author profile: william t. vollmann

Challenge this statement if you can: No one writes more, and with greater variety, than William T. Vollmann.

Kissing the Mask by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$27.99 hardcover / harper collins

  • Coming in March is Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater, with Some Thoughts on Muses (Especially Helga Testorf), Transgender Women, Kabuki Goddesses, Porn Queens, Poets, Hou. The title speaks not only for itself, but for the range of Vollmann’s interests. This mouthful of scholarship he manages to relate in fewer than 550 pages. Up and Rising Down by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$16.95 hardcover / harper collins

  • In that broad category, Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, is the granddaddy at 3,300 pages in seven volumes, which was nominated for the National Book Critic’s Circle Award when it was published in 2004. Before the end of the year, Ecco Press published an abridged edition at one-fifth the length, which Vollmann said he consented to for the money. Rising Up and Rising Down is Vollmann’s meditation on the age-old conundrum: when is violence justified? Vollmann writes: ‘”My own aim in beginning this book was to create a simple and practical moral calculus which would make it clear when it was acceptable to kill, how many could be killed and so forth.” Vollmann consulted hundreds of sources, and visited more than a dozen countries and war zones to witness violence firsthand. The result was a deeply personal book, full of insight.

Imperial by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$55.00 hardcover / penguin

  • Imperial is hardly as prodigious in size (at only 1,344 pages) but nearly as sprawling in content, and profound in argument. For generations of migrant workers, from Okies fleeing the Dust Bowl of the 1930s to Mexican laborers today, Imperial County in Southern California has held the promise of paradise—and the reality of hell. It is a land beautiful and harsh, enticing and deadly, rich in history and heartbreak. Across the border, the desert is the same but there are different secrets. In Imperial, Vollmann takes us deep into the heart of this haunted region, and by extension into the dark soul of American imperialism.

Europe Central by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$18.00 paperback / penguin

  • Vollman won the 2005 National Book Award for Fiction for the 832-page Europe Central, in which he considered the authoritarian cultures of Germany and the USSR in the 20th century. Assembling a composite portrait of these two warring leviathans and the terrible age they defined, the narrative intertwines experiences both real and fictional—a young German who joins the SS to expose its crimes, two generals who collaborate with the enemy for different reasons, the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich laboring under Stalinist oppression. Through these and other lives, Vollmann offers a daring and mesmerizing perspective on human actions during wartime.

Poor People by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$16.95 paperback / harper collins

  • Poverty was the focus of Vollman’s sharp eye and probing mind in Poor People, in which the author confront s the subject in all its hopelessness and brutality, its pride and abject fear, its fierce misery and quiet resignation, allowing the poor to explain the causes and consequences of their impoverishment in their own cultural, social, and religious terms. With intense compassion and a scrupulously unpatronizing narrative, Vollmann invites his readers to recognize in our fellow human beings their full dignity, fallibility, pride, and pain, and the power of their hard-fought resilience.$18.00 paperback / penguin

  • The Atlas is set in locales from Phnom Penh to Sarajevo, from Jerusalem to New York, from which Vollmann provocatively combines autobiography with invention in 53 interconnected tales that examine poverty, violence, and loss, even as they celebrate the beauty of landscape, the thrill of the alien, and the infinitely precious pain of love.

Expelled from Eden by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$17.95 paperback / simon and schuster

  • Expelled from Eden: A William T. Vollmann Reader is a an atypical “best-of” collection, intended both as an introduction for the curious reader, and as a necessary addition to the existing fan’s collection. With excerpts from all of Vollmann’s novels, journalistic pieces, essays, correspondence, and poetry, this volume creates a unique, kaleidoscopic portrait of one of America’s most notorious, protean, devastating, and necessary writers.$17.95 paperback / penguin

  • As if to prove his facility with fiction, sort of, here in The Rainbow Stories are 13 innovative tales dealing with “skinheads, x-ray patients, whores, lovers, fetishists, and other lost souls” who populate landscapes as diverse as ancient Babylon, India, and contemporary San Francisco. Part fiction, part reportage, these narratives are laced with a bleak and bitter humor, and portray a dazzling array of characters.$14.00 paperback / penguin

  • Whores for Gloria is a very short, for Vollmann (160 pages) novel about an alcoholic Vietnam veteran, who devotes his government check and his waking hours to the search for a beautiful and majestic street whore—a woman who may or may not really exist.

Riding Toward Everywhere by William T. Vollmann: Book Cover$14.99 paperback / harper collins

  • Others have done it, from Graham Greene to Paul Theroux, but no one takes to the rails as Vollmann does in Riding to Everywhere, his analytical but skeptical eye on the romance of the hobo lifestyle. With the more experienced Steve as company, he provides us with a moving, strikingly modern vision of the American dream, brilliantly exploring both our deeply ingrained romanticizing of “freedom” and the myriad ways we restrict the very freedoms we profess to admire.

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