"Favorite Books with Sebastian Castillo" is our new monthly column in which previous contributors and friends of Peach 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 (word word press) and 49 Venezuelan Novels (Bottlecap Press). He's been involved with Peach since our very first season, when we published "26 ONE-WORD POEMS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER BY TITLE" online and in our Season 1 Yearbook. He later appeared on the longlist for the 2019 Peach Gold in Poetry with guest judge Dorothea Lasky for his poem "SIXES & SEVENS (WILDE VARIATIONS)." Below are his favorite books.
The Museum of Eterna’s Novel by Macedonio Fernández
A novel written with fifty-something prologues. These prologues take up most of the book. I honestly do not remember the novel itself, nor I do remember what the prologues said, but its effect on me was indelible. Like a childhood scar you have to look at every day, whose origin is left for your elders to describe.
Break It Down by Lydia Davis
I could cheat and list her collected stories, but instead I’ll choose Davis’ first collection, also the first one I read. I can’t think of another writer who so deeply changed my perception of what a short story could be, or could do. I suppose that has been said often enough. I remember reading one of the stories in this collection on the beach. The language of the story is taken from a book written by the musician Shinichi Suzuki. He developed the famous “Suzuki Method.” In one section, the narrator mentions that he was raised in a violin factory, and that he used to beat his siblings with violins. I do not forget those things. Sometimes a small detail is enough to fall in love.
The Notebook / The Proof / The Third Lie by Agota Kristof
These are technically three books, but I read them in an omnibus edition, so to me, they are one book. They are about the life of two brothers who grow up in a war-torn country. Each book essentially revises the content of the story from the book before it. By the end, it’s not really about the lives of these brothers, but about staring at a burning canvas long enough that your eyes stitch over with a disease whose name escapes pronunciation. I read that these novels inspired the video game Mother 3, which is my favorite video game. Here is an image from it:
Jack the Modernist by Robert Glück
An excerpt from the novel:
Will life be better when I trade on my image?—a self blurred by the isolation of naming. There’s Rimbaud’s ‘I am really from beyond the grave’ and Charles Manson’s ‘You can’t kill me, I’m already dead.’ Their risks made the irreversible happen, then they offered us their enormous selves—in the spirit of revenge. Was death shorthand for an absolute that lacks a name? The giant feeling of being against society, language, self, became an allegiance with death. (Can this be true?—The world, refused, gathers there.) If this death is a murder, should the felony go on the record of the one speaking or the one addressed?
Every page is this good. Prose better than life itself. It’s a mystery to me that Robert Glück is not widely considered one of the greatest writers of the last 100 years. NYRB is re-issuing Margery Kempe, another of my favorites, and also the greatest novel.
Considering how exaggerated music is by Leslie Scalapino
I read poetry all the time, but am in the habit of forgetting everything I read almost instantly, which is why I re-read books of poetry more than other kinds of books. The poet whose language has stuck with me most is John Ashbery, and I would be happy listing all of his books here as my favorite books. Even the ones that aren’t as good! But instead, I must choose this book, as I think it’s the poetry collection that has done the most beneficent damage to my brain. One of the poems is called “The Woman Who Could Read the Minds of Dogs.” Another one is called “This eating and walking at the same time is associated all right.” You do not go back to your old life after reading Leslie Scalapino. What Ted Berrigan had to say: “It’s like suddenly remembering, oh, that’s right, this is where I wanted to be.”
Poetics of Cinema by Raúl Ruiz
I read an excerpt from this book on someone’s Blogspot maybe 10 or 12 years ago. Found a PDF online and printed it out at the library. He’s one of my favorite directors. A novel I’ve been working on takes its title from an unreleased movie of his. Anyway—the first chapter of this book has been a great influence on me. I love when he talks about growing up in Chile on a diet of B movies, and then later feeling baffled that these movies were considered bad art, as they were more narratively adventurous than anything else he had seen. His writing is as confounding and playful as his movies. And those are two adjectives that matter to me most!
Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan by Jean Daive
Two guys hanging out... Both are poets.... It does not end well… In this incredible book, friendship collapses time into the present of remembering. I think? I recommend pairing it with Walks with Walser by Carl Seelig, a book of a similar flavor. All of these fellas are doomed!
"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.