The Names The Names discussion

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message 1: by Sherry (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Let's start discussion on June 15, 2008.

message 2: by David (new)

David A little early to discuss this but here goes. This is one of the more difficult reads I have ever attempted. About 100 pages into it and I dont see a story at all. I will plod along and finish it(I have only not finished one book in my life) but I don't know if I am going to enjoy it. I hope it gets better

message 3: by Sherry (last edited Jun 15, 2008 04:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sherry Al, I saw in another thread that you have finished this. Come help me kick off the discussion.

The Names is a very ambitious book to my mind. Not a page-turner, not much plot, but worthwhile. It explores the very essence of language, of communication. Every single character in The Names is struggling with their own individual attempt to capture the world in a form they can understand. They are in essence "naming" their world in order to see it, explain it, communicate about it. Kathryn is digging in the earth to do it, with her obsession with shards of stuff from another time. Tap is trying to do it with his "novel" (a very humorous bit of which is the very end of the book.) The narrator is trying to assess (name) risk, in order to live in a very dangerous world and allow others to live in it. The cult takes the idea of "naming" to the furthest extreme. I admit I'm still not sure why they murder, nor am I sure I'm expected to know.

How many languages do you know?

message 4: by Al (new) - rated it 3 stars

Al I saw this quote on DeLillo's Wikipedia page and i think it is fitting for many DeLillo's books, but especially The Names:

Bruce Bawer famously condemned DeLillo's novels insisting they weren't actually novels at all but "tracts, designed to batter us, again and again, with a single idea: that life in America today is boring, benumbing, dehumanized...It's better, DeLillo seems to say in one novel after another, to be a marauding murderous maniac—and therefore a human—than to sit still for America as it is, with its air conditioners, assembly lines, television sets, supermarkets, synthetic fabrics, and credit cards."

DeLillo can be difficult, but I enjoyed The Names. I thought a lot of his ideas were somewhat ahead of his time in terms of media, communication, travel and terrorism. In many ways, this was a better 9/11 novel than his effort - "falling man".


One thing I noticed late in the book, which I found interesting - Ob, the "secret" language that Tap and Kathryn use - is the same as Owen Braverman's initials.

Having traveled all over the world myself, i found DeLillo's observations about listening to languages and sitting in cafes very interesting and accurate.



I agree with you about this book. I found it a chore to read, but I read it like an assignment, doing 30 pages a day. Still, I felt that it would never be over. At first I thought that I would like it, particularly after the exchange between James and Tap about the Ingersoll and the Mackintosh. "Ha!", I thought. "They are talking about the importance of names and objects being called by their brand names. I get it!" It went downhill from there.

The portrait of ex-patriots is not very flattering. I thought I might be interested in that aspect of the novel, because I spent much of my childhood in foreign countries. But after awhile those people were so boring. The conversation was dull.

The whole cult thing is bizarre. The purpose as I understand it is to choose some unfortunate person and kill him or her because he or she has the same initials as the town the cult is in. Yes, the person is someone who is ill or feeble, but what a terrible thing to do! The cult members are not only playing with language, they are playing God.

When I was carrying this book around everywhere, I thought that it was going to be better than my next serious book. For my "in person" book club, we will be discussing THE RELUCTANT MR. DARWIN by David Quammen. I found Darwin to be much more enjoyable than THE NAMES.


Denise I'm afraid I'm only 30 pages into it, so I don't have much to say. I really like it, though. I'm already very interested in the characters. I love the setting and the details he includes, like the taxi driver retelling the story of finding a drunk in his taxi until he and his passengers are laughing.

I'm getting the idea this wasn't a favorite. I suspect I'm already intrigued enough to finish, although I have not finished many books in my life.

message 7: by Al (new) - rated it 3 stars

Al Denise:

Stick with it - i think you will like it, particularly if you are already enjoying the beginning. most of the people who didn't like it, didn't like it from the get-go.

DeLillo is not everyone's cup of tea, but for those who like him, he can be very rewarding.

Denise Thanks, Al. I made it another 40 pages and there's a weekend coming. I'll stick with it.

P.S. I actually have finished many books in my life. However, I feel worse after slogging through a book I kept thinking would get better than after giving up on one.

message 9: by Pang (new) - rated it 1 star

Pang I'm so glad to hear that I'm not the only one who find this book hard to read and get into. Reading the comment posted by Sherry does shred some light on the plot a bit, and I can appreciate the book a little bit more. Still, I don't like the book that much. I got the political undertone... America vs. ROW, which I found it to be very interesting and quite blunt.

This book was a task that I'm glad it's over. Next!

message 10: by Ruth (new) - added it

Ruth This one's going back to the library unfinished. Life is too short.

message 11: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins My thoughts exactly, Ruth!

Denise This is my first foray into the mind of Delillo.

I really enjoyed reading it, but I felt very lost at the end.

I read a few of the reviews on Goodreads, and one person had the idea that the characters were all excavating something, which maybe is like Sherry's idea of everyone naming something. A search for meaning or understanding?

