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.)
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
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. . .