Along with about, well, everyone else in the northeast, I’m snowed into my apartment today, so instead of answering the phones at Open Letter (HA! no one ever calls us), I’m at home, working on our forthcoming anthology of Spanish literature, A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, and, as a break of sorts, I thought I’d put together our monthly list of books worth checking out. (For past versions, including one with a rant about my daughter’s Odyssey of the Mind group, just click here.)
For the past few years, every December/January, we’ve been posting a series of “Best of the Year!” podcasts—on fiction, on nonfiction, on movies, on music (my personal favorite podcast)—along with resolutions about what Open Letter/Three Percent/me personally would like to accomplish in the forthcoming year. (See last year’s post in which my number 1 resolution was to “Drink more mimosas!” Speaking of, it is a snow day, I do have some left over booze . . . )
Over the next few weeks, we’ll probably maybe get right back on that. I hesitate only because I’ve read around about 10 million year end lists over the past few weeks, each of which was, by necessity, incomplete and incapable of addressing its incompleteness and the biases underpinning that. (I even read this article about Largehearted Boy’s “List of Year End Lists.”) Thanks to Facebook and the success of all those awful click-driven, shitty websites named in this article on The Year We Broke the Internet, social media exposes us every moment of every day to absurd list after absurd list.
Which isn’t just annoying, but in the opinions of some (self included), pretty much a horrible thing for the world as a whole. (For more on Morozov, I highly recommend checking out this profile. And he lost 100 lbs on a rowing machine watching European art-house films? That’s the exercise regime I need to sign up for.)
But there’s something so compelling about seeing information in this way . . . It’s like numbered, or at least ordered, compilations of information tap right into the reptilian part of our brain and spew out all the morphine feelings. Jason Diamond’s ridiculous Top 10 List of Literary Snobs? I MUST HAVE IT. And hey look! I’m number 3!! WEEE!!
At the same time, we live in a world of way too much information. As awesome as this seems to techno-utopians, it’s pretty much fucking up our brains. (Obviously, that’s the scientific conclusion.) As I sit here, at my kitchen table, I have 20 tabs open on my browser—ranging from information about car batteries to Facebook to The Guardian’s ‘definitive’ list of 1000 books to read to Pitchfork’s list of upcoming albums to ESPN’s Soccer section—Spotify is playing one of the 596 tracks I pulled out as my “favorites of 2013,” to go along with the 5,000 more from 2010 onwards, and I’m staring right into my “to read” bookshelf (not to be confused with the “already read” and “probably going to die before I get there” bookshelves) that has 103 titles on it. And, no surprise, in between sentences, I’m getting my ass kicked at Words With Friends by both Tom Roberge and Steven Rosato. There’s too much going on.
None of which is news to anyone.
And like a lot of people, one of my personal resolutions for 2014 is to fuck as much of this shit as I can and live in the real world for more than 15 minutes at a time without checking Twitter for the latest witty hashtag meme (#AddAWordRuinAMovie) or international football scores. OK, that’s going too far. Football scores are still allowed.
I don’t want to just do my “old man screaming at the goddamn trees to get off his yard” rant though. The thing is, I kind of can’t live without all this stuff. Professionally. Without blog culture, I would never have “published” anything. Without email and Facebook and the rest of it, only a handful of people would ever have heard of Open Letter’s books.
What I wonder is if there’s a better, more effective way of providing readers with useful information. I started these monthly overviews because a) I wanted to pull out and highlight books that could get lost in somewhat overwhelming Translation Database and b) I wanted to make jokes.
This time of year always makes me a bit reflective . . . Not to mention that I take all of this a little too personally (result of being almost 40, having worked in this thankless business for 12-plus years, and chronic self-doubt) and get totally bummed when not a single Open Letter book shows up on the Quarterly Conversation Favorite Reads of 2013 lists. (SPOILER ALERT: All you’ll find behind that link is The Most Experimental Dalkey Archive Books and Seiobo There Below.)
For now, I’m not sure if there’s a better way to provide readers with information on forthcoming translations. My current mix of jokes and titles is probably not smarmy enough to go viral, and not smart enough to serve as a legitimate place to check for recommendations. (Surprise! Three Percent is not the Times Literary Supplement.) I’ll keep thinking about it over the course of the year though, and hopefully along the way we’ll provide some interesting recommendations. (And starting next month maybe we’ll say something about the books themselves. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the listicle sites, it’s that content is totally and utterly irrelevant.)
And with that, I’m ready to announce Resolution #1: No More Writing about BuzzFeed/Flavorwire and the Reasons They Annoy Me. Down with lists and resolutions! Long live lists and resolutions!
The Light and the Dark by Mikhail Shishkin, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield (Quercus)
Resolution #2: Write More Reviews.
Every year I make the same promise—to do more reviewing—and then fail miserably. Out of the 112 books I read last year, I wrote reviews of what, four? Five? That’s pathetic. My goal is at least two a month, preferably three. And The Light and the Dark will be one of these.
(Although when I do review this, I’ll have to make a disclaimer that there is a LOT of bad blood between me and Quercus, over Shishkin’s work in particular. And thank god Shish got himself a new agent. Read into that all you will.)
The Islands by Carlos Gamerro, translated from the Spanish by Ian Barnett (And Other Stories)
Resolution #3: Sell a Lot More Books.
So, here’s some breaking news for everyone: As of June 1st, Open Letter will be distributed by Consortium. This is fantastic news for everyone involved. This should make it easier for us to get our books into East Coast and Midwest stores (the West Coast has been doing great by us, thanks to George Carroll’s efforts), and frees up some time for us to work at promoting our books.
Aside from the practical reasons for joining up with Consortium, I’m really excited to be in with a group of great publishers like And Other Stories and BOA Editions and Copper Canyon, and Dzanc, and others. Feels like the place that we should’ve been all along . . .
Trieste by Daša Drndić, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Resolution #4: Create a Special Series for the World Cup.
George Carroll announced our forthcoming World Cup of Books at Shelf Awareness today, which means it’s definitely going to happen. I’ll be posting more specifics in the not-too-distant future, but if you’re interested in helping contribute, please let me know. (Really looking for people well-versed in the literature of the qualifying countries with fewer books available in America.)
Seeing that Croatia took out my beloved Iceland—which would’ve been the smallest country ever to qualify for a World Cup—this seems like an appropriate book under which to announce our little contest.
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide, translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland (New Directions)
Resolution #5: Read One Book from Every World Cup Qualifying Country.
Following up on #4, this seems like a great way to combine my interests in soccer and literature . . . Not sure The Guest Cat will be the book I read from Japan, but it does feature a cat and we all know that cats sell. I know there’s no way ND would ever put together a cute cat video compilation to promote this books, but, seriously, cats sell. This poster is pretty much the only reason so many students sign up for my spring class:
Poems to Read on a Streetcar by Oliverio Girondo, translated from the Spanish by Heather Cleary (New Directions)
Resolution #6: Make September A Thousand Forests in One Acorn Month.
This anthology—edited by Valerie Miles—features 28 Spanish-language authors, including a lot of “Big Name” writers like Fuentes, Marias, Vargas Llosa, Vila-Matas and the like, and twelve that have never before appeared in English. What’s unique about this collection is that each piece is prefaced by an interview with the author in which s/he explains why s/he chose this particular story/excerpt as a representative of his/her “aesthetic high point” and also talks about his/her influences, etc. So, for the month of September, every day we’ll run either an excerpt from one of the interviews, or a bit from a previously untranslated story. Stay tuned—this is an incredible collection and you’re going to love the shit out of these pieces.
The Interior Landscape by A. K. Ramanujan, translated from the Tamil by the author (New York Review Books)
Resolution #7: Expand My Reading Horizons.
In a little while, I’m going to post a list of all the books I read in 2013. This is kind of pointless, but since I kept track of the titles and what languages they were originally written in, I can confirm that, out of the 111 books I read last year only 27 were by authors from courtries outside of Europe and North & South America. And that includes the 16 Korean titles I read for the LTI Korea—most of which I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. So, to be honest, less that 10% of the books I read last year were from India, the Middle East, Africa, Asian, etc. . . . That’s kind of sad. I want to do better with that this year.
1914 by Jean Echenoz, translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (New Press)
Resolution #8: Create Some Sort of Translator Love Month.
Way back when, Erica Mena and I interviewed a bunch of translators at ALTA Pasadena (in 2009??) and posted all of these on Three Percent. As an advocate for translators, I think we really should do this more often, like, maybe in October, to correspond with the publication of A Man Between: The Life and Teachings of Michael Henry Heim, we could have a month of short interviews highlighting the most interesting and talented translators working today. You know, people like Linda Coverdale.
This Is the Garden by Giulio Mozzi, translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris (Open Letter)
Resolution #9: More Self-Promotion.
This is probably my depression talking, but it seems like for the past few years, we’ve been talking up all sorts of interesting and fantastic projects and books, but receiving very little love in return. As a result, I’m going to take extra efforts to make sure that we get a lot of info about our new books up on Three Percent and elsewhere.
Starting with this year’s first release, the short story collection, “This Is the Garden”: by Giulio Mozzi and translated from the Italian by Elizabeth Harris. It’s a great collection, and one that includes angel dong. Seriously. Come for the angel dong, and stay for the beautiful prose!
All Russians Love Birch Trees by Olga Griasnowa, translated from the German by Eva Bacon (Other Press)
Resolution #10: Post at Least Once a Day.
When things get busy, it’s really easy to just skip posting for a day, which then becomes two . . . three . . . a week. Thankfully, Kaija has been keeping the site going with lots of book reviews (thanks to all of you!), but I’m going to make a dedicated effort to install a Five Day Plan mixing book posts, with industry posts, with links to other interesting articles.
The Literature Express by Lasha Bugadze, translated from the Georgian by Maya Kiasashvili (Dalkey Archive)
Resolution #11: Launch Open Letter After Dark.
I’m keeping most of this under wraps for now, but sometime soon, I hope we’ll have some exciting news . . .
Have a great 2014!
So, my 9-year-old daughter recently moved to a new school—one that encourages its students to participate in something called Odyssey of the Mind. If you’re not familiar with this, which I totally wasn’t, it’s basically a competition in which teams perform different tasks that highlight “creativity”: some build a new form of transportation, others make a funny haunted house, or some, like my daughter’s group, act out a scene from a historic royal court and then act out one from an imagined court.
All sounds great, right? Kids learning to work together, doing something that doesn’t involve the Disney channel, learning to compete, etc.
And maybe this is great for some people. But with a team consisting of all fourth grade girls? HOLY SHIT. Basically, our weekly meetings are a competition to see which girl can be the loudest, the most distracting, the “funniest,” mostly at the expense of the hearing and sanity of the two adult coaches. You ever want to know what tinnitus is like? Attend one of these gatherings. WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.
Here’s a little breakdown of how last night’s meeting went just to give you an idea.
Five girls descend upon this poor woman’s house. They great each other banshee style, and are seemingly incapable of understanding that when everyone talks simultaneously, no one hears anything. Keep in mind that these kids all go to the same school, are in the same class, and just saw each other about two hours ago. (As will become clear, spending time around gaggles of young children is turning me into Andy fucking Rooney.)
The primary coach of the team tries, valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to describe once again the nature of the “problem” our team has to work on. Basically, it went a little something like this:
Coach: We need to start by learning about a real king and queen.
Girl #1: KING ARTHUR! THAT WAS A KING!
Girl #2: I LOVE FASHION. I WILL DESIGN ALL THE ROBES.
Girl #3: CAN I BE THE QUEEN? WAIT, I’M THE JESTER!
Girl #4: DO WE HAVE SNACK TONIGHT?
Girl #1: CLEOPATRA! QUEEN ELIZABETH! HENRY THE VIII!
Girl #4: CAUSE, LIKE I’M REALLY HUNGRY.
Coach: Well, yes, if you’d all just listen for a—
Girl #3: WE CAN MAKE A SONG AND THE QUEEN CAN DANCE AND WE CALL ALL BE FUNNY AND OMG I LOVE SEAN!
Girl #2: DID YOU SEE JESSICA’S HAIR TODAY? I CAN BRAID MY HAIR JUST LIKE THAT.
Girl #1: KINGS OF LEON!
In an attempt to remain sane, we let the girls spend 15 minutes researching kings and queens and decrees on their own. This was totally pointless, obviously, but helped to keep the total number of kid strangulations close to zero.
What I hadn’t realized before last night is that kids believe that Siri is the one and only gateway to knowledge. These kids had computers and iPads and phones and all the normal stuff, but not a single one of them went to Wikipedia, or used Google, or anything. They all just took turns yelling shit at Siri and expecting her to provide the answer. Their questions ranged from the reasonable, yet too complex for Siri, “WHAT DECREES DID QUEEN ELIZABETH MAKE?” to the utterly ridiculous “WHAT KING SHOULD WE DO OUR PROJECT ON TO WIN ODYSSEY OF THE MIND?” I always wondered who actually used Siri for things other than cracking wise (“Siri! What is a butt, Siri!”) or setting alarms (“Wake me up when I’m not hungover.”)—it is children. I have seen the future and it is a bunch of hyperactive homunculi expecting a non-existent woman to provide answers to the mysteries of life. We should all be afraid.
We coaches try and regroup and gain control of the team, but shit is too far gone. One girl has decided that the best research option is to play “Call Me Maybe” at like 200,000 decibels, so as to drown out the other screeching noises erupting from her teammates. Obviously.
Our only option to overthrow this band of renegade fourth graders is to bring out the snacks.
Every parent knows this next part. Snacks—which I remember as being peanut butter and celery, crackers, Hi-C, etc.—have become super-potent sugar transporters specially designed to transform every normal kid into Animal from the Muppets.
For example, last night’s snack was popcorn (good, good), fruit juice (made with exactly 1% real juice and 99% aspartame!), and pixy stick infused candy canes. I am not shitting you. As if a candy cane wasn’t sweet enough that we need to actually inject it with ANOTHER CANDY, one that’s simply colored sugar.
Five minutes after they all ingested this terrible Franken-candy, I was ready to bust out a plate of Ritalin and let them snort it until they were zombified. That’s what people should be injecting into candy canes.
In addition to their planned performance, each team also has to participate in a “Spontaneous Challenge” in which they’re given a problem that’s either verbal, hands-on, or hands-on and verbal (don’t ask) and have to solve it in five minutes. According to the coaching manual, this is the part that almost all the teams suck at, so you’re supposed to practice it a lot.
We decided to start with a verbal challenge. The group would be given a question, and then go around in a circle throwing out as many responses as possible in a five minute time period. Each answer would get 0, 1, or 5 points based on creativity, and you would lose points if more than one team member spoke at once. (Needless to say, our team ended with -46.)
Coach: So, here’s your question: “Name something that causes pain, and what pain it causes.”
Girl #1: WELL, SO, UM, DIVORCE? DIVORCE CAUSES PAIN IN YOUR HEART.
Game. Fucking. Over.
After that creepy, heart-breaking answer, everything devolved into a sort of therapy session with all the girls confessing to things that they felt guilty about:
Girl #2: YOU KNOW WHEN YOU TURN SOMEONE DOWN FROM BEING YOUR FRIEND? THAT HURTS IN YOUR CHEST.
Girl #3: WHEN YOU TELL SOMEONE THEIR CLOTHES ARE UGLY IT HURTS ALL OVER HERE (waiving hand over her head and face).
Girl #4: I THREW A BALL AT MY BROTHER AND BROKE HIS LEG. THAT HURT HIS LEG AND MY BRAIN.
Girl #5: FIVE. SQUIRREL. FOUR.
All Girls: HYSTERICAL LAUGHTER
Our official competition is sometime in March. Wish me luck. Not them—they’re totally fine with showing up juiced on Pixy Crack, yelling over top of everyone, and losing by a million points. I just hope my mind—and ears—can last that long.
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated from the Russian by Joanne Turnbull with Nikolai Formozov (NYRB)
Probably the book I’m most looking forward to this month. Sigizmund UNPRONOUNCEABLE NAME was one of Russia’s wildest authors of the twentieth century—which is saying a lot. Adjectives tend to fall short in describing his surreal, fantastical, satirical stories, but here’s a great description from Adam Thirlwell’s introduction to this volume:
Krzhizhanovsky’s fiction is based on the fact that language makes things possible that are not possible in reality. If there is a word for “role” and a word for “character,” then naturally it follows, according to this method, that the two could possess separate existences. Or, to put this maybe more precisely, he investigated whether the distinction between what is possible in language and reality is even tenable at all. And so the central mechanism of this writing is metaphor (“a three-by-four-inch slip of paper torn from the notepad had miraculously turned into lodgings measuring one hundred square fee”)—the hinge between animate and inanimate objects, which allows figures of speech to acquire a strange kind of life.
Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated from the Danish by Martin Aitkin (Dutton)
When Kaija and I were in Copenhagen, we had a chance to meet with Martin Aitkin, one of the premiere Danish translators working today. He’s a great guy, is constantly booked with translation job after translation job (including a lot of Danish mysteries), and showed up to our meeting wearing a My Bloody Valentine t-shirt. That’s bad ass.
A Treatise on Shelling Beans by Wiesław Myśliwski, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston (Archipelago Books)
How many times can we mention this on Three Percent in one week? I read this over the holiday weekend, and although it’s not as immediately gripping and hysterical as Stone Upon Stone, it’s a really solid novel—one of my favorites from this year. I’m planning on writing a real review of it in the near future, but in short, it’s a novel about an old Pole whose village was annihilated in World War II and his ensuing adventures as an electrician and saxophone player. Similar to Stone Upon Stone, the novel runs off of his voice and elliptical story-telling style. Bill Johnston hit another home run with this translation. He’s an absolute genius.
The Conductor and Other Tales by Jean Ferry, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin (Wakefield Press)
This is a combination of a bunch of things I love: Wakefield Press (simply amazing books, and so well designed), Edward Gauvin, pataphysics, and, from the jacket copy, this collection includes a story about “secret societies so secret that one cannot know if one is a member of not.” SOLD.
The King of China by Tilman Rammstedt, translated from the Germany by Katy Derbyshire (Seagull Books)
This novel just sounds like fun. At least at first. It’s about a guy and his grandfather pretending to be on a trip to China, sending wild letters back to their family about their “Chinese adventures.” Along the way though, the grandfather dies unexpectedly and Keith is left writing longer and stranger letters about all sorts of bizarre things, like “non-stop dental hygiene shows on television, dog vaccinations at the post office,” and anything but news of their grandfather’s death and his ruse . . . Plus Katy Derbyshire is definitely on my list of books I read because I like the translator . . .
In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Even though Esposito shit on this in his recent BTBA post, I actually want to find some time to at least check it out. Molina is a masterful writer, and Scott’s logic—that he’s already read War and Peace so why read the War and Peace of Spain’s Civil War—is incredibly dismissive and flawed. By his logic, since I’ve read Don Quixote, all of contemporary literature can fuck itself. Besides, the Spanish Civil War is fascinating.
Letters from a Seducer by Hilda Hilst, translated from the Portuguese by John Keene (Nightboat Books)
Hilda Hilst is like Clarice Lispector’s raunchy twin sister. In a literary sense of course. Her books are just as experimental as Lispector’s, but are much dirtier. In an strange, complicated, experimental way of course.
Here’s a bit about Hilst from Triple Canopy:
In 1990, the Brazilian author Hilda Hilst—a prolific writer of experimental poems, plays, and fiction, beloved by initiates and completely unknown to the broader public—declared herself fed up with the punishing obscurity of high art and started writing smut for money and fame. Really filthy stuff, like a pornographic memoir narrated by a nine-year-old girl. The literary critics, those few but loyal readers, were left baffled and betrayed. “I think money delicious,” Hilst explained, chain-smoking her way through interviews that accompanied the celebrity with which she was instantly rewarded. She said the idea came to her after witnessing the international success of The Blue Bicycle, a hugely popular erotic French novel—Fifty Shades of Gray for the 1980s. She figured she could make a buck the same way.
Or, at least, that’s one of the versions of events that Hilst slyly propagated. In fact, the bizarre series of obscene books she wrote in the early ’90s—three novels and one collection of poetry—is far from possessing broad popular appeal; the stunt brought Hilst more recognition as a personality than as a writer, and she never got to taste much money.
Clisson and Eugénie by Napoleon Bonaparte, translated from the French by Peter Hicks (Gallic Books)
Not to make fun of Gallic Books—they’re doing a lot of great stuff, including a Pascal Garnier book that I’m really looking forward to—but this “novel” by Napoleon consists of: a 13-page introduction, an 8-page afterword, a 28-page interpretation, a 5-page “Brief History of the Manuscript,” a 3-page “Note to the Readers,” and a 20-page novel. For those keeping track at home, Napoleon’s novel makes up exactly 26% of this total volume.
The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, translated from the Turkish by Maureen Freely (Penguin)
The description on Penguin’s site is a bit lacking (SPOILER ALERT: The “Summary” is completely blank), but regardless, I’d read this anyway just because Maureen Freely translated it. Her essay in In Translation about translating Orhan Pamuk is one of the strongest in that collection and has turned me into a Freely Fanatic. Thanks to her essay I’m finally getting around to reading Pamuk’s Snow, and then will dive into this book.
Kopenhaga by Grzegorz Wroblewski, translated from the Polish by Piotr Gwiazda (Zephyr Press)
Pretty sure this is the first poetry collection to appear on one of monthly round-ups. I wrote about this collection a while back though, and I still love these two poems:
You will survive in the minds of distant relatives and cousins, in their memories of you . . . (Motherfuckers! What if they deliberately choose to forget you!) And then, when they also depart, you will be no more.
You’ve got to watch experimental films! Underground. Underground poets. Tripping. Alcohol and sluts. Everything experimental. Nothing ordinary. (A: “Alcohol slows your reflexes.” B: “What reflexes?” A: “Your judgment.” B: “Is judgment reflexive?” A: “Fuck off.”)
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim (Penguin)
After all that above, it seems fitting to end on a nice, charming, polite, allegorical novel about a hen.
This is the story of a hen named Sprout. No longer content to lay eggs on command, only to have them carted off to the market, she glimpses her future every morning through the barn doors, where the other animals roam free, and comes up with a plan to escape into the wild—and to hatch an egg of her own.
An anthem for freedom, individuality and motherhood featuring a plucky, spirited heroine who rebels against the tradition-bound world of the barnyard, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly is a novel of universal resonance that also opens a window on Korea, where it has captivated millions of readers. And with its array of animal characters—the hen, the duck, the rooster, the dog, the weasel—it calls to mind such classics in English as Animal Farm and Charlotte’s Web.
Before getting into this month’s list of recommended translations—which is kind of long, mostly because I couldn’t decide on which titles to cut—I want to follow-up a bit on last month’s post about our trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair.
Actually, to be more specific, I want to talk about Germans singing karaoke. The book fair itself was fantastic. We met with dozens and dozens of people, found at least a half-dozen books we want to publish, and ate a year’s worth of currywurst. (I also drank all of Surhkamp’s wine at their swanky party. And heard a lot of details about the current court imbroglio, most of which I can’t write about here.)
As it turned out, the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the L.A. Dodgers on the final night that we were in Frankfurt. Most everyone reading this knows about my love for the Cardinals (and my heart-wrenching disappointment that they lost to the fucking Red Sox), and seeing this was the playoffs, I had to find a way to see the game. Luckily, right next door to our hotel was O’Reilly’s, an Irish Sports pub that also specializes in karaoke.
Although our waitress referred to it as “that singing shit,” I was sort of excited about the mixture of baseball and karaoke. Karaoke is one of those great moments when you get to publicly witness people overvaluing their skills. People generally think of themselves as the exception to the rule—ask all the stock traders in the world if they’re above average or below average and 75% of them will claim to be “above,” something that’s statistically bullshit—but rarely put that out of such obvious display.
Of course, this being Germany, I was expecting ALL the Bon Jovi and Guns n’ Roses, and possibly the ‘Hoff. But NO. NOT EVEN ANY ABBA. We were treated to exactly none of that. Instead, we got a totally different array of shitty music: multiple Billy Joel songs, a Dolly Parton finale (sung by a tone deaf guy who was a regular), and even NICKELBACK.
What was even more interesting than the bizarre song choices (“9 to 5”?? Has this ever been sung at another karaoke bar?) was the way in which German karaokers over-annuciate all the lyrics. There was no slurring or mumbling when the one dude belted out “WOAH-OH-HO-OH. FOH ZE LON-GEST TIME.” It’s as if they were adding in syllables to make sure that each word was fully articulated.
No where was this more apparent, and disturbing, than in the rendition of “How You Remind Me.” Listen to the “video” to remind yourself of a) how fucking terrible this song is, b) that the chorus to this song is “Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no / Yeah, yeah, yeah, no, no,” and c) how Mr. Linkin Park trips from vowel to vowel with a bit of fierce in his voice.
That was not at all how it was sung that night in Germany. Instead of the sort of growl that’s a Nickelback trademark (cough), everything was as clean and orderly as possible (cough, Germans). So we got something like this:
It’s not like you to say so-HREE
I vas VAYting on a dee-fer-RENT sto-HREE
Zis time I’m me-STAY-ken
Foh hending you a haht vurt brea-KING
And I’ve been VRONG, I’ve been down,
Been to ze bot-TOM ov EH-VE-REE bottle
Zeez faif VURDS in my head
Scream “ah vee ha-VING fun yet?”
And this guy didn’t just sing one time and then give it up. He went up there TWICE. Oh, karaoke.
Red Grass by Boris Vian. Translated from the French by Paul Knobloch. (Tam Tam Books, $15.95)
Boris Vian was amazing. It’s a true shame that he died at such a young age (39), in such a tragic way (supposedly, he snuck into a premiere of the movie version of I Spit on Your Grave, stood up, yelled, “Those are supposed to be Americans? My ass!,” and died of a heart attack). It’s hard to imagine how many great works he would’ve produced had he lived to the ripe old age of Philip Roth.
Tam Tam Books—which is run by Tosh Berman, former buyer at Book Soup, and is dedicated to making Vian’s works available to English readers—is in a perfect position for a Vian resurgence, what with a new movie version of Mood Indigo coming out this year, and this newly translated novel sounds spectacular:
Red Grass tells the story of Wolf, an engineer like Vian himself, who, with the help of Saphir Lazuli, a mechanic, has devised a bizarre “machine” with which he hopes to annihilate old inhibiting memories.
More exciting than the plot is the Vian language which,
undergoes unexpected subversions, as new concepts, sports or occupations are invented, such as “rednecking,” “bloodsport,” and “thigh climber.”
Fata Morgana Books by Jonathan Littell. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell. (Two Lines Press, $14.95)
Two Lines, which comes out of the Center for the Art of Translation, is one of the best, and longest-running, journals for literature in translation. When they announced last year that they were going to expand into doing books, this seemed like a natural, and exciting, evolution.
This collection is pretty intriguing. Littell, whose Kindly Ones was a huge deal in France, but not so well received in most other countries, followed up his gigantic novel with four short books he wrote for the Montpellier publisher Fata Morgana. Exploring “sex, love, and memory,” this 178-page book provides a nice entry to Littell’s prose.
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura. Translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters Carpenter. (Other Press, $29.95)
This book is beautifully produced. Two perfect paperbacks in a slick slipcase—this is one of the best designed volumes I’ve received all year.
Hannah Vose wrote a fantastic review of this book for us, so be sure and check that out for more info on the book itself. (She’s very convincing about how worthwhile this book is.)
Sticking with book design for a second: Have any of you seen S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst? HOLY SHIT. I knew this was going to be a multi-media sort of experience, but the product itself is pretty stunning—just look:
I’m totally getting sucked in . . . It’s like Lost all over again . . . Such a sucker for these sorts of games . . .
Black Stars by Ngo Tu Lap. Translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins. (Milkweed Editions, $16.00)
LAP! As is noted in the bio page to this collection, Ngo Tu Lap got his Ph.D. from Illinois State University where he interned at Dalkey Archive Press. Both Nate and I were there during that time, and remember a number of Lap stories. (And the fact that he totally knows how to rock a black leather vest.) My favorite was when he cooked us all a traditional Vietnamese dinner, then implied that it contained dog . . . It didn’t, but shit, for a second there I think most of us bought it . . .
The Mongolian Conspiracy by Rafael Bernal. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. (New Directions, $14.95)
Tom and I talked about this book on one our recent podcasts, including the fact that Tom got the estate to chance the reference to the “FBI agent” to a “CIA agent,” which makes a lot more sense in the context of the plot.
We also talked about the word “fucking.” There are more “fuckings” in this book than in any other book I’ve read recently. Although there are a lot of times that this is used to illuminate the way the protagonist’s mind works, I’m sure it’ll be a bit overwhelming to some readers.
That said, I really appreciated Francisco Goldman’s blurb stating that this is, “The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City.” Reminds me a bit of Toby Litt’s blurb for Carlos Labbé’s Navidad & Matanza, which he refers to as “headfuck fiction.” More blurbs need to include the word “fuck.”
Shantytown by Cesar Aira. Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (New Directions, $13.95)
Sticking with ND’s November releases for a minute, Shantytown is the ninth book by Aira that they’ve published. I haven’t had a chance to read this one—Will Vanderhyden is working up a review for us and took the only galley that arrived—but I love using his books in my World Literature class. They’re all readable, enjoyable, and work in a similar way: At some point early on, Aira gets to believe in one unbelievable thing (in Ghosts it’s the existence of ghosts, in The Literary Conference, it’s the impossible to render description of the treasure and how it’s found) and then is free to do basically anything in the text. (Such as having huge silkworms come out of the hills.) This is a great set-up for talking about what translations have to accomplish . . .
The Combover by Adrián Bravi. Translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon. (Frisch & Co., $7.28)
Including this here both because Frisch & Co. deserves some praise, but also because of this line:
A hilariously dark tale in the tradition of César Aira, The Combover confirms Bravi’s unique status among Italian contemporary writers.
So, if you love the nine Aira books New Directions has put out, you should definitely check this out.
Also, it involves Lapland. LAPLAND.
Everything Happens as It Does by Albena Stambolova. Translated from the Bulgarian by Olga Nikolova. (Open Letter Books, $12.95)
Thanks to the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation, Olga Nikolova spent a few weeks in Rochester working on this translation and learning about the American publishing scene. As part of her education, on her last day here, we decided to take her to Taylor’s, a “cougar club” which just so happens to be managed by Cuban author José Manuel Prieto’s brother. So, a literary cougar club? Anyway, as it turned out, Olga’s last night in town corresponded with the “What Women Want Weekend”—a frightening thing that involved hundreds of middle-aged women descending on Taylor’s to meet the University of Rochester’s a cappella group, the Yellowjackets. (Who appeared on NBC’s The Sing-Off.) Those kids barely made it out alive . . . But man, what a shit show! All the awkward dancing, the walk-by ass grabs, the make-up and hair! It was a thing that can only be experienced, never described. And Olga absolutely loved it. The way I remember, she almost “accidentally” left her passport behind so that she would be stranded in Rochester, frequenting the Taylor’s every weekend . . .
Dalkey Archive’s Library of Korean Literature, the first ten releases.
A few years back, Dalkey Archive announced that they had received a massive grant from the Literary Translation Institute of Korea to publish 25 Korean books. The first 10 come out this month, with the remaining 15 due in 2014.
I recently served as a judge for South Korea’s biennial translation contest, and ended up reading all 11 books published in English translation in the past two years. There’s more to say about those books and that contest, but for now, it’s worth noting that Dalkey, in one day, almost exceeded the total number of Korean books published over the previous two years. That’s what funding and determination can do!
Of the ten books that are coming out now, the four that caught my eye are: A Most Ambiguous Sunday, and Other Stories by Jung Young-moon, translated by Yewon Jung, Inrae You Vinciguerra, and Louis Vinciguerra; One Spoon on This Earth by Hyun Ki-young, translated by Jennifer M. Lee; When Adam Opens His Eyes by Jang Jung-il, translated by Hwang Sun-ae and Horace Jeffery Hodges; and At Least We Can Apologize by Lee Ki-ho, translated by Christopher Joseph Dykas.
If you’re interested in learning more about the series, and these ten books, you should really download this PDF sampler, which includes excerpts from all of the books.
The Maya Pill by German Sadulaev. Translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio. (Dalkey Archive Press, $15.00)
Sticking with Dalkey for a minute, this book sounds wonderful:
A bitingly funny twenty-first century satire, The Maya Pill tells the story of a mid-level manager at a frozen-food import company who comes upon a box of psychotropic pills that’s accidentally been slipped into a shipment. He takes one, and disappears down the rabbit hole: entering the mind of a Chinese colleague; dreaming that he is one of the rulers of an ancient kingdom; even believing he is in negotiations with the devil. A mind-expanding companion to the great Russian classics, The Maya Pill is strange, savage, bizarre, and uproarious.
I’m also intrigued by this title knowing that Carol Apollonio was one of Bromance Will’s professors at Duke. (And speaking of Bromance, it’s not too many more months before I can start including Deep Vellum titles on this list.)
Eucalyptus by Mauricio Segura. Translated from the French by Donald Winkler. (Biblioasis, $18.95)
Number one reason to read this book? Stephen Sparks of Green Apple and the BTBA blurbed it:
Well-executed, with a cinematic quality and keen visual sense . . . Segura locates the political through the personal in a way that is uncommon.
That’s it for now . . .
As mentioned last month, I decided to start this monthly round-up for two reasons—to highlight a few interesting books in translation that other venues likely won’t, and because I think there’s more to literature that the monthly Flavorwire listicles. (One more Flavorwire thing: It’s totally fine that we’re not on the 25 Best Indie Presses list, but did you have to title it “Fuck You, Open Letter”?)
I’m writing this in haste, putting to use the four hours of “found time” that US Airways granted me by canceling my flight. Not that I really mind—I think I’m one of the few people who, aside from the remarkably uncomfortable seating options, doesn’t mind airports. If I could concentrate as well at work as I can in airports, we’d be golden. (And by “golden,” I mean, probably on that Flavorwire list.) The only thing that ever really gets to me are all of the asinine “businessmen” talking nonsense into their Nextel phones. What are these people even on about? I swear, I’ve eavesdropped on so many conversations that the NSA should hire me, but the only conclusion I’ve come to is that our entire economy runs on Excel pivot tables for mysterious “services,” about which the client is always a) unsatisfied, and b) a total prick. I wouldn’t be surprised if half these “businessmen” were just playing dress up to try and convince everyone that the U.S. economy wasn’t totally fucked. “Look! My cell phone’s not even on! What, did you really think Nextel phones worked? All I know about Excel is Minesweeper.” Business is stupid.
OK, this month’s books.
Wigrum by Daniel Canty. Translated from the French by Oana Avasilichioael. (Talonbooks, $14.95)
We ran a review of this book a week or so ago, and Patrick Smith captured all the things about this that first grabbed my attention when I saw it at BEA:
Known also as a graphic designer in Quebec, Canty takes those skills and puts them towards this “novel of inventory” and creates a framework from which to hang the inventories. We get a table of contents, where oddly, the preface follows the only chapter, we are given a set of “Instructions to the Reader” and the whole work ends with an index. The bulk of the book is the collection, the objects ostensibly found by the collector Wigrum, the man behind these collections (though the book throws this into doubt; there are other collectors, other writers). They are arranged alphabetically, all with an illustration in the margin, a touch that gives them more weight, rather than letting the story dominate the scale. It is a nice graphic touch, and eventually becomes part of how the book complicates itself.
That’s all great, but undersells the fun of yelling out “WIGRUM!” every once in a while. Such a great word that sounds both threatening and goofy all at once.
Milk and Other Stories by Simon Fruelund. Translated from the Danish by K. E. Semmel. (Santa Fe Writers Project, $12.00)
Kyle and Simon were in Rochester just last week to talk about Milk, an early book of Simon’s, and Civil Twilight, a more recent, and stylistically very different, novella, and I think you should really read both of these books.
Also, we’ll have a recording of the event up on Three Percent in the near future along with the one we did with Jean-Marie Blas de Robles. Watch both of these—they turned out to be two of our best ever Reading the World Conversation Series events.
Kyle Semmel is, like me, a die-hard Cardinals fan. How we grew up in Rochester, NY and Bay City, MI and became St. Louis fans is a bit strange, but Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, and Whitey Herzog should explain most of that. My baseball imagination was totally captured by those mid-80s teams who stole more than 240 bases a year (over 300 in 1985!)—a number that’s insane by today’s standards. (Jacoby Ellsbury lead the majors with 52 stolen bases this year; Vince Coleman stole 110 in 1985.) I loved the idea that you could succeed not by being all jacked up and huge, but by bunting and stealing every base even when the world knew you were going to be running. That’s baseball to me.
And for that reason, I’ve been through the emotional wringer the past few years, with Game 6 against Texas being the high point, and hating the shit out of San Francisco last year. After falling into a deep depression about last night’s loss, I’m fairly certain that the Cardinals will go down 5-1 today before staging a miraculous ninth inning comeback that will end with my heart exploding. Baseball.
Final sports note: Fuck Boston. Not only are their fans the worst—a sickening combination of faux-put upon (“But we didn’t win for years! We’re long-suffering!”) and entitlement (“We spent the most money and didn’t win last year—we deserve it!”)—but their franchise decided to carve “BOSTON STRONG” into the outfield. That’s tasteless to me, although I did predict that Boston would (grossly) capitalize on the Marathon Bombings as another reason why they “deserve” to win this year. “We’ve got to heal the city, ya’ know?” Shut up and please get swept by the Tigers. And screw Bill Simmons.
Private Pleasures by Hamdy el-Gazzar.& Translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies. ($18.95, American University at Cairo Press)
I’m currently reading another book that Humphrey Davies translated—Leg over Leg or The Turtle in the Tree concerning The Fāriyāq, What Manner of Creature Might He Be by Fāris al-Shidyāq. I mentioned this a while back as a sort of Arabic Laurence Sterne, and now that I’m more than halfway through the first (of four?) volume, I can affirm that this is a pretty apt comparison. I’ll write a full-length review later on, but I just want to say that this is nothing what I had expected a book written in Arabic in 1855 to be like. It’s filthy—I particularly like the bit where the people in the pub argue about what type of person is the happiest and decide that the whore must be, since she gets both money and pleasure and the devotion of her clients—and funny and obsessed with language. The language bits seem like the most difficult for Davies to translate, which is why there are hundreds of footnotes, but also make it clear that Fāris al-Shidyāq was a super-intelligent, strange man.
In a way, this reminds me of Macedonio Fernandez’s The Museum of Eterna’s Novel (The First Good Novel) for all of its delays and sections addressed to future critics and readers and religious men and the like. Definitely worth reading.
Misfortunates by Dimitri Verhulst. Translated from the Flemish by David Colmer. ($23.99, St. Martin’s Press)
I haven’t read this Verhulst book yet—I really like Problemski Hotel when I read that years ago—but I do have a DVD of the movie version in my office:
Leapfrog and Other Stories by Guillermo Rosales. Translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner. ($14.95, New Directions)
New Directions brought out Rosales’s The Halfway House a few years back to great acclaim, so I’m sure this collection will also do pretty well.
It’s hard to write about Rosales without mentioning his personal history, which is really bleak and awful. He was born in Cuba in the 1940s, but was forced to leave for Miami because of his “morose, pornographic, and irreverent” works. The rest of his life was spent going in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and he finally took his own life at the age of 47 after destroying most of his unpublished manuscripts.
The Elixir of Immortality by Gabi Gleichmann. Translated from the Norwegian by Michael Meigs. ($18.95, Other Press)
Other Press sure doesn’t shy away from publishing gigantic books. Where Tigers Are at Home, which I HIGHLY recommend, and I guarantee you’ll want to rush out and buy after watching the RTWCS interview with Blas de Robles, came out in March and clocks in at 832 pages. A True Novel by Minae Mizamura, which comes out next month, is 880 pages and comes in two volumes with a slipcase. This novel, The Elixir of Immortality is 768 pages long.
God bless Other Press for publishing such huge tomes at a time when the conventional wisdom is that readers have an attention span of approximately 140 characters. I love big-ass huge books, which brings me to—
Blinding: The Left Wing by Mircea Cartarescu. Translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter. ($22.00, Archipelago Books)
Along with Leg over Leg and the new Pynchon (which I’m really enjoying so far), this is the third book that I brought with me for this trip to Frankfurt. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and, to tell a whingey publishing story, Open Letter tried to get the rights to this book but we were rejected. (Cartarescu wasn’t impressed with us. But to be fair, this was back in 2006 before we had any books.)
Let me just quote you a part of Archipelago’s press release:
Blinding takes us on a mystical trip into the protagonist’s childhood, his memories of hospitalization as a teenager, the prehistory of his family, a traveling circus, secret police, zombie armies, American fighter pilots, the jazz underworld of New Orleans, and the installation of the Communist regime.
I won’t be surprised if this wins the 2014 BTBA for Fiction.
The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray. ($13.00, Yale University Press)
Rodrigo Rey Rosa is an author I know I should read—some of his works were translated into English by Paul Bowles—but haven’t gotten to yet. I love the idea that The African Shore is a work of “dystopic travel fiction,” and I especially love what Roberto Bolaño said about Rey Rosa:
Miguel Ángel Asturias, Augusto Monterroso, and now Rodrigo Rey Rosa, three giant writers from a small, unhappy country.
Also, that owl is eating a frog. I am both disgusted and intrigued. Intriguingly disgusted.
The Dark by Sergio Chejfec. Translated from Spanish by Heather Cleary. ($14.95, Open Letter)
Moment of Open Letter self-promotion: Chejfec is one of the best Argentine writers working today. If you like Javier Marias, if you like W.G. Sebald, you will like all of Chejfec’s books. And of the three we’ve published—My Two Worlds, The Planets—I think this is my favorite. It has the concise style of My Two Worlds with the plotted aspects of The Planets. Both of his other books have been finalists for the BTBA, and with another stunning translation by Heather Cleary, I suspect this one will also make the shortlist.
Speaking of Heather Cleary, you need to check out the Buenos Aires Review. This is a fantastic new online journal that Heather is involved with, and which is spectacularly designed. It’s loaded with great writers and translators—from Russell Valentino to Tyrno Maldonado to Pola Oloixarac and more—and has recently been recommended to me by multiple people who just wanted to make sure I was aware of this “amazing new website.” Check it out!
The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente. Translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. ($22.00, McSweeney’s Books)
As part of Middlebury’s Clifford Symposium, I had the opportunity to meet Yumiko Yanagisawa, a Swedish-Japanese and English-Japanese translator who, over the course of her career, has worked on almost 80 different titles. Not only is she one of the most prolific translators of our time, but throughout Japan there are reading groups dedicated to her translations. This is something that an American translator can only dream of.
That said, I know that I’ll pay serious consideration to anything Bill Johnston, Margaret Jull Costa, Esther Allen, Sean Cotter, Susan Bernofsky, or Katherine Silver translates. And more. (Then again, I am weird, and not a typical reader.)
I know nothing about The End of Love, but I would totally join a Katherine Silver book club and read this.
I’ve been wanting to do monthly highlights of books coming out for a while, but thought to myself that, well, Flavorwire already does stuff like this, so why bother. Then I remembered that Flavorwire is the worst, so here we are.
High Tide by Inga Ābele. Translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis. ($15.95, Open Letter Books)
Yep, I’m leading it off with one of our books. A book by a former student of the University of Rochester’s Literary Translation Program and our current editor. (Flavorwire would never do something like this.) Anyway, aside from the selfish plug for Open Letter and Kaija, I want to say three things:
1) This is a beautifully written book that relates a woman’s life more-or-less in reverse chronological order, demonstrating, in consistently surprising ways, the choices that led to her current state and feeling that “life is a prison” and that everything for her keeps restarting and restarting. We talked about this at our Book Clüb yesterday and people admitted that it made them cry. So that;
This is the first Latvian novel to be published in the U.S. in English translation; (NOT TRUE! This book existed at some point.)
3) This comes out on September 26th, and to promote it ahead of time, we’re selling the ebook version for $3.99 this week, $5.99 next week, $7.99 the week after, and $9.99 when the book launches. So get yours now! (Amazon, iTunes, Nook, Kobo.)
Open Door by Iosi Havilio. Translated from the Spanish by Beth Fowler. ($15.95, And Other Stories)
All Dogs Are Blue by Rodrigo de Souza Leão. Translated from the Portuguese by Zoë Perry and Stefan Tobler. ($15.95, And Other Stories)
After winning just about every award possible in the UK, And Other Stories—the indie press with the most interesting editorial selection process I know of—is finally branching out into the United States. Consortium will be distributing their books, and within six months, every major book news outlet will have reviewed their titles and be singing their praises. This is some high quality shit.
Open Door includes two of my favorite subjects in literature: Argentina and insane asylums. I read this a while back, but plan to reread it in advance of Havilio’s Paradises, which comes out next month. (I actually mentioned this book back in 2008 during my editorial trip to Buenos Aires.)
I read All Dogs Are Blue while I was in Brazil, not too far away from the asylum (THIS IS AN AND OTHER STORIES THEME) where Rodrigo de Souza Leão spent much of his life. It’s an amazing book, samples from which you can see here.
The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein. ($18.00, Europa Editions)
One of the most recommended non-crime writers that Europa publishes and whom I haven’t read. Her books have been on my shelves forever, and one of these days . . .
All of the fans of The Days of Abandonment, or, more apropos, My Brilliant Friend, will rush out to get this, but for anyone not familiar with her, here’s a bit from the Shelf Awareness review that ran today:
With The Story of a New Name, Elena Ferrante picks up where she left off in My Brilliant Friend, following her two protagonists, Lila and Elena, from adolescence into their 20s. The novel, the second volume in a trilogy, is a treatise on life in Naples, a part of Italy that has nothing in common with Rome, Florence or Milan.
The two girls have a complex, intense relationship, with Lila leading the way and Elena trying to accommodate—at least at first. Lila has pulled herself out of poverty with an early marriage to a grocer’s son, whom she hates. Elena has continued studying, graduating from high school and going to university in Pisa.
The Mystery of Rio by Alberto Mussa. Translated from the Portuguese by Alex Ladd. ($16.00, Europa Editions)
There are only five works of fiction from Brazil coming out in the U.S. this year. (Three are on this list.) After visiting Rio and Paraty this summer, I MUST READ THEM ALL.
The Eternal Son by Cristovao Tezza. Translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin. ($19.95, Tagus Press)
Sticking with the Brazilian theme, here’s the latest from Tagus Press, a new outfit publishing only Lusophone writers. This book—about a father whose son is born with Down syndrome—sounds a bit like Kenzaburo Oe’s A Personal Matter.
“Between Friends by Amos Oz. Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston. ($14.95, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Since the day we launched Three Percent, I’ve been making fun of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s website. Not that any of the Big Five websites were spectacular, but for years it seemed like Houghton Mifflin was playing some kind of demented game with readers trying to find out information about their books. You had to click through 6 or 20 links to find a list of new releases, which then, just to make things interesting, were never quite in alphabetical order. The search engine ran on AltaVista or Ask Jeeves!, and for a while Jose Saramago was a digital persona non gratis.
Well. Things are now better. This website doesn’t look like vomit. It makes a certain amount of intuitive sense. I typed in Amos Oz, and actually received results about Amos Oz. The fact that these are grand improvements is depressing at best, but still, way to go HMH!
Except maybe for the fact that this is all the info on the HMH site about Between Friends:
A provocative new story collection from the internationally celebrated author of A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Really? Christ. At least I can still rely on HMH for providing good comedic fodder. Keep up the bumbling!
Gods of the Steppe by Andrei Gelasimov. Translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz. ($14.95, AmazonCrossing)
This is the third Gelasimov book that AmazonCrossing has published, the other two being Thirst and The Lying Year. The fact that Marian Schwartz translated this is enough to make me want to read it. She is the best.
Sudden Disappearance of the Worker Bees by Serge Quadruppani.& Translated from the Italian by Delia Casa. ($23.95, Arcade)
Over the past month I’ve read Generation A by Douglas Coupland, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and And Still the Earth by Ignacio de Loyola Brandão, fairly different books, but all of which are set in the future and involve a world in which no one reads, and there are no more bees. Sure, I’d heard mention of colony collapse disorder before, but, like America, I didn’t really care all that much. But reading these books, I realized that with no bees, we have no apples. And no apple crisp. According to Wikipedia, one-third of the crop species in the United States involve bee pollination, including: almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and strawberries. This is not good. Of course, as soon as I read these books and starting thinking about how fucked it is that one-third of the U.S. honeybee colonies died or disappeared last winter, my neighbor’s Time Magazine arrived with this beepocalyptic cover:
What the shit, Universe? I did not need this.
Faction by Juan Filloy. Translated from the Spanish by Rhett McNeil. ($16.95, Dalkey Archive Press)
Click on that link above to see just how “in process” Dalkey’s website is right now. Nevertheless, this book was announced with a September pub date, and man do I hope it comes out soon. I actually signed this on—along with Op Oloop way back in the early 2000s. (Writing “early 2000s” and realizing that is an accurate statement makes me feel old.) I forget how we first came across Filloy—who is mentioned in passing in Cortázar’s Hopscotch, lived in three centuries, and used seven-letter titles for all of his books—but all of his books sounded really interesting. Especially this one, which is about “seven erudite, homeless, and semi-incompetent radicals traveling from city to city in an attempt to foment a revolution.” SOLD.
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
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. . .