I don’t think this particular monthly write-up needs any real explanation—it really is a “cheesy Thanksgiving post,” complete with holiday cheer and unwanted gifts—so let’s just get into it. (Also, I think it’s going to be really long.)
Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee (Deep Vellum)
Full disclosure: Bromance Will started Deep Vellum after spending a summer apprenticing at Open Letter and I’m serving on his board. THIS PLUG IS TRANSLATION PUBLISHING INCEST! (Pub-cest? Hmm . . . that sounds too drinky.)
But Bromance Will is one of people in the world I truly appreciate. He’s spirited, brilliant, indefatigable, scrappy! I love that Deep Vellum is showing up on all the best lists (Flavorwire’s 5 Small Presses Who Are Changing the Face of the Industry, Entropy’s Best of 2014: Presses) and that their first list is going to be distributed by Consortium. I love texting Bromance about obscure Danish authors, books we both want to read, and basketball. (Yes, Will went to Duke and is a Duke basketball fan.) It’s also amazing that he’s in Dallas and tearing it up. Outsiders, unite! He’s been featured in every Dallas publication ever—at least twice—and is helping light a spark in the Texas literary scene. The world is a better place because of him and Deep Vellum.
That all said, I mostly just love his moustache.
A few months ago, some friends were talking on Twitter about the publication of Texas: The Great Theft, Will’s first book, and they were joking about growing out their moustaches to celebrate. Well, I’ve never ever grown out shit, and although it probably looks ridiculous, I decided to join in—but beardo style.
That beard is for you, Bromance!
Also, I hope a million people buy this book and subscribe to Deep Vellum. Five years from now, Deep Vellum will be one of the major players in indie publishing. I’m sure of it. Just watch this video.
Learning Cyrillic by David Albahari, translated from the Serbian by Ellen Elias-Bursać (Dalkey Archive)
Although things have gotten very strained post-2007, I have to admit that I really value the time I spent at Dalkey Archive. Without John O’Brien there would be no Open Letter. I don’t agree with everything he does and says, but he built an amazing organization from scratch and has published some of the most important authors of the twentieth-century. Dalkey has seemingly been around forever, and it’s almost too easy to take them for advantage, but imagine a reading culture without these authors: Gilbert Sorrentino, Flann O’Brien, Harry Mathews, Marguerite Young, etc. etc. And the new books that Dalkey is doing—like their Korean Literature Series—is going to appear just as foundational in a dozen years.
This past week, the literary community lost Allan Kornblum founder of Toothpaste Press, better known as Coffee House. A loss like this is always sad, but it’s great to see Coffee House in such great shape, thanks to the work of Chris Fishbach. The way that great publishers inspire new generations of great publishers is reassuring about the future of book culture.
Also, David Albahari’s Götz & Meyer is an incredible novel, as is Leeches. I can only imagine that his stories, collected here in Learning Cyrillic, are equally captivating and obsessive. These all focus on immigrant life, something that writers from the former Yugoslavia excel at writing about. A definitely must read for December.
Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafsdottir, translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon (Black Cat)
Everything about Iceland is amazing. We’ve gone on about that before, at length. But the thing I’m most excited about in terms of Iceland is going back next September for the Reykjavik International Literary Festival.
Not too long ago, I was reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (which, aside from part 5, is incredible), and there’s a section about the Reykjavik Festival and visiting Halldor Laxness’s house. Everything about this was so specific that I assumed Mitchell had been there. So I texted the Festival’s director and found out that, no, he hadn’t ever been invited, but that he’d just confirmed that he’ll attend in 2015.
As it turns out, my 40th birthday is just a couple of weeks after the festival, and I’ve been secretly planning to take some wild “over the hill” party trip—and Iceland fits this perfectly. So if anyone wants to go hang out with David Mitchell, Teju Cole, all the greatest Icelandic writers—like Bragi Olafsson, Audur Ava Olafsdottir, Kristin Omarsdottir, Solvi Bjorn Sigurdsson, Sjon—AND rock out with me, you should come. Iceland is the most magical country in the world, and if you’ve never been, you’ll be absolutely stunned by how gorgeous the country and the people are.
