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300 Arguments: Essays

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“Jam-packed with insights you’ll want to both text to your friends and tattoo on your skin….A sweeping view of a human mind trying to make order of the world around us.”―Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere

There will come a time when people decide you’ve had enough of your grief, and they’ll try to take it away from you.

Bad art is from no one to no one.

Am I happy? Damned if I know, but give me a few minutes and I’ll tell you whether you are.

Thank heaven I don’t have my friends’ problems. But sometimes I notice an expression on one of their faces that I recognize as secret gratitude.

I read sad stories to inoculate myself against grief. I watch action movies to identify with the quick-witted heroes. Both the same I’ll escape the worst of it.

―from 300 Arguments

A “Proustian minimalist on the order of Lydia Davis” ( Kirkus Reviews ), Sarah Manguso is one of the finest literary artists at work today. To read her work is to witness acrobatic acts of compression in the service of extraordinary psychological and spiritual insight.

300 Arguments , a foray into the frontier of contemporary nonfiction writing, is at first glance a group of unrelated aphorisms. But, as in the work of David Markson, the pieces reveal themselves as a masterful arrangement that steadily gathers power. Manguso’s arguments about desire, ambition, relationships, and failure are pithy, unsentimental, and defiant, and they add up to an unexpected and renegade wisdom literature.

104 pages, Paperback

First published February 7, 2017

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About the author

Sarah Manguso

23 books546 followers
Sarah Manguso is the author of eight books, most recently 300 Arguments, Ongoingness, The Guardians, and The Two Kinds of Decay, all works of autobiographical nonfiction. Her other books include the story collection Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape and the poetry collections Siste Viator and The Captain Lands in Paradise. Her work has been supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize, and her books have been translated into Chinese, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish. She grew up in Massachusetts and now lives in Los Angeles, where she currently teaches creative writing at Antioch University. Her first novel, Very Cold People, is forthcoming in February 2022 from Hogarth Books and Picador UK.

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5 stars
559 (27%)
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757 (36%)
3 stars
527 (25%)
2 stars
165 (8%)
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38 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 323 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 120 books160k followers
September 12, 2016
Just not my cup of tea, but full of wit and wisdom. Most people will love this book. It's me, not the 300 arguments.
Profile Image for Hannah.
595 reviews1,055 followers
January 26, 2019
I read Sarah Manguso's Ongoingness a few months ago and absolutely, positively adored it; enough to decide I want to read everything she has ever written. 300 Arguments appealed to me because I really happen to adore Manguso's style of micro-micro-essay (some of them only being one sentence long). I have to admit that it did not completely work for me - I found some of her thoughts dazzling and thought-provoking but others weak and maybe kind of superficial. It took me way too long to finish this book, given that it is tiny and only 96 pages long (and the pages are half empty). I still really love what Manguso is doing but it might take me a bit longer to pick something of hers up the next time.
Profile Image for Vincent Scarpa.
581 reviews159 followers
April 22, 2017
I always drop everything to read the latest from Sarah Manguso, for she has never written anything but a brilliant book. 300 ARGUMENTS is no exception. She has a mind I'd follow anywhere, any time. We are lucky to be alive at the same time she is producing such vital work. And lucky that Graywolf continues to provide a home for work like this.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,110 reviews725 followers
April 25, 2017
Through this tapestry of life runs the thread of connection - all our efforts to connect with others to make our existence bearable. Glad to have found this talented writer.
Profile Image for Kevin.
Author 33 books35.4k followers
March 11, 2018
As a reader, I want to quote from this little book like other people quote from The Bible. As a writer, this is a medicinal read. Meaning--whenever I'd read a chunk of these mini-essays, I'd find my brain thinking in the same watery depths and loose wisdom. Like the best work of Diane Williams or a really gifted poet, these words made me want to write, and when a book does that, I can't resist loving it. A miniaturist's delight.
Profile Image for Mary.
Author 15 books405 followers
September 25, 2016
More like a 3.5, really, but I don't want Vincent to think poorly of me.

"Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book's quotable passages."

I want the long book. Or the medium book.

There are a lot of quotable passages here--advice, anecdotes, dreams--but not quite enough context for me.

Profile Image for Chris.
154 reviews17 followers
March 14, 2017
I expected to love this book when I first got it--looking forward to smoothly distilled aphorisms--and then when I started it I began to expect that I would hate it--because trying a little too hard to be perfect, to be profound, to put things neatly into short sentences--and I ended up neither loving it or hating it but strongly liking it. It reads like a diary (a lot like the Susan Sontag diaries that were published a few years ago), or like a long Lydia Davis piece with less narrative arc. There were a bunch of gems, and more imperfect snippets that felt like real life than I first thought there would be--which was a good thing. It was conscious of its form and repeatedly brought in questions of what this kind of form can mean. That could've been grating if it stayed too long on the self-reflection or insisted too much on the rightness of the form, but it remained questioning and genuine, which brought me into the reflection rather than shoving it down my throat. I do kind of think that the auto-fiction/self-writing renaissance has come to the end of its line and needs to go somewhere new to be interesting, but this was a nice bridge from what has become familiar into something formally new, interesting, and broadening. Plus, it only took an afternoon to read!
Profile Image for Ben Loory.
Author 24 books694 followers
June 16, 2017
There truly are two kinds of people: you and everyone else.

Biographies should also contain the events that failed to foreshadow.

You can choose your friends but not your friendships.

Aspiring to fame is aspiring to a life of small talk.

Everything has to be paid for, especially money.

The first beautiful songs you hear tend to stay beautiful because better than beauty, which is everywhere, is the memory of first discovering beauty.

Profile Image for Louise Aronson.
Author 5 books116 followers
March 5, 2017
She is brilliant, simple as that. You could think about each of these for a day, a year, forever.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,871 reviews292 followers
March 5, 2020
Aphorisms. By Sarah Manguso. Three hundred of them.

Read a few at a time.



Doesn't apply to me.



And then, suddenly, brilliant.

Maybe just me.

Here were two I liked very much:

"The greatest commitments are to experiences with no known end points: friendship, marriage, parenthood, one's own life."

"Instead of pathologizing every human quirk, we should say, 'By the grace of this behavior, this individual has found it possible to continue.'"
Profile Image for Wendy Wakeman.
46 reviews12 followers
April 18, 2017
If you like this kind of thing, and I do, then you'll love 300 Arguments. I'm having trouble thinking of what to call "this kind of thing." Arguments, taken from facing pages, include "I want to shed my fears one by one until there's nothing left of me," and "There once was another Sarah Manguso. She lived in Colorado. Then she changed her name and disappeared from the internet. I miss her." Or this one: "A false compliment can land if the recipient wishes it were true." So, poetic, smart, unexpected. I delighted in it the way I delighted in Bluets by Maggie Nelson and Letters to Wendy's by Joe Wenderoth.
Profile Image for Matthew.
872 reviews26 followers
April 13, 2017
This is everything I want from a book. Poetic, detailed, eccentric, and thought provoking. How can you not love a book filled with 300 passages not necessarily related to the previous passage? This book covers depression, writing, affairs, motherhood, jealousy, and more. For similar reads: Bluets, Wittgenstein's Mistress, and Dept of Speculation.
Profile Image for Kate.
213 reviews25 followers
November 9, 2017
This book...
- contains kernels that cannot be condensed
- is a collection of profound tidbits
- contains 300 passages that the author hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages
- is thoroughly enjoyable
Profile Image for Daisysbookmusings.
195 reviews14 followers
February 5, 2019
An underwhelming mix of thoughts that has left me with no real desire to write an intelligent or witty review based off the 10% of this book that I liked.
Profile Image for Chris.
1,891 reviews75 followers
March 16, 2017
One of the aphorisms from the middle of 300 Arguments reads:
Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book's quotable passages.
And they are that, quotable. Reflections, insights, memories that each capture some truth about life. They are aphorisms, each a self-contained, poetic, miniature essay.
I used to write these while playing hooky on what I hoped would be my magnum opus. Assigning myself to write three hundred of them was like forcing myself to chain-smoke until I puked, but it didn't work. I didn't puke.
Yet, while they are each self-contained and complete, they are arranged in a sequence that tells a story. They are dots that can be connected to get a sense of a person behind them. While some are purely general,
Shame needs an excuse to feel ashamed. It apologizes for everything, even itself.
others convey common experiences with specific memories,
In ninth grade I was too afraid to speak to the boy I loved, so I mailed him a black paper heart every week for a year. I wasn't afraid of him; I was afraid of my feeling. It was more powerful than God. If we'd ever spoken it might have burned the whole place down.
and still others simply capture personal moments and feelings:
The most fervent kiss of my life was less than five seconds long more than ten years ago with someone else's husband. It still hasn't quite worn off.
Most are confessional on at least some level, particularly when connected with those surrounding them. Many echo, complement, and supplement previous thoughts from different perspectives. Themes emerge: desire, loss, ambition, writing, intimacy, suffering, vulnerability, marriage, parenthood, and mortality among them.

