An equivalent of an apple.

Hopefully it is no secret that we buy pre loved books, we have a regular ebb and flow of customers who bring us their papery possessions which hopefully find new happy hands and eyes. Some people come on a regular basis. There is this elderly gentleman who comes and sells us books on a regular basis (I am pretty sure before retiring he used to sell books for a living and is now selling for either the love or kicks. Fact is he is a sweet old man.

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The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The concept behind “The Gashlycrumb Tinies or, After the Outing,” by Edward Gorey, is brilliant in its simplicity. It consists of a series of rhymes about small children who suffer various macabre deaths. All the children have name beginning with a different letter of the alphabet, and their grim fates are arranged alphabetically by name. Each fate is also accompanied by one of Gorey’s awesome ink drawings. Sample lines: “E is for Ernest who choked on a peach. F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech. G is for George smothered under a rug. H is for Hector done in by a thug.”

This book hilarious. Gorey’s children have a proper Victorian look to them which makes their scenarios that much more bizarre. Most of the drawings show the unfortunate children just before their deaths only a few of the pictures actually show explicit death or violence, parental guidance not required.

One could read “Gashlycrumb Tinies” as an outrageous parody of children’s books, it’s a wicked delight.

Gorey is typically described as an illustrator. The Object Lesson have earned serious critical respect as works of surrealist art. His experimentations — creating books that were wordless, books that were literally matchbox-sized, pop-up books, books entirely populated by inanimate objects — complicates matters still further. As Gorey told Richard Dyer of The Boston Globe, “Ideally, if anything [was] any good, it would be indescribable.” Gorey classified his own work as literary nonsense, the genre made most famous by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear.

In response to being called gothic, he stated, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children — oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”


The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

Absurd Drama Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, Fernando Arrabal, Edward Albee, Martin Esslin

When Plays like Ionesco’s Bald Primadonna and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot began to be produced in the early 50’s, critics and audiences were caught with their underthings in knots facing a phenomenon which appeared to flout every accepted standard of drama. Since then the “theater of the absurd’ has become a major dramatic form expressing something of the sense of spiritual desolation which followed the shock of the Second World War shaking religious, spiritual and moral foundations.

In this volume Ionesco’s first full-length play, Amedee and three short plays: Adamov’s Professor Taranee, Arrabal’s The Two executioners and my favorite Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story.

There is an elaborate introduction by Martin Esslin suggesting the antecedents and showing how the development of the plays as poetic images gives them an inner realism and rich theatrical quality.

Absurd Drama Books

Absurd Drama Books

Absurd Drama Books

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid published initally over 20 years ago debates, beautifully, the question of consciousness and the possibility of artificial intelligence. It is a must read book that attempts to discover the true meaning of “self.”

The book gives the reader an introduction to cognitive science drawing heavily from the world of art to illustrate the finer points of mathematics. The works of M.C. Escher and J.S. Bach are discussed as well as other works in the world of art and music. The line up for this book ranges from mathematics and meta-mathematics to programming, recursion, formal systems, multilevel systems, self-reference, self-representation and others.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, is anything but a dry and boring book a boring (gasp) topic. Along the lines of Alice in Wonderland, before each of the book’s twenty chapters, Hofstadter has includes a witty dialogue, where Achilles, the Tortoise, and friends discuss various aspects that will later be examined by Hofstadter in the chapter to follow.

With these wonderful dialogues, Hofstadter created and entirely new form of art in which concepts are presented on two different levels simultaneously of form and content. The more obvious level of content presents each idea directly through the views of Achilles, Tortoise and company. Their views are sometimes right, often wrong, but always hilariously funny. The true beauty of this book, however, lies in the way Hofstadter interweaves these very ideas into the physical form of the dialogue. The form deals with the same mathematical concepts discussed by the characters, and is more than vaguely reminiscent of the musical pieces of Bach and printed works of Escher that the characters mention directly in their always-witty and sometimes hilarious, discussions.

One interesting example is of “Crab Canon,” that precedes Chapter Eight. This is a short but highly amusing piece that can be read, like the musical notes in Bach’s Crab Canon, in either direction-from start to finish or from finish to start, resulting in the very same text. Although fiendishly difficult to write, the artistic beauty of that dialogue equals Bach’s music or Escher’s drawing of the same name.

Other topics include self-reference and self-representation. The examples given can, and often do, lead to hilarious and paradoxical results.

In playfully presenting these concepts in a highly amusing manner, Hofstadter slowly and gently introduces the reader to more advanced mathematical ideas, like formal systems, the Church-Turing Thesis, Turing’s Halting Problem and Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, discuss some very serious topics and it can be a daunting book to handle and absorb. But it is always immensely enjoyable to read. The sheer joy of discovering the puns and playful gems hidden in the text are a part of what makes this book so very special. Anecdotes, word plays and Zen koans are additional aspects that help make this book an experience that many readers will come to feel to be a turning point in their lives.

A profound and beautiful meditation on human thought and creativity, this book is indescribably gorgeous and definitely one of a kind.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter

The Original of Laura – Vladimir Nabokov

A husband smashes a paperweight on the hand of his nympo wife as she rumages through his desk. The brutality is not payback for her affairs, but a warding off of her perceived attempt to snoop into his unfinished “poisonous opus.”

Are we, the morbid readers of a piece which the master never finished and, as the legend goes, he gave instructions to destroy on his death bed, the ones who really deserve the bruised knuckles? Many who shell out full price for this thick hardcover which contains less than four thousand words will no doubt feel a certain feeling of being shafted. The decision to publish photographic images of Nabokov’s original index cards side-by-side with a typeset version is kind of charming. Is this a way of adding more pages to the big hardback???

The novel is about a fat, aging professor who copes with death by turning it into a sexual game and who copes with his wife’s serial infidelities by writing a humiliating novel about her.

As a side project, the professor is deconstucting, “The Interpretation of Dreams.” We get plot and character in fragments. Yet the story is full of surging emotions. These are disturbed and quite often really nasty folks. One can still care for the characters nevertheless, despite them and despite the fact that the novel is barely a first draft. Less is more, and with Nabokov nothing is more than less.

The story behind the book’s journey to print overshadows the actual story in the book, which itself is a unique literary achievement. In the introduction, Dimitri Nabokov explains the curse of his inheritance: does he go ahead and destroy the text or does he publish it. In the end, he decides for our benefit: he is no longer going to deal with the debate, no more being hounded by academic stalkers. He has made us all the caretaker of his curse. We even get our own set of index cards…

 The Original of Laura - Vladimir Nabokov

The Original of Laura - Vladimir Nabokov