book posts on this blog and more than 100 book posts on Huffington Post, it must be getting harder for my brain to find totally original new topics each week. 🙂

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          • Of course I’m the guy who made a suggestion for a topic entirely covered previously– and not long after its appearance, so….

            Rereading my reply above, my major regret, after making my l’il point, is too many stills in one reply. Sorta like a moonshiner’s convention.

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  3. Odd books are so odd! How about Heart of a Dog, by Master and Margarita author Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s about a dog in 1920s Russia who has its testicles and pituitary gland swapped out for those of a human; sort of a Frankenstein-style political satire.

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  4. Just had a conversation with my co-workers at the Reference Desk and the topic of spontaneous combustion came up. I knew of one in Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ but did not realize that so many major authors in the 19th century used it as a device throughout the century.

    http://hootingyard.org/archives/6168

    I suppose this could be considered an odd topic and, if it actually appeared in a contemporary novel, it could qualify that novel as ‘ODD’.

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  5. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite novels with some or many weird moments? —

    Not a novel but a novella with all weird moments is Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” a beloved piece of writing that bugs me neither much nor at all, especially given its celebrated status as the creepy source of this corny joke told to precocious 10-year-old children long ago: Q: What is Gregor Samsa’s favorite rock ’n’ roll band? A. The Beatles!

    Meanwhile, thanks for mentioning that Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is categorized not as a novella but as a novel! (One of my neurons misclassified it in the late 1960/early 1970s, and none of the others caught the error between then and now.) Your mention of the piece also reminded me of the weirdest thing I came across during my Poe period all those years ago, a short story called “The Spectacles.” It was a shocking experience reading it completely without warning of any kind in the wake of the thoroughly Poesian likes of “Hop-Frog: Or, the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Mask of the Red Death: A Fantasy,” “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • Thanks, J.J.! When it comes to authors of odd fare, Franz Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe are way up there in the pantheon of weird. 🙂

      “The Metamorphosis” is an amazing work, and I’ve never heard that corny joke before. I’m thinking Gregor Samsa might have also liked The Roches and Buddy Holly and the Crickets. “That’ll Be the Day” to wake up as an insect and all that…

      I’ve read (and loved) a LOT of Poe, but never read “The Spectacles.” I’m intrigued! Found it online; will try to get to it today or tomorrow.

      http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/poe/spectacle.html

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      • — “The Metamorphosis” is an amazing work, and I’ve never heard that corny joke before. —

        Well, I couldn’t tell it to you back then because I didn’t know you when you were a precocious 10-year-old kid. (I can see it all now, a hundred mimeographed copies each, first of “Dave Astor on DC Comics,” then of “Dave Astor on Marvel Comics” and finally of “Dave Astor on Mad Magazine.”)

        — I’ve read (and loved) a LOT of Poe, but never “The Spectacles.” —

        In the context of Poesian literature, it is the weirdest thing out there, and nothing else even comes close . . .

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        • Too funny, J.J.! Dang — I missed my calling at age 10. Instead of being in the Mimeographosphere, I was wasting brain cells watching “The Munsters” or something…

          If “The Spectacles” is the weirdest Poe of all, it must be weird indeed. Can’t wait to read it!

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          • J.J., I just read “The Spectacles” — it is weird indeed, and very compelling, and sort of funny, and almost O. Henry/Guy de Maupassant-like in its surprise ending. I have a feeling ophthalmologists and “Harold and Maude” fans everywhere would like the story. 🙂 Thanks again for mentioning it!

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            • — I just read “The Spectacles” — it is weird indeed, and very compelling, and sort of funny, and almost O. Henry/Guy de Maupassant-like in its surprise ending. —

              I generally agree with the pretty eccentric title character of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” that all comparisons are odious, but I like your two particular comparators in this case. Allowing for differences in the styles of the writers, I can easily imagine either the comparatively elevated Guy de Maupassant of, say, “The Necklace,” or the comparatively unelevated O. Henry of, say, almost all the short stories he ever had published as producing something quite similar to “The Spectacles,” which is exactly what I found so odd about the piece when I came across it at a time I was reading a lot of its author’s work: It struck me as a story that could have been written by a lot of more or less unstrange people, a reaction to an Edgar Allan Poe tale I had not had before then and have not had since. Funny! And a happy ending! Weird!

