Author Archives: Gabe Habash

12 Books That End Mid-Sentence

Gabe Habash -- March 4th, 2014

Way back before The Sopranos made people angry/confused for cutting to black out of nowhere, books were messing with the heads of readers by daring to not use a period as the last typeset keystroke on the very last page. Here are 12 books that have no need for the standard last punctuation mark. Please help add to this list in the comments section–the lack of books by female authors is because I could not find any, not one, in hours and hours of searching.

Spoilers begin now.

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The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)

The Ending:

She held out her trembling hand to K. and had him sit down beside her, she spoke with great difficulty, it was difficult to understand her, but what she said

Why: Kafka died. There’s some debate about whether he would’ve even finished The Castle had he not died of tuberculosis–in a 1922 letter to his friend and executor Max Brod, he stated he was giving up on it. But Kafka also told Brod on multiple occasions that the ending would involve K. living and eventually dying in the village, culminating on K.’s death bed as he receives a notice from the castle that his “legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there.”

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Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)

The Ending:

Nothing will be successful until each one of us feels that, just as in the epoch when people took arms and rose up against the enemy, so he must rise up against falsity. As a Russian, as one bound to you by ties of blood, of one and the same blood, I now address you. I address those of you who have at least some notion of what nobility of mind is. I invite you to remember the duty each man faces in any place. I invite you to consider your duty more closely, and the obligation of your earthly service, because we all have only a dim idea of it now, and we hardly…

Why: It’s a big cliffhanger. Dead Souls was the first in a planned trilogy, and was meant to be a modern retelling of Inferno (while also containing Homeric aspects) as Chichikov travels around and encountering a series of strange townspeople and landowners. Gogol supposedly completed the trilogy’s second part (the corresponding Purgatorio volume, in which Chichikov undergoes his purification), but destroyed it right before dying. In her book Designing Dead Souls, Susanne Fusso argues that Gogol only would’ve continued with a Part Two and Part Three if the reading public embraced Part One, and that he intentionally broke off the narrative (something he’d done before) in Part One to see if they’d demand a Part Two. Continue reading

The Best Book You’ve Never Read: ‘Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age’

Gabe Habash -- February 12th, 2014

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In 1997, a man fell from the fifth floor of the Bulovka hospital in Prague. He was, said witnesses, trying to feed the pigeons on his window sill when the table he was standing on slipped out from under him. The man was 82-year-old Bohumil Hrabal, called “one of the greatest living European prose writers” by Philip Roth and “Czechoslovakia’s greatest living writer” by Milan Kundera.

This is not an attempt to convince you that an author loved by a long list of writers and critics¹ is proof of his greatness. This is an attempt to get your to read Bohumil Hrabal’s Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age because it might be the funniest book you haven’t read. Continue reading

The 11 Most Anticipated Book Adaptations of 2014

Gabe Habash -- January 22nd, 2014

Allright, allright, last year’s top 10 book to film adaptations picks came out 50-50: a few picks flopped (The Host–remember? That was a movie! And it came out less than a year ago!), a few brought in billions and billions as expected (Catching Fire), one offended everyone (The Wolf of Wall Street), and we’re still waiting on two movies that were supposed to come out in 2013 (Winter’s Tale and A Most Wanted Man). Hey, at least the list didn’t turn out as bad as The Counselor.

2014 will be better, I promise. And to make up for last year’s 10, there’s a bonus pick below. Here are 11 surefire winners.

Just missed the cut: Under the Skin, the moody alien movie where Scarlett Johansson is the alien; Black Mass, the Whitey Bulger movie that may or may not star Johnny Depp but likely won’t be out this year; Divergent, the biggest YA adaptation that’s not below; The Body Artist, the adaptation of DeLillo’s novella, starring Sigourney Weaver.

11. A Most Wanted Man (TBA 2014)

I know I’m breaking my rule of no repeats by putting A Most Wanted Man on 2013 and 2014, but I’m just going to let the trailer make the case. And if it’s anywhere near as good as Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, it deserves a place in the top 10 of 2014.

A Most Wanted Man is still based on the book by John le Carré and still stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright, Willem Dafoe, and Daniel Brühl.

10. The Two Faces of January (Spring 2014)

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If you’re a Patricia Highsmith fan, 2014 brings not only an adaptation of her novel Carol (starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara), but of The Two Faces of January, starring Viggo Mortensen, Oscar Isaac, and Kirsten Dunst.

The film takes place in 1962 with an American couple (Mortensen and Dunst) visiting Greece and meeting a scam artist (Isaac). Highsmithian intrigue follows. January is the directorial debut of Hossein Amini, probably best known for doing the Drive screenplay.

9. Far from the Madding Crowd (Spring 2014)

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The fourth screen version of Thomas Hardy’s classic stars Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts/Michael Sheen/Tom Sturridge as the three males who are romantically interested in her. Drama ensues. What makes this version particularly interesting is director Thomas Vinterberg, who just put out one of 2013′s best movies, The Hunt. Continue reading

The 9 Best Books That Don’t Exist

Gabe Habash -- January 8th, 2014

It’s time to make you really sad: here are 9 great books…that don’t actually exist. But while the world would certainly be a better place if they did exist (except #4 and probably #1), if you haven’t read the books they’re from, change that right away.

