Posts Tagged ‘literature’
Here are this week’s interesting publishing and media stories. Add your favorites to the comments section.
E-books, E-readers, and Apps
- In Russia, 95% of e-books are pirated. A company has developed an app to stop the trend. All Tech Considered
- Self publishing is big in Germany and has helped Amazon dominate the e-book market. Publishing Perspectives
- E-books are increasingly popular holiday gifts. Forbes
- The Internet is a valuable distraction for this writer. New York Times
- How technology changes language. Prospero
- 18 games for typography fans. Mashable
- 10 surprising social media facts. FastCompany
- 5 tools for identifying online influencers. PR Daily
- Derek Thompson reviews the video sharing site Upworthy. The Atlantic
- The semantics of online advertising. The Guardian
Media and Publishing
- Publishing experts debate the future of the book. Publishers Weekly
- A roundup of independent print magazines and interviews with the editors. New York
- Brief interviews with very small publishers. The Morning News
- Five female writers discuss sexism in the literary world. Brooklyn Based
- Reality TV shows for writers are cropping up around the globe. The Guardian
Lifehack and Business
- How to build a strong team at work. Fast Company
- How to build a balanced creative team. 99u
- 10 brands that changed the world. AdWeek
- Coca-Cola is aiming to kill the press release. PR Daily
Writing and Grammar
- 10 types of writers’ block and how to fix them. io9
- Creative nonfiction subgenres. LitReactor
- On anonymous authorship. Page-Turner
- The import of ALL CAPS. Lingua Franca
- Author, publisher, and Powell’s bookseller Kevin Sampsell talks to Brad Listi. Other People
- Media strategist Ryan Holiday talks to Mitch Joel. Twist Image
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.
Here are a few new paperbacks to usher in the fall season, and some you might have missed in hardcover last year.
The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller
Accomplished journalist Sam Weller met the Ray Bradbury while writing a cover story for the Chicago Tribune Magazine and spent hundreds of hours interviewing Bradbury, his editors, family members, and longtime friends. With unprecedented access to private archives, he uncovered never–before–published letters, documents, and photographs that help tell the story of this literary genius and his remarkable creative journey. The result is a richly textured, detailed biography that illuminates the origins and accomplishments of Bradbury’s fascinating mind.
All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen
Esther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write—a painful failure, and yet a kind of achievement.
The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy is the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to document her own feelings.
An icon of haute couture and an editor of British Vogue, Madge Garland held influential views on fashion that drew on her feminism, her ideas about modernity, and her love of women. Existing both vividly and invisibly at the center of culture, she—like Murphy and de Acosta—is now almost completely forgotten.
In All We Know, Lisa Cohen describes these women’s glamorous choices, complicated failures, and controversial personal lives with lyricism and empathy. At once a series of intimate portraits and a startling investigation into style, celebrity, sexuality, and the genre of biography itself, All We Know explores a hidden history of modernism and pays tribute to three compelling lives.
My Heart is an Idiot: Essays by Davy Rothbart
In My Heart Is an Idiot, Davy Rothbart is looking for love in all the wrong places. Constantly. He falls helplessly in love with pretty much every girl he meets—and rarely is the feeling reciprocated. Time after time, he hops in a car and tears halfway across America with his heart on his sleeve. He’s continually coming up with outrageous schemes and adventures, which he always manages to pull off. Well, almost always. But even when things don’t work out, Rothbart finds meaning and humor in every moment.
Whether it’s confronting a scammer who takes money from aspiring writers, sifting through a murder case that’s left a potentially innocent friend in prison, or waking up naked on a park bench in New York City, nothing and no one is off limits. And it’s all recounted in Davy’s singular, spirited literary voice, “an intriguing hybrid of timeless midwestern warmth and newfangled jive talk,” in the words of Sarah Vowell.
A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories by Robert Walser, introduction by Ben Lerner, translated from the German by Damion Searls
A Schoolboy’s Diary brings together more than seventy of Robert Walser’s strange and wonderful stories, most never before available in English. Opening with a sequence from Walser’s first book, “Fritz Kocher’s Essays,” the complete classroom assignments of a fictional boy who has met a tragically early death, this selection ranges from sketches of uncomprehending editors, overly passionate readers, and dreamy artists to tales of devilish adultery, sexual encounters on a train, and Walser’s service in World War I. Throughout, Walser’s careening, confounding, delicious voice holds the reader transfixed.
High Tide by Inga Ābele
Told more or less in reverse chronological order, High Tide is the story of Ieva, her dead lover, her imprisoned husband, and the way their youthful decisions dramatically impacted the rest of their lives. Taking place over three decades, High Tide functions as a sort of psychological mystery, with the full scope of Ieva’s personal situation—and the relationship between the three main characters—only becoming clear at the end of the novel.
One of Latvia’s most notable young writers, Ābele is a fresh voice in European fiction—her prose is direct, evocative, and exceptionally beautiful. The combination of strikingly lush descriptive writing with the precision with which she depicts the minds of her characters elevates this novel from a simple story of a love triangle into a fascinating, philosophical, haunting book.
