OK, so about a month ago, the City Paper opened the first round of the voting for this year’s “Best of Rochester” feature. I posted on Facebook about how I wanted to get some Open Letter love this year. I suggested voting for a bunch of categories (Three Percent Podcast for “Best Local Podcast,” etc.) and actually managed to get three of our people/books on the list of finalists:
Best Local Author: Chad Post (I argued that since I have “written a book” and since there is no “best publisher” category, this just fit best)
Best Local Poet: Lytton Smith (also would win for “best Icelandic translator”)
Best Locally Written Book: Rochester Knockings by Hubert Haddad (which, in all fairness, is about Rochester and translated by a Rochester author, Jen Grotz)
You can vote by going here. And please do—you have no idea how badly I want to win this thing. And yes, you can vote even if you don’t live in Rochester. And you can vote on every different wifi network you sign onto. Let’s do this Chicago-style!
The one catch is that you have to vote in 40 categories. Easy enough if you live here, or don’t give a shit, but in case you want to make some informed votes, here’s my list of 40 “Best of Rochester” people and places to vote for:
10. Best Bar Food: Tap & Mallet
For a long time, Tap & Mallet was the site of our weekly translation workshop gatherings (what we call “plüb”) and has really good food. Not what you’d think of as “bar food.” Plus they have super-high ABV beers from all over.
13. Best Breakfast Sandwich: Hart’s Local Grocers
My friends Glenn and Jenny are responsible for Hart’s, the only real thriving full-service grocery store in Rochester that isn’t named “Wegmans.” Vote for them, they are good people.
20. Best Mexican Restaurant: Itacate
I’ve never been there, but if La Casa wins, I’ll go ballistic. La Casa used to be awesome, but this guy ruined it (and many other parts of Rochester) for everyone. The only award he deserves is “Biggest Prick of Rochester.”
22. Best Indian Restaurant: Amaya
I genuinely love this place. It’s also the only non-pizza/burger restaurant my kids like to eat at.
24. Best Caribbean Restaurant: Peppa Pot
I believe this is run by one woman. Its hours are sporadic, offerings shift by the day, and it’s fucking delicious.
32. Best Barista: Peter Sapia (Café Sasso)
I don’t know this guy, but he’s the only finalist who doesn’t work at a pretentious coffee place.
34. Best Cheap Eats: Dogtown
I watched my mom wolf down a hot dog with bacon at this place. For $5. It’s awesome.
36. Best New Restaurant: ButaPub
They sponsored Andrés Neuman’s reading the other week AND are hosting our first annual celebration. Automatic win.
47. Best Salon: Fusion Salon
This used to be my hairdressery until my hairdresser branched out on her own. I still like this place and the people who work there.
48. Best Barbershop: Barbetorium
This is part of Fusion Salon. See above.
49. Best Sylist: Andrea Bonawitz (Parlour Hair Salon)
60. Best Regional Brewery: Three Heads
This is the best in the category, although I am personally very disappointed that they chose not to sponsor our celebration. Boo! Hiss! (And yet, I drink their beer every week.)
61. Best Regional Distillery: Black Button
I’m not sure this is true at all. Also, they won’t respond about sponsoring the celebration . . . But, coming up with forty places/people to endorse is damn difficult . . .
62. Best Farmer’s Market: Rochester Public Market
The only one I go to. Fuck the suburbs.
66. Best Geek-Friendly Business: Nox
Sad that my local comic book shop didn’t make it, but whatever, Nox is a new bar that is a self-proclaimed “book bar,” has a number of Open Letter titles on display, and hosts plüb on occasion. This is also where I play trivia on Sunday nights. NERD!
72. Best Local Historic Site: High Falls
The only on the list that’s natural and not created. I’m choosing it for that reason. The Mt. Hope Cemetery is a close second, but I’m turning forty on Saturday and can’t handle thoughts of death at this moment.
73. Best Local Eyesore: Downtown Rochester
I have questions about this. Is it the eyesore that’s actually the coolest? Of the most eyesore-y? So many questions! Just choose the largest area . . . like, all of downtown.
74. Best Local Library Branch: Rochester
Two massive buildings connected by an underground tunnel and complete with a hidden room. Win.
76. Best Neighborhood: Neighborhood of the Arts
Where I live!
79. Best Local Men’s Sports Team: Rochester Red Wings
This is the AAA affiliate of the Minnesota Twins. Kaija is from Minneapolis, and that’s where our distributor is based. Besides, isn’t a vote for a lacrosse team a vote for bro-splaining?
80. Best Local Women’s Sports Team: Western New York Flash
So, last year, this list came out and I had a massive Twitter breakdown, mostly because the Western New York Flash weren’t a finalist for “Best Local Sports Team.” Jake Clapp from City took it in stride, and assured me that they weren’t sexist, that they don’t influence the write-in voting process at all. Which didn’t make it better since the Flash have the only world-wide recognized athletes in Rochester, like, oh, I don’t know, Abby Fucking Wambach? Still blows my mind they don’t walk away with this award every year . . . Regardless, this year City split the category into two so that the travesty of having the men’s lacrosse team beat Abby can’t happen again. (And yes, I know the WNY Flash traded her away. For Sidney Leroux. Still better than every lacrosse player in the city.)
81. Best Local Recreational Sports League: Hot Shots Volleyball
Hot Shots is the largest indoor volleyball center in the country. (Or was.) That’s cool enough to start, but more importantly, I’m so over the “kids games for adults!” movement, so I want anything other than kickball to win. Anything.
83. Best Local Radio Personality: Evan Dawson
Actually, this should go to Ricky from Rochester, who frequently calls into Evan’s show, but whatever. Rochester apparently doesn’t appreciate the Hoobastank. (If you want to get this joke, listen to the two recent WXXI Connections shows that I was on. You won’t be disappointed.)
