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New in Paperback for March

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Keep your eye out for these paperbacks coming out this month.

Made to Break by D. Foy
Two days before New Years, a pack of five friends–three men and two women–head to a remote cabin near Lake Tahoe to celebrate the holidays. They’ve been buddies forever, banded together by scrapes and squalor, their relationships defined by these wild times.

After a car accident leaves one friend sick and dying, and severe weather traps them at the cabin, there is nowhere to go, forcing them to finally and ultimately take stock and confront their past transgressions, considering what they mean to one another and to themselves.

With some of the most luminous and purple prose flexed in recent memory, D. Foy is an incendiary new voice and “Made to Break,” a grand, episodic debut, redolent of the stark conscience of Denis Johnson and the spellbinding vision of Roberto Bolano.

Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture by Daniel Mendelsohn
Waiting for the BarbariansOver the past decade and a half, Daniel Mendelsohn’s reviews for The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Book Review have earned him a reputation as “one of the greatest critics of our time” (Poets & Writers). In Waiting for the Barbarians, he brings together twenty-four of his recent essays—each one glinting with “verve and sparkle,” “acumen and passion”—on a wide range of subjects, from Avatar to the poems of Arthur Rimbaud, from our inexhaustible fascination with the Titanic to Susan Sontag’s Journals. Trained as a classicist, author of two internationally best-selling memoirs, Mendelsohn moves easily from penetrating considerations of the ways in which the classics continue to make themselves felt in contemporary life and letters (Greek myth in the Spider-Man musical, Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho) to trenchant takes on pop spectacles—none more explosively controversial than his dissection of Mad Men.

The Story of My Purity by By Francesco Pacifico; translated by Stephen Twilley  
Thirty years old, growing flabby in a sexless marriage, Piero Rosini has decided to dedicate his life to Jesus. He’s renounced the novels and American music that were filling his head with bullshit; he’s moved out of his fancy bourgeois neighborhood, which was keeping him from finding spiritual purity and the Lord’s truth. Now that he and his wife have settled into an unfinished housing development on the far outskirts of Rome, he’ll be able to really concentrate on his job at an ultraconservative Catholic publishing house, editing books that highlight the decadence and degradation of modern society, including one claiming that Pope John Paul II was secretly Jewish. But Piero is suffocating. He worries that The Jewish Pope might be taking things too far. He can’t get his beautiful sister-in-law out of his head. Temptations are breaking down his religious resolve. He decides to flee to Paris, which turns out not to be the best way of guarding his purity.

With a charismatic narrator as familiar with the finer points of Christian theology as with the floor layout of IKEA and the schedules of European budget airlines, Francesco Pacifico’s exuberant novel brings us Europe old and new and the inner workings of a conflicted but always compelling mind. The Story of My Purity is fiction with great humor, intelligence, neuroticism, and vision, from a young writer at the beginning of a tremendous career.

Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff
People spent the twentieth century obsessed with the future. We created technologies that would help connect us faster, gather news, map the planet, and compile knowledge. We strove for an instantaneous network where time and space could be compressed.

Well, the future’s arrived. We live in a continuous now enabled by Twitter, email, and a so-called real-time technological shift. Yet this “now” is an elusive goal that we can never quite reach. And the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us into a new state of anxiety: present shock.

Douglas Rushkoff weaves together seemingly disparate events and trends into a rich, nuanced portrait of how life in the eternal present has affected our biology, behavior, politics, and culture.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma
As early as he can remember, the narrator of this remarkable novel has wanted to become a writer. From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator will be haunted by the success of his greatest friend and literary rival, the brilliant Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. A profound exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, this delightful picaresque tale heralds Jansma as a bold, new American voice.

Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave by Adam Alter
Most of us go through life believing that we are in control of the choices we make—that we think and behave almost independently from the world around us. But as Drunk Tank Pink illustrates, the truth is our environment shapes our thoughts and actions in myriad ways without our permission or even our knowledge. Armed with surprising data and endlessly fascinating examples, Adam Alter addresses the subtle but substantial ways in which outside forces influence us—such as color’s influence on mood, our bias in favor of names with which we identify, and how sunny days can induce optimism as well as aggression. Drunk Tank Pink proves that the truth behind our feelings and actions goes much deeper than the choices we take for granted every day.

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel
Sailor TwainOne hundred years ago. On the foggy Hudson River, a riverboat captain rescues an injured mermaid from the waters of the busiest port in the United States. A wildly popular—and notoriously reclusive—author makes a public debut. A French nobleman seeks a remedy for a curse. As three lives twine together and race to an unexpected collision, the mystery of the Mermaid of the Hudson deepens. A mysterious and beguiling love story with elements of Poe, Twain, Hemingway, and Greek mythology, drawn in moody black-and-white charcoal, this new paperback edition of the New York Times Best-Selling graphic novel by author/illustrator Mark Siegel is a study in romance, atmosphere, and suspense. Don’t miss Sailor Twain.

Written by Gabrielle

March 4, 2014 at 6:51 am

New in Paperback for February

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Here are just a few paperbacks coming out this month that have caught my eye.