USSR: Diary of a Perestroika Kid by Vladimir Kozlov, translated from the Russian by Andrea Gregovich (Fiction Advocate)
The other week I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea Gregovich during the “Editor Speed Dating” part of the American Literary Translators Conference. Over the past year or so, ALTA has gone through a ton of changes. Their president had to step down. The organization left the University of Texas at Dallas, where it had been for basically it’s entire thirty-seven year history. This led to Russell Valentino taking over and Erica Mena being appointed managing director. A consultant was hired. And now, although there’s a lot to do and a lot that could be done, the organization’s future seems as bright as ever.
The conference is the keystone of ALTA’s activities, and if you have any interest in translation—being a translator or publishing books in translation—you should come to the upcoming conferences in Tucson, San Francisco, New York, and Austin. I’m serving on the conference committee and helping with all of the programming—panels, workshops, roundtables and the like.
One of the new additions at this conference was the “Editor Speed Dating,” and I have to say, this went even better than I expected. When I first agreed to participate, I assumed it would be four hours of explaining why I haven’t replied to someone’s submission, or, why we’re just not interested. Instead, this was set up as three fifteen-minute meetings with three early-career translators, each of whom sent me two pages of a translation they’re working on along with two specific questions. (Questions about how to get something published were banned.)
Andrea met with me to talk about a story and novella collection she’s working on. In particular she wanted to know if there’s an optimal mix of novellas and short stories, since she’s picking pieces from a writer’s entire career. It was an interesting conversation, as were the other two that I had. And if anything I said even helped a little bit, then great. That’s what ALTA is really all about. Meeting colleagues who can help you out immediately and in the future. And in a field like this, that’s incredibly vital. I’m so glad that ALTA didn’t just keep its shit together during this transition period, but actually is in a position to do more, better.
My Mother-in-Law Drinks by Diego De Silva, translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar (Europa Editions)
This book sounds fun . . . kind of like Thanksgiving mimosas!
It’s too bad that the jacket copy for this includes no information about the mother-in-law or her drinking patterns. Although maybe that’s the trick . . . Now I’m just projecting about this laid-back, finely preserved mother-in-law who gets a little loose with the liquor. I like it. This book is fantastic.
Also, Flavorwire should do a list of the best books featuring drunks. I would include The Last Days of My Mother on a list like that along with some of the other main go-tos.
The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, translated from the Japanese by Ted Goossen (Knopf)
It’s sad that out of all the books on this list, I can already guarantee that this one—which is one of the weakest, most assuredly—will sell roundabout 10,000 times more copies than the rest combined. Haruki “The Young Adult Juggernaut” Murakami strikes again!
In terms of giving thanks, I also have to give a shout-out to Drew Magary for writing such entertaining columns and “hater’s guides” His weekly Jamboroo, which comes out every week during the NFL season and features a series of jokes, thoughtful commentary, and cutting observations, is the inspiration behind my writing these monthly overviews. But beyond that, his book on parenting, Someone Could Get Hurt, is brilliant and funny in that way that rings too true if you are also a parent. (Son using toothbrush on his penis? CHECK.) His piece on What Happens When a 35-year-old Man Retakes the SAT?, is filled with quotable bits, but the hater’s guides and “Why Your Team Sucks” series are the best. That’s where some of my favorite insults come from. Like, when he said about Buffalo, “there’s nothing to do there but eat and marry someone you don’t love.” BASH.
Captives by Norman Manea, translated from the Romanian by Jean Harris (New Directions)
I’m glad that New Directions and Yale keep putting out Manea books. Although I haven’t gotten to any of these yet, I know he’s someone I should read, and I’m thankful that when I finally do, there will be a plethora of titles to enable my bender. (A bender like what I’ve been on with David Peace, whose Red Riding Quartet was so much better than I thought possible, or the one I plan on going on with Muriel Spark.)
