Thomas Farber: Briefs read fast, but are profound
In his 1998 “Compressions: A Second Helping,” Thomas Farber describes his epigrammatic writing as “using the enchantment of language to express … aspects of disenchantment, brief briefs about or against what we profess to hold to be true.” Author of more than 20 books of fiction, nonfiction, and writing on photography, Farber recently published his fourth book of epigrams in as many years, “The End of My Wits,” and will celebrate the release with a reading Thursday at Mrs. Dalloway’s.
A senior lecturer in UC Berkeley’s English department, Farber has received much praise for his work, including three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts – for both fiction and nonfiction – and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
In Farber’s “Foregone Conclusions” (2011), each page has only one epigram, which invites the reader to stop and ponder its implications. The result is a sort of rush, covert osmosis: Though you will find yourself turning the pages faster than you would those of nearly any other book, the lines retain their effects and may linger far longer.
Often humorous while investigating interpersonal relationships, the epigrams in “Foregone Conclusions” reveal their profundity on quick read but reward closer attention. “Divorce: donated organs, rejected.” “Your personal expiration date? Blind.” “In defense of malice, it’s not all aforethought.” It’s a wonder Farber is able to say so much with so little, but more impressive is that he’s able to keep the tone so light; the reason is that most of the book is suggestive, so that the reader brings the weight to the words.
Perhaps that’s what Farber means by the title of “The End of My Wits,” where the author leaves off and we are to meet him.
Hearing rather than reading such a collection of mostly one-liners is at once more challenging and fun: The words don’t have as much time to sink in, but the barrage of them is appropriately acute and offers an enlightening disorientation.
Also on Thursday, recent California College of the Arts MFA recipients Crys Lehman and Leonard Crosby host the final installment of this summer’s One Lone Pear Tree series, which features a small group of writers in their large backyard and includes free drinks, snacks and a bonfire. As the title of the series suggests, there is one pear tree in the backyard – what began the summer leafy will now provide fruit for homemade pear pie. The lineup includes Sarah Bushman, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Carolyn Ho and Nick Johnson (6 p.m. Free. 1953 McAllister St., S.F. www.facebook.com/onelonepeartree).
Carolyn Cooke, whose “Daughters of the Revolution” was listed among the best novels of 2011 by both The Chronicle and the New Yorker, will read from her new book of stories, “Amor & Psycho,” on Saturday at Book Passage in the Ferry Building. Cooke teaches in the MFA writing program at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and her writing is a unique combination of philosophy, psychology, and stunning prose (6 p.m. Free. Ferry Building, S.F. www.bookpassage.com).
If you go
Thomas Farber: 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 22). Mrs. Dalloway’s, 2904 College Ave., Berkeley. (510) 704-8222.
This article originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.
Photo by Peg Skorpinksi