This post was written by Friday guest blogger Annie Reid.

In light of William Vollman’s surprise win (at least to him) of the National Book Award the other day, we point you to James Gibbons’ excellent essay in last summer’s BookForum on Vollman’s career to date and the winning Europe Central. On the publication of a mid-career reader (Expelled from Eden), Gibbons looks at Vollman’s astounding output, his influences and his tendency toward off-putting subjects, as well as his work habits:

Toiling in a sweatshop of his own devising, clocking up to sixteen hours a day at his desk, the forty-five-year-old Vollmann has exacted a considerable toll on his body at a relatively young age. In his 1998 essay “Writing,” considering his “swollen and aching fingers,” he tells how “sometimes the ache oozes up to my shoulders, sometimes only to my wrists; once or twice I’ve felt it in my back. Poor posture, they say, or ‘repetitive stress injury,’ or possibly carpal tunnel. . . . Writing is bad for me physically, without a doubt, but what would I do if I stopped?”

What with my lack of discipline and first-chapter whorishness, I find Vollman’s books hard to finish, but some of his writing, particularly in “The Rifles,” is so astounding and beautiful and has such aching intelligence that I just want to hang up the keyboard.


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