89. Best Local Facebook Account: Lollypop Farms
Who doesn’t like a business that posts animal photos?
90. Best Local Twitter Account: @akachela
She had some of the best Super Bowl tweets last year, and is consistently entertaining. Rachel Barnhart always wins this category, which is boring boring boring, so let’s shake things up.
94. Best Local News Story: Truck spills cabbages on I-490
103. Best Music Concert of 2015 (Club/Small Venue): St. Vincent @ Water Street
I was there with every other local hipster. It was great. She will win this category hands down.
104. Best Live Music Venue: Bug Jar
I’m torn on this one. But years ago, I saw El Ten Eleven and Gang Gang Dance play the Bug Jar and both concerts were amazing. The Bug Jar doesn’t book very many interesting bands anymore, but the space is great.
106: Best Local Author: Chad Post
One side-note: Frank De Blase writes for the paper running this competition. That seems unfair and a conflict of interest and I think he should withdraw his nomination. If he wins, I’m calling shenanigans. (I already have my concession speech planned out.)
107. Best Local Poet: Lytton Smith
I also love Jacob Rakovan, but Lytton is our translator, whereas Jacob just gets me drunk on fancy cocktails . . . Then again, Jacob will be pouring special “Fox Sister Cocktails” at our celebration.
108. Best Locally Written Book of 2015: Rochester Knockings by Hubert Haddad
How amazing would it be for Haddad to win? THAT AMAZING. And right after our celebration in honor of the book.
124. Best Local Movie Theater: The Little Theatre
They donated tickets for our upcoming silent auction. They get my endorsement.
129. Best Food and Drink Festival: Food Truck Rodeo
I like to overeat.
130. Best Local Drag Performer: DeeDee Dubois
I believe Naja Marie Aidt saw her perform after her reading last week . . .
131. Best New Bar/Club: Nox
Could put ButaPub in here as well—both are spectacular. But since I can walk to Nox and stumble home, I’ll go with that.
132. Best Bar for Beer: Tap and Mallet
They have an app listing all their current beers! Also, they sometimes hire bartenders who don’t pay attention to what size glass a particular beer is for. I’ve gotten several 16oz pints of 12% ABV beers that were supposed to be $6 per 10oz glass. I like that system.
133. Best Bar for Wine: Flight
The owner of Flight watched the USMNT in the World Cup with me last year and also made fun of the “I Believe That We Can Win” chant. She rules.
134. Best Bar for Craft Cocktails: The Daily Refresher
Remember Jacob Rakovan from up above? He mixes cocktails here and they are amazeeeing.
136. Best Neighborhood Bar: Dicky’s
Where we plüb on a regular basis because the drinks are cheap and they have sports and space. Love this bar.
138. Best Dance Club: Tilt
Where Naja Marie Aidt saw a drag show after her reading. This place is magical. Just ask K.E. Semmel or P.T. Smith, both of whom were taken way outside of their comfort zones.
And that does it! Forty places and people that I want to endorse for the “Best of Rochester.” Now go out and vote!Tweet
Over the past few weeks, our books have received a bunch of great reviews. Each time this happens, I plan on posting about it on the blog, then I start answering emails, or teaching a class, or doing some mundane publishing related task (sales reports! metadata!) and don’t get around to it. So, here’s a huge round-up with some quotes and links.
Once you see how amazing all of our books are, you’re going to want to buy them. You can do that at your local bookstore or favorite retailer, OR you can buy them directly from our website.
What I’d recommend doing is buying a subscription. That way you’ll never miss a book, and each one will be delivered directly to your door.
Here are some review highlights for our titles from recent times:
Lies, First Person is an extremely ambitious novel, which in the end does not lend itself to firm or lasting conclusions. Hareven has produced a work of dramatic and impressive contradictions. Between the two poles of questionable truth and falsehood, she examines such weighty issues as sin, guilt, forgiveness, Judaism, Christianity, motherhood, womanhood, violence, and especially the limitations and possibilities of art.
Dalya Bilu, a veteran translator of most of Israeli’s premier authors, renders Hareven’s Hebrew prose into clear and lucid English, helping the reader through the thicket of this dense, intriguing novel and aiding Hareven’s mission to convey both a grand scope of life and history while simultaneously presenting a small world of disquieting, individual claustrophobia. In the end, Hareven’s novel rises above the difficulties and problems of its characters and Elinor’s unreliable narration to capture the very strange and forgivable ways people confront and deny difficult experiences and memories.
Street of Thieves never calls for adjectives of that order (“involving” would be closer to the mark) though it still confirms Énard as the most brazenly lapel-grabbing French writer since Michel Houellebecq. Even on a quiet day, he has ideas and charisma to burn. [. . .]
The workings of orientalism – or whatever cross-cultural logic shapes European responses to North Africa – are exposed with clarity, even flair. A feeling for paradox crowds out the platitude, derived from Edward Said, whereby representatives of the developed west are only ever blundering and stupid.
GG: If we enter into that spatial matrix, I started from the “bottom up,” through the voice and through various scenes. The Boy and the Minotaur were there from the very beginning. Over the course of writing, somewhere near the middle, the idea of accumulation, lists, and collections grew stronger and became structurally defining. The quasi-classical narrative from the beginning had to disintegrate after the main character lost his ultra-empathy and began collecting and buying stories in some sort of pre-apocalyptic panic. Thus, from a certain moment onward the labyrinth gets the upper hand, the reader is forced into the labyrinth in place of the Minotaur himself. And as we know from Borges, the labyrinth can be located not only in space, but also in time.
[Quick note: This interview is truly amazing. And the answers are long, too long to run in full here. So go check it out, especially if you’ve read this novel.]