A person emerges: a passionate artist who has succeeded on at least some level as a writer, who has experienced many relationships before finding contentment in becoming a wife and mother, who has struggled with chronic illness, and who is reflecting on all of it from the perspective of a premature, voluntary end of life.

It is a book that asks if unfulfilled yearning is enough, in and of itself.
There were people I wanted so much before I had them that the entire experience of having them was grief for my old hunger.
And it is a book that hints at the hints of fulfillment a particular person has found.

And it accomplishes all of that in a spare, minimal, efficient, and original manner. It is quite a writing feat.
On the page, these might look like the stones of a ruin, strewn by time and weather, but I was here.
Profile Image for Amorak Huey.
Author 16 books36 followers
January 9, 2018
One essay? 300? A novel hiding under a pile of aphorisms?

Reminds me of Rachel Zucker’s The Pedestrians. Of Elise Gabbert’s The Self Unstable.

If someone boiled my reading aesthetic until there was nothing left but salt at the bottom of the pot, the salt would be this book.

Brilliant. Funny. Smart. Kinda heartbreaking.
Profile Image for Isabel.
57 reviews
March 9, 2017
"More bad writing from real life: I tried to run into someone every day for four months, then gave up. Four days later I ran into him without trying. Four hours later, I ran into him again and we went to a diner and shared a slice of pie" (59).
Profile Image for Alvin.
Author 7 books125 followers
March 27, 2018
These aren't so much arguments as notions, aperçus, and admissions. Some are brilliant, others merely clever, a few just OK, but collectively they're a terrific stimulus to thought and a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for elbren.
172 reviews10 followers
March 31, 2017
most accurate back cover blurb ever:
"Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book's quotable passages.”
Profile Image for Veronica.
80 reviews23 followers
November 26, 2018
Leiam Sarah Manguso. Em pequenas observações, ela descortina a existência em detalhes que mal percebemos; traz à baila aqueles pensamentos tão fugazes, mas que acabam nos perseguindo como fantasminhas aos quais sequer cogitamos dar voz.
Profile Image for Casi ! .
64 reviews3 followers
November 10, 2022
A collection of sentences that are meant to stand alone. Felt like a slightly upgraded version of my notes app. So short that I finished it but didn’t do much for me at all except one sentence that said “it depends on your erotics of helplessness” which I’ve been thinking abt a lot.
Profile Image for Alexandre.
25 reviews39 followers
July 29, 2021
Very good book of aphorisms and short observations.
Profile Image for Emily Zhou.
18 reviews45 followers
November 18, 2021
I read most of this on a bench in Prospect Park and then immediately upon finishing was nearly hit by a bus. Weirdly apropos
Profile Image for Cassie.
250 reviews15 followers
October 26, 2018
It took m almost a year to read this. Why is it that the microthoughts take so long to actually read?
Displaying 1 - 30 of 323 reviews

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