A 17th century French scholar once said the rise of printed books “will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.”
That’s a lot of responsibility to give literature, but hyperbole aside, we don’t disagree. Books have power; they shape the way we view the world and ourselves. And when quality declines and quantity increases, when we can’t find something great to read, it can threaten our identities. To “prevent this danger,” the scholar cautioned, we must save great books from oblivion. But how?
Gutenberg’s press meant that manuscripts, once printed and illustrated by hand, became (gasp) common, reproducible books. And in the twenty-first century, well, it’s been chaos: Blogs! Apps! iPads! Kindles! eBooks! Self-publishing!
A wide selection certainly has its benefits, but, in this saturated market, navigating through content is a daunting, disorienting task. In an age of distraction, Recommended Reading will help you discover writing that’s worth slowing down and spending some time with. We’ll publish one story every week, each chosen by an extraordinary author or editor, and deliver it directly to you. And in doing so, we’ll help give great writers, literary magazines, and independent presses the recognition (and readership) they deserve. This week, we have a story by Ben Marcus, chosen by Electric Literature.
We highly recommend it.
Halimah Marcus and Benjamin Samuel
Editors, Recommended Reading
By Ben Marcus
Recommended by Electric Literature
I DON’T THINK MY MOTHER will die today. It’s late at night already. She’d have to die in the next forty-five minutes, which doesn’t seem likely. I just saw her for dinner. We ordered in and watched a mystery on PBS. She kissed me goodnight and I took a taxi home. For my mother to die today, things would need to take a rapid turn.
My mother has her share of health troubles. She lives alone, which increases the likelihood of death. I could wake to a phone call, and learn that she died shortly after I left her tonight. I’d like to say that the odds are against my mother dying today, since so much of the day has already passed. She needs only to survive at home, in her bed, for less than an hour, and then she will have lived through the day, proving me correct. But I don’t know enough about odds. It would seem to me that the underlying premise of death―the death of an old woman alone in her apartment―is that it does not participate in man-made conceits like odds. People are said to beat the odds all the time. But then, perhaps, whoever keeps the odds―if he or she is intelligent―must account in advance for the odds being beaten, and adjust the odds accordingly. Odds keepers cannot be ignorant of the claim that the odds are beaten all the time. This must disturb them. And then they adjust the odds, one must assume, in order to make the odds more accurate? I don’t know. Odds should be odds, and they should never be beaten. If they are, then the odds are incorrect and should be changed.
“Watching Mysteries With My Mother” is Now Available as a Kindle Single
Ben Marcus is the author of several books, including The Age of Wire and String, a collection of stories, and, most recently, The Flame Alphabet, a novel. His stories have appeared in Harpers, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Tin House, and Conjunctions. He lives in New York.
All rights reserved by the author.