Still Hating on DraftKings [3 Books]
Rather than reinvent the ranting wheel (I don’t know what that is, but it sounds fun), I’m going to preface this preview of three new books with a couple of updates from last week’s post.
First off, DraftKings. I spend way too much of my mental time hating all over this stupid company. I should just stop. Just ignore them. Mute every single commercial interruption. (Because no matter what you’re watching, there’s a 90% chance an ad for DraftKings will show up and crap all over your TV screen. There should be a law.) That said, I really appreciated Drew Magary’s column, I Tried Daily Fantasy and It Is Evil.
I signed up for DraftKings and was immediately bombarded with dozens of options for wasting my money. There is a baseball game, in case you simply can’t wait until the weekend and have to lose your money RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT. There were four million different football pools to join, the most expensive of which had a $5,300 entry fee. And there was a “limited time offer” wherein the site offered me extra credit if I put my deposit in before the clock ran down. PRESSURE’S ON . . . [. . .]
As for the game itself, it’s like any other casino game: fun right up until the moment you don’t win. I drafted my two lineups, talked myself into those lineups winning me a million bucks, and eye-banged both lineups all Sunday long.[. . .] You can talk yourself into being a football wizard who knows just the right matchups to exploit for sleeper picks that week, but I can assure you that you are bullshitting yourself, and that DraftKings is counting on you to bullshit yourself.
Yup. As if Fantasy Baseball/Football isn’t already the worst. That game—which I am truly addicted to now, thanks almost entirely to Jacob Knapp of Curbside Splendor who got me into his fantasy baseball league for book people and then bounced me from the playoffs, THANK YOU FOR BEING EVIL—is a game of nightmares. Did I set my lineup correctly? Which order should I set for my waiver wire pickups? Is that guy going to break out, or is his hamstring made of string cheese? Why am I caring about the Jacksonville Jaguars training camp when no one in their right mind cares about the stupid Jacksonville any—ARRGH! It’s like some evil genius invented this to torment his family: “You think you’re so smart and understand numbers and sports, don’t you? Well here, here’s a game mixing exactly that and pitting you against all of your peers—figure it out, puzzle-boy!”
Since I sometimes feel the need to lather up some rage, I wasted four minutes of my life yesterday watching this:
These people are the worst. The way she says, “well, since he’s actually good at his hobby.” The way he poses with the belt and the check. Oh my god, it’s all so awful. My eyes are burning just from thinking about it. This is what DraftKings has created. This couple. Their houses. The “baby machine” that they’re about to start up if he wins another million dollars with his “hobby” and “skills”, which have also “earned” him the “respect” of his “Wifey’s” family.
OK, I’m done. All the DraftDemons have been purged. I will never write of this again. Next week I’ll have some fresh material about some other minor, totally ignorable thing that’s gotten stuck in my brain.
But before going onto this week’s books, I have to go back to last week’s post one more time.
As with this week, when I was putting that together, I was looking for some common theme to group the three books. Bolaño became the thread between Sada’s One Out of Two and Neuman’s The Things We Don’t Do, but Piglia’s Target in the Night was a bit of an outlier. (Aside from being Spanish, which is why I chose it.)
WELL. I started reading that book, and right away found the connection between it and Sada’s book—twins!
Tony Durán was an adventurer and a professional gambler who saw his opportunity to win the big casino when he met the Belladona sisters. It was a ménage à trois that scandalized the town and stayed on everyone’s mind for months. He’d sow up with one of the two sisters at the restaurant of the Plaza Hotel, but no one could ever tell with which because the twins were so alike that even their handwriting was indistinguishable. Tony was almost never seen with both at the same time; that was something he kept private. What really shocked everyone was the thought of the twins sleeping together. Not so much that they would share the same man, but that they would share each other.
There. The triangle is complete.
Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt. Translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel (Open Letter)
Naja is just starting her book tour, which will include stops in Chicago, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Dallas, and Houston. She’s already done events in Rochester (video coming soon!), at the Brooklyn Book Festival, as part of the Fall for the Book celebration, and, just yesterday, at Community Bookstore in Park Slope with Valeria Luiselli. So, if you haven’t already read Naja’s book, this is a perfect time to get a copy.
At her events here in Rochester, Naja always asked me to “pitch” the book, as she wasn’t sure how exactly to describe it. Since this is a book with a strong plot, I’d generally start there, explaining how it’s about Thomas, a stationery-store owner whose dad died in prison and who left behind a mysterious package that gives Thomas the hope that he can change his life forever, but which ends up bringing about one awful occurrence after another. This is a real page-turner, functioning in some ways like a mystery novel, but also very literary, written in precise, enchanting prose. It’s also very character-driven, with all of these people—each one a little bit awful, but very recognizable—fully-fleshed out, concrete and compelling.
Although the plot totally pulls you along, it’s these characters and the discomfort that they inflict on the reader that really drew me into the book. Thomas is kind of an asshole. You don’t exactly regret that shit falls apart for him—he sort of deserves it. But his girlfriend isn’t that much better, and his sister? Man. That’s that thing that Naja does better than anyone: She creates characters who are a bit too honest with each other about their internal thoughts and feelings. It’s as if she peels back all the layers of niceness that we inhabit in the real world and exposes the underlying desires and reactions we all have, and which aren’t always the most pleasant. In some ways, her writing reminds me of Nathalie Sarraute’s. (Speaking of, I’ll have to feature the new edition of Tropisms sometime soon.)
