John Matthew Fox’s “Literary Pillars”

1. Blood Meridianby Cormac McCarthy. I once suggested this as a fixture on high school reading lists and a principal told me parents would riot. I still think it belongs in every possible canon.2. The Border Trilogyby Cormac McCarthy. More ways to describe lightening than you thought possible.3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

4. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The great novel of ideas.

5. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Of course the inventive typography is wonderful, but the pathos within the erudition makes this book sing.

6. Blindness by Jose Saramago. Taught me the power of a “what if” premise.

7. Snow by Orhan Pamuk.

8. The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg by Deborah Eisenberg. Compression, compression, compression. She is the best at it.

9. The Collected Stores of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor. She knows the human heart, all that is wicked and all that is good.

10. After the Quake by Haruki Murakami. Contains two of best short stories ever written. The rest are pretty good too.

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Fifty Gestures of Love, in honor of William Gass.

25 now, 25 to follow, with many thanks

1) In The Odyssey, there’s Penelope’s more intimate test of this stranger who claims to be her husband — after he’s gotten through the messy, public business of slaughtering all her suitors down in the castle hall.

2) Of course Penelope has enacted some significant gestures of love herself, during the course of her man’s wanderings, most especially the way she’s undone, every night, the shroud she’s been weaving every day, the funeral shroud for the former king, while meantime promising the suitors: just as soon as the shroud’s done…

3) But now this fellow claims to be the once and future king, and he’s proven pretty impressive, plus their son Telemachus accepts the story, the boy’s helped to cut all the pretenders to ribbons, and now the stranger stands in the bedroom, and so it’s time she too sprang a test on him. Continue reading

Enter and Exit Strategies: My Literary Doors and Windows

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It isn’t simply single books that have impacted my thinking, my writing, my thinking about writing, my writing about thinking, but singular artists and their respective oeuvres, each one’s so-called successes as inspiring as their so-called failures are instructive. So, what follows is a list of writers whose writing as a whole (and in some cases, their biographies, especially in regard to their work ethic, and other ethics), I consider to be important, important to me it should go without saying or writing, but likely isn’t “permitted” to go without saying in this age of having to self-effacingly preface one’s opinions with some kind of disclaimer or other.

You’ll find that my list privileges obsessive prose stylists. If a piece of writing doesn’t have this quality, I will probably have already forgotten it soon after I’ve likely given up reading it after the first few sentences I’ve had to suffer reading, while probably still remembering the writer, warning other readers to avoid his or her writing. You’ll also find me refusing to pitch my tent in either the so-called minimalist or so-called maximalist camps, or the so-called literary or so-called genre camps, refusing, in other words to think in cancelling-the-so-called-other dichotomies.

Also, I think of these writers’ writings less as literary “pillars,” than as doors or windows, of perception, yes, but also of possibility, of intelligence, of attentiveness, of innovation, of experimentation, from and through which I can enter or exit at will.

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“For Big Other on William H. Gass’s Birthday,” by Samuel R. Delany

If one tried to construct the Temple of Literature from only the fifty “pillars” below, it would collapse spectacularly. Nevertheless, here is a contingent group of titles that, to paraphrase Christopher Higgs, if I hadn’t read and reread over the years, I wouldn’t be myself. How much that is worth, I’m not sure.

1)   Djuna Barnes—Nightwood

2)   Charles H. Kahn—The Art and Thought of Heraclitus (an edition of the fragments with commentary)

3)   William Shakespeare—Sonnets, Tragedies, most of the Comedies . . .

4)   Eileen Myles—Inferno, The Importance of Being Iceland.

5)   Charlotte Brontë—Jane Eyre, Villette

6)   Jane Austen—Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion

7)   Marquis de Sade, 120 Days of Sodom, Julliette

8)   Shoshana Felman, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation” (from Writing and Madness)

9)   Herman Melville—Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, The Confidence Man, and the shorter works

10) Sir Thomas Browne—Urn Burial, Religio Medici, correspondence

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William Walsh’s “Literary Pillars”

After examining three bookshelf walls in our home—one in the living room and two in the basement (one on the “finished” side of the basement and one of the side of the basement with the boiler and the washer/drier), here’s a list of fifty books that pillar my reading and writing life:

  1. Success by Martin Amis
  2. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  3. Leviathan by Paul Auster
  4. The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
  5. 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme
  6. The Watch by Rick Bass
  7. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  8. Among the Thugs by Bill Buford
  9. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski
  10. The Stranger by Albert Camus Continue reading

Tim Horvath’s “Literary Pillars”

The Top Five:

As widely as my tastes ebb and flow, these five remain, stalwarts, five friends I want with me on my desert island with little to unite them except each’s brash individuality.

