Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

To-Read List: Sam Lipsyte’s “The Ask”

It’s hard to resist the temptation of the new. I’m talking about the next next thing, the hot-off-the-press, the shiny and packaged, the perfection of a product or an idea–or a friend–who you’ve just met and can’t wait to devour. So I’ve just heard about the publication of Sam Lipsyte’s new novel, The Ask, and find myself falling into the trap of desire because it’s new. In Lipsyte’s case, I’m hoping it’s more than just its freshness.

Lipsyte has been a longtime contributor to hipsterville mag McSweeney‘s as well as Tin House and other envy-making publications. But Lipsyte has always stood out for me. His prose, terse, sensible, and awfully funny, often finds beauty in the ordinary; another writer I admire, Lydia Millet, offers her praise-worthy review in the NYT.

The beginning lines of his new novel, The Ask, a description of a deliman and his turkey sandwich:

The deli near Mediocre had a new wrap man. He rolled my order too tight. Turkey poked through the tan skin. I studied the damage through the translucent lid of the container. It was a bad way to begin my first day at my old job.

Lipsyte’s publicist has been hitting the pavement, because the Times also published a Q&A with the author in its nice Paper Cuts blog. My favorite response is when Lipsyte is asked to describe a typical writing day. If you’re not a writer, this will not be as hilarious and hapless and spot-on as I find it:

Wake up bursting with wonderful ideas for fiction. Don’t bother to write them down because I firmly believe that if they are worthwhile I’ll remember them. Make my son breakfast, pack his lunch, accompany him to school. Walk back home and try to remember the ideas I was bursting with when I woke up. Cannot remember a thing. Were they not worthwhile, or should I really start writing things down? Come home and play with my daughter and get ready for the day. Usually I’m teaching or meeting with students or reading their manuscripts. Or maybe there is some kind of committee, or an administrative task I must complete. Still, there is likely a one or two-hour window somewhere in all of this, time enough to take my laptop to the nearest library. If I hit the ground running, I might be able to polish a paragraph or two, or even begin something new. But I should probably check my e-mail first. And read some essays and stories online that friends have recommended. And check my e-mail again. And think about whether I should join an online social network. Maybe I’ll download a song. Wow, that two hours went fast! Now I’m home and hanging out with my family. After the nightly routine with the kids — dinner, bath, books, bed — I’ll really dig in for a serious session. While the world sleeps or watches dumb TV shows, I will launch myself into whole new worlds of story and language. But wow, I’m pretty tired! And that new Steven Seagal reality show is on, the one where he is an actual deputy sheriff and talks about the Zen of pistol shooting and tackles people in the poor sections of town. It’s like celebrity “Cops”! Anyway, I’ll be fresher tomorrow.

Here’s to the possibility inherent in the new, in this case, Lipsyte’s recently published novel. I’m happy to add it to my list of things to do.


Filed under: humor, literature, , , ,

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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