Sunday Night Movies by Leanne Shapton
Sunday Night Movies features Leanne Shapton’s watercolors of resonant moments in black-and-white cinema. Selecting a brief fragment of each chosen film, she creates an indelible image that is both a hand-painted movie still and a personal response to a fleeting celluloid moment.
Together, the seventy-eight paintings create a valentine to the world of cinema. Shapton’s journey through film history becomes a wistful celebration of the subtle moments in stories, which can often slip by unnoticed. What could be a simple title, still life, or portrait of an actor becomes both illusive and allusive through the medium of these personal paintings.
Shapton’s bestselling Petit Livre book The Native Trees of Canada took a decades-old government catalogue and reimagined it, employing bold colors and stark shapes to represent familiar trees in their majestic glory. The book was a sleeper hit and went through multiple printings. With Sunday Night Movies she brings her love of film to light, and the effect is restrained and fanciful, familiar and all new.
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max
Since his untimely death by suicide at the age of forty-six in 2008, David Foster Wallace has become more than the representative writer of his literary generation—he has become a symbol of sincerity and honesty in an inauthentic age, a figure whose reputation and reach grow by the day. In this compulsively readable biography, D. T. Max charts Wallace’s tormented, anguished, and often triumphant battle to succeed as a novelist as he fights off depression and addiction to emerge with his masterpiece, Infinite Jest. Written with the cooperation of Wallace family members and friends and with access to hundreds of Wallace’s unpublished letters, manuscripts, and journals, this revelatory biography illuminates the unique connections between Wallace’s life and his fiction in a gripping and deeply moving narrative that will transfix readers.
Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson
Literary and inventive, but also fast-paced and gripping, “Mira Corpora” charts the journey of a young runaway. A coming-of-age story for people who hate coming-of-age stories, featuring a colony of outcast children, teenage oracles, amusement parks haunted by gibbons, mysterious cassette tapes, and a reclusive underground rockstar.
With astounding precision, Jackson weaves a moving tale of discovery and self-preservation across a startling, vibrant landscape.
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.
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.
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.
Jean Cocteau, who died at the age of 74 in 1963, was a man of many talents—a poet, a novelist, a filmmaker, and an artist. He wrote the libretto for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and was best known for his 1929 novel Les Enfants Terribles and the 1946 film adaptation Beauty and the Beast. After his death, in 1965, he was named the Honorary President of the Cannes Film Festival.
I once read that if you’re in a rut, creative or otherwise, you should read a biography of someone who did great things. Benjamin Franklin comes to mind, as does any social movement leader, but when I saw The Difficulty of Being, Cocteau’s collection of biographical essays—written in 1947— I was curious to know what this polymath had thought about life. As I thumbed through the copy in the bookstore, I noticed that the chapter headings read like Montaigue: “On conversation,” “On my style,” “On friendship,” “On death,” and “On beauty” are just a few.
In his introduction to Melville House’s Neversink Library edition, Geoffrey O’Brien, a critic and the Editor-in-Chief of the Library of America, notes that the book is written in “a mood of detached self-examination” and that Cocteau “makes himself his own portraitist … determined to work out some basic definitions.” He goes on to say, “It is most fundamentally a work of criticism, in which by paying close attention to his own writing process he creates a different kind of writing, opaque and deliberate.”
From my own reading, I found a poignancy in many of the questions Cocteau seeks to answer and the observations he puts on the page. Here is a very small selection of what is a great read—whether you choose to go from cover to cover or open at will.
I cannot read or write. And when the census form asks me this question, I am tempted to say no.
Who knows how to write? It is to battle with ink to try to make oneself understood.
Either one takes too much care over one’s work or one does not take enough. Seldom does one find the happy mean that limps with grace. Reading is another matter. I read. I think I am reading. Each time I re-read, I perceive that I have not read. That is the trouble with a letter. One finds in it what one looks for. One is satisfied. One puts it aside. If one finds it again, on re-reading one reads into it another which one had not read.
Books play the same trick. If they do not suit our present mood we do not consider them good. If they disturb us we criticize them, and this criticism is superimposed upon them and prevents us from reading them fairly.
What the reader wants is to read himself. When he reads what he approves of he thinks he could have written it. He may even have a grudge against the book for taking his place, for saying what he did not know how to say, and which according to him he would have said better.
The more a book means to us the less well we read it. Our substance slips into it and thinks it round to our own outlook. That is why if I want to read and convince myself that I can read. I read books into which my substance does not penetrate. In the hospitals in which I spent long periods, I used to read what the nurse brought me or what fell into my hands by chance. … you often hear a tubercular patient say of Thomas Mann’s book The Magic Mountain: ‘That is a book one couldn’t understand if one hadn’t been tubercular.’ In fact Thomas Mann wrote it without being this and for the very purpose of making those who had not experienced tuberculosis understand it.
We are all ill and only know how to read book which deal with our malady. This is why books dealing with love are so successful, since everyone believes that he is the only one to experience it. He thinks: ‘This book is addressed to me. What can anyone else see in it?’
