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I've been living in Madrid since early 1998, and it was here on the night of December 17th, my 30th birthday, that I received a paperback copy of the Penguin edition of The Recognitions ,  bought by my brother at the Strand book store in NYC and brought to Madrid among other books as a gift; on the next day, while at the Prado looking at Bosch and Cranach from a vacant museum-guard's folding chair, I cracked open the dog-eared book to start it-- unknowingly--... on December 18th.
Alexander Levi
Spain

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I'm fond of the original J R cover - it was the first book of Gaddis's I ever saw, just off Carnaby Street in London in the window of a store called Liberty's, which then sold mosty fabrics, but for some reason carried a small selection of recently published novels. The big, bold lettering was certainly an eye-catcher. I read the blurb on the back (which was the first time I'd come across a mention of The Recognitions) and bought it.

It was a good few years beforeI finished the thing. It was after reading Gaddis's first that I went back and completed his second. A good few years later, a book shop called Books, Etc. ran a special promotion; they imported lots of US paperbacks, including a Penguin uniform series of Gadis's novels, The Recognitions, J R and Carpenter's Gothic. These were not the Ppenguin Modern Classics, but the ones with the white covers with (from memory) thin bands of colour around the edges and a small illustration in the middle. That's when I got my copy of The Recognitions.
Pete Dempsey
UK

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When I got out of school in the mid-60s I moved to NYC, got a menial job in advertising in order to support myself and my undergraduate husband, and read all the time, finally released from assigned books, all evening after work for myself. I read through all that had been published at that point of Bellow, Roth, Pynchon, and many others less often mentioned now, Bruce Jay Friedman, John Knowles, Vance Bourjaily. One evening I was standing in front of a book shelf in the process of selecting my next book, and pulled out The Recognitions, bought by my husband in about 1961 or 1962, on the basis of the blurbs on the cover and a bit of reading around in it. I was looking it over, doing some reading around of my own and considering beginning this very large volume that I would be carrying back and forth to work for weeks, when from across the room behind me my husband noticed what I was looking at, and said, "That's a really good book." I began it immediately, finished it in a couple of weeks, and, after a day or two without selecting the next book, began reading it again from the beginning. It wasn't until 1997 when I joined the Gaddis discussion group on the web that I ever met another person who'd heard of William Gaddis, let alone read him.
Victoria Harding
US

My friend gave me J R as a birthday present last year and I started to read it, but after only a few pages I lost courage; the book was too much for me, I wasn't ready I think. But this year, for my 25th birthday, she tried again and gave me Agape Agape. I looked into it and thought: "Ah, I can read this, and it's about music, this is perfect." And so I read it and it took me one day. The Annotations, which I got along with the book, helped me a lot, I used them all the way through and they also made me want to read some of the books and authors alluded to in Agape Agape, Tolstoy's "Kreutzer Sonata," and even Plato. I was very much touched by its truth and its pathos. I am a musician, a pianist, who always seeks for truth, for the true art, I can understand when Gaddis talks about the real artist. This book is one beautiful song, sad and so true. I'll try J R again.
Marija Stojanowa
Macedonia

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I picked up my first Gaddis -- Carpenter's Gothic -- in a second-hand bookstore in Kingston, Ontario, in 1991. I hadn't heard of Gaddis, but my friend pointed at the book: "I've read that he is very good." So we each bought a copy of Carpenter's Gothic, of which there were several, and he also found an edition of J R, which was Gaddis' best novel, he had also read somewhere. At home in Hamburg I put the Gaddis on the bookshelf and there they sat until 1994. That year Joseph Tabbi was visiting professor at the University of Hamburg and he gave two courses, which included Gaddis. One had J R on the reading list. So I read it. I started and re-started the first ten pages about three or four times until I had the feeling I was getting into it, but after that I never stopped until "Hey? You listening…?" It took me three or four days; I think I didn't leave the apartment during that time. Did I eat? I did drink. And I dreamt: of voices and never-ending quarrels, those dreams were very loud. Unfortunately Ann diCephalis's voice was a very prominent one, for whatever reason.

After around a hundred pages, reading turned into listening and the novel into a piece of music. At one point in particular I associated another piece of music, Shostakovich's sonata for piano and viola, which at one point literally quotes the beginning of Beethoven's so-called moonlight sonata. In J R it's the short passage right in the middle of the book, in which Norman Angel tells Coen about his childhood, the Winchester, the spring circus, the music, his father. Those 25 lines sounded so different after 360 pages of brilliantly arranged noise: it was like reading Sherwood Anderson all of a sudden. This particular musical association belonged to the first very intense reading only and never returned on rereading J R. I do love all of William Gaddis's novels, but J R will always remain my favorite.
Anja Zeidler
Germany

 

 

 

   

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