John Martin published works by luminaries like Robert Duncan, Theodore Dreiser, Joyce Carol Oates, and D.H. Lawrence, but he will always be known as the founder of Black Sparrow Press. The publishing company he founded in 1966 published the bulk of Charles Bukowski’s work, republished John Fante’s brilliant 1939 novel Ask the Dust, and put some of Paul Bowles’ work back into print. Black Sparrow sold the rights to publish those three authors to HarperCollins in 2002, right around the time Martin retired and sold the remainder of his inventory for one dollar to David R. Godine. Renamed Black Sparrow Books, the imprint continues to this day, but it is not the same company it was under Martin, who originally financed the press by selling his large collection of rare first edition books. … Read More
Alexander Maksik’s new novel, You Deserve Nothing, is set in Paris and involves a dashing, charismatic teacher of romantic and existentialist authors who ends up starting a forbidden affair with one of his students. We thought he would be the perfect candidate to curate a list of 10 existential novels and one easily guessable play.
Maksik writes, “In the popular imagination, Existentialism is inextricable from left bank Paris café life – black turtlenecks, Les Deux Magots, Jean-Paul Sartre – but what I think of as the first great work of Existentialist fiction was written before Paris was even an idea. The Book of Job, the story of a man who suffers endlessly for no reason other than God’s whim. When Job has had enough and finally demands some explanation, God arrives and says, I’m paraphrasing here, Hey, did you make the world? No? Then sit down and shut up. Which is the biblical version of ‘because I’m the adult, I make the rules.’ So, in one way or another, the following novels all have their protagonists moving through similarly chaotic and unjust worlds, where there is no perfect logic, where there is no absolute morality, or reason and they are left to determine their own meaning in absurd and meaningless universes.”
If you’re in New York on September 10th, head over to Bar 82 for a round of Existentialist Trivia with Maksik. As always, send us your thoughts on classic existentialist texts in the comments section below. … Read More