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Re: [johnbarth] The Development - and the news ain't good, folks...

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  • Barbara Schmidt
    nice to year from you, and happy holidays to all. Oh how I wish I could argue with you. I haven t gotten as far as you- perhaps there will be nothing else at
    Message 1 of 21 , Dec 25, 2008
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      nice to year from you, and happy holidays to all.
       
      Oh how I wish I could argue with you.  I haven't gotten as far as you- perhaps there will be nothing else at all in the house some time, and I'll finish the last half....
       
      I will point out that the story about the student- The Bard Award- was worth reading.
       
       
       


       
      On Thu, Dec 25, 2008 at 10:11 AM, Krzysztof Majer <imago_mundi@...> wrote:

      Hi all & Merry Xmas!

      It's been ages since I last posted anything, but because I now have
      more time on my hands than I did for the last two years or so, I
      thought I'd drop by and say hello.

      To say that I've actually *read* The Development would be technically
      untrue, since I abandoned it some thirty pages before the end. I did
      give it a shot, though, and a lot of patience (much more than it
      deserved, I can't help thinking), so I imagine I can speculate about
      the unread pages. Now some of you know that over the years I've grown
      less and less fond of the late Shelly-era Barth, and that my favorites
      are his four big fat novels. I do still have a fondness for On With
      the Story, but apart from that one the recent story/novella/whatever
      cycles I find generally tedious. Of course this will be a biased view
      of the new one, and I must say I didn't have high hopes in the first
      place.

      Frankly, this may well be the most insipid of Barth's latest last
      books. I have many a bone to pick with JB over The Development, but
      perhaps the greatest one is the overwhelming unwillingness or
      inability to imagine characters who would not be a pair of - I invent
      in the spirit of the collection - "not unhappily married, empty nest,
      rich Old Farts", as JB himself so often calls them. So OK, he and
      Shelly are among those: we know it all too well, having accompanied
      them and their countless incarnations over a string of
      late-middle-aged-pair-of-intellectuals books. But where, I ask, is the
      imagination that could once upon a time invent the wild characters
      that peopled Sot-Weed, Giles, LETTERS or Somebody the Sailor (the
      aforementioned biggies that I like so much)? Why would someone confine
      himself to that same tired world evoked by sentences like "we are a
      comfortably married, semiretired couple of Old Farts"? The reader of
      The Development will see countless variations of this sentence.

      The fact that the stories are narrated by several different halves of
      an OF couple I take to be a Barthian joke, since the differences
      between them are technical: they end up sounding like and being the
      same familiar pair, having honed their love chirp since the days of
      Perseus and his favorite squeeze (so that's how many? 36 years?). I
      had a really tough time following "Progressive Dinner", where many
      such couples get together, because I kept confusing them. More
      alarmingly, nine times out of ten they strike me as completely
      uninteresting as characters.

      Even more alarmingly, the stories in which these characters are placed
      fare no better (of course I exclude the last two from my appraisal,
      because I jumped ship before I got there). I guess the only one that
      seemed relatively fresh in the context of the whole book was "The Bard
      Award", but even this becomes familiar territory very quickly (having
      awarded most stories with tags such as "lame" or "pretty lame", I gave
      this one an "OK" in my notebook). It may be that I find the daily
      routines of OF couples in Maryland's gated communities - their hors
      d'oeuvres, their Chardonnay and their progressive dinners - of very
      little interest; but the events that seemingly rip the texture of this
      life apart are only slightly less rousing.

      I have to say the excessive use of real estate lingo grates on my
      (non-native) ear. I hope to God its use is parodic, which doesn't
      really matter much, I guess, because the joke - if it is a joke -
      wears thin very soon. So unless it is a joke which is supposed to wear
      thin very soon, it fails, is what I'm saying, and even so it's annoying.

      And the metafictional tricks are obviously there, but seem as
      predictable as the couples and the community and their stories. This
      time around, JB seems to have very little (i.e. even less than in the
      recent years?) to say character-wise, story-wise, technique-wise. The
      whole thing seems frightfully unnecessary, academic and wearisome.

      On the upside, it's nice that he's still writing. I hope someone's
      going to come to the defense of the book and point out some of its
      values. I always feel a little bad thrashing a JB novel or collection
      here, but hey, there are so many Barthbooks I love! Only recently I
      taught Funhouse to students and I enjoyed my (umpteenth) ride through
      that (of course I know many here dislike LITF, but at least it has
      guts). The students, however, were unexcited. Oh well...

      Anyway, good to be back. Once again, enjoy the holidays, wherever you are.

      K

      PS. Remember our big Barth reads here? I miss those days. Maybe we
      could still have one of those some time. Not of The Development,
      though. :)


    • gryzjer
      Hi Barbara, ... and I ll ... my sentiments exactly, even if it s only thirty pages that are left in my case - but I sensed, putting the book aside, that I was
      Message 2 of 21 , Dec 25, 2008
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        Hi Barbara,

        > perhaps there will be nothing else at all in the house some time,
        and I'll
        > finish the last half....

        my sentiments exactly, even if it's only thirty pages that are left in
        my case - but I sensed, putting the book aside, that I was putting it
        aside for good. Beginning to read the book I actually felt happy (or,
        to use an apt Barthian phrase, not unhappy) to be back in tidewater
        country, but by page a hundred and something I groaned more and more
        often until it became clear that the joy was all gone and I was going
        on merely for the sake of finishing it. Which is when I decided that
        no book, even by one of my favorite writer, is going to do this to me,
        and I flung it -- well, put it -- back on the shelf.

        > I will point out that the story about the student- The Bard Award-
        > was worth reading.

        Yup, no disagreement there either. :) This was the only one I felt had
        any spark of life in it, any kind of excitement, and a not entirely
        unoriginal idea to go with it. Whether it was the sexy/brilliant
        female student fantasy that fueled the work or not, the rejuvenation
        that is the story's theme can also be felt on the formal level,
        somehow - the story, unlike the rest of the bunch, actually lives and
        breathes a little. And there's a touch of that old mischievousness,
        small whiffs of which can also be found in "Peeping Tom" and
        "Teardown", but are much more cautious there. Still, even though "The
        Bard Award" stands well among the rest of this collection, would it be
        as noticeable when flanked by better material? I can easily imagine it
        disappearing among the various fragments of On With the Story. But
        yes, I'd choose "The Bard Award" as the high point of the hundred-plus
        pages I read, "Progressive Dinner" as the absolute worst, and the rest
        floating somewhere between 'lame' and 'very lame'.

        I'm still thinking about the group read. In fact, I often think back
        to our group reads - I mean the two successful, completed ones - and
        think of how enriching the group perspective was to my experience of
        Tidewater Tales and LETTERS. Is this kind of thing still possible? Are
        there people that would be willing to do this? I wouldn't mind a lazy,
        unhurried, careful go at Sabbatical, for instance - I read it only
        once, and that must have been ten years ago. Would people be up for it
        at all? Or for something else? It's just such a luxury to read a long
        novel and discuss it with other enthusiasts. Anyone out there? Can the
        good old days be brought back? I sort of don't want this impression
        that JB is as horrid a writer as The Development indicates to last too
        long in my head. :)

        All the best,

        K
      • gryzjer
        Just so there isn t any confusion, the last message was from me - i.e. Kris - this is my more recent yahoo account. I still haven t worked out how to change
        Message 3 of 21 , Dec 25, 2008
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          Just so there isn't any confusion, the last message was from me - i.e.
          Kris - this is my more recent yahoo account. I still haven't worked
          out how to change what is displayed as the sender (so far it's my
          yahoo id), I'll try to work on it now.

          K
        • Glenn Gamblin
          Haven t cracked The Development yet, if indeed I ever will. From that basically uninformed (and therefore unbiased?) perspective, let me share a story from a
          Message 4 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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            Haven't cracked The Development yet, if indeed I ever will.
            From that basically uninformed (and therefore unbiased?) perspective, let me share a story from a different part of my life - a separate, but equal, obsession.