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              • Yes, J.J., in many ways it was not as “Poe-ish” a tale as a lot of Poe’s work. Of course, as you know, Poe was a diverse writer (horror, detective, sea tales, philosophical stuff, etc.) but it seemed like he was using a different writing muscle in “The Spectacles.” And, as you say, a rare Poe happy ending. Such a great “find”!

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        • Well, I have to admit that while I liked some of Kafka’s work, I have a visceral hatred of anything having to do with insects, with the exception of butterflies or ladybugs. I’m not sure what that portrays me as, but I don’t think it bodes well for other insects.

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          • Howdy, Kat Lib!

            — I have to admit that while I liked some of Kafka’s work, I have a visceral hatred of anything having to do with insects, with the exception of butterflies or ladybugs. —

            I am also fond of butterflies and ladybugs, and I am even partial to dragonflies, fireflies and honeybees. Of course, I recognize there are both good things and bad things associated with the latter group of varmints, as indicated by Frank Herbert’s “Hellstrom’s Hive,” another odd piece of work.

            J.J.

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            • Howdy, jhNY!

              — I hope you will reconsider, since, given your present loathing, you will miss the delights of Don Marquis. —

              Kat Lib may object to both Archy and others of his ilk, but he is OK by me, even though, as a dualist in all things, I would make the case for uppercase and lowercase.

              J.J.

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              • “I would make the case for uppercase and lowercase.”– It would keep the text from being mistaken for something by cummings, but would also require a second, and very weighty one of Archy’s myriad brethren to agree to work in concert with him.

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  6. A Nod to Literature That’s Odd ?
    How about Oscar Wilde`s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”..a masterpiece and the only philosophical novel written by the author. I understand several pages were deleted by the first editor for being indecent in 1890`s. Then there were several other versions of it and I don`t know which one I have.

    Artist Basil Hallward`s painting of Dorian Gray was something that Basil wanted to keep the subject a secret. Basil influenced Dorian to preserve his beauty .Dorian`s wish to be always beautiful came true he remained eternally beautiful while the painting starred aging.
    Dorian was superficial to his core and killed his painter, destroyed the beautiful Sibyl Vane who fell in love with him. Dorian`s life and cruelty to mankind was taking it`s toll on the painting which started aging while Dorian maintained his youthful look.
    Then one day when Dorian tried to destroy the painting..much later that day his servants found an old man dead in front of the beautiful eternally youthful painting.

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  7. By far, the oddest book I’ve ever read was “The Raw Shark Texts” by Steven Hall. So odd that I couldn’t even describe what it’s about. Except fish. Odd story, odd characters, odd writing. Even the author seems a little odd. But despite all the oddity, I found it very enjoyable.

    Random question for you, Dave – what does GOP stand for?

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    • “What are the odds?” It sounds like “The Raw Shark Texts”! Even an odd title. Thanks for mentioning that book, Susan, and for that deadpan two-word fish sentence. 🙂

      GOP stands for the Republican Party nickname of “Grand Old Party.” Maybe that political party had some grandeur when it was founded in Abraham Lincoln’s day, but now the nickname is totally undeserved. More like “Gruesome Old Party” or “Godawful Odd Politicians.” (There’s that “odd” word again…)

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      • Thanks, Dave. I knew your definition would be more entertaining than anything Google would give me. I assumed that GOP stood for something official, but as a nickname “Grande Olde Party” certainly does sound antiquated. (I added some ‘e’s obviously. It sounds antiquated with them, it just sounds pretentious without them.)

        I know that like mine, your Books To Read list is longer than you’ll ever get to, and “The Raw Shark Texts” is certainly not a must-read, but if anyone else is looking for something that’s a bit different, but very easy to read, then I do recommend it.

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        • Susan, adding those “e’s” does give the nickname a nice antiquated flavor — in keeping with the current GOP’s antiquated views on race, women, etc. And the Republican mascot is an “e” word: the elephant. Unfortunately, an insult to elephants, who are wonderful creatures.

          I have “The Raw Shark Texts” on my list. Yes, for probably everyone here, Long Lists R Us. 🙂 😦

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  8. Hi Dave, one book that came to mind is “Then We Came to the End,” by Joshua Ferris. It’s a humorous novel about the ending of an advertising agency in the late1990s. It’s a satirical look at workplace “cubicle culture” (which I admit struck home with me after many years working in a cubicle in the business world). What was so odd about it is that I think it’s the only novel I can think of that was written in first-person plural. That made it so intriguing, trying to figure out whose voice was speaking at any one time, though I think it was just a mash-up of many voices at the same time (does that make sense?).