Artful by Ali Smith
Artful is a celebration of literature’s worth in and to the world—it is about the things art can do, the things art is made of, and the quicksilver nature of all artfulness. A magical hybrid that refuses to be tied down to either fiction or the essay form, Artful is narrated by a character who is haunted—literally—by a former lover, the writer of a series of lectures about art and literature. Ali Smith’s heady powers as a novelist and short story writer harmonize with her keen perceptions as a reader and critic to form a living thing that reminds us that life and art are never separate.

Me, Myself, and Why: Searching for the Science of Self by Jennifer Ouellette
me myself whyAs diverse as people appear to be, all of our genes and brains are nearly identical. In Me, Myself, and Why, Jennifer Ouellette dives into the miniscule ranges of variation to understand just what sets us apart. She draws on cutting-edge research in genetics, neuroscience, and psychology—enlivened as always with her signature sense of humor—to explore the mysteries of human identity and behavior. Readers follow her own surprising journey of self-discovery as she has her genome sequenced, her brain mapped, her personality typed, and even samples a popular hallucinogen. Bringing together everything from Mendel’s famous pea plant experiments and mutations in The X-Men to our taste for cilantro and our relationships with virtual avatars, Ouellette takes us on an endlessly thrilling and illuminating trip into the science of ourselves.

The Story of Ain’t: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published by David Skinner
Created by the most respected American publisher of dictionaries and supervised by editor Philip Gove, Webster’s Third broke with tradition, adding thousands of new words and eliminating “artificial notions of correctness,” basing proper usage on how language was actually spoken. The dictionary’s revolutionary style sparked what David Foster Wallace called “the Fort Sumter of the Usage Wars.” Critics bayed at the dictionary’s permissive handling of ain’t. Literary intellectuals such as Dwight Macdonald believed the abandonment of the old standard represented the unraveling of civilization.

Entertaining and erudite, The Story of Ain’t describes a great societal metamorphosis, tracing the fallout of the world wars, the rise of an educated middle class, and the emergence of America as the undisputed leader of the free world, and illuminating how those forces shaped our language. Never before or since has a dictionary so embodied the cultural transformation of the United States.

What’s Important is Feeling by Adam Wilson
Bankers prowl Brooklyn bars on the eve of the stock market crash. A debate over Young Elvis versus Vegas Elvis turns existential. Detoxing junkies use a live lobster to spice up their love life. Students on summer break struggle to escape the orbit of a seemingly utopic communal house.

And in the title story, selected for The Best American Short Stories, two film school buddies working on a doomed project are left sizing up their own talent, hoping to come out on top–but fearing they won’t.

In What’s Important Is Feeling, Adam Wilson follows the through-line of contemporary coming-of-age from the ravings of teenage lust to the staggering loneliness of proto-adulthood. He navigates the tough terrain of American life with a delicate balance of comedy and compassion, lyricism and unsparing straightforwardness. Wilson’s characters wander through a purgatory of yearning, hope, and grief. No one emerges unscathed.

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Electric, exhilarating, and beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go introduces the world to Taiye Selasi, a novelist of extraordinary talent. In a sweeping narrative that takes readers from Accra to Lagos to London to New York, it is at once a portrait of a modern family and an exploration of the importance of where we come from to who we are.

A renowned surgeon and failed husband, Kweku Sai dies suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of his death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Go charts their circuitous journey to one another and, along the way, teaches us that the truths we speak can heal the wounds we hide.

Seeing Power: Art and Activism in the Age of Cultural Production by Nato Thompson
A fog of information and images has flooded the world: from advertising, television, radio, and film to the information glut produced by the new economy. With the rise of social networking, even our contemporaries, peers, and friends are all suddenly selling us the ultimate product: themselves.

Here curator and critic Nato Thompson interrogates the implications of these developments for those dedicated to socially engaged art and activism. How can anyone find a voice and make change when the world is flooded with images and information? And what is one to make of the endless machine of consumer capitalism, which has appropriated much from the history of art and, in recent years, the methods of grassroots political organizing and social networking?

Highlighting the work of some of the most innovative and interesting artists and activists working today, Thompson reads and praises sites and institutions that empower their communities to see power and re-imagine it. From cooperative housing to anarchist infoshops to alternative art venues, Thompson shows that many of today’s most innovative spaces operate as sites of dramatic personal transformation.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide; Eric Selland (translator)
A bestseller in France and winner of Japan s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens

Europe in Sepia by Dubravka Ugresic; David Williams (translator)
Hurtling between Weltschmerz and wit, drollness and diatribe, entropy and enchantment, it’s the juxtaposition at the heart of Dubravka Ugresic’s writings that saw Ruth Franklin dub her “the fantasy cultural studies professor you never had.” In Europe in Sepia, Ugresic, ever the flâneur, wanders from the Midwest to Zuccotti Park, the Irish Aran Islands to Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim, from the tristesse of Dutch housing estates to the riots of south London, charting everything from the listlessness of Central Europe to the ennui of the Low Countries. One finger on the pulse of an exhausted Europe, another in the wounds of postindustrial America, Ugresic trawls the fallout of political failure and the detritus of popular culture, mining each for revelation.

