300 Arguments

Sarah Manguso

The premise of this slim offering is contained in one of the 300 snippets: “Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” While I definitely found some quotable moments in the quotable passages (which is kind of funny!), it didn’t really work for me as a book; it just didn’t feel crafted. Some of the “arguments” are funny or sardonic, some feel rather profound, while others strike me as throwaways. The trouble is the ones that do sound like a long book’s quotable passages just beg for the rest of the book, and the rest are fragments for the sake of the premise.

This one suggests it was purely an assignment or a game of numbers:

“I used to write these while playing hooky on what I hoped would be my magnum opus. Assigning myself to write 300 of them was like forcing myself to chain-smoke until I puked, but it didn’t work. I didn’t puke.”

Well, neither did I, but does that make it art?

Link

Image of 300 Arguments: Essays
  • Amiable with Big Teeth

    Claude McKay

    Image of Amiable with Big Teeth (A Penguin Classics Hardcover)

    The back story of how this novel came to be published is fascinating: originally written and edited in 1941, it was never published and was essentially lost in the archives until a graduate student at Columbia University found a copy of an essentially finished manuscript among the papers of another writer in 2009. The New York Times reported on this...more

  • Fugitive Pieces

    Anne Michaels

    Image of Fugitive Pieces: A Novel

    The shadow past is shaped by everything that never happened. Invisible, it melts the present like rain through karst. A biography of longing. It steers us like magnetism, a spirit torque. This is how one becomes undone by a smell, a word, a place, the photo of a mountain of shoes. By love that closes its mouth before calling a

    ...more
  • Brown Girl Dreaming

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Image of Brown Girl Dreaming (Newbery Honor Book)

    Memoir in verse, telling the stories of Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood. The poems impart an impressionistic narrative, focused more on the small moments amidst the larger transitions — like the end of her parents’ relationship, moving with her mother and siblings to her grandparents’ home in Greenville, SC, then moving again to Brooklyn — and on the gradual development of Woodson’s path to becoming...more

  • By Blood

    Ellen Ullman

    Image of By Blood: A Novel

    A disgraced college professor moves to San Francisco in the late summer of 1974 while his school investigates him for an inappropriate relationship with a student. Hoping to work on a series lectures during his exile, he rents the cheapest office he can find and describes a dreary building with “begrimed gargoyles crouched beneath the parapet, their eyes eaten away...more

  • Southland

    Nina Revoyr

    Image of Southland

    Stretching across the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s, Southland encompasses an impressive breadth of cultural history without overreaching. After the death of Jackie Ishida’s grandfather in 1994, her aunt finds a box of old papers that cracks open a door to long-hidden family secrets and tasks Jackie with sorting them out. Almost immediately, her quest brings her to Jimmy Lanier who...more

  • Ishmael

    Daniel Quinn

    Image of Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit

    While technically fiction, this novel is almost entirely a conversation between a man and the gorilla Ishmael (who communicates telepathically), and it pretty much reads like a lecture on philosophies of ecology. The ideas are interesting, focused on Ishmael’s division of humans into two groups he calls Takers and Leavers — the Takers being those who followed the Agricultural Revolution through the...more

  • Hope in the Dark

    Rebecca Solnit

    Image of Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

    Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes — you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and

    ...more
  • The Selfishness of Others

    Kristin Dombek

    Image of The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism

    My friend Athena wrote a review of this essay on “the fear of narcissism” that suggested the writing fell a bit flat to her at the end. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I wound up feeling almost exactly the same way. A brief history of clinical and cultural understandings of narcissism, with sections focused around concepts like...more

  • Grief is the Thing with Feathers

    Max Porter

    Image of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel

    After the sudden death of a wife and mother, a father and two sons struggle in their mourning. To their rescue comes an oversized Crow, apparently a manifestation of Ted Hughes’s poetic creation, acting as a kind of counselor. (The dad is a Hughes scholar; the author Max Porter is a casual scholar himself.) The book rotates between the voices...more

  • Another Brooklyn

    Jacqueline Woodson

    Image of Another Brooklyn: A Novel

    I watched my brother watch the world, his sharp, too-serious brow furrowing down in both angst and wonder. Everywhere we looked, we saw the people trying to dream themselves out. As though there was someplace other than this place. As though there was another Brooklyn.

    Beautiful, poetic novel built around memories of growing up in Bushwick in the 1970s. August...more

  • The Underground Railroad

    Colson Whitehead

    Image of The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel

    While Colson Whitehead’s novel is a fictional account of slavery that bends historical details, the cruelties and heartbreak are undeniably accurate. Cora is the center of the story, a woman who is an outcast in her plantation life, her mother having left her behind to escape North. Her own chance to take off comes in the form of Caesar, who...more

  • Are You My Mother?

    Alison Bechdel

    Image of Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama

    Reviews were so mixed on this graphic novel that I had decided not to read it, until recently when I started reading a borrowed copy and couldn’t put it down. A follow-up to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which focused on her relationship with her father, this one turns to her relationship with her mother. And several of her therapists....more

  • The Book Thief

    Markus Zusak

    Image of The Book Thief

    Set during WWII in Germany, The Book Thief starts by following Liesel Meminger traveling with her mother and brother traveling by train to Munich. Her mother is a communist and has found a foster home for them to protection as political tensions rise under the Nazis. Along the way her brother dies, and Liesel crosses paths for the first...more

  • L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    Elisa Gabbert

    Image of L'Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems

    I loved Elisa Gabbert’s The Self Unstable, and this new book has similar cadences, even though these are true poems rather than lyric aphorisms. The Judy of the title is a character in Wallace Shawn’s play “The Designated Mourner,” which is set “in an unnamed, fictitious country ruled over by an increasingly fascist oligarchy” and involves the dissolution of...more

  • Airless Spaces

    Shulamith Firestone

    Image of Airless Spaces

    Passable, Not Presentable
    She remembered the time before she had gotten sick. When it was a challenge to dress, how good it felt to look just right and be certain of one’s appearance. Then came losing her looks in the hospital, and the ghastly difference it made in the way she was received; the way people turned away from

    ...more
  • Witches of America

    Alex Mar

    Image of Witches of America

    Alex Mar first met the witch Morpheus while making her documentary American Mystic, about three people on the fringes of organized religion. After finishing the film, she felt a personal curiosity about witchcraft and paganism and continued speaking with Morpheus; through her she connected with other witches to dig further into the occult world, and Witches in America is...more

  • The Half-Known World

    Robert Boswell

    Image of The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction

    While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn’t read most of the referenced pieces, or hadn’t read them recently, but...more

  • The Fire Next Time

    James Baldwin

    Image of The Fire Next Time

    Still powerfully resonant today, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time was one of the most influential books about race in America in the 1960s. It is tough to read this now and note how little has changed and easy to understand why this book inspired Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and The Fire This Time, a...more

  • The Guest Cat

    Takashi Hiraide

    Image of The Guest Cat

    For the past few years I’ve been doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge and this year I uncharacteristically got quite behind on my goal, so recently I’ve been reading a lot of short books to catch up. It’s actually been nice to get to books that have been on my list for a long time — like Annie John — and though it...more

  • Safe as Houses

    Marie-Helene Bertino

    Image of Safe as Houses (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

    Quirky stories where houses rarely seem safe; the shorter ones tend to have better premises than delivery, but the longer ones benefit from the increased development. It felt to me that I enjoyed each story more than the last one, which left an overall positive feeling, though I started out feeling underwhelmed. The finale, “Carry Me Home, Sisters of Saint...more

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