Monday, January 9, 2017

Riding the Wave: Marcia Aldrich on Diversifying the CNF Anthology

Riding the Wave: Marcia Aldrich on diversifying the CNF anthology

I practically bounded up the stairs to class on my first day of creative nonfiction teaching practicum. Over a year of trying to excite listless students about rhetoric and composition, I had compiled a mental catalogue of all the essayists I wanted to teach—a smattering of writers from lit journals, anthologies, online publications, and their own books. As I waited in the classroom for the rest of my cohort to arrive, I wondered how I might go about compiling these works for my future students. Would it be best to assign several essay collections, as an instructor would in a survey class? Or might it make more sense to simply upload scans of particular essays to Canvas? My questions were answered fairly quickly by my professor, who entered the room with cumbersome armfuls of books.
     “You’ll need to choose a textbook,” she said, slamming down the fat stack of options on her desk.
     “Can I assign PDFs?” I asked.
     She scrunched her face in skepticism, and I understood my question was entering an uncomfortable grey area. And I get it. There are lots of reasons why asking students to purchase a physical book is a good idea—it supports the anthology market, and encourages students to read beyond the scope of whatever’s assigned in class. So I scoured countless tables of contents for the essays I wanted to teach, finding less than fifty percent of the writers on my list—and this was if I chose to assign my students multiple books. I ended up reading every anthology I could get my hands on, weighing the pros and cons of each. I compromised by choosing Lex Williford and Michael Martone’s Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Nonfiction. I don’t love it, but Touchstone housed essays by more than four writers on my list, and I supposed that new students could benefit from knowing some of the bigger names in the genre. I filled out the rest of my curriculum with readings from the big blue book along with (I admit) a few supplements. It certainly does the job, but, at least in my mind, it’s far from ideal.
     I realize I speak from a place of limited teaching experience, but as a person who has read and researched a vast quantity of essay collections in the last six months, I feel justified in voicing my concerns about the creative nonfiction anthology in its current state. The first is age. Most anthologies focus on the history of the genre, or claim to be “contemporary” while still including essays written forty or fifty years ago. Even the newest essays in Touchstone are now nearing a decade old. Not to say that the writings of folks like Thoreau, E. B. White, or Edward Hoagland aren’t important, or necessary—only that these works have already been anthologized multiple times and, one could reasonably argue, no longer speak (directly, anyway) to the questions of our time. Besides, whole university classes are devoted to the study of Montaigne and of the great (mostly white and male) writers of the 20th century. What I really want is an anthology that properly defines the genre as it currently is, not as it was ten, twenty, or even a century ago. I want students to leave my classroom seeing the essay as conduit to an ongoing conversation in which they themselves can take active part.
     The ethos of the essay is like that old adage about the rolling stone; the essay is constantly in motion, in flux—so much so that’s if often difficult to pin down what exactly that is in the present moment. The Best American series does a decent job of encapsulating the spirit of the essay in a given year, but by necessity excludes essays published in books. The narrative essay, too, is typically prioritized over other forms in these collections, rendering most anthologies less than ideal for exposing a class to the range of what the essay can do.
     Don’t get me wrong—I love my well-worn 1995 edition of Lopate’s Art of the Personal Essay, which is itself proof that an anthology is simultaneously emblematic of a time and also timeless. I value my copies of Oates, D’Agata, and yes, even Touchstone—they’re excellent anthologies. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t important work still to be done. The general lack of diversity in the voices represented in the creative nonfiction anthology—more than fifty percent of the authors represented are white and male in each of the collections above—is shocking. We anthologize few women, even fewer writers of color, and there’s simply no getting around that fact. We can, and should, do better.
     Luckily, many writers share these same concerns. Enter Marcia Aldrich, former editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction, accomplished essayist, and author of two books, Girl Rearing and Companion to an Untold Story—winner of the 2011 Associated Writers and Writing Programs Award in creative nonfiction. Aldrich is the curator of a new anthology of female voices, which seeks to address these issues. It’s called Waveform, and it looks awesome. —Zoë Bossiere


Zoë Bossiere: So Marcia, let’s start with you. Tell me a little about yourself as the editor of Waveform.

Marcia Aldrich: Sure. Being an editor has always played an intermittent role in my writing career, but it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to take on the editorship of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction that editing became a major component of my daily life, part of my identity and vocation. As editor, I read hundreds of submissions and was responsible for the shape and content of the issues. My concern then was to make sure that the issues represented as much diversity as was possible based on the submissions we received. I didn’t want to create issues that shared the same thematic concerns or formal ideas about the shape of the essay. I wanted to avoid sameness; I wanted range.
     It didn’t take long to see that Fourth Genre, and creative nonfiction in general, attracted a great number of women writers and many of them were under-recognized. I was consistently impressed by the quality of writing I received, and especially impressed by the level of writing from women, though I hasten to add I was anxious about how few submissions from writers of color, both men and women, we received.

ZB: What inspired you to compile a collection of women’s essays?

MA: Well, my editorship at Fourth Genre coincided with the rise of VIDA, a non-profit feminist organization committed to creating transparency around the lack of gender parity in the literary landscape, which has since evolved to expand its focus to race, sexual identity, and disability as well. In 2010, VIDA found that The New York Review of Books covered 306 titles by men but only 59 by women. Spurred by the VIDA Count, we at Fourth Genre did our own count and found that we had always, from our inception, been a welcoming place for women nonfiction writers and were bucking the larger trends of disparity reported in the VIDA Count.
     During my career, men have dominated the field at every level—as editors, reviewers, educators, and as published writers and award winners. There are so many articles documenting this domination that I wouldn’t know where to begin citing them. My idea that something needed to be done to shine a light on the wealth of women nonfiction writers originated back in 2010. Women writers needed to become editor-activists. I remember having conversations with several women nonfiction writers about the lack of an anthology of contemporary women writers of nonfiction. We would all shake our head and agree that such a collection should exist, but because of my full-time job as editor, teacher, and writer, the time then wasn’t right for me to take on such a project.

ZB: When did you decide it was the right time?

