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Patrick Madden

Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Imprint: University of Nebraska Press
Published: 04/2020
Pages: 208
Subject: Literary Collections
eBook ISBN: 9781496221865


In English disparate means "different" or "miscellaneous"—apt descriptors of these essays by Patrick Madden. In Spanish, however, disparate means "nonsense," "folly," or "absurdity,"—words appropriate to Madden's goal of undercutting any notion that essays must be serious business. Thus, in this collection, the essays are frivolous and lively, aiming to make readers laugh while they think about such abstract subjects as happiness and memory and unpredictability. In this vein, Madden takes sidelong swipes at weighty topics via form, with wildly meandering essays, abandoned essays in honor of the long tradition of essayists disparaging their own efforts, and guerrilla essays—which slip in quietly under the guise of a borrowed form, abruptly attack, and promptly escape, leaving laughter and contemplation in their wake. Madden also incorporates cameos from guest essayists, including Mary Cappello, Matthew Gavin Frank, David Lazar, Michael Martone, Jericho Parms, and Wendy S. Walters, much like a musician features other performers.Disparates reflects the current zeitgeist by taking on important issues with a touch of cleverness, a dash of humor, and a little help from one's friends.   Read Chapter 1.


Patrick Madden is a professor at Brigham Young University. He is the author of the award-winning Sublime Physick: Essays (Nebraska, 2016) and Quotidiana: Essays (Nebraska, 2010), and coeditor, with David Lazar, of After Montaigne: Contemporary Essayists Cover the Essays. His essays have appeared in a variety of periodicals as well as in The Best Creative Nonfiction and The Best American Spiritual Writing anthologies. Visit Madden's website at  


"The writing is playful and marked by humility, with Madden often inviting readers—and other writers—into the narrative. A capable collection of writing that continually reviews itself."—Kirkus Reviews

 "Patrick Madden has made a career championing the essay—its traditions, its tenets, and its opportunities. In this, his third collection, Madden masterfully demonstrates a crucial (and often overlooked) element of the form—raucous play—in each smart, active piece. Disparates plays constantly: with shape, with subject, with language; it even plays well with others in several lively collaborations. I savored this collection over several days like it was a sampler of fine candy . . . and then I found twenty bucks."—Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses

"You're in for a treat picking up Pat Madden's Disparates, a book that doubles down so hard on its disparity it ends up holding together in surprising ways. Madden is maniacal in his fidelity to found forms (eBay auction listing, OED definition, literary translation, wordfind puzzle, etc.) and seemingly bad ideas (composing an essay by machine-learned predictive text, writing pangram haiku, discussing the band Rush), but due to his prodigious enthusiasm and intelligence he lands more jumps than not. My favorite feature of Disparates seems at first like the book's worst idea: most of these essays feature other writers in guest spots. The overall effect is that of a perforated, collaborative self, manifesting exactly the kind of generosity and playfulness we could use a lot more of in literary nonfiction."—Ander Monson, author of I Will Take the Answer