    Another odd series is “The Cat Who…” books about a man who has two Siamese cats that help him solve crimes (Koko and Yum-Yum, though Koko is the brains in every novel). It was written by Lillian Braun Jackson, and the setting is probably Detroit. My brother got me a couple of her books when he lived there a while ago. As I may have mentioned before, at least one of these books has a stamped paw-print from Koko. Very cute!

    You already mentioned “Northanger Abbey” by Jane Austen, which I’ll admit is rather odd compared to her other novels. However, the movie version of this was even more odd than the novel, with its cut to strange scenes in Bath, at the Abbey, and in Catherine’s mind (or dreams)..

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    • “Then We Came to the End” DOES seems to have a weird narrative approach, Kat Lib. Plus an ad agency in particular and a “cubicled” office in general can be weird places. I’ve also experienced that, including once working in a cubicle for a magazine that covered advertising (including agencies). Was very happy to leave that early-career job…

      The “Dilbert” comic strip, of course, finds lots of bizarre humor in office life.

      Those Lillian Braun Jackson books sound great! If I’m remembering right, commenter lulabelleharris also mentioned them under a previous column. Reminds me of the cat and dog detectives in Rita Mae Brown’s excellent mysteries (“Wish You Were Here,” etc.).

      I agree — “Northanger Abbey” is the strangest of Jane Austen’s novels. I believe she mostly wrote it while very young, though it wasn’t published until a couple decades later. Sounds like the movie version put the oddness on steroids. 🙂

      Great comment! Thanks!

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        • Although it’s been a long time since I’ve read any of this series, I was charmed by them, notably because they featured two cats, one of which is smarter than the human they live with. There is another popular mystery series out there written from a dog’s point of view by Spencer Quinn (Chet & Bernie), which I haven’t read, but they look interesting as well.

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  9. Nearly everything Vonnegut wrote was a little weird. Which is why I like him so much, perhaps. At the moment, speaking of debates (as some of you were here), I’ve been watching a bit of the Denver-Carolina debate. I find no one there of presidential stature, either.

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  10. A long time ago I think I mentioned a book written by Tad Williams called “Tailchaser’s Song” that is written in first person cat. Fritti Tailchaser is a ginger tomcat who leaves his clan to go on an adventure to find out why some of his friends are disappearing. He encounters several other cats and cat clans along the way plus some other interesting creatures. The book is absolutely mesmerizing and one of the strangest books I’ve ever read. With your love of cats, I think you would really love it, Dave.

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  11. I’ll add George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Spoke about Stalin and communism. People like animals. In novel,animals in charge,depending on species. As dictators, evil leaders see themselves as chosen species. Go Broncos!🏈

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    • Thanks, Michele! Well said! Yes, novels like Orwell’s in which animals act like people can be odd, and oddly great. Colette also wrote a (lighter) book like that, and Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries include a cat and dog who are amateur detectives. 🙂

      I’m impressed that you got a football logo in there!

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  12. Hey Dave … I hope you’re having a great weekend!

    Thanks for mentioning one of favorites, Stephen King’s “The Tommyknockers”, 🙂

    Well, I think I’ve said several times that the weirdest book I ever read was William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”. I’m almost certain I read somewhere that Burroughs was on heroin when he wrote it, and I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe if I had been on heroin when I read it, I could have made sense of it!

    You are so right about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland/Through the Looking-Glass being “unnerving/delightful”. It’s funny you mention that book in this week’s column, because I was actually thinking about it last week when I read your post and the replies on the topic of sci-fi.

    Here’s how I got to thinking about Alice last week: Before the week became hectic, my intent was to reply to your post and state that my lack of interest with sci-fi, in the past, had been related to it not being something I could relate to, get lost in, or allow myself to suspend disbelief. However, as the world has become more technology-centered, I can now accept many more things as possible than earlier in my life, and am now more interested in giving science fiction another shot. Those were my thoughts on the subject. But then I started thinking there was once a time when I had allowed myself to go right down that rabbit hole with Alice, so what happened to my ability to suspend disbelief? The answer: I grew up.

    And that’s the miracle of grandchildren, Dave. I now believe in Green Eggs and Ham again, and even more than when I read it to my children.

    But, I digress. As for the subject at hand, the answer definitely is “Naked Lunch”. -)

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    • Hope you’re having a great weekend, too, Pat!

