Nadja by Andre Breton (the Grove Press edition, translated by Richard Howard). I came to French surrealism “late,” whatever that means, maybe I just mean that by the time I read this book (and the Manifestos of Surrealism, Rimbaud for the first time, Baudelaire, etc etc), I felt as if I didn’t know anybody who hadn’t. Which I think, is part of why I love it so much. I didn’t read it for “my studies,” yet it changed my writing nonetheless. I’m awful at making time to read stuff for total pleasure, for a fun afternoon on the couch, I think this is art school’s fault. My fault for thinking it is art school’s fault, though I love art school. The novel is a little absurd, a little romantic, a little tragic, very funny and unconcerned with traditional narrative. Nadja is a woman, this frustrating and romantic surrealist idea that Breton chases around for ~200 pages. Sometimes literally. It is thrilling.
2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?
I was on Wikipedia reading about Andre Breton. Then I drove to Amherst Books and bought it, took it home and read it twice, cover to cover, in one sitting. This was all in Western Massachusetts.
3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?
It totally troubled (still troubles, thank god) my sense of the world, my sense of freedom in writing. It makes me want to listen more closely when someone is talking to me. It also helps me work on my secret-novel which is a secret most days even to me. The prose is often so unwieldy and sprawling and erratic. It makes me want to think more associatively.
4. Give us a line or excerpt from the text that intrigues, engages, mystifies, inspires, disgusts, or transforms you. Discuss…
“Everything that permits us to live another’s life without ever desiring to obtain more from him than he gives, so that it is quite enough to see him move or be still, speak or be silent, wake or sleep, no longer existed for me, had never existed: this was only too certain.”
Depending on the day, this sentence (sentiment) is alternatingly wonderful or cripplingly sad.
5. Who did you send this book to, why?
I think I’m going to send it to Brian Foley. I think he’ll like it because it says interesting and sometimes-radical things about art, freedom, love, and “purpose.” With a little luck maybe he’ll come sit on my porch and talk about these things with me. Brian, I’m sending you a book.
Bio: Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013), and two chapbooks: The Hero Poems (H_NGM_N) and I Was Not Even Born (Coconut Books). Recent poems have appeared (or will appear) in The Best American Poetry, Gulf Coast, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Western Massachusetts.