Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What I Look for in a Book

Choosing which books to read, of the thousands if not millions of choices is an overwhelming decision. For each book I read, there are thousands that don’t make the cut. Time is precious. Until this year, I read lots of great books, but I didn’t have a plan or a method to guide my choices.

I decided to get more intentional with my selections and that begged the question, what am I looking for in a book? I ran across this post from 2006 at litblogger Scott Esposito’s Conversational Reading. Scott’s focus is on modern and postmodern fiction and he reads quite a bit of work in translation (and in Spanish, for that matter). I’ve included two litblogger’s lists in their entirety (although each of the original posts has more content) because I think their criteria is interesting. Scott has some specific criteria to identify what he likes and he’s listed them in order of importance.

Ongoing Dialectics. I like to feel that the book I'm reading is a debate, not a lecture. I like to feel that I can't judge what the author's intent is until the last page, and sometimes not even then. If I think the book is becoming too obvious in what it's trying to tell me, then it becomes just a dull demonstration. I get bored. I probably won't finish it. The ideas that animate a book should be like a tightrope walker, now teetering a bit one way, now teetering a bit the other way, always forging forward on an invisible thread. Note that this debate can take many forms--debates over philosophical ideas are the most obvious, but a book could also debate any of the following: different interpretations of a character, different value systems, different interpretations of events, different approaches to constructing a narrative or conducting a life, different styles. Note also--there's no rule that there can only be one dialectic per novel.

Challenging prose. Challenging prose is interesting prose. I love feeling that an author has abandoned me to a room full of hostile words. See, for instance, the beautifully complex sentences of James Joyce, Malcolm Lowry, or William Gaddis. I like feeling like I'm constantly under pressure to interpret what the wuthor is telling me. I'm also interested in challenging prose on the level of a story: see, for instance, the narratives of Kazuo Ishiguro or Manuel Puig--I love how they continually make me feel like I'm just a step away from cresting a hill, after which I can look down upon the story and finally see how it works. (Note also: this moment is inevitable, but it is also inevitably a letdown; I like it when authors delayed it as long as possible.)

Stylistic creativity/skill. I almost put these into two separate categories, but then decided I couldn't separate one from the other. Some authors tinker with form, some perfect forms that have already been invented, but either way I think it requires a good deal of creativity and skill. Regardless of whether they're tinkerers or perfecters, however, I think authors should be showing me something I haven't seen before. Imperfections in style, while unavoidable, should be rare and forgivable. Also under style comes voice, which should be strong, original, and suit the aims of the novel. However, if I feel like a book has nothing to say, or that the prose isn't interesting, then very rarely will I keep reading, despite how much stylistic creativity or skill is present.

Depth of metaphors. I love metaphors with multiple meanings, and I love it when authors can orchestrate their books so that these metaphors interact in interesting ways. I would reference the works of Haruki Murakami here, most notably The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I especially love book-spanning central metaphors that become a pivot point. A caveat: this is not an invitation for limitless complexity. Obviously there's a limit to how much meaning can be loaded into a metaphor before it becomes contrived, not to mention confusing.

The book makes an attempt to embody the workings of some organism. While not a deal-breaker, this is something I look for and am interesting in. Call it a pet interest of mine. Most often, the organism observed is the human mind, but I chose the word "organism" because I didn't want to limit things a book can embody to only the human mind. For instance, Don DeLillo's narratives don't embody the workings of the human mind so much as the systems that societies are organized upon (see also Orwell, David Mitchell, Pynchon). There have also been authors who have attempted to build alien consciousnesses.

Fidelity. Authors are free to tell their stories in whatever world they choose (our own simply being the one most commonly chosen). But once they have decided on their world and the rules that govern it, authors should never break those rules for frivolous reasons. Deus ex machinas suck (unless they're being explicitly used to point out something interesting about how they suck).

Characterization. Although I recognize that authors can use flat characters to good effect, I'm far more interested in well-characterized characters. Simply put, I think people are interesting and I like learning about them. I like seeing the creative ways an author can draw a character and how well the subtle nuances are brought out.

