2 September 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

And just like that, school’s back in session.

Having students back on campus brings up so many complicated feelings. Annoyance being the first and more obvious. It’s super irritating that from one day to the next it becomes infinitely more difficult to find a parking place for you bike, that you have to wait in line at Starbucks and listen to awkward exchanges from freshman who are still trying out different personalities and trying to define themselves—mostly through failure (“Hey, Jenny, have you seen where the Bio Med building is?” “Not yet.” “It’s hella over that way.” “You say ‘hella’?” “Yeah. Sometimes I say ‘wicked cool’ as well.”), that a whole new range of job-related functions start up again (I finished and posted my syllabus early yesterday evening), that work schedules become more rigid and sneaking away for happy hour is nearly impossible.

Labor Day usually seems like such a depressing holiday for that very reason. Hell yeah—Labor Day! All the times of summer irresponsibility are over! Back to school and back to work! Grill me a hot dog and gimme a beer! It’s like the ultimate capitalist backhanded compliment-slash-fuck you.

It might be due to all the travel I did this summer—and random multi-day bike rides possibly because of my advancing age, or the Simpsons marathon I’ve been bingeing on, but I’m sort of excited about the “regular schedule” aspect the new school year brings about.

The season premier of The League is on Wednesday. I’m drafting in a fantasy football league tonight. All the big books/albums are coming out now—David Mitchell, alt-J, even Haruki Murakami. The St. Louis Cardinals are in first place. A lot more people are wearing unbroken-in clothes. The hallways at the university are as clean as old, rundown shit can be. My daughter just bought four thousand new three-subject notebooks. Every year, these same things happen.

I think it might be a bit of nostalgia creeping in, but for the first time in ages, all of this seems more comforting than depressing—like the words “autumn sweater.” So rather than lament the end of beach days and bike rides and staying up all night, I’m going to try and embrace the routine for once.

Including getting over-excited about all the new books that are coming out over the next few months.

A Little Lumpen Novelita by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions)

Let’s start here with the latest (and last? well, probably not . . .) Bolaño book. Mostly I just want to remind everyone that Tom Roberge and I will be discussing this on the September 26th edition of the Three Percent Podcast. We’re hoping to more of these “book club” episodes and would love to hear from all of you about what you thought of the book, questions you might have, etc. So please email us at threepercentpodcast@gmail.com.

Into the War”: by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Remember when every post about a Houghton Mifflin book opened with a slew of insults against their insufferably bad website? Well, apparently I’ve grown up a bit, but not enough to refrain from pointing out that their company website is still a hopeless pile of shit. How bad is it exactly? This is their “Author Detail Page” for Italo Calvino. If a website was flammable, I’d light it on fire.

Last month, Peter Mendelsund—the designer of all the new Calvino covers—published his first book, What We See When We Read, a fully-illustrated meditation on the relationship between reading and internal visualization. It’s not as weighty as I would’ve personally liked, but it’s thought provoking and deserves a wide audience. He also gets bonus points for including a quote from Gilbert Sorrentino slamming John Updike.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions)

This is the third of the “Neapolitan Novels,” and for a limited time, you can buy the ebook versions of the first two—My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name—for only $2.99. Just visit your favorite ebook retailer and go crazy.

Running a bit counter to my “regular schedule” joy above, I kind of appreciate the fact that I’ve waited so long to start Ferrante’s trilogy, so that I can binge on it now without having to wait a year for the next installment. It’s kind of stupid to make this comparison, but Netflix has totally fucked up our consumption habits in relation to series. Although most books still slump along at a reasonable pace, with new titles coming out every year or more, we’ve come to expect TV seasons to be available all at once, or, as is the case with a lot of people I know, we just wait until the whole season has played itself out and then binge watch everything over a weekend. It’s lunacy, but fits with the everythingnowallatonce mentality of the twenty-first century.

Books don’t work all that well with this sort of binge behavior, although FSG’s experiment with Jeff VanderMeer’s “Southern Reach Trilogy”—publishing all three books in the same year, the first in March, second in May, third in September—demonstrates a willingness on the part of traditional publishers to try and take advantage of our inclinations.

Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier, translated from the French by Jane Aitken (Gallic Books)

It occurs to me that publishing—at least in my little corner of it—has a sort of four-season cycle: Summer is vacations and half-day Fridays; Fall is conventions, Frankfurt, and being overwhelmed in advance of holiday sales; Winter is bookstores and publishers making bank before falling into a deep depression of either grant writing (if you’re a nonprofit) or bemoaning the lack of walk-in customers; Spring is when you prepare the lies for the rest of the year, bragging it all up at BookExpo America and sales conference. Then, Summer Fridays and hoping to see someone reading one of your books on the beach.

