Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon (incomplete)
The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis
Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy (abandoned)
Life A User’s Manual, Georges Perec (abandoned with intentions to return)
An Armful of Warm Girl, W.M. Spackman
Dockwood, Jon McNaught
The Laughing Monsters, Denis Johnson
The Trip to Echo Spring , Olivia Laing (incomplete)
An Ecology of World Literature, Alexander Beercroft (incomplete)
The Age of the Poets, Alain Badiou (incomplete)
Wittgenstein’s Nephew, Thomas Bernhard
Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
The Habit of Being, Flannery O’Connor (incomplete)
I, Little Asylum, Emmanuelle Guattari
- The desire to manufacture and maintain happiness leads our culture, our society, our whatever to repeatedly perform contrived aesthetic scenarios.
- Happiness being, perhaps, a modern, or at least modernish, invention.
- Modernish affect.
- And happiness, we maybe telling ourselves, the goal, the telos, the whatever, of religion, politics, culture.
- Like many Americans, I have absolutely no idea what will make me happy.
- I know that happiness is not stable.
- One of Blake’s chimney sweepers remarks that because he is happy and dances and sings they (God/priest/king) are absolved from the belief that they’ve done him injury.
- Religion, or the practice and observance of religion, is the maintenance, repetition, and performance of contrived aesthetic scenarios.
- Months ago at a baptism I witnessed a man sway.
- The swayer swayed rhythmically: his eyes closed, his brow wrinkled, his mouth downturned in the pretense of ecstasy—he swayed to the guitar-strumming of an Episcopalian priest, who plucked and sang a song I’d never heard.
- The assembled witnesses mumbling through words of which they weren’t sure.
- (Or mute, glaring, like my brother, my father, myself).
- Later the priest reserved damning words for this world.
- (I’ve committed no details of the sermon to memory, but we may file the whole damn deal under “Platonic shadows of some other promised Real-to-Come“).
- And yet the backdrop of the whole affair—did I mention this baptism was outside?—this backdrop was the mighty north-flowing St Johns River, a beautiful spring day, hot, goddamn was it hot-–this backdrop was beautiful, ecstatically beautiful, the deep dark blue choppy river, so broad, coursed in the background, dotted with white sails—trees: announce them: cypress, sweetbay, oak—they swayed—or their branches swayed, their green leaves tickled in the occasional too-brief wind—the sky blazed azure, that’s the word we have, streaked with violent clouds (they were not fluffy)—birds flew—can I remember them, the birds? Let’s license my memory: let’s say white ibises beat past the spectacle, that black vultures hovered not too close. Let’s imagine limpkins and red-shouldered hawks, like the proud avian who lives in the oak across the street from me. Ospreys. Hell, throw in a bald eagle.
- The world, this world, which is to say this particular aesthetic arrangement had the potential to authorize happiness—and yet the man in black yapped on about its utter falseness, this world, this beautiful beautiful world.
- Emily Dickinson claimed to keep the Sabbath at home, by which I think she meant her back yard. Sounds nice there—the sermon is never long, and instead of getting to Heaven at last – you’re going, all along.
- (I had to preserve and repeat and maintain the aesthetics of Ms. Dickinson’s dash).
- I went and stood in the shade and tried to feel happy.
- But the man, the swaying man—his performance of ecstasy—all this, mixed with the sermon to spoil the happiness, which I probably enjoyed just as much—the which there referring to the feeling of feeling spoiled happiness, or rather the feeling of potential happiness spoiled.
- That the feeling of the feeling was as pure as it might be, mediated by Nature and its enemy Religion.
- And finding the man’s swaying performance so thoroughly unconvincing, having witnessed ecstasy my own damn self, at least once or even twice in thirty-five years.
- And maybe even experiencing ecstasy, its edges, its agony.
- (Ms. Dickinson reported that she liked a look of agony. Its truth).
- That ecstasy, or awe, or reverence, or pick your own synonym, because, hey, language is weak as usual, as always, as always-shall-be—language can’t pin down transcendence to a signifying utterance—where was I, am I?—that ecstasy might be pantomimed in the service of a service, of a system, of a religion—this is the shadow of happiness, the shadow of the ideal of happiness: the problem. The problem.
