Staff Chat: Sarah Manguso

Article by keaton

The Chatters: Liz Wright (Bookseller and Newsletter Lord), Keaton Patterson (Book Buyer and Beard Model), and Annalia Linnan (Bookseller and Off-Site Captain)
The Book: ONGOINGNESS: THE END OF A DIARY by Sarah Manguso
The Context: Sarah Manguso’s second, baby-sized memoir, following THE GUARDIANS: AN ELEGY 
The Plot: Pregnancy causes Manguso to abandon her other life’s work, her twenty-five-year diary

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Liz: Let’s talk about ONGOINGNESS!

Keaton: Sarah Manguso!

Liz: This book is...difficult. I had to move quickly through some parts, because I knew it would be too much if I thought about it.

Keaton: Yeah. For me, the entire weird compulsion she had to record everything was kind of unnerving, even before she started having problems.

Liz: Those compulsive moments really resonated with me. Like when she went out with a friend to another city, and he offered her a ride home, but she said no because she knew she was gonna need all four hours on the bus ride to write in the diary.

Annalia: So neither of you write every day or keep a journal or anything?

Liz: I’ve never been good at keeping a diary, but I do write fiction every day. I’m easy on myself, though. I’m like, “Okay, if you can only manage five minutes today, that’s fine.” I’m not compelled to the degree of Manguso, like I’ll forget everything if I don’t write it down.

Keaton: But even more than that, she said it’s almost like it never happened if she didn’t record it.

Annalia: I’ve been keeping a journal for the last ten years. Unlike Manguso, I’ve never done it on the computer, because I’m terrified of my computer getting ruined. The part of the book that I could relate to but also scared me the most was when she wrote about getting in this conversation with people: “How do you do that? I wish I could write every day,” etc. You know, people admired her dedication, but she said, “People don’t understand that instead of volunteering or doing things for other people or exercising that writing is the thing that I do.”

Keaton: I’ve always kept journals, too. A lot of times, it was basically poetry and story ideas and stuff like that, but recently I’ve tried to record my day and personal thoughts. I try to do it every day, but it doesn’t always work out that way. When I don’t write, I feel guilty, but Manguso felt guilty when she wrote. She saw it as a vice.

Annalia: What do you guys think about the form of the book--that the diary is something mentioned but never seen?

Keaton: I loved it. The short aphorisms of her writing are digestible, but they also compel you to delve into them and unpack them. You know, they enable you to relate to the impact the diary had on her.

Liz: Yeah, it’s the specter. I wouldn’t have wanted to see the diary, I don’t think, because the book is about the experience of keeping the diary, not about the diary itself.

Annalia: I’m glad that we didn’t see it, though there was the part when she talked about how multiple people have read her diary, or at least read sections of her diary--

Liz: That one boyfriend was a jerk!

Annalia: Yeah. One time, a boyfriend went on her computer when she was sleeping and read the whole thing. He told her, and she was completely unfazed! This really surprised me--that she was so free with this thing she was keeping close and constantly thinking about.

Keaton: But she also said that writing was trying to get everything out of her head and out of her, almost like whatever went into the diary was already separate. So I’m wondering if maybe that’s why she didn’t care whether other people read it.

Liz: The trope is always, “Don’t read my diary! That’s, like, my innermost thoughts!” But for Manguso, I wonder whether it was more record-keeping than personal.

Keaton: Personal or not, I liked how she was able to bring out these universal theme--mortality, remembrance, time and how we perceive it.

Annalia: In press I’ve read about this book, some people say it’s about Manguso keeping a diary even through her pregnancy, while others say her pregnancy and her son being born is why she stopped. What do you think?

Liz: I thought her motherhood made her stop. She said she often felt guilty for writing the diary because it was a self-absorbed act. When she had a child, that drew her dedication outside of herself--“this little person needs me.”

Keaton: I don’t think she quit because she had a child. I mean, she wrote that she kept doing the diary, but it changed tone. Instead of her thoughts, it became more of a record of everything that she saw and observed in her son: his intake and outtake, how many steps he took on a particular day, etc. But it’s definitely a psychic shift you go through when you become a parent. Your time stops being yours as you would like. But then again, I don’t know whether we can ever really control our time to begin with.

Liz: That’s deep.

Keaton: Did either of you see anything optimistic in ONGOINGNESS? I kept thinking about Camus’s “Myth of Sisyphus” when I was reading it, how her diary was the stone that she was pushing, the endless task she was always trying to accomplish, even when she realized that the diary was never going to be complete. She had to come to terms with the ongoingness of it.

Annalia: It’s hard for me to comment because I’m still at the time in my life where I am writing a lot and the future’s pretty open. I mean, I didn’t think it was not optimistic because she never was like, “Conclusion: I wasted my life doing this diary.” If she had said that, I probably would not have been able to finish the book.

Keaton: Foreboding, compulsion, and futility. Joy!

Liz: Yay! No, but it’s a good read. It’s deep.

Keaton: We approve.

Ongoingness: The End of a Diary Cover Image
$20.00
ISBN: 9781555977030
Availability: Backordered
Published: Graywolf Press - March 3rd, 2015

ONGOINGNESS will be published on March 3, 2015


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