Infused with compassion and melancholic doubt, Europe in Sepia centers on the disappearance of the future, the anxiety that no new utopian visions have emerged from the ruins of communism; that ours is a time of irreducible nostalgia, our surrender to pastism complete. Punctuated by the levity of Ugresic’s raucous instinct for the absurd, despair has seldom been so beguiling.

Glyph by Percival Everett
glyphBaby Ralph has ways to pass the time in his crib—but they don’t include staring at a mobile. Aided by his mother, he reads voraciously: “All of Swift, all of Sterne, Invisible Man, Baldwin, Joyce, Balzac, Auden, Roethke,” along with a generous helping of philosophy, semiotics, and trashy thrillers. He’s also fond of writing poems and stories (in crayon). But Ralph has limits. He’s mute by choice and can’t drive, so in his own estimation he’s not a genius. Unfortunately for him, everyone else disagrees. His psychiatrist kidnaps him for testing, and once his brilliance is quantified (IQ: 475), a Pentagon officer also abducts him. Diabolically funny and lacerating in its critique of poststructuralism, Glyph has the feverish plot of a thriller and the philosophical depth of a text by Roland Barthes.

On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin; Helge Dascher (translator)
loving womenOn Loving Women is a new collection of stories about coming out, first love, and sexual identity by the animator Diane Obomsawin. With this work, Obomsawin brings her gaze to bear on subjects closer to home—her friends’ and lovers’ personal accounts of realizing they’re gay or first finding love with another woman. Each story is a master class in reaching the emotional truth of a situation with the simplest means possible. Her stripped-down pages use the bare minimum of linework to expressively reveal heartbreak, joy, irritation, and fear.

On Loving Women focuses primarily on adolescence—crushes on high school teachers, awkwardness on first dates—but also addresses much deeper-seated difficulties of being out: fears of rejection and of not being who others want one to be. Within these pages, Obomsawin has forged a poignant, powerful narrative that speaks to the difficulties of coming out and the joys of being loved.

Her first English-language work, Kaspar—a retelling of the life of Kaspar Hauser, the mysterious German youth who was raised in isolation and murdered just a few years after emerging from his imprisonment—was critically lauded for its simple but expressive storytelling, and for the way it portrayed traumatic material compassionately but without self-indulgence. Preview.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Written by Gabrielle

February 5, 2014 at 6:48 am

Excerpt: Everything Happens as It Does by Albena Stambolova

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In her debut novel Everything Happens as It Does, Bulgarian writer Albena Stambolova tells the story of seven characters, their lives weaved together through an experimental structuring of events and relationships. Here is a brief excerpt, taken from the opening chapter.

1. Little Boys and Their Parents

In the beginning, Boris was unable to think about the surrounding world. Things just happened to him, and he had no way of avoiding them.

His parents, for example, meek as they were, looked like a grandpa and grandma rather than a mother and father, and that always unsettled him. His sister was eighteen years older than him, and people mistook her for his mother.

Later, as he grew older, he devised a way to escape. He would try to lose himself in uninhabited worlds, where it was hard to establish relationships of the family kind.

It was with the bees that he first managed to draw the boundaries of something he could call his own.

Before he enrolled in the English Language School in Plovdiv, he had a lot of time on his hands and nothing to do. He made it his purpose simply to pass the time. Afterward the opposite happened: he learned to stretch time to fit whatever work he was doing. And to stay in his room, while his sister’s family, although he was supposed to be living with them, carried on a life of its own.

When he started to wear glasses, the painful awkwardness of his childish face shifted into a look of seriousness. The glasses somehow set everyone at ease, as if things had finally slipped into place. Wearing glasses had the effect of calming the vague fears the family harbored about Boris. Not that they now knew him better than before. But an introverted boy with glasses was less worrisome than an introverted boy without glasses.

Boris could feel the change in people’s perception of him and immediately saw its advantages. Later, when he grew a beard, he could see how, just as the glasses before, the beard replaced whatever it was in him that provoked fear in others. One thing substituted for another. And behind it all stood the child named Boris.

He never asked himself how others did it. Getting to an inviolable place of his own was all that mattered, and he could always tell when he was there.

He learned to do things no one paid attention to. Or to do things in such a way that no one paid attention to him. For instance, he was willing to eat something he couldn’t stand, rather than give himself away and make his dislike known to others. He realized that his mother felt anxiety and, although he could not understand why, he felt he knew enough already.

Excerpted from Everything Happens as It Does by Albena Stambolova, published by Open Letter. ©2002 Albena Stambolova. Translation ©2012 Olga Nikolova

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Written by Gabrielle

January 28, 2014 at 6:49 am

New in Paperback for November

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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.