            I started listening to Bob Dylan when I was about 7 old (approximately 1965/66).  I was devoted, obsessed, completely sold-out to the Church of Bob.  And then, in 1979, he released an album called "At Budokan.".  I actually went to the local used record store and sold them ALL of my Bob Dylan lps (yes, I know - a mint-condition mono pressing of Highway 61 Revisited is worth more than $1.00).
            I was livid.  I felt betrayed.  I thought he would probably quit the music business or die or something in the near future.  I didn't see that his genius was merely 'on vacation.'
            ("At Budokan" is still a piece of crap, in my opinion.)
            I didn't start listening to his material again until the Bootleg Series started coming out (1991).  Since then, I've noticed that I missed a lot of great stuff (some not-so-great as well) in the intervening years.  I'm still trying to catch up.

            All of the preceding to remind us: JB still has the talent, the resources, etc., to create a great novel.  It's up to him to put those things to use, but I want to be "in touch" when/if it happens.




          • Josiah Miller
            That s a shame.  I actually liked The Development and was going to suggest a group read of it.  The last two stories really wrapped up the whole book.  It
            Message 5 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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              That's a shame.  I actually liked The Development and was going to suggest a group read of it.  The last two stories really wrapped up the whole book.  It shouldn't be taken as a short story collection, since all the stories tie-in together.  I would love to have a read of some Barth though.  I just joined this list a few months ago and would love to participate.

              Thanks,
              Josiah

              --- On Thu, 12/25/08, Krzysztof Majer <imago_mundi@...> wrote:
              From: Krzysztof Majer <imago_mundi@...>
              Subject: [johnbarth] The Development - and the news ain't good, folks...
              To: johnbarth@yahoogroups.com
              Date: Thursday, December 25, 2008, 1:11 PM

              Hi all & Merry Xmas!

              It's been ages since I last posted anything, but because I now have
              more time on my hands than I did for the last two years or so, I
              thought I'd drop by and say hello.

              To say that I've actually *read* The Development would be technically
              untrue, since I abandoned it some thirty pages before the end. I did
              give it a shot, though, and a lot of patience (much more than it
              deserved, I can't help thinking), so I imagine I can speculate about
              the unread pages. Now some of you know that over the years I've grown
              less and less fond of the late Shelly-era Barth, and that my favorites
              are his four big fat novels. I do still have a fondness for On With
              the Story, but apart from that one the recent story/novella/ whatever
              cycles I find generally tedious. Of course this will be a biased view
              of the new one, and I must say I didn't have high hopes in the first
              place.

              Frankly, this may well be the most insipid of Barth's latest last
              books. I have many a bone to pick with JB over The Development, but
              perhaps the greatest one is the overwhelming unwillingness or
              inability to imagine characters who would not be a pair of - I invent
              in the spirit of the collection - "not unhappily married, empty nest,
              rich Old Farts", as JB himself so often calls them. So OK, he and
              Shelly are among those: we know it all too well, having accompanied
              them and their countless incarnations over a string of
              late-middle- aged-pair- of-intellectuals books. But where, I ask, is the
              imagination that could once upon a time invent the wild characters
              that peopled Sot-Weed, Giles, LETTERS or Somebody the Sailor (the
              aforementioned biggies that I like so much)? Why would someone confine
              himself to that same tired world evoked by sentences like "we are a
              comfortably married, semiretired couple of Old Farts"? The reader of
              The Development will see countless variations of this sentence.

              The fact that the stories are narrated by several different halves of
              an OF couple I take to be a Barthian joke, since the differences
              between them are technical: they end up sounding like and being the
              same familiar pair, having honed their love chirp since the days of
              Perseus and his favorite squeeze (so that's how many? 36 years?). I
              had a really tough time following "Progressive Dinner", where many
              such couples get together, because I kept confusing them. More
              alarmingly, nine times out of ten they strike me as completely
              uninteresting as characters.

              Even more alarmingly, the stories in which these characters are placed
              fare no better (of course I exclude the last two from my appraisal,
              because I jumped ship before I got there). I guess the only one that
              seemed relatively fresh in the context of the whole book was "The Bard
              Award", but even this becomes familiar territory very quickly (having
              awarded most stories with tags such as "lame" or "pretty lame", I gave
              this one an "OK" in my notebook). It may be that I find the daily
              routines of OF couples in Maryland's gated communities - their hors
              d'oeuvres, their Chardonnay and their progressive dinners - of very
              little interest; but the events that seemingly rip the texture of this
              life apart are only slightly less rousing.

