Diane

Walker Percy (1916-1990)

80 posts in this topic

I've never ready anything by him, but I feel the need to add him to my must-read list. Any fans here? Any recommendations for a first read? Favorite novels of his? Maybe I should begin with The Moviegoer. Seems somehow appropriate.

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Absolutely Must Read. I fell in love with Walker Percy's voice in his non-fictional Lost in the Cosmos and then with his characteristic dysfunctional-yet-searching -- indeed, "on to something," to use his own words -- protagonists (ala Graham Greene's "whiskey priests") in his fiction. My favorite novel is Lancelot, though The Moviegoer is a great one to start with, and most appropriate for anyone who frequents this board. A couple of the novels are in pairs -- The Last Gentleman has as its sequel The Second Coming, and Love in the Ruins continues in The Thanatos Syndrome (I find the second novel in the first pair the better and vice versa in the latter pair). First time through Lost in the Cosmos I couldn't make head-or-tails of his section on semiotics, which you can skip for now if you like: though Percy infected me with his love of linguistics and I now love that section, which is expanded and developed in other directions in his non-fictional collection of essays on language, Message in a Bottle. But Percy's is one of those narrative voices you need to make permanent space for; he didn't write many novels, but they're they kind you want to keep re-reading for a lifetime.

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Thanks for the advice, Mike. Most helpful! I'll probably start with The Moviegoer, whenever I can get around to it.

So many books, so little time....

--Diane

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Another big fan here, although I've only read Lost in the Cosmos and The Moviegoer. Lost in the Cosmos was a big step for me, one of those books that took me to a new level. I was in my first or second year of college when I first read it and I remember hardly knowing what to do with such an audacious (and funny book). The Moviegoer was a bit less momentous, but still very important. It was one of those books you finish and think, I know I just read something great and beautiful and important, but I can't really say any more than that.

So yes, maybe read Lost in the Cosmos first, and don't you dare skip the semiotics. It's good for you. biggrin.gif

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So yes, maybe read Lost in the Cosmos first, and don't you dare skip the semiotics. It's good for you. biggrin.gif

laugh.gif To be honest, all the talk about semiotics and linguistics was scaring me a little bit...until I remembered Tolkien.

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Yeah, the semiotics can be pretty intimidating -- gets real technical real fast: threatens to shut down my brain as fast as math does. But semiotics is the study of signs -- pictures, gestures, speeches, bubblegum wrappers -- an impulse toward a science of signs. Whether that's entirely possible or not, I'm not the one to say. But while I'm a little predisposed to be skeptical of the strict scientification of metaphor, I am facinated by the possibilities of understanding how to "read" the world around me better. Indeed, anybody with an interest in looking hard and deep at cinema has a vested interest in the semiotical enterprise, and even scraping about the edges can be facinating. Even for the technically-challenged. And, yes, Tolkien and Lewis were, in their various fashions, deep into understanding how myth and metaphor worked their magic, too.

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When I was in college, I did an internship as a research assistant to a prof who was working on a book about semiotics and visual rhetoric. I looked at symbols in everything from art to television commercials. It was quite interesting. I copied tons of scholarly articles for him, read them, then gave him a brief review and suggested where they might fit into his chapter outline. A lot of it felt way over my head, but I think I learned quite a bit about the subject. And yes, anyone who is interested in movies must surely be interested in how visual rhetoric is used. So, maybe Percy's semiotics section wouldn't be all that bad.

--Diane

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I've got Lost in the Cosmos on my bookshelf, but I confess I've only skimmed through it a couple of times. I've really enjoyed the few fictional works I've read of Percy's, but I have a question to ask. All of them (the ones I've read) have had incestual themes. What's the deal with that?

I find semiotic theory incredibly fascinating, but the fine details make my head hurt... :?

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All of them (the ones I've read) have had incestual themes. What's the deal with that?

Percy's protagonists are usually messed up sexually, but the mire of choice tends to be adultery. Are you talking about his relationship with the girl in Moviegoer? I don't think they were really siblings. Maybe I'm forgetting something. Anyway, hang in there with Lost inthe Cosmos. Great book.

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All of them (the ones I've read) have had incestual themes.

Yeah, Buechner has a thing with that, too. Often, I think it serves the purpose of bringing an "unthinkable" (or at least unspeakable) sin out into the light of grace, or at least into real life.

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another interesting read ABOUT Walker Percy (and Flannery O'Conner, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day) is The Life you Save May Be Your Own. I'm only part way through, but I'm enjoying learning everyone's "backstory."

--chris

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okay,

never heard anything about WP but this thread has piqued my interest, I'll be joining DRose in starting with The Moviegoer.

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you won't regret it. i've only read two of his books, but i still think The Moviegoer is a good place to start.

and, interesting fact: the man went to Med school before becoming a cynical, lovely Catholic southern novelist.

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Whoo-hoo! I just found Lost in the Cosmos for $4 :biggrin: I'm excited to get into it.