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli. Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Coffee House)
Although I’ve been championing Valeria’s work for a few years (see the original World Cup of Literature championship match), and despite the fact that she literally just did an event with Naja and was on a panel with Andrés Neuman a couple weeks ago, I have yet to meet her. Which is why I’m really excited about this year’s American Literary Translators Association conference later this month. Valeria will be there, in conversation with Mario Bellatin no less. I’m going to fanboy out that entire day, I guarantee it.
Rather than try and explain The Story of My Teeth, I’m going to let Stephen Sparks (from Green Apple Books, and co-author of the Best Translations of the Century (So Far) book that we’re working on) take it away with this interview he did with her for The White Review:
Valeria Luiselli’s second novel, The Story of My Teeth, was commissioned by two curators for an exhibition at Galeria Jumex, a Mexico City art gallery funded by Grupo Jumex—a juice factory. Written in a series of weekly installments that were published as chapbooks to be shared with factory’s employees, the project endeavoured to bridge the gap between the art world and that of blue-collar workers. Several employees gathered to talk informally about the exploits of Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez, the larger-than-life auctioneer at the heart of The Story of My Teeth, The book club’s conversations were recorded and subsequently emailed to Luiselli as MP3s, and those conversations informed her subsequent installments. As the author puts it in the afterword, “The formula, if there was one, would be something like Dickens + MP3 ÷ Balzac + JPEG.” The following exchange, which typifies Luiselli’s willingness to lay bare artifice and to expose “the many layers of its making,” captures the spirit of her work—and the charm of the writer herself.
SS: You populate The Story of My Teeth with characters who share names with several contemporary writers. For instance, Yuri Herrera becomes a female police officer, etc. This kind of playful adjustment of reality is one of the more interesting formal elements in a novel full of interesting formal elements, and I wonder just how you came to the decision to blur the boundaries of reality and fiction like this.
VL: I had one question in mind when I decided to, quite literally, drop names of real writers into the narrative tissue of The Story of My Teeth. I wanted to explore how names modify the context into which they are placed, as well as how context re-frames names. In many ways, this was a process akin to using ready-mades in art. I found and used names of people, whose value and meaning both altered and were altered by context. While I was writing the novel, I engaged with procedures common to contemporary art, and looking for narrative or literary analogies to those procedures. Using names the way I did was a kind of narrative transposition of ready-mades. I basically used a series of writers—including myself—as if they were ready-mades or found objects, and did what many have done before me: dislocate them from their traditional context and relocate them to another, or decontextualise them and repurpose them, in order to reflect upon their value—be it use value, exchange value or symbolic value. If a reader has no idea who Yuri Herrera is, to use your example, then nothing in the narrative tissue around that name is altered. Yuri Herrera is just a policewoman. If, on the contrary, the name bears a certain weight by virtue of the many associations it has for the reader, then both the name and the narrative around it suffer a kind of indent. The name weighs more heavily and the narrative around it takes a different shape, and also envelopes the name more tightly. But the mere fact that this effect depends completely on the reader’s pre-conceptions of a name and its associations says a lot about the ultimate value, content or meaning of names. I see names as objects in this novel: objects that vary in value and meaning depending on a series of circumstances, both intrinsic and exterior to the book itself. The novel is a map, but it takes different readers to very different places, depending on what they bring to it.
Read the full interview here.
The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz. Translated from the German by Adrian Nathan West (Dorothy Project)
This may well be the most intriguing jacket copy I’ve read in a while. (Should’ve used this in our recent podcast.)
The Weight of Things is the first book, and the first translated book, and possibly the only translatable book by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz (1948–2007). For after winning acclaim with this novel—awarded the Robert Walser Prize in 1978—she embarked on a 10,000-page literary project called “The Fortress,” creating over her lifetime elaborate, colorful diagrams and typescripts so complicated that her publisher had to print them straight from her original documents. A project as brilliant as it is ambitious and as bizarre as it is brilliant, it earned her cult status, comparisons to James Joyce no less than Henry Darger, and admirers including Elfriede Jelinek and W. G. Sebald.
My knee-jerk reaction when I see something referred to as “untranslatable” is to cry Nonsense! and bust out all sort of practical versus theoretical reasons why everything’s translatable, just maybe not in the way the speaker has in mind.
But then I Googled Marianne Fritz’s later works and found this:
Yep. That. Amazing.
I’m going to end with a mini-rant . . . Do you think that if Fritz were a man her “impossible to translate” project would still be considered untranslatable? Given the statistics about gender in translation that we’ll be releasing shortly (spoiler alert! the numbers aren’t very good, with women authors representing just over 26% of all works of fiction published in translation since 2008) I have a feeling that Martin Fritz would have all his works in English and be celebrated as a genius. Stealing from Kaija who stole it from somewhere else, it’s possible this is one of those “great book, Marianne, but let’s see if one of the men will write it” situations. Or maybe not. But when 75% of all books published in translation are by men—a significant percentage of which are garbage—it raises certain questions.
I’ve been on a private rant of late about how the mainstream media will only ever focus on one female literary author (in translation) at a time, something that would never happen to male authors. First it was Ferrante, then Lispector, now Luiselli. I doubt it’s a conscious thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere, in the back of their minds, editors look at what books they’re reviewing and thing, “well, we have one woman on here—good enough!”
Open Letter won’t be publishing all women anytime soon—our scheduling is impossible that way and we do have some amazing male authors signed on—but I applaud And Other Stories for committing to a year of publishing women. Instead, what I can do is spend more of these posts promoting the books by women that do make their way into English. There’s some great stuff out there—in addition to Ferrante, Lispector, Luiselli, etc.—and we should make a concerted effort to highlight it here.