This novel of his sounds particularly up my alley given the shifting p.o.v. and other narrative devices Manea uses to articulate the crazy complications of life in Romania’s fascist/communist past:
Divided into interrelated sections—narrated in first-, second-, and third- person voices—Captives explores the social and psychological conditions of postwar Romania: a loss of identity, a complicated sense of guilt and trauma from having survived the fascist government during World War II, and the rise of communism.
Skylight by José Saramago, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Saramago is another author with enough books in print to justify a bender. If I’m counting right, he has eighteen titles available in translation—two-thirds of which came out in English after he won the Nobel Prize.
Skylight is funny to me since it was “lost” in a publisher’s office for decades, rediscovered, and finally published in 2011. Have you ever been in a publisher’s office? Holy shit is it disgusting. So much paper, so much correspondence, so many unread manuscripts and magazines and journals and cover letters. I’m surprised that we don’t hear of five to ten accidents a year featuring editors and the raccoons hiding in their paper empires. I’m thankful that no one ever comes to visit our office.
But on a more serious thank you note: I really want to thank Nathan Furl and Kaija Straumanis for working so hard at Open Letter. There’s not a lot of money—or glory—in nonprofit publishing, but both are incredibly committed to the press, and put up with a lot of shit in their jobs. Also, all our authors, translators, interns, and graduate students deserve some praise. They’re all spectacular people, and I’m especially impressed by all the students who have come through our program so far. Each and every one is more talented than I am, and that’s a pleasant sort of intimidating.
The Wall by H. G. Adler, translated from the Germany by Peter Filkins (Random House)
Growing up, I absolutely loved superhero comic books. I’m not sure why, exactly, although I think a lot of it was a sort of warped wish-fulfillment in which I fed my imagination with scenarios that I could later co-opt for my own personal superadventures.
Watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. now though, and absolutely loving it, I’ve realized what an impact comic book narrative structures have had on my life. The way that this show unfolds—which is sort of comic bookish, but only if run through a Stanislaw Lem novel—keeps me engaged week in and week out, with two-character scene following two-character scene playing ideas off one another in a sort of lock-step manichaeism. It’s interesting to see how the show had adopted various comic book tropes, but in ways that are much more twenty-first century, and which point to legit societal issues (like the idea that the world won’t be able to support humankind fifty years from now). It also fucks with the viewer’s beliefs on a regular basis, creating a noirish spy world in which the viewer can buy in and play along with the principle characters. I’m half-embarrassed to admit it, but thank god for this show. Without it, I’d have almost nothing to watch on a weekly basis. (And yes, I am one of those old school people who likes the wait between episodes, the anticipation, the joy in being caught up.)
The Shipwrecked: Contemporary Stories by Women from Iran by Fereshteh Nouraie-Simone, translated from the Persian by Sara Khalili (Feminist Press)
There are too many good books to read. Or at least books that I wish I had the time/mental energy to read. (Which is an actual issue for me these days. I have a bunch of samples I should be evaluating, and a number of books I want to review, but I’d rather read David Peace and A Naked Singularity and enjoy my evenings instead of stressing myself out trying to evaluate everything and come up with new synonyms for “really interesting.” Publishing is a full time job, and when I’m not reading for work at home, I’m checking my emails and pressuring myself about every facet of my job. That’s not healthy.) But I am thankful that there are way too many books. I fear a time when I have only my own words and ideas to entertain and stimulate me. That would be the worst! I’m so glad that every month I have more titles that I want to include on this list than I actually can.
I know I’m late to the game on this, but last month Melville House published Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview & Other Conversations featuring a conversation with journalist Monica Maristain—which turned out to be Bolano’s best—along with a collection of conversations with other Latin American reporters. (And there’s an introduction by Marcela Valdes, who wrote an amazing piece about him for The Nation back some months ago.)
