cover image Any Person Is the Only Self: Essays

Any Person Is the Only Self: Essays

Elisa Gabbert. FSG Originals, $18 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-60589-6

Poet Gabbert (The Unreality of Memory) muses on the literary life in this invigorating collection. The opening essay celebrates libraries’ “recently returned” carts, which Gabbert enjoys perusing as an alternative to recommendation algorithms and cultural tastemakers. In “Somethingness (or, Why Write?),” Gabbert surveys how noted authors have answered the eponymous question (Vladimir Nabokov aimed to bridge reality and fantasy through fiction, while Franz Kafka wanted “to cast out invasive thoughts”) and concludes that she’s motivated to write by the desire to improve the quality of her thinking. The lively commentary offers fresh takes on classic literature, as when Gabbert quips that rereading The Bell Jar made her realize that “Sylvia Plath doesn’t understand how paragraphs work.” She found Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde more profound than expected after reading it for the first time, suggesting the novel works “as a metaphor for aging or addiction or illness, the approach of death as a loss of the self.” Elsewhere, Gabbert discusses how journaling shapes one’s identity, how class hierarchy plays out in various novels’ party scenes, and the relationship between truth and fiction. Gabbert is an original thinker, and the literary analysis is refreshingly unstuffy. Bookworms will appreciate these intelligent essays. Agent: Monika Woods, Triangle House. (June)