This Is Not A Novel

One of the bestest book blogs ever is Mumpsimus, where Matt Cheney does the kind of posting that I have rarely been able to find, the kind of posting that allows me to hold out some hope that I can sometimes manage to glean something interesting from this here internet (well, other than who my friends are dating, and where they’re working…which is more interesting than any book blog ever can be).

About a year ago, he used the occasion of David Markson’s death to write this blog post. I had never read (or even heard of) Markson, and I mentally noted him down, and thought, “There is no way this guy’s works can actually be interesting. It sounds like  conceptually-exciting but in reality kinda boring stuff (like Norman Spinrad’s Iron Dream, for instance).”

But I finally got around to reading David Markson’s This Is Not A Novel, which is composed of sentences…well, let me just quote the first five sentences:

Writer is pretty much tempted to quit writing.

Writer is weary unto death of making up stories.

Lord Byron died of either rheumatic fever, or typhus, or uremia, or malaria.

Or was inadvertently murdered by his doctors, who had bled him incessantly.

Stephen Crane died of tuberculosis in 1900. Granted an ordinary modern life span, he would have lived well into World Warn.

They’re basically short facts (mostly true, or at least true-apocrypha) about writers, artists, and scientists (sometimes interspersed with little statements about the writer of the work, like the first two quoted above). That continues for many fifty-sixty thousand words. Well, what can you say bout that? Its appeal is totally mysterious to me. But it kept me up until 3 AM, reading. It is entirely gripping. I really don’t know why it works.

But the fact that it works is kind of indisputable. It’s a weird kind of work. It’s a work that proves itself by being entertaining. You don’t need to learn to read it. You don’t need to understand it. But I kind of wish I did.

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