I recently purchased that massive Paris Review Book of Absolutely Everything Under the Sun (that’s not really what it’s called, guys) because of a handful of entries I’d rather read on a printed page than on The Paris Review’s website, and it was delivered to me at just about the same time I received a review copy of Brad Listi and Justin Benton’s board, a work of literary collage “derived entirely from comment boards at The Nervous Breakdown website,” and for a split second there I really relished the thought of reviewing the two in congruence: reading an entry from The Paris Review and then, say, five or ten pages from the TNB book. While the thought still strikes me as appealing, I can tell in the first thirty or so words of board that I’m not going to want to pick it up and put it down so repeatedly because the words carry every freshness of good personalized poetry, and the Paris Review Book of High Hopes n’ Dick Jokes Ad Infinitum strikes me as desperately boring in comparison.
Anyway, moving on. To my mind this is an unprecedented literary endeavor. A published collection devoted entirely to the commenters and loyal fans of a literary website in the form of their comments. The book begins with what one can assume is the result of a prompt like, “What was your earliest memory?” and as the results pile up and “nest” (the indentation as comments amass on sites like this, I learned in the Author’s Note) I realized I was witnessing a sort of new literature and art created in a way I’d never think possible. It’s as if Studs Terkel’s Working were condensed and piled up with—loosely—guided prompts and topics of discussion and yet for all this book’s digital initiation and contemporariness these entries are beautifully, often poetically written with an honesty you aren’t going to find on socialized pyramids schemes like Youtube or your overtly—and miserably—political best friend’s Facebook feed. Each moment, be it a combined dissertation on the collective childhood memories related to the Incredible Hulk or a seemingly random aside like “I murder every single bug that crosses my path,” is absolutely the stuff of literature.
I find it interesting/compelling that one of the quotes on the back of the book is given by Jeff Ragsdale, author of Jeff, One Lonely Guy who posted flyers with his number all over New York City and compiled a similarly-minded book that was the result. He lets people vent profusely in the phone calls and emails and messages that lead up to the finished book, and that same honesty—that same abandonment of concern and worry—is like a nervous system running between Jeff and board that causes both to permeate with energy and humanity in a mode I haven’t felt in good novels or poetry for quite some time.
December 3rd, 2012 / 12:00 pm
The excellent Brad Listi has booted up a new lit podcast, Other People, where he holds in-depth conversations with a variety of authors, at the same time rigorous and playful. Having just done one with Brad myself, I’ve spent the last week digging through some of the quickly growing archives, including Ron Currie, Jr., Jessica Anya Blau, Emma Straub, and many more forthcoming. Find more info and listen online here, or download for free from iTunes.