The best books whose writing falls between the cracks of genre

Who am I?

I am an aficionado of lost objects, lost time, afterlives; of writing which never “fitted” its era. Examples would be that of John Aubrey, Herman Melville, Fernando Pessoa, Djuna Barnes, Elizabeth Hardwick, Ralph Ellison… the list goes on. I look for writing that has stood the test of time, not celebrated for the fame and bling of the moment. I look for the futile products of those who possessed genius, but who never earned enough readers until decades or centuries later, once they were released from the prison-house of genre. I look for the posthumous brilliance of language; the phosphoric glow of its offerings and of the buried treasures found therein.

I wrote...

The Garden Book

By Brian Castro,

Book cover of The Garden Book

What is my book about?

The Garden Book is the “biography” of Swan, a Chinese woman living in regional Australia during the 1930s in a climate of racism, depression and impending war. She writes enigmatic, calligraphic poems on leaves, never intending that they would last. Struggling through an unhappy marriage, she meets an American who has intentions of publishing her work. Will this happen without compromise, or will she fall through the cracks into the everlasting unknown?

I lived for 12 years in a mountainous rainforest full of tree ferns and giant ash trees. One day I stumbled upon an old schoolhouse that someone had turned into a museum. The first teacher there in the 1920s was Chinese.

The books I picked & why

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The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert

By Joseph Joubert, Paul Auster (translator),

Book cover of The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert

Why this book?

Joubert (1754-1824), was not published until 114 years after his death. These notebooks are neither diaries nor memoirs, neither essays nor aphorisms, but enigmas worthy of much ponder. He was uncompromisingly seeking an afterlife for the source of his writing and language, and he pretty much discovered that in the cracks of insight. For example: those who make laws can’t plant crops. One has to apply names to things: I have many forms for ideas, but not enough forms for phrases.

He is a writer’s writer, since he insists on close and silent and above all, slow reading. 

Canzone di Guerra

By Daša Drndić,

Book cover of Canzone di Guerra

Why this book?

I just love the way she is so contemptuous of people telling false “stories”. Her writing falls between every genre imaginable, a collage of well-researched facts and the indelible list of the horrors of war. She makes lists as monuments to dead victims; she names names; she calls out nationalism and racism. Wry and ironic, she has composed a battle-hymn against the barbarity of the Yugoslav wars between 1991 and 2001. To my lasting regret, I missed meeting her in Melbourne not long before she died. 

The Secret Heart of the Clock

By Elias Canetti, Joel Agee (translator),

Book cover of The Secret Heart of the Clock

Why this book?

Someone once said that novels were for light summer reading by bourgeois ladies. W.G. Sebald may have shared this opinion. The latter preferred letters, notes, fragments and diaries. Similarly, Elias Canetti, Bulgarian-born, of Sephardi ancestry, German-speaking and winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for literature, only ever wrote one novel. But his aphorisms, both long and short, are remarkable. He unearths forgotten writers, important ones that he had met, and he meditates on literary gossip and the remaining time in his life. Here’s an example: Klaus Mann’s last proposal: a mass suicide of writers (of the great names).


By Robert Lowell,

Book cover of Memoirs

Why this book?

Lowell began this memoir in a mental hospital. He was told it may help him recover from a manic-depressive condition. But he never finished it. He sold the manuscript to Harvard University and there it mouldered away for forty years until editors Steven Gould Axelrod and Grzegorz Kosc resurrected it. Lowell had never meant it to be published. Yet, in this manuscript we discover the bones of his famous poetic work Life Studies, which virtually turned him into one of the greatest of Confessional poets. The manuscript that fell between the cracks demonstrates what a great prose writer Lowell was, and how the language of his poetry was already embedded in these prose descriptions. 

The Years

By Annie Ernaux, Alison L. Strayer (translator),

Book cover of The Years

Why this book?

Ernaux shuns the word “I”. Born into a working-class family in Normandy, she prefers solidarity, the third-person and the impersonal use of the word “one”. She documents the years of her generation and through that, the reader finds her own life. She calls her writing “the lived dimension of history” and by doing this, she recaptures Proust, who in search of lost or “wasted” time, relieves the weight of the world from its angst through a purity of observation in seeing through all the layers of social/hypocritical time. I am very much looking forward to her latest, Getting Lost (due out in English soon), a “diary” about her affair with a young man, the excavation of memory through its forgotten cracks, and the disappearance of a passion impossible to recover.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in aphorism, France, and Canada?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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