A Temple of Texts: Essays

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Alfred A. Knopf, 2006 - Literary Collections - 418 pages
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From one of the most admired essayists and novelists at work today: a new collection of essays—his first sinceTests of Time, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism.

These twenty-five essays speak to the nature and value of writing and to the books that result from a deep commitment to the word. Here is Gass on Rilke and Gertrude Stein; on friends such as Stanley Elkin, Robert Coover, and William Gaddis; and on a company of “healthy dissidents,” among them Rabelais, Elias Canetti, John Hawkes, and Gabriel García Márquez.

In the title essay, Gass offers an annotated list of the fifty books that have most influenced his thinking and his work and writes about his first reaction to reading each. Among the books: Ludwig Wittgenstein’sTractatus Logico-Philosophicus(“A lightning bolt,” Gass writes. “Philosophy was not dead after all. Philosophical ambitions were not extinguished. Philosophical beauty had not fled prose.”) . . . Ben Jonson’sThe Alchemist(“A man after my own heart. He is capable of the simplest lyrical stroke, as bold and direct as a line by Matisse, but he can be complex in a manner that could cast Nabokov in the shade . . . Shakespeare may have been smarter, but he did not know as much.”) . . . Gustave Flaubert’s letters (“Here I learned—and learned—and learned.”) And after reading Malory’sLe Morte d’Arthur, Gass writes “I began to eat books like an alien worm.”

In the concluding essay, “Evil,” Gass enlarges upon the themes of artistic quality and cultural values that are central to the books he has considered, many of which seek to reveal the worst in people while admiring what they do best.
As Gass writes, “The true alchemists do not change lead into gold, they change the world into words.”

A Temple of Textsis Gass at his most alchemical.

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - stillatim - LibraryThing

My first experience of Gass was his introduction to Gaddis' The Recognitions, back when I just liked buying and reading immensely long books which were proclaimed under-rated masterpieces or had been ... Read full review

A TEMPLE OF TEXTS: Essays

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A learned potpourri of fulminations and enthusiasms from the indefatigably stylish novelist, teacher and critic.If Gass's first three essays don't hook you, you probably aren't an inveterate work ... Read full review

Contents

To a Young Friend Charged with Possession of the Classics
3
Influence
12
Fifty Literary Pillars
29
Copyright

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About the author (2006)

William H. Gass—essayist, novelist, literary critic—was born in Fargo, North Dakota. He has been the recipient of the first PEN/Nabokov Award, the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay, three National Book Critics Circle Awards for Criticism, a Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, the Award for Fiction and the Medal of Merit for Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations. He lives in St. Louis.

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