Written by Gabrielle

November 5, 2013 at 6:37 am

New in Paperback for October

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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
How to Read a NovelistFor 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
TFrequencies 3he 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
Marvel ComicsIn 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
Revolution of Every DayIn 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
what are you looking at?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
Black SpiderIt 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
The DarkOpening 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
White GoddessThis 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
LeapfrogLeapfrog 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.

Written by Gabrielle

October 1, 2013 at 6:42 am

New in Paperback for September

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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
Bradbury ChroniclesAccomplished 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
All We KnowEsther 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
My Heart is an IdiotIn 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
Schoolboy's DiaryA 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
High TideTold 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 MoviesSunday 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
Every Love StorySince 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
Mira CorporaLiterary 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.

Written by Gabrielle

September 3, 2013 at 6:55 am

Publisher Spotlight: Open Letter Books

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Open LetterThere’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.

Three Percent PodcastAlong 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
Karaoke CultureDubravka 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.

Read an excerpt
Read the interview in BOMB

18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev
18% GrayIn 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.

Read an excerpt

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.

::[Links]::
Open Letter Books
Three Percent
Three Percent Podcast
Best Translated Book Award long list for 2013
Open Letter Books’ subscription service

Written by Gabrielle

August 13, 2013 at 6:43 am

New in Paperback for July

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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
Art of Intimacy“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
SeiboSeiobo — 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
Three Women in a MirrorAnna, 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
You Only Get Letters From JailJodi 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
EmmausFour 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
Don't Kiss MeWith 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
You & MePadgett 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
L'amourA 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.

Written by Gabrielle

July 2, 2013 at 6:56 am

New in Paperback for June

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Novels, literary journals, translations, paperback originals, and reprints. Here’s what new for June.

Taipei by Tao Lin
TaipeiFrom 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
Tin HouseThe 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
City of BohaneForty 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
SkagboysMark 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
Two or Three YearsWorking 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 Unrest CureThe 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
what purpose did i serve in your lifeMarie 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

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.

Written by Gabrielle

June 4, 2013 at 6:52 am

New in Paperback for May

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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
The Last Interview_BorgesDays 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
A Question of ShapeMazoch 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
Love is PowerWhen 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
Dark Back of TimeCalled 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
The AlterationIn 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
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your LifeBack 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 LifeA 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

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.

Written by Gabrielle

May 7, 2013 at 6:55 am

The Secret Lives of Unfinished Books

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LibraryWhat 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-MatasDublinesque
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

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

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.

::[Links]::
Read an interview with Enrique Vila-Matas
Read an interview with Gilbert Sorrentino
Read an interview with Clarice Lispector’s translator

Written by Gabrielle

March 26, 2013 at 6:51 am

New in Paperback for February

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Here are just a few paperbacks coming out in February that have my attention. Tell me what I’ve missed in the comments section.

Why We Write

Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Authors on How and Why They Do What They Do edited by Meredith Maran
Twenty of America’s bestselling authors share tricks, tips, and secrets of the successful writing life.

Anyone who’s ever sat down to write a novel or even a story knows how exhilarating and heartbreaking writing can be. So what makes writers stick with it? In Why We Write, twenty well-known authors candidly share what keeps them going and what they love most—and least—about their vocation. Read Jennifer Egan’s essay.

18% Gray18% Gray by Zachary Karabashliev
Distraught over the sudden disappearance of his wife, Zack tries to drown his grief in Tijuana, then returns to the U.S. with a stolen stash of marijuana. Using this as an impetus to change his life, Zack sets off for New York with the weed and a vintage Nikon. Through the lens of the old camera, he starts rediscovering himself by photographing an America we rarely see. His journey unleashes a series of erratic, hilarious, and life-threatening events interspersed with flashbacks to his relationship with Stella and life in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.

A suspenseful, darkly funny love story, 18% Gray won both the Bulgarian Novel of the Year Award and the Flower of the Readers Award when it was first published in 2008, and received the praise of critics everywhere.

Finding MerlinFinding Merlin: The Truth Behind the Legend of the Great Arthurian Mage by Adam Ardrey
Merlin: the very name summons up images of the wizard of Camelot — magician, prophet, and counselor to Arthur. The legend is famous but the truth is less well known: Merlin was a real historical figure, a champion of the old way of the Druids, a British man who hailed not from England or Wales, as traditional wisdom would have it, but from Scotland.

Adam Ardrey, who stumbled upon some of the hidden sources of Merlin’s life while researching the history of a Scottish clan, offers compelling evidence that links a very real Merlin figure into the histories of other real and prominent sixth century figures. “Finding Merlin” uncovers new evidence and reexamines the old. The places where Merlin was born, lived, died, and was buried are identified, as are the people surrounding him — his nemesis, the fanatic Mungo, and his friend, the hero Arthur. In this impressively researched and accessibly written book, Merlin leaps from the pages of legend into history.

Exercises in StyleExercises in Style by Raymond Queneau; Barbara Wright
Contributors: Ben Marcus, Blake Butler, Amelia Gray, Jesse Ball, Harry Mathews, Lynne Tillman, Shane Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Enrique Vila-Matas, Frederic Tuten.