      “The Tommyknockers” is a terrific/weird book. When the protagonist eventually ends up inside that massive spaceship…wow. 🙂

      LOL re your comment about William Burroughs’ book! I guess drugs might indeed have put readers on that author’s wavelength. Several other works by “Beat Generation” writers are also on the eccentric side — Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” etc.

      And thanks for the eloquent, reflective thoughts in the rest of your terrific comment. Yes, it’s not always easy suspending belief — heck, when people break into song in Broadway or Hollywood musicals, I’m thinking, that’s so bizarre 🙂 And an excellent point about how technology is magic in a way, and may prime the mind to accept “miracles” one might not have accepted before. And yes, also — having children or grandchildren can stimulate/re-stimulate an adult’s sense of wonder.

      Definitely a coincidence that “Alice” was mentioned in this week’s column!

      Liked by 1 person

      • After reading your reply, Dave, I realized I should have been saying “suspending belief” because if I’m suspending disbelief then I’m believing … and you are so sweet; you never correct us when we say goofy things like that 🙂

        Have a wonderful week, Dave.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Actually, I didn’t notice that, Pat! I knew exactly what you meant. But it’s funny the way you just analyzed “suspending disbelief.” 🙂

          Have a wonderful week, too! Among other things, I’m hoping my state’s loathsome governor (NJ’s Chris Christie) will get VERY few votes in New Hampshire this Tuesday!

          Liked by 2 people

          • Chris Christie is a national entertainment, isn’t he? — just like my former home, the entire state of Florida. I will definitely keep my fingers crossed for an end to the Christie governorship.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’m definitely wrong at times. 🙂

              Yes, Christie is indeed entertaining in his corrupt, bullying way. I’m also not a fan of Jeb Bush, the former governor of your former state. Why he and Christie are considered somewhat “moderate” is beyond me. I guess because they’re not quite as right wing as people like Trump and Cruz, but they’re still VERY right wing.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Neither Jeb! or Christie are moderate. I think it’s just that Ted Cruz makes them seem somewhat moderate by comparison. I don’t know about you, Dave, but Ted Cruz makes my skin crawl. We had Hillary and Bernie here in our small town of Marion last week. The caucus was held at the Jr. High School. I work 3-11pm, so there was no chance of attending, but I know someone who attended — he came away more confused than when he went in, lol! He went in as a Hillary supporter, but now he’s on the fence; he was pretty impressed with Bernie Sanders.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yes, it’s definitely relative, Pat. Cruz is more right wing than Bush and Christie, but, heck, Bush and Christie are more right wing than Reagan and Nixon were. The line has shifted so much rightward during the past few decades.

                  Good way to describe Cruz — he makes one’s skin crawl. A mean, hyper-ambitious, hypocritical liar. It’s revealing that even his fellow Republican politicians hate his guts.

                  Bernie Sanders just radiates authenticity, because he has believed what he has believed for decades and barely changes with the political winds. I want so much to have a woman president, but Sanders impresses me a lot more than Hillary Clinton at this point.

                  Sorry you couldn’t see the two of them in person last week. 😦

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • Dave, I so much agree with you on the Republicans in the race — I don’t really know who would be worse (Trump, Cruz and Rubio). I just don’t see your loathsome governor being a real player in the race, but who knows? As to the Dems, I’ve yet to make up my mind. If you look at Hillary’s bio, she has been fighting for children’s and families’ rights since her college days. I do understand the appeal of Bernie, and he might not have the same garbage that Hillary has to endure every day, which I’m sure will always follow her around.

                    Liked by 3 people

                    • I am there with you Kat Lib..I like Bernie but I am leaning towards Hillary. Bernie is a good man 74 with full of energy . Imagine a woman 74 running for presidency..she would be ridiculed to no end. People loves to hate Hillary

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • You’re right, bebe. The ageism thing hurts women more. And Hillary certainly IS a major lightning rod — partly due to sexism. I sometimes wonder if she has taken some right-wing stances to seem “tougher” in what is still a male-dominated world. If she were a man, maybe she wouldn’t have felt the need to do that and would have stayed more progressive.