Having grown up in communist and post-communist Bulgaria (“life under communism was a long chain of secrets,” Gospodinov writes), under the threat of an atomic mushroom cloud, Gospodinov is all too attuned to his own mortality. A time-traveling empath, he uses story to call us to look beyond ourselves to what can root us and give our lives meaning in a world that can seem crushingly cold and cruel.
As compelling as the plot and Thomas’s psychology may be, the novel’s philosophical underpinnings and the universal themes which emerge from the conflicts are even more provocative. Underlying the entire novel are questions of who we are as human beings, how much our futures as individuals evolve from our own actions and choices, and how much damage can be inflicted upon us by others around us. Other events draw us in by mere chance, as we see in the random events which involve Thomas as he deals (or does not deal) with his own life and the people surrounding him. [. . .]
Filled with smart, crisp language; carefully described and introduced imagery; and occasionally lyrical passages, the novel owes much of its appeal in English to translator K. E. Semmel, who must have been challenged by the metaphysical aspects which parallel the narrative lines. With contrasting themes of life and death, love and hate, accident and design, strength and weakness, selfishness and altruism, and reality and invention, the novel offers much to ponder on many levels. Ultimately, one is even forced to consider the question of whether the existence of an alterego is real or a protective fiction created by a damaged ego.
GC: Can you give us a shortlist of recently released or forthcoming must-read authors who you are excited to see translated into English for the first time?
VM: ¡¡¡ALVARO ENRIGUE!!! His novel Sudden Death is one of the best pieces of writing I’ve experienced in a long time and it’s out from Riverhead in February 2016. Don’t miss it. I also absolutely adore the great Argentine writer Silvina Ocampo’s haunting short story collection from New York Review Books, Thus Were Their Faces, and Horacio Castellanos Moya’s story of alcohol-infused neurosis, The Dream of My Return. He’s a splendid writer, always unpredictable and his prose is absolutely incantatory. Also there’s Andrés Neuman, who has a glorious short story collection coming out from Open Letter in September, The Things We Don’t Do.
This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Tom Roberge from New Directions, Albertine Books, and the Three Percent Podcast. He’s not actually a BTBA judge, but since he’s helping run the whole process, he thought he’d weigh in and post as well. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
“Comparisons are odorous”
—Dogberry, Much Ado about Nothing
So it’s my turn. I’m not judging this year’s BTBA (my role at New Directions disqualifies me), but I’m helping with the process, doing my best to herd the cats and keep the trains running on time. (And mix metaphors, apparently.) But this doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions on certain books, so I’m taking the opportunity to express one such opinion on one of this year’s eligible titles: Anne Garréta’s Sphinx, translated by Emma Ramadan and published earlier this year by Deep Vellum. Other opinions about this mesmerizing book, should you care to read them, can be found, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. Among many other places. And an excerpt can be found on the Believer’s blog.
Booksellers are constantly being asked, by customers, for recommendations, and the default follow-up, if a customer offers no starting point of their own, is to ask what else they liked recently. This encourages, of course, comparisons, even if they aren’t made overtly. On our podcast I’ve repeated a quote one of the former publishers of New Directions (Griselda Ohannessian) was fond of repeating, presumably in response to our distributor’s request for “comp titles” to help them sell the books into stores: “Comparisons are odious.” I do, in theory at least, agree with this sentiment, if only because I subscribe to the belief that each work of art should stand on its own, should succeed or fail of its own accord, not on its “similarities” to anything else. But it’s impossible not to do it. It’s humans’ way of making sense of new experiences. Which brings me to Sphinx, and the book I’ve shelved it next to in my mind (not in reality; I believe I speak for the vast majority of booksellers when I say that books belong in alphabetical order, in clearly identified sections).
When discussing a book like Sphinx, for booksellers and others in the literary world, there’s a sort of compare-by-numbers process that invariably sets in. It’s inevitable (and often encouraged, by sales reps and customers alike), and I don’t exclude myself from this tendency. Garréta is French; she’s a Feminist; and she’s a member of Oulipo, so we all feel compelled to put her in the company of Monique Wittig, Simone de Beauvoir, Georges Perec, maybe even Virginie Despentes or Violette Leduc. And chances are that if you like books by those writers, you will enjoy Sphinx. But after reading the book in a crazed frenzy (pick it up—you’ll see what I mean), the first book that came to my mind was not by a French author, feminist, or member of Oulipo.
It was Queer, by William S. Burroughs. Written sometime in the early ’50s but put aside by the author himself (because he was bored with it) and his publisher (because of its content and the stricter obscenity laws of the times) until finally being published in 1985, it’s a story of pursuit. Whereas its companion novel—Junky—was about the pursuit of heroin and that kind of high, Queer is about the pursuit of carnal bliss, a very different but equally addictive kind of high. In Queer, we follow Lee, a stand-in for Burroughs, whose thoughts we see via third-person narration, to Mexico, where he meets and becomes increasingly obsessed with Allerton. The majority of the book revolves around Lee’s largely unrequited fixation on Allerton. Lee is often disparaging and morose, but his dogged pursuit grants him a few precious, if fleeting, moments of joy, even hope. Evocative of the argot of drug addiction, the style draws the reader into an enveloping cloud of apprehension and despair, offsetting it with instances of striking, haunting clarity.
Garréta’s unnamed narrator, a seminary student turned DJ, also becomes infatuated with someone, a dancer known as A***, early on in the course of the story. And yet to compare what then unfolds (and how, in terms of story-telling) in Sphinx to that in Queer is indeed an odious comparison. Like all of Burroughs’s writing, Queer is gritty and disheveled, the beauty found in the mess itself, in the enjambment of disparate and unflinching insights into the human condition. Sphinx, on the other hand, is more poetically beautiful, a breathtaking portrait of obsession and pursuit described with such pervasive lucidity, such self-awareness, such lyrical resonance, that the story often feels like a spectral presence.
