I guess at some point we were doing top 10s? Who knows. A while back.
As I reread these from Slack to put them into this site, it was melancholy to see which friends are no longer active in the chat. Even over 2 years, the group changes a bunch - and the ones who stay all talk differently than we used to.
#10 – William Faulkner
gotta be faulkner
so dope to track how the languageplay that exists now came to be and faulkner is one of the biggest influences on the malleability of written english - sound and the fury is obviously great and revolutionary but even the less read shit like absalom abaslom is amazing (note that none of my top 10 authors have good + bad spells, miss me with that bullshit). great english-class-rivalries between faulker-stans and hemingway-stans
I will also note that faulkner's creation of Yoknapatawpha is greater than any tolkein ass bullshit and beautifully tied to macondo & other locales to be explored in later picks
#9 – Italo Calvino
born in cuba, raised in wartime italy, the italian version of magical realism - the best comparison is probably magritte's treachery of images - ceci n'est pas une pipe - calvino tried and succeeded in writing about the experience of reading, about memory, and aso wrote dope novels.
too real re: me talking about new york:
“Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice. Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or, perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”
For real if you haven't read him PLEASE check out invisible cities/a winter's night a traveler
#8 – Salman Rushdie
My guy is literally marked for death by Iran because his writing is so fucking sick do you understand how insane that is??? it's like the department of magic or some shit put a hugglepatronus curse on the malfoy family or whatever
nah but for real he has written Midnights' Children (which btw is a perfect example of my fantasy/magical realism point) which is a stunning almost 500 page metaphor for the birth of a new nation & what weight it carries and THEN he wrote potentially the most impactful modern religious text (sorry Dan Brown you just got slightly edged out @felicity )
LIKE DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE BALLS IT TOOK TO WRITE THE SATANIC VERSES he straight up sat down and said aight i'm going to explore the duality of religion & religious interpretations by writing a story about two men transformed into oppositional religious figures and the dream sequences are going to be a reinterpretation of the story of mohammed and a proposal that the written word of the Quran may have been altered and lost in the passage of time
#7 – W.G. Sebald
@mmontano danielewski doesn't exist without Sebald. a lot of beauty in his books - often called documentary fiction - ruminations on time + memory + what it means to be in them - very Robert Penn Warren ("go then, out of that house, out of history, into history, into the awful responsibility of time" ) - and how we can reconcile memory (which makes us us) and the fading of memories:
“This then, I thought, as I looked round about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was.”
highly recommend rings of saturn to start, as well as Vertigo if you dig that
then move to emigrantes and austerlitz
#6 – James Joycle
can talk about any of his stuff in some detail but to focus on ulysses for a second:yeah I get it it's a hard book but worth it - it's the only one to do the concept well of the "one day one story one book" thing that every bad rom-com tries. plus - this book is funny - like, Moby Dick funny but pushed out to the edge of where that humor goes - the entire catechism chapter is Q&A format - playing with form + reading v. hearing and takes shots at all literary pretense while falling into it itself which is a very human thing to do by the way
Oxen of the Sun is unreal - a chapter that trace the evolution of english literature from birth to modernism on
plus like, Dubliners + Portrait are beautiful pieces. But ulysses is up there with greatest english language novels
#5 – Toni Morrison
Beloved is a life changing book and a big old fuuuuuuck youuuuuuuu to ivanka trump for trying to co opt it on some classist warfare ass bullshitfuck that though, Bluest eye is amazing, Sula is unreal, Song of Solomon is fuego, but for real I remember the first time I read beloved and the impact of that first sentence - v clearly - "124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom."
like god damn
#4 – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
een heavily struggling with my #4 choice but I think I gotta got Gabo as well this main straight up turned me onto new genres + essentially influenced the rest of my reading habits from then on
I can pretty confidently say three things about the impact of this man's endless, endless, genius: - One Hundred Years of Solitude changed my life (including the reason I have drank coffee black cause I was that dude at 16) in immeasurable ways regarding how I think about the world + literature. - shoutout my mom for giving me/making me read some of his stuff in spanish so she could talk about it with me - Shoutout to him for giving me some of my early opportunities to say "Yeah 100 years is great, but have you read ____insert lesser known work_____"
#3 – T.S. Eliot
I'd be confident saying greatest english poet of all time - spent many many months studying the wasteland in depth in school & will get back to it - but when I was younger + more malleable + dating someone different, I remember getting a copy of Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from her and being very very impacted by it, probably in some weird ways that are more than I can explicitly call out:
"I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas." --> this is my favorite poetic alliteration ever:
"But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed, Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter, I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter; I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker, And in short, I was afraid." --> GOAT line
"Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach? I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach. I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each." --> peak humanity in a stanza
but to get back to the waste land, it's the greatest work of modernist literature that has ever been - it is truly the culmination of all existing themes and ideas - the Phoenician sailor is beautiful and timeless and the failures and beauties of collective mortality are in a poem:
"A current under sea Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell He passed the stages of his age and youth Entering the whirlpool. Gentile or Jew O you who turn the wheel and look to windward, Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you."
#2 – Jorge Luis Borges
most important writer of the 20th century bar none, fite me irl, etc...
except for tomorrow's pick, there isn't really anyone that is/was more of a holistic literary figure than borges - writer, voracious reader, translator, critic, lecturer, etc..thinking about thinking, reading about reading, writing about writing, etc.. he mixed and matched and sorta showed them all to be the same thing if you're doing it right + so far it seems like the prevailing mood in this room has not been one that supports the reading can be better when it's challenging approach (which is understandable, but wrong, for what it's worth), but the point is that there's only so much time left on this earth and you owe it to you to read him - preferably in spanish - and think more about time & language and consume Metaphors we Live By in a story format, in short:
read tlon, uqbar + orbis tertius
"One of the schools of Tlön goes so far as to negate time; it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory. Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified an mutilated memory or reflection of an irrecoverable process. Another, that the history of the universe — and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives — is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon. Another, that the universe is comparable to those cryptographs in which not all the symbols are valid and that only what happens every three hundred nights is true. Another, that while we sleep here, we are awake elsewhere and that in this way every man is two men."
read garden of forking paths, read ficciones, read everything
#1 – Vladimir Nabokov
ed note: I can't find the slack post, but it's definitely Nabokov. Pale Fire is one of the best things every written.