Recommended: Bartleby & Co by Enrique Vila-Maltas

Bartleby & Co, a book of short essays about writers who stopped writing, and why, has given me the longest “must read” list of other books I’ve ever gleaned from a single source. It helps that so many of his favorite writers are also mine. From Walser to Musil to Melville to Kafka to Calvino to Felipe Alfau and Henry Roth and so many others, Vila-Maltas tells the stories of writers faced with the immpossibility of writing, the insufficiency of words to properly express what they wanted so much that they simply had to stop, sometimes for decades on end. He begins with the great character Bartleby the Scrivener from Melville’s wonderful story (perhaps my favorite short story of all time), the office clerk who “prefers not to” do anything whatsoever. Vila-Maltas scours the annals of literature to find all sorts of variants and variations of this attitude and theme with an abundance of charm and wit and humor. This is not about ordinary writer’s block but rather the tales of those who continue to produce, though perhaps only in their minds! The dreams and fantasies and imaginations live on, but deliberately and consciously uncommitted to paper. There are so many interesting bits in this book. I’m glad the author himself did not suffer from Bartleby syndrome, or at least not yet!

Unfortunately it’s not available as an ebook, but the public library came to my rescue once again.

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