On this week’s podcast, we welcome National Book Critics Circle board member Carolyn Kellogg to talk about the NBCC awards, the changes to the National Book Award (which set me off on a bit of a paranoid rant), Bookish and its suckishness, and a variety of other literary topics.
I also want to add a bit of an update. Since the time we spoke, I’ve finished HHhH and most of NW, and contrary to all the niceties expressed on this podcast, I’m pretty bummed out about the NBCC finalists for fiction. Both HHhH and NW are staggeringly mediocre and should be replaced by Satantango and Maidenhair. Then again, the sheer literary quality of a list of books including these two masterpieces along with Lydia Millet’s Magnificence would be so mind-blowingly amazing that no future list could ever match up. In other words, the NBCC chose to middle-mind the shit out of their list of finalists to save you—the readers—from experiencing too much literary joy all at once. That’s the best explanation I can come up with, since, wow, I gave these books way too much credit before reading them.
And don’t even get me started on the fact that Errol Morris’s A Wilderness of Error isn’t on there. (I totally blanked on this while we were recording.) But as a nod to my other conspiracy theories, I’ll give the NBCC the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume Wilderness isn’t a finalist because of Joe McGinniss.
This week’s music is We the Common (For Valerie Borden), which is off of the new Thao & The Get Down Stay Down album, We the Common. (This is an amazing album. Probably my favorite of the year so far. And is aesthetically more pleasing that HHhH and NW. Yeah, I had to.)
César Aira dishes up an imaginative parable on how identity shapes our sense of belonging with Dinner, his latest release in English. Aira’s narrator (who, appropriately, remains nameless) is a self-pitying, bitter man—in his late fifties, living again with. . .
Originally published in French in 2007, We’re Not Here to Disappear (On n’est pas là pour disparaître) won the Prix Wepler-Fondation La Poste and the Prix Pierre Simon Ethique et Réflexion. The work has been recently translated by Béatrice Mousli. . .
Even though the latest from Jean Echenoz is only a thin volume containing seven of what he calls “little literary objects,” it is packed with surprises. In these pieces, things happen below the surface, sometimes both literally and figuratively. As. . .
Who is this woman? This is the question that opens Xiao Bai’s French Concession, a novel of colonial-era Shanghai’s spies and revolutionaries, police and smugglers, who scoot between doorways, walk nonchalantly down avenues, smoke cigars in police bureaus, and lounge. . .
For the past 140 years, Anna Karenina has been loved by millions of readers all over the world. It’s easy to see why: the novel’s two main plots revolve around characters who are just trying to find happiness through love.. . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .