Saturday 19 April 2014

2014: The Year of Reading Women

by Guillaume Morissette, author of New Tab

We’ve been celebrating the publication of Guillaume Morissette’s debut novel, New Tab (Esplanade Books) these past few days.  Earlier this week, two editors discussed the novel’s merits and Maisonneuve magazine published an excerpt.  Next Thursday, Morissette will launch the novel at Montreal’s Librairie Drawn & Quarterly.  As for today, we hear from the author himself. 

I grew up around women. My childhood was, more or less, four things: 1) being routinely outwitted at videogames or board games by my two older sisters, 2) perceiving my dad as some sort of remote, encrypted, self-absorbed, anger-prone satellite orbiting around my mom, my sisters and me, 3) discussing my problems almost never with my dad, and almost always with my mom, whose life advice was kind and well-meaning but rarely effective, and 4) failing at many things and coping with failure through escapist fantasies and burying myself ostrich-like deep within my imagination.

As a result (or maybe the two situations are completely unrelated, but happen to form a convenient narrative, I don’t know), it seems, to me, that now, as an adult, most of my friends in life are women, which I am okay with. I highly recommend being friends with women who are funny, internet savvy and/or emotionally self-aware. I do have “guy friends,” but for whatever reason, it seems proportionally easier for me to make female rather than male friends. This aspect of my life directly influenced, I feel, material in my new book, a novel called New Tab, which features, among other things, strong, neutral, heterosexual friendship between men/women.

Earlier this year, The Guardian, citing a social media trend, called 2014 “the year of reading women,” which I am also okay with. In support of this, I’ve been meaning, since, I think, January, to compose some sort of blog post highlighting female authors whose work I drew inspiration from for New Tab, in the process maybe reflecting, or trying to reflect, on what it means, to me, to read female writers, or hang out with my female friends.

The following isn’t a comprehensive list of everything I’ve read, just a few mentions, from memory, of writers whose work I’ve read, liked reading, and would recommend looking up on Google.

In no particular order:

Clarice Lispector: I read The Hour Of The Star back in 2009, I think, and really liked it. For a while, I imagined Clarice Lispector as some sort of terminator sent from the future to write sharp, commanding novels filled with intensely lucid individual sentences. Over time, and after reading some of her earlier novels, I was eventually able to visualize her as a human person, just a fascinating one.

That book feels, to me, like: Doodling on a restaurant’s paper placemat whose puzzle is the dark maze of everyday life.

Lidia Yuknavitch: I read The Chronology Of Water in 2011 while ridesharing from Montreal to New York, and felt almost annoyed when the driver announced that we were about to arrive in Manhattan, preventing me from finishing this book. Chronology is a memoir that’s frequently beautiful at the sentence level, and reads like a kind of unromanticized conquering of the past.

That book feels, to me, like: A bomb went off but no one noticed.

Anaïs Nin: I bought more or less randomly The Diary of Anaïs Nin (Volume 6) from a used bookstore in the summer of 2012. I had glanced at the opening section, which featured a vivid, creative description of LSD use, and decided to get it, even though it seemed incredibly unlikely, to me, that I would read this book in full, from first page to last. For some reason, I wanted to own it anyway, maybe just to confirm that I wouldn’t finish it. It turned out that I liked reading about Nin’s social life, her descriptions of people, calm lucidity, views on her own work, and that the structure of Nin’s diary, which unfolds in vignettes, was really helpful as an additional reference point for New Tab, which was maybe 40% complete at the time, and also unfolds in fragments of different sizes.

That book feels, to me, like: Tourism in the warzone of the inner self.

Ashley Opheim
: Ashley & me both live in Montreal. In maybe late 2010 or early 2011, we exchanged emails for the first time, without having previously met in person. I sent her a short story and she sent me poems that I remember describing to someone else as “very insane” and “kind of awesome.” Since then, she’s become one of my closest friends. She also happens to be, hopefully independent of our friendship, my favorite Canadian poet. Her work seems, to me, privately exciting, and deeply unalike a lot of Canadian poetry. Her poems aren’t academic in nature, or overly sentimental, but rather seem animated by a kind of inner vitality and blissfulness that make them communicative, playful, funny, modern and celebratory.

That book feels, to me, like: What would happen if you were to give Emily Dickinson colored chalk and a yoga mat.

Melissa Broder: I’ve been following Melissa Broder on Twitter and reading some of her poems online since, I think, early 2012. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of her new collection, Scarecrone, and read it in mostly one sitting, feeling positive and enthusiastic about where she’s trying to take poetry. Her poems are fun, chaotic and entertaining, and some of her lines are powerful and instantly tweetable.

That book feels, to me, like: The abyss taking a selfie with God.

Mary Robison: I first googled Why Did I Ever in late 201o, after reading an interview with Amy Hempel in which she mentioned Mary Robison’s book. It’s a light, quick read that isn’t particularly plot-heavy, but features a seemingly effortless, highly interesting tone/structure. The novel unfolds in 536 short snippets that are often calm, wry, funny and tragic, all at once.

That book feels, to me, like: The exhaustion of trying to make life decisions that aren’t terrible.

Renata Adler
: I don’t remember at all how I learned about Speedboat (or it’s pseudo-sequel, Pitch Dark), but after somehow ordering a used copy from Amazon, the book quickly became very useful as a reference point for New Tab. Speedboat is composed of short, seemingly unrelated vignettes about the life of a smart and cultured woman living in an urban center. The book’s approach to plot and timeline can be weird and confusing, but Speedboat offsets this by offering fragments that feel meaningful and borderline complete in themselves.

That book feels, to me, like: My intellectual life is a nightmare.

More authors I wanted to write about, or at least acknowledge: Marie Calloway, Ann Beattie, Lorrie Moore, Lynne Tillman, Amy Hempel, Jean Rhys, Hitomi Kanehara, Ariana Reines, Lucy K Shaw, Laura Broadbent, Gabby Bess, Mira Gonzalez, Diane Williams, Barbara Browning, Gail Scott, Julie Mannell, Frankie Barnet, Gwendoline Riley, Bette Pesetsky, Luna Miguel, Joy Williams, Jeanette Winterson, Iris Murdoch, Kate Zambreno, Sheila Heti.

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