Steven Moore’s List of the Most Impressive Books of 2021

It’s been heartening to see the reaction to Permanent Earthquake, which was released this summer. But it’s especially cockle-warming to see a note of recognition from one of our best contemporary literary critics, Steven Moore.

Moore is probably best known for his trailblazing work on William Gaddis, including his Reader’s Guide to William Gaddis’ The Recognitions. But his passionate bibliophilia really shines through in his volumes of The Novel, An Alternative History. His most recent book is Alexander Theroux: A Fan’s Notes, which is, amazingly, the first book-length look at Theroux’s cantankerous canon.

Moore sent this list in an email to Phillip Freedenberg, and Steve approved its wider distribution.

most impressive new/recent books I’ve read in 2021:
Peter CovielloVineland Reread (Columbia University Press)
Mark Leyner, Last Orgy of the Divine Hermit (Little, Brown)
Lauren OylerFake Accounts (Catapult/4th Estate)
David French, Heart Full of Soul: Keith Relf of the Yardbirds (McFarland)
M. J. NichollsTrimming England (Sagging Meniscus)
Miklós Szentkuthy, Chapter on Love (Contra Mundum)
Rikki DucornetTrafik (Coffee House)
Phillip Freedenberg, America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots (corona\samizdat)
Shola von Reinhold, Lote (Jacaranda)
Evan DaraPermanent Earthquake (Aurora)
Joshua Cohen, The Netanyahus (New York Review Books)
Alexander Theroux, Early Stories (Tough Poets Press)
Anne Theroux, The Year of the End (Icon Books)
Allen Ginsberg, The Fall of America Journals (Univ. of Minnesota Press)
Christopher Sorrentino, Now Beacon, Now Sea: A Son’s Memoir (Catapult, 2021)
Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone: The Biography of Nico (Faber & Faber)

Image of Evan Dara's novel, Permanent Earthquake

Can We Talk About the Fireflies?

Guest Post by Gabe Cweigenberg

Can we talk about the fireflies?

How about Chomsky?

What I mainly want to focus on is the relationship Chomsky has to the book. I guess you could say he’s one of the recurring characters. So, in the fifties, Chomsky introduced his concept of Universal Grammar. A Dara quote is sufficient for understanding Chomsky’s thesis:

“That is, in Chomsky’s perfect words, the subtlety of our understanding transcends by far what is presented in experience…or, once again, in my imperfect rewording, from shattered shards we reconstruct the crystal…” (241)

Evan Dara, The Lost Scrapbook

In other words, even if someone speaks to us in severely broken English, we can still understand it. We understand more than we have experienced. That’s how universal grammar works.

And now for something completely different:

Let us talk about the fireflies.

They’re introduced at the beginning of the book and then they’re not talked about again. But they are. My claim is that fireflies are the central metaphor of the book, and that this metaphor runs through the entire 476 pages. Specifically, the light that they produce represents a human voice.

I’m having trouble putting this claim to words.

Dara does a better job through the voice of Chomsky:

“We must recognize that our comprehension of nontrivial phenomena is extremely limited — yes, that was what I heard — and then he went on to say We understand only fragments of reality, and we can be sure that every interesting and significant theory is at best only partially true —”

Evan Dara, The Lost Scrapbook

So when you go to read this book, consider yourself in a swarm of fireflies. All the voices that you read represent the light from an individual firefly. You can see the light of that firefly, but that is all. In other words, you get to hear the voice of specific people, but that’s it. They are not characters, they are voices. They are light. They are fragments of the truth.

Where Chomsky’s universal grammar comes into play is through the understanding of every voice. And through all those voices coming together to express universal disapproval for the shady workings of a large corporation. For capitalism trumping humanism.

Remember: Only truth in fragments. As you read this book, let the voices wash over you, knowing that there is something there. They have something to offer, and it is truth. Like the light from a firefly in the dark.

The Lost Scrapbook – Ebook edition

Call for submissions: 25th anniversary of the Lost Scrapbook

As we prepare to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Lost Scrapbook, we are encouraging readers and admirers of Evan Dara to share their thoughts and reflections on this monumental debut. We’ll be mixing these in with some of the other reviews that have accumulated over the years.

Submissions of any kind—poems, essays, artwork, songs, spoken word, collage, scrapbook scraps, etc—will be gratefully embraced and warmly considered for publication on the site. Please address them to

Deadline for submissions: October 31, 2020.

Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins – Now in Portuguese!


Giving Voice: On the Work of Evan Dara

Last fall, we learned that the critic Daniel Green had prepared and submitted an article for The Goliad Review, covering the current corpus of Evan Dara’s work, including his recent play, Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins.  This was an encouraging development for two reasons:

  1. As far as we knew, no writer had taken on the task of providing a wide-angle look at all of Dara’s published output. Indeed, as Green notes, very few outlets have even reviewed any of his books.
  2. Green is one of the best at his craft.

No less a leading light than Steven Moore has stated (in regard to Beyond the Blurb):

“If, like me, you feel the obsession with theory over the last forty years has caused many critics to lose sight of the primary purpose of criticism, Daniel Green’s splendid primer returns us to square one. In assured, lucid prose, Green reminds us that a literary work should be analyzed for its own sake, ‘apart from any value it might have as the object of some other discourse or inquiry,’ and that the focus should be on language, not on ‘meaning’ or ideology.

Of course, few outfits are as vulnerable to the tradewinds of misfortune as literary journals, so when word came down earlier this year that the article wouldn’t appear in their pages, it was disheartening, if not unexpected.

After a fruitless search for a suitable home, Green made the decision to publish it on his site, The Reading Experience, which he has been building and tending since 2004.  Along with his blog, there are numerous eBooks you can download there, including substantive pieces on innovative women writers, American post-modern fiction, and the works of James Purdy.  It is worth a bookmark.

In “Giving Voice: On the Work of Evan Dara,” Green has taken a deep dive into Dara’s world, and drawn out the themes and stylistic connections between his four published works.  It’s loaded with novel insights, but here’s a snippet:

If nothing else, it is obvious once one begins reading these novels that the author wants to subvert any presumptions we might have that the novel we are reading will bear enough family resemblance to those we have read before that it will be explicable according to the “rules” we believe we have learned about how novels should proceed. Clearly it intends to replace those rules with others applicable only to this work (although any one of Dara’s novels certainly does then provide direction in reading the others), rules that we will have to learn as we read. In this way, Dara’s novels work like all of their predecessors in the lineage of “experimental” fiction, presenting the reader with a heterodox formal arrangement the reader must learn to assimilate by attending closely to the new patterns the work establishes as alternatives to those patterns more conventional fiction has predisposed us to expect. Indeed, in the challenge they pose to the assumption that the conventional patterns define the novel as a form, Dara’s novels are arguably the most radically disruptive books in American fiction since, say, Gilbert Sorrentino in a work like Mulligan Stew (1979).

It’s surprising that, as we approach the 25th anniversary of The Lost Scrapbook, there aren’t more pieces like this.  However, we hope that others follow Mr. Green’s lead and continue this conversation.