Thursday, July 27, 2006

It is hard to say

but I think I have just read a life-changing book review, it has tipped me off to a book that is like the demented twin of the one that I am sooner or later going to write: Charles Dantzig's Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française. (I am terribly lazy about reading books in French, but I've definitely got to get this.) The review is by Patrick McGuinness, in the TLS of July 14:

This is not a reference book to be passively consumed. Not everyone will be pleased to hear, for instance, that Simenon "writes like a freight train", or to learn, in the first paragraph of Dantzig's entry on Montaigne, that "Pour tout dire, il m'emmerde" and how, "faced with a choice between two expressions, Montaigne will opt for both". . . . . [Dantzig] is not afraid of reputation or status, and clearly relishes taking them on. For instance, while some of us might agree with Dantzig that Sartre is "the ideal writer for an American-style anthology: The Portable Sartre. It would be his masterpiece", we wouldn't expect to find it put that way in our Larousse. Dantzig's entry about Andre Breton opens with a devastating one-liner: "A policeman's son, he never betrayed his heritage", and he is merciless about what he sees as Surrealism's slyly conformist underbelly . . . . This is a dictionary (if dictionary it is) as much for the practising writer as for the reader. There are entries on beginnings, middles and endings, on literary oblivion, on length ("there are 100-page books that feel long and 800-page books that feel short") and on "Success" and "Failure" . . . . The section on "unusual deaths of authors", by which Dantzig means "authors who have not died of old age, youth, or illness", comes with ahelpful subsection on authors killed by mechanized vehicles.

Somehow I am going to combine this idea with my desire to write a collection of reviews of imaginary books--I should start writing funny entries now and publish them gradually as weird essay-criticism-short-story hybrids, and then assemble the master-work in my old age! But seriously, I can't wait to see what this actually looks like....

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