- I was never close enough to hear the infant’s cries, coos, wails, burbles, sounds, which she must have uttered—maybe she slept through the ordeal—but any sounds she made must have been the purest utterances at the occasion, the repetitions of Nature, still outside of the culture in which we had gathered to inscribe her.
- I wrote all this for me, not for you, not for anyone else—but let me end with the cloying sentimental jeering pretense that I wrote it for the baptized baby, a supporting character in this narrative, whose life I hope is mostly happy.
10. The Beekeeper’s Daughter by Sissy Sextuplington
By turns uproarious, scandalous, and emotionally-moving, this kaleidoscopic novel tells the multi-generational story of the Apis clan, from their humble beginnings starting a clandestine honey-service in the catacombs of Ellis Island in the 1890s, to their triumphant crest in the honey-boom of the Buzzing Twenties, to their decline and rebirth from their own ashes/wax over the course of the 20th century. This sting stuns!
9. Cacanisius’ Crossing by Caomh-Caolan FitzSimmons-Hughes
How wonderful that this “lost classic” has been recovered anew! FitzSimmons-Hughes of course wrote the novel over a series of decades; each section was written in the language of the European country he was living in self-imposed exile in at the time. Cacanisius’ Crossing was then translated into Irish Gaelic, and has finally been translated into English. The 1085-page story details the last five minutes in the life of its central character. Kaleidoscopically stunning.
8. Dovetail by Samuel Samold
In this dystopian romance-thriller, society is split into two groups: those who have earned their genetically-grafted tails, and those who must go “SansTail.” Will plucky Becky Fang pass the Trials of Wattle and earn her place in the dominant tribe (along with dreamboat Crispin’s affection)—or will she follow the strange mysteries of the secret resistance force, The Cloacal Tunnel? A compelling stunner.
7. The Kite Runner 2 by Khaled Hosseini
The whole book club bawled. Again.
6. Jimmy Hat Johannson and the Crystal Creeper Caper (A Charleston ‘Nights’ Mystery) by Edwin Turner
I feel a little weird putting my own NaNoWriMo novel on here—not the least because it hasn’t come out yet (FS&G in hardback in the US, March 2016; Penguin in the UK, Australia, Canada, and NZ in May 2016; Japanese and Latvian translations TBD)—but it’s really, really good. I even let a friend look over it to check for any bad writing (there wasn’t any) before I sent it to the Wylie Agency. The plot: Jimmy Hat Johansson is just a good ole boy from a backwoods burg…but a summer job with his Uncle Ray’s lawn business plunges him headfirst into a world of sinister intrigue–housewife murderesses, a corrupt sheriff, and a crystal meth syndicate!
5. The Lumberjack’s Apprentice by Knob Hayden
Knob Hayden’s remarkable journey comes to life in this remarkable collection of stories (The Lumberjack’s Apprentice is a novel-in-stories). Remarkably, this book was Hayden’s thesis for an experimental MFA program offered by the EGS (via Transylvania University, Kentucky). Each short story is a remarkable entry in this angry young man’s tour-de-force-of-truth. Hayden is only 24, but he’s hardly tender—six days as a lumberjack’s apprentice will roughen any soft palms! Our hero also tries his hand as a busboy, a mail clerk at Monsanto, and a cabin boy. This guy has definitely read Jesus’ Son!
4. Working On My Screenplay by Angela Criss
Kudos to Penguin for this achievement. This is a book of tweets from people who have included the phrase “working on my screenplay” in their tweet, interspersed with sketches of kittens. Sure, you might criticize it as lazy, not particularly insightful, barely interesting, the sort of joke that others like John Cage played decades ago, a gimmick, cruel, boring, or smug. But it’s art and it’s subversive and it provides much-needed metacommentary and it can be yours for only 10 bucks!
3. Too Many Cooks: The Novelization by Jonathan Franzen
Stunningly remarkable work from Franzen, who slowly teases out the Adult Swim’s immediate cult-classic 11-minute video to 475 pages in this sweeping multigenerational epic. Stunning to think that Mr. Franzen never even watched the short film!