Nowhere People by Paulo Scott, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (And Other Stories)

After reading the first 40 pages of this, I decided that I have to use it in my spring class on “World Literature and Transaltion.” I can usually include six to eight new translations in this class, but so far the only two I’ve decided on are Seiobo There Below and Nowhere People. Seiobo since it won last year’s Best Translated Book Award, obviously. Nowhere People is kind of perfect since it’s Brazilian and, in the first 40 pages alone, features a host of “translation” issues: it opens in Porto Alegre, rather than Rio of São Paolo; two magazines are referenced that Americans probably have never heard of, Trip and DUNDUM, the latter of which comes up in this sentence, “what girl from the interior would be sitting blithely reading DUNDUM in this place, the absolute domain of middle-aged men?” which raises a few questions; the main character picks up a Guarani Indian from the side of the road, opening up discussions about Brazilian culture and racisms; and there are a few Britishisms, such as “he goes back to the main road, takes the correct turning.” Not to mention, the book is really intriguing and Daniel Hahn is fucking brilliant. Now I just have to convince him to Skype with my class . . .

I Called Him Necktie by Milena Michiko Flašar, translated from the German by Sheila Dickie (New Vessel Press)

I’m not a fan of the title of this book—there’s something too YA about it, as if it’s going to contain the adventures of a quirky girl who calls herself Princess Frog and whose best friend committed suicide, which is why her group of unlikely cohorts called him “necktie”—but it got a ton of love at the Consortium sales conference, and New Vessel has stellar taste, so I’m 100% sure the content outweighs my weird title prejudice. Also interesting that it’s a book set in Japan written by a woman born to an Austrian father and Japanese mother who writes in German.

A Thousand Forests in One Acorn by Valerie Miles, translated from the Spanish by a number of great translators (Open Letter)

One of the most beautiful—and weighty—books we’ve ever published. And one that you’re going to be hearing about every single day this month until you finally buy a copy. (Just do it now! You won’t regret it.) Since our daily posts from the book will do a much better job of explaining this than I ever can, I want to use this opportunity to point out that this is the third title we’ve published that has “thousand” in the title. That’s called cornering the market.

Also, we started working on this book over two years ago. The editing process was intense, and every single person involved in this—Will Vanderhyden for all his editorial work, all the various interns who put up with the paperwork and word-by-word proofing I assigned them, Nate for his killer design, the Spain-USA for their support and for setting up all the upcoming events—deserves a special shout-out. Every hour that we put into is worth it, and I’m sure that everyone who ends up buying, reading, and teaching this, will totally agree.

Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated from French by Jessica Moore (Talonbooks)

This reminds me a bit of Tom’s rant from last week’s Three Percent Podcast episode about Salton Sea and humans fucking up nature by trying to build something like a lake:

Told on a sweeping scale reminiscent of classic American adventure films, this Médicis Prize–winning novel chronicles the lives of these workers, who represent a microcosm of not just mythic California, but of humanity as a whole. Their collective effort to complete the megaproject recounts one of the oldest of human dramas, to domesticate—and to radically transform—our world through built form, with all the dramatic tension it brings: a threatened strike, an environmental dispute, sabotage, accidents, career moves, and love affairs . . . Here generations and social classes cease to exist, and everyone and everything converges toward the bridge as metaphor, a cross-cultural impression of America today.

(Or it’s totally different.)

Rain over Madrid by Andres Barba, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Hispabooks Publishing)

Hispabooks just keeps on crushing it. I have to say, for all my deep-rooted cynicism, this is a great time for indie presses. Hispabooks, Deep Vellum, New Vessel, Restless all launched within the past couple years. With those four presses alone, an average reader has enough material to last all year.

Digression: The other week I was hanging out with my parents and they were talking about how my cousin was “so rich” that he bought his own house in Chippewa Falls, WI. Which, after a bit of Wikipediaing led to all of us coining the term “Wisconsin Rich.” Sure, this was mostly a joke, but in a way, it’s also a powerful concept—being a certain level of “rich” that allows you to live comfortably. We don’t all need to be “Silicon Valley Rich.” I’m happy being “University Rich,” and as such, can continue spending more time trying to pass along knowledge than trying to hustle up some additional bling. (Or whatever the kids say.) So, in a way, even though the whole 3% thing is shitty and myopic and pretty pathetic, we are “Translation Rich” when it comes to reading. All of you could read only translations all year long and you’ll never run out of good material. That’s reassuring in a way.

In terms of Barba, he was one of Granta’s best young writers and is someone Lisa Dillman (who is lovely and talented) has been talking up for years. I believe Hispabooks is doing a number of his works, which is even better, since this collection of four short stories is likely to leave readers wanting more.

Victus: The Fall of Barcelona by Albert Sánchez Piñol, translated from the Catalan by WHO KNOWS (Rupert Murdoch Sucks)

Fuck you, HarperCollins. Just fuck. You.

