24 February 2018

Speculative Memoir


Electric Literature has now published a roundtable discussion between Sofia Samatar, Carmen Maria Machado, Rosalind Palermo Stevenson, and me about a thing we provisionally call "speculative memoir". This began when Sofia had separate conversations with us all over the last couple years about fiction in fact, the creative possibilities of nonfictional writing, the perils and possibilities of memoir, etc. She and I talked for a long time about it when I was first putting together ideas for my dissertation, and I've kept with quite a few of the ideas we originally discussed. (Perhaps no surprise, as my interest in the topic goes back a ways with one of the subjects of my dissertation, J.M. Coetzee.) And as someone who writes both fiction and nonfiction, the distinctions always interest me.

Sofia also has a new book out, Monstrous Portraits, "an uncanny and imaginative autobiography of otherness", with drawings by her brother Del. Seek it out!

09 February 2018

Under the Lines


Sometimes I buy a book for its cover, and this is one, a 1979 Bantam edition of Andrew Holleran's classic Dancer from the Dance. The cover ... well, it speaks for itself.

Flipping through the book, I was at first annoyed to see some pages with underlining from a red felt-tipped marker. I find other people's annotations in books extremely distracting to the point where I usually can't even read a page with someone else's notes on it. (My own notes are fine. Its the imposition of someone else's reading experience — someone else's consciousness — that makes it impossible for me.) But then I was intrigued. Only two pages had underlining. Why only two? It wasn't like a textbook, where sometimes you'll find notes in some of the early pages and then nothing later, the student clearly having given up. No, these were pages 73 and 75. One sentence on each page.

04 February 2018

A Sparkling Sentence



This year is Muriel Spark's centenary, and it's been fun to encounter the various tributes to her. I decided to reread The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, her most famous book, because I haven't read it in twenty years or so, though much of it remains vivid in my memory. It was my first Spark, and while I think I appreciated the sharpness of her language at the time, I valued other things in the book. Rereading it now, it is her sentences that amaze me most, because I've learned over the years that one of the greatest pleasures in reading Spark is the pleasure of watching her make complex linguistic acts look easy.

Here's an example that I stand in awe of, a single sentence that is a short story unto itself:
Even stupid Mary Macgregor amazed herself by understanding Caesar’s Gallic Wars which as yet made no demands on her defective imagination and the words of which were easier to her than English to spell and pronounce, until suddenly one day it appeared, from an essay she had been obliged to write, that she believed the document to date from the time of Samuel Pepys; and then Mary was established in the wrong again, being tortured with probing questions, and generally led on to confess to the mirth-shaken world her notion that Latin and shorthand were one.
When I read this time, I was amused by the nasty humor at poor Mary's expense, but I also thought to myself, "Wait, was that one sentence?" I went back over it, and yes, just one sentence, complete. It felt like pages of portraiture, but read quickly and easily.