Today we officially begin, with relatively little fanfare, I confess, a new book discussion group. After the long, hard, nearly interminably slog through William Gaddis’ The Recognitions last year, we thought we’d go with something … not necessarily accessible, but, let’s say instead, simply, shorter. So it came to pass that we chose Russell Hoban’s 1974 novel Kleinzeit.
The novel, I will be the first to admit, is not for everyone. I expect it may well be divisive even here. I’ve already corresponded with one of the contributors to this group who did not especially like. (More from him later.) There was another person in the comments of a post in which we were hashing out our decision, Ben, I think it was, who scorned it (the book, not the decision) as well. Perhaps you won’t like it either.
The reasons to dislike Kleinzeit become apparent quite quickly, so I will not outline them here. Far more important for me now is exactly what type of person might actually like Kleinzeit. For starters, you should probably dislike hospitals. Or, at the very least, be open to the idea that they (or It, as the case me be in our novel here) are a kind of aggressively malevolent force, filled with and by a language you will never quite understand. You might also need to be open to the idea that Death comes in the form of a gorilla. Oh, and be okay — okay, not okay-okay, but, open to the notion — that a piece of paper might not like getting written on, and indeed might regard it as a gross imposition, or, depending on the circumstances, I suppose, a sexual assault. You should also have a certain tolerance, though not necessary affection, for puns, even really bad ones.You needn’t participate in the annual SA4QE conducted in his honor, but you should probably be the sort who would at least look at the quotes — or at least the sort who won’t tear them down or cast them aside.
As I see it, Kleinzeit is best appreciated, and perhaps appreciated at all, as a mildly perverse children’s book — a genre, some may recall, with which Hoban has experience. It is arguably not as heady as it might appear — or, yes, as it might aspire — and maybe even more silly than it is funny. This isn’t to say the novel is above our critical reproach; but neither is it below us (or at least me). I’m excited for this event and for the chance to see what everybody thinks.
Again, let me re-emphasize: it is an incredibly short book — less than 200 pages. Slightly longer than a novella. We’ll have another post up on Thursday, and will continue the event for two weeks thereafter (posting on Tues. & Thurs. ). There is, in other words, plenty of time to begin reading along with us. The general scheme is for our main-page contributors, whether they’ve finished the book by the time they write or not, to reflect on it, however they want (though, it should be said, we editors have unilateral editorial say, and if we deem your contribution absolute garbage, as unlikely as this is, we reserve the right not to keep it up). The book does not lend itself to spoilers as such, so I’m really not bothered if there are over-lapping discussions. This is going to be, I hope, a pretty free-form, improvisational book discussion. Contributors on the main page and in the comments should feel free to riff at length on things said in previous posts and threads — or perhaps you’re perplexed and just want to ask questions — or perhaps you’ve drawn a picture of yourself reading the book — or you have an anecdote about A4 paper. Whatever comes.