Kevin Smokler (ed.) | Bookmark Now: Writing In Unreaderly Times

Meghan Daum’s “If I Had a Stammer” is equally magnificent, calling to task the Stammering Class, a group of down-talkers whose standard-bearer William F. Buckley gave way to such personalities as Ira Glass and Terry Gross.

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(Basic Books; 146 pgs; $23.95)

As Kevin Smokler points out in the introduction to Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times, “The world of books will be totally different tomorrow than it is today, and it will happen much sooner than we think.” For his part, Smokler wants readers and writers to realize the shifting landscape he is mapping in this anthology is not one of loss, but merely reformation. Reading and writing are changing, and Smokler has gathered nearly two dozen new and established young writers to help show that “something is happening just below the waterline of American literature and moving quickly to the surface.”

The pieces tackle everything from the writing life to what the future holds for both author and reader, and each one offers whimsical moments of reflection, both ironic and not. In Paul Collins’ enchanting “121 Years of Solitude,” discovery leads the author into a daily ritual at the reverential shelter of knowledge—the public library—to crawl through the wisdom of Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Notes and Queries, a periodical Collins terms a “coal-fired Friendster, a horse-and-buggy blog, with thousands of threads tangling into a glorious asynchronous mess.”

Meghan Daum’s “If I Had a Stammer” is equally magnificent, calling to task the Stammering Class, a group of down-talkers whose standard-bearer William F. Buckley gave way to such personalities as Ira Glass and Terry Gross. “Its sentences bask in the speaker’s lack of amusement,” writes Daum, “capturing the romantic disenchantment of the English major for whom Salinger has suddenly lost his allure (brainier down talkers will worship Salinger in high school but lose interest by college; ditto for Vonnegut, Kerouac, and Henry Miller).”

Other essays, like Robert Lanham’s playful poke at Dave Eggers and his cohorts, are spirited reads, doling out wit in measured doses. Some of the works, such as “Marginalia and Other Crimes” by Tara Bray Smith, drink the love of books with infectious gratefulness.

Smokler and this crew of emergent artists have bound a collection of experienced literature. These essays are the individualized shared readings of writers who are trying and making their marks right now, and that are just self-consciousness enough to keep an eye on their own place in the changing ways in which we read. The resulting pieces are amusing, stirring, and most of all, readable. What Bookmark Now does well is prove why we love books, because it is just the kind of volume a reader wants to take along on a bus ride, flip through while sitting on a park bench, or concentrate on while locked away in more private matters, where a quick and stimulating read is not always powered by an outlet. www.basicbooks.com

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