I read a lot of books. Some – most – I read for pleasure, and some for reviewing. Often the books I’m supposed to be reviewing will cross over into that pleasure category, but it’s not often that a book I’m reading for pleasure gets me so excited about literature and writing and the writer who made it that I’m motivated to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and tell the world what’s so wonderful about it.
Tim Horvath’s first short story collection, Understories, is a that kind of wonderful. It is a cat’s cradle of people and places and a mad scientist’s bubbling test tubes and levers, woven together and delivered by a writer possessed of an intense intellectual curiosity and playfulness. Here we have stories that perform not only as virtuoso pieces of writing, but as mirrors held up to humanity, filigreed with warmth and compassion for the poor souls mired in the chaos of this modern world. Here we have stories of Gauguin in the land of the the midnight sun, of Heidegger roaming the Black Forest, of single dads and burned-out mothers, broken-hearted projectionists and misunderstood umbrologists–all built within in a framework almost like an updated, tongue-in-cheek Invisible Cities. Continue reading
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.
A couple of weeks ago, Susannah Elisabeth Pabot asked me to introduce Tim Horvath before he read at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on March 21, 2012. Here, with some modifications, is what I’d said about Tim and his work:
Peter Straub, Benjamin Hale, Alexandra Kleeman, and Tim Horvath Read from their Stories in Conjunctions:56, Terra Incognita: The Voyage Issue, with emcee Susan Daitch Friday, May 20, 7 p.m., 163 Court Street, Brooklyn, New York
Our fifth reading and conversation is Sunday with Nick Ripatrazone, Robin Beth Schaer, Brenda Shaughnessy and Anthony Tognazzini. You can RSVP here.
Our sixth will be on March 20th with Michael Leong, Mike Young, Dylan Landis, and Janice Shapiro.
Upcoming readers include Steve Himmer, Joseph Riipi, Tim Horvath and Gary Lutz.
Nick Ripatrazone is the author of Oblations (Gold Wake Press 2011), a book of prose poems. His work has appeared in Esquire, The Kenyon Review, West Branch, The Mississippi Review, Sou’wester, The Collagist and Beloit Fiction Journal. He will graduate from the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark in May.
Robin Beth Schaer’s poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Denver Quarterly, Washington Square, Tin House, and
Prairie Schooner, among others. She has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Saltonstall Foundation. She teaches at Marymount Manhattan College and works as a deckhand aboard the Tall Ship Bounty.
Brenda Shaughnessy was born in Okinawa, Japan, in 1970 and grew up in Southern California. She received her B.A. in literature and women’s studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and she earned an M.F.A. at Columbia University. She is the author of Human Dark with Sugar (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Interior with Sudden Joy (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1999), which was nominated for the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, a Lambda Literary Award, and the Norma Farber First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Bomb, Boston Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, and elsewhere.
Anthony Tognazzini’s work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Sentence, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Quarterly West, the Hat, and the Alaska Quarterly Review, among other journals. His collection, I Carry A Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such As These, is available from BOA Editions. He lives in Brooklyn.