This month, Sebastian invites Garielle Lutz to tell us about her favorite books. Garielle is the author of Worsted (Short Flight/Long Drive Books), The Complete Gary Lutz (Tyrant Books), and The Gotham Grammarian (Calamari Archive). Below are her favorite books.
A History of Present Illness by Anna DeForest (2022)
There is nothing about life and death that Anna DeForest leaves unsaid in this slim but bountifully profound novel about a freshly graduated doctor’s first year of residency. DeForest is the rare writer who never once takes the easy way out of a sentence or a feeling or a rumination. She takes what the rest of us are afraid to confront or own up to and comes right out and puts it eternally into words. The result is that everything DeForest writes feels to a reader as if it’s both the first and the definitive of its kind. Most writers have just one or two things they can do decently, but DeForest’s extraordinary strengths defy any attempts at enumeration.
My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley (2021)
I first learned of Gwendoline Riley in a review that made her books sound drab in the way that someone once said the Smiths made drab music for drab people. So I immediately started ordering everything she wrote. My Phantoms is the sparest of her novels and, for me, the most difficult to pull away from. There’s the book itself, and there’s the shadow it leaves after you’ve read it. The shadow is even as haunting as the book.
Pipe Night (1945), Hellbox (1947), or just about any other short-story collection by John O’Hara (skip the novels except for the first two)
It was homesickness that first drew me to O’Hara’s fiction, because I grew up only an hour away from where many of his stories unfold, but it’s his troubled understanding of clammily unexceptional Americans (their insecurities, their narrow-gauge heartbreaks, their grudges and petty strivings) that keeps calling me back to piles of faded and lopsided paperbacks. I don’t know why he has so few readers these days, because in the first half of his career he was a laconic specialist in certain instructively appalling subsets of human nature, and his crisp, filigree-free stories can be comfortingly oblique and cryptic in ways that daily life ought to be more often.
A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer by Christine Schutt (2005)
This short-story collection, a classic, reads like the most sublime of poetry, because, despite the right-justified margins and paragraphic dress, that’s exactly what it is. It’s even more desolatively enthralling on the twentieth, slowest read than it is on the first, standardly paced encounter. It’s a book best taken a syllable or two at a time.
After Leaving Mr Mackenzie (1930), Voyage in the Dark (1934), and Good Morning, Midnight (1939) by Jean Rhys
Nobody has written better ballads in prose about depressives ditched in the grimier districts of world capitals. These three minimalesque novels are the worthiest companions during weeks and months of rankest isolation. Every sentence is a bleak and inelaborate ravishment, and the dialogue in Voyage in the Dark is so fresh it could have been overheard, with concern, just a couple of days ago.
Collected Works: A Journal of Jazz, 1954-2000 by Whitney Balliett (2000)
A longtime jazz critic for The New Yorker, Balliett was a master prose stylist, and in his profiles and reviews he often came across as both encyclopedic and intimate in the same breath. He wrote elegantly and limpidly about music that at times could be raucous or recondite. I especially love how he shunned the obstructions of musical jargon and instead fashioned ringingly immaculate figurative language to re-create, phrase by phrase, the lyrical turns and currents and pearlings of a soloist’s representative excursions. Whenever I read him, I feel dressed to the nines.
"Favorite Books with Sebastian Castillo" is our monthly column in which previous contributors and friends of Peach Mag are invited to share the works of literature that have made the biggest impacts on their reading and writing lives. Sebastian is the author of Not I and 49 Venezuelan Novels. Read previous installments of Favorite Books here.