2. Brooklyn Novel Title TK by Daktoa Rugburn
Wyoming Strongniece has no idea what to do after college—an internship at a Fortune 500 company offered by one of her father’s friends? An experimental MFA program offered by the EGS? Should she work the summer at her favorite bar, making artisanal cocktails for the surly locals, and continue to support her suicidal roommate Hershey as she tries to launch her acting career? Or maybe—just maybe—she can have it all. A dazzling debut sure to stun and reward.
1. The Sector of Attention by Moses Kingson
In vivid prose, Kingson’s unforgettable 27th novel explores the nadirs and acmes of the human soul. A swirling kaleidoscope of epiphanies and soul-searching, this kaleidoscopic stunner makes us reexamine all we thought we knew about WWII. I can’t wait to actually read it.
- Charles Weedon Westover killed himself on February 8th, 1990.
- He was 55.
- He shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber rifle.
- Between the eye and the ear.
- The right eye and the right ear.
- The temple.
- Charles Weedon Westover was better known by his stage name, Del Shannon.
- The name printed on his death certificate is “Charles Weedon Westover” though.
- CWW found success as Del Shannon, performing and recording the song “Runaway.”
- The 7″ 45rpm recording of “Runaway” became a number one Billboard hit in the United States of America in February of 1961.
- “Runaway” was the number one hit in America for four weeks.
- It was later a number one hit in the United Kingdom.
- And Australia.
- But it was not a number one hit in 1967, when CWW as Del Shannon rerecorded it as “Runaway ’67.”
- In fact, “Runaway ’67” failed to chart.
- CWW, under the name Del Shannon, wrote “Runaway” with Max Crook.
- Crook played the strange, dark, jaunty, bipolar solo in “Runaway.”
- Crook played the solo on a musical instrument of his own invention, a type of early electronic synthesizer he called the Musitron.
- Crook’s Musitron was a modified version of an earlier synthesizer, the clavioline (similar, of course, to an ondioline).
- Perhaps Crook’s most significant modification was adding reverb to his organ via a custom-built echo chamber that incorporated garden gate springs.
- Crook’s solo is the haunting spirit of a haunting song.
- Or maybe the haunting spirit is actually CWW/DS’s falsetto, which cracks through the piano and baritone sax approximately 45 seconds into the song, announcing that the narrator wah-wah-wah-wah-wonders why why why why why why she ran away.
- The lyric is simple but also dark, portentous, loaded with a primal anxiety that hints at outright menace.
- Why a “runaway”?
- Why did she run away?
- And why does the narrator want her there with him, walking in the rain?
- (To end this misery).
- CWW continued recording and performing as Del Shannon for the rest of his life.
- His final performance was in Fargo, ND, not a week before his suicide.
- Of course he sang “Runaway” there.
- It was his biggest hit.
- None of his other songs came even close.
- He did the alcoholic thing, the drug addict thing, and then the AA thing.
- He was, by all accounts, a life-long manic depressive.
- And many claimed a kind man.
- A generous man.
- He played “Runaway” on the David Letterman Show in 1986, shouting the song but hitting the falsetto.
- (Back in 1961, Harry Balk, who produced “Runaway,” had to speed up the recording–from an A minor to a B flat–to match CWW’s vocal–he was nervous and flat).
- Shirley Westover, his wife of 31 years, had left him the year before his Letterman appearance.
- CWW remarried in 1987. He married a neighbor’s daughter, Bonnie Tyson (also known as LeAnne Gutierrez), who was half his age at the time of the marriage.
- Bonnie found CWW’s body.
- Slumped in a rocking chair, wearing his bathrobe but not his hair piece.
- He was working on music with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne around the time of his death.
- And clearly a Wilbury in spirit.
- CWW has no grave.
French for author, this term denotes a film director who makes the same film again and again and again.
A detailed list of the books from which the author plundered all his or her good ideas.