              I have to say the excessive use of real estate lingo grates on my
              (non-native) ear. I hope to God its use is parodic, which doesn't
              really matter much, I guess, because the joke - if it is a joke -
              wears thin very soon. So unless it is a joke which is supposed to wear
              thin very soon, it fails, is what I'm saying, and even so it's annoying.

              And the metafictional tricks are obviously there, but seem as
              predictable as the couples and the community and their stories. This
              time around, JB seems to have very little (i.e. even less than in the
              recent years?) to say character-wise, story-wise, technique-wise. The
              whole thing seems frightfully unnecessary, academic and wearisome.

              On the upside, it's nice that he's still writing. I hope someone's
              going to come to the defense of the book and point out some of its
              values. I always feel a little bad thrashing a JB novel or collection
              here, but hey, there are so many Barthbooks I love! Only recently I
              taught Funhouse to students and I enjoyed my (umpteenth) ride through
              that (of course I know many here dislike LITF, but at least it has
              guts). The students, however, were unexcited. Oh well...

              Anyway, good to be back. Once again, enjoy the holidays, wherever you are.

              K

              PS. Remember our big Barth reads here? I miss those days. Maybe we
              could still have one of those some time. Not of The Development,
              though. :)


            • kris_majer
              ... I was hoping that someone would defend the book, so I m happy that you did.. And maybe a group read isn t a bad idea, either - so far nobody has
              Message 6 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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                Josiah wrote:

                > That's a shame.  I actually liked The Development and
                > was going to suggest a group read of it. 

                I was hoping that someone would defend the book, so I'm happy that you
                did.. And maybe a group read isn't a bad idea, either - so far nobody
                has volunteered any other title. It's not like I have any more say-so
                than anyone else here. I'd go for Sabbatical if we had a vote, but I
                guess we may read the new one (especially since I've almost completed
                it now) if people would like this.

                > The last two stories really wrapped up the whole book.  It
                > shouldn't be taken as a short story collection, since all the
                > stories tie-in together. 

                Yes, I expect so, since JB has never written any collection of loose
                fictional pieces that wouldn't somehow work as fragments of a larger
                pattern. There are cross-references between the stories and there is a
                sense of, well ... development to it, obviously, where it moves from
                the proverbial couple's life in the housing estate to an assisted
                living facility. There are other connections, motifs, patterns
                (although I guess the "so? so nothing" refrain more or less sums up
                their actual relevance - they seem to be merely decorative and/or
                structural and/or attention-grabbing). It is possible that the point
                of the book is revealed in the last thirty pages, but frankly, as far
                as I'm concerned, it would have to be a hell of a point to make up for
                the rest of the stories. I may be horridly wrong in assuming this,
                which I readily acknowledge - but see below.

                > I would love to have a read of some Barth though.  I just joined
                > this list a few months ago and would love to participate.

                Well, first of all, welcome! And please don't let one tired
                'Barth-is-way-past-his-prime' whiner curb your enthusiasm! :) I said
                from the start that my view was biased, because the latest Barth stuff
                just doesn't do the trick for me, and this volume less so even than
                the preceding. I'd be very happy to confront my opinions with yours or
                other people's, and, for that sake, I'd even go back to the shelf and
                read the last two pieces. :) So if a few more people feel like giving
                The Development a group try, why the hell not? :) My "only not the
                Development" tag wasn't very serious. As the newest work, it is
                practically a no-brainer as a group read candidate, isn't it now?

                Once again, welcome aboard and thanks for engaging in discussion on
                the new one. Maybe we could have some more of its assets on the table?
                I've certainly focused on things which got me mad, but I must have
                taken a lot for granted - you know, put it in the 'of course he can do
                THAT, but why would I care to see it done for the hundredth time?'
                category.

                Cheers,

                K
              • kris_majer
                ... Bob ... I understand the sentiment, although it s not really that I feel betrayed by Barth s recent stuff. And I would never part with my copies of his
                Message 7 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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                  Glenn wrote of the great Zimmerman:

                  > And then, in 1979, he released an album called "At Budokan.". I
                  > actually went to the local used record store and sold them ALL of my
                  Bob
                  > Dylan lps (yes, I know - a mint-condition mono pressing of Highway 61
                  > Revisited is worth more than $1.00).
                  > I was livid. I felt betrayed.

