Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair (Hardcover)

Zero at the Bone: Fifty Entries Against Despair By Christian Wiman Cover Image
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Christian Wiman braids poetry, memoir, and criticism to create an inspired, career-defining work.

Few contemporary writers ask the questions about faith, morality, and God that Christian Wiman does, and even fewer—perhaps none—do so with his urgency and eloquence. Wiman, an award-winning poet and the author of My Bright Abyss, lays the motion of his mind on the page in this genre-defying work, an indivisible blend of poetry, criticism, theology, and searing memoir. As Marilynne Robinson wrote, “[Wiman’s] poetry and his scholarship have a purifying urgency that is rare in this world . . . [It] enables him to say new things in timeless language, so that the reader’s surprise and assent are one and the same.”

Zero at the Bone begins with Wiman’s preoccupation with despair, and through fifty brief pieces, he unravels its seductive appeal. The book is studded with the poetry and prose of writers who inhabit Wiman’s thoughts, and the voices of Wallace Stevens, Lucille Clifton, Emily Dickinson, and others join his own. At its heart and Wiman’s, however, are his family—his young children (who ask their own invaluable questions, like “Why are you a poet? I mean why?”), his wife, and those he grew up with in West Texas. Wiman is the rare thinker who takes on the mantle of our greatest mystics and does so with an honest, profound, and contemporary sensibility. Zero at the Bone is a revelation.

About the Author

Christian Wiman is the author, editor, or translator of more than a dozen books of poetry and prose, including two memoirs, My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer and He Held Radical Light: The Art of Faith, the Faith of Art; Every Riven Thing, winner of the Ambassador Book Award; Once in the West, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist; and Survival Is a Style—all published by FSG. He teaches religion and literature at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and at Yale Divinity School.

Praise For…

Named a Best Book of 2023 by Shelf Awareness

“Wiman offers a welcome tonic: poetic and philosophical reminders of how to get through troubling times. . . Wiman could charm an atheist out of a tree . . . [Zero at the Bone is] a profane, irreverent, freewheeling and necessary book. Readers of whatever creed will be jolted to lift their heads from their screens and turn them to the unfathomable heavens.” —Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Times (Editor's Choice)

Wiman is among the most distinguished Christian writers of his generation . . . Now he hopes that his experimental book—part poetry anthology, part memoir, part theological treatise—can help others live . . . The rewards for readers are immense and renewable . . . Word by word, Wiman resuscitates ancient ideas, from being to spirit, leaving our faces pressed hopefully against the here-and-now window of the poem.” —Casey Cep, The New Yorker

Christian Wiman [is] the greatest living devotional poet in the United States . . . Few poets, much less essayists, have been so enraptured with the subject of living with death as has Wiman, who has stared into the abyss and been transformed—though, fortunately, not into the abyss itself . . . [Zero at the Bone] exists in that uncomfortable but undeniable certainty that creation is imbued with sublime pain and awful beauty.” —Ed Simon, Poetry

“[In Zero at the Bone] Wiman has discovered a new . . . form, one that embodies the abstractions of faith and finds music for the soul’s yearnings.” —Anthony Domestico, The Washington Post

"The best poems show a mind at work; apparently the best theological essays do the same . . . Zero at the Bone is a humbly honest but daring invitation to put aside our lonely despair to seek truth with Wiman and a hundred other fallible, fumbling, loveable writers.” —Whitney Rio-Ross, Fare Forward

Zero at the Bone combines each of [Wiman’s] talents to produce something familiar and yet strangely new . . . Zero at the Bone is philharmonic. The entries play and peal like strings, woodwinds, percussion, but they work together, enhance each other such that while individual entries ebb and flow, the book itself crescendos into syncopated antiphony . . . a polyphonic masterpiece . . . a work of art.” —Nathan M. Antiel, First Things

“A spiritual marvel . . . provocative and delightful.” —Aarik Danielsen, Englewood Review of Books

“An exuberant tribute to both poetry and faith, which Wiman contends can help us not only survive crisis but also find awe within its clutches.” —Maggie Millner, The Yale Review

Zero at the Bone would be a strong competitor among my picks for a 'marooned on a desert island' reading club' . . . a deeply thoughtful, multi-layered exploration of the nature of despair—its origins, relationship to faith, and how we live in its enduring presence . . . The result is an exhilarating, confounding, comforting, and surprisingly fresh intellectual journey.” —Ann Leamon, Arts Fuse

"[Zero at the Bone] is a dizzying book—at alternate points turbulent, psalm-like, revelatory—and altogether strangely uplifting. It is like nothing else I have read.”—Josh Jeter, Christianity Today

“Consider . . . Wiman’s great editorial talent, the range of his reading, his curatorial gift for creating a literary conversation, the depth of his grief and suffering, his plucky gifts as a writer. Smelt them into a single alloy, and you might have something that looks like his latest book, Zero at the Bone . . . Wiman’s religious vision [is] challenging and necessary.” —Nick Ripatrazone, The Bulwark

“The shift in forms and tone throughout this incandescent mosaic keeps the reader alert and curious; each piece is an adventure, provocation, meditation, lesson, or attempted proof. A passionate literary religious thinker in the mode of Marilynne Robinson, Wiman is magnetizing and revelatory.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Wiman weaves together poetry, essay, and memoir in this dazzling, multivocal examination of and refusal to accept existential despair . . . Wiman’s knowledge is vast, and his evocative imagery lingers in the mind . . . [Zero at the Bone is] a gorgeous ode to the power of poetry to grapple with life’s most anguished moments.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"If there is one word to describe this beautiful and unsparing book, it is 'truthful': Christian Wiman interrogates pain, joy and God with a rare depth of honesty and a wonderful range of conversational partners, literary, mystical, scientific and more." —Archbishop Rowan Williams

"Over the years, readers have thrilled to Christian Wiman in his many avatars: master poet, illuminating literary critic, essayist, memoirist, anthologist. All of these urgent, intense Wimans work together here on a theme uniquely suited to his experiences and his 'ninja blender of a mind.' But this book is far more than just a collection of his readings and sufferings. It is a book, most memorably, of his enthusiasms, his volatile revelations, his hard-won joys. These fifty 'entries on despair' open on infinitudes. The most quintessentially Wiman of all his books so far, Zero at the Bone is astringently, transcendently human." —Amit Majmudar, author of Black Avatar: And Other Essays

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374603458
ISBN-10: 0374603456
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: December 5th, 2023
Pages: 320
Language: English