Exercises in Style — Queneau’s experimental masterpiece and a hallmark book of the Oulipo literary group — retells this unexceptional tale ninety-nine times, employing the sonnet and the alexandrine, onomatopoeia and Cockney. An “Abusive” chapter heartily deplores the events; “Opera English” lends them grandeur. Queneau once said that of all his books, this was the one he most wished to see translated. He offered Barbara Wright his “heartiest congratulations,” adding: “I have always thought that nothing is untranslatable.Here is new proof.”

A new edition of the famous modernist story told ninety-nine different ways — with newly translated exercises by Queneau and contributions by some of today’s most acclaimed stylists.

Hat tip to Sarah Gerard, writer and bookslinger, for bringing this one to my attention.

How Not to Write Bad SentencesHow to Not Write Bad: The Most Common Writing Problems and the Best Ways to Avoid Them by Ben Yagoda
How to Not Write Bad uses this basic tenet — what Ben Yagoda calls “not-writing-badly” — to illustrate how we can all write better, clearer, and for a wider readership. Yagoda offers advice on crafting sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction, punctuation, and grammar and that display clarity, precision, and grace. He then moves on to the art of constructing whole paragraphs—focusing on cadence, consistency of tone, word repetition, sentence transitions, and length.

In a fun, comprehensive guide, Yagoda lays out the simple steps that we all can take to make our writing more effective, more interesting—and just plain better. As “lolspeak” and texts take over our linguistic consciousness, Yagoda emphasizes the lost art of grammar and the well-constructed sentence. He provides clear grammatical rules to help students and writers everywhere write better; this is a book for anyone who wants to improve his or her writing.

There Once LivedThere Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love Stories by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Love stories, with a twist: the eagerly awaited follow-up to the great Russian writer’s New York Times bestselling scary fairy tales

By turns sly and sweet, burlesque and heartbreaking, these realist fables of women looking for love are the stories that Ludmilla Petrushevskaya—who has been compared to Chekhov, Tolstoy, Beckett, Poe, Angela Carter, and even Stephen King—is best known for in Russia.Here are attempts at human connection, both depraved and sublime, by people across the life span: one-night stands in communal apartments, poignantly awkward couplings, office trysts, schoolgirl crushes, elopements, tentative courtships, and rampant infidelity, shot through with lurid violence, romantic illusion, and surprising tenderness. With the satirical eye of Cindy Sherman, Petrushevskaya blends macabre spectacle with transformative moments of grace and shows just why she is Russia’s preeminent contemporary fiction writer.

ExodusExodus by Lars Iyer
A wickedly funny and satisfyingly highbrow black comedy about the collapse of Western academic institutions under the weight of neoliberal economics and crushing, widespread idiocy.

Lars and W., the two preposterous philosophical anti-heroes of Spurious and Dogma—called “Uproarious” by the New York Times Book Review—return and face a political, intellectual, and economic landscape in a state of total ruination.

Granta

With philosophy professors being moved to badminton departments and gin in short supply—although not short enough—the two hapless intellectuals embark on a relentless mission. Well, several relentless missions. For one, they must help gear a guerilla philosophy movement—conducted outside the academy, perhaps under bridges—that will save the study of philosophy after the long, miserable decades of intellectual desert known as the early 21st-century.

Granta 122: Betrayal
Without love there can be no betrayal – love of a country, a brother, a wife, a platoon mate, a family. In this issue of Granta, Janine di Giovanni witnesses a nation, Syria, betraying its people; Karen Russell imagines a soldier inscribing the memory of a fellow soldier on his back; and Colin Robinson writes about ancient brotherly friction resurfacing in a game of paddleball. From the playgrounds of New York City to the alleyways of Damascus, here is the theatre of betrayal.

Written by Gabrielle

January 29, 2013 at 6:51 am

New in Paperback for December

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Here’s what I’ll be looking for in the bookstores this month.

Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension by Michael Heald
Goodbye to the Nervous ApprehensionAcross eleven essays, Michael Heald compulsively measures himself against men like Eli Manning, Ryan Gosling, and Stephen Malkmus, and always comes up short. After a decade of failed relationships, estranged siblings, and abandoned hopes, he may or may not have learned his lesson. Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension is not nearly as depressing as any of this sounds.
Listen to Michael talk about publishing with Late Night Library

Tin House Winter 2013
Tin HouseIn this issue, we found it in young writer Helen Phillips’s story “Flesh & Blood,” about a woman who can see through people’s skin. We saw it in veteran Stuart Dybek’s fractured take on the operatic life in his story “Tosca.” And in Benjamin Percy, too, no stranger to fictional and personal risks, who writes here of his monthlong liver detox (spoiler: no meat and no alcohol do not tame Percy’s inner beast). Two books after being a New Voice in Tin House, Monica Ferrell returns to our pages with the poem “Oh You Absolute Darling.” Always searching for fresh writing, in this issue we are happy to introduce three New Voices: David Feinstein, Sam Ross, and Eric Burg. The venerable writer William Gass, interviewed here, says, “So you try, but you probably will fail. It’s a business. Failure is what happens.” To risk, to dare– that is his, and our, challenge.