                      Like

                    • The thread ran out Kat Lib I totally agree with you on Hillary…how she is being vilified with her run. Voters have a very short memory..I remember couple of years ago her close friend Mary Steenburgen and Ted Danson said somewhere that they wish she does not run for the same reason.
                      But now..Jennifer Granholm is back..and I remain hopeful

                      Liked by 1 person

                  • Kat Lib, I also can’t see Gov. Christie doing well in New Hampshire tomorrow. Would love to see him finish last or near last in that primary, but of course if he drops out of the race we’ll see him around more in New Jersey. 😦 But worth it to have that nasty bully humiliated…

                    And, yes, Rubio is really almost as bad as Trump and Cruz. Just because he’s a little more soft-spoken doesn’t make his backward views any better.

                    I’m also torn about Hillary and Bernie. Clinton has done some admirably progressive things (as you note) amid her right-wing stances (voting for the Iraq War, cozying up to Wall Street, etc.), and I’d love to see a woman president, but I agree with virtually everything Sanders stands for. Will probably vote for him in the NJ primary. If only Elizabeth Warren had run… 🙂

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Dave, I agree with you — my sister and I talked long ago about how we hoped Hillary wouldn’t even run this time around, because there has never been a candidate so vilified as she has been ever since her husband took office in Arkansas. It appears that she is more at fault than he for his sexual dalliances, that she is just as guilty as he for his policies that people don’t like, and that she is old, a liar, and killed Vince Foster. That last comment was hyperbole, but not by much, and how much has sexism to do with it?

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Well said, Kat Lib. Though I have mixed feelings about Hillary Clinton’s policies, there is no question that she has been incredibly vilified for decades. Sexism has a LOT to do with it. Even some of Bernie Sanders’ supporters have made sexist remarks on Facebook and elsewhere, which I don’t blame Sanders for but it’s still unfortunate. (Though I’ve read that some of those Sanders “supporters” may be GOP “trolls” who want to smear Clinton because they feel Sanders would be easier for a Republican to beat in November. Given the GOP’s dismal history of dirty tricks, that’s entirely possible.)

                      Liked by 1 person

          • Dave I watched 2 hrs of the debate , ample Christie put Rubio where he belongs. Rubio scares me talks like a robot in high peach voice and repeats himself. Jeb had his moment..Cruz the snake handler was doing his usual theatrics and I had to mute him. OH gov. ( not a fan) was the only one behaving like an adult.

            Btw..great post, have SB on…Lady Gaga was super with her pitch perfect voice.

            Liked by 2 people

            • You were brave to watch that Republican debate, bebe. 🙂 Great description of it!

              I read about each GOP debate the next day, but I have a hard time looking at those awful candidates except in brief online clips.

              Yes, Rubio is almost as bad as Trump and Cruz; why he’s considered sort of moderate is beyond me. A lightweight, uncompassionate fibber. Gov. Kasich might be the best of the worst, but, as you say and as you know, he’s still quite bad.

              I’m one of those people who have avoided the Super Bowl in recent years, though if it’s close in the fourth quarter I might put it on. The singers and bands before the game and during halftime are often more interesting than the game.

              Glad you like the post! 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • Imo…Cruz is worse, Rubio is in far right bad, then Trump. Carson tried to be above it all but put Cruz in place. Then I woke up,at 3 pm…and stared the rest of the night.
                Speaking of that was at the healthplex at a distance in one TV saw the sound sleeper bobbing her head in CNN..eek..
                I have the TV on only to get away from politics Dave..to watch the commercials.
                I’ll be on topic next time..have a good night 😉

                Liked by 2 people

                  • Cruz is indeed VERY bad, bebe. Did you see Carson stopping his walk to the stage as he was introduced? Kind of funny. Yes, the Super Bowl commercials are a lot more fun to watch than the Republican candidates. 🙂

                    Good night, and talk to you soon!

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • That was funny.
                      The half time show was really good with Coldplay ..with children , Bruno then Beyoncé in her usual attire . ..I woner if the music is prerecorded , particularly Beyoncé is known for that. Also they showed the past performers including MJ , Diana Ross etc.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Glad to hear the SB halftime show was good, bebe. A number of those shows have been impressive in recent years. And I’ve also heard that some prerecording can be part of them.

                      I’m not a huge Coldplay fan, but did love the 2002 halftime show by U2 — a band Coldplay was somewhat influenced by.

