NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Reading '300 Arguments' Is Like Jumping In Someone's Mind


Sarah Manguso's new book is only 90 pages long, and the writing is even more spare. When you first open "300 Arguments," it looks like a book of aphorisms, but it reads like you've jumped into someone's mind. Sarah Manguso has been described as a literary artist, her prose, quote, "twice distilled like whisky rather than beer." And she joins us now from our studios in Culver City, Calif. Welcome.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's give an example of some of the passages. I'd like you to read from page 60.

MANGUSO: (Reading) There truly are two kinds of people - you and everyone else. The best form isn't always the most efficient form. I'm seldom bored at home, but I'm often bored while traveling. At home, where my daily routine is automatic enough that I can almost ignore it, I'm free to think about what I want.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So is this poetry, fragments of prose, something else altogether in your mind?

MANGUSO: Well, I wouldn't necessarily disagree with someone who called any of these poetry. I would disagree with those who called them fragments, though. That's something I am adamant about. These are not broken pieces of something that was once, in some earlier form, whole. Each of the arguments is complete in itself.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: One of the ones that I really loved was about motherhood. Can you read page 81?

MANGUSO: Sure. (Reading) I used to pursue the usual things - sex, drugs, rough neighborhoods - in order to enjoy the feeling of wasting my life, of tempting danger. Motherhood has finally satisfied that hunger. It's a self-obliteration that never stops and that no one notices.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That felt very true to me as a mother.

MANGUSO: Oh, I appreciate knowing that. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's quite revealing. When do you choose to reveal something about yourself in this? You talk about illness and suicide, quite heavy subjects that you've tackled in your personal life. Why reveal yourself in this way?

MANGUSO: Why reveal? Well, all of my books have come out of some basic problem that I as an individual experience - some kind of worry, some kind of anxiety, something I can't stop thinking about. "300 Arguments" is a collection of 300 small versions of that sort of problem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you give an example?

MANGUSO: Sure. Well, motherhood - I mean, as you just said, it is, in a way, the most punk rock thing you can do because it involves this obliteration of the self. I mean, it really is like walking into another room that has a one-way door and you can't get into it in any other way. And I still feel I haven't found a satisfying way to really write about it so that anyone who isn't a mother doesn't just roll her eyes and think, great, here's some more sanctimonious sentimentality about motherhood, which is exactly how I probably would have heard much of the writing that I have since done on motherhood. So that's something that's still worrying me, that's still eating at me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to end the same way you ended your book. Please read the last passage.

MANGUSO: (Reading) Perfect happiness is the privilege of deciding when things end. But then you have to find a new happiness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Sarah Manguso's new book is "300 Arguments." Thanks so much for joining us today.

MANGUSO: It was my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILLY GONZALES' "KENASTON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.