January 2012 Book: The Recognitions

Strictly speaking, since this is a new year, it’s time for a NEW New Year’s Resolution. However, since last year’s New Year’s Resolution went so well, I see no reason to give up on it, just because I flipped another page on the calendar. I do, however, want to relax one of the terms of my resolution this year… I still plan on buying at least one book at full price from a local independent bookstore a month (actually, last year I bought much more than one a month, but we won’t go into that here). And I think I can stick by the condition that it must be by an author I’ve never read before. But this year I’m going to relax the rule about fiction only. I read quite a lot of non-fiction, and just because fiction is mainly what I write, I see no need to limit my reading to fiction alone.

Still, January 2012’s book is a novel. I found it while I was rooting around Type Books, on my way back from a meeting. Here are a few interesting things about this edition:

  • It’s published by Dalkey Archive. You might not have heard of them (I hadn’t) but their mission seems to me to be singularly fantastic. It defines itself as: “A nonprofit organization whose mission is the preservation of literary works of art through publication.”
  • The Recognitions is one of the books Dalkey is trying to preserve by publication. (Although there have been other editions in the recent past: Penguin published one as recently as 2005). It was first published in 1955, was pretty much ignored, and in all likelihood would have disappeared into obscurity if its author, William Gaddis, had not won the National Book Award 20 years later for his follow-up novel JR.
  • Jonathan Franzen regards the book as the “ur-text of postwar fiction”.
  • Remarkably, one of its central themes is one which we’ve been playing with interminably in the post-modern era: authenticity and counterfeiting. “Gaddis anticipates by almost half a century the crisis of reality that we currently face, where the real and the virtual are combining in alarming ways, and the sources of legitimacy and power are often obscure to us.” to quote the book’s back jacket.
  • The book made it into TIME’s list of the 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.



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