Take, for example, these passages, in a short chapter devoted to the narrator’s description of A*** on stage in a night club, the Apocryphe:
Never until then had I longed to see A*** dance on stage. When A*** danced in the Apocryphe, I didn’t have to share the pleasure I took in watching: I was allowed to imagine that the dance was dedicated entirely to me, without the crowd being there to prove me wrong. Watching this body moving uninhibited, this body that wasn’t mine in any way, I reveled in the uniqueness and the exclusivity of my gaze.
[. . .]
When I entered the dressing room, I found A*** immobile as if in prayer or confession, legs bent, forearms fixed on a high barstool supporting A***’s entire body weight. Hands dangling, wrists slack, gaze abandoned and lost in the emptiness, then focusing on me as I entered and following me to where I sat down opposite. It was like the disdainful pose of the sphinx (or the image I had of it then), the same sharp aesthetic. I thought this to myself and, laughing, affectionately let slip, “my sphinx”—as if I had said “my love.” We remained face-to-face, our bodies as if petrified. A terror silted up in my throat; the desire I had felt welling up in me at the sight of those distant movements on the stage had been suspended. I could do nothing but adore. Those eyes, so black, fixed on me, subjected me to an unbearable torture.
This is raw, unfiltered adoration and lust, expressed in a style that is both poetic and quotidian, and as a result this is as affecting an account of a basic human experience as you’re going to find. The narrator’s interpretations and impressions of the world are both personal and universal, timeless and ephemeral. The composite insights, and their relationship to the affair and its presentaion, threaten to upend the reader’s entire concept of desire and love. This is why we read, right? Right.
Both are novels of pure, unadulterated, all-consuming obsession. A form of psychological addiction that infects the mind like a drug. A desire—a need—so unbounded and palpable that life before the object of desire is rendered meaningless, or at least preliminary, a trial run for the real thing. Inhabiting these narrators’ mind space is intoxicating, pure and simple. And I can’t think of a better reason to read, which is perhaps why, now, when recommending Sphinx to customers, I say, merely: “Trust me; it’s amazing.”Tweet
So after a month away, Chad and Tom are back, discussing the books they read over the summer and breaking down jacket copy for a number of recent books. They’re both astounded by how many meaningless phrases they come across (and references to how a book is “necessary”), and also talk about when and how to frame a particular author. Tom rants about how we’re reaching the bottom of the barrel in list-making, and Chad gives some love to the Iceland Men’s National Team.
Also, after some befuddling technical difficulties, the podcast is back up at iTunes, so please tell all your friends and family to subscribe and rate us. We’re determined to break into the top 200 of literary podcasts . . .
To listen to this podcast, either subscribe at the link above, or just copy this link to add our show’s feed to any podcast app: http://threepercent.libsyn.com/rss
And, as always, feel free to send any and all comments or questions to email@example.com.
Here’s the (hopefully) complete list of books and authors discussed on this week’s podcast:
Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas by Christian Kracht
Lovers on All Saints’ Day by Juan Gabriel Vasquez
Binocular Vision by Edith Pearlman
You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman
3 to Kill by Jean-Patrick Manchette
The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Definitely Maybe by Arkady and Boris Sturgatsky
Wind/Pinball by Haruki Murakami
So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood by Patrick Modiano
Ann Tenna by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
Oreo by Fran Ross
Submission by Michel Houellebecq
The Illogic of Kassel by Enrique Vila-Matas
Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
How’s the Pain? and A26 and The Front Seat Passenger by Pascal Garnier
Billy and Girl by Deborah Levy
Zipper Mouth by Laurie Weeks
Traitors to All by Giorgio Scerbanenco
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaître
Savage Seasons by Kettly Mars
And, finally, the intro/outro music today is Father John Misty’s song The Ideal Husband from his 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear.Tweet
Emily Goedde received an MFA in literary translation from the University of Iowa. She is now a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan.
Here’s the beginning of Emily’s review:
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 in expensive European hotels.
The woman is Therese Irxmayer, aka Lady Holly, an arms dealer with a sharp mind, a history and a great derriere. The novel’s genesis rests in her mysterious presence. Concession is a fantastic romantic-sexy-spy novel, but it is also a deeply considered psychological exploration of real-life events in colonial Shanghai. According to Xiao Bai, while he was in the early stages of researching the novel, he happened upon this line in the Shanghai Municipal Archives:
It was the White Russian Woman who first attracted Lieutenant Sarly’s attention.
For the rest of the review, go here.Tweet
This week’s Best Translated Book Award post is from Amanda Nelson, managing editor of Book Riot. For more information on the BTBA, “like” our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter. And check back here each week for a new post by one of the judges.
Jose Alberto Gutierrez is a garbage truck driver in Bogota. His route takes him through wealthy neighborhoods in the middle of the night, and if he spots a book in the trash as he’s doing his job, he saves it. His home is now full of over 20,000 volumes, all of which he lends out to the low income kids in his neighborhood. He’s known in Colombia as the “Lord of the Books” (if you’re going to be lord of something, that’s quite a nice thing, I’d say). Mr. Gutierrez is my people.
In fact, millions of people are my people: readers, whether casual or constant, lovers of the literary or genre (separations which are increasingly useless), English-speaking or not. Readers love to encounter one another out in the world, which easily explains the rise of bookish social networking like Goodreads and LibraryThing, BookTube, and the communities around book blogs. If we can’t find our kind in our families or circle of friends, we’ll find them online. But there’s a special pleasure in encountering another bibliophile in the place most fitting for them to dwell: a book.
When you read a book about books, it’s like luxuriating in the most comforting of comfort foods: these are feelings I know, these are smells I know, these are situations in which I’ve found myself. The book is knowable, the hero becomes obvious (it’s the character who loves books), characterization becomes almost unnecessary. The protagonist is a reader! I know her already.
Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude most is probably the closest thing to Jose Alberto Gutierrez’s story that you’ll find in fiction: a wastepaper processor saves books from being destroyed and fills his home with them, spending page after page meditating on the fleeting nature of ideas, the beauty of the book as a physical thing, and the limits of how many of those physical things we can take into our lives before the pressure becomes unbearable (in a literal sense if you, like Hanta, sleep with an actual ton of books hanging over your bed). Hanta is mostly a loner and a book hoarder who shares his saves with no one, while Mr. Gutierrez is evangelizing for his finds in his community. I recognize myself in the compulsions of both men, and I suspect most of us do.
Perhaps the most fun I’ve had reading a book about books is with the famous The Club Dumas by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, a globe-trotting adventure following the shenanigans of a shady antiquarian book dealer on a quest to authenticate an Inquisition-era book about the devil. There’s an Alexandre Dumas subplot, a woman who may or may not be a demon/Lucifer/fallen angel/whatever, book forgery, symbol analysis—if you’re looking for a Dan Brown novel with a literary bent, your search is over. Corso, our shady book dealer and protagonist, is odd in the genre of books-about-books because he doesn’t actually care about books. He’s a mercenary, in it for the coin, good at his job but not interested in fetishizing Books, capital B. I actually find him quite refreshing—I sometimes feel like even my own adoration for ink on dead, mashed-up tree fibers glued between pieces of cardboard can be a little tiresome.1
Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s The Rabbit Back Literature Society (which I read for BTBA 2016 consideration) also has elements of the supernatural, but without the Christian overtones. Think fairy tales, odd games, viruses that change the contents of library books, gnomes. The Devil doesn’t live in Rabbit Back, but that doesn’t take away from the ominous and slightly creepy undertones flowing through an otherwise charming and quirky book about a small town and its society of writers, headed up by a famous children’s author. As the society is inaugurating its tenth member, a local school teacher, the famous children’s author disappears during the middle of a party, eaten up (sort of) by a swirl of snow. Ella, the school teacher and newest member of the society, tries to piece together where their leader has gone, and she gets caught up in playing an odd and dangerous game with the other society members—a game that tries to explain where writers get their ideas. Are writers born imaginative and fanciful, or are they practicing a sort of vampirism, sucking ideas and stories out of the marrow of their family and friends’ real lives? Or maybe it’s both?
If you’re in the mood for a literary fanfare but aren’t in the mood to pick up a novel, give Mario Vargas Llosa’s 2010 Nobel Lecture “In Praise of Reading and Fiction” a once-over and find you’re not the only person who thinks “. . . living is worth the effort if only because without life we could not read or imagine stories.” Arm yourself against cynics who think you’re wasting your time reading fiction with lines like “But thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, to the desires and longings it inspires, and to our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables.” A Nobel laureate believes fiction makes us more humane. Who are we to argue?
1 If you’ve made it to 2015 without seeing this book’s adaptation, The Ninth Gate starring Johnny Depp, consider yourself blessed beyond measure. You’d think Johnny Depp playing a book dealer would equal instant success, but the movie is painfully bad.Tweet
So for the past few months I’ve been too busy to actually write the really long monthly translation previews that I’ve been doing for the past year or two. I really do like writing those though, and highlighting upcoming books, but what with school starting up again, our first ever gala looming on the horizon, and all the other writing I have to do (for a semi-secretive book project you’ll find out about in the next month or so), I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get back into the habit of writing those.
Which brings me to my new idea . . .
Instead of trying to come up with funny and interesting things to say about ten books every month (and which probably aren’t all the funny or interesting), instead I’m going to try and highlight three new and forthcoming titles every week and preface it with some sort of rant or whatever.
Since I’d rather just get to the books, my only “rant” for this week is about how stupid it is to start school before Labor Day. I’m sure some of you out there are still enjoying summer vacation—which is your god given right as an American—but my kids have been in school for two days and I taught my first class of the semester on Monday. Yes, Monday, when it was still August.
This is bullshit. It violates the cycle of life. The only standing significance of Labor Day is that it marks the end of summer. It’s an extended weekend where you’re allowed to reflect back on all the things you didn’t accomplish when it was warm out and get ready for football. After this weekend of lamentations and awareness that everything will die and that the snows aren’t that far off in the future, then you can go back to the classroom and try and learn things. It’s fundamentally impossible for a brain to retain new knowledge prior to Labor Day. I’m pretty certain that science will back me on that. And we wonder why our nation’s public school system is in shambles.
The Mountain and the Wall by Alisa Ganieva. Translated from the Russian by Carol Apollonio (Deep Vellum)
This book came out back in June, but has shot up my to-read list thanks to Masha Gessen’s The Brothers. Gessen’s book about the so-called Boston Bombers is most interesting when it gets into the investigation and the way Chechens, and all immigrants, are viewed and treated in this country, but the first thing that jumped out at me when I started listening to this was how the mother of the Tsarnaev brothers was from Dagestan. This is a place I’ve never been, never really even thought of, and never read about. (Although I really love the way the woman reading the audio version of The Brothers pronounces Makhachkala. Such a wonderful name for a city. Ma-katch-ka-la.)
But now, thanks to Deep Vellum (who’s getting all the love this week), there’s actually a novel available from a Dagestan author! According to the jacket copy, it’s the first novel in English ever from Dagestan, which seems completely true.
I know next to nothing about the complicated history and situation in the Caucasus republics of Russia, but given the strife, the various conflicts with Russia, the fact that most people living there are Muslims—it’s a part of the world that I’d like to learn more about. Starting with this novel that’s set into motion by a rumor that Russia is going to build a wall to block off Dagestan from the rest of the country. Seems like a great plot point from which to launch a series of interesting observations of life in contemporary Makhachkala.
Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. Translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (New Directions)
Home by Leila S. Chudori. Translated from the Indonesian by John H. McGlynn (Deep Vellum)
One oft-quoted cliché is that reading can take you to places and introduce you to peoples and cultures you’d otherwise not have access to. I generally don’t care much for this sort of sentiment—feels a bit like literary tourism—but with all the hype surrounding the two Eka Kurniawan books coming out this fall, I’ve become very curious about Indonesian literature. Also helps that in the past week I’ve received copies of both of these books, and that they both sound pretty damn good.
The shorthand description of Beauty Is a Wound is that it’s “Indonesian magical realism done right.” The opening lines have a sense of that: “One afternoon on a weekend in May, Dewi Ayu rose from her grave after being dead for twenty-one years. A shepherd boy, awakened from his nap under a frangipani tree, peed in his shorts and screamed, and his four sheep ran off haphazardly in between stones and wooden grave markers as if a tiger had been thrown into their midst.”
Verso is bringing out another of his novels this fall, which will likely help Kurniawan gain some traction here in the States. And maybe, just maybe, this attention will carry over to Home, which won the Khatulistiwa Award—Indonesia’s most prestigious prize (and the only one I’ve ever heard of!)—in 2012 and will be available in English translation this October.
Here’s the opening lines of her book, just to compare: “Night had fallen, without complaint, without pretext. Like a black net enclosing the city, ink from a monster squid spreading across Jakarta’s entire landscape—the color of my uncertain future.”
Both books focus on Indonesian history, including the anti-communist massacre in the mid-1960s and the overthrow of Suharto in 1998, which is another compelling reason to read these two titles in tandem.
It’s also interesting that New Directions refers to Kurniawan’s book as being “inspired by Melville and Gogol,” whereas Deep Vellum claims Home is “reminiscent of War & Peace.” So many classic authors!Tweet
The longlist for this year’s prix Goncourt was announced today, and includes the latest book by Open Letter author Mathias Énard. (We’re having someone read Boussole for us right now. Hopefully I’ll have more info about that in the near future.)
Here’s the complete list of finalists, which also includes Alain Mabanckou and Jean Hatzfeld. (I think those are the only two that I’m familiar with.) And just for fun, under each of the titles is a description from the publisher’s website via Google Translate. This never gets old. Enjoy! (I think that the translation of the description of Nicolas Fargues’s Au pays du p’tit broke Google.)
Christine Angot undertakes here to expose a more complex relationship between unconditional love for mother and resentment, depicting a love uncompromising social war and the course of this woman, destroyed by this original sin: the passion dedicated to man which will ultimately destroyed all the marks she had built.
A couple of thirty parties to circumnavigate the world. A deserted island, between Patagonia and Cape Horn. A perfect nature, wild, which turns into a nightmare. A man and a woman in love who
find themselves suddenly alone. Their new companions: penguins, sea lions, sea elephants and rats. How to fight against hunger and exhaustion? And if we survive, how to get back in men? A novel where you travel in conditions extreme, where we shudder for these two Robinson modern. A moving story.
When we speak of love in France, Racine always happens in conversation, at one time or another, especially when it comes to grief, abandonment. It does not cite Corneille, Racine is quoted.
Taking as a backdrop violent transformations of contemporary China, Speech tree on the fragility of men revisits the story of the earthen pot against the iron pot.
Thus unfolds a world of explorers arts and history, modern animated Orientalists of a pure desire to mixtures and discoveries that contemporary news comes slapping.
The hero and narrator of this novel is 44 and teaches sociology at the university. He has just published a violently anti-French essay (La France … His Ugh, her Chhht, its Rhôlâlââ … His is going to piss, his sleeping It Hits, It’s a Monday and goes like this … With its The glasses of his Jacques François and his goatees Cyril Lignac … The smell of feet of the municipal swimming pools and piss restroom cafés … His love lock, beautiful words and beautiful bastards).
In these families decimated, some grew up in silence and lies, faced spitting on the way to school, others were confronted with their parents’ behavior disorders, with a hoe on a barren plot from the adolescence.
In From California to Europe via North Africa, the paramount lead us into great turmoil of the 1920 Worlds collide, clash beings, wish to , chase each other, change. Writing alert and accurate Hédi Kaddour greenhouse closer these lives and these destinies.
One evening in the winter of 1979, somewhere in Paris, I met a woman of thirteen whose reputation was so “terrible”. Twenty-five years later, it inspired my first novel that I do not know nothing more than a photo of her aparazzi. Much later, it was she who found me at a turn in my life when I had lost my way. She’s the fairy world emerged from the back of the maze that saved and revived one last time the impulse to love. For it is called extraordinary Eva, this book is his praise.
Young orphan of Pointe-Noire, Little Pepper performs his schooling in an institution under the authority of abusive and corrupt Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako. Coming soon the socialist revolution, the cards are redistributed. The adventure begins.
This saga colors millennium sun said all of Egypt: the rise and fall of King Farouk, the last pharaoh, despot to the appearance of Prince Charming, loved his people and paralyzed neuroses.
Here the houses are worthless and people go, abandoning them altogether; the city is in tatters. We are in Detroit in 2008 and circulated a joke: the last which starts off light. Looks like it happened. It is in this city threatened bankruptcy Eugene, a young French engineer, arrives to supervise an automotive project.
The Abistan immense empire, named after the Prophet Abi, “delegate” of Yölah on earth. His system is based on amnesia and submission to one God.
Under the tender and mischievous pen of an expert in nostalgia, the history of their passionate love affair becomes that also , gentle and cruel, a generation – the children of the baby boom clueless.
Seduction, depression and betrayal are the three stages of this story that takes the reader behind the scenes of creation, where doubt appearances and pretenses behind a fearsome trap. Who is the master of the game?Tweet
Yesterday I posted a little summary on two great translators, so it’s only appropriate that today I post about three great pieces that have come out about three of my favorite presses over the past few days.
