Posts Tagged ‘fiction’
Here’s what’s looking good this month in paperback.
Shantytown by Cesar Aira
Maxi, a middle-class, directionless ox of a young man who helps the trash pickers of Buenos Aires’s shantytown, attracts the attention of a corrupt, trigger-happy policeman who will use anyone — including two innocent teenage girls — to break a drug ring that he believes is operating within the slum. A strange new drug, a brightly lit carousel of a slum, the kindness of strangers, gunplay… no matter how serious the subject matter, and despite Aira’s “fascination with urban violence and the sinister underside of Latin American politics” (The Millions), Shantytown, like all of Aira’s mesmerizing work, is filled with wonder and mad invention.
Dark Times in the City by Gene Kerrigan
Danny Callaghan is fresh from prison, enjoying a drink in a quiet Dublin pub when two young thugs walk in. The guns come out and Danny intervenes, simultaneously saving the intended victim and insulting the kingpin of one of Dublin’s deadliest underworld outfits. Once the police decide to investigate, Danny has another grim decision to make: lying or acting as an honest witness. Either way he’s caught between corrupt officers of the law and a ruthless new gang culture.
Dark Times in the City plays out its absorbing human drama in a society stumbling from giddy prosperity to a frightening economic collapse. Against the background of this brilliantly observed Ireland, Kerrigan tells his tough, graceful story of the cost of one man’s decency.
An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava
A haunting and moving collection of original narratives that reveals an expatriate’s coming-of-age in Paris and the magic she finds in ordinary objects
When Stephanie LaCava’s father transports her and her family to the quaint Parisian suburb of Le Vesinet, everything changes for the young American. Stephanie sets out to explore her new surroundings and make friends at her unconventional international school, but her curiosity soon gives way to feelings of anxiety and a deep depression.
In her darkest moments, Stephanie learns to filter the world through her peculiar lens, discovering the uncommon, uncelebrated beauty in what she finds. Encouraged by her father through trips to museums and scavenger hunts at antiques shows, she traces an interconnected web of narratives about outsider figures and of objects historical and natural that ultimately helps her survive.A series of illustrated essays that unfolds in cinematic fashion, An Extraordinary Theory of Objects offers a universal lesson–to harness the power of creativity to cope with loneliness, sadness, and disappointment and find wonder in the uncertainty of the future.
Happy Mutant Baby Pills by Jerry Stahl
Lloyd has a particular set of skills. He writes the small print for prescription drugs, marital aids, and incontinence products. The clients present him with a list of possible side effects. His job is “to recite and minimize”–sometimes by just saying them really fast and other times by finding the language that can render them acceptable. The results are ingenious. The methods diabolical.
Lloyd has a habit, too. He cops smack during coffee breaks at his new job writing copy for Christian Swingles, an online dating service for the faithful. He finds a precarious balance between hackwork and heroin until he encounters Nora, a mysterious and troubled young woman, a Sylvia Plath with tattoos and implants, who asks for his help.
Lloyd falls swiftly in love, but Nora bestows her affections at a cost. Before Lloyd clears his head from the fog of romance, he finds himself complicit in Nora’s grand scheme to horrify the world and exact revenge on those who poison the populace in order to sell them the cure.
The Cute Girl Network by MK Reed, Greg Means, and Joe Flood
Jane’s new in town. When she wipes out on her skateboard right in front of Jack’s food cart, she finds herself agreeing to go on a date with him. Jane’s psyched that her love life is taking a turn for the friskier, but it turns out that Jack has a spotty romantic history, to put it mildly. Cue the Cute Girl Network — a phone tree information-pooling group of local single women. Poor Jane is about to learn every detail of Jack’s past misadventures… whether she wants to or not. Will love prevail?
In this graphic novel from Greg Means, Americus author MK Reed, and Joe Flood, the illustrator of Orcs, comes a fast, witty, and sweet romantic comedy that is actually funny, and actually romantic.
Everything Happens as It Does by Albena Stambolova
Albena Stambolova’s idiosyncratic debut novel,Everything Happens as It Does, builds from the idea that, as the title suggests, everything happens exactly the way it must. In this case, the seven characters of the novel—from Boris, a young boy who is only at peace when he’s around bees, to Philip and Maria and their twins—each play a specific role in the lives of the others, binding them all together into a strange, yet logical, knot. As characters are picked up, explored, and then swept aside, the novel’s beguiling structure becomes apparent, forcing the reader to pay attention to the patterns created by this accumulation of events and relationships. This is not a novel of reaching moral high ground; this is not a book about resolving relationships; this is a story whose mysteries are mysteries for a reason.
Gilgi by Irmgard Keun
Irmgard Keun’s first novel Gilgi was an overnight sensation upon its initial publication in Germany, selling thousands of copies, inspiring numerous imitators, and making Keun a household name—a reputation that was only heightened when, a few years later, the nervy Keun sued the Gestapo for blocking her royalties.
The story of a young woman trying to establish her independence in a society being overtaken by fascism, Gilgi was not only a brave story, but revolutionary in its depiction of women’s issues, at the same time that it was, simply, an absorbing and stirring tale of a dauntless spirit. Gilgi is a secretary in a hosiery firm, but she doesn’t intend to stay there for long: she’s disciplined and ambitious, taking language classes, saving up money to go abroad, and carefully avoiding both the pawing of her boss and any other prolonged romantic entanglements. But then she falls in love with Martin, a charming drifter, and leaves her job for domestic bliss—which turns out not to be all that blissful– and Gilgi finds herself pregnant and facing a number of moral dilemmas.
It was near impossible keeping this month’s roundup short. Lots of good stuff coming out in October. Hit the bookstores!
How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman
For the last fifteen years, whenever a novel was published, John Freeman was there to greet it. As a critic for more than two hundred newspapers worldwide, the onetime president of the National Book Critics Circle, and the current editor of Granta, he has reviewed thousands of books and interviewed scores of writers. In How to Read a Novelist, which pulls together his very best profiles (many of them new or completely rewritten for this volume) of the very best novelists of our time, he shares with us what he’s learned.
From such international stars as Doris Lessing, Haruki Murakami, Salman Rushdie, and Mo Yan, to established American lions such as Don DeLillo, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, Marilynne Robinson, Philip Roth, John Updike, and David Foster Wallace, to the new guard of Edwidge Danticat, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, and more, Freeman has talked to everyone.
What emerges is an instructive and illuminating, definitive yet still idiosyncratic guide to a diverse and lively literary culture: a vision of the novel as a varied yet vital contemporary form, a portrait of the novelist as a unique and profound figure in our fragmenting global culture, and a book that will be essential reading for every aspiring writer and engaged reader—a perfect companion (or gift!) for anyone who’s ever curled up with a novel and wanted to know a bit more about the person who made it possible.
Frequencies Volume 3
The latest installment of “Frequencies” follows Norman Mailer and George Plimpton to Vienna for a staged reading of “Zelda,” based on correspondence between Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. D. Foy tracks krump, from street-art to reality television.Plus: Antonia Crane on being down-and-out in San Francisco, and a discussion between photographer Lynn Davis and husband, Rudolph Wurlitzer.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
In the early 1960s, a struggling company called Marvel Comics presented a cast of brightly costumed characters distinguished by smart banter and compellingly human flaws: Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men. Over the course of half a century, Marvel’s epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.
For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and generations of editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and–over matters of credit and control–one another. Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, and third-act betrayals–a narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop-cultural entities in America’s history.
The Revolution of Every Day by Cari Luna
In the midnineties, New York’s Lower East Side contained a city within its shadows: a community of squatters who staked their claims on abandoned tenements and lived and worked within their own parameters, accountable to no one but each other. With gritty prose and vivid descriptions, Cari Luna’s debut novel, “The Revolution of Every Day,” imagines the lives of five squatters from that time. But almost more threatening than the city lawyers and the private developers trying to evict them are the rifts within their community. Amelia, taken in by Gerrit as a teen runaway seven years earlier, is now pregnant by his best friend, Steve. Anne, married to Steve, is questioning her commitment to the squatter lifestyle. Cat, a fading legend of the downtown scene and unwitting leader of one of the squats, succumbs to heroin. The misunderstandings and assumptions, the secrets and the dissolution of the hope that originally bound these five threaten to destroy their homes as surely as the city’s battering rams. “The Revolution of Every Day” shows readers a life that few people, including the New Yorkers who passed the squats every day, know about or understand.
What Are You Looking At?: The Surprising, Shocking, and Sometimes Strange Story of 150 Years of Modern Art by Will Gompertz
In the tradition of Eats, Shoots & Leaves, art history with a sense of humor
Every year, millions of museum and gallery visitors ponder the modern art on display and secretly ask themselves, “Is this art?” A former director at London’s Tate Gallery and now the BBC arts editor, Will Gompertz made it his mission to bring modern art’s exciting history alive for everyone, explaining why an unmade bed or a pickled shark can be art—and why a five-year-old couldn’t really do it.
Rich with extraordinary tales and anecdotes, What Are You Looking At? entertains as it arms readers with the knowledge to truly understand and enjoy what it is they’re looking at.