                  I understand the sentiment, although it's not really that I feel
                  betrayed by Barth's recent stuff. And I would never part with my
                  copies of his earlier books, no matter what he publishes next. ;)

                  > All of the preceding to remind us: JB still has the talent, the
                  > resources, etc., to create a great novel. It's up to him to put those
                  > things to use, but I want to be "in touch" when/if it happens.

                  Yes, I guess that I have a similar attitude, in fact. I've kept up
                  with a few of his pieces that I disliked, waiting for another
                  masterpiece. But I have to say that my expectations are flagging.
                  Talent, I guess, is constant, but energies and ideas do dry up, don't
                  they? Both in music and in literature. In fact, I abandoned Dylan
                  somewhere in the 90s, not in such a dramatic way as you've described,
                  but sort of slowly drifted away. There are other artists that I keep
                  counting on to produce another great album and that disappoint me with
                  their every new release, and I still hope against hope... But yes,
                  keeping in touch with the ones you greatly respect is important, and
                  that's basically why I bought and almost read The Development, and
                  also why I buy every new thing by Beck or The Cure, even though it's
                  been ages since they last did anything that really stirred me.

                  But but but, I'd still disagree a bit, because I guess you're implying
                  that JB is choosing not to put his best into his writing as of now. I,
                  on the other hand, think that he *is* giving it his best, but that he
                  has dried up as an artist and is running around in narrower and
                  narrower circles. Of course, the circles, the repetitions, the
                  obsessions are all a part of his charm, but there used to be other
                  parts, other charms somehow: for me it was his ability to tell a
                  riveting story, however labyrinthinely (I don't think that's a word)
                  and invent rambunctious, memorable characters or parodies of characters.

                  He's done a great job in his day and given us a lot of great stuff to
                  think about and enjoy. I said years ago here that JB's problem seems
                  to be his resolve that the Destroyer of Delights should catch him
                  between subject and verb, which attitude negates the option of simply
                  deciding to remain quiet. I don't necessarily mean that I'd want him
                  to remain quiet, only that there seems to be a certain relentlessness
                  about his productivity that scares me a little - you know, this desire
                  to fill the silence when sometimes it would perhaps be best to let the
                  silence be, because it would make his stronger work stand out all the
                  better against it. I know a lot of people disagree with me on that.

                  Well, anyway. I'm sure I've argued all this before. Meanwhile, I'm
                  happy that there are both detractors and supporters of the book!

                  K
                • Blair Mahoney
                  It s nice to see the list come out of hibernation! I too will stick up for The Development. I understand your criticism of it Kris. I just don t get the same
                  Message 8 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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                    It's nice to see the list come out of hibernation!

                    I too will stick up for The Development. I understand your criticism
                    of it Kris. I just don't get the same sort of excitement from reading
                    Barth that I used to. I do still get a lot of pleasure from his work,
                    though. It's familiar, yet satisfying. I didn't read all of the
                    characters in The Development as being the same; I thought there were
                    some interesting variations between them, even if most of them are
                    drawn from a similar grouping, as is inevitable when you're writing
                    about the sort of retirement community that he is. My favourite story
                    in the collection is actually 'Toga Party', the ending of which
                    genuinely shocked me.

                    I've enjoyed the last few efforts from our man. In fact, the last one
                    I didn't really like at all was his last novel, Coming Soon!!! I've
                    liked what he's done with his shorter works in his later life, after
                    so many years writing lengthy novels.

                    Cheers,

                    Blair
                  • John Shelby
                    It s been a while since I ve been through Tidewater Tales, so I may be way off, but as I was reading these last few posts, I was put in mind of Peter
                    Message 9 of 21 , Dec 27, 2008
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                      It's been a while since I've been through Tidewater Tales, so I may be way off, but as I was reading these last few posts, I was put in mind of Peter Sagamore.  To the extent (if any) that he represents Barth, his struggle against the logical consequences of Less Is More kind of mirrors what Kris said: <<that he has dried up as an artist and is running around in narrower and narrower circles.>>
                       
                      Perhaps Barth has trapped himself.  I have found much of the 21st-century work (since Coming Soon!!!--[oh, how those exclamation points truly resonated with my excitement that a new Barth novel was being published; alas, how little the novel resonated with me!]) to be nearly unreadable. When I look back on what I've read of this period, all I remember is the catch-phrase quality of so much of it.  Barth's turn of phrase is a big part of the pleasure.  But once the phrase has been turned, so to speak, to keep doing it again and again is, well, redundant.  It just becomes cute, there's no fresh insight.
                       