Economy. I don't have terribly strong feelings about sparse prose vs luxurious with prose, but if I have to choose one, I'll easily choose too sparse. Did I mention I love minimalists?

Humor. I think many good authors are playful authors, but I don't think being playful is the same thing as being humorous. Many authors are playful, but few are humorous. I like it when they are. See, for instance, DFW, who makes me laugh out loud.

Big Books. This is somewhat whimsical, so I'm putting it pretty far down the list, but I do have a soft spot for big books. I'll forgive more in an epic simply because I often admire its scale.

Edward Champion at Reluctant Habits followed Scott’s example and came up with this list:

A sense of playfulness. I will confess that a novel with a playful prose style is likely to tickle my fancy more than a straightforward tale written in that humorless realist mode that James Wood is so smitten with. This is not to suggest that I am adverse to realism or serious fiction. Richard Yates remains a firm favorite and I’ll go into the whys of this a tad later. The playfulness, however, should adhere to some reasonable human construct. It should be justified, motivated not by an author flexing his chops (see Dave Eggers and, to some degree, Saul Bellow, early Martin Amis, and Benjamin Kunkel), but because the nature of the fiction requires it. But here’s the strange loophole: If an author presents a unique and distinct way of seeing the world (such as Colson Whitehead, Richard Powers or David Foster Wallace), I’m more willing to forgive him his narrative digressions.

A concern for details. I have a soft spot for books that dare to present the world’s quotidian details in ways we haven’t seen before. Nicholson Baker comes to mind. Carol Shields too. Colson Whitehead, definitely. I suspect this is why I also like Updike so much and am willing to forgive Terrorist (and even the dreadful Gertrude and Claudius) for its flaws. When Updike writes about old buildings being split up like a cardboard box, there is something in his phrasing and imagery that makes me quite giddy. I feel as if I am seeing the world in ways that I haven’t observed it before. Sometimes, it could be through a miniscule detail in the phrasing. Sometimes, it’s just outright daffy foci. When Baker describes a paperclip and dares to chart precisely how it was manufactured, I feel indebted to him for overlooking some pivotal aspect of the world that I should be paying attention to.

Keeping it real. I’m not a big fan of magical realism. My bullshit detector flies off the charts when people inexplicably begin flying in the middle of a novel because the author can’t determine a way to progress his narrative forward. There are certainly exceptions (Murakami, Calvino, Borges) with authors who dabble in the surreal, but, for the most part, such exercises escape a writer’s first and foremost duty: to convey the human experience in a way in which we can believe it. I can believe, for example, the extraordinary world of China Mieville’s New Crobuzon because there is an underlying structure to its gaslights, its curious criminal justice system with the Remades, and its underground scientists toiling away at experiments in dingy apartments. Likewise, I can look at a book like Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road and ferret out the precise details which reveal the Wheelers’ discontentment. The environs or the genre or the highbrow/lowbrow status matters little to me. It’s the verisimiltude that keeps my motor purring.

A fresh perspective. For the next LBC round, I nominated a book that had one of the most unique perspectives I had encountered in some time. It was not simply the book’s unusual and quite idiosynchratic perspective that rocked my world, but, tied into my last point, the realization that this author had weaved a tale of unexpected poignancy that felt as real as any other tale. This harkens back to my earlier point of recontextualization. I think Scott and I differ a bit on this point. We once got into a heated conversation about David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, in which he felt that what Mitchell was portraying was typical and I defended the book’s ability to recontextualize both narrative and the world around us, while agreeing that its platitude-stacked ending was a bit of a letdown.

A sense of ambition. One of literature’s great challenges is to push the envelope further in a way that we haven’t seen it before. I can forgive a flawed book like Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, which I wrote about here, because it’s attempting an earnestness that is well at odds with the irony-soaked novels and literary realism so fashionable today. Likewise, if Robert Coover sometimes leaves me cold or a John Barth volume flounders, the ambition still sticks to the craw.

