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10 favorite absolutely wild writers
Prepare to have your mind killed
Moses has heard us say, while doing little tricks around the house, that we are about to “blow Felix’s mind.”
He misinterpreted this recently, when I was about to show Felix how to spin a top. Just before I spun it, Moses exclaimed, “Mom, you’re going to KILL HIS MIND!”
That said, I’m about to kill your mind with a list of my favorite totally bonkers, insane writers; the writers who write like no one else; the writers who follow only their own rules; the writers who will make you feel unhinged, in only the best possible way. Spoiler alert: Nine out of ten are women, because women are just the weirdest.
1. Anne Carson
The wildest and most incantatory of the bunch. I live for Anne Carson’s insane poetry and ferocious sentences. One gets the sense that Carson has never lived by anyone’s rules but her own. And as a certified genius, she can do whatever she wants—and does.
Favorites: Glass, Irony, and God; Decreation; Plainwater; Autobiography of Red; Eros the Bittersweet; The Beauty of the Husband; If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho
2. Clarice Lispector
The beautiful, brilliant Brazilian Clarice Lispector lived in the universe she made and invites us into it. I can’t get enough! I’m always desperate for more! I’ll read her for the rest of my life.
Favorites: The Complete Stories, The Passion According to G.H.
3. Joy Williams
Joy Williams is like: What if a novel, but none of the humans act like human beings?
Favorites: Escapes, Honored Guest, Ninety-Nine Stories of God, The Visiting Privilege
4. Nell Zink
Nell Zink became a novelist in middle age and emerged, fully formed, like Athena. Her novels are not popular, perhaps because they are so strange, but I am obsessed with her. Where did she come from? From whence these interior thoughts and baffling plot lines?
Favorites: Mislaid, The Wallcreeper, Avalon
5. Rachel Cusk
Reading Rachel Cusk makes you nervous about ever meeting her in person. She autopsies people in real time. Cusk is absolutely terrifying, seductive, and bizarre.
Favorites: The Outline trilogy, Second Place
6. Patricia Lockwood
Patricia Lockwood is a riot. She blends a stand-up comedian’s instincts with a poet’s wit. If I’m ever feeling down, you’ll find me burrowed in a PatLock essay.
Favorites: No One Is Talking About This, all of her reviews in the London Review of Books
7. Julio Cortázar
The lone male in my list wrote with breathtaking originality, producing stories that are lush and suspenseful and strange all at once. Cortázar has a playful absurdity that ripples through all of his sentences and displays remarkable versatility time and time again.
Favorites: Blow-Up and Other Stories
8. Lydia Davis
Lydia Davis sticks with you. You won’t be able to quit this one! Her addictive microfiction takes up a ton of residence in my brain, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Favorites: The Collected Stories
9. Virginia Woolf
The original weirdo, my first true literary love. I suspect Woolf is a gateway drug for many lady English majors like myself. She was the first one to teach me that literature could be unhinged, that rebellion does not have to sacrifice style, that there’s a great deal of the interior life that can (and should) be mined to make a novel great. She’ll always be my perpetual north star.
Favorites: To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, Between the Acts, all of her diaries
10. Grace Paley
A thrill! I can’t believe it took me so long to encounter Grace Paley’s brilliant, febrile, wholly unusual fiction. Each story is wrapped with radiant, wry humor, suffused with the diction of Brooklyn and packed with tiny surprises.
Favorites: The Collected Stories
Honorable insane mentions
Jorge Luis Borges. Favorites: Ficciones, Labyrinths, The Aleph and Other Stories
Paul Bowles. Favorites: The Sheltering Sky, The Stories of Paul Bowles
W.G. Sebald. Favorites: The Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants, Austerlitz
Simone Weil. Favorites: Gravity and Grace
Italo Calvino. Favorites: Invisible Cities, If on a winter’s night a traveler
Maggie Nelson. Favorites: The Argonauts, Bluets
Vladimir Nabokov. Favorites: Lolita; Ada, or Ardor; Pale Fire
Elsa Morante. Favorites: History
Fleur Jaeggy. Favorites: Sweet Days of Discipline
Who are your favorite wild writers? Who am I missing?