It kills me to write this. A precious clove of garlic saved from the two heads I’d purchased from Stanley Crawford at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market in September went uneaten, slowly shriveling, stranded atop a tin of red chile powder in my kitchen in New York. I had planned to plant this clove in autumn, put it in a pot on the fire escape, let winter, spring, summer do their thing, and see what I’d dig up come next fall. But we didn’t have any soil. Later we had soil but no pot. Then it was November. If it wasn’t already too late, it soon would be. And a million other things happened. And then it was late winter. When at last I’d worked up the nerve to touch the clove, life had left it. Mold had sprouted under its sloughing sheaths.
“Things are seeds,” says Bill Starr, the slowly expiring narrator of Seed. “I wish to plant mine into the future, deliberately, though I am not yet clear as to the eventual intended result, if there can be one, intended, within the vast fields of contingency that lie out there, ahead.”
A desk, a chair, pens, pencils, a writing machine of one kind or another, and time, lots of time, more time than most people can stand to imagine, in some room or another: these are the writer’s tools. Add place, less easy to define, the where you came from, the where you were exiled from, the where you would rather be, and what is just out the window.
It’s unlikely that your somewhat erratic editors at Writers No One Reads will be able to provide a massive 2014 Book Preview in the near future, but in the meantime, possibly more to allay our own concerns in that regard than yours, we will, as should be expected, erratically share what we’re reading.
Originally published in 1969, Stanley Crawford’s Travel Notes has been out of print for decades until being rescued from oblivion by Calamari Press. Travel Notes is a strange novel capable of making any reader feel the surreality of being a tourist. It’s a work of baroque imagination, full of invention and absurdity: there is a linguist whose invented word has the capacity to destroy the world; a conspiracy of mail carriers in an abandoned city; a seaside resort where the beaches are lined with mausoleums; an oxymoronic line of hermit janitors… In the end, the book proves to be more than the sum of its parts, making it a welcome addition to Crawford’s sadly unread body of work. (SS)
Architectural dreamwork, end-times seascapes so barren they seem cut from the pages of the Bible, coolly-rendered Rube Goldberg apparati, and the crushing sadness that results when you tie your emotional fortunes to a person whose tongue is so fat in his mouth he can barely speak, mark this little masterpiece of a novel. Cast as a soliloquy in the form of a ship’s log, a grief report from someone who has no good insurance she will ever be heard, the novel moves fluidly between its major forms: love song, a treatise on gardening at sea, an argument against the company of others, and a dark science expo for exquisite inventions like a hybrid lichen that makes things invisible. Published by Alfred A. Knopf under the editorial guidance of Gordon Lish, the fiction world’s singular Quixote—a champion of innovative styles and formal ambition—there may have been no better year  in which to tuck such an odd, exquisite book. Instead of rushing for relevance and breaking the news, Crawford was taking the oldest news of all—it is strange and alone here, even when we are surrounded by people, and there is a great degree of pain to be felt—and reporting it as nautical confessional. The result, now thirty-six years later, seems to prove that interior news, the news of what it feels like to want too much from another person, will not readily smother under archival dust.
The writing of fiction, when it is going well, is an exercise in joy, in figuring out how to love the world, at least imaginatively, with the illusion that yes, imaginatively, you can encompass and understand its entirety. An illusion, to be sure, a too brief illusion. Yet that, the imagination, is what is best about us as a species. Or best, most agonizing, most destructive. Fiction can net at least some of this.
I’m always drawn back to Frost’s aphorism, perhaps incorrectly remembered: ‘To socialize is to forgive.’ The implication here is that alone, working in solitude, we tend to become self-obsessed, become envious or superior, grind axes, refine feuds. I have known the occasional soul who seems to live the good life without having to be constantly battling his or her inner demons. I’m not one of them. Perhaps this is why I also write fiction. Which is or can be an exploration of all the uncontrollable in one’s nature. This is not necessarily negative: some of us are uncontrollably hopeful, at least some of the time.
[He was crouching now, I saw his eyes blink and open, I saw a smile flash across his damp face the instant before his features went rigid and he toppled over backwards with a heavy thud. I could no longer raise my head, see where he was; yet I knew now he had come back to me at last only to die, was dead, to smile only, no more. A rivulet of my blood was soon flowing across the floor in pursuit of him. Soon myself, my body.] Thus I joined him.
Stanley Crawford, from Log of the S.S. the Mrs Unguentine