The 100 Page Book is a vast category of books that persists as hunch, hint, predilection and possibility across my reading. I wonder if some typology, both system and chance, illustrative and prospective, can be found through putting a selection of such books together on a (The) Library shelf.
Take, for example, how the presence of such books reveals affinities amongst writers of very different conventional-length novels: the Marguerite Duras of Moderato Cantabile, The Lover and Blue Eyes, Black Hair; Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp; the Clarice Lispector of The Hour of the Star. Take Susan Sontag’s idea, in an essay reprinted in Where the Stress Falls, of a ‘poet’s prose’ that is ‘impatient, ardent, elliptical’ as practiced by Russian poets including Boris Pasternak, Osip Mandelstam and Marina Tsvetaeva. A similar notion appears in Elizabeth Hardwick’s Paris Review interview where she talks of a likeness for ‘offhand flashes, the absence of the lumber in the usual prose … the quickness, the deftness, confidence, and even the relief from spelling everything out, plank by plank.’
Hardwick laments her incapacity to write as ‘great expansive prose writers’ like Tolstoy, Dickens and Henry James do, for whom, ‘Somehow everything is available to them all the time.’ It is perhaps their productivity, speed and mass (suggested currently in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series) that can put in relief the different properties (psychologies?) of the so-called 100 Page Book. It has become a form, a container returned to repeatedly by writers including Etel Adnan, Jill Magi, Bhanu Kapil, Nathanaël (aka Nathalie Stephens & N.S.) and Renee Gladman which, seen together on the shelf, suggest one outcome of these engagements as a necessity to work together with poetry, fiction, essay, theory, documentary and script.
Perhaps one figure for thinking about a form can be found in the specifics of Bhanu Kapil’s Schizophrene, where she talks of working for several years on an epic novel about Partition and its effect across generations; of schizophrenia and domestic violence amongst diasporic Indian and Pakistani communities. To finish a draft of this epic is, for Kapil, to realise its failure. Throwing the manuscript into her Colorado garden, months later she begins to compose a new work from the still-legible fragments. In the resultant 73-page book she writes: ‘These notes are directed towards the region I wanted to perceive but could not. Notes for a schizophrene night, a schizophrene day, a rapid sketch.’
The 100 Page Book often has the scope, situation and commitment to work with a limitation, to experience and understand silence (both creative and threatening), presence and absence, life and death. Perhaps this is one way of understanding both the prevalence of white space and occurrence of prose fragments in some of these books, but also the dilemmas of thought, process and sequence of which such texts are record, example and failure.
Thinking about this, I remember that the short philosophy book is another group of 100 Page Books: Jacques Derrida’s Cinders, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Roland Barthes’s The Pleasure of the Text, plus philosopher-novelists including Maurice Blanchot’s Death Sentence, Georges Bataille’s Blue of Noon, Albert Camus’s The Fall and Simon Critchley’s Memory Theatre. Note too the 100 Page Book as publishing project, from Nathaniel Tarn’s Cape Editions paperback series of the 1960s to the ongoing Common Intellectual series by Copy Press.
These diverse examples, histories and resonances also inform the 100 Page Books that have emerged from dialogues of art practice, music and literature. Think of Patrick Coyle’s /pe(ə)r/, Erica Scourti’s The Outage (ghost written by J.A. Harrington), Brandon LaBelle’s Diary of an Imaginary Egyptian, Lytle Shaw’s The Clifford Chadwick Clifford Collection, Rol& BRtZ d PlsUR ov d Txt as Transl8td by Nik DAvEz, and UnAmerica by MOMUS. I must not, though, think of these forms, spaces and acts of storytelling, as too unique to art writing: a mainstream ‘lit fic’ (China Miéville’s term) selection would include – from 2013–14 alone – Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, Cynan Jones’s The Dig, Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary and David Grossman’s Falling Out of Time. The latter opening a further category of death and mourning that includes Denise Riley’s Time Lived, Without its Flow; Barthes’s posthumous Mourning Diary; and Simone de Beauvoir’s A Very Easy Death.
As this last cluster suggests, to navigate among such an abundance of texts might prompt a rearranging of my shelf by theme: books that foreground a sense of time and (writing) process; that speak to a moment of personal and/or societal crisis; that enact concepts, conceits and/or constraints; that explore ideas of autobiography; that figure a connection of literature and philosophy; that work differently with reflexivity; or respond to mediations technological, social and otherwise. Which all suggests my taxonomy of shel(f)(ves) comes to resemble those earthquake-struck libraries photographed for Melissa Dubbin and Aaron S. Davidson’s Fallen Books project.
In the 20 books I initially selected, my aim is to look about within an ongoing process of reading, discovering and discussing, which comes out of and feeds back into the shelf itself. It also contains titles that don’t fit in to my lumbering, necessary, faux taxonomy, but whose own workings with form, situation, crisis, the author, narrative and meaning have informed these thoughts and choices of reading matter.
In this initial selection of 20 titles, my aim is to sample the possibilities of the 100 Page Book. As this process of finding and reading is ongoing, there are some titles mentioned above, others discovered more recently, and a few that might not appear to fit at all (Naomi Mitchison’s The Fourth Pig has 246 pages). All, individually and together, articulate what attracts me to the 100 Page Book as a recurring answer to anxieties about what and how to write and read.
Miranda Mellis, The Spokes, 2012, Solid Objects
Lisa Robertson, Nilling, 2012, BookThug
Brandon LaBelle, Diary of an Imaginary Egyptian, 2012, Errant Bodies Press
Erica Scourti, The Outage (ghost written by J. A. Harrington), 2014, Banner Repeater
Bhanu Kapil, Schizophrene, 2011, Nightboat Books
Neil Chapman, Diagrams for Seriality, 2014, Copy Press
Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights, 1980 , Virago
Kati Kärki, Procrastinations, 2014, Published by the artist
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, 1976 , Penguin Books
Malcolm Lowry, Lunar Caustic, 1968 , Cape Editions
Nathalie Sarraute, The Use of Speech, translated by Barbara Wright, 1983, John Calder. Originally published in France as L’usage de la parole, 1980, Editions Gallimard
Jeff Nuttall, Pig, 1969, Fulcrum Press
Viktor Shklovsky, A Hunt for Optimism, translated by Shushan Avagyan, 2012, Dalkey Archive. Originally published in Russia as Poiski Optimizma, 1931, Federatsiya
Etel Adnan, Paris, When It’s Naked, 1993, The Post-Apollo Press
Nathalie Stephens, Touch to Affliction, 2006, Coach House Books
Kari Edwards, a day in the life of p., 2002, Subpress Collective
Jill Magi, Labor, 2014, Nightboat Books
Naomi Mitchison, The Fourth Pig, 2014 , Princeton University Press
Patrick Coyle, /pe(ə)r/, 2013, Wysing Arts Centre
Christian Hawkey, Ventrakl, 2010, Ugly Duckling Presse
© David Berridge 2014
© For the essay in this form, Akerman Daly 2014. First published on Akerman Daly website, The Library.
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