First of all, thanks for not sending the review copy of this that I asked for. Really appreciate that. Then again, given both reviews you’ve received for this book, obviously you don’t need anyone else to champion it.

Secondly, Piñol obviously didn’t write this in English, but you would never know that given HarperCollins’s website, a website that might have just set the bar for the worst corporate website ever. (Houghton Mifflin can rejoice!) Not only is there no info about the translator—which, fine, you don’t want to put it on the book because American readers are stupid and either a) will be more likely to buy this if they think Piñol is a traditional Texas name, or b) just don’t deserve that information, because fuck ‘em that’s why—but when you click “enlarge cover image” you get that placeholder pictured above. Con-fucking-grats at being the worst at marketing your own books!

Also, this:


That’s a fine sentiment, but coming from Rupert Murdoch, it just sounds ridiculous. Just a reminder, this is the same Rupert Murdoch who owns Fox News, and whose employees were involved in a “phone-hacking and police-bribery scandal.“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_International_phone_hacking_scandal We live in a world in which people retweet Rupert Murdoch because he’s “standing up for the little guy.” The world is nonsense.

8 August 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over at the New Yorker, there’s a really interesting interview with cover designer Peter Mendelsund, whose new book, What We See When We Read, sounds amazing:

A gorgeously unique, fully illustrated exploration into the phenomenology of reading—how we visualize images from reading works of literature, from one of our very best book jacket designers, himself a passionate reader.

What do we see when we read? Did Tolstoy really describe Anna Karenina? Did Melville ever really tell us what, exactly, Ishmael looked like? The collection of fragmented images on a page—a graceful ear there, a stray curl, a hat positioned just so—and other clues and signifiers helps us to create an image of a character. But in fact our sense that we know a character intimately has little to do with our ability to concretely picture our beloved—or reviled—literary figures. In this remarkable work of nonfiction, Knopf’s Associate Art Director Peter Mendelsund combines his profession, as an award-winning designer; his first career, as a classically trained pianist; and his first love, literature—he considers himself first and foremost as a reader—into what is sure to be one of the most provocative and unusual investigations into how we understand the act of reading.

I can’t wait to get my hands on this, and I’m sure I’ll write something up about it after I have a chance to read it, but the part of the New Yorker interview that I really wanted to share is this part about the forthcoming new editions of Calvino’s books:

You’re in the middle of repackaging the work of the Italian writer Italo Calvino. Can you tell me how that project came to you?

A year or so ago I received an e-mail from Giovanna Calvino, who is Calvino’s daughter, and she said that she had read, in an interview I gave somewhere, that I loved her father’s work, that she was working with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to repackage the backlist, and would I be interested in doing it? I can’t tell you what a shock it was to have the name Calvino in my inbox. Obviously I jumped at the chance to work on these. So then I did what I always do when designing a backlist series: I started to reread all of the books. This is, by far, the most fun part of these kinds of projects—the reacquainting oneself with not just some of the work but all of it. But finding images that could represent all of these books, and make them work as a series, is a particularly tricky problem, because there are three distinct stages to Calvino’s writing: a realist phase, a fantastical phase, and a kind of semiotic or metafictional phase. So it was a challenge, but a really fun one.

I’d been working on my monograph, “Cover,” which is primarily photos of my book covers, and I wondered if it would be meta, in a way very appropriate for Calvino, if each of his books featured a photo of a book on it. The first idea that came to me was completely absurdist in a way that I imagine Calvino would have loved—to photograph each of the old editions of Calvino and frame them, so that you’d have a sort of catalogue of old Calvino books. Then it occurred to me: If we’re going to take photos of Calvino books, wouldn’t it be better if we made Calvino books that don’t exist? The next stage was designing imaginary Calvino books. “The Path to the Spider’s Nest” was going to be a kind of young-adult pulp book; “The Baron in the Trees” an old, eighteenth-century-style Italian cloth-wrapped, foil-stamped book; “Cosmicomics” a comic book. I could make them not just books but written artifacts of various kinds—“Six Memos for the Next Millennium” could be literally memos. We would make one copy of each book and photograph it for each cover. I don’t normally collaborate, but there’s a wonderful designer, Oliver Munday, who is also interested in Calvino, and we worked together on this project.

What came next?

At the beginning of “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller,” the narrator is addressing the reader in the second person, and he tells you that you see the steam from a locomotive go over the opening paragraph of the book. I loved the idea of the text itself interacting with specific imagery, and I thought maybe it would be interesting if I actually set the opening paragraph of each book on the cover, with an illustration intermingling with it. “The Baron in the Trees” would have the branches weaving through the words.

But somehow I worried that they wouldn’t sell the book properly—that they might be too visually busy to be viscerally affecting. So I started thinking about doing illustrations of abstract shapes that by themselves don’t necessarily have a ton of meaning, and on each one drawing a line or two that would add to that meaning, or bring it into focus. I made a tree-like thing that was just a blob, then inserted a little sword into it, like a sword a child might draw, which becomes a tree trunk. This seemed to work. I made some more of them. They have a kind of Calder-like feeling. I like their seeming naïveté.

And these were chosen for the finished covers, correct?

Yes, but in the middle of that I had this crazy revelation of how I thought these books should be, a kind of bolt from the blue, while I was on the subway. I just had this crystalline vision of the whole series. The covers would be all type, and each one would have a description of an imaginary book jacket on it, each one written by a different author. We would get a bunch of great writers I know who are huge Calvino fans to write them. The jackets would be ekphrastic. Everything would have to be imagined by the reader. No actual imagery on the covers. Robin Desser, an editor here at Knopf, said it was the most Calvino-esque idea she’d ever heard.

In the end I showed Giovanna all three ideas—the photographs, the illustrations, and the ekphrastic direction—and she liked them, and her mother, Calvino’s widow, agreed to the all-type direction. But then there were some objections that they would be hard to see as thumbnails on Amazon. I think honestly the publisher was looking for something a little poppier and user-friendly. In the end I was happy enough with any of these directions that it didn’t really matter to me, though I still think that the all-type thing was one of those once-in-a-lifetime ideas. The only thing that would have made it better would have been to have Calvino himself write those descriptions. But I’m happy with the finals, and I think they will really stand out on a shelf.

Calvino is an all-time favorite of mine, and these reissues are a perfect opportunity to reread him and write up a bunch of stuff for Three Percent . . . The first three books — Into the War, Collection of Sand, and The Complete Cosmicomics — come out this fall, and we’ll post more info about them then.

21 April 08 | Melissa Schoenberger | Comments

For those of you who read Spanish, La Ciudad Letrada (The Lettered City) is a fresh take on literary blogging. This site combines fiction, essay, and miscellaneous bits of literature-focused writing into what feels like a cyber-downtown for lit addicts.

A few minutes of clicking brought me to Matías Esteban Ilivitsky’s paper recounting a debate between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault as to whether “human nature” exists.

I also found a link to another blogger’s letter to Pablo Neruda, an interview with Elena Poniatowska, and some excerpts from Italo Calvino’s work.

Both academic – you’ll find, among other scholarly works, a paper titled “Traducción de poesía: forma, repetición y fantasma en el estudio comparado de traducciones de Emily Dickinson (Silvina Ocampo, Amelia Rosselli)” by Delfina Muschietti at the University of Buenos Aires – and entertaining, La Ciudad Letrada’s offerings are various enough to hold a bibliophile’s attention for the rest of the month.

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Kingdom Cons
Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera
Reviewed by Sarah Booker

Yuri Herrera is overwhelming in the way that he sucks readers into his worlds, transporting them to a borderland that is at once mythical in its construction and powerfully recognizable as a reflection of its modern-day counterpart. Kingdom Cons, originally. . .

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The Invented Part
The Invented Part by Rodrigo Fresán
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Imagine reading a work that suddenly and very accurately calls out you, the reader, for not providing your full attention to the act of reading. Imagine how embarrassing it is when you, the reader, believe that you are engrossed in. . .

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A Simple Story: The Last Malambo
A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Leila Guerriero
Reviewed by Emilee Brecht

Leila Guerriero’s A Simple Story: The Last Malambo chronicles the unique ferocity of a national dance competition in Argentina. The dance, called the malambo, pushes the physical and mental limits of male competitors striving to become champions of not only. . .

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The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof
The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof by Cesar Aira
Reviewed by Will Eells

Aira continues to surprise and delight in his latest release from New Directions, which collects two novellas: the first, The Little Buddhist Monk, a fairly recent work from 2005, and The Proof, an earlier work from 1989. There are a. . .

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Agnes
Agnes by Peter Stamm
Reviewed by Dorian Stuber

The narrator of Peter Stamm’s first novel, Agnes, originally published in 1998 and now available in the U.S. in an able translation by Michael Hofmann, is a young Swiss writer who has come to Chicago to research a book on. . .

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Class
Class by Francesco Pacifico
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The thing about Class is that I don’t know what the hell to think about it, yet I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ll begin by dispensing with the usual info that one may want to know when considering adding. . .

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The Dispossessed
The Dispossessed by Szilárd Borbély
Reviewed by Jason Newport

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet’s enduring question is one that Szilárd Borbély, acclaimed Hungarian poet, verse-playwright, librettist, essayist, literary critic, short-story writer, and, finally, novelist, answered sadly in the negative, through his suicide in 2014, at the. . .

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