                      Like

                    • Carson stopping halfway to the stage was priceless! Brain surgeon, huh? I think I’d want someone with a bit more self-confidence — not to mention a better sense of direction! — if he’s gonna cut open my cranium.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • I am also not a fan of Coldplay but lot of children were involved. Lady gaga sang the anthem in her pitch perfect voice. Beyonce not a fan either…Bruno Mars was awesome.
                      Who won ? 🙂

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • So true about Ben Carson, Pat! He seems to be one of those people brilliant in one specific area but practically clueless with everything else. And despite being brilliant in that one specific area, I’d want a different surgeon as well!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • bebe, kids being involved helps matters! 🙂 I’m not a huge Lady Gaga or Beyonce fan, either, but they both have a LOT of talent and great voices. Given the outcome of the game, it’s too bad John “Denver” wasn’t alive to sing. 🙂

                      Liked by 1 person

              • Dave, I meant to watch the Puppy Bowl instead of the Super Bowl, but somehow missed it. I had to laugh when the all news radio I sometimes listen to, mentioned that the cheerleaders were chickens and the half-time show was going to be kittens. 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

                • That Puppy Bowl sounds fun and hilarious, Kat Lib!

                  I’m proud to say I didn’t watch one minute of the Super Bowl last night. 🙂 Used to be a football fan, but finally got disgusted with the violence, greed, spectacle, hyper-patriotism, sexism, etc., etc.

                  Like

                  • I agree Dave; it’s hard to watch a supposed game that has such horrifying effects, e.g., CTE. It’s part of the reason I refused to watch any boxing contests, even where I’ve never seen any of the Rocky movies or Raging Bull (that has gotten so many accolades through the years). I’m just not interested.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes, the concussions and the massacring of players’ brains. 😦 “…supposed game” — great phrase, Kat Lib!

                      One of the reasons boxing isn’t as popular as it used to be is the carnage factor. I wonder if the incredibly popular NFL will ever lose some of its fan appeal because of the ever-worse, ever-more-publicized toll on players. I realize some fans don’t care and just want to be entertained. Maybe there’ll eventually be a smaller pool of players as more and more parents don’t allow their kids to play football.

                      As for the people who run the NFL, they could care less about the players as long as they continue to rake in tons of money.

                      BTW, on a totally different topic, I’m about a third of the way through P.D. James’ mystery “The Lighthouse,” and am VERY impressed with her writing, plotting, and character development.

                      Like

            • The other thread is maxed out, so I’ll respond here. My parents live in Vermont. With the exception of one aunt who lives in Belgium, all of my paternal relatives live in various parts of Canada.

              My grandparents in Vancouver do not understand the appeal of Rubio/Trump/Cruz. Unbelievable that one of them could be the next President of the United States.

              *off topic*
              bebe, are your spring flowers and plants coming up yet??? We were cleaning up the patio trying to get the yard and soil ready for the spring, and some of my perennials are already blooming. The weather nationwide has been so odd.

              Liked by 2 people

              • I remember you talking about in family all over the world so neat..and Vermont what a nice place to visit. Something has gone terribly wrong with our election process.
                No it is too cold in OH..now i am sitting home in messy weather, it snowed about 3 inches and perhaps more coming, drive-able weather but I decided to stay.
                Oh I meant to ask you do you hear of Cara ? She seemed to be in some distant past so are some of our few friends particularly Ella…wonderful lady with a difficult past. I encountered her for the first time in Daves.
                That is the story of virtual world people disappears without a trace.

                Liked by 1 person

                • They started their lives in Boston after they became U.S. citizens, so the New England area is not new territory for them. And believe it or not, only one parent is a Bernie supporter. Shout out to my mom for being Team Hillary:)

                  Me and hubby made plans to attend one of Cara’s retreats on Lake Washington this past December, but it was already full when I tried to register online. I hate we couldn’t get in because I really wanted to meet Cara in person. She seems nice. Her social media networks are pretty quiet. She hasn’t posted on Twitter since…2013 (?) I think the HP blog was her most active online network. I miss that blog. It was so cool and laid back. You, Jack, Ella, Sabel, Princess, Angel…great mix of people on there.

                  Going on HP now doesn’t even feel the same. The bloggers have little to no activity, and it’s, dare I say it, boring.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Shout out to you mommy to be Hillary supporter, so am I. I do blog in NYT in my mom`s name. Seeing the pictures going to vote is not the picture of real America which today is a multicultural and multiracial Country.
                    But if Sanders wins it is okay by me.
                    I miss Princess, Ella dearly I was connected to them personally..but eventually the connection goes away and I do not intrude any more.
                    Cara moved on and never replied to my emails..which I understand she has a busy career.