The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf
It is a sunny summer Sunday in a remote Swiss village, and a christening is being celebrated at a lovely old farmhouse. One of the guests notes an anomaly in the fabric of the venerable edifice: a blackened post that has been carefully built into a trim new window frame. Thereby hangs a tale, one that, as the wise old grandfather who has lived all his life in the house proceeds to tell it, takes one chilling turn after another, while his audience listens in appalled silence. Featuring a cruelly overbearing lord of the manor and the oppressed villagers who must render him service, an irreverent young woman who will stop at nothing, a mysterious stranger with a red beard and a green hat, and, last but not least, the black spider, the tale is as riveting and appalling today as when Jeremias Gotthelf set it down more than a hundred years ago. The Black Spider can be seen as a parable of evil in the heart or of evil at large in society (Thomas Mann saw it as foretelling the advent of Nazism), or as a vision, anticipating H. P. Lovecraft, of cosmic horror. There’s no question, in any case, that it is unforgettably creepy.
The Dark by Sergio Chejfec
Opening with the presently shut-in narrator reminiscing about a past relationship with Delia, a young factory worker,The Dark employs Chejfec’s signature style with an emphasis on the geography and motion of the mind, to recount the time the narrator spent with this multifaceted, yet somewhat absent, woman. On their daily walks he becomes privy to the ways in which the working class functions; he studies and analyzes its structure and mindset, finding it incredibly organized, self-explanatory, and even beautiful. He repeatedly attempts to apply his “book” knowledge to explain what he sees and wants to understand of Delia’s existence, and though the difference between their social classes is initially a source of great intrigue—if not obsession—he must eventually learn that there comes a point where the boundary between observer and participant can dissolve with disarming speed.
The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth by Robert Graves
This labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’s vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explores the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry.
Incorporating all of Graves’s final revisions, his replies to two of the original reviewers, and an essay describing the months of illumination in which The White Goddess was written, this is the definitive edition of one of the most influential books of our time.
Leapfrog by Guillermo Rosales
Leapfrog depicts one summer in the life of a very poor young boy in post-revolutionary Havana in the late ’50s. He has superhero fantasies, hangs around with the neighborhood kids, smokes cigarettes, tells very lame jokes: “By the way, do you know who died? No. Someone who was alive. Laughter.” The kids fight, discuss the mysteries of religion and sex, and play games — such as leapfrog. So vivid and so very credible, Leapfrog reads as if Rosales had simply transcribed everything that he’d heard or said for this one moving and touching book about a lost childhood.
Leapfrog was a finalist for Cuba’s prestigious Casa de las Americas award in 1968. Years later, Rosales’s sister told The Miami Herald that Rosales felt he hadn’t won the prize because his book lacked sufficient leftist fervor, and that subtle critiques of cruel children and hypocritical adults throughout the playful recollections had clearly “rankled” state officials. In the end the novel never appeared in Cuba. It was first published in Spain in 1994, a year after Rosales’s death.
Small press HiLoBooks has been reviving stories from the “Radium Age,” a term coined by publisher Joshua Glenn to mean the era in science fiction encompassing 1904 to 1933. The Clockwork Man, having come out last week, is their most recent title in the series.
Written by Edwin Vincent (E.V.) Odle, a British playwright, critic, and short-story author, The Clockwork Man is considered by many to be the first cyborg novel. Unfortunately it came out in 1923, the same year as Karel Čapek’s R.U.R., which succeeded in taking all the glory.
For years The Clockwork Man languished in obscurity, ultimately becoming out-of-print. Joshua Glenn, having heard about the book, was tired of waiting for someone else to reissue it, found a first edition, and brought it back to life.
A forgotten classic, first serialized online at HiLoBrow, now published in paperback with an introduction from Annalee Newitz of io9, The Clockwork Man should be on the shelf of every science fiction fan.
Here’s an excerpt:
It was just as Doctor Allingham had congratulated himself upon the fact that the bowling was broken, and he had only to hit now and save the trouble of running, just as he was scanning the boundaries with one eye and with the other following Tanner’s short, crooked arm raised high above the white sheet at the back of the opposite wicket, that he noticed the strange figure. Its abrupt appearance, at first sight like a scarecrow dumped suddenly on the horizon, caused him to lessen his grip upon the bat in his hand. His mind wandered for just that fatal moment, and his vision of the oncoming bowler was swept away and its place taken by that arresting figure of a man coming over the path at the top of the hill, a man whose attitude, on closer examination, seemed extraordinarily like another man in the act of bowling.
That was why its effect was so distracting. It seemed to the doctor that the figure had popped up there on purpose to imitate the action of a bowler and so baulk him. During the fraction of a second in which the ball reached him, the second image had blotted out everything else. But the behavior of the figure was certainly abnormal. Its movements were violently ataxic. Its arms revolved like sails of a windmill. Its legs shot out in all directions, enveloped in dust.
The doctor’s astonishment was turned into annoyance by the spectacle of his shattered wicket. A vague clatter of applause broke out. The wicket keeper stooped down to pick up the bails. The fielders relaxed and flopped down on the grass. They seemed to have discovered suddenly that it was a hot afternoon, and that cricket was, after all, a comparatively strenuous game. One of the umpires, a sly nasty fellow, screwed up his eyes and looked hard at the doctor as the latter passed him, walking with the slow, meditative gait of the bowled out, and swinging his gloves. There was nothing to do but glare back, and make the umpire feel a worm. The doctor wore an eye-glass, and he succeeded admirably. His irritation boiled over and produced a sense of ungovernable childish rage. Somehow, he had not been able to make any runs this season, and his bowling average was all to pieces. He began to think he ought to give up cricket. He was getting past the age when a man can accept reverses in the spirit of the game, and he was sick and tired of seeing his name every week in the Great Wymering Gazette as having been dismissed for a “mere handful.”
He looked out the window, and there was that confounded figure still jiggling about. It had come nearer to the ground. It hovered, with a curious air of not being related to its surroundings that was more than puzzling. It did not seem to know what it was about, but hopped along aimlessly, as though scenting a track, stopped for a moment, blundered forward again and made a zig-zag course towards the ground. The doctor watched it advancing through the broad meadow that bounded the pitch, threading its way between the little groups of grazing cows, that raised their heads with more than their ordinary, slow persistency, as though startled by some noise. The figure seemed to be aiming for the barrier of hurdles that surrounded the pitch, but whether its desire was for cricket or merely to reach some kind of goal, whether it sought recreation or a mere pause from its restless convulsions, it was difficult to tell. Finally, it fell against the fence and hung there, two hands crooked over the hurdle and its legs drawn together at the knees. It became suddenly very still—so still that it was hard to believe it ever moved.
It was certainly odd. The doctor was so struck by something altogether wrong about the figure, something so suggestive of a pathological phenomenon, that he almost forgot his annoyance and remained watching it with an unlighted cigarette between his lips.
There’s a commonly held belief in the literary world that Americans do not like to read books in translation. So ingrained is this idea that many translators who I have heard speak publicly state that the translator’s name is often left off the cover, lest the public realize that what they have in their hands is not originally written in English.* Other countries do not seem to have this problem, most likely because they are not of the privileged whose language is the most widely spoken.
If the above is to be taken as true, that Americans do in fact have a bias against books not written in their native tongue, why is this? Do we feel we won’t be able to relate to the story? The characters? Do we feel removed from the author? Personally, I enjoy translated literature and, before understanding what it was, never gave it much thought–it took a friend in college to point out that I was not reading the original Tolstoy. Unfortunately, this leaves me unable to answer these questions; I can only pose them for others to think about.
What I would like to do, however, is highlight an excellent publisher championing this underdog of the literary world: Open Letter Books. Open Letter is a non-profit publishing house run out of Rochester University and funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Along with the publishing side, which releases 10 books a year–a mixture of contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and older titles, largely from Eastern Europe and Latin America–Open Letter runs the website Three Percent. The name comes from the percentage of books published in the US that are works in translation. In addition, they also host the annual Translated Book Award, which considers titles from both large and small publishers across the United States.
If that weren’t enough, Open Letter publisher Chad Post and Tom Roberge, Publicity and Marketing Director of New Directions, host a podcast where they discuss news of the day, mainly that which affects literature in translation, as well as books of note. Having faith in both their tastes, I often walk away with a few more books on my list.
Aside from publishing stellar books, Open Letter, to those familiar with them, are known for having some of the best covers in the business. Once you’ve seen a handful they become easily recognizable, both on display tables and on the shelf.
Open Letter has subscription service where you can pay for either 6 months or a year worth of books. During that time, a newly released title shows up on your doorstep every month. While you’re waiting for that first book to arrive, here are two I recommend.
Karaoke Culture by Dubravka Ugresic
Dubravka Ugresic’s 2011 essay collection Karaoke Culture was a National Book Critics Circle award finalist in criticism and the German edition won her the Jean Améry Award for Essay Writing. Not to be mistaken for a fan of karaoke, Ugresic explains that uses the term as an “awkward” metaphor.
“In the text that follows we’re interested in the human activities in which an anonymous participant, assisted by new technology, uses an existing cultural model to derive pleasure. … The models are most often drawn from popular culture (television, film, pop music, computer games), but some belong to what was one considered ‘high culture’ (film, literature, painting).”
