Recently by Elisa Gabbert:

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I am obsessed with books about people who, for unclear reasons, ruin their own lives. In Freudian terms, it’s Thanatos, the death drive. The classic example is that fear you feel on a rooftop or near the edge of a cliff, a fear not so much that you’ll fall but that you’ll throw yourself over, into the void. My own version of this fear: When I pull out my phone to take a photo of the vista from a bridge or a precipice, I’m afraid I’ll drop the phone and automatically go after it.

But this isn’t the death drive, not directly; it’s irrational fear of some latent suicidal tendency that may not exist. The characters I’m thinking of don’t throw themselves off literal cliffs. It’s slower, and stranger, like sleepwalking into the sea.

More… “The Self-Destruct Button”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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For his 2007 translation of Alain-Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes, Robin Buss chooses to render the title as The Lost Estate, followed by Le Grand Meaulnes in parentheses. However, since reading it, I refer to it solely as Le Grand Meaulnes, because Buss’s note on the translation describes the French title as nearly untranslatable: “There are, in fact, more titles of this book in English than there are translations of it”! (Even the author’s name is not consistently “translated.” A pseudonym — he was born Henri-Alban Fournier — it appears on some editions as “Henri Alain-Fournier” and on others simply as “Alain-Fournier.”)

The novel, considered a coming-of-age classic in France on par with our The Catcher in the Rye, tells the story of Augustin Meaulnes, known as grand at school for both his height and his charisma, a dashing boy who escapes one day on an adventure. It’s a few days before Christmas, and one of his classmates has been chosen for the important task of picking up the schoolmaster’s parents at a nearby train station. In a fit of competitive jealousy, Meaulnes steals a horse and carriage and races off to beat him to the station, but he takes a wrong turn and gets lost. He stops to sleep and the horse runs away. Eventually, cold and exhausted, he stumbles upon a secluded estate where some kind of celebration — “a strange fête” — is taking place: There are children in costume, dancing, a great feast. (You can picture it, can’t you? Stone walls? Fairy lights in the trees?) It’s a wedding, and Meaulnes crashes it. He is assumed to be a guest, and when everyone leaves at the end of the weekend, he catches a ride back in the direction of his town. By the time he returns he has been missing several days and, when the horse turned up with an empty trap, feared dead. More… “Impossible Time”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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My library has a display shelf, near the main circulation desk, of recently returned books. I love this shelf. They’re just random books, new and old — novels, cookbooks, photography books, biographies, how-to manuals, self-help. I often find something I want to read amongst them. It’s anti-curation — my options are reduced, but there’s no discernible algorithm behind the selection. They are not even recommended.

It reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play in the backseat of the family car. We’d flip through a catalog from a toy store or Sharper Image and choose the one thing we most wanted from each full-page spread. In airport bookstores, my husband and I like to go row by row and choose which bestseller we’d read if we had to read one. We don’t buy the books, of course; we’ve brought our own. As kids, we didn’t get the toys. But the act of choosing was a form of entertainment. Choice itself is pleasurable. More… “On Choice”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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painting of a woman reading a novel
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There’s a David Shields quote that I have encountered multiple times, first in his own book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and most recently in “Note to Self” by Elaine Blair, a review of the work (both written and editorial) of John D’Agata, subtitled “The lyric essay’s convenient fictions.” Both D’Agata and Shields are proponents of blurring the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. This is the quote (boldface mine):

Why do I so strenuously resist generic boundaries? Because when I’m constrained within a form, my mind shuts down, goes on a sit-down strike, saying, This is boring, so I refuse to try very hard. I find it very nearly impossible to read a contemporary novel that presents itself unselfconsciously as a novel, since it’s not clear to me how such a book could convey what it feels like to be alive right now.

More… “Why Read Novels?”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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I once read that happiness plateaus after $75,000 a year. Before you get to the “magic number,” increases in income correspond to increases in happiness. After that, more money won’t buy you more happiness.

I believe it, but it’s hard to believe. By this metric, I should have already reached maximum happiness. And yet there are things I feel sure would make me happier if I could afford them.

One of those things is a bigger bed. My husband John and I have slept on a full-size (AKA double) mattress for almost ten years. This once seemed normal, but now it seems ridiculously small, though our sizes haven’t changed much. Over the past decade, we may have each gained five pounds. More crucially, John is 6′ 4″. A full-size mattress is 75 inches long. That makes him one inch longer than the bed. He’s also an insomniac (of the sleep-onset variety), a restless sleeper, and occasional snorer. I fall asleep easily, but wake up easily too, and in the early morning hours I find it hard to go back to sleep. I feel sure that we’d both get more and better sleep, and thus be happier, in a bigger bed. More… “Time, Money, Happiness”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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When writing a poem, I often have the impression that I’m working with a finite amount of material, like a block of stone from which I need to carve out a sculpture. It’s exacting, perfectionist work, and if I chip away too much stone, there’s no getting it back.

Prose, in contrast, feels generative unto itself, like those ornamental aquarium plants that readily clone themselves and which, after some escaped from Monaco’s Oceanographic Museum into the Mediterranean, were discovered to be highly toxic to sea life (at least according to a scare-mongering NOVA special I saw many years ago; now their toxicity is under debate). In prose there is no shortage of material. If you get stuck, digress. Just fill up the page. More… “The Point of Tangency”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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In 2001, Harper’s published an essay on lexicography by David Foster Wallace (“Tense Present”) that I have come to think of as classic, though I have no idea if fans of the author or lexicographers agree. I happened to be in college, studying linguistics, at the time, and I remember reading it excitedly, footnotes and all, the afternoon it arrived, on our college-y furniture, the requisite IKEA POÄNG. Rarely was the cover story so “relevant to my interests.”

Though my favorite subdiscipline was semantics, I had been largely unaware of what Wallace called “the seamy underbelly” of U.S. dictionary making, its “ideological strife and controversy and intrigue.” Said controversy, I learned, is essentially bipartisan — there’s a “liberal” school of pure descriptivism, wherein “words” like “heighth” get included without comment or censure, which sits in opposition and reaction to the “conservative” school of prescriptivism, or normative lexicography, which avows that “heighth” is not a word, sentences must not end with a preposition, etc. More… “Fair Usage”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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When I mentioned on Twitter that I was reading H Is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald’s recent falconry/grief memoir, a poet I know commented, “That book is so overwritten.” In a way this remark ruined the book for me; it got in my head like an earworm, and I couldn’t help evaluating the rest of the book against it, thinking, Oh, but I like how baroque this description is, or, alternatively, Okay, this bit is rather overwritten. More… “Writing that Sounds like Writing”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Because I know the author, when I read Find Me by Laura van den Berg I pictured Laura as the protagonist. It’s not an autobiographical novel, and the character, Joy, is not especially like Laura in her physical description. Joy says: “My hair falls past my shoulders in dark waves, lush and healthy-looking. No bangs, center part.” Laura’s hair is light brown, usually shoulder-length, often with bangs. But my mind made the shortcut on its own, and it would have taken effort to correct it.

I read Howards End some 15 years after seeing the Merchant Ivory adaptation, and inevitably pictured Emma Thompson and Helena Bonham Carter in the roles of the sisters. However, for the first third of the book, I mixed up the roles, and had Emma Thompson as Helen and Helena Bonham Carter as Margaret in my mental casting. When I realized I was picturing them wrong, I had to forcibly correct it. I now avoid reading a book when I’ve already seen the movie. More… “Seeing Things”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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I love the word pretty.

A theory: “Pretty” has gone out of favor because we are greedy, and want the merely pretty to be fully beautiful, and so we go around calling things beautiful that are pretty.

There’s something self-flattering about it — describing a thing as beautiful makes the speaker appear more sensitive to beauty. Conversely, “pretty” always sounds like an understatement, and as such can actually be more flattering to the thing described.
More… “Pretty Nice”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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