                    Liked by 1 person

                  • Dave and bebe, what a great image! I’m ashamed to say that it took me a moment or two to recognize the original painting, as I live very close to Chadds Ford and the Wyeth Museum. It looks like Christie finished well behind his expectations, especially after practically living in New Hampshire for many months. I did enjoy his take-down of Rubio in the last debate, but other than that he’s done nothing to appear like he should be the Republican nominee. I was reading somewhere that Christie said that he wouldn’t let Hillary within 10 miles of the White House, although she actually has a house in DC that is less than 10 miles away.:)

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • Yes, Kat Lib, so satisfying that Christie did badly in New Hampshire after having practically moved there. Heck, as you know, he didn’t even want to return to New Jersey for that big snowstorm last month until he was shamed into doing so.

                      I also enjoyed his expert skewering of the ultra-shallow Rubio, who to say looked like a deer in the headlights would be an insult to deer.

                      LOL — if Christie had become president, would he have forced Clinton to move? 🙂 And then closed a bridge over the Potomac…

                      Like

                  • “Christie can thank that nasty George Washington Bridge scandal for ruining whatever tiny chance he had at the White House.”

                    I respectfully disagree. Christie can thank the voters for getting to know him better.

                    Much of this election cycle reminds me of an incident that occurred years ago on the Tonight Show– Alpo commercials were filmed live, and one night, before a national audience, the appointed dogs wanted nothing to do with what was offered in their bowls, to the great concern of those onstage and off. “The dogs aren’t eating the dog food!”, somebody was heard to say.

                    The best laid plans of a lot of professional pols and handlers now founder on that unforgiving rock: The dogs aren’t eating the dog food.

                    Will they ever bite the hand that feeds them?

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • I see your point, jhNY. Chris Christie is a nasty, corrupt, right-wing, cater-to-the-rich, intolerant, barely competent, bullying blowhard — and all that eventually would have become apparent to voters even without the George Washington Bridge scandal. What the scandal might have done was hasten the blowing of the cover off the “straight-talkin’/gets-things-done” myth Christie and his sycophants in the mainstream media convinced some people of. (NJ’s awful Star-Ledger newspaper was one of the guilty parties.)

                      Great analogy with those dogs!

                      Liked by 1 person

                  • thread’s maxed, so–

                    I became a bit wiser last night by paying attention to Lawrence O’Donnell, who is generally agreeable in his opinions but often insufferable in his didactic, wiser-than-thou delivery of them. Turns out Christie, come Super Tuesday, might very well be in a courtroom preparing to testify, thanks to an inconveniently scheduled trial re Bridgegate. A bad, and highly unpresidential setting for the man who would be Kong.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • How inconvenient indeed, jhNY. The timing of that possible testimony is so sweet.

                      I think Christie knew about Bridgegate before it happened and while it was happening, and perhaps ordered it. Even if he somehow didn’t know, he undoubtedly helped create the retribution-eager vibe of his staff. And even if he didn’t know, hadn’t he touted himself as a micromanager who supposedly was aware of everything going on in his administration?

                      “…the man who would be Kong” — GREAT quip!

                      Like

    • Burroughs was heroin addict, had earlier written Junkie, so among the tiny set that might have looked forward to a new book, Naked Lunch contained few surprises in the dope department. However, one infamous chapter involving auto-asphyxiation by homosexuals shocked many, and will tomorrow if read. The book is also rife with obscenities and sadistic humor, the former calculated to cause great upset among the hidebound, the latter occasionally a hoot.

      Naked Lunch is also Burroughs’ first attempt at the non-linear, a sort of anti-narrative approach, which mostly confused those who imagined the novel was a novel in any conventional sense. Burroughs has said that the book’s chapters might be read in any order the reader chose, and somewhere I remember reading that he threw the chapters into the air and gathered them up without re-ordering them– and that’s the order published.

      But out of the “word hoard” from which Naked Lunch sprang, there eventually came three other books ): The Soft Machine, Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded,all of them constructed with deconstructed sentences cut to bits and re-attached to other cut-to-bits sentences, thanks in part to the profound influence visual artist Brion Gysin made to the Burroughs aesthetic. Which means that , having abandoned first linear narrative by the paragraph, he next abandoned linearity by the sentence. Which means: the weird got weirder.

      I’ve read ’em all, those mentioned above, and others–if you’d like to read something uncharacteristic and mostly charming, I recommend The Cat Inside– the man loved cats.