While some of the essays touch on Eastern European politics, one does not need to be familiar with the history to appreciate what is being said; just as one does not need to be familiar with every band or sports figure Chuck Klosterman profiles, an appropriate comparison (I believe) if there is one.
Ugresic’s writing, regardless of topic, is entertaining, a combination of poignant observations of everyday objects to humorous asides: “For three things signified opulence in Yugoslavia: coffee, detergent, and cooking oil.”
In an interview with BOMB magazine, when asked about living through the war in (former) Yugoslavia, Ugresic said, “Everyday life around me changed and became threatening; when reality became morally and emotionally unacceptable, I spontaneously started to protest. At that time the genre of essay seemed to me the most appropriate literary form for expressing my thoughts, my anger and my despair.”
I highly recommend Karaoke Culture to any Klosterman fan who also wields a subscription to The Nation.
18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev
In 18% Gray, Bulgarian-born novelist and playwright Zachary Karabashliev tells the story of Zack, a living, breathing casualty of a failed marriage. One night Zack leaves his southern California home for Tijuana and comes back with more than he bargained for. With nothing left to lose he takes off for New York City where he has a friend who might be able to help. As he heads east, his passion for photography is reignited and he captures the country’s landscape on film; much of the world he passes is considered through his lens.
18% Gray is a dark novel about regrets, mistakes, and things that can’t be undone.
Go ahead and prove conventional wisdom wrong, Americans do enjoy translated literature. They just need the right publisher to show them how.
*Disclaimer: Although I work in publishing I am not privy to cover design decisions. All information I have regarding translators’ names on books comes from panel discussions I’ve attended, all of which have been open to the public.
The other week I was asked to contribute to the popular science fiction and fantasy website SF Signal. They have a series called “Mind Meld” where they ask authors and bloggers to answer one question posed to them by the moderator. I participated once before and what I’ve found is that like contributing to the series because I start off unsure if I’ll be able to come up with an answer. Being asked to come up with a short post about something I never would have thought of on my own allows me to stretch my brain. Luckily, both times I’ve been able to come up with a few hundred words.
You can read the entry in full here. There are tons of book suggestions from others and well worth a look. Below is my answer.
Q: What are your favorite “road trips” in science fiction and fantasy? What makes a good road trip in a genre story?
With summer in full swing travel is on the minds of many. Even if you’re staying put, the season conjures up of visions–and perhaps memories–of long car rides to beachfront locations, hours spent with family in close quarters, and days or weeks with only the most necessary amenities. It’s now mid-July and time for the outdoors, open space, and new adventures; a break from the tedium and habits of the day-to-day.
Whether you’re staying home this season or currently packing up your things, all of this makes summer the perfect time for stories featuring road trips. The protagonist is usually shaking off the constraints of everyday life and seeking something new. A good travel story creates a certain suspense that is inevitably propelled forward by the sheer momentum of whatever vehicle is used–a horse, a car, a spaceship. The circumstances set the pace: Is the character in a hurry? are they lost? do they have direction or is it simply an escape?
Growing up in the 90s I was a huge fan of 1960s counterculture. I was into the Grateful Dead and devoured the literature of the time period. With the amount of drugs everyone did, and then wrote about, their books might as well have been categorized as fantasy. From Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, these were tales of misadventure and chaos. However entertaining these stories were to me in my teen years, true fantasy and science fiction offers something more than reality is able to provide.
Three books immediately come to mind that, if you haven’t read already, you should pick up before the fall is here. The first is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The story begins with a character named Shadow, a man newly released from a three year stint in prison. With his wife recently killed in a car crash he no longer has a reason to go home. Aimless and heartbroken, he accepts a job from a stranger and sets off on a quest across America. What follows is a familiar landscape set slightly askew by fantastically eerie characters based on Norse mythology and a haunting mystery to be uncovered.
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig is another book that came to mind as I thought about road trips. The protagonist, Miriam Black, has an unfortunate power: she can see the way people will die just by touching them. When Miriam, also an aimless wanderer, hitches a ride with trucker Louis Darling and shakes his hand she sees that they will be together for the next thirty days, for better or worse.
Finally, there’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, undoubtedly the lighter of the three. Hitchhiker’s is the story of Arthur Dent, an unwitting Earthling who is taken away from his planet moments before it’s destroyed. Dent and his saviour, Ford Prefect, travel through the universe encountering dangerous aliens, inhospitable climates, and bad poetry. It’s a true comedy of errors. This unintended exploration of space will make you think twice when you start to complain about your summer vacation.
While realist road trips take you on a ride through lands you might never travel to, their science fiction and fantasy counterparts take you worlds beyond your imagination.
Whether they’re reissues, reprints, or originals, there are some great books coming out in August in paperback. Here are just a few.
Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (reissue)
The classic study of the creative process from the national bestselling author of Flow.
Creativity is about capturing those moments that make life worth living. Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals what leads to these moments—be it the excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab—so that this knowledge can be used to enrich people’s lives. Drawing on nearly one hundred interviews with exceptional people, from biologists and physicists, to politicians and business leaders, to poets and artists, as well as his thirty years of research on the subject, Csikszentmihalyi uses his famous flow theory to explore the creative process. He discusses such ideas as why creative individuals are often seen as selfish and arrogant, and why the “tortured genius” is largely a myth. Most important, he explains why creativity needs to be cultivated and is necessary for the future of our country, if not the world.
My 1980s and Other Essays by Wayne Koestenbaum
Wayne Koestenbaum has been described as “an impossible lovechild from a late-night, drunken three-way between Joan Didion, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag” (Bidoun). In My 1980s and Other Essays, a collection of extravagant range and style, he rises to the challenge of that improbable description.
My 1980s and Other Essays opens with a series of manifestos—or, perhaps more appropriately, a series of impassioned disclosures, intellectual and personal. It then proceeds to wrestle with a series of major cultural figures, the author’s own lodestars and lodestones: literary (John Ashbery, Roberto Bolaño, James Schuyler), artistic (Diane Arbus, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol), and simply iconic (Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant, Lana Turner). And then there is the personal—the voice, the style, the flair—that is unquestionably Koestenbaum. It amounts to a kind of intellectual autobiography that culminates in a string of passionate calls to creativity; arguments in favor of detail and nuance, and attention; a defense of pleasure, hunger, and desire in culture and experience.
Koestenbaum is perched on the cusp of being a true public intellectual—his venues are more mainstream than academic, his style is eye-catching, his prose unfailingly witty and passionate, his interests profoundly wide-ranging and popular. My 1980s should be the book that pushes Koestenbaum off that cusp and truly into the public eye.
Necessary Errors by Caleb Crain
An exquisite debut novel that brilliantly captures the lives and romances of young expatriates in newly democratic Prague It’s October 1990. Jacob Putnam is young and full of ideas. He’s arrived a year too late to witness Czechoslovakia’s revolution, but he still hopes to find its spirit, somehow. He discovers a country at a crossroads between communism and capitalism, and a picturesque city overflowing with a vibrant, searching sense of possibility. As the men and women Jacob meets begin to fall in love with one another, no one turns out to be quite the same as the idea Jacob has of them—including Jacob himself.
Necessary Errors is the long-awaited first novel from literary critic and journalist Caleb Crain. Shimmering and expansive, Crain’s prose richly captures the turbulent feelings and discoveries of youth as it stretches toward adulthood—the chance encounters that grow into lasting, unforgettable experiences and the surprises of our first ventures into a foreign world—and the treasure of living in Prague during an era of historic change.
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley
Volumes disappear and reappear on the shelves, but the ghosts of literature aren’t the only mysterious visitors in Roger Mifflin’s haunted bookshop.
Mifflin, who hawked books out of the back of his van in Christopher Morley’s beloved Parnassus on Wheels, has finally settled down with his own secondhand bookstore in Brooklyn. There, he and his wife, Helen, are content to live and work together, prescribing literature to those who hardly know how much they need it. When Aubrey Gilbert, a young advertising man, visits the shop, he quickly falls under the spell of Mifflin’s young assistant, Titania. But something is amiss in the bookshop, something Mifflin is too distracted to notice, and Gilbert has no choice but to take the young woman’s safety into his own hands. Her life—and the Mifflins’—may depend on it.
Man Who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s by Peter Doggett
In The Man Who Sold the World, acclaimed journalist Peter Doggett explores the rich heritage of David Bowie’s most productive and inspired decade. Viewing the artist through the lens of his music and his many guises, Doggett offers a detailed analysis—musical, lyrical, conceptual, social—of every song Bowie wrote and recorded during that period, as well as a brilliant exploration of the development of a performer who profoundly affected popular music and the idea of stardom itself.
Twin Cities Noir edited by Julie Schaper and Steven Horwitz
Launched in the summer ’04, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the city of the book.
Brand-new stories by John Jodzio, Tom Kaczynski, Peter Schilling Jr., David Housewright, Steve Thayer, Judith Guest, Mary Logue, Bruce Rubenstein, K.J. Erickson, William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart, Brad Zellar, Mary Sharratt, Pete Hautman, Larry Millett, Quinton Skinner, Gary Bush, and Chris Everheart.