Giddy experimentalism. To me, Gilbert Sorrentino and David Markson are extraordinary writers because they experiment in a manner which invites. Sorrentino’s elaborate lies (such as the giddy notion of a character playing “roles” in various novels offered in Mulligan Stew) and Markson’s sentence-by-sentence approach to narrative remind us that experimentalism doesn’t have to be a cold and off-putting affair. Theirs is the purest and most difficult form of experimentalism to pull off.

Difficulty. I like books that challenge me. Books that I have to deconstruct, books in which I constantly have to look up things, books that compel me to reread them later, books I savor. I like books in which I don’t really have a sense of what’s going on until Page 75. I like books, like Ander Monson’s Other Electricities, that, with its index, suggest an interconnectedness that a grad student might spend weeks dwelling upon. I like Gaddis’s approach to dialogue in J.R., where we have to work to figure out who is speaking (which implies that we really aren’t paying nearly as much attention as we should).

Balls. I like writers who make me feel uncomfortable. I like writers who tell the truth. I like writers who want to take me to places I would never visit in a million years. I like writers who throw me into a horrific place and refuse to take the easy way out.

My goals as a reader aren't nearly as sophisticated. These are two litbloggers, among a number of them that I find interesting and I learn a lot from them. They eat and breathe literature and a great deal of the time I frankly don’t understand what they’re talking about. But I love what they’ve done with these lists. Creating a list like this really helps to focus on the books most likely to meet my own criteria, but more importantly, it helps me to think about why I’m reading in the first place.

For now, this is my list:

Originality. An artful novel needs to tell a story in a way that’s never been done before or present a unique perspective. The artfulness and originality may be in the story itself, the themes, the characters, the structure or the prose, but there has to be something that is unique to each author’s style.

Challenging Prose. I’m an active reader. I like it when an author makes me stretch. Proust has stretched me a fair distance. I’ve had to look up unfamiliar words and terms and refer to endnotes to understand cultural, geographical and historical references in order to understand and enjoy the work. Saul Bellow’s work is similarly challenging at times, but I love the payoff.

Ambition/Risk Taking. This makes me think of a novel I read last year that was incredibly ambitious, highly original, had deeply drawn characters and somehow just missed the mark. I would rather read a novel where the author has gone out on a limb, even if it doesn’t quite work than a formulaic story that works, but where the author didn’t take any chances or try anything new.

Characters With Depth. A book needs multi-dimensional characters to work.

Artfulness. Fine writing leaves me with a sense of wonder and the sensation that the author has superhuman powers. The perfect metaphor, description that is unusual, but never jarring, appropriate use of rhythm and the ability to write sentence that goes on for hundreds of words without exhausting the reader are all characteristics of artful writing. I love an author who gives me sentences or paragraphs that are so beautiful that I have to stop and read them again and maybe even break out a highlighter so I return to them and savor them again.

I’ve always been drawn to modernist literature and it seemed logical to me that I should start the year out by starting Marcel Proust’s seven volume novel, In Search of Lost Time. The modernist literary movement peaked in Europe in the early 1900s and According to Wikipedia modernist literature involved such authors as Knut Hamsun (whose novel Hunger is considered to be the first modernist novel), Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, H.D., Dylan Thomas, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Ezra Pound, Mina Loy, James Joyce, Hugh MacDiarmid, William Faulkner, Jean Toomer, Ernest Hemingway, Rainer Maria Rilke, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Joseph Conrad, Andrei Bely, W. B. Yeats, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Luigi Pirandello, D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Jaroslav Hašek, Samuel Beckett, Menno ter Braak, Marcel Proust, Mikhail Bulgakov, Robert Frost, Boris Pasternak, Djuna Barnes, and others.

Reading In Search of Lost Time has been a great reading experience. I finished the third volume last night and will take a Proust break for several books before I start the fourth. It has made me realize how satisfying it is to me to not only read, but to study literature. The beauty of reading titles that are so canonical is that there is no shortage of information and opinion about them, so I've been spending quite a bit of time reading blogs that focus on literature and literary criticism.