MA: The idea for Waveform began in the fall of 2015 through my conversations with Jill Talbot, a wonderful essayist and memoirist and general thinker and practitioner of creative nonfiction. In the course of our exchanges it emerged that we both thought it was time, more than time, for a collection to be published of contemporary women essayists, and we decided to take on the project together. We wanted to create an anthology of contemporary women essayists that emphasized their innovations in writing. We saw the anthology as a corrective to some existing anthologies that are organized by subject, especially by women’s experiences. We believed that those experiences and themes, that content, would still be there in the writing we chose, but that it was time for an anthology that pointed to and celebrated the formal accomplishments of women essayists.

ZB: I feel like I’m constantly reading great new work by female essayists. How did you decide who to include in the collection?

MA: Jill and I began by mapping out the range of essays we were reading in the field, creating a spectrum of types of essays. We wanted variety, to give a taste of some of the manifestations of the essay we were seeing: lyric essays, narrative essays, hybrids of research and personal essay, memoir, flash essays, immersion journalism, segmented, advice column as personal essay, graphic, meditative, the list essay. The categories themselves felt almost limiting, but these gave us a rough grid to make sure we weren’t falling into a pattern of sameness.
     Then we came up with a big list of writers to invite to submit. Some of them turned us down for all sorts of reasons which was disappointing, and others submitted. And here was the  hard thing—we had to refuse essays we had invited. We rejected essays for the usual variety of reasons; mainly we received too many essays of the same sort. This happened at Fourth Genre, where we’d receive four essays about wrestling in the same month and they were all good in their own way but we could only publish one essay on wrestling. Our guiding principle in composing the anthology was quality and range, trying to give a sense of the richness of the essay as women were writing them. In the end we had a fully fleshed out proposal and the beginnings of a table of contents that featured mostly new essays. Some of the writers we hoped to include were willing to let us reprint one of their essays, and so we began to fill out the contents with a few important reprints. Then we began submitting our proposal, coinciding roughly with the AWP annual meeting in Minneapolis.
     There, I approached many editors and agents, emphasizing how Waveform championed women who were shaping the landscape of the essay. To differentiate my conception, I pointed out Wendy Martin’s The Beacon Book of Essays by Contemporary Women, published in 1996 and a landmark precursor of sorts, which offers a thematic approach with sections such as “Generations: Essays on the Family,” “Inside Passages: Essays on Self-Identity,” “Breaking the Silence: Women confront Repression and Violence,” “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Choices.” Wendy Martin, the editor, had an intent very different than mine—she compiled essays around themes that represented women’s experiences since 1945. In other words, she was much more attuned to the experiences represented than the form or development of the essay itself. I wanted to depart from a thematic or subject driven approach and instead highlight the way writers interact with subject through elements such as style, voice, tone, and structure, and allow the subjects to fall where they fall.
     When I began working on Waveform, I thought the project would be commercially viable because of the roster of writers and the recent attention to the rise of female essayists. However, the responses I received from commercial presses, while phrased slightly differently, were all concerned about the marketability of such a book. The absence of a thematic hook, namely “women’s experiences” made the book not “readily marketable.” It didn’t have a “take” on being a woman other than being essays written by women essayists. Treating the women writers as writers and focusing on the diversity of narrative approaches was viewed as a hindrance to sales rather than a strength.
     It was around this time that Jill unfortunately had to drop out of the time-consuming project. I resolved to go forward with the book since I had returned from AWP favorably impressed with University of Georgia Press, especially the director, Lisa Bayer, who was enthusiastic about the need for such a collection and understood, supported, and was genuinely excited about my approach. We both felt a responsibility to create an anthology that delivered on diversity. Even so, I want to note that Waveform presents some of the women who are shaping the essay today. By necessity only a relatively small number of contributors could be included.

ZB: I’m intrigued by what you’ve said about Waveform subverting what most people might expect a collection of essays written by women to look like, and refusing to be centered around "thematic female experience.” With that in mind, how little or how much does feminism factor into this collection in terms of ideology or subject matter?

MA: Feminism as activism has played a major role in my motivation to put this collection together and undergo the long labor of bringing it to realization. Feminism strives for equality of opportunity and treatment. We do not live in a genderless world. The position on the page, the caps and bold designation of this headline from the summer Olympics captures the power dynamics that are still in force in gender relations:
IN 100 FLY
Ledecky sets world record
in women’s 800 freestyle
In the fall of 2015 I undertook an informal survey of The Best American Essays series to ascertain the count of men to women selected for inclusion. The worst ratio fell to the year 2002 when Stephen Jay Gould was the judge: of the 24 essays selected only 4 were written by women. Those numbers were not as unusual as you might think. Edwidge Danticat stands alone in the whole series in selecting 13 essays by women out of 24.
     To be conscious of gender is to be a feminist. Women writers are still under-studied, under-represented, and under-recognized. The making of Waveform grows out of my wanting to do something about that imbalance. However, the workings of feminism in Waveform do not dictate subject matter. I wasn’t interested in publishing essays whose content fit gender norms and expectations, to tell a particular story.  I was motivated to put this collection together to assert that women essayists aren’t just blending into a male-shaped tradition—they are actively defining the landscape of the essay in our time.

ZB: So in light of all that women have contributed to the genre, both historically and in recent years, why do you think a contemporary anthology of women essayists like this one hasn’t been available until now?

MA: That’s a very good question and I can only speculate about some of the factors to explain why a book like Waveform wasn’t published sooner. I think it has to do with the relative newness of the genre’s popularity and how long it takes to build a readership. Perhaps there hasn’t been sufficient momentum to publish a more specialized anthology like Waveform.
     I remember the excitement in 2007 when the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: Work from 1970 to Present came out. For many of us essayists its appearance solidified the sense that creative nonfiction was becoming more popular. It also gave us a less expensive alternative textbook that didn’t cover the history of the essay but focused on contemporary manifestations.
     While I was assembling Waveform, I heard from multiple writing instructors that, as much as they liked and used Touchstone, they regretted that the collection did not include enough diversity in its selection of writers, and they had to supplement its offerings. And I concur. I would say that even in the ten years since Touchstone appeared, writers as well as readers have become pro-active in demanding that our publications be more representative. And I think that’s a good thing.

ZB: It’s an unfortunate truth of the industry that anthologies, even good, necessary anthologies, are notoriously difficult to market. How would you say Waveform fits into the current spectrum of nonfiction anthology offerings?