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Hey, Chris R., now that you've mentioned elsewhere husband Jeff and location Seattle I'm thinking I'm ready to try to solve the puzzle and guess you're my Imaginarium pals Chris and Jeff Ramsdale? If so, move this to the "Small world" thread! (Or do I need to buy a vowel?)

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Much as I love Lost in the Cosmos, I would not recommend readers new to Percy start with it.

In essence, this book is the distillation of Percy's *ideas*.

But his greatest achievement is as a novelist, so reading Lost in the Cosmos has the effect of giving you the crib sheet.

Read as much his fiction as you can (only 6 novels!) before you get "Lost"....

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I started with The Moviegoer and got so dizzied by the main character's self-reflection and depression I wanted to smack him upside the head and yell "Happy Up, Already!" And call me old fashioned but I like when things happen in movies. Even if its entirely internal, I want to see change or growth not just escalated moping.

Maybe I'll give it another go at another time, but it was starting to make me feel like I'd eaten popcorn with too much butter.

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Whew. Okay, Dan, it's nice to have some company in this. I read The Moviegoer several months ago, and I already feel like it's slipped from my mind. I thought it started off well and I enjoyed Percy's style of writing, but then I just got bogged down in the last half of the book and, although I finished, walked away thinking, "So what?" Something about the relationship at the end just didn't work for me. Or I just didn't care. Maybe it was too much moping.

*ducks and runs for cover*

Edited by Diane

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[Jeffrey, hiding behind the grassy knoll, taking aim at Diane as she runs for cover.]

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Oh, I'm sure I missed something profound, some major revelation perhaps. I don't know why, but I just couldn't connect with the book. But I'm certainly open to more Percy in the future.

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Of course Greg is right about the best way to experience fiction is to experience it, without having to see the schematic underneath. On the other hand, some of us can hardly get by without a crib sheet. Lost in the Cosmos in some ways lets you have access to the ideas Percy seeks to incarnate in his fiction, as do various writings by Kierkegaard and even more difficult writers. For me, in some ways, trying to understand Percy has been an ongoing back-and-forth, looking under the hood, trying to start the engine, checking the manual, etc. At the same time, though, I really, really dug The Moviegoer the first time I read it, even though I had no idea what all was going on in the background -- and didn't get to Kierkegaard and the other sources for along time afterward. It's one of the most haunting books I've ever read, and I've gone back to it many times, and its been richer each time. You can try something else maybe like The Second Coming, or else come back to The Moviegoer another time. Or you can cheat and start looking at the crib sheets. (Now somebody is firing at ME from the grassy knoll.)

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I think I've read maybe five of WP's books. MOVIEGOER by far the least interesting to me, and I think the least representative of what Percy is about, and what his novels are like. LOVE IN THE RUINS is the bee's knees, far as I'm concerned, and far more representative. Shelve THE MOVIEGOER, start with LOVE. Funny, provocative, smart, strange, readable.

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Whoa now. Sure there are more accessible Percy novels for the Percy newbie, and Love in the Ruins may be the most accessible. But to say The Moviegoer isn't representative of Walker Percy is to misrepresent Walker Percy. Binx Bolling is the quintessential Percian character. Look at all the famous Percy-ites who have adopted him. I exchanged a couple emails once with Robert Coles (famous child psychologist and Percy friend and biographer) and was amused to discover "Binx Bolling" was his email handle. And here's yet another Percy fan I ran across who identifies with the Binxter. The Moviegoer is the Percy book that won the National Book Award, and in it some of his keyest themes are set in motion and given perhaps their cleanest form: the Kirkegaardian notions like Rotation and Repitition (it would take a long discussion to explain these, but they're there) and above all "the search," the desire that is the Percy character's only hope for an escape from despair. The very first time I read the book I was disappointed it wasn't what I'd hope for: some kind of nostalgic (and, in hindsight, facile) interaction with movies -- an understandable expectation for a book with this title, perhaps. But Percy has bigger fish to fry: he's diving face-first into the characteristic and seemingly inescapable despair of late-twentieth century humanity. In a certain sense, it's far from feel-good. On the other hand, as he learned from Kierkegaard, knowing you're in despair may in fact be the first step in getting out of it. Hence the irresistable and unforgettable notion of "the search":

"The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a castaway do? Why, he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn't miss a trick.

"To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair."

The notion of being "on to something" is something that has grown in value to me over the years and I know much of my own recognition of the search and the need for it and the ultimate hopefulness of it is something I owe to The Moviegoer.

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Okay, look what I wrote way back on another thread.

I'm currently reading my first Percy book, The Moviegoer. I'm certainly enjoying it, although I'm not certain where it's going or if it's going anywhere (repetition and rotation, anyone?). I hope to weigh in on it shortly at the Percy thread that's around here somewhere.

So, the letdown occurred sometime after that. But I certainly was intrigued by the ideas of Rotation and Repetition (although I clearly didn't understand them) and the notion of "the search." Hm. And yes, I, too, was expecting that "facile" theme. I think my appreciation of this would really benefit from in-depth study, seeing as how all I really know about Percy is on this thread. That and the fact that he was born in my hometown.

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