Abandoned Books

Reviews of books and authors not much discussed on the web.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Walker Percy - Information

One thing I'm gonna do on these "off weeks" is catch up on some of the author's who I didn't do the "information" page for. So, first, off, Percy.

Well, there's the Wiki, of course, a rather bare bones for him, surprisingly. But from that I got to this:

http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.htmlres=9F 07E5D81238F937A3575BC0A963948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2

Which is a review of one of Percy's "Conversations" volumes by Roger Kimball, of all people. "Of all people" because I just got through reading his recent column where he says even the typeface of the Times sets him on edge nowadays. Ah, well, we've all changed, huh? Grown, even.

Still, Kimball was making sense even way back in 1985. Here's a good quote:

The pieces collected here vary widely in quality. Some are earnest, thoughtful interviews that attempt to extend our knowledge of Mr. Percy's art, influences and significance; but a good number are hardly more than chatty bagatelles - glib, occasional products meant primarily to boost his most recent book.

And here's a better one:

How many times do scholars have to accompany interviewers on a trip to this writer's home in Covington, La.? How many picturesque descriptions of Mr. Percy's picturesque, chateau-style house do they need? And how many glasses of iced tea must they sit through? There is a lot of iced tea in this book.

Here's the website of a 501(c) devoted to Percy:


My take on Percy is basically this. There are two kinds of "idea writers": writers who think they have ideas, and idea men who try to tell stories to popularize their notions. Neither are all that great, but between the two, the second by far is the way to go, and Percy generally falls into this camp. Of course, it also generally means that most of his novels are pretty weak things -- one always feels with Percy that the storytelling is a tiresome chore he's putting himself through to get to the fun ideas. Anyway, if you want to read Percy, it pays to read the nonfiction stuff, THE MESSAGE IN THE BOTTLE and especially LOST IN THE COSMOS.

Here's an early "First Things" that tries to vaguely critical of the guy, but gets all nervous and twittery instead:


And one last one -- for as I said in my first post on this guy, there's a lot of Percy on the web.


Percy, as you might expect, gets a lot of attention from Catholic writers. As is usually the case, though, the focus is on the ideas, not the works considered as fiction, which is why they generallly tend not to be useful. I say unto thee again, there is nothing in Percy you can't get from MESSAGE IN THE BOTTLE or LOST IN THE COSMOS, if all you're interested in is the ideas.


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