The rhetorical device of circumlocution can be seen by the reader or made evident to the reader when a writer chooses to compose phrases, clauses, or sentences that are inordinately complex, exaggerated, long-winded, or otherwise unnecessarily verbose in order to demonstrate, convey, show, or express an idea, image, or meaning that might have been demonstrated, conveyed, shown, or expressed via the use of shorter, simpler, more direct phrases, clauses, or sentences that demonstrate brevity.
Inexperienced writers, especially composition students, are advised to use circumlocution to pad their writing and meet the assigned word count.
A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about prescriptivists.
Telling without showing. Exposition can be extremely useful to the reader, who will slight the author who successfully employs it.
FREE INDIRECT STYLE
James Wood Approved!™
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A biography composed entirely of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies.
The funny dirty bits that make you feel clever.
Trade-specific diction employed (preferably clumsily) to confuse the average reader and offend the expert reader.
Early 21st-century reading device, often mistaken as a harbinger of literary doom.
An adverb that most often means figuratively.
The most enduring—and therefore most true—kind of story.
A writer’s ability to just chill and not know. (Also useful for lazy frauds).
OBJECTIVE POINT OF VIEW
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A grammarian who holds strong opinions and judgments about descriptivists.
The story-teller’s scheme. Make it up as you go along. Steal as necessary.
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
An adjective used to describe a literary work that is not quite as good as anything by W.G. Sebald.
A work often mistaken as more serious or more important or more literary than a comedy.
A comforting, nebulous fantasy.
A specific type of lucidity that authors sometimes use.
The emotional byproduct of attempting to maintain comforting, nebulous fantasies.
A stop-gap for bouts of Weltschmerz.
Zyzzyva is a real word, and this fact should give us all some small measure of hope..
- Flann O’Brien
- Mark Twain
- Daniel Defoe
- Iceberg Slim
- Edith Van Dyne
- Acton Bell
- Victoria Lucas
- S.E. Hinton
- George Eliot
- George Sand
- George Orwell
- Toni Morrison
- Anne Rice
- Ford Madox Ford
- Robert Galbraith
- Paul Celan
- Lewis Carroll
- Franklin W. Dixon
- Lemony Snickett
- O. Henry
- Richard Bachman
- John le Carré
- Italo Svevo
- Walking down the street—a windy night, a blustery night, the last remnant of winter poking into new spring—walking with my family, I ran into my former cat. My wife coaxed him from the brick home five doors down the road, where he has lived for the last three years, or maybe habited is the word, browner, fatter than I remember him when I remember him. He ran up and bit me. I burst into tears.
- The time I called my parents, weaving home from the izakaya–It must be daytime, the supper hour, back at home in Florida, yes?—asking after my father, my brother, my grandmother, my childhood dog, how was she, her health, etc.? The lie in my mother’s voice. Stumbling in tears back to my tiny apartment. I missed the train.
- (I missed the train on purpose so that I could cry on the long walk home).
- On our bed, our old bed, a slimmish bed, tickling my wife, my fingers all over her beautiful young body, her laughter, shrieks, protest, delight. Our cat—our kitten—how he dashed in and bit me all over, viciously, striking like some other animal, like one might imagine a cobra or a weasel would strike. My hand, my arm, my shoulder. That I had a genuine wound there. Blood. My wife calming him, explaining him. Sweethearts.
- When my mother brought home the dog, a border collie, a beautiful black and white border collie—no, her name, I can’t share that, I can’t—me, twelve, furious, trembling even, walking into the neighbors’ yard, away, the dog, her, she, the dog in our garage, my younger brother petting her, my father suspicious, but me—Why so angry?
- I loved the dog. So much. She was the best.
- A few years ago, finding a picture of my dog, a puppy still, wet, in a bathtub of a house I lived in twice, finding the picture in the pages of a book, handing it to my daughter, who asked after the dog, her condition, name, whereabouts, etc., concerned, an edge or shade of protocol in her voice.
- That picture now tacked to my daughter’s wall on a corkboard reserved for such tackings.
- The cat—how he jumped into my daughter’s crib, curled about her. How it frightened us.
- He was never the same after the daughter, or we were never the same, an understatement, an obvious, obvious understatement, of course.