I wondered about the theme of exiles. James was an exile from his family living in a city he describes (quite beautifully at the end of chapter 4)as a city of exiles.

I never really figured out what the cult storyline was about. If it was meant as a symbol for someting or someone else, I didn't get it.

Owen's statement at the end seems important:
"These killings mock us. They mock our need to structure and classify, to build a system against the terror in our souls. They make the system equal to the terror. The means to contend with death has become death...They intended nothing, they meant nothing. They only matched the letters."

I will keep thinking about this awhile, but I need it spelled out for me more clearly. No pun intended.

Sherry Denise, I don't think there is a spelling-out possible. Maybe we could write DeLillo! You're quotation was a good one, and makes me think that maybe DeLillo was using the cult as a symbol of how taking something too far can undermine and destroy the validity of the original point. The cult made "naming" insignificant by making it horrific.

Candy Like Ratner's Star, a book in which Mr. DeLillo says he tried to ''produce a piece of mathematics,'' ''The Names'' is complexly structured and layered. It concludes with an excerpt from a novel in progress by Axton's 9-year-old son, Tap. Inspiration for the ending came from Atticus Lish, the young son of Mr. DeLillo's friend Gordon Lish, an editor.

''At first,'' Mr. DeLillo says, ''I had no intention of using excerpts from Tap's novel. But as the novel drew to a close I simply could not resist. It seemed to insist on being used. Rather than totally invent a piece of writing that a 9-year-old boy might do, I looked at some of the work that Atticus had done when he was 9. And I used it. I used half a dozen sentences from Atticus's work. More important, the simple exuberance of his work helped me to do the last pages of the novel. In other words, I stole from a kid.''

Young Atticus is given ample credit in the book's acknowledgments, but creative borrowing from life is not a new technique for Mr. DeLillo, who has been praised for his ear for dialogue. ''The interesting thing about trying to set down dialogue realistically,'' he says, ''is that if you get it right it sounds stylized. Why is it so difficult to see clearly and to hear clearly? I don't know. But it is, and in 'Players' I listened very carefully to people around me. People in buses. People in the street. And in many parts of the book I used sentences that I heard literally, word for word. Yet it didn't sound as realistic as one might expect. It sounded over-refined even.''

FOR three years while writing ''The Names'' Mr. DeLillo lived in Greece and traveled through the Middle East and India. ''What I found,'' he says, ''was that all this traveling taught me how to see and hear all over again. Whatever ideas about language may be in 'The Names,' I think the most important thing is what I felt in hearing people and watching them gesture - in listening to the sound of Greek and Arabic and Hindi and Urdu. The simple fact that I was confronting new landscapes and fresh languages made me feel almost duty bound to get it right. I would see and hear more clearly than I could in more familiar places.''

Living abroad also gave Mr. DeLillo a fresh perspective on the United States. ''The thing that's interesting about living in another country,'' he says, ''is that it's difficult to forget you're an American. The actions of the American Government won't let you. They make you self-conscious, make you aware of yourself as an American. You find yourself mixed up in world politics in more subtle ways than you're accustomed to. On the one hand, you're aware of America's blundering in country after country. And on the other hand, you're aware of the way in which people in other countries have created the myth of America, of the way in which they use America to relieve their own fears and guilt by blaming America automatically for anything that goes wrong.''

Critic Diane Johnson has written that Mr. DeLillo's books have gone unread because ''they deal with deeply shocking things about America that people would rather not face.''

Sherry Candy, is this italicized section from the interview with DeLillo? I found it very interesting. Especially this: "Why is it so difficult to see clearly and to hear clearly? I don't know. But it is, and in 'Players' I listened very carefully to people around me. People in buses. People in the street. And in many parts of the book I used sentences that I heard literally, word for word. Yet it didn't sound as realistic as one might expect. It sounded over-refined even.''

message 16: by Jen (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jen C. Yikes I had trouble with this one. I kept waiting for something to fall into place in my mind, and yet it never did. Maybe that's also how James felt about his career, his marriage, the cult? I'm not sure if DeLillo made my mind work like this or if I'm just missing something that I should be getting!

My confusion aside, I was truly taken in by the writing at many points. The narrator's position as an outsider in Greece really gave DeLillo an opportunity for some incredible scene-setting.

Charles Bechtel Having read a number of criticisms and discussions about this book, I've found that topically most of the criticism, if taken as finding fault, is about Mr. DeLillo's lack of story-telling. What he lacks, if he lacks anything, seems to be any desire to run down the same road that authors have been down since "Pamela." Setup, crime, consequence, denoument.

Instead I looked to the book for what it does do, which seems to me to be offering "story" much the same way people (that DeLillo listens to) present dialogue: in bits, fits and starts, often aimless and, to be cliché, much ado about nothing and a tale told by an idiot.

When I had let go of expectation, to choose immersion instead, I felt I "got" this book in a much more different way than one gets the more common story book. I lost the desire to find explanations, and found instead presentations. I'd recommend it.

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