Best Thought, Worst Thought: On Art, Sex, Work, and Death

Don Paterson, Author . Graywolf $18 (148p) ISBN 978-1-55597-505-0

Heralded throughout Great Britain, the Scottish poet Paterson has long deserved a broader American audience, and this collection of aphorisms may be the book to secure it. “The aphorism is a brief waste of time,” Paterson asserts in his foreword (adding that the poem and the novel are, respectively, “complete ” and “monumental ” wastes of time), and while he never quite attains the preternatural pithiness of such masters aphorists as La Rochefoucauld or Oscar Wilde, it is remarkable how often he manages to approach it. Many of the collection's most succinct entries—“We turn from the light to see”; “Fate's book, but my italics”—prove, unsurprisingly, its most unforgettable; when Paterson relaxes into longer discursive and anecdotal modes, the results may be less acutely rewarding, but they are reliably punchy and trenchant nonetheless. As in his poetry, Paterson vacillates throughout between winking self-aggrandizement and what appears to be sincere despond. Often bold and a touch arch, Paterson turns unexpectedly poignant at times, sometimes political—as in the brilliant mini-essay explaining why “most arguments to preserve [cultural diversity] are wholly paternalistic”—presenting something to return to on every page. (Aug.)

Reviewed on: 06/16/2008
Release date: 08/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
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