- He went to wander a bit, stroll in the world; he failed to return at nights. He took up with an orange tabby, a dusty bland beast my wife dubbed Pearly.
- A ridiculous name for a cat.
- And then I took to feeding them both. On the porch.
- There were other dogs after the dog I loved. A chow, a beagle that couldn’t keep up. What happened to them?
- The cat took residency under the house. He refused to move in. He was some kind of scrapper now. We might see him of an evening, curled on the porch, nestled, maybe, with dust-orange Pearly.
- But he stopped coming in.
- What happened to my dog? The details? I don’t know. This is still a sore spot, but I seem to refuse to ask.
- (I suppose I enjoy a sore spot, a wound to worry).
- The cat did not like my daughter, I think, and when we had the son, well, I know he didn’t like that. He made it clear. But we subscribe to a fiction wherein the cat loved the children and the children loved the cat.
- My daughter has a sweet little framed photo of my cat. He is curled snugly (is there another way for a cat to curl?) in a little wicker basket atop a kitchen cabinet in our old home. My daughter insisted on keeping the photo when I went to throw it away.
- Every person, or most persons, that is, most folks—-most folks love their dogs and like their dogs and will say of a dog they like and love: He was a good dog. But my dog! My dog was a very good dog, a smart dog, a dog of impeccable training. My father, returning from years of work overseas to a few months of not working (overseas or otherwise)—my father he trained the beast. It was his project.
- (I say, I write, My dog, knowing goddamn well that that dog was my father’s dog).
- Returning home from a week in the Smoky Mountains, unable to locate my cat. A miasma about the backporch. Flies, that dead-animal smell that permeates the nostrils, the brain. Finding a raccoon corpse under the house, its body bloated but whole, vile, large and swollen. Discarding it in a series of trash bags.
- Its fur was the same color as my cat’s fur.
- The strange joy when my cat arrived two days later, his feet trotting down the pavement, sauntering even, arriving on the porch indifferent to my delight but hungry.
- That he had taken up first with a possum, and then a raccoon.
- The first time I suspected the affair was when I heard the strange crunch of a new jaw crunching on my cat’s own food—a louder, drier crunch. I made myself, hollered, arms above head, chest-thrust, Hey raccoon—off the porch!
- But that furred trio just stared at me, knowing I’d go on feeding them as I had been, all Darwinian competition suspended by domestic tendencies, blinking in a series.
- How horrifying!
- And yet and still—my children, via the designs and tendencies of my wife and me—don’t they turn woodland creatures into anthropomorphic totems? Don’t they squeeze stuffed dolls? Draw and mold and paint forest friends? Make stories about such beasts?
- I can’t believe for a minute that the dog would’ve taken to such nocturnal company, nor would her sweet heart spurn my babies for night adventures.
- But who knows.
- My parents now live with an awful yapping terrier dog, his two rows of teeth set above his rotten beard, and above that mutant jaw, his eyes skewed, akimbo, their colors mismatched.
- There is a picture of my cat, or the cat that I am calling my cat who is so plainly now his own cat—there is a picture of that cat in the crib with my daughter. In the picture, both cat and daughter face the camera, the crib horizontal to the viewer, its vertical white bars framing the pair. The cat’s head intersects with the daughter’s head, occluding half her face from the viewer’s view.
- This picture horrified my daughter.
- (And perhaps signaled a sense of self, or, more importantly, or more significantly, or just plain more interestingly, the sense that there was a self that could be occluded, obstructed, obscured, incomplete).
- My wife and I, repeatedly testing our daughter’s reaction to the photo, varying times of day, situations, etc., in order to observe her reaction.
- (I almost used the verb gauge for observe but oh my that would be so dishonest, yes?).
- Anyway, it horrified this little girl, moved her to tears, gasping, this cat’s head blocking half of her head.
- With the dog I don’t know what happened, not really: She was old; her hips were bad, we had to put her down. There’s no image there, just the sound of my mother’s voice passing through some 7,000 miles, telling me that she—the dog—was dead. Or not to tell me, but rather to avoid telling me.
- But I do know what happened to the cat.
