A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences
must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).
Sure, I understand summer is when kids and teachers have months-worth of vacation time. When people of means take trips to Hawaii or something. But for most of us, summer just means it’s better weather out while we’re inside working. So, by all means, make summer reading lists. But why not just make reading lists. Period. ?
To that end, here’s a list for you:
Books to Read During Your Lunch Break While at Work this Summer
BOOK by Ken Sparling
The Awful Possibilities by Christian TeBordo
Pee On Water by Rachel Glaser
When All Our Days Are Numbered by Sasha Fletcher
The Journey of Ibn Fattoum by Naquib Mahfouz
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Q Road by Bonnie Jo Campbell
As Cool As I Am by Pete Fromm
All of these are quite digestable in a few lunch hours (or half-hours). Besides, who needs to eat.
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.
Good things are happening at Mud Luscious Press, the brainchild of Big Other’s J.A. Tyler:
Cover puts me in a Cranach the Elder sort of mood.
What is Ken Sparling up to? Why does the Toronto-based writer compose novels the way he does? His first, Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, had chapters and a story spiraling in many different directions, told by many different voices. For Those Whom God Has Blessed with Fingers from 2005 is one dose of text in 117 pages. The text is in small paragraphs, each of which could be considered a very short fiction in itself. Like Dad Says, For Those has many voices, some in first person, some in third. Some of the same characters, Tutti (a wife figure) and Sammy (a son figure), from the first novel reappear. And as in the first, many of the narrators are domesticated men who are having trouble finding their place in the world. Parents die, children cry and above all God, the operative word in the title, can sometimes be an asshole. Many of the narrators wonder what they are doing on this earth and one questions God, though God doesn’t answer.
People are upset in For Those, people miscommunicate, people want to know what is going and what is going to happen. The result is glorious romp about anger, disappointment and enlightenment. Early on, one encounters this paragraph:
“People feel pretty good when they laugh, so they like to laugh every chance they get. Laughing is about all you get these days. It is also supposed to be medicinally beneficial, which is a real bonus for those attempting to extend their time on this earth so they can squeeze in a few more laughs. You don’t get a lot of the deep heartfelt sadness these days. Laughing is about the best you can actually hope for anymore.” p.35
A few pages later, a zen element that lurks behind many nuggets in the book leaps out, again focused on laughter, but as serious as a spinal tap:
“Mom thought it was great that I could make her laugh. But it wasn’t. It was the only way I could survive. I had to make her laugh or I was dead. I had no choice. No one does. Whenever you think you have a choice, you don’t. You don’t do anything by choice. Everything you do, you have to do. If you think you are doing something by choice, it just means you aren’t doing anything.” p.40
Do you know of ILLiad? It’s an interlibrary loan system from which I’ve recently requested and received the following books (that my own university library does not have):
- Gordon Lish’s Mourner at the Door and My Romance and Krupp’s Lulu
- Helene Cixous’s Coming to Writing and Other Essays
- Ken Sparling’s Dad says he saw you at the mall
- Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
- DFW’s Infinite Jest
- Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day
- Mark Halliday’s Tasker Street
- Aimee Parkison’s Woman with Dark Horses
- Nina Shope’s Hangings: Three Novellas
- Sara Greenslit’s The Blue of Her Body
- Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey
- Janet Mitchell’s The Creepy Girl and Other Stories
- Jacques Roubaud’s Some Thing Black
- Gary Young’s No Other Life
- Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons
- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee
- Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s Empire
- Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You
I don’t know what I’d do without the ILLiad. What books are on your to-read-but-don’t-have-yet list?