#tobyreads: Three Takes on Obsession


This week’s dispatch may be a bit shorter than usual; I’m currently in Seattle, kinda-sorta doing the AWP thing and kinda-sorta catching up with friends and enjoying my usual explorations of the city. As of this writing, I’ve been in the city for seven hours and have purchased two books already; sowing the seeds for future columns? Perhaps.

Three books this time out, and three ways to convey obsession. It can be through a long monologue, or via a dense web of allusions that gradually reveal their target, or on a societal scale, of showing what a singleminded dedication to mythology can do to damage a culture. Let’s begin with the poetic: namely, Melissa Broder’s collection Scarecrone. Her words are sparse at times, and dense at others: dense on the page; dense with visceral and religious imagery, delivered irreverently; dense in the emotional complexities of the scenarios that they describe. From “Judgment”:

I dress in cicada skins
I go bright blonde
Above me is the blonde angel Raphael
And I try to make the blonde angel french me

It’s disconcerting and often haunting, but never less than compelling.

Sophie Divray’s short novel The Library of Unrequited Love is structured as a long monologue, delivered by a librarian to a man she finds asleep in the stacks. Her narrative is sometimes yearning–the title doesn’t have “unrequited love” in it for nothing–but just as frequently finds idiosyncrasies and thorniness. Divray’s protagonist is, one suspects, the sort of person who’d tell you their life story if they cornered you at a party–which is basically what happens here. And yet her obsessions are those of a bibliophile; she views politics national and office-level through the spectrum of how they affect the library in which she works, and there are numerous passionate embraces of reading. (Though her character is also something of a nationalist, relative to literature; though she’s also no fan of Balzac.) Satire and yearning in equal measure, then? Perhaps.

When at the Studio Museum in Harlem for their The Shadows Took Shape exhibit, I picked up a copy of Samuel R. Delany’s The Einstein Intersection. Though nominally a science fiction novel, it abouts with myths, and discussions of what myths mean to cultures as they age over time. Neil Gaiman’s introduction is a fantastic piece of writing in its own right; reading it, one can see what drew him to this novel, where aliens settle on a deserted Earth, adopt human forms, and embrace human mythology (albeit one that conflates Orpheus and Ringo Starr). Gaiman also cites another introduction to another novel of Delany’s, this one from Kathy Acker, which I’m going to have to seek out post-haste.


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