      I wish Burroughs had been content to let us read him whole and before scissors and/or throwing chapters into the air, but he was, as a writer, a determined and uncompromising experimentalist. He was also one of the most darkly funny writers in the history of the republic, and one of the most presciently paranoid.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for those fascinating thoughts and pieces of information, jhNY. You definitely didn’t randomly toss your well-written paragraphs in the air. 🙂 Not sure I want to try Burroughs, but I’m thinking about it.

        Amazing that he managed to live ’til age 83. A bit of the Keith Richards factor…

        Like

        • I recommend The Western Lands if you’d like a taste– even though it’s the third book in a trilogy. It’s not too long, features many characteristic concerns and treatments, and may just be the greatest thing Mailer ever inspired anybody to write. Which is only fair, as Why Are We in Vietnam? is a Mailer book almost entirely derived from Burroughs.

          Liked by 1 person

  13. As you mentioned one strange Melville novel, ‘Pierre, Or The Ambiguities’ I will mention Melville’s next strange novel, ‘The Confidence-Man: HIs Masquerade’. It’s been over 30 years since I read this novel so my memory is hazy. I fully intend on re-reading it..that is, AFTER I read ‘Mardi’, ‘Redburn’ and ‘White-Jacket’ and re-read ‘Moby-Dick’ and ‘Pierre’. It involves a Mississippi River steamboat journey that differs from the ones Mark Twain described in ‘Life on the MIssissippi’ or the raft journey of Huck and Jim, although it does share similarities with MT’s later works such as ‘The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg’. Here’s the Wikipedia entry:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Confidence-Man

    I also recall that, just as ‘Pierre’ included a little sub-tale called ‘Plotinus Plinlimmon’ (?), there’s a similar little myth in ‘Confidence-Man’–‘The Tale of China Aster’ (or is it Astor–perhaps an ancestor?). These might be said to illuminate their larger contexts in a similar way as the ‘Tale of the Grand Inquisitor’ in ‘Brothers Karamazov’.

    Of course, while we’re talking strange, isn’t ‘Moby-Dick’ a bit odd itself? How many novels explore the entire cetology of whales or exhaustive descriptions of the industry of whaling on a ship with a revenge-obsessed captain?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bobess48! “The Confidence-Man” and “Mardi” are the only Melville novels I haven’t read (yet). “Redburn” and “White-Jacket” are excellent — written not long before Melville got deeper and more challenging with “Moby-Dick,” etc. And, yes, “M-D” IS a rather odd novel in addition to being a majestic one. Great point!

      I just read the Wikipedia entry for “The Confidence-Man,” and it sounds really interesting. Didn’t realize Melville set a work in America’s heartland amid all his other works set on the sea or in the Northeast.

      “China Aster”? 🙂 Also the first name of the daughter of Grace Slick and the recently deceased Paul Kantner — both of Jefferson Airplane fame, of course. One needs an Airplane to get to China…

      Like

      • Have you read ‘Israel Potter: His Years of Exile’? It’s the one written between ‘Pierre’ and ‘The Confidence Man’? I haven’t read it either but it concerns a forgotten veteran of the American Revolutionary War, I believe. The patterns of obscurity and exile definitely concerned Melville as he was doomed to obscurity and exiled from the literary establishment.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oops — guess there are three Herman Melville novels I haven’t read. 🙂 And, yes, Melville’s undeserved lack of commercial and critical success after his early well-received work definitely affected his writing — for better in some cases, though that might have been small comfort.

          Like

      • “One needs an Airplane to get to China…”

        At 17, when I first heard the band, I was informed that Jefferson Airplane was slang for an impromptu roach clip made by rolling a match book’s cover into a tube.

        Which reminds me of the song Reefer Man (Cab Calloway), at least as I remember it:

        If you see some cat says he’s been to China
        And you know for a fact he never left South Carolina
        You know he’s been talking to that funny reefer man

        Liked by 1 person

    • “Of course, while we’re talking strange, isn’t ‘Moby-Dick’ a bit odd itself? How many novels explore the entire cetology of whales or exhaustive descriptions of the industry of whaling on a ship with a revenge-obsessed captain?”

      You mean The Little Sea Adventure That Grew? I reread it maybe five years ago, and had a whale of a time, natch, but was amazed by its irreducible peculiarity and experimental nature, the organic outgrowth of its author’s intellect.

      Liked by 1 person

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