Tuesday, February 6, 2007


Or Tillman/Monson, which is the order I read these two new books in.

Lynne Tillman's latest AMERICAN GENIUS, A COMEDY is the kind of book I might not have given the same chance I gave it if it didn't have such great blurbs. Fuckin blurbs: I can be such a sucker. Anyhow, besides a very nice rambling iteration by George Saunders, another blurb inferred that this book (just less than 300 pages, each one dense, and sparing on breaks)
had an "encyclopedic" quality. I tend to love books described as "encyclopedic,"
though most often it's after the reading is over that the true love arrives. As in, the book itself is an experience of a sort, and work, which is not to say that this particular small hunk is unenjoyable. Quite the opposite.

AMERICAN GENIUS is basically a book where nothing happens. A women, institutionalized it seems by choice, rambles on and on, mostly about the scheduling and content of the three offered meals; the other folks who lived in the home with her; a cat her mother got rid of when she was a girl; and her skin. The prose of her day-to-day rambling is supplicated with all kinds of facts and tidbits that happen to find their way into her brain (the character is an avid reader, it seems, and has quite a memory for facts). Thus, amongst the rummage, we get long, well-parsed and wholly interesting facts about phobias, the Manson family, various phases of art history, and so on. The way the text inscribes these two methods of relaying information (the fictional vs the factual) comes together in a most pleasing way, so that you do actually get so immersed in the narrator's brain, if you allow it, that you may find yourself having read for pages and pages without realizing it. It's a feel akin to what I'm getting now while reading W.G. Sebald's THE RINGS OF SATURN, which is turning out to be a high compliment indeed.

After (or during, rather, it was nice to be able to switch back a forth, a thing I don't often do) this I got into Ander Monson's new collection of essays NECK DEEP and Other Predicaments, which I'd been looking forward to ever since its upcoming publication was announced right around the time I read his fiction collection, OTHER ELECTRICITIES. I blasted through these essays pretty much in one night, reading three of the more experimental essays (one follows the form of the Harvard outline, another attempts to mimic snow on the page in an essay about snow) while riding a stationary exercise bicycle in my apartments' gym. The feeling of performing manual labor while reading such well-honed decisive prose (which is not to discredit Monson's excellent sense of playfulness, mixing his poetic tendencies along with a very easy to enjoy sense of talking to you) was nice. It made the time go by quickly and during I was so attenuated to the words that I didn't realize I was "working out."
Is that still working out then? I'm not sure.
Anyhow, I finished two other essays (one mostly about baths, and another about car washes) while in the bathtub. I got some quasi-DFW moments, particularly during an essay about riding on a boat (which seemed desperately to mimic Wallace's A SUPPOSEDLY FUN THING.. at times, though not to his detriment). I connected with a lot of what he was saying, and was impressed with the way he said it, and overall I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys creative essaying. I'm tired and I'm done talking about this right now.

I'm not sure who I'm talking to here though I'm pretty sure it's myself.

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