Big Other’s 50 Pillars, compiled

Me being me, I see vast amounts of data, and I want to analyze it! So here is something of a meta-list, compiled from all all the posts from 30 July. (Essentially, I made one big list, then saw who came up the most.)

Which authors, then, were most mentioned? Upon which literary pillars does Big Other rest?

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“My Fifty Literary Pillars,” by Amber Sparks

Unlike the wonderful William Gass, I am not a scholar, nor am I particularly well-versed in the language of literary criticism—and these books are all by writers (many, critics themselves) with a genius far beyond what I’ll ever possess. Gass’s original literary pillars are so masterfully described, so beautifully rendered that in comparison I feel ill-qualified, in fact I feel it impossible, to comment on these books without sounding like an unholy idiot. I’ll just say that after thirty years as a voracious and passionate reader, it was very difficult to winnow a list to fifty. These, then, are not only the books that are my favorites, but also the books that have shaped me, molded me, changed the way I write or think about writing, started a revolution in my head, books that have made their lasting mark on me as a writer and a performer and a reader and, perhaps most importantly, for the best of these, as a human being.

I admit there is a certain partiality on the list to poets and playwrights. This is my background—poetry and the theatre—so I can’t help but have been shaped by these first and foremost, before I found my way to fiction. I do read a lot of non-fiction and especially history and philosophy, but they haven’t impacted my writing as directly or as immediately. Also missing are works of fiction that I’ve loved a good deal but that haven’t necessarily impacted or changed my writing. Books by John Barth and Lydia Davis, for example, would fall into that category.

These are not all classics; in fact some are decidedly failures, inferior to other works the masters who wrote them may have produced. But in those cases that is usually precisely why I love them. I will choose a messy, hugely ambitious failure over a safe and well-crafted novel any day. I’ll choose experimentation over perfect symmetry. I’ll choose the excessive, the sprawling, over the Spartan sense of order.

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