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Finding a Form

4.13  ·  Rating Details  ·  248 Ratings  ·  19 Reviews
William Gass writes about literary language, about history, about the avant-garde, about minimalism's brief vogue, about the use of the present tense in fiction (Is it due to the lack of both a sense of history and a belief in the future?), about biography as a form, about exile - spiritual and geographical - and he examines the relationship of the writer's life to the wri ...more
Paperback, 354 pages
Published August 29th 1997 by Cornell University Press (first published January 31st 1996)
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MJ Nicholls
Gass is my new loverboy. You can have near nonagenarian loverboys, right? In ‘Pulitzer: The People’s Prize’ Gass performs sober seppuku upon this embarrassing quasi-literary, crowd-pleasing “prize,” bestowed upon nonbooks no one can remember a month later. ‘A Failing Grade for the Present Tense’ explores the popularity of this limited tense choice among creative writing students, and offers suggestions as to more multifarious tenses for those trapped in the terminal now. ‘Finding a Form’ and ‘A ...more
Feb 20, 2015 Mala rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Serious Readers/Gass Lovers

This National Book Critics Circle Award winner, finds Herr Gass, in top form. These nineteen essays, divided into five sections, offer the readers a cornucopia of delight.
Plenty to chew on here– thoughts on the music of prose, on language, nature, culture and cosmos, art and morality, the avant-garde, autobiography, simplicities, etc, etc. Well, well, my cup of joy runneth over!

There are many things Gass doesn't like:
—Pulitzer Prize & others of its ilk. Do I hear a cynical aside: Oh, but wha
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Jun 17, 2013 Nathan "N.R." Gaddis rated it it was amazing
This is short because the question about the reading of Gass's essays is a question which goes without saying; has been decided beforehand. His are the best damn essays. Period. And double the pleasure for us readers of fiction that so many of his essays are about literature and its reading and its writing. This collection in particular should be at the top of the queue for anyone and everyone interested in the ontology of words and books.

There's that word, ontology. What I love about Gass, what
Justin Evans
At his very best, Gass writes glorious, dialectical sentences, paragraphs and pages, as in his hatchet job on critics and authors who support the Pulitzer, and prizes in general:

"The panel will be formed with the same unfailing dimsight its members will feel obliged to display... each will be implicitly asked to represent their region, race or sex... the only qualification a judge ought to have is unimpeachable good taste, which immediately renders irrelevant such puerile pluralistic concerns a
Dec 23, 2008 Bruce rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
William Gass’s book of essays, Finding a Form, will appeal to those who ponder frequently and deeply on language, literature, and modern culture; I was captivated by his thoughts and writing from beginning to end, even on those occasions when I disagreed and found myself arguing with him. Gass is perceptive, articulate, witty, and highly creative, making the reading of his work a joy and an adventure, his metaphors, observations, and conclusions leaping from the page in nearly every beautifully ...more
Jeff Jackson
Jun 17, 2013 Jeff Jackson marked it as to-read
At the beach bookstore, among tattered copies of James Patterson and Nora Roberts novels, I was shocked to find a lovely hardcover copy of this. Best $4 spent in a long time.
May 22, 2016 Elijah added it
Gass doesn't believe in an eternity, and he doesn't like movies, so he would never quote, if he even knows, Gladiator's tag, "What we do in life echoes in eternity," but he might concede the inverse, "What we believe about eternity echoes in life," as his belief in nothing beyond this life yields, in his criticism, an insistence on form as the best guarantee of immortality. Write and write well, because it's all of you that will remain once you're dead.
Alain William
Jan 02, 2016 Alain William rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel as though only giving this 4 stars is an act of betrayal: I love William H. Gass. A lot. Perhaps having started with his fiction first has put this collection at a disadvantage. It is still great, but I found myself lost far too often: lost in the metaphors, missing the links. More so in the middle, though. Either way, I'd recommend Gass to anyone: at his best he is *the* best, at his worst, still better than most.
Aug 25, 2011 Joseph rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfict, lit-crit
I think my favorite was "A Fiesta for the Form." I also think I wanted to like this book more than I actually did.
Apr 11, 2015 Brendan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm really glad that the fiction of Gass' I've read got me interested enough in reading his essays, because this collection is fantastic. I was definitely not expecting the level of philosophical erudition presented here; Gass' writing is unbelievably well-informed. He shines the brightest, however, when writing about writers and writing; the last three essays in the collection are a head or two above the rest, in my opinion.
Aug 24, 2014 Daryl rated it liked it
I skimmed a few of these, skipped a couple, and really enjoyed a few. The title essay did it for me, and I also liked "Ezra Pound" (which made me feel like less of a philistine for my early impressions of the guy many years ago), "Simplicities," and "The Music of Prose."
Jul 29, 2014 J rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
Sheets of showy language, which is fitting since these essays are testimonies to Gass' love - if that is the word - of the written word. Imposing; only some will feel worthy after reading and we will have to wonder about them. Still, though I finished the book unconvinced that linguistic precision is the life-and-death matter that is shaped here, I found a lot to admire in his rigorous approach. No wonder it takes him 17 years to write a novel. All of the essays were thought provoking, but I pro ...more
Feb 02, 2010 David rated it really liked it
If you want to study literary form then read William Gass. He is the master. His writing isn't about the topic, it is about the form. This book is a master work in example. He starts an essay on Ezra Pound like this: It is too easy, the name game - in this case. .... If used as a verb pound means to beat, if used as a noun it is a weight. You get the idea.
Jan 12, 2009 Heather rated it really liked it
I will someday read the entirety of this book, but someone specifically suggested that I read the chapter on the present tense and its pitfalls, which I did, and now I promise not to use the present tense again, well, except when I want to, because sometimes I'm a touch rebellious.
Drew Lackovic
Mar 18, 2008 Drew Lackovic rated it really liked it
An excellent collection of essays. Particularly, "Autobiography," "The Language of Being and Dying," and "The Vicissitudes of the Avant-Garde" struck me. But there's a lot here for poets as well as linguists and philosophers. A well rounded collection.
Michael T
Jun 24, 2011 Michael T rated it liked it
Some essays very good, others morbid and uninteresting and should be skipped.
The first essay bashing the Nobel prize is excellent.
Aug 29, 2009 Frank rated it really liked it
I like the essay "The Baby or the Botticelli," which is a nice rebuke to moralists from aesthetes.
Sep 20, 2015 Janice rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013-read
A marvelous book of essays. Beautifully written.
Jan 04, 2010 Aaron rated it it was amazing
[The. Man. Rocks.:]
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William Howard Gass (born July 30, 1924) is an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, and former philosophy professor.

Gass was born in Fargo, North Dakota. Soon after his birth, his family moved to Warren, Ohio, where he attended local schools. He has described his childhood as an unhappy one, with an abusive, racist father and a passive, alcoholic mother; critics would later cit
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“If the relation of morality to art were based simply on the demand that art be concerned with values, then almost every author should satisfy it even if he wrote with his prick while asleep. (Puritans will object to the language in that sentence, and feminists to the organ, and neither will admire or even notice how it was phrased.)” 4 likes
“But if your language is intended to be the medium of an art if you, its user, are an artist and not a reporter, a persuader, a raconteur; if you aren't writing principally to get praise or pay, but wish to avoid the busy avenues of entertainment, to traffic in the tragic maybe, dig down to the deeply serious; then (although there are a few exceptional and contrary cases) you will understand right away how blessed you are by the language you were born with, the language you began to amster in the moment you also started to learn about life, to read the lines on faces, the light in the window which meant milk, the door which deprived you of mother, the half-songs sung by that someone who lonaed you the breast you suckled - the breast you claimed as more than kin.” 1 likes
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