The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

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The 150-word Review: Heads.  Heads.  Heads. Tom Stoppard’s tragicomedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, opens with one hundred fifty-two coin flips that land “heads” each time, prompting Guildenstern to posit that they are “held within sub- or supernatural forces.”  In a way, they are.  The improbability of the coin flips—and also of the duo’s fate—is written.  They are held within Stoppard’s brilliantly absurd lines and, ultimately, within the titular line originally spun by the Bard.

And so, too, is the protagonist of The Unnamed held within the sub- or supernatural force of Joshua Ferris’ invention.  Tim Farnsworth suffers from a heretofore unimaginable disorder:  the irresistible compulsion to walk and walk and walk to the point of exhaustion.  When his affliction strikes for the third time, Tim and his family are plunged into a remarkable struggle to hold onto to familiar ties and find order amidst a world that artfully has none.

You will like this book if you’re a fan of: entropy, Then We Came To The End, the countryside, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ambitious prose, The Myth of Sisyphus, and beating the sophomore slump.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): You know Norm, Joshua Ferris is a graduate of the UC Irvine MFA Writing Program, along with notable alumni Michael Chabon and Richard Ford, to name a few.


The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

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The 150-word Review: If you find Thomas Pynchon intimidating, you’re not alone. Back when my literary pretensions were fresh (and sincere), my goal was to read “Gravity’s Rainbow” and claim it as a “trophy”–a bright shiny medal that I could pin to my chest and be the envy of bookish-types everywhere. Only to fail. Twice. (I have read “Mason & Dixon.” So there. Praise me. )

“The Crying of Lot 49” is a more accessible introduction to Pynchon. Consider it a 10K in comparison to the ultra-marathon of “Gravity’s Rainbow.” It has everything Pynchonites (Pynchonians? Pynchonese?) obsess over and provides a primer for tropes that Pynchon will eventually crank to eleven in later novels. When Oedipa Maas becomes the “executrix” of her ex-boyfriend’s estate, she embarks on a surreal Californian adventure, encountering wacky musicians, esoteric tech weenies, and the Tristero: a sinister, centuries-old society, whose underground mail service may still exist today.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: fans of inventive character names and silly song lyrics, conspiracy theorists, Harold Bloom, auctioneers, Lisa Simpson (Are you reading “Gravity’s Rainbow?” “Well, re-reading.”), Thurn und Taxis, boorish North Beach tourists, and nascent computer hackers.

This book will go great with: Paulaner Hefe-weizen

Set the mood with: Mr. Postman (Beatles cover)

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Thomas Pynchon may have modeled the fictional “Yoyodyne” corporation after Boeing, where he worked as a technical writer in the early ‘60’s.

Lucky’s Scene from Waiting for Godot

This is a wonderful performance by Alan Mandell of Lucky’s scene from “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett. This is from a 1987 production of the play in Paris by the San Quentin Dram Workshop ( This is what happens when a mind is completely unfettered. Beckett was truly meant to be heard, not read.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

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The 150-word Review: Among the few absolutes to which I subscribe, here’s one: fat men are funny. John Belushi. John Candy. Chris Farley. Marlon Brando in a muumuu. Funny. There’s a rich tradition of humorous fatsos throughout literature: Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, Shakespeare’s Falstaff. Who? How about Belushi’s Blutarsky? All personify crudeness, gluttony, sloth, and (let’s not forget) flatulence to great comic effect.

Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces belongs to this esteemed lineage. Forced to pay-off a debt for his mother, Ignatius, a genius-behemoth-buffoon, must leave his bedroom (and his beloved rubber glove) on a quixotic trip through 1960’s New Orleans in search of work. Ignatius’ arrogant single-minded disdain for the characters unfortunate enough to intersect his meandering path creates segments of high absurdity. A Confederacy of Dunces illustrates the discordant decadence of New Orleans in vivid detail and captures the distinct dialects of its denizens.

You would like this book if you’re a fan of: fat guys, the Crescent City, flatulence, arrogant buffoonery, creative autoeroticism, self-proclaimed genius, junior varsity strippers, and talented cockatoos.

This book would go great with: a Dr. Nut soda pop or some muscatel.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): “Actually Norm… John Kennedy Toole was awarded the Pulitzer Prize posthumously in 1980, eleven years after his suicide.”

Also Norm, did you know… that John Belushi, John Candy, and Chris Farley were each, at one time, rumored to play Ignatius J. Reilly in a film-adaptation of the book before their deaths?”

(A curse? Will Ferrell was also once rumored for the role. After Blades of Glory, let’s hope so. John Belushi as Ignatius J. Reilly? What a shame. That would have been something.)

Reading this book would impress: girls (or guys) with a “teddy-bear” fetish, hunting-cap aficionados, and dialect coaches.