The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman
In The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman took readers deep into a world on the cusp of forging an identity. The Line, a cult of Industry, and the Gun, a mission of Chaos, were engaged in a war for dominance. The Line was winning city by city, enslaving the populations it conquered. A doctor of psychology, Liv Alverhuysen, was caught in the middle, unknowingly guarding a secret that both sides would do anything to have.
Now Liv is lost on the edge of the world with Creedmor, an agent of the Gun, and the powerful Line will stop at nothing to find them. But Harry Ransom, half con man, half mad inventor, is setting the edge of the world aglow. Town by town he is building up a bankroll and leaving hope in his wake because one of his inventions is actually working. But his genius is not going unnoticed, and when he crosses paths with the two most wanted outlaws in the “unmade world,” his stage becomes even larger and presents an opportunity more lucrative than any of his scams or inventions combined.
*Descriptions for these books have been provided by the publishers.
Published in 1971, A Meaningful Life by Brooklyn writer L.J. Davis is a dark comedy and cautionary tale.
Lowell Lake, thirty years old, wakes up one morning to find himself in personal crisis, disinterested in his job and living in Manhattan, a city where he never intended to be. Suddenly, he’s aware of his surroundings and questions the direction his life has taken, retracing his steps to figure out how he came to be where he is.
Sophomore year at Stanford, while earning a degree in English (“It had always been his best subject and it didn’t commit him to do anything specific later in life”), he met Betty, a Jewish girl from Flatbush, Brooklyn. They liked each other well enough and although he began to have doubts as the day got closer they were married two days after graduation. The plan was to move to Berkeley where Lowell was to attend a university on scholarship but after he plays a joke on his wife everything goes terribly wrong.
”I thought we were going to Berkeley,” his wife had said nine years ago, her voice coming to him down the corridor of years as clearly as if she had spoken to him only a moment before. It was the instant his life had suddenly poised itself on an idle remark, and the hinge of fate had opened—a small moment, an utterly insignificant fragment of time that could have passed as swiftly as turning a page in a book, but instead it had changed his life forever. “Didn’t you say we were going to Berkeley?” she asked anxiously. …
He could still hear the voice, he could still see the room, he could still smell the old green overstuffed chair he’d been sitting in. “Maybe not,” he said. He was only teasing. Berkeley was definitely the place they were going, and the idea of going to New York instead had just sort of wandered into his mind a moment ago like a stray insect. No doubt it would have perished there at once if he hadn’t spoken it aloud. Now it was out in the open, and God help them all.
And so, they sealed their future plans on his poor judgment and her spite. “You’re going to hate it there,” his wife warned. After goodbyes to their classmates the two drove cross-country to begin their new life, settling into a small apartment on the Upper West Side. Lowell, after a failed attempt at writing a novel, decided to take a position as Managing Eaditor at a “second-rate plumbing-trade weekly.”
Now thirty, feeling as if his life were meaningless, Lowell recalls reading about young creative types buying and fixing up houses in Brooklyn slums, areas that were once home to wealthy government officials but are now in the midst of decay.
With urban renewal in mind and their entire savings on the table, Lowell sets out to buy a house in the outer borough. What he finds, and ultimately winds up with, is a comically dilapidated townhouse. The current residents are questionable, no doubt a few squatters in the bunch. As Lowell tours the building, the descriptions are so vivid that any reader with the slightest knowledge of city life will be able to conjure the smells.
A door was thrown open at the foot of the stairs, a dim rectangle of light in the impenetrable tissue of the darkness, and although Lowell was still unable to see where to put his feet, he could now see where he was going. The knowledge made him feel better, but not for long. A great warm wave of new horrible odors, both different in degree and intensity from the old horrible odors that he’d almost gotten used to, rolled up over him and nearly knocked him flat. It was like the first whiff of the atmosphere of some alien planet: heavy, warm, barely breathable, seemingly compounded of urine and stale oatmeal in equal measure.
After throwing himself into renovating the newly purchased and swiftly vacated house, deciding to do a bulk of the work himself, Lowell experiences a sense of renewal as well.
He was suddenly famous. In a building where he had labored five days a week for nine years without a single person asking him what he did, he suddenly found himself cloaked in a highly conspicuous new identity: he became known as the Guy Who Moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant.
He hadn’t moved yet and it wasn’t Bedford-Stuyvesant but that didn’t matter. He was finally doing something with his life, he was industrious.
While A Meaningful Life raises interesting and important questions about city life—gentrification, poverty, and the rise of Brooklyn’s prominence and formidability over the years—Lowell’s story offers a reminder to live deliberately and make good decisions, a powerful message that often bears repeating.
Buy A Meaningful Life from your local bookstore
Here are just the few of the titles coming out in paperback this July that have my attention.
The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between by Stacey D’Erasmo
“What is the nature of intimacy, of what happens in the space between us? And how do we, as writers, catch or reflect it on the page?” Stacey D’Erasmo’s insightful and illuminating study examines the craft and the contradictions of creating relationships not only between two lovers but also between friends, family members, acquaintances, and enemies in fiction. She argues for a more honest, more complex portrait of the true nature of the connections and missed connections among characters and, fascinatingly, between the writer and the reader. D’Erasmo takes us deep into the structure and grammar of these intimacies as they have been portrayed by such writers as Joan Didion, Toni Morrison, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and William Maxwell, and also by visual artists and filmmakers. She asks whether writing about intimacy is like staring straight into the sun, but it is her own brilliance that dazzles in this piercing and original book.
Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai
Seiobo — a Japanese goddess — has a peach tree in her garden that blossoms once every three thousand years: its fruit brings immortality. InSeiobo There Below, we see her returning again and again to mortal realms, searching for a glimpse of perfection. Beauty, in Krasznahorkai’s new novel, reflects, however fleetingly, the sacred — even if we are mostly unable to bear it. Seiobo shows us an ancient Buddha being restored; Perugino managing his workshop; a Japanese Noh actor rehearsing; a fanatic of Baroque music lecturing a handful of old villagers; tourists intruding into the rituals of Japan’s most sacred shrine; a heron hunting.… Over these scenes and nine more — structured by the Fibonacci sequence — Seiobo hovers, watching it all.
Three Women in a Mirror by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Anna, Hanna, and Anny. Three young women, free spirits all, each one at odds with the age in which they live. Despite the centuries that divide them, their stories intersect—a surprising narrative technique that lends increasing tension and richness to this novel, which builds to a thrilling crescendo of unexpected revelations.
Anne lives in Flanders in the sixteenth century. She’s a mystic who talks with animals like Saint Francis; she finds God in nature and cannot understand the need for religious rituals. Yet her ideas run against the temper of the times. It is the age of the counter reformation and the Inquisition. Her serenity and the loose tongues of those who secretly envy her, result in her being branded a heretic, with tragic consequences. Hanna lives in Vienna at the start of the twentieth century. She is a young noblewoman, dissatisfied with bourgeois conventions, who undertakes a journey of self-discovery. After much sadness she will find a method for uncovering the roots of her malaise in a new cure developed by a Viennese doctor by the name of Sigmund Freud. Anny is a Hollywood star of the 2000s. Addicted to celebrity and to variety of illicit substances she is searching for meaning in world where the only apparent thing of any value is money. Both her curse and her solace, acting will give her the key to a open a new chapter in her life where she will find love, companionship, and the meaning she has been searching for.
You Only Get Letters from Jail by Jodi Angel
Jodi Angel’s second story collection, You Only Get Letters from Jail, chronicles the lives of young men trapped in the liminal space between adolescence and adulthood. From picking up women at a bar hours after mom’s overdose to coveting a drowned girl to catching rattlesnakes with gasoline, Angel’s characters are motivated by muscle cars, manipulative women, and the hope of escape from circumstances that force them either to grow up or give up. Haunted by unfulfilled dreams and disappointments, and often acting out of mixed intentions and questionable motives, these boys turned young men are nevertheless portrayed with depth, tenderness, and humanity. Angel’s gritty and heartbreaking prose leaves readers empathizing with people they wouldn’t ordinarily trust or believe in.
Emmaus by Alessandro Baricco; Translated by Ann Goldstein
Four teenage boys stand on a bridge in the rain, staring down at a fast-flowing river. They’re not talking; they’re all thinking about the beautiful and enigmatic Andre—only a few months before, she had piled on every piece of clothing she owned and jumped into the black water below. Since then, the boys have been obsessed with the girl who tried to kill herself—the girl who takes men one after another into the bathroom of the local cinema, and who is forcing these devout Catholic boys to question everything they know about devotion, desire, and sin.
A haunting novel from one of the masters of contemporary European fiction, Emmausbrilliantly evokes the perils and uncertainties of youth.
Don’t Kiss Me: Stories by Lindsay Hunter
With broken language, deep vernacular, unexpectedly fierce empathy, and a pace that’ll break your granny’s neck, Lindsay Hunter lures, cajoles, and wrenches readers into the wild world of Don’t Kiss Me.
Here you’ll meet Peggy Paula, who works the late shift at Perkin’s and envies the popular girls who come in to eat french fries and brag about how far they let the boys get with them. You’ll meet a woman in her mid-thirties pining for her mean-spirited, abusive boyfriend, Del, a nine-year-old who is in no way her actual boyfriend. And just try to resist the noir story of a reluctant, Afrin-addled detective.