                       
                      I've been thinking that it would be nice to be reminded of how it all developed.  To that end, here's my grand proposal for the group read:  What about going back to the beginning, more than 50 years now, and group-read the whole oeuvre?  Let's start with The Floating Opera and read everything up through The Development or, more likely, whatever the next one is by the time we get that far!!!
                       
                      People would drop in and out of the read as we go through a book they don't want to do, but then the next book will come along.
                       
                      In fact, maybe we should try to make this a permanent feature of the group.  We can always be doing a group read.  When we finish the latest one, we'll go back to The Floating Opera and start it around again!
                       
                       
                      By the way, I, too, am a big Dylan fan.  But when there is so much material out there, it's not all going to be gold.  I was also reinvigorated by the release of, especially the first, Bootleg Series.
                       
                       
                       
                      John

                    • Елена Тарнаруцкая
                      Hi I m so glad the group has woken up! ... I agree with John on read JB from the beginning as it would help see what he calls *reprise* and which is probably
                      Message 10 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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                        Hi I'm so glad the group has woken up!
                        I agree with John on read JB from the beginning as it would help see what he calls reprise and which is probably important in his following books. Elena

                      • kris_majer
                        ... I guess that the artist exhausting and then replenishing himself by some kind of self-reflexive trick or other has been one of JB s grand themes in and out
                        Message 11 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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                          John wrote:

                          > It's been a while since I've been through Tidewater Tales, so I may
                          > be way off, but as I was reading these last few posts, I was put in
                          > mind of Peter Sagamore. 

                          I guess that the artist exhausting and then replenishing himself by
                          some kind of self-reflexive trick or other has been one of JB's grand
                          themes in and out of his fiction, and it was all right as long as it
                          lasted, I'd say - as long as the work in question was living proof of
                          the energy that has been restored. To my mind (and a few others' here,
                          it seems) the replenishment has simply fallen off as part of the
                          equation, although the works still claim that it's there...

                          > Barth's turn of phrase is a big part of the pleasure.  But once the
                          > phrase has been turned, so to speak, to keep doing it again and
                          > again is, well, redundant.  It just becomes cute, there's no fresh >
                          insight.

                          I honestly couldn't agree more, unfortunately.

                          > To that end, here's my grand proposal for the group read:  What
                          > about going back to the beginning, more than 50 years now, and
                          > group-read the whole oeuvre? 

                          Wow! This is a grand proposal indeed, and exciting. I know some of you
                          dislike the early stuff, but I've always been fond of Opera, as well
                          as The End of the Road (possibly because it was the first JB book I
                          read). That sentiment gone, I might enjoy them less now, but I haven't
                          looked into them for ten years. Frankly, as long as the pace is
                          leisurely, and I can squeeze a JB novel in between books I read with
                          my students and things I read on my own for academic purposes, I'd be
                          all for it. I've always thought it would be a nice idea to read all of
                          his output straight through. Of course, what such a big project needs
                          is at least five-ten people who'd be its backbone and oversee it
                          somehow (set the dates, do the hosting, etc), and I could perhaps do
                          some of it for some of the books, but not permanently... Let's see
                          what people say to this.

                          > In fact, maybe we should try to make this a permanent feature of
                          > the group.  We can always be doing a group read. 

                          This, in fact, sounds like an ideal JB group activity, but may be more
                          than a little tricky. Would we also print all of his work on a
                          gigantic roller towel? :)

                          > By the way, I, too, am a big Dylan fan. But when there is so much
                          > material out there, it's not all going to be gold. 

                          Yup, which is why I sometimes wish they'd hold back a bit, sit on the
                          material longer and release something better instead...

