Books For Readers and Other Dying People

By Will Eno

If Gary Lutz were dead and Gordon Lish were French, do you know who my favorite living American writer would be? Do you know whose books I would want along if I were stranded on a desert island, dying of loneliness and thirst, while my tiny library looked on in impassivity? What books would be the books, if I needed some reading material to kill time as I lay dying? On, again, a desert island. And would they differ from the books I'd want to have to die with if I were dying on a freezing mountaintop? If you were stuck on an island, thinning, mad, in ridiculous sun, would you want to read Robinson Crusoe? If your airplane crashed in the Andes on the way to the soccer game, would it be Alive by Piers Paul Read you'd want to read?

The question gets harder as it gets more real. You will die, you do die--most likely, statistically speaking, less heroically, in the room temperature of a hospital or nursing home. What do you want to read? Probably nothing, by no one. But, before that? There are some books. In my opinion, some books are: The High Traverse, by Richard Blanchard; Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine, by Stanley G. Crawford; End Zone, by Don DeLillo; Captain Maximus, by Barry Hannah; The Spectacle of the Body, by Noy Holland; The Way the Family Got Away, by Michael Kimball; Venus Drive, by Sam Lipsyte; Epigraph, by Gordon Lish; Stories in the Worst Way, by Gary Lutz; and Lincoln Dahl Turns Five, by Sam Michel. If you are not conversant with these, the way I so feel they are conversant with me, you might as well be dying in Peru or somewhere in the insane sun off Tongatupu. Why not die here, locally, an American, in the arms and writerly hands of equally-dying equally-American Americans. My list is a list--for as long as the national luck holds out-- of great living American writers. There are a lot of great living people around, these days. Certainly, sadly, life will make its revisions, its adjustments to the category.