- Title: 300 Arguments
- Author: Sarah Manguso
- Publisher: Graywolf Press
- Pub date: 2/7/17
I want to read everything Sarah Manguso has ever written and then also have her call me to tell me what she dreamt about last night and what she ate for breakfast.
This is a book, but it’s also not a book. It’s a memoir, but then again not. In her book 300 Arguments Sarah Manguso creates a loose narrative from 300 seemingly disparate observations, each never more than a few sentences long. And while you’re reading, the magical synapses in your brain make out with the magical syllables in her writing and you’re left with this cohesive vision of another person’s psyche. Or, hell, maybe your own.
At times it felt like reading my own mind, or the minds of those around me. Sometimes her admissions are the thoughts I tie to bricks and throw overboard. Those were the ones that felt like a kick to the gut. They were also the ones I went back to again and again.
It ended up being rather apt that I read Writing Hard Stories (see previous post) in between my multiple reads of this. In Writing Hard Stories, many of the memoir writers discussed trying to find their narrative arc, or abandoning the idea all together and realizing that the story wouldn’t adhere to a linear structure. With 300 Arguments, the term “linear” doesn’t even apply in trying to define what this book is or isn’t. There is no plot, but there is a connection as you read through thought after thought. There is a story there, and if you're anything like me, the story will end up being more about yourself than anything else.
I tried to explain this book to my dentist with a fully numb right side of the face. I feel a little as I did then in writing this post. I will leave you with three thoughts:
1. If hearing “Her Majesty” at the end of Abbey Road just pisses you off and leaves you wanting more, don’t read this book. If, however, you find that minute masterpiece to be replete in and of itself, go get this book. Commit it to memory. Send Manguso love letters. (Okay, actually, please don’t do that, it is so stalker-y.)
2. When Sarah Manguso was 21 years old, she was diagnosed with a shitty and debilitating autoimmune disease. When I was 20 years old, I was diagnosed with a shitty and debilitating autoimmune disease. We both seem to have improved since our initial diagnoses, at least I can say my MS is totally manageable and hasn’t reared its ugly head at me for ages & ages, but it has taken me almost a full 10 years to process those first few of finding out. It has only been with distance and (a little) more maturity that I’m able to examine some unsavory emotions, thoughts, what-have-you, that got put into a box and shoved very far deep down somewhere inside me those 10 years ago. In 300 Arguments, Manguso talks about chronic illness in a way I always wanted people to, but assumed that no one ever did. Most of the time you hear positive affirmations and/or stories of survival and triumph, and I’m not suggesting that those stories shouldn’t be told or that people shouldn’t develop positive mantras to get them through the day. It’s just that none of that was ever very helpful to me. In little truth bombs scattered throughout this book Manguso talks about chronic illness without the bromides I’ve grown to loathe, and I am grateful for the honesty and dark humor she expresses in those few moments in the book where it comes up.
3. Most of what I tend to love in the way of writing is pretty damn ineffable. I could tell you that The Crying of Lot 49 is essentially about nothing, which is not necessarily a selling point for most people, but it’s both one reason why it’s in my top five and also doesn’t even remotely scratch the surface of what it is actually about (or I guess, more accurately, what it does to you while you read it). Or I could tell you that If on a winter’s night a traveler is a book written by a person who reads and loves books about people who read and love books for people who read and love books, but that also doesn’t give you any insight into what a wonderfully frustrating clusterfuck of a book it is while still being, quite possibly, the most brilliant thing I’ve yet to read in my 20+ years of reading. My point is, I don’t know if I have accurately or inaccurately described Manguso’s 300 Arguments, so why don’t you just go buy a copy tomorrow and come back here and we can chat about it. Cool? Cool.