Over at The Howling Fantods, Greg Carlisle and I were interviewed by Nick Maniatis about the history of Greg’s books Elegant Complexity and Nature’s Nightmare.
Over at the Austin Chronicle, I reviewed this zine from Monofonus Press. It’s a companion piece to Gertrude Stein’s classic Tender Buttons, which turns 100 years old this year.
I’ve also started writing some reviews for Publishers Weekly, but I’m not supposed to reveal which ones I wrote.
From the Foreword to The Early Stories:
“Though spared many of the material deprivations and religious terrors that had dogged our parents, and awash in a disproportionate share of the world’s resources, we continued prey to what Freud called “normal human unhappiness.” But when has happiness ever been the subject of fiction? The pursuit of it is just that—a pursuit. Death and its adjutants tax each transaction. What is possessed is devalued by what is coveted. Discontent, conflict, waste, sorrow, fear—these are the worthy, inevitable subjects. Yet our hearts expect happiness, as an underlying norm, ‘the fountain-light of all our day’ in Wordsworth’s words.”
I got the chance to sit down and talk with Doug Dorst, author of the book S. (with JJ Abrams), Jill Meyers of A Strange Object, Jodi Egerton, and Wayne Alan Brenner of the Austin Chronicle.
Here’s an excerpt of the conversation:
Bucher: For me, a lot of the book reminded me of Melville.
Brenner: I thought you were kind of tipping your hat with the quote from “Bartleby” in there.
Dorst: Which, there are so many tips of the hat I’ve made – for several different reasons. Because I was invited to write a book-y book, it feels interesting to have a tip-of-the-hat, whether it’s one that I’m putting in and leaving uncommented upon, or having a character make, it all can go in there.
Bucher: And with the authorship thing, you kind of created another one just by having two authors’ names on the front of the book. Have you had people ask you, “So, did JJ write this?” Is there any confusion there?
Dorst: I’m sure there will always be. But actually JJ has been really clear from the beginning, “No, I did not write this – Doug wrote it.”
Bucher: But even saying that, it’s not something normal authors have to say that. “No, I swear I didn’t write this.” I mean, I get what you’re saying, but it’s funny: You’re talking about authorship, and you’re traveling around and you’re on these shows and you’ve got a guy next to you saying “I didn’t write this.”
Dorst: And in some cases I’m not there, and the interviewer is asking JJ if I exist.
I just published an essay on Google Sightseeing about the state of art projects using images from Google Street View. The essay was a long time in the making and I hope to move on now and post more location-specific stuff about Street View.
1) My essay on the “Year of David Foster Wallace” originally published in Fiction Advocate has been translated into Spanish by Maria Serrano and published online under the new title “DFW, DT, y Yo.”
2) The Found Poetry Review recently published an issue dedicated to works from David Foster Wallace and I had a small contribution titled “David Foster Wallace Titles Roughly Translated into Other Languages (and Roughly Translated Back Into English).”
About a year after SSMG Press published Greg Carlisle’s reader’s guide to Infinite Jest, Elegant Complexity (in December 2007), Greg emailed me and said he was toying with the idea of writing a shorter guide to Oblivion. Greg started writing this book in 2009 and, after many revisions and delays, I’m happy to see it completed now. It’s available for preorder on Amazon. There will also be a Kindle edition.
In his long interview with David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky brings up the issue of the decreasing cultural relevance of books (in 1996, mind you). Wallace cuts right to the heart of the problem:
“Today’s person spends way more time in front of screens. In fluorescent-lit rooms, in cubicles, being on one end or the other of an electronic data transfer. And what is it to be human and alive and exercise your humanity in that kind of exchange? Versus fifty years ago when the big thing was, I don’t know what, havin’ a house and a garden and driving ten miles to your light industrial job. And living and dying in the same town that you’re in, and knowing what other towns looked like only from photographs and the occasional movie reel. I mean, there’s just so much that seems different, and the speed with which it gets different. The trick, the trick for fiction it seems to me is gonna be to try to create a kind of texture and a language to show, to create enough mimesis to show that nothing’s really changed, I think. And that what’s always been important is still important.”
These are some of the books that I often find myself recommending to people. Usually these are people who have read David Foster Wallace, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Cloud Atlas, and Moby-Dick (or whatever) and are interested in something a little more offbeat. But these aren’t too offbeat. You’ve likely already read at least one or more of these, too.