- Here’s what happened to the cat: We moved—not far—from a colorful, lively, urban neighborhood, to an old old suburb of that early urban plot. We moved.
- And he was an afterthought, the cat—with his roving, his adventures, he was hard to pin down, to catch in a carrier, a box. I’d tried to coax him and trap him and chase him over a few weeks, but in the thin interval between buying the new house and moving into the new house and selling the old house—well I couldn’t get him, grab him, hold him.
- Until I finally did. I engineered (the verb here is too kind) a trap of sorts, bating him with the food, constructing a perimeter, waiting. Pearly showed himself (he knew he was not wanted), but my cat was far slippier. But I waited. And I nabbed him: In a carrier purposed for cats and then into a big box and then into the back of my station wagon and then howling for five or six or seven minutes as we traveled, not far, but over a short, old bridge, into our new old neighborhood, his howling yelping shrieking raising my anxiety about the whole thing, his rustling fury palpable in acute waves from the rear of the car, my voice which could not even call him to me under the brightest of conditions in no way alleviating any of this and so yes of course the first thing I did when I got to the new old house was to open the hatchback, open the box, pull out the carrier, and try to grip the cat who yes of course sprang down (like a cat!) onto the unfamiliar concrete drive, hunting perhaps a crawlspace to crawl into, sensing none, none, none what to do what to do?
- And then he ran away.
- In Kyoto, in the hot summer rain, sweating in a poncho, fighting with my girlfriend in front of a golden temple.
- At 17, experiencing the most intense jealousy of my life, watching a classmate weep in front of The Pietà, thinking, feeling, Why can’t I feel that?
- On the way to work, sleepy, maybe a bit hungover, breaking down in tears at “Space Oddity,” concern for Major Tom, his family. Swearing off music in the early morning. News radio ever since.
- Religion is just a set of aesthetic possibilities, conditions, and experiences.
- In Cork, drinking beer on a roof in the summer sun, a wasp landed on my very eye.
- In the last year of college, writing and recording dozens of songs with friends, editing the songs into a cohesive thing, calling the thing an album, sharing it with friends, with never even once the intention of doing anything else with that music, with no dreams of anyone else hearing it, live or recorded. An album made entirely for ourselves.
- Listening to it a dozen years later, conceding that it was actually maybe very good.
- Vomiting in foreign cities.
- Wary of my own susceptibility to sentimentalism, to sentimentality, to my awful tendency to experience catharsis through a fast food commercial on television.
- Never able to feel transcendent peace in nature, despite Emerson, Thoreau, Dickinson, Whitman, etc.—because just at the moment that the affect of transcendent peace manifests (the verb is inadequate), my awareness of the affect and the process of the affect and my feeling of the feeling of the affect spoils it all.
- Crashing into a road sign on an off ramp, walking away from the wreck, lying down on the slanted concrete abutment in the shade of a roaring overpass, feeling the best feeling, unspoiled.
- My child born—that nothing was more original, real, terrifying, beautiful.
- In dreams, sometimes: A whole other life, full, brimming, rich, real. He who wakes me wounds me, I think Nietzsche wrote. Or was it Bernhard? Or am I imagining the phrase?
- Never not jealous of a hawk in flight.
- My mother falling asleep, I kept reading until I too fell asleep.
- Vomiting into the trashcan in my classroom.
- My brother, balling up wrapping paper, hurling at me. My explosive rage.
- The snakes, the rats, the roaches I’ve killed.
- Workshopping a story in class. How I hated everyone.
- Friends jumping on my bed the afternoon of my wedding. (How did they get in?). Vomiting in the bed.
- Reading a certain novel, its plot, its construction essentially destroying a hundred or more of my own pages, my own outline, my own idea.
- A Modigliani in the New Orleans Museum of Art: Her neck was everything I remembered of the visit.
- My electric guitar, literally rusty from salt air and disuse.
- Irony as an aesthetic experience—or a defense against aesthetic experience?
- Painting the same scene in watercolors, dozens of times, with my daughter—the loquat tree, the grass, the sky. Her paintings surpassed mine so quickly.
