3 June 08 | Chad W. Post

I would title this post “Day Two,” but many, many days have passed since my last entry (who would’ve though Three Percent could be so quiet for so long?) and I’m not sure I can separate what I want to write about into specific days . . . Now that I’m back in Rochester, and my voice is slowly but surely returning (to be honest, I was starting to get a bit scared. I’ve lost my voice for a day before, but this was a full-on 48-hour affair of muted incomprehensibility—yikes) there are a number of things about BEA worth recapping. I’ll try and keep this as organized as possible although my thoughts are kind of all over the place so I’ll probably just end this post when it gets to be too long . . .

First off, the main point of BEA—aside from networking and the “spiritual rejuvenation” (for lack of a better term)—is the books. And as has been the case with most recent BEAs, there didn’t seem to be any single “Big Book” garnering all the attention. (Apparently, this used to always be the case, since every year someone is quoted as saying that “there’s no Big Book this year” and how this lack creates “more book diversity” and is “great for readers.” Last year the Junot Diaz and Denis Johnson books were all the rage.)

There were some really interesting titles that I picked up though that I’m excited about. Two of them— Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya and Close to Jedenew by Kevin Vennemann (and translated by Ross Benjamin, whose name I reversed in an earlier post—sorry—because, well, I’m an idiot)—were titles we were already planning on reviewing.

It’s strange—physically, these two books have a lot in common: both about 140 pages, very few paragraph breaks, and great beginnings.

From Senselessness:

I am not complete in the mind, said the sentence I highlighted with the yellow marker and even copied into my personal notebook, because this wasn’t just any old sentence, much less some wisecrack, not by any means, but rather the sentence that astonished me more than any other sentence I read that first day on the job, the sentence that most dumbfounded me during my first incursion into those one thousand one hundred almost single-spaced printed pages placed on what would be my desk by my friend Erick so I could get some idea of the task that awaited me.

From Close to Jedenew:

We do not breathe. The place is close to Jedenew, we hear the Jedenew farmers singing, bawling, playing clarinet, accordion, we hear their songs for hours already, old partisan songs, they play and sing and bawl in a strangely melodious fashion.

Kevin Vennemann is currently at the Villa Aurora, so he was able to be at BEA to sign copies of his book. (I believe he ended up signing 80—a pretty healthy number for a work in translation . . . ) He’s a really cool guy who made all the girls swoon, and gave me some promising recommendations of German writers. Very funny and very interesting guy, and I’m really looking forward to reading his book.

I also ran into David Kipen from NEA’s Big Read at the Fondo de Cultura Economica stand and he gave me a copy of Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories, which is part of the international component of the Big Read. (More on this in a later post.) This is an impressive anthology that includes some familiar names, such as Carlos Fuentes and Octavio Paz, a number of classic writers that aren’t household names, like Salvador Elizondo, Juan Rulfo, Jorge Ibarguengoitia, and Sergio Pitol, and a lot of authors I’m not familiar with. With the Dalkey Archive Mexican Anthology (also a NEA project) coming out this fall, this is a great year for Mexican literature.

Finally, I’d also like to wholeheartedly recommend Ed Park’s Personal Days. This came out a couple weeks ago and has been getting a fair amount of attention. It’s a really funny, engaging book that I’m almost finished with. (I read more than half of it stumbling in a daze through LAX.) The style reminds me of DeLillo and maybe some of those early Douglas Coupland books (like Generation X, Microserfs and Life After God). The novel is written in three distinct parts (I’m just into the third, which is a brilliant, periodless, meandering letter), starting out very funny and light and perceptive, and becoming increasingly dark and satirical. Ed’s one of the founding editors of The Believer and former editor of the Voice Literary Supplement (the buyout of which may be the basis for some of this book). He also does the New-York Ghost.

OK, next post—more about the parties and dinners and all that fun, glitzy stuff. And then a bit more about cool ideas, the future of bookselling, and IndieBound.


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