Let's say I open a brand new book. Let's see I come across something…unusual. Different. Experimental. If I am being charitable (not my go-to outlook), I would say that I have a very strong critical eye. But if I am being what feels more honest, I would acknowledge that my first response is often defensive. I see something weird, and it just pisses me off.
I want to be an adventurous reader, just like I want to be an adventurous eater, but something in me resists. And it's not a nice something. It's mocking and a little angry, almost contemptuous. A little, "Oh yeah? You think you're fancy?"
And that's how it was when I picked up two books recently. First this one:
And then this one:
So here's what I have to tell you. That feeling? At least for me, that angry, irritated, "Oh yeah?" feeling? Was not helpful. Because in both these cases these books broke my fucking heart. And you should skip the whole "Yeah, really?" part if you can, and just read them right away.
So: Ill Will is so sad that it might be too sad for you. It's beautiful, and compelling, and terrible. The thing that bugged me? Large, open spaces between certain words. Weirdly laid-out grids of text. And the thing is, it all worked. Worked so well! Was exactly right in its strangeness. It's part thriller, party mystery, mostly oh my god it's so sad and beautiful and it will break your heart and make you think about it for a long time.
Lincoln in the Bardo is laid out almost like a script, but it's mixed with citations and history and when I looked at those opening pages I thought, "No, no, no!" And now I am sitting here—I just finished it—and I am so sad and moved and changed.
What does it all mean? That apparently, my defensiveness is paper-thin. That great books are being written all around us. That there is a way to stop (sometimes, for a moment) thinking about our poor political system. That maybe everything isn't as terrible as it first seems.