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What Is a Künstlerroman?

The Way of All Flesh cover

With Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe introduced me to the Künstlerroman (German for “artist novel”), and I have been a huge fan of the genre ever since. Some of my favorite novels (eg, The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister, The Way of All Flesh, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) are of the Künstlerroman variety, and I even wrote one of my own.

The Künstlerroman is actually a subgenre of the Bildungsroman. A Bildungsroman is a coming-of-age story, that is, the story’s focus is on the psychological and moral growth of the main character from childhood to adulthood, with maturation as the goal. According to Wikipedia, “The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society.”

When the Bildungsroman’s main character is an artist, the work is a Künstlerroman (Goethe’s The Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister is considered to be the first of its type). In other words, every Künstlerroman is a Bildungsroman, but not every Bildungsroman is a Künstlerroman.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a Bildungsroman and a Künstlerroman, as illustrated by the list that currently appears on Wikipedia’s Künstlerroman page, but that confusion disappears when you consider the fact that the “artist novel” is a sub-genre of the “coming-of-age novel” and not a separate genre altogether.

Greatest British Novels I’ve Read

British Flag

When BBC Culture asked book critics to name the top 100 British novels and then published the results earlier this month, I couldn’t resist going through the list to see how many I’d read. As it turns out, I’ve only read 15 of them:

  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne)
  • Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
  • Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift)
  • The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
  • Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
  • Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
  • David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
  • The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy)
  • Animal Farm (George Orwell)
  • A Room with a View (E.M. Forster)
  • Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)

I do have Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf) on my Kindle, so sometime next year I’ll make it 16. Until then, however, I’ve got some nonfiction to catch up on.

For more from the BBC, see “What makes a ‘Great British Novel’?”

Another Trip to City Light Books

City Lights Purchases

Two weeks ago I paid a visit to City Lights Books in San Francisco, where I bought several items:

  • Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder (DVD; 2009)
  • My Struggle: Book 1, by Karl Ove Knausgaard (paperback; 2013)
  • Shambhala Sun (November 2014 issue)

I loved the Ferlinghetti documentary, and I can’t wait to read the others.

My Top 10 Favorite Last Lines from Novels

Books

When Stephen Covey penned “Begin with the end in mind” as the second habit in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he wasn’t referring to novel writing, but it’s great advice nevertheless for anyone wishing to write a novel. Just as novelists must work and rework the first lines of their creations to engage readers from the start, so must novelists regard last lines in terms of importance—it’s been said that the opening lines sell the book, while the last line sells the next book. I’m nowhere near finishing my second novel, but I’ve had the end in mind for some time now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about last lines. In no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite last lines from novels:

“…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”
Voltaire, Candide

“His father and grandfather could probably no more understand his state of mind than they could understand Chinese, but those who know him intimately do not know they they wish him greatly different from what he actually is.”
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

“yes I said yes I will Yes.”
James Joyce, Ulysses

“L—d! said my mother, what is all this story about?— A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind I ever heard.”
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.”
Samuel Beckett, Molloy

“I shall feel proud and satisfied to have been the first author to enjoy the full fruit of his writings, as I desired, because my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground. Farewell.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm

“And I go home having lost her love. And write this book.”
Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans

Pixels of Young Mueller: Kindle Audio Sample

pixels-on-kindle

Here is an unenhanced audio sample from my novel, Pixels of Young Mueller, as read by the Kindle’s default male voice at normal speed (you can read along). As you can hear, the feature needs improving, but it would suffice if I preferred listening to books over reading them.

Fictional Characters Bearing Their Creators’ Names

Sarah Crown posted an interesting bit in The Guardian’s books blog, “Is auto-fiction strictly a boys’ game?” The subject was the phenomenon of authors who insert a character bearing their name into their work. It turns out that a number of books—both new and not so new—have used this device, a fact that interested me greatly, as I used it in my novel, Pixels of Young Mueller. I have compiled this list of books from the article:

  • Jonathan Coe (The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim)
  • Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room)
  • Geoff Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi)
  • Will Self (Will Self Walking to Hollywood)
  • Michel Houellebecq (La Carte et le Territoire)
  • Alberto Manguel (All Men Are Liars)
  • Philip Roth (Operation Shylock)
  • Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated)
  • E. L. Doctorow (World’s Fair)
  • Frederick Exley (A Fan’s Notes)
  • Vladimir Nabokov (Pnin)
  • Amelie Nothomb (Une forme de vie)
  • Gertrude Stein (Autobiography of Alice B Toklas)

Readers familiar with my novel know that its main character, Klaus Mueller, creates a fictional character named Jerry Schwartz. I knew that I could not have been the first to do this, but I was not aware of any specific instances in which it had been done. Fortunately, Sarah Crown has come to the rescue, and while I don’t agree with her use of “auto-fiction” to describe the literary device itself, I applaud her efforts.

New 5-Star Review for Pixels of Young Mueller

Pixels of Young Mueller cover

Amazon customer Tony Parsons gave Pixels of Young Mueller 5 out of 5 stars, calling it “very well written” with “a lot of enlightening scenarios and a host of great characters,” a book that “could make a great movie or TV series.” Here’s the review:

Klaus Mueller dreams about leaving Southland someday to be a rock star. He chooses the so called glamorous lifestyle over college. He has lots/lots of setbacks: poor paying or unfit jobs, and his music is constantly being rejected.

Fast forward he moves to Chicago, IL he finds a career and becomes a father. Klaus is still not thoroughly happy with his current lifestyle.

It’s amazing since I have started reading regular people’s books instead of college textbooks how many others struggle besides musicians, such as writers and artists. 9 to 5 is that really what we want out of our life?

Cool book cover, great font and writing style. A very well written true to life book. It was very easy to read/follow and never a dull moment from start/finish. No grammar errors, repetitive or out of line sequence sentences. A lot of enlightening scenarios and a host of great characters. This could make a great movie or TV series. A book you must read to the end. No doubt in my mind a very easy rating of 5 stars for this book.

Pixels of Young Mueller is available at Amazon. Check it out!

My Top 10 Favorite Novels

Here are my top 10 favorite novels. Admittedly, language limitations have prevented me from reading several of these in the language in which they were originally written, but I list them here nevertheless, as I am no less in love with them as the result of having read translated versions. The list:

  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (James Joyce)
  • The Way of All Flesh (Samuel Butler)
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne)
  • Ulysses (James Joyce)
  • Don Quixote (Miguel de Cervantes)
  • Malone Dies (Samuel Beckett)
  • Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
  • Confessions of Zeno (Italo Svevo)
  • On the Road (Jack Kerouac)
  • Look Homeward, Angel (Thomas Wolfe)