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An Author I Wish Everyone Knew About – J.G. Ballard


The Complete Stories of JG Ballard

I first heard J.G. Ballard’s name in connection with the film Crash and its NC-17 rating. Not the super-shrill-racism-is-bad (which of course it is) film Crash. I’m talking about the David Cronenberg film from 1996 which features a peculiar group of people who get turned on by automobile collisions. (Honk honk!)

The movie sounded bizarre. It was. As I read about it and saw that it was based on a book, I suspected that I wanted nothing to do with that author.

I could not have been more wrong. I still don’t love Crash the film, but the book has grown on me. Nothing else that Ballard wrote had to grow on me at all, however. I have loved nearly all of it, instantly.

The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard came out in 2010. It is the best possible introduction I can think of to Ballard’s writing.

 What you’ll get

I would propose starting the experiment with the story Prima Belladonna. Within three pages you’ll have a good idea of how it feels to read Ballard’s most straightforward writing.

If you enjoy that, you’ll be in for a real treat in the following million-or-so pages.

I usually read for story, but with Ballard I read specifically because I love the images he creates. This is one instance where I truly feel that nobody else could have invented the things he invents.

“Sonic sculptures” that grow ceaselessly and threaten to overwhelm neighboring houses.

A jewel-encrusted crocodile struggling to walk in The Crystal World.

Empty cities. Plains of sand where people surf and treat the grains as an ocean.

Birds that leave shadows of themselves at intervals in the sky as they travel.

The face of a man who no longer needs sleep in Manhole 69. 

An orchestra of singing plants tuning themselves.

And on and and on for many pages.

In his review of Ballard in The Atlantic, Christopher Hitchens mentions an exemplary line that encapsulates everything I love about Ballard’s writing:

“In her face the diagram of bones formed a geometry of murder.”

How lovely and unexpected and strange.

I hope you’ll give the book a try. You’ll know quickly whether you’ll want to continue or not.

A note to those who have been emailing me about my literary criticism chops

If you want, as one sassy emailist put it, “highly trenchant criticism,” there’s plenty of it out there. There is plenty to say about Ballard and there are lots of smart people writing brilliant pieces about his work, and many of the other books I’ve discussed on the blog.

English class is over for me.

I don’t do “highly trenchant criticism.” I just like to talk about books and start discussions. I like to connect books with readers. In this way, this blog is an extension of my librarian job.

Nobody comes to the reference desk and says “I’d like you to provide with me some trenchant criticism of Miss Lonelyhearts.” They generally say something more like “Have you read anything good lately?” or “What do you like to read?” or “Can you help me find a book I would like?

I can absolutely do that. Oh, and it appears that highlytrenchantcriticism.com is available for anyone who needs a domain on which to take themselves extremely seriously.

Any Ballard fans here?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Tony December 20, 2011, 4:59 am

    I have only read Crash and The Atrocity Exhibition and I enjoyed them both. However, I think Atrocity was poor choice for the second book to read as I was left with the impression that everything he writes is obsessed with the eroticism of car crashes and overpasses and what not. It is an interesting enough idea but I think he explored it as much as was needed in Crash. So, I did not really feel tempted to read anything else.

    From your summary above it appears there is a lot more breadth there to find so I will have to take a look at the story collections and see how I go.

  • Nathan January 10, 2012, 6:10 pm

    I’ve read his book “The Drought”; very very good. Does “The Complete Stories” really contain… the COMPLETE stories?!