Inverse of distraction

At the very moment the book is dematerializing, it is becoming more embodied than ever, the book celebrating the fetishization of the book’s bookishness: design, layout, texture, smell, borderlands. [[there.]]

Ever since the codex took over from the scroll sometime in what we arbitrarily call the middle ages, the book seems to have been under threat. Yet the book as object, as something over and above the contents of the book, is something we have experimented with and changed and revised time without end. Back in the 1960s Ace books introduced their Ace Doubles: you open a particularly garish cover and read a short sf novel which took you to approximately half way through the volume, then you closed the book, turned it over, and found another garish cover which you opened to reveal another short sf novel, sometimes by the same author, more often not. Haruki Murakami published Norwegian Wood as two small paperbacks, one red, one green, contained within a book-shaped box. B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates allowed the reader to assemble the book in any order they chose. In Our Ecstatic Days, Steve Erickson has one long sentence that runs like a thread from page 83 to page 315, cutting through the midst of all else that is happening in the novel. Mark Z. Danielewski’s Only Revolutions tells its story in two portions, one occupying the top part of the page, the other upside down in the bottom part of the page, so that every so often you need to turn the book through 180 degrees. These, and there are more, many more, are all examples of the physical characteristics of the book being exploited as part of what the book is doing, an enhancement to the story.

In an age of e-readers it is easy for most stories to be translated straightforwardly to the screen, but the textural as opposed to textual characteristics of such books cannot be so translated. Any book that does anything more than simply tell a story defies the digital revolution.

Which is a way of saying you couldn’t, you wouldn’t want to read Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting on a screen. Continue reading

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A Sequence on Sequence, Pt. 2: Matt Dube

[A guest post from Matt Dube. Matt Dube is the fiction editor for the online journal H_NGM_N. He teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-MO university. His short story manuscript _Pay What You Owe Me_ is unpublished but unpublishable.]

Add it up: I’m not Lydia Davis (thirty-four stories in Break It Down) or Etgar Kertet (I counted thirty-five stories in his latest, Suddenly a Knock on the Door), but my manuscript is twenty-four self-consciously separate stories. There are themes that connect them, of course, but those same themes will probably connect everything I ever write. Twenty-four is just about double the usual recommended number for a book of stories coming out of an MFA program, isn’t it? And more importantly, who can think about twenty-four things at once? Didn’t someone say you’re a genius if you can mange two? I got a handle on how to order them by cheating: I broke the book down into four sections of about thirty-five pages. Then, I put the four sections in order: the first stories introduce the book’s themes (being in debt to other people) and the methods (lightly surreal, often about family); the stories in this last section sound to me, at least, like the last word on the subject. Think Beckett, and that good kind of exhaustion. The sections between those poles? That’s where the stories go that try out different versions of the initial set-up, stories that make sense in relation to other stories, stories that show I’m a schematic thinker and an improviser, a tinkerer and a clown. Within the sections, I tried mostly to not do too much of the same thing: not too many first person stories in a row, not too many that and on an image, not too many in a row with plots that hinge on surprise. In a chapbook, I think I’d call that kind of limited range a strength, but in the collection, it became a liability. Continue reading

Over Forty Writers Over Forty to Watch

Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.

Continue reading