On the Rule of the Soul
We cannot run from place to place without losing something, suddenly move all our goods from one place to another and change our work all in a moment just as we please. Nothing takes so long over its journey as the soul, and it is slowly, if it detaches itself, that it rejoins the body. Hence those who think themselves speedy are thrown into confusion, badly reassembled, since the soul, joining them little by little and having rejoined them when they departed, is found by them to perform the same exercise in reverse. IN the end they come to believe they are, and are no longer.
The same thing applies to the discomfort of passing from one work to another, since the finished work goes on living in us and only leaves a very confused place for the new work. It is important, in regard to a journey, to wait for the body to reassemble itself and not to rely on an appearance in which only those who do not know us well can have any faith.
In regard to one’s works, it is important to wait after each one, and let the body free itself of the vapours which remain in it and which may take a long time to disperse. … In my estimation it takes a month, after a work or a journey, to regain control of one’s individuality. Until then it is in limbo. … Each time I find myself in this intermediate state, I wonder if it is permanent. It upsets me to the point of making me exaggerate the void it creates and convinces me that it will never be filled.
Here I am then between two rhythms, unbalanced, weak in body and lame in mind. Woe to him who rebels against this. An attempt to bypass it would only make things worse. … What is one to do against this fear of emptiness? It dries me up. One must forget it. I practise doing so. I go to the point of reading children’s books. I avoid any contact which might make me aware of the passing of time. I vegetate. I talk to dogs.
I attach no importance to what people call style and by which they flatter themselves that they can recognize an author. I want to be recognized by my ideas, or better still, by the results of them. All I attempt is to make myself understood as succinctly as possible. I have noticed that when a story does not grip the mind, it has shown a tendency to read too quickly, to grease its own slope. That is why, in this book, I turn my writing around, which prevents it from sliding into a straight line, makes one revise it twice over and reread the sentences so as not to lose the thread.
Whenever I read a book, I marvel at the number of words I meet in it and I long to use them. I make a note of them. When I am at work this is impossible for me. I restrict myself to my own vocabulary. I cannot get away from it, and it is so limited that the work becomes a brain-twister.
I wonder, at every line, if I can go any further, if the combination of these words that I use, always the same ones, will not end by seizing up and compelling me to hold my peace. This would be a blessing for everyone, but it is with words as with numbers, or with the letters of the alphabet. They have the faculty of rearranging themselves differently and perpetually at the end of the kaleidoscope.
Reprinted from The Difficulty of Being by Jean Cocteau; English translation ©1966 Elizabeth Sprigge; Published by Melville House
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.
On his way to his niece’s wedding in Arizona, Hugh Densmore, a medical intern at UCLA, picked up a young female hitchhiker, took her as far as the California side of the border, and continued on his way. The next day she’s found dead in a canal near his family’s home in Phoenix. She’d had an illegal abortion, which was botched, but the cause of death was a blow to the head.
Not until a few dozen pages into the story do we learn that Densmore is black. The girl, being white, and it being that time and place, he becomes the prime suspect. At first he tries to prove his innocence on his own but, after getting nowhere, a friend convinces him to accept the help of Skye Houston, one of the country’s top lawyers—and a white man.
Published in 1963, The Expendable Man, a crime novel written from the point of view of the accused, echos the race relations of its day.
Any rational reader will get chills not from the description of the murder, or the menacing, suspense-filled cloud that hangs over Densmore’s head, but from the state of the justice system in which this case operates. Christine Smallwood, writing in The New Yorker, says of the book’s author, Dorothy B. Hughes, “It is not whodunit, but who-ness itself, that she’s after.”
To Hughes it’s not the criminal procedure that’s interesting, it’s the relationships that guide the procedure. The Expendable Man is not so much hardboiled fiction as it is an exploration of social issues.
He had wound through the small canyon outside of town, and was moving on to the long desert plain, when he noted ahead an extra shadow in the tree shadow marking a culvert. It looked as if there were someone resting under the tree. It couldn’t be possible, here, close to fifteen miles out of town. There wasn’t a car in sight in either direction, and there was no habitation of any sort in any direction. Yet it looked like a person’s shadow.
It was just that. The shadow, raised up from its haunches, waited for his car to approach. He knew better than to pick up a hitchhiker on the road; he’d known it long before newspapers and script writers had implanted the danger in the public mind. But he reduced speed when he approached the shadow, the automatic anxiety reaction that a person might step in front of the oncoming car. He passed the hitchhiker before he was actually aware of the shape and form; only after he had passed did he realize that this was a young girl. From the glimpse, a teen-age girl. Even as he slowed his car, he was against doing it. But her possible peril if left here alone forced his hand. He simply could not in conscience go on, leaving her abandoned, with twilight fallen and night quick to come. He had sisters as young as this. It chilled him to think what might happen if one of them were abandoned on the lonesome highway, the type of man with whom, in desperation, she might accept a lift. The car was stopped. He shifted to reverse and began backing up.
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.