First up was this Vulture piece by Three Percent favorite Boris Kachka (BORIS!!) on Graywolf Press. There’s a lot of great things in this article about how the press has exploded over the past decade, going from a modest-sized nonprofit to one of the most notable and beloved presses in the country.
Graywolf has been winning for a while. Over the past few years, as publishing conglomerates merged, restructured, and grappled with Amazon, a midwestern press snuck in and found a genuinely new way forward for nonfiction. Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams entered the Times best-seller list at No. 11, while Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, a half-versified meditation on racism, stormed post-Ferguson America. Each has sold more than 60,000 copies, putting them in Graywolf’s all-time top five. Citizen just went back to press for a tenth time, putting it close to having 100,000 copies in print. That hardly puts Graywolf in league with Penguin Random House, but neither is it just a scrappy little press punching above its weight. It’s a scrappy little press that harnessed and to some extent generated a revolution in nonfiction, turning the previously unprepossessing genre of the “lyric essay” into a major cultural force. [. . .]
In 1999, McCrae won a $1 million grant by promising to take Graywolf to “yet another level.” A couple of years later, they raised another $1 million with a detailed capital plan: a grant for work in translation; a fund to increase author advances; a budget for travel to global book fairs; a New York city outpost; a “national council” of fund-raisers; and the Literary Nonfiction Prize that would launch Biss and Jamison. Just as important, Graywolf switched its distribution to prestigious Farrar, Straus and Giroux. “That signaled something,” says Jeff Shotts, Graywolf’s executive editor. “It put our books in the same conversation with Seamus Heaney.”
Graywolf reached its fund-raising goals, and just as McCrae was beginning to get impatient — “I remember thinking, Where’s the big hit?” — Graywolf’s initiatives came together to help create one: Per Petterson’s 2007 best-seller Out Stealing Horses. Acquired and promoted via Graywolf’s new global connections, listed beside giants in FSG’s catalogues, and hand-delivered on a visit to the New York Times, the Norwegian novel won the IMPAC Dublin award, scored a Times Book Review cover, and sold 70,000 copies in hardcover. Petterson has spurned corporate advances to remain with Graywolf ever since.
A million dollar grant! That’s one way to move up a level. (If any wealthy patrons are reading this, that’s exactly the sort of money Open Letter could use . . .)
Just down the road from Graywolf is Coffee House Press, another favorite of mine (EVERYONE SHOULD READ VALERIA LUISELLI), who was featured on Minnesota Public Radio yesterday:
“What we really do is connect readers and writers, and there’s a number of different ways we can do that. Publishing is a tool that we can use, but so are different kinds of programming,” said Chris Fishbach.
Coffee House, of course, still prints books. The small, independent press usually releases 18 titles in a year, including fiction, poetry and essays. But it has also started “putting writers in other contexts.”
Most people think of writers working alone at their desks, or speaking into a microphone at a reading, but Coffee House has created a residence program to put writers in new places, like libraries or even on a canoe.
Also, while we’re talking about fundraising, Coffee House is hosting a Housequake event on September 21st at the Fulton Tap Room in Minneapolis. And even if you can’t make it, you can buy an Unticket, which, for only $22.09 (weird fee rate) will get you “an exclusive chapbook of poems that you’ll be the first reader for—they’re all previously unpublished.” AND your money will go to support some of the best people in the nonprofit publishing world.
We haven’t done anything with #FerranteFever yet—although I have been talking about her rise to superstardom in my publishing class—but we probably will at some point. (I’m really behind on these books, having only read volume one.) In the meantime, you have to check out this article from the New York Times Style Magazine about Europa’s Objects of Desire:
Even if you haven’t heard of Europa Editions, you’ve probably heard of some of its hits. There’s Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog (more than a million copies sold); Jane Gardam’s Old Filth (now in its 20th printing); and Alexander Maksik’s You Deserve Nothing (so far, the biggest title by an American). Like any good branded product, the books have an instantly recognizable visual stamp: stiff paper covers edged with white borders that frame color-drenched matte backgrounds. According to Europa’s Australian-born editor in chief, Michael Reynolds, “When you see them all together, they draw you in like a bowl of candy.” [. . .]
But what really distinguishes Europa from other publishers of successful titles is that readers — and book buyers — see the house and its authors as equally relevant. Early in 2006, when Europa Editions had been in existence for less than a year, Toby Cox, the owner of Three Lives & Company bookstore in Manhattan’s West Village, noticed that customers were already coming in and asking “What’s new from Europa?” The press had succeeded in transforming spinach into chocolate — that is, in changing the idea of foreign fiction from “ ‘This is a translation’ to ‘This is a good story, well told,’ ” Cox says.
Of course, many eminent houses have published fine paperback fiction with éclat before Europa — notably, Penguin and Vintage — and Reynolds praises the “iconic imprints” New Directions, City Lights and Archipelago, which also specialize in writers from abroad. “I’m proud of the fact that we do work that is literary,” he says. “But I am even prouder of the fact we are doing works that are entertaining and pleasing.”
All three of these presses deserve praise like this on a regular basis. (Along with some others, such as New Directions, Archipelago, Deep Vellum, etc.) Congrats to all three! Now go out and read some of their books!Tweet
I mentioned a few Brooklyn Book Fair Events in my post about all forthcoming Open Letter events (which I just updated), but the full schedule went up yesterday and, damn. If I were going, and if these were all taking place at different times, here are the panels I would attend:
Twisted Fables. Fiction has come a long way from Aesop, but the influence of fables in literature remains. Three contemporary fabulists—Lincoln Michel (Upright Beasts), Amelia Gray (Gutshot), and Porochista Khakpour (The Last Illusion)—discuss the state of the modern fable, the place of the trickster and the anthropomorphized animal in contemporary writing, and whether modern fables and fairy tales have morals and lessons to convey today. Moderated by Rahawa Haile.
