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.

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For Those Whom God Has Blessed With Fingers: A Ken Sparling Novel

 

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

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All hail the ILLiad (not to be confused with that other Iliad)

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?

Interview with Ken Sparling

Sean Lovelace interviews Ken Sparling for Big Other

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Big Other Contributors’ News #8

Lily Hoang is a new contributor to Html Giant.
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Shya Scanlon will be reading on Sunday, December 20, 2009 in Brooklyn at 440 Gallery, with two other writers Scott Geiger and Micaela Morrissette (a senior editor at Conjunctions). Here’s a link to the details.
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J.A. Tyler‘s fiction has appeared recently in these fine places: Everyday Genius, Storyglossia, Litareview, Dark Sky, and Requited. He’s interviewed at Storyglossia and Dark Sky.
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John Dermot Woods was interviewed by Adam Robinson this week over at HTML Giant.
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Check out Nicolle Elizabeth‘s essay “Madmen and Exiles”.
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Daniele Adair read as part of  a launch for “You’ve Probably Read This Before”, a new anthology of CalArts alumni writings, I read in on Sunday. More HERE.

And she performed a new piece “We Are Mired In a Kind of Stalemate” in a group show at a new art space, Dan Graham. More on the performance/event HERE.
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Stacy  Muszynski reviewed The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, by Michael Zadoorian HERE and interviewed Laura van den Berg HERE.
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Check out John Madera‘s  reviews:
Joanna Howard’s On the Winding Stair (Brooklyn Rail, December 2009)
Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall (The Collagist, December 2009)
Michael Kimball’s Dear Everybody (Word Riot, December 2009)