Monday, May 14, 2012

J R by William Gaddis

First edition of J R by William Gaddis
Published by Knopf in 1975, J R is one of the trickier books among the American canon of 20th century literature. Over 700 pages long (it has a small typeface) and written almost completely in dialogue not attributed to its speaker, J R is not easy to read; it is definitely unique though. It tells the story of an eleven year-old named J R who, after a school trip to the stock exchange, starts manipulating the value of penny stocks over the phone and builds a small fortune. J R is a satire and commentary on capitalism and American commerce, which actually isn't predominantly why I like the book. J R himself is funny and interesting, along with most of the scenes in the novel, and that is what is most enjoyable about it. As a reader you have to discern what is going on and who is speaking from the sounds everywhere and the people's voice and character—it is a book you have to participate in to read, which can be difficult but had never been done before. It won the National Book Award in 1975, twenty years after Gaddis' first and previous novel, The Recognitions, flopped. His other books employ a similar style, but none to the extent that J R does if that helps persuade future readers. The cover is also a pretty solid illustration in the theme of money, designed by Janet Halverson.

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