William H. Gass’s Finding a Form by Guy Gallo

Part of the Editor's Choice series.

BOMB 60 Summer 1997
Bombcover 60 1024X1024
​William Gass

William Gass. Photo by Joyce Ravid. Courtesy of Alfred A. Knopf.

William H. Gass knows how to think about writing. Reading his latest book of essays, Finding a Form, I was driven to my bookshelf. Thumbed through his four earlier volumes: Fiction and the Figures of LifeOn Being BlueThe World Within the Word, and Habitations of the Word. I reread essays I’d read a decade ago. They seemed both familiar and new. These essays are all of a piece, a gargantuan and unified analysis of what it means to make books, to play with words, to write well.

There are three things about Gass to note, and anticipate if you have never read him. His insight. He sees through the cant of modern and the sentimentality of pop criticism. His thought drags you into a methodology without bludgeoning you with abstraction. His is a useful view of the world of words. His style. The man teaches by example. His essays are beautiful. They are what they attempt to understand: meticulous making of meaning by reinventing our ordinary language. His humor. His unapologetic punsterism and outlandish metaphor bring to serious thought a delightful touch that often elicits belly laughs from this reader. He makes fart jokes, uses genitalia as metaphor, allows himself any obscenity to make a point. For Gass, the full arsenal of rhetoric, our entire vocabulary, including the forbidden, is available, and well-used, and rendered beautiful. He is not politically correct. He is politically wise. Every writer should own and relish a matched set of his essays.


Finding a Form was recently published by Alfred A. Knopf.

William H. Gass  by Jan Garden Castro
Gass 01 Body
Italy, Two Ways: Jessie Chaffee and Minna Zallman Proctor
Jessie Chaffee and Minna Zallman Proctor

“There’s often a gap between what we’re trying to say and what we are able to say. Sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I fail. Sometimes it’s painful and sometimes I get into that space where it feels right. That’s the high.”

Inverted Metrics of Value: Leslie Jamison Interviewed by Julia Bosson
Jamison Banner

The author on pushing back against the overly simplistic narrative of addiction. 

Colluding with the Hoax: A Conversation with Kevin Young by Adam Fitzgerald
Barnum Bailey

The writer of Bunk on American hucksterism, racism, plagiarism, and why we believe what we want to believe.

Originally published in

BOMB 60, Summer 1997

Featuring interviews with Barry Le Va, Jane Dickson, John Lee Anderson, Lydia Davis, Judy Davis, Peter Greenaway, Roger Guenveur Smith, David Del Tredici, Alfred Uhry, and David Armstrong.

Read the issue
Bombcover 60 1024X1024