1. Mating by Norman Rush. My Everest, slopes of anthropology, ethics, politics, psychology slowly traversed by the path of character

2. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. All the more significant since I was abysmal at chemistry.

3. Cosmicomics/TZero by Italo Calvino. The oyster of the universe.

4. Visible Worlds by Marilyn Bowering. A book I’ve had to read several times, since the plot is so intricate, but whose language glimmers like an ice field.

5. The Atlas by William T. Vollmann. A stunning array of styles and places for inveterate and would-be wanderers—travels in the possibilities of narrative.

These next couple were highly significant when I was a teenager and remain so:

6. Saints and Strangers by Angela Carter. Just quoted “The Fall River Ax Murders,” last week.

7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Every Saturday for a year or so I had detention for an accumulation of small offenses, and I’d slip off to Bombay for the duration.

I Inherit a Box:

A guy who shared an apartment with my dad, Mark Johnson, a great writer and reader, left behind a box with a bunch of amazing things—a timely package.

8. Island People by Coleman Dowell. In simple garb, boundless refractions of reality.

9. RE/Search #11: Pranks Introduced me to the notion that a prank can be a work of art.

10. The Houses of Children by Coleman Dowell. Each story redefining what the genre could do for me. I still don’t understand what Dowell is up to.

11. Ah Pook Is Here by William Burroughs. Not the most well known, but what was in the box was in the box.

12. Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautremont.

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Dan Wickett’s “Literary Pillars”

If this were truly an honest list, there’d be around 34 Dzanc titles and the other 16 titles would have a healthy sprinkling of Dzanc imprint titles. I’m going to hold those off the list though. Mostly.

1. One Penny Black by Edwin Palmer Hoyt – it’s a book on stamp collecting, which I was into back in the second grade. I believe the record will show in the P.D. Graham Elementary School Library that I might have checked this book out for a couple of consecutive school years, showing early signs of some of the literary obsessions I’d show later on.

2. The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald – another book from that time period, one that I probably read a couple hundred times.

3. World’s End by T. C. Boyle – the first of his work that I read, shortly after a write-up in Rolling Stone. If this isn’t his best novel, it’s right up in the top 2 or 3, and remains my favorite to this day.

4 and 5. Best American Short Stories 1987 and Norton Critical Anthology of Short Fiction – I’m lumping these two together because they were the two “text” books for two classes I took in the Fall of 1988 and because of them (and my lack of memory at what authors were from which title) discovering authors like Ralph Lombreglia, Mark Costello, Elizabeth Tallent, Madison Smartt Bell, Robert Coover and many others.

6. Pricksongs & Descants by Robert Coover – Spinning from reading “The Babysitter” most logically from the aforementioned Norton anthology, I found the collection from which it was published and reading through was eye-opening as to what fiction could be, how it could stretch, etc.

7. Keeneland by Alyson Hagy. Honestly, it’s not my favorite of her works, though I like it a lot. It’s here because without that novel, there was no Emerging Writers Network, without the EWN, I never meet Steven Gillis and we have no Dzanc Books that I’m a part of.

8. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Undoubtedly the book that I’ve read more times as an adult than any other.

9. Dune by Frank Herbert. In 7th grade I was plowing through books in a Science Fiction & Fantasy class and the teacher sent me to the librarian with a note–please find something challenging for Mr. Wickett to read and Dune is what she gave me and it was a solid choice–so many storylines and layers that over the next five to ten years I probably read it, and the subsequent (Frank Herbert authors at-least) Dune titles and maybe, just maybe by the last time understood everything Herbert was trying to do.

10. Erasure by Percival Everett. Again, it might not be my favorite of Everett’s work, but Mike Magnuson damn near demanded I read it, and in doing so unleashed a fervor on my part to find and read everything Everett has written, which is now up around 20 titles when you include the poetry collections. Thank goodness Erasure was as good as it was as it allowed me into this wonderful world of writing.
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