to read or not to read

the reason the nashville tennesseean must FIRE "b w" or at least
return him to the dept he was borrowed from       is that he never read
the book he reviewed       the review could have been, & was, written
without even opening the book

only 5 or 6 of 55 reviewers of the recognitions didn't read it      the
other 90% either got through it or theyre too smart for me

FIRE edward wagenknecht of the chicago tribune for his confession,
or rather boast:

  There are 956 pages in this book, and I must confess that I did
not stay until the last had been turned.

  What is "The Recognitions" about? Really, I have no idea.

  It is not pleasant to be defeated by a book.

but isnt it pleasant to be paid for work you havent done?
I'm like the Vermont farmer listening to the New Deal spellbinder.
"What's he talking about?" his neighbor queried perturbedly. And,
quite without perturbation, he replied, "He don't say."
  Gaddis don't say neither. (wagenknecht)
time out while the chi trib elects thos e dewey again      how folksy
theyre getting in the windy city!       do novelists have to spell out what
theyre "talking about"?

FIRE the anonymous hack of the toronto globe & mail he didn't finish
the book either      headline:      It Beats Us

   Frequently we sample a new book, reading a few paragraphs
here and there to get the hang of it; but several such samplings left
us blanker and blanker. It is a most humiliating thing for a reviewer
of upwards of 40 years' experience not to be able to understand a
novel, not get even a clue. So the samplings became fewer and
farther apart and had stopped when we discovered the able Chicago
Tribune man, Edward Wagenknecht, was in the same fix.
"able"!       the provincial disciple acknowledges his master—at gold-
bricking       after 40 years experience faking cant he even write his
own review?       almost ½ of it is right out of wagenknecht
   Mr. Wagenknecht worked harder at the book than we did because
he discovered there is a new cast of characters in every chapter
(toronto globe & mail)
"—tho there are some carry-overs" (wagenknecht)      does quoting a
boner make it true?    in sum, he quotes wagenknecht as an authority
—on how to steal money from a newspaper for work not done      see
the snideness of the incompetent:
   If we accept the bold statement on jacket and title page, The
Recognitions is a novel. Further than that we can hardly go, but we
can add that it must weigh four or five pounds. 1The type is quite
clear and a vague impression lingers that the characters, or some
of them, are engaged in the arts; but what the story is about and
what the problems and fates of these people are we have no idea.
(toronto globe & mail)
in the recognitions (p936) the man in the green wool shirt meets his
friend the stubby poet in a tailor shop, where theyre both having their
flies fixed:
   And then they silenced, each bending forth, closer and closer, to
fix the book the other was carrying with a look of myopic recog-
   —You reading that? both asked at once, withdrawing in surprise.
   —No. I'm just reviewing it, said the taller one, hunching back in
his green wool shirt.—A lousy twenty-five bucks. It'll take me the
whole evening tonight. You didn't buy it, did you? Christ, at that
price? Who the hell do they think's going to pay that much just for a
novel. Christ, I could have given it to you, all I need is the jacket
blurb to write the review.
   It was in fact quite a thick book. A pattern of bold elegance, the
lettering on the dust wrapper stood forth in stark configurations of
red and black to intimate the origin of design. (For some crotchety
reason there was no picture of the author looking pensive sucking
a pipe, sans gêne with a cigarette, sang-froid with no necktie,
plastered across the back.)2

ie, the book to be reviewed is the recognitions itself      "all i need is
the jacket blurb to write the review"—obviously a satiric exaggeration

FIRE the louisville courier-journal hack for taking every bit of his
"review" from the jacket       theres not a sign he opened the book.
his plagiarism runs 6 lines, headline:       Short Shrift

            louisville courier-journal
                  (in its entirety)
                  book jacket of the
The author attempts to give a full-
scale portrait of our world today
as he sees it: a chaotic world
filled with hypocrisy, forgery,
deception and hate.
about forgery. In it William Gaddis
has attempted a full-scale portrait
of our chaotic contemporary
world, in all its hypocrisy and lack
of love
Scores of characters move back
and forth from New York to New
England, to Madrid, and other
background ranges from New York
and New England to a monastery
outside Madrid. Scores of char-
acters move back and forth within
the design, each one busy in pur-
suing his own desired deception.
all of them lost souls      (!)
These and other damned souls.
wandering about seeking security
that continually eludes them.
(Mr. Pivner) is looking for security
in the comforting columns of the
daily press.
It is similar in many respects to
Joyce's "Ulysses."
(backjacket quote, stuart gilbert):
long though it is, even longer than
"Ulysses," the interest, like that of
Joyce's masterpiece and for very
similar reasons, is brilliantly main-
tained throughout.
stealing a moderate amount from the jacket blurb is common practice
in the profession & therefore, im told, i must consider it ethical.

but it is not quite kosher to steal part of the review from the blurb and
some of the rest from the associated press syndicate      here is the
review from the st louis globe-democrat, written, according to them, by
francis a klein:

     klein 3/13/55 (in toto) rogers review, ap syndicate (for
publication 3/10/55); or ap's "au-
thor of the week" (for week of
     blurb of the recognitions

A major writer pops over the ho-
rizon with this first novel that
could well be a credit to a man
with dozens in back of him. It is a
big, hefty, sprawling (some 956
pages), involved in structure, re-
alistic, and filled with an immense
collection of odd bits of learning.
The latter is sometimes appropri-
ate, often not; one frequently
needs to clear away the under-
growth to get at the tale. This has
to do with forgery, emotional,
spiritual and actual, which weaves
in and out of this immense canvas
that stretches from New York to
Spain and back again.

