Thursday, November 19, 2009

Logogryph: A Bibliography of Imaginary Books by Thomas Wharton

On a whim I picked up this small, beautiful book from Gaspereau Press at the library. Besides the obvious care that went into making the book, and the idea that this is a book about books unwritten was very appealing to me. I expected something like A Perfect Vacuum by Stanislaw Lem, which is a book of reviews of books that were never written (I need to reread this), but instead, Wharton’s approach to “imaginary” books explicitly includes imaginary worlds as well.

Malevolent books figure heavily in the collection. From three different stories:
“The novel swallows all that down without thanks and demands more.”
“It jumps and thumps on your bedside table after you’ve turned out the lights…” “Doggedly you read on, but eventually this novel that is not a novel loses you in turn…”
Unfortunately these stories all blur in to one featureless glob of nothing special and the few that contain more than cute turns of phrase get lost in the shuffle.
Stories of readers and societies driven mad by their literary activities are also favorite topics, as are the occasional description of the literary lives of fictional cultures, which I really enjoyed. Wharton is at his best when he allows characters to dominate: the stars of Atlantean literary history, the European monk being seduced in Mexico and the Canadian family poisoned with unfulfilled hopes. The last are the most human in the collection, and when I discovered that they were going to be a reoccurring subject I kept hoping that the next story I read would be about them. In these stories his writing is lush and beautiful, and his masterful setting and characterization appear effortless.

I don’t expect flash fiction to deliver any of the digressive delights that novels can. I do expect the form to take an idea, use powerful language to lodge it in my brain and leave me wanting to fill in the blanks. Instead I got a little bored. The bloodless, repetitive stories with book-as-_____ seem to be there to create a world for the titular mythical beast to saunter through, but instead leave big, blank spaces on the map.


looka said...

Wow, Gaspereau Press... cool!

PLEASE: Write me back about you-know-what!

Amanda said...

When I was shopping for something in particular at a local book shop, the clerk (who cracks me up EVERY time I go there) came up to me, picked a terrible book off the shelf and said, "Oh here it is. You're looking for [insert title], of course?"

We then started joking about how we'd both read that terrible book when it was released, hoping it would be so terrible it was awesome, and sadly, it was just plain terrible. Its plot was gimicky and absurd, and we agreed that it had been wasted on a bad author. In the hands of someone else, perhaps that book would've turned out great, like the recent "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies".

And so, we started suggested other writers who would've done the bad plot justice. We hatched a plan for rewrites--like, if you come up with a great idea but waste it by writing the book shittily, we take it away from you and give your idea to someone else, who gives things another shot.