Some of the blogs and websites I've been reading lately are: The Reading Experience, Chekhov's Mistress, Mark Athitakis' American Fiction Notes, A Commonplace Blog, Maud Newton, The Elegant Variation, The Millions, Wyatt Mason and The Believer.

Where does all this heavy reading and studying leave my writing? Where, indeed.

I haven't touched my draft novel, The Foundling Wheel in months, but I have been trying my hand at some short fiction. I have always puzzled at the idea that some writers find that they are influenced by the writers they read. Never once did that happen to me, until recently. I don't know that stylistically Proust has had much of an influence, but the views into character and his detailed observations have profoundly affected the way I think about telling a story. For the double whammy, I find myself trying to emulate Saul Bellow.

There's no way to predict what path I'll take with writing now. Maybe I'll trash everything I've ever done and start over and maybe I'll decide that studying and absorbing the great works already in print is enough.

How about you? Do you plan out your reading list, and what do you look for in a book?


Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, I couldn't agree less with Scott. Many of those very items would drive me batty and right out of a book.

I'm somewhat more attuned with Edward but we are still quite distant from each other.

This is a very intersting post, though. It really started me to thinking about what I look for in a book.

Denis said...

You are a trick/treat. Maybe you should change your blogname to Eudamorphesis! My question is how can you choose your books based upon criteria that you may not have an insight into the writer until after you've read the book. And if you keep your criteria you will not see many new writers!

Melissa Amateis said...

Lisa, I am absolutely floored by the sheer depth of this post. WOW. You spent a lot of time on this!

I go in phases with my reading. Sometimes, I just want to spend months reading thrillers and spy novels. Other times, I want something lighter. Right now, I'm in the spy/thriller mode. :-)

Lisa said...

Charles, I think that only makes sense, based on your reading preferences. There would have to be a whole different set of criteria applied to each genre of fiction. What Scott and Ed have come up with fits the type of fiction they prefer and then reflects their own personal tastes within that category.

Denis, Good point. What I didn't say is that I rarely, if ever read a book I know nothing about. My reading list this year is primarily some specific classics and there is plenty I can (and do) find out about the authors and their work before, during and after the time I read them. I probably won't read too many new books this year, but when I do, I've usually read several reviews first that let me know what I'm getting into.

Melissa, Well...the two litblogger lists of criteria are cut paste, but I've been thinking about this for a while (hence, the long time between the last post and this one).

Denis said...

Well indeed. I apologize for being a smart-**s. I used to key off your reading list, but you started deepening after you 'went to the lighthouse'. Now i'm lost. I can barely see your taillights! I'll just flail away.

Lisa said...

No way! Some of this stuff is much easier to read than you'd think. As a matter of fact, I started reading Muriel Sparks' THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE last night and it's terrific -- and not difficult and very short. I doubt very much I read anything that would leave you behind!

steve on the slow train said...

I tend to agree with Charles, though I'm more favorable to Scott than Edward. I'm afraid modern literary fiction is going the way of orchestral music in the twentieth century--aiming toward such a specialized audience that it alienates virtually everyone else. Just about anyone can enjoy Beethoven or the Beatles, but few can appreciate Alban Berg without years of study. And even then, it can be an ordeal.

Dickens, the Brontes, Trollope, Hemingway, etc. were popular writers. There are few literary authors who have a popular following, but every year people clamor for the next Sue Grafton alphabet mystery.

And while I'm more likely to be reading history, philosophy, or genre fiction, I think your list makes makes more sense than the other two.

LarramieG said...

Ah, finally, a book, Muriel Sparks' THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE that I enjoyed...just because. ;)

You know how much I admire and respect your literary quest, Lisa, but -- at this point -- I'd be so confused. *sigh*

Lisa said...