9. Old Custer by Eli Cash (from The Royal Tenenbaums)

One of the best character introductions is the 52 second clip above, in which you meet Cormac McCarthy’s slightly more fun-loving alter ego, Eli Cash. I don’t know if “‘Vámonos, amigos,’ he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusklight” is the ending of Old Custer, but I do know that I want to find out what happens if you don’t presuppose Custer died at Little Bighorn.

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8. The Garden of Proserpina by Randolph Henry Ash (from Possession by A. S. Byatt)

You could make the argument for any of 30+ fake literary works Byatt weaves into Possession, but it’s 12 lines from Randolph Henry Ash’s The Garden of Proserpina that open the novel, launching one of the great romance-detective stories of the past 30 years.

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7. The Father by Benno von Archimboldi (from 2666 by Roberto Bolano)

Archimboldi, one of literature’s best fictional writers, is both prolific and reclusive. With so many of his books to chose from, it’s hard to pick one (full list here), but The Father sounds like the nearest parallel to a creepy Bolano book: it’s about a son remembering the deviant behavior of his psychopathic killer father, complete with (of course) an enigmatic end. Continue reading

5 Perfect Sentences II

Gabe Habash -- December 18th, 2013

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We’ve done this before, but here are 5 more perfect sentences.

My father was right: you could make anybody amazing just by insisting they were.

-”What We Know About the Lost Aztec Children” by Elizabeth McCracken

She thought of a hotel room in Mazatlan whose door had just been slammed, it seemed forever, waking up two hundred birds down in the lobby; a sunrise over the library slope at Cornell University that nobody out on it had seen because the slope faced west; a dry, disconsolate tune from the fourth movement of the Bartok Concerto for Orchestra; a whitewashed bust of Jay Gould that Pierce kept over the bed on a shelf so narrow for it she’d always had the hovering fear it would someday topple on them.

-The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

On heart-broken pretense of entreating a cup of cold water, fiends in human form had got into lonely dwellings, nor retired until a dark deed had been done.

-Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

I sleep with a glass of water on the nightstand so I can see by its level if the coastal earth is trembling or if the shaking is still me.

-”In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” by Amy Hempel

“I get the idea perfectly, Mickey,” said Archimboldi, thinking all the while that this man was not only irritating but ridiculous, with the particular ridiculousness of self-dramatizers and poor fools convinced they’ve been present at a decisive moment in history, when it’s common knowledge, thought Archimboldi, that history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.”

-2666 by Roberto Bolaño

The Novel That Created Japan’s Infamous Suicide Forest

Gabe Habash -- December 4th, 2013

Of the thousands of literary landmarks around the world, many are worth the trip. But one place you’ll likely not want to visit anytime soon is Japan’s Aokigahara forest, also known as the Suicide Forest.

Located at the base of Mount Fuji, about 100 people take their own lives every year in the forest, and this has been going on since the 1950s. It’s reportedly the most popular location for suicide in Japan, and isn’t that far behind sites like the Nanjing Yangtzee River Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

Why? The forest has long been associated with death in Japanese culture–it was reportedly a popular spot for the practice of ubasute, in which an elderly relative is taken to a remote place and left to die. But, most commonly, the forest is linked to the 1960 novel Kuroi Jukai (Black Sea of Trees) by crime fiction writer Seichō Matsumoto, in which two characters commit suicide there.

See the video below for an exploration of the forest.

Why Don’t More People Read Barry Hannah?

Gabe Habash -- November 20th, 2013

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More than any other writer, Barry Hannah might have more pieces written about him that begin by mentioning how underrated he is (see here, among many others). The fact that he’s underread by the reading public is in stark contrast to the gaga praise heaped on him in these glowing articles.

In one such article, Wells Tower writes:

Barry Hannah’s fame is of a peculiar kind. Ask people about him, and either they’ll say they’ve never heard the name (despite his nominations for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize) or they’ll get a feverish, ecstatic look before they seize you by the lapels and start reeling off cherished passages of his work.

Often, it’s as if the fact that Hannah is relatively underappreciated (none of his books has sold more than 9,000 copies since the early 2000s, when Nielsen BookScan started keeping track) is an essential piece of what makes his fans so rabidly obsessed with him. “Why haven’t you read Barry Hannah?” is something that’s probably frequently and frustratedly been said since Geronimo Rex first published in the early ’70s. But just as often as the “Barry Hannah is underrated” piece, you’ll find its parallel, sister article: an apologetic convert who, formerly avoiding his work for some reason, such as pigeonholing Hannah as “Southern,” finally reads one on Hannah’s books and realizes, My God, this guy can write (see this article from Michael Dirda). At which point, of course, the convert will begin grabbing anyone nearby and saying, “Why haven’t you read Barry Hannah?”