The book is totally wish-listed for me, but in the meantime if you click here there’s a sample interview available online through Issuu. It’s actually a reprint of a conversation between Carmen Boullosa and Bolano (trans. by Margaret Carson) that appeared in BOMB back in 2002 entitled “Reading Is Always More Important than Writing.”
Carmen Boullosa: In Latin America, there are two literary traditions that the average reader tends to regard as antithetical, opposite—or frankly, antagonistic: the fantastic—Adolfo Bioy Casares, the best of Cortazar, and the realist—Vargas Llosa, Teresa de la Parra. [. . .] In my opinion, you reap the benefits of both: Your novels and narratives are inventions—the fantastic—and a sharp, critical reflection of reality—realist. [. . .] Do you object to this idea, or does it appeal to you? To be honest, I find it somewhat illuminating, but it also leaves me dissatisfied: The best, the greatest writers (including Bioy Casares and his anthithesis, Vargas Llosa) always draw from these two traditions. Yet from the standpoint of the English-speaking North, there’s a tendency to pigeonhole Latin American literature within only one tradition.
Roberto Bolano: I thought the realists came from the south (by that, I mean the countries in the Southern Cone), and writers of the fantastic came from the middle and northern parts of Latin America—if you pay attention to these compartmentalizations, which you should never, under any circumstances, take seriously. Twentieth century Latin American literature has followed the impulses of imitation and rejection, and may continue to do so for some time in the twenty-first century. As a general rule, human beings either imitate or reject the great monuments, never the small, nearly invisible treasures. We have few writers who have cultivated the fantastic in the strictest sense—perhaps none, because among other reasons, economic underdevelopment doesn’t allow subgenres to flourish. Underdevelopment only allows for great works of literature. Lesser works, in this monotonous or apocalyptic landscape, are an unattainable luxury. Of course, it doesn’t follow that our literature is full of great works—quite the contrary. At first the writer aspires to meet these expectations, but then reality—the same reality that has fostered these aspirations—works to stunt the final product. I think there are only two countries with an authentic literary tradition that have at times managed to escape this destiny—Argentina and Mexico. As to my writing, I don’t know what to say. I suppose it’s realist. I’d like to be a writer of the fantastic, like Philip K. Dick, although as time passes and I get older, Dick seems more and more realist to me. Deep down—and I think you’ll agree with me—the question doesn’t lie in the distinction of realist/fantastic but in languages and structures, in ways of seeing. I had no idea that you like Teresa de la Parra so much. When I was in Venezuela people spoke a lot about her. Of course, I’ve never read her.
At 30, the Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli is already gathering her rosebuds. Faces in the Crowd, her poised debut novel, was published by Coffee House Press, along with her Brodsky-infused essay collection, Sidewalks. The essays stand as a theoretical map. . .
Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires: An Attainable Utopia (narrated by Julio Cortázar) is, not disappointingly, as wild a book as its title suggests. It is a half-novella half-graphic novel story about . . . what, exactly? A European tribunal, Latin. . .
Marie NDiaye has created a tiny, psychological masterpiece with her Self-Portrait in Green. In it she explores how our private fears and insecurities can distort what we believe to be real and can cause us to sabotage our intimate relationships.. . .
Reading a genre book—whether fantasy, science fiction, crime, thriller, etc.—which begins to seem excessively, stereotypically bad, I have to make sure to ask myself: is this parodying the flaws of the genre? Usually, this questioning takes its time coming. In. . .
The Sicilian Mafia has always been a rich subject for sensational crime fiction. The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos worked the mob’s bloody corpses and family feuds to both entertainment and artistic value. Giuseppe di Piazza’s debut novel attempts this,. . .
Antoine Volodine’s vast project (40 plus novels) of what he calls the post-exotic remains mostly untranslated, so for many of us, understanding it remains touched with mystery, whispers from those “who know,” and guesswork. That’s not to say that, were. . .
It hasn’t quite neared the pitch of the waiting-in-line-at-midnight Harry Potter days, but in small bookstores and reading circles of New York City, an aura has attended the novelist Elena Ferrante and her works. One part curiosity (Who is she?),. . .