Self-loathing, self-loving, and otherwise trapped by their own dumb selves, these characters make one cringe-worthy mistake after another. But for each bone-headed move, Hunter delivers a surprising moment that chokes you up as you peer into what seemed like deep emptiness and discover a profound longing for human understanding. It’s the collision of these moments that make this a powerful, alive book.
The stories of Don’t Kiss Me are united by Hunter’s singular voice and unflinching eye. By turns crass and tender, heartbreaking and devastatingly funny, her stories expose a world full of characters seemingly driven by desperation, but in the end, they’re the ones who get the last laugh. Hunter is at the forefront of the boldest, most provocative writers working now.
You & Me by Padgett Powell
Padgett Powell has been regarded as unique and one of the most exciting writers today. The New York Times calls him “a master of voice, a generator of absolutely particular, original, hilarious human sounds.”‘
You & Me is a conversation, apparently on a porch, between two men who may be difficult to grasp. They move together in aimless, convenient debate, coming to conclusions that don’t conclude but to positions that may not finally be so aimless. They disagree to agree. They are smart, not smart; fools, not fools.
You & Me will take you on a tantalizing journey. Confounding, engaging fiction for everyone who loved The Interrogative Mood. Poignant, hilarious, opaque, diamond-clear, Padgett Powell’s new novel offers unusual delights.
L’amour by Marguerite Duras
A man—the traveler—arrives in the seaside town of S. Thala with the intent to abandon his present, and instead finds himself abruptly reintroduced to his past. Through his subsequent interactions with “her,” the woman to whom he was briefly engaged as a young man over twenty years ago, and “him,” the man who walks and keeps watch over “her,” the traveler is soon drawn back in and acclimated to the strange timelessness and company that is S. Thala.
Written in a stark and cinematic narrative style, this sequel to Duras’s 1964 novel The Ravishing of Lol Stein is a curious, yet haunting representation of the human memory: what we choose to recall, what we choose to forget, and how reliable we ultimately decide ourselves to be.
Novels, literary journals, translations, paperback originals, and reprints. Here’s what new for June.
Taipei by Tao Lin
From one of this generation’s most talked about and enigmatic writers comes a deeply personal, powerful, and moving novel about family, relationships, accelerating drug use, and the lingering possibility of death.
Taipei by Tao Lin is an ode–or lament–to the way we live now. Following Paul from New York, where he comically navigates Manhattan’s art and literary scenes, to Taipei, Taiwan, where he confronts his family’s roots, we see one relationship fail, while another is born on the internet and blooms into an unexpected wedding in Las Vegas. Along the way—whether on all night drives up the East Coast, shoplifting excursions in the South, book readings on the West Coast, or ill advised grocery runs in Ohio—movies are made with laptop cameras, massive amounts of drugs are ingested, and two young lovers come to learn what it means to share themselves completely. The result is a suspenseful meditation on memory, love, and what it means to be alive, young, and on the fringe in America, or anywhere else for that matter.
Tin House: Summer Reading
The best writers not only create worlds beyond our imagination but also lead us into places we’d never dare venture alone. Over their long careers, Stephen King and Margaret Atwood have continually surprised us with their dark worlds. In his new short story “Afterlife,” King transports us into the mind of a man at the white-light moment of his death. And Atwood, master of speculative fiction and a fervent conservationist, talks about dystopian societies and vanishing species with Tin House editor-at-large Elissa Schappell. Critic Parul Sehgal explores issues of race, class, and gender politics, as well as the significance of African and African American women’s hair, in her interview with Orange Prize–winning novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
City of Bohane by Kevin Barry
Forty or so years in the future. The once-great city of Bohane on the west coast of Ireland is on its knees, infested by vice and split along tribal lines. There are the posh parts of town, but it is in the slums and backstreets of Smoketown, the tower blocks of the North Rises, and the eerie bogs of the Big Nothin’ that the city really lives. For years it has all been under the control of Logan Hartnett, the dapper godfather of the Hartnett Fancy gang. But there’s trouble in the air. They say Hartnett’s old nemesis is back in town; his trusted henchmen are getting ambitious; and his missus wants him to give it all up and go straight. Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane combines Celtic myth and a Caribbean beat, fado and film, graphic-novel cool and all the ripe inheritance of Irish literature to create something hilarious, beautiful, and startlingly new.
Skagboys by Irvine Welsh
Mark Renton’s life seems to be on track: university, pretty girlfriend, even social success. But, in this prequel to Trainspotting, after the death of his younger brother, Rent falls apart and starts hanging around with his old pals, including Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie, and being drawn irresistibly into their wacked-out plans.
Set against 1980s Thatcher-era Edinburgh–with its high unemployment, low expectations, and hard-to-come-by money and drugs Irvine Welsh’s colorful crew lunges from one darkly hilarious misadventure to the next. Gritty, moving, and exhilarating, Skagboys paints their dizzying downward spiral with scabrous humor and raw language.
Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions by Ror Wolf
Working in the traditions of Robert Walser, Robert Pinget, and Laurence Sterne, Ror Wolf creates strangely entertaining and condensed stories that call into question the very nature of what makes a story a story. Almost an anti-book, Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions takes as its basis the small, diurnal details of life, transforming these oft-overlooked ordinary experiences of nondescript people in small German villages into artistic meditations on ambiguity, repetition, and narrative.
Incredibly funny and playful,Two or Three Years Later is unlike anything you’ve ever read—from German or any other language. These stories of men observing other men, of men who may or may not have been wearing a hat on a particular Monday (or was it Tuesday?), are delightful word-puzzles that are both intriguing and enjoyable.
The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories by Saki, illustrated by Edward Gorey
The whimsical, macabre tales of British writer H. H. Munro—better known as Saki—deftly, mercilessly, and hilariously skewer the banality and hypocrisy of polite upper-class English society between the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the beginning of World War I. Their heroes are clever, amoral children and other enfants terribles who marshal their considerable wit and imagination against the cruelty or fatuousness, bad faith or simple tedium of a decorous and doomed world.
This selection of Saki’s most polished dark gems comes paired with illustrations by the peerless Edward Gorey, whose fine-lined pen-and-ink drawings evoke, in all their fragile elegance and creeping menace, Saki’s Edwardian drawing rooms and garden parties, along with their population of overly delicate ladies and their mischief-making charges, spectral guests and sardonic house pets, flustered authority figures, and all manner of delightfully preposterous imposters.
what purpose did i serve in your life by Marie Calloway
Marie Calloway emerged in 2011, a controversial, compelling young talent whose work drove intense and polarized discussion from its first appearance. Her debut work of fiction, what purpose did i serve in your life, examines the nature of sex and the possibility of real connection in the face of degradation and blankness. Its interlocking stories follow a chronological arc from innocence to sexual experience, taking in the humiliations of one night stands with male strangers, the perils of sex work, and the caustic reception that greets a woman working and writing in public. It is a brave and pitiless examination of yearning in an era of hyper-exposure and a riveting account of the moments of transcendence seized from an otherwise blank world.
The No Variations: Diary of an Unfinished Novel by Luis Chitarroni
A self-negating series of notes for an unfinished work of fiction, this astonishing book is made up of ideas for characters and plots, of literary references both real and invented, and is populated by an array of fictional authors and their respective literary cliques, all of whom sport multiple pseudonyms, publish their own literary journals, and, in turn, produce their own ideas for books, characters, and poems . . . A dizzying look at the backrooms of literature, where aesthetic ambitions are forever under siege by petty squabbles, long-nurtured grudges, bankrupt publishers, and self-important critics, The No Variations is a serious game, or perhaps a frivolous tragedy, and is one of the great “novels” of contemporary Latin American literature.
May is here and there are lots of new paperbacks on the shelves. Here are just a few that have my attention.
The Last Interview: and Other Conversations Jorge Luis Borges
Days before his death, Borges gave an intimate interview to his friend, the Argentine journalist Gloria Lopez Lecube. That interview is translated for the first time here, giving English-language readers a new insight into his life, loves, and thoughts about his work and country at the end of his life.
Accompanying that interview are a selection of the fascinating interviews he gave throughout his career. Highlights include his celebrated conversations with Richard Burgin during Borges’s time as a lecturer at Harvard University, in which he gives rich new insights into his own works and the literature of others, as well as discussing his now oft-overlooked political views. The pieces combine to give a new and revealing window on one of the most celebrated cultural figures of the past century.
A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims
Mazoch discovers an unreturned movie envelope, smashed windows, and a pool of blood in his father’s house: the man has gone missing. So he creates a list of his father’s haunts and asks Vermaelen to help track him down.
However, hurricane season looms over Baton Rouge, threatening to wipe out any undead not already contained and eliminate all hope of ever finding Mazoch’s father.
Bennett Sims turns typical zombie fare on its head to deliver a wise and philosophical rumination on the nature of memory and loss.
Love Is Power, or Something Like That: Stories by A. Igoni Barrett
When it comes to love, things are not always what they seem. In contemporary Lagos, a young boy may pose as a woman online, and a maid may be suspected of sleeping with her employer and yet still become a young wife’s confidante. Men and women can be objects of fantasy, the subject of beery soliloquies. They can be trophies or status symbols. Or they can be overwhelming in their need.
In these wide-ranging stories, A. Igoni Barrett roams the streets with people from all stations of life. A man with acute halitosis navigates the chaos of the Lagos bus system. A minor policeman, full of the authority and corruption of his uniform, beats his wife. A family’s fortunes fall from love and wealth to infidelity and poverty as poor choices unfurl over three generations. With humor and tenderness, Barrett introduces us to an utterly modern Nigeria, where desire is a means to an end, and love is a power as real as money.
Dark Back of Time by Javiar Marias
Called by its author a “false novel,” Dark Back of Time begins with the tale of the odd effects of publishing All Souls, his witty and sardonic 1989 Oxford novel. All Souls is a book Marías swears to be fiction, but which its “characters”–the real-life dons and professors and bookshop owners who have “recognized themselves”–fiercely maintain to be a roman à clef. With the sleepy world of Oxford set into fretful motion by a world that never “existed,” Dark Back of Time begins an odyssey into the nature of identity and of time. Marías weaves together autobiography, a legendary kingdom, strange ghostly literary figures, halls of mirrors, a one-eyed pilot, a curse in Havana, and a bullet lost in Mexico.
The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, introduction by William Gibson
In Kingsley Amis’s virtuoso foray into virtual history it is 1976 but the modern world is a medieval relic, frozen in intellectual and spiritual time ever since Martin Luther was promoted to pope back in the sixteenth century. Stephen the Third, the king of England, has just died, and Mass (Mozart’s second requiem) is about to be sung to lay him to rest. In the choir is our hero, Hubert Anvil, an extremely ordinary ten-year-old boy with a faultless voice. In the audience is a select group of experts whose job is to determine whether that faultless voice should be preserved by performing a certain operation. Art, after all, is worth any sacrifice.
Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust; translated by Kim Thompson
Back in 1984, a rebellious,17-year-old, punked-out Ulli Lust set out for a wild hitchhiking trip across Italy, from Naples through Verona and Rome and ending up in Sicily. Twenty-five years later, this talented Austrian cartoonist has looked back at that tumultuous summer and delivered a long, dense, sensitive, and minutely observed autobiographical masterpiece.
A Day in the Life by Senji Kuroi
A Day in the Life features twelve portraits of the vivid and curious realities experienced by a man in his sixties. These stories focus on the tiny paradoxes and ridiculousness we each witness and of which we often take no note. Ranging from a visit to an exhibition of blurry photographs, each taken with an exposure time of exactly one second, to the story of a man stalked through the streets by a stranger for no greater a crime than making eye contact, A Day in the Life demonstrates why Senji Kuroi is considered one of the leading figures of contemporary Japanese literature
Hypothermia by Álvaro Enrigue
Shocking, erudite, and affecting, these twenty-odd short stories, “micro-novels,” and vignettes span a vast territory, from Mexico City to Washington, D.C. to the late nineteenth-century Adriatic to the blood-soaked foothills of California’s Gold Rush country, introducing an array of bewildering characters: a professor of Latin American literature who survives a tornado and, possibly, an orgy; an electrician confronting the hardest wiring job of his career; a hapless garbage man who dreams of life as a pirate; and a prodigiously talented Polish baritone waging musical war against his church. Hypothermia explores the perilous limits of love, language, and personality, the brutal gravity of cultural misunderstandings, and the coldly smirking will to self-destruction hiding within our irredeemably carnal lives.
Here are just a few awesome things I came across in the past few days.
KCRW’s music director, Jason Bentley, has brought back Metropolis, his radio talk show featuring electronic music pioneers. Before going on hiatus in 2008, he spoke with such legends as Daft Punk, Paul Oakenfold, James Lavelle, The Crystal Method, and Thievery Corporation.
In a recent interview with Cool Hunting, Bentley talks about what made him start his show in the late 90s.
I was just attracted to underground dance music and culture, European dance culture, house music and trip hop. All of this stuff that was percolating was really exciting to me. At that point it was just really fresh and had not been categorized. Growing up through the club scene and rave scene was really exciting. It was always sort of renegade. I still have close friends from those days. It was such a transformative time to grow up in this really creative space of the club. The cool thing about the club scene and the underground is everybody is looking for something—who they are, their identity, their purpose, their creative side. Everyone is trying to figure out who we are and why are we here. For me finding the community in this very creative world of club scene and dance music was incredibly important.
On a show that aired in late March, Bentley talks with legendary drum and bass producer and DJ Photek. If you were at all into the jungle scene in the 90s, you’ll want to listen to it. Photek talks about the early days of the genre, when everything was groundbreaking, when sounds, styles, and technology were just developing.
Alec Baldwin, a few episode ago on his show Here’s The Thing, spoke with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke about his new album Amok with the group he put together for the project, Atoms of Peace. The two talk about how Radiohead started, how it was touring with Michael Stipe, and his kids.
the nicest bit about the creative thing – the nicest bit about recording and writing is this sort of weird limbo in between scratching away, scratching away, nothing really happening, nothing really happening, and then something wants to be built and starts to get built. You just have to let it happen.
There’s been a lot of celebration surrounding the announcement of Granta’s once-a-decade “Best of Young British Novelists” list. As always, it includes 20 British writers under the age of 40. Although it includes well-known authors such as Zadie Smith, Helen Oyeyemi, and Adam Foulds, there are a few writers on there who are just starting out: one author being Taiye Selasi whose first book, Ghana Must Go, is being published this month in the US by Penguin Press.
There have been a number of articles discussing the selection process. The BBC takes a look at what the list means to publishers, in The Telegraph judge Gaby Wood discusses the selection process, and Granta editor, John Freeman, speaks with the National Book Critics Circle for an interview on their blog.
This month kicked off a worldwide tour surrounding the list’s publication. Check out Granta’s website to see if anything is happening near you. Also on the site are articles by and interviews with the winners.
Also exciting for book people, particularly those who enjoy translated fiction, is the Best Translated Book Award run by Three Percent, the website of The University of Rochester’s literary publishing house, Open Letter Books. The longlist was announced in March and since that time there’s been a review of each book with the sole purpose of explaining why that book deserves to win. On the Three Percent podcast, which I highly recommend you subscribe to in iTunes, Chad Post of Open Letter and Tom Roberge of New Directions discuss the books.
E VS. INK
As the publishing world continues to march head on into the digital age, much of the talk surrounding print books vs. eReaders can get reductive. I have my own opinions, which are of the middle-of-the-road sort so I will spare you. However, if you’re interested in theses competing (and complementary) mediums, this article in Scientific American about the brain science of reading might offer a nice break from the typical discussions taking place.
Understanding how reading on paper is different from reading on screens requires some explanation of how the brain interprets written language. We often think of reading as a cerebral activity concerned with the abstract—with thoughts and ideas, tone and themes, metaphors and motifs. As far as our brains are concerned, however, text is a tangible part of the physical world we inhabit. In fact, the brain essentially regards letters as physical objects because it does not really have another way of understanding them.
Over on the New York Times Opinionator blog, Drafts, author Ben Dolnick writes about the dangers of reading too many interviews with writers about craft.
Speaking of author interviews, Other People podcast spoke with essayist and critic Michelle Orange. For those interested in the two genres, they will be well-served by listening. And anyone who’s been tapped into the intersection of teen blogging and fashion will be aware by now of Tavi Gevinson, most recently the founder of the teen-focused website Rookie. She spoke with AdWeek about her rise to notoriety and how she balances work, school, and a personal life every teen should be allowed to have. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s well-adjusted for someone as busy as herself. In fact she says, “for the most part, I’ve kind of figured out a way to do everything I want without exhausting myself.”
Here are some excellent paperbacks to get your April started off on the right foot.
Frequencies: Volume 2
Featuring original work by Sara Finnerty on ghosts, Roxane Gay on issues of belonging in Black America, Alex Jung on the gay sex trade in Thailand, Aaron Shulman on a frontier town of Guatemala, Kate Zambreno on Barbara Loden, and more.
Point of Impact by Jay Faerber (writer), Koray Kuranel, (art)
A gripping, provocative murder mystery from acclaimed writer Jay Faerber and stunning artist Koray Kuranel begins with one woman’s murder and branches out to follow the investigation by three people with personal connections to her: her husband, an investigative reporter; her lover, an ex-soldier; and her friend, a homicide detective. Her death will change all of their lives.
Check out a 6-page excerpt from Point of Impact
Read an interview with Jay Faerber on Comic Book Resources
Bitter Almonds by Laurence Cossé
From the author of A Novel Bookstore comes this delightful story about friendship across racial and economic barriers set in contemporary Paris.
Édith can hardly believe it when she learns that Fadila, her sixty-year-old housemaid, is completely illiterate. How can a person living in Paris in the third millennium possibly survive without knowing how to read or write? How does she catch a bus, or pay a bill, or withdraw money from the bank? Why it’s unacceptable! She thus decides to become Fadila’s French teacher. But teaching something as complex as reading and writing to an adult is rather more challenging than she thought. Their lessons are short, difficult, and tiring. Yet, during these lessons, the oh-so-Parisian Édith and Fadila, an immigrant from Morocco, begin to understand one another as never before, and form this understanding will blossom a surprising and delightful friendship. Édith will enter into contact with a way of life utterly unfamiliar to her, one that is unforgiving at times, but also full of joy and dignity.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom.
Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised reward: a family trip to Antarctica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle–and people in general–has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.
To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.
The Crisis of the European Mind by Paul Hazard
Paul Hazard’s magisterial, widely influential, and beloved intellectual history offers an unforgettable account of the birth of the modern European mind in all its dynamic, inquiring, and uncertain glory. Beginning his story in the latter half of the seventeenth century, while also looking back to the Renaissance and forward to the future, Hazard traces the process by which new developments in the sciences, arts, philosophy, and philology came to undermine the stable foundations of the classical world, with its commitment to tradition, stability, proportion, and settled usage. Hazard shows how travelers’ tales and archaeological investigation widened European awareness and acceptance of cultural difference; how the radical rationalism of Spinoza and Richard Simon’s new historical exegesis of the Bible called into question the revealed truths of religion; how the Huguenot Pierre Bayle’s critical dictionary of ideas paved the way for Voltaire and the Enlightenment, even as the empiricism of Locke encouraged a new attention to sensory experience that led to Rousseau and romanticism. Hazard’s range of knowledge is vast, and whether the subject is operas, excavations, or scientific experiments his brilliant style and powers of description bring to life the thinkers who thought up the modern world.
Death of Lysanda by Yitzhak Orpaz
The Death of Lysanda collects two macabre novellas by one of Israel’s greatest writers. In the title piece, we meet Naphtali Noi, a recently divorced proofreader, critic, and “creative” taxidermist, given to hallucinations and soon perhaps to add murder to his hobbies. Ants tells the story of a married couple, Jacob and Rachel, who discover that an army of the titular insects is threatening to destroy their rooftop apartment—but Rachel seems to be on their side rather than her husband’s.
In fragmented prose halfway between the Old Testament and the playful stories of Julio Cortázar, these tales take to pieces the psyches of two men—and a nation—at war with themselves.
Titus Awakes: The Lost Book of Gormenghast by Maeve Gilmore
Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels are widely acknowledged to be classic works of high fantasy, on par with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. In this series, Peake created the vividly detailed world — at once gothic and surreal — of Castle Gormenghast. When Peake died in 1968, he left behind the tantalizing pages and clues for the fourth and concluding book in the series.
Maeve Gilmore, Mervyn Peake’s widow, wrote Titus Awakes, based on those pages left behind by Peake. Fans of the Gormenghast novels will relish this continuation of the world Peake created and of the lives of unforgettable characters from the original novels, including the scheming Steerpike, Titus’s sister Fuchsia, and the long-serving Dr. Prunesquallor. Published a century after Peake’s birth, this strikingly imaginative novel provides a moving coda to Peake’s masterwork.
Absolution by Patrick Flanery
A bold and exciting literary novel set in South Africa that contemplates the elusive line between truth and self-perception.
Absolution is a big-idea novel about the pitfalls of memory, the ramifications of censorship, and the ways we are silently complicit in the problems around us. It’s also a devastating, intimate, and stunningly woven story. Told in shifting perspectives, it centers on the mysterious character of Clare Wald, a controversial South African writer of great fame, haunted by the memories of a sister she fears she betrayed to her death and a daughter she fears she abandoned. Clare comes to learn that in this conflict the dead do not stay buried, and the missing return in other forms—such as the child witness of her daughter’s last days who has reappeared twenty years later as Clare’s official biographer, prompting an unraveling of history and a search for forgiveness. Part literary thriller, part meditation on the responsibility of the individual under totalitarianism, this is a masterpiece of rich, complicated characters and narration that captures the reader and does not let go.
What does it mean not to finish a book? To lose interest, steam, momentum? When distraction leads to forgotten plots, characters, and themes who suffers, the reader or the book left unread?
My apartment is teeming with unfinished books. They cover my desk, coffee table, and nightstand. They sit two rows deep on my bookshelves. There they remain, neglected, misunderstood, unappreciated, still with the last read page firmly marked with a piece of paper, a subscription card, or a proper bookmark: a reminder of my stagnation, my failure to engage.
With some I’d read only a few pages, others a few chapters, while others I’d nearly finished but inexplicably abandoned at the last moment. Not all books I set aside are bad; life gets in the way, my mind shifts, I am no longer the same person I was on the first page.
What if I had begun a few days earlier, a few days later? Would we have ridden it out until the bitter end?
is often much hand-wringing over the question of when to put a book down, of when to give up and walk away. For some people this is an agonizing decision. For me, I’ve never given it much thought. In my younger years I’ve either slogged through a story, not knowing I had an option, or, as in the case with assigned reading for school, never cared enough to feel obligated. Now that I’m older and at any given moment surrounded by more books than I’ll ever have time to read in a lifetime (or two or three), there’s no room for second-guessing or regrets.
My first impulse when I began this post was to anthropomorphize, to wonder what happened to the characters when tossed aside. Do they remain suspended—in a kitchen, at a wedding, in the throes of heartbreak—or do they continue on alone to an autonomous finish? That might be a silly thing to think about, like a 10-year-old with a developing consciousness or one who’s seen too many Disney films. But it puts things in perspective.
Books do not need you. They repeat their stories every night.
Here are a few books that have carried on without me, none of which were bad at all.
Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas
Dublinesque is something of a tragicomedy. At the age of 60, Samuel Riba is forced into retirement after his literary publishing house fails. He’d like to blame the reading public but, really, it was his poor financial management skills that brought about his demise.
Now he spends his time on Google, searching for his name and publishing house, looking to see who still mentions him and reviews his list; the answer to both is not many.
After a dream, Riba plans a trip to Dublin and brings with him three authors he’s published. They are to stage a funeral for “The Gutenberg Age” in the same cemetery that appears in Joyce’s Ulysses.
The publisher, New Directions, calls Dublinesque “A fictional journey through the modern history of literary publishing,” an apt description if any. If you’re really into books and the publishing industry, this book is an entertaining read.
Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino
What a strange book Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things turned out to be. When I first saw it in the Dalkey Archive Press email newsletter I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I wouldn’t have guessed this.
Originally published in 1971, Imaginative Qualities is a satirical look at the New York art and literary scene of the 1950s and ‘60s. Told through an omniscient narrator (although he’ll tell you his characters are doing things when he’s not looking), the interweaving cast of failed artists and poets lead adulterous, destructive lives. The women are bored, the men are hopeless, and the narrator, who is actually the book’s author, openly refuses to implement certain literary devices.
The outcome is a story with an intentionally unruly feel, which, if truth be told, is part of its charm. At one point, as if the narrator is guarding against such an accusation, he interjects, “You’ll notice how carefully the threads are pulled together in this book. I don’t want to hear one more word about formlessness.”
Other amusing asides includes talk of killing off characters.
I’ve got a few more comments to make about Lou, a few more things to say about him before I get rid of him. Prose is endless. It strikes me that I could go on and on, into a thousand pages, about this poor man. (How poor, compared to the rest of us?) For a moment, I thought of having him step off the curb in front of a truck, or drown in the bathtub, something simple and accidental. Just write him off so that the long future of academe would not be his and Sheila would be free to be unhappy with somebody else. End him with a brief paragraph E.M. Forster-style. Would that be too literary? No such thing. People who make such remarks admire the prose of Jimmy Breslin.
The beauty of this multi-layered novel is that the meaning is left to interpretation. The reader takes away from it what they wish, which, in this case, suits the essence of the story nicely.
A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector
For a while I joked that Clarice Lispector’s novels were the new “Go Ask Alice” for my age group. When New Directions first reissued four of her books it seemed like every 30-something I knew was reading one and recommending it to anyone within a 10-foot radius. There was an aura of mysticism around the whole thing. It was the way people spoke about her and her writing, as if one glimpse of her writing would change your life.
Clarice Lispector, in her posthumous work, A Breath of Life, asks readers to examine both sides of the author-character relationship. The male writer explains that his creation, Angela, is “not a ‘character.’ She’s the evolution of a feeling. She’s an idea incarnated in the being.” Shortly after he enters a conversation with her where, at one point, she asks, “Am I pure?” The author answers, vaguely, philosophically, “Purity would be as violent as the color white. Angela is the color of hazelnut.”
Throughout the book there are scores of aphorism that make you pause: “Writing is difficult because it touches the boundaries of the impossible,” “[I’m] an open parenthesis. Please close me,” “Solitude is a luxury,” and “When I write, I mix one color with another, and a new color is born.”
What’s striking about A Breath of Life is that it leaves you wondering if you’re in the presence of brilliance or insanity—although one could argue the fine line between the two. As with much of Lispector’s writing, I imagine, A Breath of Life cannot be understood in one reading. Her books strike me as those that are meant to be read, wrestled with, digested, and then read again in order to find hidden layers and new meaning.
The Wizard of Oz is a classic. Full stop. Whether it’s known through L. Frank Baum’s original book for children or through the 1939 film adaptation starring Judy Garland as Dorothy, it lingers in the minds of many. Until recently, I had only been familiar with the film—and, to be honest, the first and last time I watched it was to see what may or may not have been a Munchkin hanging himself from a tree as the gang of four skipped down the Yellow Brick Road*.
Now, The Wizard of Oz has found its way back into the cultural conversation with a newly released prequel starring James Franco. Although the film isn’t getting the best reviews, there’s been an outpouring of interest in the book again and a number of thoughtful pieces have surfaced on the Internet.
At Litreactor, Kimberly Turner delves into the history of the Oz series. Included are a number of details about L. Frank Baum’s life, the book’s sales history, and the differences between the popular film adaptation and the original text:
As is typical with movie adaptations, the 1939 film differs from its source material in more ways than I can list here—at least without losing your attention. A few of the notable differences, besides the ruby slippers: In the book, Oz is a real place, not a dream world; thus the existence of forty-one sequels. The Wicked Witch Of The West is a blip on the radar rather than the primary obstacle. Dorothy is a stronger, more feminist protagonist and considerably less weepy. There are quite a few more subplots, including a visit to a city made of China and an encounter with an odd race of armless guards called Hammerhead, and much, much more beheading.
At The New Yorker, Erin Overbey, Deputy head of the magazine’s archive, dug through past issues and found a negative review of the film. Their critic at the time, Russell Maloney, said it had “no trace of imagination, good taste, or ingenuity.” Meanwhile an essay written by Salman Rushdie in 1992 links the story to a “longing for liberation from mundane routine.” In a Critic at Large piece by John Updike where he critiques The Annotated Wizard of Oz we learn some interesting background on Baum: he wrote The Wizard of Oz at age forty-four in 1900 and was married to a politically progressive woman, a suffragette who co-authored a book with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Dorothy’s strength, as noted above in the Litreactor piece, may have been her doing as she had a great influence on her husband. He’d even written a few subsequent books under female pseudonyms.
As part of my experiment in reading children’s books as an adult, many of which I missed in my younger years, I’d decided to read The Wizard of Oz late last year. It was an iconic book that I had a cursory knowledge of and felt I was missing out on a piece of American cultural history.
In his introduction to The Wizard of Oz, Baum said he’d written the book “solely to please the children of today.” He hoped to do away with the “heartaches and nightmares” of previous fairy tales and legends. “Modern education includes morality … the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incidents,” he said. This last part leaves one to wonder how he explained the Winged Monkeys but point taken.
With Baum’s intention in mind I embarked on my reading. Instead of looking for social and political undertones, which many have read into the silver shoes and Yellow Brick Road, I enjoyed it as a simple story about a girl suddenly finding herself in a strange land and longing to return home. Mostly, I was surprised by and taken with the vivid descriptions undoubtedly lost in summary.
By now everyone knows that Dorothy lived on a farm in Kansas with her aunt and uncle. One day a cyclone hits, the house is lifted into the air, and she is flown to a faraway land. What those who haven’t read the book don’t know is the sad state her relatives were in prior to the storm. The opening scene is nearly comic in its darkness:
Once the house had been painted, but the sun blistered the paint and the rains washed it away, and now the house was as dull and gray as everything else.
When Aunt Em came there to live she was a young, pretty wife. The sun and wind had changed her, too. They had taken the sparkle from her eyes and left them a sober gray; they had taken the red from her cheeks and lips, and they were gray also. She was thin and gaunt, and never smiled now. …
Uncle Henry never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was. He was gray also, from his long beard to his rough boots, and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke.
Much is made of the use of technicolor of the 1939 film and after reading Baum’s book one has to wonder if it could have been made otherwise. After Dorothy wakes to find herself “in the midst of a country of marvelous beauty,” color is prevalent in his descriptions
Shortly after being set down, Dorothy meets a lion who has no courage, a tin woodman who has no heart, and a scarecrow who has no brains. Together, the four of them set off—often through hostile territory—in search of what they each desire.
They walked along listening to the singing of the brightly colored birds and looking at the lovely flowers which now became so thick that the ground was carpeted with them. There were big yellow and white and blue and purple blossoms, besides great clusters of scarlet poppies, which were so brilliant in color they almost dazzled Dorothy’s eyes.
There’s lots of “brilliance” and “dazzle” in this book and after they’re instructed to visit the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz they encounter both again at the gates of his Emerald City.
The next morning, as soon as the sun was up, they started on their way, and soon saw a beautiful green glow in the sky just before them. … As they walked on, the green glow became brighter, and it seemed that at last they were nearing the end of their travels. … In front of them, and at the end of the road of yellow brick, was a big gate, all studded with emeralds that glittered so in the sun that even the painted eyes of the Scarecrow were dazzled by their brilliancy.
Although Baum said he wasn’t in the business of dispensing morals, there are plenty to be found in this story. When asked by the Scarecrow for brains, Oz replies, “You don’t need them. You learn something new every day. A baby has brains, but it doesn’t know much. Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on earth the more experience you are sure to get.”
When the Lion asks for courage Oz says, “You have plenty of courage, I am sure. All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger.” The Tin Woodman, when he asks for a heart, is told he is wrong to want a heart, that hearts “make most people unhappy.”
In the end The Wizard of Oz does offer lessons; it wouldn’t have lasted this long in our collective psyche otherwise.
*While writing this piece I did some research (a.k.a a quick Google search) and learned that the Munchkin thing is a myth and that it was really a bird. Here’s a list of 7 others from BuzzFeed.
Derek Raymond’s Factory Series is a special blend of noir. As James Sallis in his introduction to the first book, He Died with His Eyes Open, says, the five novels are “In between books—not quite what you’d call literary perhaps, but then, not quite crime novels either.” Or, as author A.L. Kennedy puts in a recent review for NPR, “Raymond’s narratives press against somewhere unusual in your brain; they penetrate and interfere, putting you in touch with levels of intensity and disintegration that seem to combine literary achievement with medical intervention.”
He Died with His Eyes Open is noir for today’s reader: void of over-the-top female sensuality and duplicity and the brassy language that begs mockery. Instead, Raymond’s prose is dark, elegant, and suited to the sensibilities of the times in which he wrote, the 1980s. If he had followed his predecessors and adopted the 1950s model it would have felt like a caricature of a genre already prone to exaggeration. Instead, Raymond creates something subtle, unique—something that still feels fresh in 2013.
He Died with His Eyes Open begins—as do most noir novels—with a gruesome murder. A man is found dead in a shrub outside of the Word of God House. When it becomes clear that the victim is just one of the many dregs of society currently polluting the city, the detective from the Serious Crime Unit is quick to call it an open-and-shut case. Who cares about the downtrodden, especially in Thatcherite England? However, our protagonist, Detective Sergeant from the Department of Unexplained Deaths, “by far the most unpopular and shunned branch of the service,” is not as quick to dismiss the crime.
This is what makes the unnamed detective of Raymond’s books different from other noir detectives. While a familiar characteristic of his sleuthing counterparts is cool detachment, this detective cares about those whom others would throw into a 6-foot hole without a second thought. He’s a champion of the poor, of Democracy, of a better society. He takes on “obscure, unimportant, apparently irrelevant deaths of people who don’t matter and who never did” and comes out more sympathetic for it.
To find out who might have murdered the man, Charles Staniland, a fifty-one year-old alcoholic, the detective spends hours listening to tapes the victim left behind and investigates the grimiest of dive bars 80s London has to offer—always a cut above the patrons but never out of place. It’s not long before he learns of an ex-wife, a junkie son, and a tough girlfriend named Babsie—all whom need to be handled with care. Soon one starts to wonder if the detective has gotten too close to the case; lines and judgment blur—but what noir novel would be complete without moral ambiguity?
To get to the end of this review without mentioning the brilliant designs for all five of Derek Raymond’s novels would be a gross oversight. The bright orange covers with a single image—an everyday object made suggestively gruesome—make the US editions from Melville House dare you to ignore them. Even if the novels weren’t so damn good, you’d want them around as art pieces. Luckily, they’re quality from cover to cover. If you’ve never read a crime novel in your life, The Factory Series is the place to start.
He was found in the shrubbery in front of of the Word of God House in Albatross Road, West Five. It was the thirtieth of March, during the evening rush-hour. It was bloody cold; and an office worker had tripped over the body when he was caught short going home. I don’t know if you know Albatross Road where it runs into Hanger Lane, but if you do you’ll appreciate what a ghastly lonely area it is, with the surface-level tube-station on one side of the street, and dank, blind buildings, weeping with damp, on the other. That evening there was yet another go-slow on, and when I arrived at seven there were people still massing to get down the tube stairs to the trains, which were running very rare.
It was pelting with rain on an east wind when I got there. I found Bowman from Serious Crimes standing over the corpse with a torch, talking to the two coppers off the beat who had been called by the man who had stumbled on him. Water ran off the brim of Bowman’s trilby and dribbled down the helmets of the wooden-tops to end up in their collars.
Bowman handed me the torch without a word and I bent over the dead man. His eyes were open—one only just—the surfaces peppered with the grit that an east wind hurls at you off London streets. He was wearing a cheap grey suit with cigarette burns down the front and a tatty raincoat. He was medium height, with thin hair turning grey and a boozer’s nose, aged between fifty and sixty. Both his arms were broken, and one leg; the bone poked out blue through the trouser cloth. His head had been battered in below the hairline and brains had slopped down his left cheek into the mud. I got the impression, though, despite his injuries he hadn’t died at once. In the dull eyes there was still a flicker of some memory that he meant to take with him wherever he was going.