- The rat that scuttled over my feet by the river in Chiang Mai. My horror and laughter.
- Removing dead rats from a shed as an aesthetic experience.
- All experiences are aesthetic experiences.
- Does maturity necessitate that we turn down the volume on these aesthetic experiences? That we manage the affect? That we blunt the feeling of the feeling?
- Seeing The Pietà again at 27 and moved by the memory of the classmate’s aesthetic response a decade earlier.
- The tourists crowding out Mona Lisa, I shuffled into some other room full of heavy, dark, black paintings—Caravaggios?—the names didn’t matter, the authority didn’t matter, I was 15 I think, I relaxed, I could look, I was alone, or I felt alone, it was lovely.
- My office: Prints by Goya, Picasso, Tintoretto, Leonardo. A painting by my grandmother, a dog resting, a bird and a bone nearby. Students come by to look at the giant Bosch reproduction, which I wish were more giant, more real.
- At the Dali Museum. Shock at how small some of the paintings were.
- Is there an aesthetic experience outside of sharing?
- Endlessly copying figures from comic books.
- Photographing food and sharing it on social media as a kind of thanksgiving prayer.
- Seeing the Bacon collection at MoMA, feeling a feeling that I still don’t have a name for.
- Rising early on Saturday mornings to watch a show where a man (or was it a woman?) guided me (and others, I suppose) through the rudiments of sketching animals. My grandmother made me sausages.
- My daughter’s thorough indifference to a Dürer etching in our local museum I wanted her to see. Her pleading to go to the gardens to paint with watercolors, to paint the fountain, the flowers.
- Sometimes in my dreams I write something, or paint something, or create wonderful, strange music.
- At eleven years old, sitting for a friend’s mother, who painted my portrait in watercolor. She didn’t draft in pencil, she worked so quickly. I was jealous and grateful.
- One of the reasons I love the internet so much is that it allows me to look at paintings. But looking at a painting on a screen is not the same as looking at paintings in the real.
- As a teenager, attempting wax dripping paintings in the style of Pollock, starting small fires in my bedroom, covering the scorched carpet with books, clothes, my parents sometimes not discovering the marks for weeks. Trying to explain them, but unwilling to share the paintings.
- A wish for anything that disrupts the feeling of feeling the feeling.
- A Serbian Film
- American Movie
- From Russia with Love
- Good Morning Vietnam
- Hotel Rwanda
- Once Upon a Time in Mexico
- Sinbad the Sailor
- Tinbad the Tailor
- Jinbad the Jailer
- Whinbad the Whaler
- Ninbad the Nailer
- Finbad the Failer
- Binbad the Bailer
- Pinbad the Pailer
- Minbad the Mailer
- Hinbad the Hailer
- Rinbad the Railer
- Dinbad the Kailer
- Vinbad the Quailer
- Linbad the Yailer
- Xinbad the Phthailer
Didactic extended metaphor, best enjoyed amorally.
The sordid and lurid details of an author’s life; use as a critical rubric if the author’s work seems beyond comprehension.
Mixed or imprecise metaphor. When an author stretches her words like taffy across the loom of meaning.
DEATH OF THE NOVEL
Declare the novel dead every few weeks. Resuscitate as necessary.
Originally used to denote lengthy narrative works concerning serious subjects, this term may now be applied freely to modify failure, coffee, tacos, kittens, etc.
An inventive and imaginative style of fiction eschewed and denigrated by serious readers and writers.
Poetry composed in the secret language of garden gnomes, inaudible to mortal ears.
Defining common characteristic of all politicians.
Dominant mode of much of 21st century communication (including, lamentably, this list).
Hyperbole used to describe lengthy works of contemporary authors. Use to disappoint potential readers.
Circumlocution of meaning. E.g. “feed the eagle” for “kill,” “battle-sweat” for “blood,” “tube of garbage” for “internet.”
Poetry about lions.
Each reader’s personal misunderstanding of the meaning of a work of literature.
What your father reads.
A solipsistic bid for attention delivered under the pretense of reaching out to another entity.
Use to describe any work of literature set outside of a city.