                          Best,

                          K
                        • kris_majer
                          ... I m glad! ... My problem is that I m stuck with the familiarity, while the satisfaction almost never arrives... ... I might have exaggerated for the sake
                          Message 12 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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                            Blair wrote:

                            > I too will stick up for The Development.

                            I'm glad!

                            > I just don't get the same sort of excitement from reading
                            > Barth that I used to. I do still get a lot of pleasure from his work,
                            > though. It's familiar, yet satisfying.

                            My problem is that I'm stuck with the familiarity, while the
                            satisfaction almost never arrives...

                            > I didn't read all of the
                            > characters in The Development as being the same; I thought there were
                            > some interesting variations between them, even if most of them are
                            > drawn from a similar grouping, as is inevitable when you're writing
                            > about the sort of retirement community that he is.

                            I might have exaggerated for the sake of the argument, but I had a
                            feeling that they spoke in the same voice (which, as we know, is the
                            criticism that one of the faux editors of the New Syllabus makes...
                            which makes the whole issue slippery). Also, many characters I felt
                            were very sketchily drawn, which made telling them apart such a
                            difficulty in "Progressive Dinner". And I didn't think they were
                            'flat-for-the-sake-of-flat' characters, nor did JB seem to tamper with
                            characterization conventions much; they seemed sloppily made and
                            unremarkable.

                            > My favourite story
                            > in the collection is actually 'Toga Party', the ending of which
                            > genuinely shocked me.

                            I enjoyed parts of that one, thanks for reminding me. Isn't the ending
                            shocking, though, partly because the Feltons don't seem to 'be the
                            types' and because the urgency of their problem is not really
                            communicated until the very end? But yes, Toga Party I'd say was my
                            second favorite after Bard Award.

                            > I've enjoyed the last few efforts from our man. In fact, the last one
                            > I didn't really like at all was his last novel, Coming Soon!!! I've
                            > liked what he's done with his shorter works in his later life, after
                            > so many years writing lengthy novels.

                            Thanks, Blair, for bringing some balance to the discussion. I remember
                            liking CS!!! when it came out, but at the time I was still at a stage
                            when I'd swallow pretty much anything by JB. Haven't read it since
                            then, but from what I remember of it it'd probably fall in with the
                            efforts I don't enjoy much.

                            Me, I'm still waiting for a lengthy novel in which gated Old Fart
                            communities are only marginal. ;)

                            K
                          • Glenn Gamblin
                            Message 13 of 21 , Dec 28, 2008
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                              John Shelby wrote:
                              >
                              >
                              >
                              >
                              > I've been thinking that it would be nice to be reminded of how it all
                              > developed. To that end, here's my grand proposal for the group read:
                              > What about going back to the beginning, more than 50 years now, and
                              > group-read the whole oeuvre? Let's start with The Floating Opera and
                              > read everything up through The Development or, more likely, whatever
                              > the next one is by the time we get that far!!!
                              >
                              > People would drop in and out of the read as we go through a book they
                              > don't want to do, but then the next book will come along.
                              > John
                              >
                              > .
                              > Seconded!!
                              >
                            • william.street42
                              I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines. The way in which the
                              Message 14 of 21 , Jan 9, 2009
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                                I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories
                                preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines.
                                The way in which the stories formed a coherent whole--something more
                                than simply a story collection--something which I had anticpated as I
                                read the individual stories over tha past few years-was excellent. I
                                am not a fan of the idea that there are "two Barths"--one who wrote The
                                Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, and a different one who worte
                                Coming Soon!. Rather, I think that there is one John Barth, who
                                changed and developed over the years, in a way that self-conciously
                                remained aware of his earlier manifestations. His entire body of work,
                                taken as a whole, is quite fascinating. I stayed up most of a night
                                reading The Development, and it made me want to reread my Barth
                                favorites: Tidewater Tales and Somebody the Sailor. I shall probably
                                get to them in May.
                                Bill
                              • Josiah Miller
                                William, I do believe you are right in saying:  I am not a fan of the idea that there are two Barths --one who wrote The Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy,
                                Message 15 of 21 , Jan 9, 2009
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                                  William,
                                  I do believe you are right in saying:  "I am not a fan of the idea that there are "two Barths"--one who wrote The Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, and a different one who worte
                                  Coming Soon!. Rather, I think that there is one John Barth, who changed and developed over the years, in a way that self-conciously remained aware of his earlier manifestations."
                                   
