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Poll's Open

From: Liz
Sent on: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 5:40 PM
Time to vote!

Click the above link and cast your vote. I'll close the poll on Friday and send out an email announcing the winner.


The choices this round are:

Lush Life by Richard Price, 480 pages

No one has a better ear and eye for the American city than Richard Price, and in Lush Life, his first novel in five years, he leaves the fictional environs of Dempsy, New Jersey, where Clockers, Freedomland, and Samaritan were set, for a few crowded blocks of Manhattan's Lower East Side. There's a crime at the heart of the story, but you don't read Price for plot. Instead, you listen as he peels apart layers of class and history through the way his characters talk to each other: hipster bartenders who tell people they're really writers, homeboys from housing projects named after the Jewish immigrants who have long left the neighborhood, and cops, cops, cops, circling the streets looking for a collar, disappearing into their cases as their own lives go to ruin. --Tom Nissley

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, 405 pages

Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's">Toole's tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. ("Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.") But Ignatius's quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso--who mistakes him for a vagrant--and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.

Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius's path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you'll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius--selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life--who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life. --Alix Wilber

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, 336 pages

Despite its lascivious reputation, the pleasures of Lolita are as much intellectual as erogenous. It is a love story with the power to raise both chuckles and eyebrows. Humbert Humbert is a European intellectual adrift in America, haunted by memories of a lost adolescent love. When he meets his ideal nymphet in the shape of 12-year-old Dolores Haze, he constructs an elaborate plot to seduce her, but first he must get rid of her mother. In spite of his diabolical wit, reality proves to be more slippery than Humbert's feverish fantasies, and Lolita refuses to conform to his image of the perfect lover.
Playfully perverse in form as well as content, riddled with puns and literary allusions, Nabokov's 1955 novel is a hymn to the Russian-born author's delight in his adopted language. Indeed, readers who want to probe all of its allusive nooks and crannies will need to consult the annotated edition. Lolita is undoubtedly, brazenly erotic, but the eroticism springs less from the "frail honey-hued shoulders ... the silky supple bare back" of little Lo than it does from the wantonly gorgeous prose that Humbert uses to recount his forbidden passion:

She was musical and apple-sweet ... Lola the bobby-soxer, devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice ... and every movement she made, every shuffle and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty--between my gagged, bursting beast and the beauty of her dimpled body in its innocent cotton frock.
Much has been made of Lolita as metaphor, perhaps because the love affair at its heart is so troubling. Humbert represents the formal, educated Old World of Europe, while Lolita is America: ripening, beautiful, but not too bright and a little vulgar. Nabokov delights in exploring the intercourse between these cultures, and the passages where Humbert describes the suburbs and strip malls and motels of postwar America are filled with both attraction and repulsion, "those restaurants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended upon the cute paper napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads." Yet however tempting the novel's symbolism may be, its chief delight--and power--lies in the character of Humbert Humbert. He, at least as he tells it, is no seedy skulker, no twisted destroyer of innocence. Instead, Nabokov's celebrated mouthpiece is erudite and witty, even at his most depraved. Humbert can't help it--linguistic jouissance is as important to him as the satisfaction of his arrested libido. --Simon Leake

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects by Marshall McLuhan / Quentin Fiore, 159 pages

The Medium is the Massage is Marshall McLuhan's most condensed, and perhaps most effective, presentation of his ideas. Using a layout style that was later copied by Wired, McLuhan and coauthor/designer Quentin Fiore combine word and image to illustrate and enact the ideas that were first put forward in the dense and poorly organized Understanding Media. McLuhan's ideas about the nature of media, the increasing speed of communication, and the technological basis for our understanding of who we are come to life in this slender volume. Although originally printed in 1967, the art and style in The Medium is the Massage seem as fresh today as in the summer of love, and the ideas are even more resonant now that computer interfaces are becoming gateways to the global village.

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