(beginning of rogers review): Here
is a major novel

lards it with vast learning

     (from the blurb):
     The pattern of forgery, emo-
     tional and spiritual as well as
     actual, reappears again and
     again in the immense design
     of this novel, whose back-
     ground ranges from New York
     and New England to a mon-
     astery outside Madrid.
The central character, Wyatt
Gwyon, twisted and deformed by
modern science, forges Old
faces of one central character.

Their son Wyatt, tested by modern
science and distorted and twisted
by it, becomes a forger of Old

     (blurb): The central figure,
     Wyatt, is a painter who forges
     Old Masters
other people, other things, in a
pattern that twists and turns, that
is intensely dramatic and that re-
pays the physical labor of turning
900 pages when 300 would have
been sufficient. Mr. Gaddis worked
six years on this book, but has
not yet acquired the art of com-
pression. When he does, his work
will challenge that of any top
creative artist of our time.

keeps it lean and strong with

a book to which he's given about
six years

(end of rogers review): with it,
Gaddis assumes his place among
our top creative writers.

theres not a word in kleins review that would have required "the
physical labor of turning 900 pages" or 300 or 1      the globe-
subscribes to ap       proof that klein stole from rogers review
is rogers "distorted and twisted" "by modern science" which klein uses
as "twisted and deformed by modern science"       this is a boner of
rogers if it means "crippled" (see episode starting p41 in the recog-
)       or if rogers meant it in an extremely general sense its still a
highly eccentric comment which klein could hardly have written
independently       & the beginnings and ends of rogers & kleins reviews
are almost identical

FIRE the thief klein, then       if klein had labored to turn the 900 pages
(all at once) to the back flap of the blurb he would have read, "The
is not a work of realism in the accepted sense of the
term" & wouldnt have called the book "realistic"       but his plagiarisms
are both from the front flap

if you note the modifications klein made in rogers enthusiastic review
to be more "balanced" & cautious       & that klein quite possibly modi-
fied without having read any of the book except the blurb, you will
know what colossal nerve is

im biased for reviewers who favored the recognitions except some
who write like cold oatmeal       & this weird one who couldnt possibly
have read the book      stars...and embraces...

THE BOOKS PILE IN and some few stand up like stars in a Spring
sky. Embrace "The Recognitions" (Harcourt Brace) by William Gad-
dis as a novel in a thousand. It is a big, strong, well-written
American story peopled with reality and driven with a sardonic
dream that keeps the reader on edge all the way.
thats the whole notice       FIRE charles a wagner from his tabloid or
retire him to the astronomy column       what the devil does he mean by
"peopled with reality"?       and "driven with a sardonic dream"!

more important than these conmen       tho advance copies were went
out months before review date3 (powell)       I think less than 1/4 of the
critics read the recognitions more than once      1 reading of this book
is not enough       especially not a hasty careless one      from mary
eugenia parke's review:

  These remarks are the preamble to a cautious preliminary recon-
naissance of a monstrous and fascinating novel called "The Recog-
nitions" by William Gaddis, whose first published work it is. Now it is
not impossible to read 956 pages intelligently in the space of a
couple of weeks. A dogged attack would get you through "Sironia,
Texas," for example, in that time without serious danger of laming
your brain. But "The Recognitions" is no "Sironia," and a proper
reading and evaluation would take several months, not weeks.
  My first impression is
who cares what it is!       $$$$ why not take several months?      parkes
last para is remarkable, not really joking but sort of thrown out offhand
& to be forgotten:
  On second thought maybe I am in the class with Wyatt, Basil
Valentine, Mr. Sinisterra. This review is probably a forgery too.
she took a couple of weeks not the several months needed, her
mediocre review is a forgery       from glendy daewdeit's review:
  This painstaking organization seems, even on first reading, to be
one of the novelist's most positive achievements.
this & her preceding para are good      unlike most of the skimreaders
who being preprogrammed have to guess that a "long novel" which is a
"first novel" must by definition be "undisciplined" & "sprawling"      but
the current cliches about "ambitious novels" & "erudite novels" lead
her astray:
one flat statement about the book can be made with confidence:
Entertainment is not a primary objective.
a bad guess, the recognitions being one of the most entertaining
books ever written       shes bound to guess wrong more often than
right since she didnt read it enough      certainly her guess that otto, in
the book, may be modeled after gaddis is amateurish & ridiculous
More than one reading will be required for any fair estimate of such
ornate and discursive language. Tentatively, however, one must
credit Gaddis with some remarkable imagery as well as some
meaningless rhetoric.
for "Tentatively," read "Incorrectly"       shes faking now      she plays it
safe, doesnt fail to find a balanced phrase but theres no safety for the
lazy & incompetent       she guessed wrong again, theres no meaning-
less rhetoric in gaddis' extremely careful writing
  To weigh the virtues of so massive a work with any finality would
require longer acquaintance.
so      by necessity       her verdict is cautious, noncommittal which
means she underrates the book       what shows the rotten state of the
review racket is shes not at all afraid to say openly she didnt work
long enough to do her job       drs & lawyers underwork too but they
wouldnt dare admit it

