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.
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. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .
Founded in 1960 by such creative pioneers as George Perec, Raymond Queneau and Italo Calvino, the Oulipo, shorthand for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, came about in when a group of writers and mathematicians sought constraints to find new structures and. . .