Count me as part of both the latter, ecstatic group Tower mentions and, like Dirda, a convert. Barry Hannah is one of America’s great writers. Continue reading

The Most Underrated Book of 2013 is ‘Sea of Hooks’ by Lindsay Hill

Gabe Habash -- November 6th, 2013

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PHOTOGRAPHING HANDS

For his final eighth grade project at Anglican, Christopher conducted an experiment. He took photographs of the backs of the hands of the boys in his class, making a list of the order in which they were taken so that later he could match the hands with their owners. He had them developed, and then a the end of the week, he had the children put their hands behind their backs, and he laid the photos out on a big wooden table at the back of the classroom. Each photograph had a number next to it, and he asked that each boy pick the photograph, by number, of his hands. Some boys had arguments because they both thought one of the pairs of hands was theirs and some hands went unclaimed. There was jostling, joking and making-fun, but not a single child asked Christopher why he was doing this experiment. In the end he tallied how many boys had chosen their own hands, and it was none.

I remember once reading someone praise Pynchon because it felt like every one of his sentences was perfectly crafted, as if each one not only took into account the sentences immediately before and after it, but the whole book it was a part of.

Twenty years in the making, that’s what the masterpiece Sea of Hooks reads like (PW put it in the top 10 books of 2013; see the list here). For 350 pages, Lindsay Hill reaches into his bag of prose tricks and brings each one out exactly when he should. Told entirely through fragments that rarely exceed the length of a paragraph, the novel constantly switches up its tone, dimension, and range to routinely keep you off balance. Hill ups his plate-spinning by hitting all corners of the reading taste palate. Some fragments are sad (really sad), some are funny, some are actually terrifying (Stephen King terrifying), many are moving. All are true. Continue reading

PW Best Books 2013: ‘Percival Everett by Virgil Russell’ by Percival Everett

Gabe Habash -- October 23rd, 2013

Percival Everett by Virgil Russell

Leading up to the November 1st publication of PW’s Best Books of 2013, our reviews editors are blogging about some of their favorites from our top 100. Here’s the latest post:

I started working fiction reviews at PW back in June, so I had some catching up to do on the first six months of 2013′s books. One of those books was Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett, a novel that, before I read it, was lodged in my head as the one with the title that I didn’t understand.

Since reading it, though, it’s become the book that I’ve pulled down four different times from my shelf just to flip through and reread. And because I have lines underlined on nearly every page, there is so much to reread. Percival Everett by Virgil Russell combines the philosophical puzzling of Beckett with the oddball discursiveness of Brautigan, and has the playfulness of both.

Take for example, this Brautigan-like line (which also doesn’t not sound like Beckett):

Everything felt off, awkward, like a typewriter that would not sit level on a desk, like a toothbrush with one long bristle that you can’t find when you stare at it, like the smell of gun oil in a baby’s nursery, like a smile in the mouth of the man who is robbing you.

Or this Beckett-like passage (which also doesn’t not sound like Brautigan):

This is where I pause to mull. You might think that I should be mulling something over, but I am a fan of the simple mull. I want to consider the day you were born. There was not a cloud in the sky and there were very few birds as well. Your mother was in the hospital in good time, time enough to even think that she was there too early. These were the days when fathers paced the hallways and waited helplessly, smoking, because everyone smoked everywhere. The obstetrician probably had a Camel filter dangling from his lips as he got a good grip on your oversized head and pulled you into this miserable, good-for-nothing world. You know the world I mean, where the rich get richer and the dumb get dumber and the horny get hornier and the only thing that ever changes is the size of insecure women’s breasts.

Or this line, which sounds like both writers at the same time:

The only person I met at the march that remained a close friend was Charlton Heston. I am Nat Turner and I’m sort of pissed off. Just fucking with you. I’m Bill Styron.

I’m not going to get on the horse, telling you that more people should read Percival Everett and that you should be among them. You should be, but I’m not going to make you. Just know that you’re missing whole pages that remind you how good writing can be.

The Art of Famous Book Covers

Gabe Habash -- October 9th, 2013

It’s often the case that a great book cover is created solely for the book itself (see the Vintage/Nabokov/John Gall series, which is one of the best ever), but sometimes a savvy designer finds an extant piece of art that’s so perfect it seems as if it were created just to be put on the jacket. Here are 9 of the best art-and-book-cover matches.

Click on the images below for high res.

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1. Underworld by Don DeLillo

The art on the cover: New York, 1972 by André Kertész

The iconic photo was taken the year before the official dedication ceremony for the World Trade Center, from Kertész’s apartment.

The story behind the choice for the photo as the cover, according to Don DeLillo’s Underworld: A Reader’s Guide:

Troubling yet inarguably heavy-handed in its dialectic, the image, even when the novel appeared in 1997, seemed to fit too perfectly DeLillo’s examination of the postmodern wasteland and the bleak possibilities of spiritual renewal in the age of multinational capital. With a foreboding play of light and shadow, Kertész’s photograph suggest a dystopian metropolis [...] DeLillo himself found the photograph but was worried that it might be too religious. His editor at Scribner, Nan Graham, then hired a photo researcher to find a cover image: “she came back with the same image DeLillo had found on his own” (Passaro, “Don DeLillo and the Towers”). Continue reading