the nation's cricket goes her one better       for the highbrow market
the pseudoprofessional thing to do is fake up a theme, a structure.
the theme should be as irrelevant to the book being reviewed as the
critics Originality can make it       whatever nonsense is dragged into
the 1st paragraph must return triumphantly in the last      john berger
impudently exploits "I only read it once" as the fake theme      exposi-

BECAUSE I happen to be reviewing this 950-page novel I wish that
I had time to read it again. But if I were reading it for my own
interest I certainly would not do so. This fact demonstrates how
specialized our cultural judgments have become, how far removed
from our personal, comparatively spontaneous recognitions of what
is good and bad. I think that Mr. Gaddis himself would agree with
this. His title, "The Recognitions," is probably meant to be taken on
several levels, but at least one of the themes of this book is the
falseness, the obliqueness, of the type of recognition gained by
artists in Western society.
this lecture on the conflict between desire & work isnt to the point.
the job berger took on was to read the book enough to write a com-
petent review       his "dollar bill" & "ernest hemingway" boners (later)
prove he didnt      thats the point      he had earned the right to say
the following in print & only the following: "i didnt read the book
enough to write a competent review of it—my guess is, it wouldnt be
worth the trouble"

how much would he have paid for that?       or he could have
forgotten the paycheck & turned the job over to someone who was
willing to do it       an honest man would do one of the two, but a

what berger chose was to fake up a recapitulation for the last para-

   This book has no vision because the writer can see no way out of
the vicious environment he describes so obsessively. The facts are
piled up because they may contain a clue to the way out—but he
does not find it. The book lacks perspective both socially and
psychologically. And in the end it is this, I think, that explains the
awkwardness of the style in which much of it is written and its
inordinate length. Because the writer is trapped, he barely en-
visages the existence of the reader; unlike that of James Joyce his
prose is unoral, heavy, silent; unlike a great but lengthy writer like
Thomas Mann he has no desire to convince by accumulation; one
finds oneself after nearly 1,000 pages in exactly the same place as
one started. It is perhaps for that reason that I began by saying that
I felt I ought to read this book again.
is the last sentence-and-a-quarter left over perhaps from some old
review of finnegans wake?       how crooked the last sentence is!

this time its the "constructive solution" cliche      a dirty one, perfected
in the days when communists dominated reviewing in the u s &
england       the perfect meeting of moscow & hollywood      give me
happy endings! im so miserable!      what cowardice      what if there is
no "way out" except to die      for 1000s of years countless ways out
have been peddled & we're no better off than before—the hydrogen
bomb proves that

but according to berger its easy!      any good novelist finds "the way
out," right in the last chapter      the bad novelist gropes around, but
somehow he cant locate it      of course berger means fake way out.
he wants a writer to be a professional liar, not an artist

a writer can arrange for his characters to have relatively happy mo-
ments on the last page—but why should he?

mcalister read the recognitions twice & it was on hayes' "night table
for the past two months"      ive no proof, maybe most of the others
read much & carefully       theyre too modest to say so, or write as if
they did       it isnt that the review outlets cant pay overtime      they
spend large sums on all those thousands of routine reviews of routine
books       if they gave a good goddamn theyd spend a little extra on
the real job of reviewing       to see that great books are bought now
     & not, like the recognitions will be, years & years after publication
     because its reviews were faked      if the typists at a publishers
make a steady living, why not the great artists he publishes?

so, extra pay for extra time to review the books that need it      hows
that for a constructive solution       trouble is, the critics would use the
time for just one purpose: to make their counterfeits harder to detect

the notetaking trick       for the 4th part of a dollar i offer complete
instructions how to become a bookreviewer      its easy to sell a review
after just 1 careless reading of the book      a simple trick probably
used by most of the recognitions reviewers      you skim along con-
fused, bewildered but you keep right on taking notes on any scattered
points that occur to your scattered brain      after "finishing" the book,
the notes      no matter how incoherent      can always be connected
up somehow      read the blurb again      refer to your numbered list of
cliches & guess which ones apply       then write it up good in jargon &
remember, your readers havent read the book either

1 2 pounds 7 ounces (Back)

2 in reference to all quotations from it in this and other articles in newspaper, The
is copyright, 1952, 1955, by William Gaddis.
[Copyright renewed William Gaddis, 1983 -- AW] (Back)

3 anyway a competent review months after publication date is better than a
review appearing efficiently on the right date in the right column of the right
page in the wrong words (Back)