Brigham Young University professor Patrick Madden has won the 15 Bytes Book Award for Creative Nonfiction for his collection of essays. Published by the University of Nebraska Press, Disparates confirms Madden’s reputation as an essayist of great humor, vitality and range.
In one of the essays collected here, Madden mentions his wife’s characterization of his usual method of argument as getting “too far out in the branches,” which Madden thinks “is the way of all the great essayists.” References in one short essay might range from a PBS miniseries, his high school physics class and a 16th-century Swiss chemist to J.R.R. Tolkein, Thomas De Quincey and Jorge Luis Borges. “[Y]ou can essay about anything,” he says in another piece, “find some small hook in the overlooked or takenforgranted.” Madden is equally content to discourse on his illustrious predecessor, Montaigne, as on the rock songs he grew up with: KISS, Rush’s Neil Peart, REM, Toad the Wet Sprocket and The Ramones all feature in these essays. At one point, we even find Madden discussing the “absent antecedent” in a Beastie Boys song.
Madden’s forms are as wide-ranging as his subjects. A discourse on half-empty water bottles from literary readings, which opens the collection, features a question and answer format. Disparates contains essays in the form of a word search puzzle, a surreal crossbreeding of proverbs, and haikus in the form of pangrams (or is that pangrams in the form of haikus?). You’ll also find remixes of Madden’s own work, whether by using Botnik’s Predictive Writer program or simply rummaging through the weeds of one of his own essays and, by a process of elision, finding a new one.
For Patrick Madden, writing can be anything and anything can be writing. This impressive, vital collection will keep any reader on their toes, dancing with Madden in the world of language and ideas.
Madden is the author of two previously published collections of essays: Sublime Physick (2016) and Quotidiana (2010.) He grew up in New Jersey and Louisiana, received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Notre Dame and his PhD in creative nonfiction from Ohio University. He has been a Fullbright Fellow twice and his work has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and noted in The Best American Essays nine times. You can read more of his work at quotidiana.org.
UTAH’S ART MAGAZINE SINCE 2001, 15 Bytes is published by Artists of Utah, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.