Steve, I think your analogy is perfect. What I'm finding as I continue to read, is that it's actually more like studying (which I enjoy -- I wouldn't do it if I didn't) and as I dig deeper and study more, it gets easier and I enjoy it more. That said, I think it's also true that modern literary fiction (or much modernist and postmodern -- not much contemporary literary fiction) probably alienates a reader who hasn't worked up to it. There's no question that when I was reading mostly Stephen King, Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy that diving into Joyce or Gaddis or Faulkner would have been a horrible experience -- and in fact my first attempts at Faulkner were a horrible experience. Now that I've built up to it and approach these books with different expectations and with a different approach to close reading, I think I could try just about any book and get something out of it.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I could go backwards and start reading commercial fiction again, except for an occasional change of pace.

From that perspective, I think difficult literary fiction is a niche category like any other genre that only appeals to a specific readership.

And thanks for liking my list :)

Lisa said...

Larramie, I love the story, so far! And I hope nobody reads this in a way that would indicate that I think anybody else ought to do what I'm doing. I think avid readers, especially those who write could probably benefit from going through a similar process that fits their own reading preferences and writing aspirations. As a matter of fact, it would really be interesting to see what someone with an interest in a different genre would come up with.

pattinase (abbott) said...

You put my energy and thought into your reading than most people put into their financial planning or even their job. You may like this site if you haven't come across it"
I tend to read books that get good reviews in the New York Times or books that are favorably mentioned online. And books my book group picks-often my least favorite because they are very often didactic and lifeless to me. But I like the women.

James said...

I am impressed with the thoughtfulness and depth of your post on what to look for in books. I will have to take some time to understand all of the guidelines, although it seems that they may sometimes be in conflict. I agree with Scott's approach of listing criteria in order of importance. In choosing books to read I rely on my experience.
Over the years I have found certain books and authors appeal to me and I look for books that share the same characteristics. I also peruse many book reviews looking for new authors on whom to take a chance. Some of my favorite authors include Kundera, Musil, Faulkner, Dostoevsky, Anthony Powell, Dickens and Conrad.

Rosina Lippi Green said...

Reading those very detailed lists you've compiled made me weary, and then Steve put into words what I have been trying to say: I'm afraid modern literary fiction is going the way of orchestral music in the twentieth century--aiming toward such a specialized audience that it alienates virtually everyone else. Just about anyone can enjoy Beethoven or the Beatles, but few can appreciate Alban Berg without years of study. And even then, it can be an ordeal.

I think of this as the no-pain-no-gain fashion in the literary genre. Which will, like all fashions, pass. But I wish it would hurry up.

Lisa said...

What I great blog! Thanks for the recommendation. I'd never run across it before. I laughed when I read what you said about your book group. So far, 100% of the women I know have said almost exactly the same thing. I guess it just goes to show that it is very rare to find more than two people who share the same taste in books.

James, I've just spent nearly an hour reading posts at your blog. How did I never stumble across it before? I'm a subscriber now. I was just asking around this week if anyone I knew had read The Hunger (one friend had read it in college) and you had a post about it just waiting for me. Thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I'll be visiting you often.

Rosina, All of the books I've been reading lately have been around for a long time and they're still in print and people still love them. Admittedly, I think this is a minority group of readers, but I think there are always going to be people who are looking for a authors or musicians or painters who are pushing the creative envelope. Do you really think that the inclination for people to want to write and to read difficult work will ever go away?

Unknown said...

I have huge reading lists. Huge, impossibly long reading lists. With the free time grad school allows me, I unfortunately make very little headway with these lists. This has made me an impatient reader.

My taste in books is similar to my taste in paintings or music, I guess. I like passionately written books with ordinary but complex characters. Books that have an interesting rhythm to them; that maintain a certain level of intensity. Books that don't patronize or intimidate. Books with equal amounts of humour and cynicism, because I am made of equal amounts of humour and cynicism.

Vesper said...

Wow, Lisa! I must tell you that I saved this post to read it again any time I need it. I find the depth of your reflections on literature truly fascinating. These lists read as fantastic guides for both readers and writers.

