John Barth: The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction; G.P. Putnam’s Sons; New York
In this collection of essays and speeches, Barth offers us some of his nonfiction allies, though what the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is for a professional liar is difficult to say. Certainly, Barth’s calls for nationalizing major industries, his paeans to the campus mad ness of the 60’s, and all of his other “stock-liberal sentiments” (as he calls them) would fit nicely in some fantasy novel. Barth did not have to tell us that he dropped out of graduate school because he had little “ability for abstract thinking and rigorous critical analysis” and was therefore “out of [his] intellectual depth.” Yet he has never let his intellectual limitations restrain his ambitions. His aim as a novelist is to create a fictional world “more orderly, meaningful, beautiful, and interesting than the one God turned out,” and he announces that if he were God he would startle and befuddle “my theologians” with a “Boo!”
If Barth can turn himself into god on Friday, we hope he takes the weekend off.
That Old Magic
Nicholas Von Hoffman: Organized Crimes; Harper & Row; New York
A boring book on a worn-out theme (which has been exploited to exhaustion by countless books and movies) ineptly written by a singularly untalented writer. Ooops, the writer is one Von Hoffman, the chic radical with a German pseudoaristocratic prefix, a fixture in “progressive” journalism—in a phrase: the leftist Mr. Right.