A false clue employed by an author to distract the reader. A novel where all points of evidence are red herrings (preferable) is a shaggy dog story.
Grab bag of theories you learned in college.
Elevate any degraded work of pop culture by repeating it twice. Reboot as necessary.
This narrator cannot be depended upon to pick you up from the airport, water your plants while you’re away, meet you on time for a beer or coffee, return small loans, etc.
Indicative of literature of the prudish, uptight Victorian Era. Famous Victorian works include Venus in Furs, The Pearl, and The Lustful Turk.
Twentieth-century philosopher. Quote the first and last lines of his book Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus frequently (don’t worry about reading anything in between).
Fear of warrior princesses.
The pinnacle of contemporary criticism.
The list ended with zeugma and disappointment.
- Do the Right Thing
- 25th Hour
- Malcolm X
- Red Hook Summer
- She’s Gotta Have It
- Summer of Sam
- School Daze
- Mo’ Better Blues
- Jungle Fever
- Miracle at St. Anna
- Get on the Bus
- Girl 6
- She Hate Me
Today, a dollar store calendar my grandmother gave me tells me, is National Day of Encouragement, which is totally a real thing. So here is a National Day of Encouragement Reading List, which is also totally a real thing. Much encouragement to you, citizens!
- King Lear, William Shakespeare
- Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
- “Before the Law,” Franz Kafka
- Candide, Voltaire
- First Love and Other Sorrows, Harold Brodkey
- “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Camp Concentration, Thomas Disch
- “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson
- “The Raven,” Edgar Allan Poe
- The Awakening, Kate Chopin
- Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
- The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
- Correction, Thomas Bernhard
- Butterfly Stories, William Vollmann
- “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor
- The Road, Cormac McCarthy
- 2666, Roberto Bolaño
- “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe
- Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
- From Hell, Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell
- The Flame Alphabet, Ben Marcus
- The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski
- Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
- “The Wasteland,” T.S. Eliot
- Hamlet, William Shakespeare
- The Pearl, John Steinbeck
- Distant Star, Roberto Bolaño
- Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
- The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell
- “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” Flannery O’Connor
- Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard
- The Plague, Albert Camus
- “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
- Where the Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
- A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
- “Good Old Neon,” David Foster Wallace
- 1984, George Orwell
- Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre
A concise, often witty, turn of phrase that should be shared out of context on Twitter or Pinterest.
Novel where someone (preferably male) matures into the ideal state of bitter disillusionment.
Evocation of fear and pity. Best exemplified in modern storytelling by Lifetime Network original movies.
A form of textual analysis. No one knows what it means. Apply liberally.
Use to describe any French novel of the 20th century. Serve with coffee and cigarettes.
First, Outer, Inner, Last.
Deride genre fiction at all times. If a writer uses genre tropes, praise her for genre bending. (See LITERARY FICTION).
Use to describe any big ambitious novel that does not meet your aesthetic and/or moral needs.
All poetry is composed in iambic pentameter.
A writer’s immature work, which she usually (wisely) withholds from publication. After the writer dies, every scrap should be published, scrutinized, and passed around the internet out of context.
Synonym for “odd.” Apply freely.
A genre of fiction that pretends not to be a genre. What your book club is reading this month.
Use to describe any novel by a South American writer.
Use structuralist techniques to analyze narrative plots—and watch the kids go wild! Narratology is the number one thing the audience of a book review is interested in.
All heroes must be orphans.
Use this term liberally in any discussion of modern politics. Pairs well with film studies courses.
A form of literary analysis that conveniently begins with the letter “Q,” making it ideal for silly alphabetized lists like this one.
A character portrayed in psychological and emotional depth to the degree that she comes alive in your imagination. Round characters provide an excellent alternative to making meaningful human relationships.
Use to describe the style of any writer from the Southern part of the United States.
A tautology is a tautology.
Synonym for dystopia. Argue about its pronunciation, indicating that you understand the complexities of Greek prefixes.
A genre of books that sells well in airports.
Beloved warrior princess. Look, x is hard, okay?
The original sad bastard; he invented emo.
Time’s ghost. You’re soaking in it, which makes it hard to see.