Last Thursday I was a guest on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Here on Earth” with Jean Feraca to recommend a few translated books for the summer. I’ll post the full list with my notes in a bit, but for now, click below to listen to the full recording of the show.
It’s always fun being on this show . . . The first time I did this, I was on a cell phone in the O’Hare airport where a sleepy woman yelled at me for waking her up with all my talking . . . This time I was actually in a nice studio, but in St. Louis, where I was on vacation, which was disorienting in a different way. (And yes, I saw the Cardinals kick the shit out of the Reds, thankyouverymuch.)
Anyway, click here to listen to the mp3 of the entire show.
Yes, although I’m away all week (in St. Louis hanging out at the pretty psychedelic City Museum and watching the Cardinals hopefully not fall apart), I’m going to be on “Here on Earth” this afternoon talking about summer book recommendations.
The show is on from 4pm – 5pm Eastern time, and you can listen to it live via their website. This is a live call in show, so feel free to call in and
harass ask me pertinent, thoughtful questions.
When I’m back, I’ll post the list of all the books I recommended . . .
Last week I was on the Wisconsin Public Radio show Here On Earth to make some international literature summer reading recommendations. We weren’t able to cover the full list of books I came up with, so I thought I’d post about them one-by-one over the next couple weeks with additional info, why these titles sound appealing to me, etc., etc. Click here for the complete list of posts.
“The Literary Conference”:http://www.ndpublishing.com/books/AiraLiteraryConference.html by Cesar Aira. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. (Argentina, New Directions)
Another post, another project to catch up on . . .
Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a copy of this book yet, so this is truly a “looking forward to reading this summer” sort of preview post. I have read all of Aira’s other books to make their way into English, generally liking each new title even more than the last. And based on what I’ve heard about The Literary Conference, I have pretty high expectations, especially after Ghosts, which New Directions brought out last year, and which quickly became a cult favorite and was a finalist for the Best Translated Book Award. (To be honest, it was a couple of votes away from winning . . .)
The Literary Conference is the fifth Aira book to make its way into English, and may be the most anticipated by everyone—not just me. The plot synopsis is absolutely wild: a translator who has fallen on hard times solves a puzzle, finds a pirate treasure, and decides to use his new found wealth to take over the world by cloning Carlos Fuentes.
As expected, Michael Orthofer has already reviewed this at the Complete Review, giving it a B+ (solid!) and having this to say:
What’s particularly striking about The Literary Conference is the relatively matter-of-fact tone and straightforward narration. César’s account is precise and conventional, the events he describes often downright mundane. Yet the novella is full of the fantastical, inserting the very unusual (that Fuentes-cloning experiment goes really, really wrong, for one thing) in the very everyday.
The Literary Conference constantly keeps the reader guessing: Aira leads down one path, only to radically upset his premises and change route (or, arguably, to take things to their logical conclusion — though it’s not a readily recognizable and familiar logic . . .), while almost all the while maintaining his straightforward tone.
The Literary Conference is one of those books that truly is unlike anything most readers are likely to have encountered (even if they’ve read a few other works by Aira). César makes a point of emphasizing uniqueness; The Literary Conference certainly stands out among most works of fiction, its mix of convention and peculiarity particularly striking.
Another interesting review — from another member of the 2011 BTBA fiction committee — is this one by Scott Esposito in which he elaborates on one of the key passages in Ghosts to try and articulate Aira’s unique aesthetic:
At the very centre of Ghosts is one of Aira’s customary philosophical digressions, a 10-pager that ranges from architecture to the indigenous rite of gift-giving known as “potlatch” to the space of imagination in dreams. The point of this digression seems to be to examine the thought at the core of the book — how art can be both “made” and “unmade” at once — and at one point Aira laments that with most arts there is an insurmountable gulf between the idea and the artefact. However, Aira points out one important exception: “And yet it is possible to imagine an art in which the limitations of reality would be minimised, in which the made and the unmade would be indistinct, an art that would be instantaneously real, without ghosts. And perhaps that art exists, under the name of literature.”
Without attempting a rigorous reading of Ghosts, it seems fair to say that here Aira is elaborating his own theory of literature, as well as suggesting why he keeps his stories perpetually on the threshold of signification, forever forestalling an actual conclusion. He strives to embody that point in between the made and the unmade — to go back and revise would be to risk pulling his writing from this amorphous phase of creation. Instead he constantly runs forward, leaving behind works still burning with their formative fires.
Aira is one of the most interesting, unique Argentine authors writing today, and all of his books are definitely worth checking out.
This is sort of late notice, but I’m going to be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Here on Earth today at 4pm Eastern time to recommend some recent works of international literature that are worth checking out.
You can listen to this online, and since it’s a call in show, you can even call and ask me questions. (Please do! Unless you’re calling to ask about your submission, in which case you should email E.J. because I know nothing.)
In prepping for this (which I’m still doing), I put together a long list of interesting books that have come out so far this year. Starting tomorrow and running through the end of the week, I’ll be posting long pieces about each one of these. Should be a fun way to catch up on what’s come out so far this year—there are a bunch of really interesting titles that have yet to get the attention they deserve.
Again, please tune in and call me with intelligent, fun questions.
Yesterday, I had the somewhat surreal experience of being on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Here on Earth with Esther Allen (brilliant translator, director of the Center for Literary Translation, and all around amazing champion of literature in translation) and host Jean Feraca while waiting to catch my flight out of O’Hare.
The show was about the Best Translated Books of the Year list, and, in my opinion, went really, really well: Esther was excellent as always, Jean had a lot of thoughtful questions and comments for us, the people who called (or Twittered) in were very interesting, and we had a chance to touch on a lot of issues from the performative aspect of translation to the great influence international literature has had on many readers to the difficulties some people have with reading books filled with “unpronounceable” character and place names.
Unfortunately, you can’t hear this on the recording of the broadcast, but when I first got on the air and was describing Three Percent, a woman in the gate area who was laying across a row of chairs sat up, glared at me and said “Hey, I’m trying to sleep here!”
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .