Wayne Koestenbaum’s Book Bag: The Best of the ’80s

The poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum’s new book, My 1980s and Other Essays, explores, among other things, the age of Ronald Reagan and MTV. Here are five of his favorite books from the decade.

The Morning of the Poem (1980)By James Schuyler

Schuyler, a New York School poet, is less famous than his friends John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, but his poetry, like theirs, is funny, ribald, noisy, erudite, and hospitable to every tangent and whim. The title poem rushes forward with a gorgeous hydraulic motion, as if Proust had been sped up and turned into a Town Car.

Eros the Bittersweet (1986)By Anne Carson

Soon after publishing this book—her first—Carson transformed herself into a remarkable poet. But she started out as a classics scholar, and Eros is proof of those labors—even as it lavishly turns away from conventional notions of how to write a critical book. Lyrical yet severe, Eros delivers a poetic meditation on love, told (appropriately, in fragments) over Sappho’s dead body.

Break It Down (1986)By Lydia Davis

Davis had already made a name for herself as a translator of French literature when she published this extraordinary collection of short stories—very short, some of them, and very odd. Their oddness—perfect pitch, perfectly balanced and economical sentences—consists not in plot eccentricities but in the hyperattentive qualities of Davis’s mind, its obsessiveness, its humor, its nimble, dry lucidity.

Difficult Women: A Memoir of Three (1983) By David Plante

Plante recounts his friendships with three formidable women: Jean Rhys, Sonia Orwell, Germaine Greer. My favorite part is the scene where Jean Rhys falls into the toilet. Don’t ask me to explain how an adult can fall into a toilet. Read Plante and find out.

The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech (1989) By Avital Ronell

The smartest book ever written about the telephone. The smartest book ever written about the impossibility of direct communication. The smartest book ever written about the longing for communication. A wild classic.