MA: The AWP lists more than eight hundred graduate and undergraduate writing programs, and that doesn’t include the range of creative nonfiction courses that might fall outside the domain of a program. Many of these writing programs offer classes in creative nonfiction, tracks and specializations, and they publish literary journals which include creative nonfiction. The addition of creative nonfiction is a fairly recent development, but over the last 25 years creative nonfiction programs have been the fastest growing of all graduate writing programs.
     Matching the growth in programs and classes, there has been a burst of publishing interest in all areas of creative nonfiction, from literary journals adding creative nonfiction to their roster, to the rise of Brevity, the online journal specializing in nonfiction under 750 words, to journals like Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Creative Nonfiction, and Under the Sun. The birth of Essay Daily is another marker in the widening of interest in the genre, a sign that people don’t just want outlets for their own essays but want to read about developments in the essay. Online journals like The Rumpus and Guernica, to name just two of a burgeoning group, have given writers new opportunities for publishing essays, many with special interests such as the environment or place or women.
      The publishing world has been catching up to the interest in all forms of creative nonfiction. There are several nonfiction anthologies that highlight the diverse range of the essay but do not focus on gender. These anthologies attest to the enthusiasm for creative nonfiction and the market demand to provide more diverse teaching materials in the classroom. It’s as if the place of the essay has been secured and now we can focus on more specialized points of entry, such as the use of the second person, hybridization, or our debt to Montaigne. What has been missing is an anthology focusing on the contemporary essay written by women. What has been missing is Waveform.

ZB: Your anthology comes to us on the cusp of the new year, rising from the ashes of 2016, one of the most fraught and violent years in recent history. What makes now a particularly pertinent time for a collection like Waveform, of female essayists?

MA: To quote Natalie Shapero of The Kenyon Review:
The literary essay is having, as they say, a moment. Here at Kenyon Review, the number of nonfiction submissions we receive each year has been steadily on the rise and I suspect that other journals would report the same. With that increasingly large pool of submissions, we’re also seeing a trend toward formal adventurousness, with many essayists shrugging off linear structures to play around with associative leaping, lyricism, and lists.
Shapero identifies two important features of the essay in the current moment: the ascendancy of the essay and the rise of stylistic innovation. But I’d add a third important feature to Shapero’s list—the rise of the female essayist. In review essays, editors and writers are singling out the arrival of women essayists and identifying the hallmark of the form: its versatility and range. It is, on one hand, short-sighted to speak of the arrival of women essayists since women have been writing essays brilliantly for a long time, but it is true that attention is being paid now to what women are currently creating in the form.
     In October of 2014, The New York Times posed a question: “Is This a Golden Age for Women Essayists?” In her answer, Cheryl Strayed noted, “Essayists who happen to be women are having a banner year.” And it continues. Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist have been listed on The New York Times paperback nonfiction bestseller list. And let’s not forget the impact of Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild. Meghan Daum’s Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion was the winner of the 2015 PEN Center USA Literary Award in Creative Nonfiction. Margo Jefferson won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Negroland. I’m limiting myself here to naming a few writers I was lucky enough to include in Waveform, but I could go on and on listing the recent accomplishments of women essayists, culminating in the Nobel Prize awarded to the nonfiction writer Svetlana Alexievich.
     This conversation, this cultural moment, is an important one, and one that requires our effort to bring attention to the extraordinary writing being done by women. There is work to be done. Still. And one of the best ways to bridge the gap is to shape the literary conversation through writing and through editing.

ZB: Other than commercial success, what are your hopes for the book? For its readers?

MA: Well, let me first say that I do hope that readers will find Waveform and that it will have an impact upon the way we think about the contemporary essay. It’s daunting to publish a book, and even more daunting without the publicity machine of a commercial press behind it. It’s very hard to get the word out, to garner reviews, to build interest. I am grateful for all the help I can get in bringing Waveform to a larger audience. I am especially hopeful that it will be an attractive choice for course adoption.
     I am an avid reader of The Best American Essays. I look forward to its appearance each year and I’ve used various volumes in my classes. But as much as I admire the collection, I almost always lament the lack of stylistically innovative work, work that I routinely find in the literary journals I read. As fine as the selected essays are, they often fall within a traditional and recognizable style. With Waveform I wanted to gather a more representative group of essays that span the spectrum of what we’re encountering in the field. I wanted to depart from a thematic or subject-driven approach and instead highlight the way particular writers interact with subject and circumstance through writerly elements such as style, voice, tone, structure, allusion (all the fun stuff) and allow the subjects to fall where they fall, and, I might add, to surprise the reader.
     Being a woman cannot be checked at the door. I felt certain that without scripting a subject matter for the anthology, the writers would give us much to ponder about what it is like being a woman in the twenty-first century. I am proud of the fact that women weren’t obligated to foreground gender, to directly address issues about being a woman. If they do, it is because that is where their interests lie. Women are writing as writers, and yet I also want to claim that imbalance in publishing exists and that these women essayists deserve more recognition than they’ve received. Waveform is a showcase not just for the justifiably prize-winning writers but for the less known writers as well.
     One purpose of the project is to highlight experimental and traditional work by women essayists—that is, to celebrate the essay in as many forms as the book could publish. Some readers will gravitate to the essays that follow traditional arcs of narrative pleasure; some will prefer the essays that purposefully play with various kinds of narrative form. Some of the essays are even rather hard to classify, like Sonja Livingston’s “Light, from Faraway Places.” I wanted a book organized around the fluidity of forms and representing the range of the kinds of essays we are encountering in the contemporary essay landscape. I hope readers will gain a more nuanced appreciation of the essay as it is being written today by women.

ZB: Well said. Thank you. One last question: Why Waveform as the title?

MA: I chose Waveform because it suggested the larger movement of many women bringing essays into being, building on the energy and daring of other writers, adding their writing to what is bigger than any one writer, to any one manifestation of the essay. By necessity only a finite number of contributors could be included, but behind and beside each woman included there are many more equally deserving writers. All deserve a wide readership.


Marcia Aldrich is the author of the free memoir Girl Rearing, published by W.W. Norton.  She has been the editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. Companion to an Untold Story won the AWP Award in Creative Nonfiction. She is at work on Haze, a narrative of marriage and divorce during her college years. She is the editor of Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women published by The University of Georgia Press.