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess
Earthly PowersIn Earthly Powers Anthony Burgess, best known for A Clockwork Orange, explores the very essence of power through the lives of two modern men—Kenneth Toomey, eminent novelist, a man who has outlived his contemporaries to survive into honored, bitter, luxurious old age as a celebrity of dubious notoriety, and Don Carlo Campanati, a man of God, eventually beloved Pope, who rises through the Vatican as a shrewd manipulator to become the architect of church revolution and a candidate for sainthood.

As each pursues his career their relationship becomes the heart of a narrative that incorporates almost everyone of fame and distinction in the social, literary, and political life of America and Europe. This astonishing company is joined together by the art of a great novelist into an explosive and entertaining tour de force that will captivate fans of sweeping historical fiction. At the time of this posting, Open Letters Monthly is devoting their December issue to Burgess.

A Thousand Morons by Quim Monzao
A Thousand MoronsA Thousand Morons, Quim Monzó’s latest collection of short stories, is rife with very unfortunate characters. There’s the young boy in “A Cut” who is upbraided by his teacher when he rudely shows up for class with a huge gash in his neck. And the prince in “One Night” who tries everything to awaken a sleeping princess—yet fails completely.

An excellent combination of longer, elegiac stories of “morons,” aging, and the passage of time—with short, flashier pieces that display Monzó’s wit and playfulness—make this one of the strongest collections in the oeuvre of Catalan’s short fiction master.

The Penguin State of the World Atlas
Penguin State of the WorldNow in its ninth edition, the widely praised Penguin State of the World Atlas remains an accessible, unique visual survey of current events and global trends. Completely revised and updated, this distinctive atlas presents the latest statistics on communications and information technology, international trade, globalization of work, aging and new health risks, food and water, energy resources and consumption, global warming and biodiversity, literacy, gender equality, wars and peacekeeping, and more. Fascinating, troubling, and surprising, this is one atlas no student of the world should be without.

Written by Gabrielle

December 4, 2012 at 6:57 am

New in Paperback for November

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November is upon us and the paperback releases are looking good. This month, keep your eye out for this excellent crop of new books—mostly originals.

The Ballonist by MacDonald Harris with an introduction from Philip Pullman
As in the best of Jules Verne or Albert Sanchez Pinol, “The Balloonist” is a gripping and surreal yarn, chilling and comic by turn, that brilliantly reinvents the Arctic adventure.

It is July 1897, at the northernmost reach of the inhabited world. A Swedish scientist, an American journalist, and a young, French-speaking adventurer climb into a wicker gondola suspended beneath a huge, red-and-white balloon. The ropes are cut, the balloon rises, and the three begin their voyage: an attempt to become the first people to set foot on the North Pole, and return, borne on the wind. Philip Pullman says in his foreword: “Once I open any of MacDonald Harris’s novels I find it almost impossible not to turn and read on, so delightful is the sensation of a sharp intelligence at work.

Kafka in Love by Jacqueline Raoul-Duval
Kafka was an attractive, slender, and elegant man–something of a dandy, who captivated his friends and knew how to charm women. He seemed to have had four important love affairs: Felice, Julie, Milena, and Dora. All of them lived far away, in Berlin or Vienna, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons that he loved them: he chose long-distance relationships so he could have the pleasure of writing to them, without the burden of having to live with them. He was engaged to all four women, and four times he avoided marriage. At the end of each love affair, he threw himself into his writing and produced some of his most famous novels: Amerika, The Trial, and The Castle.

In this charming book, author Jacqueline Raoul-Duval follows the paper trail of Kafka’s ardor. She uses his voice in her own writing, and a third of the book is pulled from Kafka’s journals. It is the perfect introduction to this giant of world literature, and captures his life and romances in a style worthy of his own.

Granta: The Best Young Brazilian Novelists edited by John Freeman
Since Granta’s inaugural list of the Best of Young British Novelists in 1983 – featuring Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Martin Amis and Julian Barnes – the Best of Young issues have been some of the magazine’s most influential and best-selling. In 2010, Granta looked beyond the English-speaking world with Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.

Now, in an issue fully translated in partnership with Granta em Português, the magazine celebrates emerging talent from Brazil, many translated into English for the first time. Authors include Cristhiano Aguiar, Vanessa Barbara, Carol Bensimon, Javier Arancibia Contreras, J.P. Cuenca, Miguel del Castillo, Laura Erber, Emilio Fraia, Julian Fuks, Daniel Galera, Luisa Geisler, Vinicius Jatoba, Michel Laub, Tatiana Salem Levy, Ricardo Lisias, Chico Mattoso, Antonio Prata, Carola Saavendra, Leandro Sarmatz, and Antonio Xerxenesky.

Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin
Day after day the Russian asylum-seekers sit across from the interpreter and Peter—the Swiss officers who guard the gates to paradise—and tell of the atrocities they’ve suffered, or that they’ve invented, or heard from someone else. These stories of escape, war, and violence intermingle with the interpreter’s own reading: a his­tory of an ancient Persian war; letters sent to his son “Nebuchadnezzasaurus,” ruler of a distant, imaginary childhood empire; and the diaries of a Russian singer who lived through Russia’s wars and revolutions in the early part of the twentieth century, and eventually saw the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

Mikhail Shishkin’s Maidenhair is an instant classic of Russian literature. It bravely takes on the eternal questions—of truth and fiction, of time and timeless­ness, of love and war, of Death and the Word—and is a movingly luminescent expression of the pain of life and its uncountable joys.

Hush Hush: Stories by Steven Barthelme
If you’re up $16,000 at the casino and missing dinner with the woman you love, how do you find the strength to drive away? If you give up your career and your beautiful wife and find yourself drinking vodka and fixing cars for a living, is that necessarily a step down? In Hush Hush, Steven Barthelme gives us a simultaneously twisted, heartbreaking, and hilarious account of learning to quit when you’re ahead.

The collection, which includes the Pushcart Prize-winning “Claire,” exposes the surprising dignity in lying on your belly in the pouring rain, in ringing your ex-girlfriend’s doorbell at 4 A.M., in sleeping with your dead wife’s best friend. Co-author with his brother Frederick of the brilliant and devastating casino memoir, Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss, Steven Barthelme seems to cast an eye at his own history and the characters he’s known. These are men and women who are down — but stirringly, not quite out. An unmissable, arresting book from one of the most seminal short story writers of the last twenty years.

The Other Side of the World by Jay Neugeboren
Charlie Eisner is a journeyman whose friend Nick convinces him to move to Singapore, where he falls in love with the vibrant and endangered world of nearby Borneo. One night, at a party in Nick’s Singapore apartment, Nick dies mysteriously, prompting Charlie to return to New England, where he discovers that Seana O’Sullivan has moved in with his father, Max, a retired professor with a beguiling and antic disposition. Seana, one of his father’s former students, is a wildly successful and provocative writer who is equally wild and provocative in life. Together, she and Charlie set out on a road trip, first to pay respects to Nick’s parents, and then on a journey where “weird things happen if you make room for them.”

From the forests of Borneo to the mean streets of Brooklyn and the haunting towns of coastal Maine, The Other Side of the World is a grand, episodic novel and yet another virtuoso performance by one of America’s most revered living writers.

The Writer’s Notebook II: Craft Essays from Tin House with an introduction from Francine Prose
The Writer’s Notebook II continues in the tradition of The Writer’s Notebook, featuring essays based on craft seminars from the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop, as well as a variety of craft essays from Tin House magazine contributors and Tin House Books authors. The collection includes essays that not only examine important craft aspects such as humor, suspense, and research but that also explore creating fractured and nonrealist narratives and the role of dream in fiction. An engaging and enlightening read, The Writer’s Notebook II is both a toolkit and an inspiration for any writer.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran
The follow-up to Caitlin Moran’s breakout hit, How to Be a Woman–A hilarious collection of award-winning columns, available to American readers for the first time ever.

Possibly the only drawback to the bestselling How to Be a Woman was that its author, Caitlin Moran, was limited to pretty much one subject: being a woman. Moranthology is proof that Caitlin can actually be “quite chatty” about many other things, including cultural, social, and political issues that are usually the province of learned professors or hot-shot wonks–and not of a woman who once, as an experiment, put a wasp in a jar and got it stoned. Caitlin ruminates on–and sometimes interviews–subjects as varied as caffeine, Keith Richards, Ghostbusters, Twitter, transsexuals, the welfare state, the royal wedding, Lady Gaga, and her own mortality, to name just a few. With her unique voice, Caitlin brings insight and humor to everything she writes.

Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand
No one is innocent, no one unexamined in Shirley Jackson award-winning author Elizabeth Hand’s new collection of stories. From the mysterious people next door to the odd guy in the next office over, Hand teases apart the dark strangenesses of everyday life to show us the impossibilities, broken dreams, and improbable dreams that surely can never come true.

The Right Way to Do Wrong by Harry Houdini with an introduction from Teller
Originally published in 1906, The Right Way to Do Wrong was a masterclass in subversion conducted by the world’s greatest illusionist. It collected Hou­dini’s findings, from interviews with criminals and police officers, on the most surefire ways to commit crime and get away with it.

This volume presents the best of those writings alongside little-known articles by Houdini on his own brand of deception: magic. Revealing the secrets of his signature tricks, including handcuff and rope escapes, and debunking the methods of his rivals, he proves 
himself to be just as clever and nimble a writer as he was a magician—and surprisingly free with trade secrets! All of which makes this unique selection of works both the ultimate anti-etiquette guide and proof that things are not always as they seem.

An Education with Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio

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It was by chance that I picked up a copy of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio. A recent edition published by New York Review of Books was shelved in the adult section of the bookstore, a place I didn’t expect it to be. At first the haunting cover image, a close-up of a tree with wide-open, wet eyes, caught my attention, but it was the introduction from Umberto Eco and afterword by Rebecca West that made me linger. These two celebrated writers promised the mature analysis I would need after finishing a book known to me as story for children.

