Ongoingness/300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso initially caught my eye on the Hatchards bookshelf because of its eye-catching design. First, I love books that are small in stature. This book also has the added bonus of actually being two books in one, and flipping it over and over again was too much fun for my little bookish heart. However, what actually sealed the deal on this purchase was that Ongoingness is about the author’s experiences of keeping a journal for years and years and then stopping suddenly when she had a child. As some of you may know, I’m an avid keeper of journals (as shown here). The act of journaling isn’t something you read about very often, so I was thrilled to have randomly stumbled upon a book about one of my favorite hobbies. I bought it.
However, I ended up being a little disappointed by these two books. I have different reasons for each, so I’m going to discuss the books separately.
As I briefly mentioned, Ongoingness is the author’s experience of keeping a journal for decades and how that ritual changes once she has a child. I say ritual because journaling is more than just a casual jotting down of feelings for Manguso; it is a way of life, an extreme form of record-keeping, and what seems to me like a compulsive way of trying to control one’s own memories. She kept a record of absolutely everything, all saved in huge files on her computer. I must admit that it was bizarre to read about; however I’m not judging her for journaling in this obsessive way. If that’s how she wants or needs to live her life in order to get through, that’s fine by me. Her meticulous record-keeping of daily life just wasn’t the kind of journaling that I was hoping to read about (i.e. the casual journaling that most people probably think of when they hear that word). I did enjoy Manguso’s musings on how journaling impacts our memories, and whether or not its influence is positive or negative. Do we rewrite our own memories when we put them down on paper? Can we still consider our memories reality then, or are they fiction? Although interesting to think about, at a certain point these existential circles become unproductive and don’t yield any helpful answers. All in all, this was a fine book, just not what I was hoping it would be.
300 Arguments is just what the title says it is: a collection of three hundred arguments. But these arguments are really more like statements of ideas or brief, vague hints at stories rather than what I imagined would be thesis statements. I suppose you could argue about them one way or another, but they are the kind of things that I would really want to spend time arguing about. I guess the underlying problem here is that I didn’t think the arguments were very interesting or even that worthwhile (which sounds harsh, but it’s the truth). Many of them seemed overdramatic to me, or maybe melodramatic is a more accurate word. I found it a little surprising that these two books were written by the same person—surely someone who chronicled every single detail of their life would have had more existential, theoretical, thought-provoking arguments to assert?
Overall, Ongoingness and 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso just weren’t my cup of tea. In the case of Ongoingness I think my expectations got in the way; however, I do feel as though 300 Arguments wasn’t executed in the best way possible. Still, I would encourage people to read them if they sound interesting enough.
Have you ever read either of these books or anything else by this author? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments section below!