Zoë Bossiere is a student at Oregon State University, where she teaches intro writing courses and serves as Editor in Chief of 45th Parallel. She is currently essaying her parents' adventures in the 1984 Hungarian traveling circus. More here and here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

On Abstract Text and the Concrete Object: An Interview with Amaris Ketcham

"The graph, like the photograph, has an air of authority, authenticity to it. The audience interprets these as factual documents first, without questioning them."

Amaris Ketcham teaches interdisciplinary courses at the University of New Mexico. Her creative work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Review, Rattle, and the Utne Reader, and is forthcoming in the Kenyon Review. We featured a preview of Ketcham's essay "Recorded Lightning," from Creative Nonfiction, back in February.

Excerpt from "Recorded Lightning"

SM: “Recorded Lighting” is a piece you’ve defined as a concrete essay. What do you think this old poetic form has to offer a modern reader?

AK: I used the term “concrete essay” to describe that piece because instead of combining text and image—the way, say, Claudia Rankine does, or Bianca Stone—the text becomes the image. It’s something that I probably first saw in poetry, then hand-lettered design.

When I was a teenager, I got my first position as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine. I remember trying to typeset someone’s concrete poem that was in the shape of a Venus figurine. We’d gotten a hard copy and I had to mark up the page, measuring the distances, and then try to get the tabs in QuarkXPress to cooperate. The whole time I was very nervous about messing up this person’s art.

I think that in a way, text is the most abstract form of art. Say you have an apple, then a very realistic drawing of that specific apple, then a more simplified drawing of an apple, then maybe a one-color logo of an apple, then the printed word “apple”—each time you are taking a step down a representational line, from the object itself to ideas of the object. There is no real “appleness” to the written word “apple,” which itself is an abstraction of the spoken word “apple.” You don’t know what other people see when they read a word—but if you were looking at an image of an apple, then you are both seeing that apple. So when you create a concrete poem or essay, you are taking a step backward down the representational line, combining the totally abstract text with the simplified image of an object.

"Easter Wings" by George Herbert

SM: Your article “Wintering Habits of the White American Male, Age 34,” follows the structure of an academic essay. “How to Determine Truth” interrogates three diagrams you’ve made to measure and represent your memoir in terms of its “factuality.” Do you consider these “hermit crab” structures? Are there differences in the way a concrete essay engages an audience vs the way a hermit crab essay might? Or do you think their modes are more similar than different? Which essay form is maybe most like a pie chart? A scatter plot? A magazine spread?

AK: I think that you could call “Wintering Habits of the White American Male, Age 34” a hermit crab structure, because it is a fictional text that appropriates the style of an academic article. It’s odd to call that piece a short story because there isn’t any narrative to it, or any real reliance on chronology the way that a story values time, cause and effect, or plot above all else. So it’s a fictional essay, which was something I was thinking about after reading some collections of Jorge Borges’s fictional work. I wonder if you would call his fictional essays hermit crab stories because they make a home out of the essay structure?   

You can tell all kinds of stories with graphs—and they don’t have to be true stories, either. The graph, like the photograph, has an air of authority, authenticity to it. The audience interprets these as factual documents first, without questioning them. I think that people question “creative nonfiction” more than they question a photograph or a scatterplot—probably particularly because that pesky adjective “creative” can lead people astray. In “How to Determine Truth,” I was playing with the idea of a graph as a storytelling image that a person constructs and can manipulate to tell whatever story they want.

Ketcham's scatterplot from "How to Determine Truth"

SM: This is something I’ve wondered too—How much of what a hermit crab essay borrows has to do with design and how much has to do with genre? The first element signals and enables the second, as you describe, in the way a footnote functions in an academic article as compared to in a lyric piece. I must admit I’m a little tired of the term “hermit crab” which defines such a limited relationship text might have with a form. But I like that the gesture of an essay could be a kind of home re: crabs—a structure that gives shape—especially because the essay is a thing interested in subjectivity instead of universal truths. Kerry Howley seems to be playing with just this idea in Thrown, by writing an immersion narrative using the perspective of her fictional persona. Do you think the essay really is more like a form or a gesture than a fact-based genre like “nonfiction”? Are there other folks you see working in this space between genre and form?

AK: I’m not sure what the history of the term “hermit crab essay” is. Did it come from Judith Kitchen? One of the aspects of the term that I do like is the “readymade” implication of the finding and repurposing a “shell” or a form. It has the potential to give an ordinary object a new meaning. How much of Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (a urinal purchased at a hardware store and placed on a pedestal) is there, in say, “The Heart” by Jean-Claude Silbermann (which reads as though it is instructions for preparing a heart and can be found in a book of surrealist games). I don’t think the term has to do with genre so much as the epistolary act of borrowing a form, whether that form is a letter, a chat window, a newspaper clipping, a set of instructions, or any other kind of document. 
And while we talk about “essay” as a noun, or a genre, or a type of creative nonfiction writing, it’s important to remember its roots as a French verb. An essay is a process as much as anything. That act of exploration. The attempt to derive meaning or insight from life. I’m not sure that the content or the form is as important to the essay as the method.  

 "The medium performs a constant balancing act between valuing information enduring through time or valuing information traveling through space."

SM: How do the various contemporary mediums available for reading—from the smartphone to the book—influence the ways you design and write?

AK: I think that the medium does influence the way that I—or anyone for that matter—design or write because the medium changes the way information travels. The medium performs a constant balancing act between valuing information enduring through time or valuing information traveling through space.
            For instance, we have petroglyphs lining a basalt escarpment across the river from where I live. The people of the Middle Rio Grande carved these petroglyphs about 700 years ago. Early Spanish settlers added crosses and other images about 400-500 years ago. Now new Rio Grande people and their suburban homes surround the area. These messages have endured for centuries and they will likely last for several more centuries. But, the petroglyphs don’t travel through space. If you want to see this art, these messages, you have to travel to them.
On the other hand the internet has the ability to cover much space—the whole world in seconds—but information distributed via the web does not last long. For one, the audience doesn’t spend the same amount of time with it; they’re flipping between tabs on the computer, skimming-scrolling the smartphone while on the bus. If they are looking at your work on a phone, the audience is transporting the work into many different contexts, each of which alters their perception of it—this is in essence the same argument that Walter Benjamin was using in the 1930s to talk about mechanical reproduction of images altering its value, from hidden, cult, ceremonial art to valuing exhibition first and foremost. John Berger later drew on these ideas to say that modern production (such as television) destroyed the authority of original art, that contemporary media had made images “ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, and free.”
But the internet has an additional layer of ephemerality. Is a digital medium ever truly fixed? Each time you open a jpeg on your computer, you corrupt the file a little more. Information on a web page does not even outlast its leased domain name—edits are continual; hackers are perpetual. Wikipedia may go belly-up: online, our national histories may not exist tomorrow.
Even though it seems more stable, print doesn’t last forever either. You might have something printed in a literary magazine and you read through your contributor copy then put it on the shelf. The book-artifact will begin its slow decomposition on the shelf, its organic compounds will begin to break down, and it will smell of vanillin. The glue will weaken and the signatures will fall out, the edges of the pages will crumble to the touch… Some relative may find it in a few decades, open to your page and inhale.

