Jenn Witte is a bookseller at Skylight Books in Los Angeles
I fall in love easily. Books possess me and while reading them I am completely blinded. Is this a terrible quality in a panelist? I wonder, but I’m going to declare that my engagement with these books is fair in that I give them my whole self, one at a time. When I finish a book, separate myself from it, move on, only then do I begin to develop the perspective needed to pitch them against each other.
A bit like a young me, quietly crushing on some cutie I’d never talk to in school, I doodled about two of the books that I’m obsessing over. I animated them specifically to debut on this blog, but got excited and ended up leaking them onto my own blog/portfolio ahead of time. As a bookseller, it is in my nature to promote the books that I feel strongly about. I can’t help it.
I felt that the animation I made for Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book Two could be used to help promote the kickstarter campaign Archipelago was running at the time (I’m happy to report that they exceeded their goal). The turtle works in a couple of ways, for me at least, to represent the pace of the book as well as the potential that it has to win, slow but steady, somewhere down the line.
When I drew this animation of Seiobo There Below, it was a happy accident that I finished on its date of publication, so I leaked it to New Directions in case they could use it to help readers pronounce the title with confidence. (Feel free to send me requests for future pronunciation animations. This is a serious issue in translated literature.)
It is with blind confidence that I present these books as extremely strong candidates for this year’s award. I had the same blind confidence in Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life last year, which made it to the shortlist by a hair and quickly revealed itself to be too… of a way to win. She has a strong musk, I must admit— Karl Ove does, too. Everyone I’ve spoken to at the store has marveled at how they can coexist with his character, how they don’t mind devoting so much time to his books, despite everything (a tweet as evidence). I would love to hear from people who don’t enjoy living through this book. I didn’t expect to, at all, but it owned me. I sit at my dining room table now and I am transported to the conversation I read while sitting there before. I was knitting a scarf at the same time, and wearing it now takes me to Stockholm. On the other end of the spectrum, ,Seiobo There Below perfectly presents the world to the individual in a floating rainbow soap bubble, clean and shiny and at a safe distance. It is a bit of a trophy already. This might prove to be a more winning quality in a candidate. Time will tell. I ride my bike along the Los Angeles river every day, and the herons I see now remind me of the most beautiful first chapter I’ve ever read. Thank you, László, thank you forever.
To be fair, I’ve been equally enchanted by dozens of other eligible and ineligible books this year, and I hope to draw my way through understanding where they belong in the context of this award. I’ll be over here in Los Angeles, thinking about the whole world, thinking about nothing but the book in front of me, scribbling its name over and over, trying not to lose my identity, and trying to identify for everyone.
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .
It’s a rare and wonderful book that begins and ends with violence and humor. At the start of Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, Keret is in a hospital waiting for the birth of his first child while nurses, in. . .
Last year, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was an unexpected critical hit. Now, it’s just been published in the U.S. and has already received a great deal of positive critical attention. The Vegetarian was a bold book to attempt as an. . .
It’s been almost a year since the publication of Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, but despite being included on the 2015 PEN Translation award longlist, and some pretty vocal support from key indie presses, the book has. . .
Jorge Eduardo Benavides’ novel La paz de los vencidos (The Peace of the Defeated) takes the form of a diary written by a nameless Peruvian thirty-something intellectual slumming it in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. Recently relocated. . .
Anyone with any interest at all in contemporary Moroccan writing must start with Souffles. A cultural and political journal, Souffles (the French word for “breaths”) was founded in 1966 by Abdellatif Laâbi and Mostafa Nissabouri. Run by a group of. . .
Randall Jarrell once argued a point that I will now paraphrase and, in doing so, over-simplify: As a culture, we need book criticism, not book reviews. I sort of agree, but let’s not get into all of that. Having finished. . .