5 Things You Should Read (Blackwell)

by a contributor

from Gabriel Blackwell, author of Napoleon Bonaparte:

  1. The Mirror: A History, Sabine Melchior-Bonnet: Just what it sounds like; at times, just as dry. Still, there’s a lot in here. The mirror set in our salvaged $5 bathroom cabinet would have cost the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars not so long ago. Did you know that? Me neither. Some people never saw themselves.
  2. Only Revolutions, Mark Z. Danielewski: Yeah, it’s not House of Leaves (and House of Leaves isn’t really House of Leaves either, really, let’s face it), but how many books have two narratives written opposite each other and turned 180º, meeting in the middle at page 180? Not many, huh?
  3. The Obscene Bird of Night, José Donoso: So, cassette tapes are magnetically-coated plastic film. If you play them over and over and over, the coating starts to come off, and all you’re left with is the film, clear plastic film. Another problem with cassettes is that the film can warp if it’s exposed to high temperatures, such as the inside of a car in summer. This novel’s kind of like both of those fates played out at once, in front of you—with each repetition of the story, a little more of the coating comes off and the film warps a little bit more, until, at the end, what is on the page is horrifying and wonderful at the same time. I love this book.
  4. The Open Curtain, Brian Evenson: “Once is an accident. Twice is coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.” Or so says Ian Fleming. It holds water, right? Nothing looks like a pattern until we’ve seen it three times (conspiracy theorists excepted), so it throws us off when, rather than the usual three-act narrative, we get one with only two acts. Sometimes, though, throwing us off is just what the writer is after. Hard not to be unsettled after reading The Open Curtain.
  5. The Invention of Morel, Adolfo Bioy Casares: Bioy Casares was one half of “H. Bustos Domecq” (the other half being Jorge Luis Borges), but his solo work is much, much better than his pseudonymous stuff. At least this novella, my favorite example of the form, is. It would be a shame to tell you why it belongs on this list. (Also, one of my very favorite movies, Last Year at Marienbad, was—just possibly—based on it. Robbe-Grillet had read it, anyway.)