The Internet: The Great Equalizer? The conventional wisdom is that the digital revolution was a democratizing force, ushering in a new era of equal participation and information sharing. Has this truth obscured a more complicated reality? Jon Ronson (So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) looks at the overreach of virtual hordes, Astra Taylor (The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age) reveals the inequity and corporate exploitation behind the new landscape, and John Seabrook (The Song Machine), tech/culture reporter for the New Yorker, explores the possibilities and dangers of streaming services and other technologies revolutionizing music. Moderated by the host of WNYC’s “Note to Self” Manoush Zomorodi.
That Global 70s Show. For American audiences, familiar images of the shaggy-haired 1970s are often evoked in literature, movies, and television. How did that pivotal decade play out in other parts of the world, and how does it powerfully inform the works of Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel (The Body Where I Was Born), Chilean author Alejandro Zambra (My Documents), and Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov (The Physics of Sorrow) Moderated by Anderson Tepper.
The London Review of Books Presents: Fiction, Memoir, Criticism. Panelists Renata Adler, Elif Batuman, and Gary Indiana and moderator Christian Lorentzen will discuss the panelists’ writings in the modes of fiction, memoir, and criticism as well as current problems and possibilities in American journalism and literature.
Darkness and Light. After darkness there is light, then again darkness. 2015 Man Booker International Prize winner László Krasznahorkai (Seiobo There Below), Andrés Neuman (The Things We Don’t Do), and Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors) explore the unsettling cycles and silences of everyday life, moments that are felt but rarely articulated—allowing the reader to glimpse the transcendent in the ordinary with new intensity.
Translating Books for Youth presented by the PEN American Center. A discussion about the importance of bringing books from non-English speaking countries to young readers and some of the key issues faced in translating children’s and young adult books. Join children’s book publisher Claudia Zoe Bedrick, Publisher, Enchanted Lion Books; Julia Heim, translator, from Italian to English; Mara Lethem, translator, Spanish and Catalan to English; Lyn Miller-Lachmann, translator, Portuguese and Spanish to English and Alez Zucker, co-chair, PEN Translation Committee.
Subverting Tropes: Household Appliances, Talking Dogs, and Robinson Crusoe Novelists Naja Marie Aidt (Rock, Paper, Scissors), André Alexis (Fifteen Dogs) and Christian Kracht (Imperium) in conversation about their respective use of a mystery, a moral fable, and an adventure story to explore what happens when a son discovers his criminal father’s devastating secret in a broken toaster; dogs are given human consciousness and the power of speech; and a radical vegetarian and nudist anti-hero founds a South Seas colony dedicated to coconuts and sun. What do these clever subversions of tropes and genres have to teach us about ourselves? Moderated by Rivka Galchen.
Making a Novel from Life. All manner of fact and fiction are called upon under the term novel. Mitchell S. Jackson (The Residue Years), Sarah Gerard (Binary Star), and Valeria Luiselli (The Story of My Teeth) use personal experience and investigative research in their novels, each explorations of truth and myth-making. Moderated by Molly Rose Quinn, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe.
Binary Stars. A man preoccupied with P words and women, a comedy of errors narrated by a fascinated onlooker, someone whose job and life revolves around authors meets one of his idols. Daniel Alarcón (At Night We Walk in Circles), Anakana Schofield (Martin John), and Jonathan Galassi (Muse) create realities where their characters revolve around their fixations with other people. Join them as they discuss building conflict and complicated characters. Moderated by Camille Perri, Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Redrawing Boundaries. In the work of Eduardo Halfon (The Polish Boxer), Geoff Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi), and Francine Prose (Lovers at the Chameleon Club), there are outsiders trying to get in, insiders trying to get out, and all types of boundary making and breaking—from a salacious race car driver, to a jaded journalist, to a nomadic professor. Moderated by Ryan Chapman (Conversation Sparks).
Where Do We Go From Here? Income inequality together with gentrification and housing disparity is increasingly part of a critical national discussion. These issues face New Yorkers, but certainly don’t stop at the city limits. DW Gibson (The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification); Rosie Schaap (Drinking with Men); and playwright Dael Orlandersmith (Forever), Pulitzer Prize finalist and native of East Harlem, discuss whether gentrification is inevitable, the nature of the middle class today, and how race plays into these questions. Moderated by John Freeman, editor, A Tale of Two Cities: The Best and Worst of Times in Today’s New York.
The New Latin American Literature: A View from Within. A very special, freewheeling conversation among some of the leading lights of a new generation of Latin American writers—many of them both peers and friends—as they talk about how their work intersects, inspires, and speaks to each other across borders. Authors include Mexican writers Valeria Luiselli, Guadalupe Nettel, and Yuri Herrera; Chilean author Alejandro Zambra; and Argentine author Andrés Neuman. Moderated by Daniel Alarcón.
Community Bookstore presents: A Celebration of Elena Ferrante. The finale to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet arrives this fall with the publication of The Story of the Lost Child, marking an end to one of this decade’s most significant literary events. Join us for a panel discussion of Ferrante’s saga, featuring Europa publisher Michael Reynolds, translator Ann Goldstein, author Lauren Groff, and Guernica publisher Lisa Lucas.
Dark Friendships. ‘Frenemies’ is the popular phrase to convey a mild rivalry amongst friends, but what do you call it when something even deeper is going on? Join Steve Toltz (Quicksand), Sloane Crosley (The Clasp), and Alexandra Kleeman (You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine) as they discuss how their characters’ friendships morph, how allegiances change, and the sometimes hilarious and sometimes toxic results of being honest. Moderated by Steph Opitz, Marie Claire books reviewer.
And that’s not everything . . . There are a ton of events I could’ve mentioned here (but I have other things to work on). Check out the full list here.Tweet
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. . .