10 Eclectic Reading Recommendations From Amelia Gray

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Earlier this month, a swarm of authors, editors, booksellers, and miscellaneous book people snuck into Boston for the annual AWP Conference, which boasts one of the biggest book fairs in the country. Our friend Amelia Gray (kick-ass Millennial writer, PEN/Faulkner award nominee, and author of the divine Threats) kept a tally of the books she picked up, loved, and was recommended, so that she could recommend them to you. Here’s what she had to say:

At the Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, which Steve Almond called ‘the vast roving capital of American literary anxiety;’ if you’re not running into that ex who is always a dick to you (‘you look like a real bitch in your author photo’), you’re in full-on faux-pas mode with table keepers who stand unwittingly (or worse, wittingly) as symbols of your current or future rejection. Happily, AWP also serves as an easy and fun place to connect with people whose work I love, a time to hang with old friends at the hotel bar, and a great place to pick up a few books. Here’s what I found.

The n+1 and Paper Monument table: heavy with big back issues of n+1, art assignment and etiquette books — surveys from artists and critics — that pull me in for their design. The table woman and I chatted some — about the press, an essay I love by Marco Roth, and her boyfriend, who as it turns out is a sometime editor of mine — before she directed me to her favorite essay in n+1 Reconstruction, a piece called “Afternoon of the Sex Children” by Mark Greif:

The lure of a permanent childhood in America partly comes from the overwhelming feeling that one hasn’t yet achieved one’s true youth, because true youth would be defined by freedom so total that no one can attain it.

From Draw it with your eyes closed: the art of the art assignment, edited by Paper Monument:

The best assignment of which I’ve heard recently was created by an artist whose work I do not particularly admire. It was this: the class pooled their money and purchased a piano. Then they smashed it to bits. Over the course of the six week workshop, the class was then to reassemble the piano. Why was this such a great assignment? It neatly bypasses the ego-based obstacles of individual expression and authorship through a collective project of useless labor. (Justin Lieberman)

From I like your work: art and etiquette, also edited by Paper Monument:

You must attend openings. When you’re Bruce Nauman, you can be a hermit in New Mexico. Until then however, you have to attend openings. (Andrew Berardini)

The Greywolf table is always very much full of exciting bits of Charles Baxter and John D’Agata and Dean Young, happy table folk running cards and handing over books. My friend and I stood back and watched the table for a moment like it was a high school crush at the locker bank. This time I picked up Vanishing Point, Ander Monson’s genre-hacking not-a-memoir:

And what if this, the text, forgets its referent, its birth mother,† the point in the main text from which it descends? Must it proceed and asterisk out, a shooting star descending through the atmosphere, from nothing, sui generis? Or it might rise up from each dust mote, each discarded thing, your shredded recyclables on the curb, your collection of miniature fantasy figurines that have not been touched since childhood, but that you keep as a reminder of who you were.

Having a break and a beer near the door, I found the Ugly Duckling Presse catalog teasing a new Vanessa Place, Boycott, stunning in its folio, a project of eliminating all reference to women and feminism in classic feminist texts. I immediately went to hand over my 15 dollars. Vanessa was standing one table over and I hissed, “Is that Vanessa?” to the table keepers who, collectively unamused, made certain they ran my card slow enough that I wouldn’t be able to catch her and tell her how excited I was to see her again and how I love her work and would she sign my copy of Boycott:

But first we must ask: what is a man? ‘Toto homo in testes’, says one, ‘man is a testes’. But in speaking of certain men, connoisseurs declare that they are not men, although they are equipped with a scrotum like the rest.

The Lazy Fascist/Swallowdown folk were kind to me and after some back-and-forth suggested Low Down Death Right Easy by J. David Osborne, who lives in Norman, Oklahoma, the jewel of Cleveland County:

A sea of fermented gold. The jackalheaded god got up from the portal and came back with a green liquid in a light-up chalice. Ames could sense that the god was timid. Its head tilted in a question. He realized that there was nothing before this moment unless the god said so. He didn’t want to have never been. The god said, “All of it.”

I never saw the New Directions table, but it was a good thing, because among the books I wanted was Bolaño’s heavy The Unknown University — actually heavy I mean, maybe ten pounds, and with the added weight I definitely would have broken that woman’s neck while I was failing to muscle my carry on into the overhead compartment on the flight home — but fortunately they sent me a copy, Bolaño’s poetry written in prose, stories in verse:

La muerte es un automóvil / con dos o tres amigos lejanos Death is an automobile / with two or three distant friends

Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius had told me I’d like Matthew Savoca’s new book, “I Don’t Know,” I Said, and I asked him to bring a copy to the bar but he forgot or didn’t feel like it and so also mailed it later. How lovely to return from a trip with good books in hand to good books in the mailbox:

I drove all night while Carolina slept upright in the passenger seat with her eyes shut and her mouth open. It was funny to watch. Her head rolled back and forth with the road. I didn’t have the radio on. I just sat there for hours with the sound of the engine and the tires and thought about how we had no idea what we were doing — how it was just easier to be alive this way, going to new places, moving a lot.

The Melville House table was the liveliest, and the one I kept returning to. I snagged on I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane, the writer only 19, essentially trapped in Butte, Montana in 1902:

Once more I bite the olive. Once more is my tongue electrified. And the third stage in my temporary transformation takes place. I am now a gross but supremely contented sensualist. An exquisite symphony of sensualism and pleasure seems to play somewhere within me.

The sweet man selling also suggested the funny, claustrophobic Lars Iyer in Spurious:

W. is impressed by my stammer. –’You stammer and stutter’, says W., ‘ and you swallow half your words. What’s wrong with you?’ Every time I see him, he says, it gets a little worse. The simplest words are beginning to defeat me, W. says. Maybe it’s mini-strokes, W. speculates. That would account for it. –’You had one just there, didn’t you?’

Melville’s “Last Interview” series caught me for its design and offering s— Bolaño, Vonnegut, DFW and Derrida — all doable for $10 per. I wanted all but had already blown my budget and would need to save it for a more moneyed day but still stood near, turning each over in turn. “These are so cool,” I said to a fellow conference-goer — a fellow overwhelmed, badge aloft and tote stuffed — who frowned at me and shouldered away.