Going Dutch said...


Patry Francis said...

I agree with Steve. Great fiction is a well told tale with great characters. It absorbs and enthralls; for a few hours or a few weeks, it lifts you out of the every day despair and weariness of life; and it leaves you knowing just a little more about the world and yourself than you did before you happened upon it.

Cleverness will not substitute for it, nor will innovation or "coolness". Beautiful writing enhances it, but does not define it.

Wonderful discussion, Lisa!

Seachanges said...

This is quite an in-depth discussion and it makes me think, like everyone else. I have no 'criteria' as such and also, it seems to me that your views on books and novels may change as you read more and more, or simply get older! I've just put up a post in which I lament my disinterest all of a sudden in Iris Murdoch's novels: I used to be such a great fan, however, upon rereading one of them I felt disinclined to finish it.
I quite agree that beautiful writing on its own does not do it, it has something to do with both evoking a kind of delight in the language used (and that surely is subjective) and with the ability to write a story that somehow 'clicks' with your own taste and views of the world, and perhaps even experience? Oh Lisa, I'm going to have to think about this much much longer!

Going Dutch said...

I've come back to this again today and ask you for another recommendation for me. I'm not a huge reader, really - but when I find something I like I can't put it down. I read John Lennon and the Mercy St. Cafe as you suggested, and I liked it very much. The last books I read/are reading includes a coffee table book (sort of a business-related read and source of personal inspiration) called Beyond Borders: Portraits of American Women from Around the World and then Eat, Pray, Love which I began reading in Portugal (where I also read a mystery novel about a woman whose family disappeared when she was a teen and the eventual discovery that her father had led a secret life...but I can't remember its title - I liked it - pffffff) and never quite finished - but when I picked it up I started reading it again - and peeking at all the pages I'd earmarked because there was something I wanted to go back to). I suppose the last novels that rocked me were Kite Runner and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Geez, when I first read the post I thought, "I don't really know how I'd qualify what I like to read" - but maybe I just have?

Russell CJ Duffy said...

I have written two novels so far (not as yet published) in a series of at least six books. I have also written several short story's that, again, I hope to have published. Trying to find a literary agent of publisher is a bugger though as good literature seems to be the last concern as commerciality rules heads, hearts and purse strings.
I'm afraid, in light of your exemplary taste in books, my choices fade by comparison.
I love the works of Haruki Murakami with his silver surrealism that floods my senses and also Joseph O’Connor whose prose races like a thorough bred but I am equally influenced in what I write by people such as Gilberto Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame or Alan Moore, the legendary comic book writer. Will Eisner and Dave Sim also feature heavily. Also the music of Kate Bush or P.J. Harvey with their unique passions and cinematic song writing and the wondrous Studio Ghibli with the beautiful animations (have you ever seen The Grave of Fireflies? Inspiring, heartbreaking stuff) . So many things fuse into shape to form the end result and I am uncertain as to what or which makes the greater impact. I still marvel at the English used by P. G. Wodehouse and wish that I could be a Albert Camus of William Burroughs but sadly I am not. The one thing we all must have in common though, despite the distances that exist between bloggers and internet users, is our love of books and the written word. Great blog you have here.

Sustenance Scout said...

Yikes, lady, when do you sleep?! :)

Greg Hunt said...

this is so hardcore. how do you write these things? you must love reading a lot. it's obvious. anyway, when do i get to see your book on the shelves? You and I both know you could get published easily. You're like 3 and a half times more talented than the dude from "Sideways."

Steve Malley said...

I prefer an organic approach, letting the last book I read lead me to the next. The path is often knotted and twisty, but always rewarding.

My prose tastes are *very* different to Scott and Edward. I'm drawn to clear, simple prose. For me, the most subtle and powerful images are expressed in the simplest language and structure: WH Auden, TS Eliot, Robert Frost, Willa Cather, Graham Greene and John Steinbeck all come to mind.

Thanks for a *really* thought-provoking post! :)

Timothy Hallinan said...