Ketcham's chart from "How to Determine Truth"

SM: It seems that a lot of environmental art is built to demonstrate that process of decay and ephemerality. But the artists I know who do this expose objects to the elements much more often than they do texts. This may be because texts and their usual materials deteriorate rapidly outdoors, but I’ll say it’s also somehow more difficult for me, as a viewer, to witness a text deteriorating than to watch an object decay. Clare Dolan of the Museum of Everyday Life, who I interviewed this summer, once curated an anti-preservation exhibit that seemed to poke at this inclination to preserve texts. Her show also functioned like a protest when curated inside a Book and Paper Arts program. Borrowed forms often also feel like a kind of small revolt that uses constraints to further an essaying gesture. I sense this gesture in many examples of your work too. Have you ever made a text that you intended to endure, or expected to decay rather than to travel? Do you think there an inherent contrarianism behind concrete and hermit texts?

AK: I’ve seen some work, too, that plays with that kind of decay—or perhaps “mutation” would be a better word—of work in the “wilds” of the internet. One that I remember asked the question, what happens to a wiki of Crime and Punishmentwhen you invite people to rewrite Dostoyevsky? Of course, the text changed drastically. 
My personal website has been hacked a few times, so that might add to sense that pieces composed or published online are so subject to digital decay. It seems like anytime you compose or create for work for a digital system it can suffer from what might be environmental decay (hackers, loss of quality due to compression, etc.) or technological limitations—the limitation of newer technology to have a reverse compatibility with the older model, where the newer system doesn’t have the ability to decrypt or decode the original (consider: making art that ran on floppy disks, composing an essay on Google maps, etc.). I had a moment of inspiration a la John Cage the other day when I was working on a drawing, scanned it, opened it in Photoshop, and some kind of glitch took over. Each time I clicked on anything in the program, the glitch ran again, and an entirely new distortion of my image would appear. I took a few screenshots of my favorite results, but I think that to exhibit it, the glitch would have to be active so audience could participate with the performance. 

"It will be interesting to see whether (and how) editing as art takes off in the “post-truth” era."

SM: You’ve published stories, essays, and poems. Do you think that the possible relationships between design and text shift within the constraints of different literary genres?

AK: The expectations and constraints of the different genres can create different ways to experiment with the design of a work. A footnote (which is an object of text layout design) means something different in nonfiction than it might in fiction or poetry. Lately I have been thinking that there is a design aesthetic that we are starting to see with the editing process—there’s John D’Agata’s beautifully designed book, The Lifespan of a Fact. The artist James Bridle compiled all the edits to the Wikipedia page on the Iraq war into a 12-volume set. There is even something beautiful about looking at Gordon Lish’s edits to Raymond Carver’s work and reading what has been removed. It will be interesting to see whether (and how) editing as art takes off in the “post-truth” era.  

Ketcham's pie chart from "How to Determine Truth"

SM: You’ve studied anthropology, writing and design and now teach in an interdisciplinary program in New Mexico. Do you prompt your students to compose texts that use other media? Do you have tips for educators who are interested in teaching writing that engages with other disciplines?

AK: In a number of my classes, I require students to present a photo essay to the class before they begin working on their creative nonfiction essays. It forces them to organize their thoughts, creating an outline of what they will say before they sit down to write, and it forces them to think visually: “What does an establishing shot look like for this essay? Why would I choose to frame a close-up on this person/object?” It allows them the opportunity to hear what kinds of questions the audience has about their work based on this initial glimpse.

I would recommend team teaching with someone in a discipline housed on the opposite side of campus. This year I co-taught a class on reading and writing the landscape with a paleontologist. It was wild to listen to him talk about how to make observations of the landscape, and think—wow, that’s basically the same thing I do, but in different terms, and of course, with completely different outcomes.

Sarah Minor curates the Visual Essay series here at Essay Daily, previously featuring folks like Kristen Radtke, Marian Bantjes, and Bianca Stone

Sunday, December 25, 2016

12/25: As The Year Comes To A Close, Treat Yourself To Some Essay Collections

2016 is, finally, at long last, almost (hopefully!) over.  Given the general tumult and peculiar furors of this year, we could all probably use a day to treat yo' self, so please enjoy some end-of-year essay & book recommendations from the extended Essay Daily family.


Lawrence Lenhart

Mad Feast (Matthew Gavin Frank) 
Canning Peaches for the Apocalypse (Nicole Walker)

Hyperphagia always sets in at around Thanksgiving. This December, I found myself reading as much food as I was eating. Matthew Gavin Frank's Mad Feast is an unconventional cookbook that tours the American palate and character (state by state by state). Whereas Frank is often inventing his family—an uncle awaits him in every state it seems, a composite of strangers posed as distant relatives—Walker's actual family is tenderly there on each page, ready for her next meal. And what are they having for dinner? In one essay, it's tongue tacos. She plays with her food too—turning "tongue" from modifier to verb and "taco" from noun to euphemism—contemplating the phonemic calories of cunnilingus. 

Sens-Plastique (Malcolm de Chazal, translated by Irving Weiss)

It's a book of cosmogonic aphorisms from a Mauritian writer who also dabbled in primitivist outsider art. Written in 1947, but translated much more recently, Chazal writes about universal matter and its natural forms. 

Becoming Westerly (Jamie Brisick)

For those of you who finished reading Barbarian Days (William Finnegan's surfing autobiography that nabbed a 2016 Pulitzer) and wondered what wave to ride next, look no further than Jamie Brisick's biography of surfer Westerly Windina (formerly Peter Drouyn). Like any good biography, Becoming Westerly's (2015) subject transforms before our eyes—only in this case that transformation involves not just the meteoric rise of a surfing legend, but also her gender reassignment in Thailand. In The Endless Summer, the conventional wisdom goes: "The ultimate thing to do in surfing is to be actually covered up by the wave." In Becoming Westerly, though, the pleasure's in the uncovering.

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Amitav Ghosh)
In 2016, as populist politics took hold of our hemisphere, it felt as if we'd turned our collective backs on social ideals like climate justice and multiculturalism. Ghosh's The Great Derangement (released this October) is adapted from a series of bright-minded, sharp-tongued lectures he delivered at the University of Chicago about climate change. One of his staggering conclusions: For too long, we have drawn the line between serious fiction and science fiction; one lives in a mansion while the other is sequestered in faraway outhouses. Ghosh makes the case that, if we are to come to grips with climate change, we need to evict readers from the mansion. 

We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (Deepa Iyer)
We Too Sing America (2015) provides necessary context and resolution for an array of America's ethnophobias. Iyer examines case studies in national intolerance, from racist statecraft to public backlash, and from that hysteria constructs an ethos of empathic advocacy. 

3 More! (just 'cuz)
Coast Range (Nick Neely)
Animals Strike Curious Poses (Elena Passarello)
Proxies (Brian Blanchfield)


Erin Lyndal Martin

So Sad Today by Melissa Broder: Broder elevates the confessional essay while putting it in the context of social media. Her essays are funny and ultimately help us find compassion for others and ourselves.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing: This book examines some famous artists through the lens of their loneliness. Along the way, Laing touches on many other topics and includes a heartbreaking account of the first AIDS epidemic.


Wren Awry 
 Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape: Nature essays are too often written by white men--dead or otherwise--and sometimes white women, and they rarely takes race, colonization, and history into consideration. Savoy's collection takes on the Grand Canyon, a historic plantation in South Carolina, the Arizona borderlands, and much, much more in a voice that is knowledgeable, powerful, and curious. As a geography geek, I especially appreciate sentences like: "Elongate lithic compasses stand high above valleys collecting their eroded debris. West to east these are southeastern Arizona's offering to the Basin and Range province."

Other essay and essay-ish collections I've been reading and rereading: The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White by Aisha Sabatini Sloan, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa, and Heroines by Kate Zambreno. 


Erica Trabold 

The Abundance by Annie Dillard [note: the Malcontent may disagree —ed]

What a joy to reencounter Dillard's "greatest hits." Whether you're a new friend who wants to read Dillard's best stuff or an old friend who wants to read Dillard's best stuff, this book is a sure way to fall in love with her lyricism and passion for nature and its details.

Creative Nonfiction's new series of single-issue, long essays called True Story is an altogether lovely, pocket-sized reading experience. I read the first two issues, Steven Kurutz's Fruitland and Steven Church's Trip to the Zoo, on my commute and lost track of where I was going.

The Art of Waiting by Belle Boggs
Everything We Don't Know
by Aaron Gilbreath


Sarah Viren

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (translation Bela Shayevich)
-In many ways, Svetlana Alexievich's books are the opposite of essays. Rather than witnessing one mind on the page, we are confronted with hundreds of disembodied voices. But there is also something quite essayistic about the way she constructs her oral histories (or "novels in voices" as she calls them). This book, for instance, revolves around a central question (i.e. What did the fall of the Soviet Union mean to those living within it?) that those voices are trying to figure out. I began reading Secondhand Time after the election and kept finding myself wishing that the U.S. had someone like Alexievich to document our multitude of voices. Because if we did, maybe we wouldn't have been so surprised to find out that nearly half of us were planning to vote in a fascist. 

Some Versions of the Ice by Adam Tipps Weinstein
These are essays written in the key of Borges, which is to say they deal in a brand of fictionalized fact that makes the reader consider (once again!) the distinctions we draw between the stuff of knowledge and the material of imagination. They're also quite funny and beautifully written. 

Little Labors by Rivka Galchen
Like Weinstein's book, this book of essays is about interrogating facts, but in this case the narrator sounds much less like a weary academic and more like a sleep-deprived new mom (who happens to be as smart as a weary academic). Galchen's essaying comes in the form of vignettes, some that consider babies or our reactions to babies, some that consider women writers who did or did not have babies, some that consider how Frankenstein or Godzilla were really like a baby. Which is to say, this feels very much a book-length essay about what it means to have baby brain (i.e. that mode of thinking that exists in the weeks or months after you've given birth and you rarely see anyone else except your baby and you are TRYING to think rationally and be a normal human being, but it's hard: Megan Stielstra also captures this state quite well in her collection Once I Was Cool: If you couldn't tell already, I am currently trapped in this state: help!).   


Nick Greer

Brian Blanchfield's Proxies: Essays Near Knowing (Nightboat) is a collection released in 2016 that did it all for me. Its intelligence is furtive, to use a word Brian does, and all the more powerful for it. I'm not one to laugh out loud or tear up or emote at all when I read, but I found myself running the gamut when reading this book, sometimes within the course of a single essay.

William Gass' On Being Blue (NYRB Classics) is older and didn't shake me like Brian's book did--in fact, when Gass waxes personal, which usually translates to the psychosexual, I found myself cringing--but it's an ecstatic, indulgent book/essay that has helped me be more ecstatic and indulgent in my own thinking and writing. Its subtitle is "A Philosophical Inquiry," but the parts that most resemble philosophy are its least inquisitive. It's his more "poetic" sections that I find most surprising, the prose blocks where he lists, permutes, and associates without worry for through-line or causation, but of course this is exactly what gives his essay a sense of forward movement. Sometimes accumulation is arrangement.

Another 2016 release, one that is both sly like Blanchfield and rhythmic like Gass, is Jennifer S. Cheng's House A (Omnidawn). I especially love the first third of the book, a series of lyric essays called "Letters to Mao." Her writing here moves like Stanislaw Lem's descriptions of the sentient world-ocean (ecumenoceanus?) in Solaris: a "polished surface" that "swirls and crumples," each essay a "pool of grey light...rising and falling to the rhythm of invisible waves." 


Brian Blanchfield

The right books found me at the right time this year.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, by Kiese Laymon, 2013. I love this short book of agile, unflinching, formally inventive essays—half cultural studies, half autobiography—about misogyny in hiphop, about the cipher in a Mississippi public school boys’ room, about avenues of reverse migration back to the South, about survivor’s guilt, about matriarchy in his family and in civil rights, about the specter of the worst of white folk, and about the revolutionary act of black men telling other black men I love you. This book is real.

Folio: Columns, 2003-2014, by Luca Turin, 2014. A hundred or more very brief essays by a perfume aficionado ostensibly about aspects of olfactory experience and the contemporary scent industry. They begin squarely in that arena but quite often extend to pithy provocative considerations of gender, memory, globalism, and more. Excellent, idiosyncratic, incomparably incisive writing. I’ll never forget the search for “a happy masculine.”

The Making of the Pré, by Francis Ponge, 1971, tr. Lee Fahnestock, 1979. This is a notebook, toward a poem. Not a very good poem. An extraordinary notebook. An exhilarating paratext of speculative attentive essaying and layperson resourcefulness, ranging art and philology and literature, starting and restarting an investigation into the word that translates loosely to “meadow.”

Calamities, by Renee Gladman, 2016. This book of essays occupies the three-way intersection of daily dream capture, conceptual art score (documenting a repeatable experiment), and deeply interior (frequently metaphysical) autobiography. Fleeting and deepening at once. Sensational.

Apalache, by Paul Metcalf, 1976. I think I found this book in San Francisco, at the poetry mecca that is Books & Bookshelves, 99 Castro Street, earlier this year. A revelation. It’s a long work, an epic, of unremarked documentary collage, splicing early U. S. colonial historical accounts with Charlotte Observer reports of a contemporary arson crime in Monroe, North Carolina, and the prosecution and trial of a black civil rights activist there. Expertly turned, and turning still.

When the Sick Rule the World, by Dodie Bellamy, 2015. The first book I read this year, and the one I needed most. I bought it in the last hour at the book fair at the godforsaken MLA conference in Austin. I cracked it open at the airport waiting for my return flight, my suitbag meaningfully crumpled in the plastic chair beside me at the Sbarro or whatever. Almost immediately I relaxed, and found, as I always do in the best of the New Narrative writers, a home in the abjection and go-for-broke candor and bodied intelligence. The opening essay on whistling as a gendered activity is effortless, brilliant.

This was also the year I finished the final books of two trilogies that together expanded for me what had seemed possible in prose and essaying. The first is Roland Barthes’s posthumous lecture notes for three courses, each rooted in a fantasy. In the books repeatedly he is “merely opening a dossier” wherein a more exhaustive exploration might be made. I love the books’ annotative form, and the editors of the series are ingenious, preserving the incompleteness crucial to the endeavor of open inquiry. Best of the the three is How to Live Together. At the end, Barthes was learning (and teaching) a new intimacy in intellection, which did not compromise his brand of cultural close reading.

The thousand-plus pages of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s account of walking from Rotterdam to Constantinople in 1933 and 1934 when he was eighteen and nineteen have a flavor of Montaigne, except the excursis is actual. In his sixties, seventies, and eighties he returned to and in some cases—where the originals have gone missing—reconstituted his travel journals, which were in retrospect a remarkable elegy for any number of discrete communities of Eastern Europe, all of which would be corroded if not entirely obliterated by the Nazis. Preserved are the precarious innocence and absorptive educability of youth, the privations of traveling on foot, and the ancient nature of hospitality. But mostly, it’s the best example I know of a writer reinventing language, to say precisely what needs saying. The descriptive sentences have a way of springing with the newness of each discovery the traveler makes. Read them all, in order, but the middle one, Between the Woods and the Water, is the one where he has sex in a barn. 


Renee D'Aoust

William Bradley's "Fractals" -- Bradley’s micro-essays add up to a gestalt—the formation, disintegration, and reformation of a life. Pieces that deal with his formation primarily cover events from his childhood while pieces that deal with his cancer bespeak of disintegration. Reformation happens throughout in the sense of wanting to do and be better.

Sonja Livingston's "Ladies Night at the Dreamland" -- Livingston’s book becomes “a place of possibility, the Dreamland, where nothing is lost.” While the “Dreamland” was an actual theater, Livingston has the ability “to call out names and listen for voices [she] might recognize.” The conjuring is such that we don’t realize we recognize these voices until Livingston brings forth narration for their long-lost souls. Combined with personal essay, her use of perception and interiority brings to life women of different eras. I especially admire Livingston's artful writing in the essay form and the University of Georgia Press (the Crux Series), which published this collection, is publishing such great work.

Penny Guisinger's "Postcards from Here" -- One of Guisinger’s projects is to help women speak up in real time. Written words—essays and postcards—give agency to the voice in ways that spoken words often don’t. This is a gem of a book.

Patrick Madden's "Sublime Physick" -- Madden has written 12 associative, discursive, elegant essays in the mode of Montaigne. Like the classical essayist’s varied, but basic, topics, no subject is too mundane for Madden’s contemporary pen. The collection asks in essence what it means to be human and how we might explore the idea of wonder.

A few more suggestions --

If you haven't had the chance to check out John Griswold's ongoing series at his Oronte Churm blog over at Inside Higher Ed, do! Start with his piece on why he went to Standing Rock to support our water protectors (and be sure to read the others). Here's that link:
And I think experimental essayists should read Lance Olsen's really cool Berlin memoir/travelogue/anti-memoir/reflective, smart romp: [[ there. ]]. Olsen writes, "the first definition of the word experimental is of a witness: having actual or personal experience of anything."


Ty Clever

New: The brief essays that comprise Renee Gladman’s Calamities explore the paradox of essaying: that the essayist is drawn by the difficult and unresolved, yet must always remain a beginner: “This was an essay in which you were allowed to pursue the unsayable, even though the pursuit perpetually returned you to the beginning, your first mark, the moment before anything could be said. . . .”

Rediscovered: Gladman’s statement could serve as a description of Paul Valéry’s astonishing essay, “The Man and the Sea Shell.” Valéry opens by pointing out that “ignorance is a treasure of infinite price,” and that his essay is an attempt to “describe and preserve” his ignorance regarding sea shells. What follows is a wide-ranging—and necessarily inconclusive—meditation on creativity, intention, and the idea of order.


Christopher Cokinos 

I fell in love with Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation. He rightly has a reputation as a philosopher with a sense of style, and his overall pessimism and sense of all things as blindly striving struck a chord--as did his approach to solace through aesthetic reverie.


Nicole Walker

Lawrence Lenhart's The Well-stocked and Gilded Cage. My students and I loved it best of all the books we read this semester.

Lily Hoang's A Bestiary which might be the truest hybrid text I've read.

And Liao Yiwu The Corpse Walker because no matter how bad it gets, you're probably not walking corpses across the country. 


Jen Hirt

Because you want to see how a military-trained dolphin would write a letter to Sylvia Plath, and because you want to see how Tolstoy's daughter's Russian tortoise composed her memoir, and because you want to snap your fingers to the the free verse escapades of a beatnik mussel, all essayists should read Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (2014). Sure it's two years old, and sure, it's short stories, each from the point of view of an animal who dies in the midst of human violence. But follow Dovey's suggestion to go to her website to see the sources for this book, and you'll find over 60 of them, many nonfiction, and a lot of them straight-up history. Essayists love research, and essayists love short story writers who do their research too. These stories feel as real as essays, to be honest. Dovey's epigrah from J. M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello says it all: "Each creature is key to all other creatures. A dog sitting in a patch of sun licking itself, says he, is at one moment a dog and at the next a vessel of revelation." So, at one moment a story, at the next, an essay. All of it a revelation.


Scott Broker 

Eula Biss, Note from No Man's Land

Brian Blanchfield, Proxies: Essays Near Knowing

Jenny Boully, The Body: An Essay

John D'Agata, Halls of Fame

Meghan Daum, The Unspeakable

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

Lia Purpura, On Looking


Erik Anderson
Some essayish things, recent and not so, I read (or reread) and loved in 2016: 

Geoff Dyer, Out of Sheer Rage
Kerry Howley, Thrown
Toni Morrison, What Moves at the Margins
Hilary Plum, Watchfires
Suzanne Scanlon, Her 37th Year: An Index


Elena Passarello
My favorite thing that read this year, hands-down, is Ed Piskor’s mind-blowing HIP HOP FAMILY TREE comics series. I picked up a collection of the first four issues on a whim at the Fantagraphics store in Seattle, read it in a day, re-read it immediately, and then rush ordered the rest of the series. It’s brilliant nonfiction—expansive, singular, well-curated. It’s also wonderfully drawn and thrilling in its attempt to pin down a nebulous piece of American Culture (the birth and growth of hip-hop). Piskor reports with the authority of a historian and the biases of a fan, along the way using visual tropes from great serial artists like Alan Moore, Hervé, Crumb, all the great superhero comics, and a bunch that I know I’m not savvy enough to catch. He’s already twelve issues into the FAMILY TREE, and he’s only covered a decade of hip-hop. I cannot wait to see what his next installment.


Chelsea Biondolillo

I came late to the Limber boat, but I'm glad I found it eventually. Angela Pelster's debut collection is fanciful, strange, and beautiful. She roams over a wide range of topics, while staying literally rooted to her theme of trees and tree-like growth. Since I can't help but read as a teacher, this one is definitely going to get added to my lyric essay reading list for students. 

Also, the news this year has not all been good, so I'm reading Wendell Berry's What Are People For? and Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit plus all the Ta-Nehisi Coates I can get my hands on and . Because I think it is important to know what the stakes are, but also know that the wages of trying is hope. 


T Fleischmann

Renee Gladman's Calamaties from Wave is my new favorite and is great to reread. I'm excited recently by Bruja by Wendy C. Ortiz (Civil Coping Mechanisms) and Wind Instrument by Kazim Ali (Spork), and by the work of Micha Cárdenas.


Joseph Bradbury 

Useful books for 2016 and anytime:

Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude

Denise Levertov, Tesserae

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books

David Foster Wallace, Everything and More: A Compact History of Infinity

Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh

John D’Agata, The Making of the American Essay

Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths


Will Slattery

 My favorites this year:

Brian Blanchfield's Proxies: Essays Near Knowing.  The frequency with which this work is included in this list speaks volumes as to its excellence.

Although not new, I read Hilton Als' White Girls for the first time this year.  I cannot recommend Als highly enough as both a prose stylist and a cultural critic.

Although technically comprised of poems rather than essays, Timothy Yu's 100 Chinese Silences is an outstanding collection that shows a sharp, penetrating, thoroughly essayistic mind at work.


Ander Monson

One of the benefits of coming late to the Liked Best game is that I see many favorites here on the Essay Daily list. Y'all have already iterated some of the titles on my list. I dug—a lot—:

  • Kiese Laymon's How to Slowly Kill Yourself... 
  • Blanchfield's Proxies (though I think I had that on my list last year
  • Lily Hoang's Bestiary (thanks Wayne Koestenbaum for that pick)
  • I do want to shout out Luca Turin's Folio: Columns, 2003-2014 that I recommended to Blanchfield. Really wonderful brief essays and maybe the book I was most surprised by this year. Trained as a chemist, somehow somebody signed up Turin to review high-end perfumes for a Swiss magazine in German (a language he does not speak). Each little essay is an alchemy. Bad ass.
  • Lenhart!
  • Gabriel Blackwell's Madeleine E (bought for more people this year than any other book)
  • Nicole Walker's Micrograms which New Michigan Press published
  • gotta give a shout-out to March Sadness—not a book but a collection of essays and a machine for understanding memory, time, and sadness. (See March Fadness in 2017.) That was maybe the most fun thing I participated in all year.
  • Susan Briante's The Market Wonders (some cross between essay-poems and poem-essays)
  • Ken Chen's Juvenilia (says poetry, and sure, but also essaying)
  • Albert Goldbarth's The Adventures of Form and Content (really love this book that just came out or is maybe about to just come out from Graywolf)
  • Alejandro Zambra's Multiple Choice
  • Eliot Weinberger's The Ghosts of Birds
  • Christa Wolf's One Day a Year
  • and Mary Cappello's Life Breaks In: a Mood Almanack, which is taking me a very long time to read, always a sign of something excellent working on me
Cheers to you & yours.