Cover Image: Pathetic Literature

Pathetic Literature

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Member Reviews

Eileen Myles has always been fearless, pushing at the edges of literature, even the edges of ground-breaking queer lit. Because of that, I had high expectations for what Myles would do with PATHETIC LITERATURE and the word "pathetic," in general. It seemed mundane with Myles not doing much to push the definition and/or use of "pathetic." The collection of pieces is interesting, but it's not an anthology or collection that reads as a must-have for my collection, not for personal or for teaching.
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3.5 stars

It’s taken me a month or more to get through this anthology of more than 100 works, which runs to 600+ pages. It works better as a ‘dip into it when the mood takes you’ rather than attempting to read it in its entirety at once. 

It’s a plaintive collection containing diverse works by lesser-known, up-and-coming authors, and literary evergreens. Much of the compendium focuses on (gay) sex, and some pieces of poetry and prose are impenetrable and defy any attempt at interpretation. Laden with emotion and sentiment, the protagonists are often pitiable (unsurprising when one considers the title). I found it confronting, raw and abrasive at times, and at other times, poignant and heart-warming. More than anything, this collection embodies the diversity of life.    

My thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for granting this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This was an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying collection. A few of the selections had some nicely crafted lines, a few well-conceived set pieces, a fair share of perceptive and insightful observations, and some lean dialogue. That said, many pieces could neither arouse nor hold my curiosity or attention. As a consequence, it doesn't seem fair to write much more of a review, apart from encouraging inquisitive readers to give the book a try.
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First of all, I love this cover! There is something about it that keeps making me want to stare at it and ponder for days on end. 

I liked many different memoirs and short stories included in this. Some made me want to stop reading and just stare at a wall and wonder, just like the cover! Now that was done well.
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Eileen Myles, who compiled the 100+ entries in Pathetic Literature, is an award-winning poet and has taught a graduate seminar on “Pathetic Literature” at UCSD; I humbly and happily acknowledge them as the expert on this topic. Filled with poems, essays, excerpts from novels and other musings, I took my time with this collection — reading a couple here and there in between other books — and I have to admit that that was partly because not everything here worked for me; some entries I found downright tedious; many I found exceptional. I grant that, as the expert on the topic, Myles has collected the works that they have found “frothy”, but I suspect that — if the metric is “writing that makes you feel something” — I might collect something different; this has the feel of a subjective anthology, and it didn’t always work for me personally. I can’t give a four star “I love it” rating (my own subjective opinion), but I am not sorry to having picked this up and been exposed to such a compelling range of thought.
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At nearly 700 pages and multitudes of authors, the inimitable Eileen Myles has curated a volume of what they call 'Pathetic Literature'. I admit that, despite their lengthy and engrossing forward, I'm not certain what is pathetic about the essays, novel and memoir excerpts, short stories, and poems include in this volume. Most of the authors are queer and much of the writing is definitive of the New York School of poetry. Story after poem, each piece presents its writer's own mastery.

There is something for everyone, and it would be impossible to single out every exceptional piece. This is a book to be savored, authors to discover, favorite authors who present unpublished work, and authors whose work is translated from other languages. Thanks to NetGalley for the eARC.
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An exceptional collection of literary voices, full of pathos, of feelings and emotions of displacement, discomfort, pain, etc.
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With such a wide variety of entries included, readers are bound to find something they like. The editorial premise is different than you're likely to find elsewhere, and it mostly worked for me. A lot of literary fiction and poetry fans will likely enjoy this one.

Thanks very much for the free ARC for review!!
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Pathetic Literature, edited by Eileen Myles, is an extremely satisfying anthology both for the works included and for the thought-provoking introduction.

I can't say for sure that what I take to be pathetic literature is the same as what Myles expresses, even if it is their introduction that got me to think about it. My take (and don't hold any gross conceptual errors against them, any errors are all mine) is that we are going back to the root of pathetic, think pathos here. Appealing to emotions and stirring feelings as one source states it. But I think inclusion in the category goes beyond simply that. It is from these emotions and feelings that meaning comes. Rather than a purely rational expression (which isn't to say these are irrational) we are led to experience conflict, pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual), discomfort, and other feelings but through someone else's perspective, their eyes, their hearts, their fears, and their reality. Then we can hopefully make some meaning from it all.

Even setting aside trying to fully understand the definition of pathetic literature, this is a wonderful anthology, period. No, you likely won't be equally moved by every work, such is the nature of any collection. But you will read works from familiar writers and some you aren't likely aware of. You'll read excerpts from longer works, some you probably know, which, taken separately, can alter how they speak to you. And hopefully, through feeling and emotional connection, you will arrive at some new and/or modified meaning of the world around you.

In recommending this book I would include those who want to read it straight through as well as those who will use it as reading for when you have little time. I went through it rather quickly so I could share my thoughts, but it is the kind of book I would prefer to work through over several weeks or a couple of months. Read an entry or two, think about it, feel it, maybe look up things it might make me think about. Then either reread or move on to the next entry. Even any piece you don't care for, ask yourself why. Was it the voice? Was it truly an authorial voice or the racial/ethnic/gendered/etc voice that turned you off? And again, why? Discomfort? Dislike? Lack of knowledge? Feelings and emotions don't have to be separate, use them with your so-called rational mind to look closer at the work, our society, and yourself.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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