1. Log of the SS The Mrs Unguentine by Stanley Crawford
This short novel (novella?) tells the story of a marriage aboard a gigantic barge. Like most of these books, it’s hard to accurately describe. The narrator has a unique voice and the fact that it’s set aboard a ship calls to mind a postmodern Melville and Waterworld. It’s the kind of book that other writers read and think “Damn, I wish I’d written that.”
2. This is Not a Novel by David Markson
Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress got a huge plug from David Foster Wallace, but Markson’s index-card tetraology of Reader’s Block, This is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel, are to me, more rereadable. (I even started a twitter account dedicated to them.) Evan Lavender-Smith called them “like porn for English majors.”
3. From Old Notebooks by Evan Lavender-Smith
Speaking of EL-S, his book, From Old Notebooks, takes the form of Markson’s books (although he also traces the form back to Evan S. Connell’s Notes from a Bottle Found on the Beach at Carmel) and updates it, giving us insight into the modern mind of the writer. If you liked Markson’s books, you’ll love Evan Lavender-Smith’s. I can’t say enough good things about it. Read biblioklept’s review.
4. The Journalist by Harry Mathews
Mathews is best known as the only American OuLiPo member, and all of his work bears some formal mark of constraint, but this novel stands out to me as his best. It’s the story of a journalist trying to make sense of his life and organize his thoughts–and of course, he slowly goes insane. If you liked Wittgenstein’s Mistress and Pale Fire, I am sure that you will like The Journalist.
5. Live Girls by Beth Nugent
This book is seriously, direly under-appreciated. I remember the day the book came out and every year or so since then I go back and read a few pages of it and can’t believe how incredible it is. The characters are strange and quirky and completely original and the story itself is just incredibly heart-rending. By my accounting, Live Girls should be considered one of the best novels published in the 1990s. If you like Steve Erickson or Vollman’s The Royal Family, you’ll probably like this, too, but I wouldn’t limit the appeal of it there.
6. Summer Blonde by Adrian Tomine
Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan is now considered part of the pantheon of not just great graphic novels, but great contemporary novels. I agree and would g0 a step farther to say that fans of Chris Ware need to read Adrian Tomine. Summer Blonde is one of his best, but you can’t go wrong with Shortcomings, or any single edition of his Optic Nerve series. The latest issue of Optic Nerve contains an interesting allegory about art that deserves greater attention outside of comics circles.
7. The Lost Scrapbook by Evan Dara
This is one of the great “big” novels of the 1990s. It’s also probably the least known. Dara, almost certainly a pseudonym, plays with form and voices in a way that calls to mind Gaddis in his prime. The story is almost incidental, but part of it is an ecological thriller.
8. The Last Western by Thomas Klise
This is an obscure novel I learned about from Maria Bustillos on wallace-l. I looked for a cheap copy for years before finally picking one up on ABE for $25. Maria’s appreciation of the book is required reading. I’m certain that a publisher will re-issue it at some point and will make a good profit. The story is about an unlikely hero–a pope from New Mexico.
9. I Know Many Songs But I Cannot Sing by Brian Kiteley
Kiteley’s short novel takes place in Cairo during Ramadan. An American named Ib gets lost and wanders through an almost hallucinatory set of experiences. If you are a fan of Paul Bowles or Amitav Ghosh, you need to read this book. Also recommended is Kiteley’s masterful first novel, Still Life With Insects.
10. The Method Actors by Carl Shuker
Shuker’s novel immediately garnered comparisons to David Foster Wallace and David Mitchell when it was published in New Zealand. The voices and set pieces are dazzling. For me they call to mind the great Henry Green’s books full of characters in medias res, leaving the reader to sort out who is who and what is really going on. Shuker’s other books are also all highly recommended.
11. Super-Cannes by J.G. Ballard
Ballard may be known for Crash, but for me, this book best represents his critique of modern society. The picture he paints of Cannes is a mirror of almost every luxurious suburb and his eye for detail helps create an image that is compelling and abhorrent at the same time.
12. The Story of a Million Years by David Huddle
This one is a little different in that it is a love story, but Huddle deserves to be mentioned alongside Updike or Roth because he is more compassionate and able to craft believable female protagonists. This is not a book I frequently re-read (although it’s short), but one I’m glad I read when I did. I also liked his book La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl. My wife, Jordan, gets credit for introducing me to Huddle!