                                  John Barth, as I believe all great writers should be taken as a whole.  If you look at the scope of his work, I don't believe you'll really find a breaking point in his writing career.  I think you'll find a definite progression - just like someone's experiences and maturity through life - there is definitely in aspect of progression and maturity in his work.  You'll find this in writers like Thomas Pynchon as well.  Against the Day and Mason and Dixon were definitely older and more mature than Gravity's Rainbow and Col49.  I believe John Barth is absolutely aware of the directions his writing has taken.  He knows The End of the Road, Giles Goat Boy, The Letters, Chimera, Tidewater Tales, Where Three Roads Meet and now The Development.   There is definitely a considerable difference from one work to the next.  The Development is a pinpoint in the John Barth timeline, by this I mean that by reading the Development you can see what concerns and is most important to John Barth at the time of his writing.  This novel is definitely an older novel.  It should not be read by any means like you would read Giles Goat Boy or Sot Weed, but it should not be read like you would read Coming Soon or Where Three Roads Meet either.  This is completely new and fresh and I think he has very fresh ideas and a fresh way of writing, while keeping the "Barthness" about the work.  It is shown in - I believe its the Bard Award - the narrator's interactions with his student and with his wife and I feel this shows where Barth is now as a writer.  Not saying that he's ever had relations with a student or anything (that is not up to me to speculate or look at as an autobiographical aspect), but as a writer in one generation looking at writers in the next generation. 
                                   
                                  Josiah
                                  --- On Fri, 1/9/09, william.street42 <william.street@...> wrote:
                                  From: william.street42 <william.street@...>
                                  Subject: [johnbarth] The Development
                                  To: johnbarth@yahoogroups.com
                                  Date: Friday, January 9, 2009, 8:49 AM

                                  I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories
                                  preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines.
                                  The way in which the stories formed a coherent whole--something more
                                  than simply a story collection-- something which I had anticpated as I
                                  read the individual stories over tha past few years-was excellent. I
                                  am not a fan of the idea that there are "two Barths"--one who wrote The
                                  Sot Weed Factor and Giles Goat Boy, and a different one who worte
                                  Coming Soon!. Rather, I think that there is one John Barth, who
                                  changed and developed over the years, in a way that self-conciously
                                  remained aware of his earlier manifestations. His entire body of work,
                                  taken as a whole, is quite fascinating. I stayed up most of a night
                                  reading The Development, and it made me want to reread my Barth
                                  favorites: Tidewater Tales and Somebody the Sailor. I shall probably
                                  get to them in May.
                                  Bill


                                • Mark Brawner
                                  On Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 5:49 AM, william.street42 ... I also had read two or three of them before (from Subtropics and another organ that escapes me). Oh, and
                                  Message 16 of 21 , Jan 14, 2009
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                                    On Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 5:49 AM, william.street42
                                    <william.street@...> wrote:
                                    >
                                    > I certainly enjoyed The Development, and I had read most of the stories
                                    > preiously, when they were published in various literary magazines.

                                    I also had read two or three of them before (from Subtropics and
                                    another organ that escapes me). Oh, and also Toga Part in Best
                                    American Short Stories 2007. But I was distracted at the time and
                                    have enjoyed settling down with the volume proper. I've going pretty
                                    slowly and haltingly because my reading time is so limited recently,
                                    but I'm through the first three and am enjoying myself.

                                    > The way in which the stories formed a coherent whole--something more
                                    > than simply a story collection--something which I had anticpated as I
                                    > read the individual stories over tha past few years-was excellent.

                                    I've already got a whiff of this as I proceed, and look forward to
                                    seeing how the effect further strikes me as I read through to the end.
                                  • Mark Brawner
                                    ... I cried a little.
                                    Message 17 of 21 , Jan 14, 2009
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                                      On Sat, Dec 27, 2008 at 4:03 PM, Blair Mahoney <b1b2@...> wrote:
                                      >My favourite story in the collection is actually 'Toga Party', the ending of which
                                      > genuinely shocked me.

                                      I cried a little.
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