To mark the publication of ‘Test Signal’, here are some of the books which inspired, more or less directly, Melissa Wan's story ‘Birdie in the Big Smoke’, a kind of parable of value in seventeen fragments.
Lydia Davis£10.99 £10.44
Dive into the stories of Lydia Davis without expectation, for no story will take the turns you expect. The reader must play an active role and unlike many of the books in this selection, you often can’t locate the character of a Davis story in time or space. Always playful, always concise, my story owes a great debt to her work (and for process, I can’t recommend enough her recent collection of ‘Essays’).
Norah Lange£10.00 £9.50
This memoir was the first book I received as part of an annual subscription to ‘And Other Stories’, the fantastic publishing house in Sheffield. Composed of one- or two-page vignettes, the book brims with memorable imagery and its ‘aesthetics of collage’ evidences how Lange’s writing was influenced by the Argentine avant-garde of which she was a part. In reading I was very much reminded of another favourite of mine:
I fell in love with Walter Benjamin’s city essays when studying sociology. This text is presented in a series of vignettes, which attempt to get hold of the ‘images’ in which the experience of the big city is provoked in a child. I read Benjamin for his imagery but also his ideas and in this work, the idea maybe most evocative for me is that, “the images of my metropolitan childhood perhaps are capable, at their core, of preforming later historical experience.”
John Berger£12.99 £12.34
John Berger described himself as a storyteller whose work was always an attempt to ‘get close to experience’, and his attention to the world is one of the things which lights up his prose. This is a collection of stories in which the narrator (presumably Berger himself) encounters people from his past, who are now dead, in cities across Europe. For an extract of sorts, you can listen to Ben Lerner reading Berger’s story ‘Woven, Sir’ on the New Yorker Fiction podcast
Dorthe Nors£7.99 £7.59
Described by its author as a ‘novel in headlines’, this text is composed of single sentences, one below the other, and reminds me a bit of social media statuses which reflect the way we’re encouraged to think of ourselves in the third person (Melissa is writing again). You’d imagine it might quickly get tedious but I find the whole thing fast and funny. In my edition, the reverse of the book is Nors’s collection of short stories, ‘Karate Chop’, also worth reading.
John Dos Passos£9.99 £9.49
A book which can be regarded as the first cinematic novel, using many of the techniques of filmmaking – such as cutaways, long shots and montage – to paint a vivid portrait of New York City in the early twentieth century. Although it could be seen as “overwritten”, it is so richly textured that you experience it as though watching a scene in a film as opposed to reading words on a page. Written over a hundred years ago, it still feels experimental today.
HAN KANG£8.99 £8.54
A quiet and meditative exploration of grief through the lens of the colour white, which Kang uses to engage with the loss of her younger sister, who lived for only two hours before her death. I found that the fragments which make up ‘The White Book’ are best read slowly, the way one might read poetry, and in all I admire the author’s intention and the question whether through writing about her sister’s death, she can again give her life.