Lisa --

You knock me out.

I may try to come up with my own list. It probably will stress accessibility more than most, but I sometimes think I have to stand on tiptoe to be a lowbrow. (Although I was thrilled at the mention of Gaddis, who's sort of my guy.)

And I hate to say it, but I'll almost certainly read/try (again) to read Proust this year, and it will be . . . all . . . your . . . fault.


sexy said...


cynthia said...

Just came upon your blog. Love it. Hope to spend more time here. You might enjoy mine as well. We have very similar interests!


JES said...


Here per an oblique recommendation at my blog from Moonrat, and I can see why your blog appeals to her. This is a stunningly thorough, thoughtful post, with a lot to mull over. I see it's a couple of months old now, which is just as well -- it will probably take me a couple of months to absorb it sufficiently to leave a substantive comment! :)

kate hopper said...

I think you are such a wonderful reader Lisa, and I love reading your posts. As a writer, though, Scott's and Edward's lists made me feel panicky and overwhelmed. I guess that's why you can't think too much about the audience when you write or you'll become paralyzed. Yikes!

Barrie said...

I do just love a book that I can't put down. For whatever reason. :)

pattinase (abbott) said...

What are you reading now?

Oh said...

geez, I gotta take a look at what i"m reading. maybe a little rhyme and reason are important...I would at best describe my reading as eclectic. But perhaps that should evolve somewhat...hmmmmmm.

Anonymous said...



Agnieszkas Shoes said...

Lisa, as promised I have stopped by to leave a comment. This is the most thought-provoking account of the reading process I've come across for a long time. I'm particularly delighted at your attraction to modernist novels. I do hope you will come along to a webchat on 1 December as part of the Free-e-day independent culture festival ( on the modernist novel in the twenty-first century, hosted by the wonderful Sulci Collective.

I must say my personal taste is with C J Duffy - I am addicted to the magic realism of Murakami, and teh way he is able to capture truth in absurdity. It's something I have tried to emulate for a long time, and failed. At the moment I am torn between the wildly different styles of Marie Darrieussecq, whose opacity and layering are quite exquisite, and Banana Yoshimoto whose absolute striped bare prose has the fragile beauty of a hollow-blown eggshell.

Very best

answerstash said...

When i am free i don't care about the subject of the book. i always just starts reading it with the thinking in my mind that i will found really something useful from this book because i believe every book have some good knowledge in it.

Sulci Collective said...

Hi Lisa, Agnieszka pointed me to this blog and I'm very glad he did.

I approach the issues you raise as both reader and writer. As reader, I give hardly any thought to the rubric of the books I pick up to read. Something in either the blurb or the title will leap out at me. It's very rare I don't get something out of a novel as my instincts seem to serve me okay.

But as a writer, I cogitate long and hard on so many of the points in the 3 lists. Ultimately, to me everything is rooted in language and too few contemporary authors in the UK concern themselves with this most basal tool of writing. I am drawn to writers like Lutz and Delilo for just this reason.

But then I ask myself, is there much of an appetite for modernist/experimental work. Even challenging work. My work prompts complaints such as "i don't want to have to read with the book in one hand and a dictionary in the other", and these are from other online writers! Language defines voice and voice strikes me as less tramlined than character. Sentences are linear, subject nouns followed by verbs and then object nouns etc. The human mind is far from linear, in the flurry of thoughts it throws out at any moment. Wrestling with the linearity of language is my particular interest in contemporary work.

My overall contention is that while some very serviceable novels are being produced today, none have sufficiently taken the novel in well novel directions so as to drag it into the 21st Century. The modernist experiments with language and narrative form, seem to have fizzled out. My concern is to revivify it.

chip said...

I cogitate long and hard on so many of the points in the 3 lists. Ultimately,
D-bol tab cycle with either deca injections to me everything is rooted in language and too few contemporary authors in the UK concern themselves with this most basal tool of writing.kenmare hotel I am drawn to writers like Lutz and Delilo for just this reason.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf