1 July 11 | Chad W. Post | Comments

In this week’s podcast, we talk a bit about authors we “broke up” with. Writers like, say, Philip Roth, who evokes a pretty harsh reaction from Tom . . . Additionally we talk about authors we thought we had given up on, but to whom we keep returning and returning.

Read More...

1 May 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This originally appeared on the PEN World Voices blog. I’ll be writing for them all weekend, as will a bunch of other correspondents. So if you can’t be here, you can always check out these posts.

A number of years ago, when I was working for a different publishing house, Robert Coover suggested I take a look at the work of Catalan author Quim Monzo. I had someone do a reader’s report on 100 Stories, but the project sort of fizzled out despite the fact that the samples translated into English were brilliant and hilarious. Fast forward a few years, I’m now at Open Letter, have been to Barcelona (where I fell in love with the city and its culture, and where the people are always smiling and happy), met Quim Monzo, and signed on a bunch of his books, including the novel Gasoline, which we published a few weeks ago.

So I was naturally excited that the first PEN World Voices event I was able to attend was a one-on-one conversation between Quim Monzo and Robert Coover. The two writers have known and read each other for years, and interacted like old friends. (Apparently, they spent hours together before this event talking about everything under the sun, from masturbatory images to sex to how literature is better than life.)

Coover started off the conversation by talking about Quim’s work is so striking for being both incredibly serious (like in the Great Literature sense) and at the same time, so damn funny. Which is spot-on. Quim has the very, very rare talent to be able to infuse his sentences with a sort of charmed humor. It’s not like he writes jokes in the way that some writers jokes and punchlines, it’s different than that. Quim himself put it best in an interview he did some years ago in which he said: “In art, without humour—a subtle and invisible humour—there is nothing worth keeping.” A subtle and invisible humor. That’s it exactly.

As is basically mandatory, they talked a bit about influences, with Quim mentioning Julio Cortazar, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Raymond Queneau, Juan Carlos Onetti, and Samuel Beckett.

Beckett was the perfect example of what both Coover and Monzo found so exhilarating about the possibilities of literature, and about how you can write funny. Coover cited the bit from Malone Dies in which the narrator is trapped in bed and tries to describe what he’s seeing out the window. After two or three lines he exclaims, “enough with this fucking scenery.”

Quim’s Beckett reference was to the part in Molloy where the narrator puts a number of pebbles in his different pockets then describes all the possibilities of moving these pebbles around. (This is a scene that’s always stuck in my mind, and is E.J. Van Lanen’s favorite Beckett bit as well. Weird.) And as Quim said, “after reading that and about all the possibilities of fiction, how can you go back to writing realistic romances about how Jane’s in love and now she’s sad.”

For all the subtly and grace in his writing, Monzo’s amazing with the one-liners and comedic bits. For example, when Quim was younger, his mother discouraged him from reading, saying that “reading so many novels will make you an idiot.” Which is pretty much what Quim tells his son in relation to watching too much TV . . . But both of these things are wrong. “TV is great. There’s a lot of shit on TV, but walk into a bookstore and there’s a lot of shit there too.”

In relation to critcs: “Like Cabrera Infante once said, there are two types of critics. The ones who like your books, who are the good critics. And the stupid critics who think your books are shit.”

The best bit came when Coover said something about how you really can’t write funny things about love. Quim was astounded—“of course you can!”—and went into an amazing rant about the “three words that refer to nothing: god, happiness, and love. Love is being horny in a tie.” Well played, Quim. Well played.

(And for the record, in addition to Gasoline, which is available now, Open Letter will be bringing out Guadalajara—a collection of Quim’s stories—next spring.)

....
Fear: A Novel of World War I
Fear: A Novel of World War I by Gabriel Chevallier
Reviewed by Paul Doyle

One hundred years have passed since the start of World War I and it is difficult to believe that there are still novels, considered classics in their own countries, that have never been published in English. Perhaps it was the. . .

Read More >

Little Grey Lies
Little Grey Lies by Hédi Kaddour
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

In the London of Hédi Kaddour’s Little Grey Lies, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan, peace has settled, but the tensions, fears, and anger of the Great War remain, even if tucked away behind stories and lies. Directly ahead, as those. . .

Read More >

Autobiography of a Corpse
Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
Reviewed by Simon Collinson

One of the greatest services—or disservices, depending on your viewpoint—Bertrand Russell ever performed for popular philosophy was humanizing its biggest thinkers in his History. No longer were they Platonic ideals, the clean-shaven exemplars of the kind of homely truisms that. . .

Read More >

A Musical Hell
A Musical Hell by Alejandra Pizarnik
Reviewed by Vincent Francone

The best way to review Alejandra Pizarnik’s slim collection, A Musical Hell, published by New Directions as part of their Poetry Pamphlet series, is to begin by stating that it is poetry with a capital P: serious, dense, and, some. . .

Read More >

Astragal
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
Reviewed by Tiffany Nichols

Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .

Read More >

Live Bait
Live Bait by Fabio Genovesi
Reviewed by Megan Berkobien

When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .

Read More >

The Skin
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte
Reviewed by Peter Biello

“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .

Read More >