Luckily, I wasn’t familiar with Disney’s film adaptation, nor had I read its numerous variations. I was coming to it with the barest of information: wooden puppet wants to be a real boy; talking cricket named Jiminy; old man named Geppetto; nose grows when Pinocchio lies. As it turns out, Pinocchio’s longing to be human is not as prominent in the original, his nose is barely mentioned, and Jiminy Cricket is a near fabrication.

In fact, the truth about Jiminy Cricket is a perfect example of why reading, or revisiting, children’s books when you’re older can be so much fun.

After the cricket–known in Collodi’s version only as the Talking Cricket–reprimands Pinocchio for his obstinacy, the puppet throws a tantrum. On page 15 we read:

At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a rage, grabbed a wooden mallet from the workbench, and flung it at the Talking Cricket.

Perhaps he didn’t mean to hit him at all, but unfortunately he hit him square on the head. With his last breath the poor Cricket cried cree-cree-cree and then died on the spot, stuck to the wall.

At the time of Collodi’s writing–Pinocchio was serialized from 1881 to 1883–children’s books were a new genre. In her afterword, Rebecca West says, “Children’s literature was an innovation in nineteenth-century Italy (and elsewhere).” This alone would explain why Pinocchio feels more like a story with a child at its center rather than a children’s story.

While children’s authors today have a lineage to look to for guidance, Collodi was without a bookshelf to reference. Instead, as West points out, among his influences were Dante’s Divine Comedy, Homer’s Odyssey, and Virgil’s epic poem, the Aeneid. We owe the slimness of the book to the Tuscan novella and Boccaccio’s Decameron, with which Collodi would have been familiar. Also an influence, according to West, was Celtic and Nordic mythology, playing a hand in Pinocchio’s “magical vegetation,” which gave Collodi the idea for a boy carved from a tree.

“It must be said first,” says Umberto Eco in his introduction, “that, though written in the nineteenth century, the original Pinocchio remains as readable as if it had been written in the twenty-first, so limpid and simple in its prose–and so musical in its simplicity.” Although the story breezes along, thanks to quick sentences, urgent dialogue, and short chapters, the story itself gives readers much to think about, as Eco acknowledges: “though it’s written in simple language, Pinocchio is not a simple book. … [it] doesn’t limit itself to one simple, basic moral, but rather deals with many.” A bildungsroman, he calls it: a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character.

Pinocchio, although wooden, is very much a boy and now that he’s been let loose in the world, he must learn to behave. But, like most 6 and 7-year olds, Pinocchio is unruly. In addition to murdering the cricket who, from thereon in, appears as a ghost, Pinocchio has no sense of right and wrong; he has a profound lack of empathy and about as much willpower as his fleshy counterpart.

One of Pinocchio’s major failings is his aversion to school. Although Geppetto demands he go, even sacrificing his last coins for a text book, Pinocchio is easily distracted and lured into harmful situations. Two characters who pull Pinocchio away time and again are a pair of greedy creatures hoping to steal what few cents the boy has. In turn, it’s Pinocchio’s own greed and ignorance that gets in the way of his making good decisions.

“Pinocchio hesitated a little before answering, as he thought of the good Fairy, of old Geppetto, and of the Talking Cricket’s warnings. But in the end he did what all children with thick skulls and hard hearts do: in the end, that is, he said to the Fox and the Cat, ‘Let’s go then–I’m coming with you.’”

When Collodi was writing, Italy was in the midst of political upheaval. He had allied himself with the Republicans–those fighting against the Monarchy for a unified country. After unification, and before Collodi wrote Pinocchio, the school system was restructured. The process was not without many heated debates. During this time Collodi made a name for himself writing pedagogical tracts.

Although “attracted by order, discipline, and structured educational practices,” as West says in her afterword, Collodi was not a great fan of the programs initiated after the unification. She continues, “in spite of his interest in pedagogical writing, Collodi was highly suspicious of them [the programs] because he saw them as a threat to individuality and personal freedom.”

This tension between obedience and freedom–structured education vs. individualism–is at the center of Pinocchio, allowing it to be read as “a tale of both transgression and the necessity for conformity.”

Ultimately, Pinocchio learns to control his impulses and, as is suiting to a bildungsroman, shows moral and intellectual growth. But while the story comes to a close, in the mind of a careful reader it doesn’t end on the last page. The great triumph of Pinocchio is that it doesn’t give you answers, only questions. In this way, Collodi is still teaching. Although touted as a children’s book, Pinocchio leaves you with big, enduring issues rumbling around in your head: freedom vs. authoritarianism, what does youth owe society’s elders, what system of education is most effective, and how should we approach adolescent development. Anyone interested in the role of education and a child’s place in society will be well-served to read or reread this timeless classic.

::[Links]::
Buy Pinocchio at your local independent bookstore

Written by Gabrielle

October 9, 2012 at 6:51 am

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