A Summer of Experimental Reading

~By Masterbookseller Brian Contine

HTMLGIANT has been running a series of interviews about experimental literature. Jenn Shapland and myself have been talking about and enjoying the posts, so we decided to do what all good bloggers do; we’re stealing the idea.

Only not really. We’re going to spend our summer reading and reviewing some works of experimental literature. Our odd summer reading list will hopefully get us closer to an understanding of what’s experimental about experimental writing, or maybe even convince us that it actually exists.

I’m not an expert on experimental writing, and I’m not an obscurest, but I do like to stretch my reading legs whenever I can, and this seemed like the perfect platform to push me into some books I wouldn’t normally pick-up. With that in mind, lets start at the start: can we define experimental writing? The short answer is probably no. The long answer is a list of similarities, generalities, and vague traits that help build a canon without building a workable criteria for judgment or placement. Experimental writing is a working against, or response to tradition through formal narration, genre, syntax or design, a strong connection between form and content, and an innovative boldness that defies fears of failure. All of these characteristics are problematic, with the most problematic for me being the idea of experimental writing working against, or responding to traditional literature. I like traditional literature, a lot. I don’t think it’s broken, and I don’t think it needs to be built anew, but these experiments, many times, serve to shatter the novel and put it back together in a different way. I’m ready to see if the imploding and rebuilding of the forms that I love will be enjoyable to me, and also, maybe, be additive to the texts that I’ve read with such admiration.

Another problem with this list of characteristics found in experimental writing is that these elements can be found in almost anything that could be considered literature. Therefore, when we’re talking about what differentiates Richard Yates from Gertrude Stein, we’re talking about degrees of difference, and not total dissimilarities.
I honestly don’t know what we’ll find this summer, and I can’t (right now) define experimental literature as a whole, but I think that the place to start is with the work. Each work will define the genre, and define itself on its own terms with its own set of goals to fall short of.  We’re excited to start the process, and we hope you’ll join us, help us, and critique us. Feel free to recommend (in the comments field below) any authors you think we should be paying attention to this summer.

Here is a tentative list of the books we’ll be reading and reviewing:

Museum of the Weird, Amelia Grey
Ava, Carole Maso
Notable American Women, Ben Marcus
Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
The Art of Asking Your Boss For a Raise, Georges Perec
Great Expectations, Kathy Acker
Three Lives, Gertrude Stein

4 thoughts on “A Summer of Experimental Reading

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