Recent reviews of two different books that I am going to buy from my local independent bookstore, McNally Jackson:
Karen Russell‘s new short story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. There’s one story in particular, “The New Veterans,” that sounds extraordinary – In her review, Kakutani describes a haunted Iraq war vet’s elaborate tattoo, “as detailed as a Dutch master’s painting”, of the day his comrade was killed – a tattoo that the masseuse treating him for back pain finds she can manipulate – moving the sun from one spot to another, or erasing an explosion. Kakutani says, “Karen Russell’s fiction belong to that wondrous world of fable that first captivated us as children and that still retains a magnetic hold over many of our imaginations.” I’m in.
Christa Wolf‘s posthumous novel, City of Angels, Or The Overcoat of Dr. Freud. I’m always fascinated by stories about good people who do bad things, and here Christa Wolf, one of the former East Germany’s best-known writers, attempts to come to terms with her own actions and her memory of working as a Stasi informer. As David Ulin points out in his excellent and concise review, the book is labeled a novel, but it is more “a public act of self-reflection, intensely autobiographical and vividly imagined at once.” That she sets the book during her year living in Los Angeles adds, I would guess, a fish-out-of-water, surreal tinge. Ulin says, “For Wolf, memory is like a dream half recollected, the residue not just of another time, another moment, but also of another life.” This one goes to the top of the To Be Read stack.
My dear, and extraordinary, friend Tessa Souter discusses her new album, Beyond the Blue, on BBC 3 Radio. Listen to her here. (her bit starts at the 18.55 mark)
If you get a chance to see Tessa perform, you gotta. She’ll be in London and Geneva next, and then back to NYC at Dizzy’s at the Time Warner Center.
Here’s a link to video of Tessa singing, including “Beyond the Blue” from the new album, and Usha’s Wedding, which she sang at my wedding. (There wasn’t a dry eye in the house – it was fantastic!)
My friend Nick has a new collection of poetry, Go Giants – just released by Faber & Faber in the UK. I haven’t read it yet, but The Guardian gave it a rave review last week and says this collection is “easily his most accomplished to date.” That bar was already high. I’m thinking of one of Nick’s poems from his debut collection, To A Fault, that I love especially. It’s about insomnia and, as he says, “the leaps the mind makes when you can’t get to sleep.”
You can hear him read it at this link.
The Evening Forecast for The Region by Nick Laird.
The weatherman for Boston ponders whether, I’d bet not,
the snowstorm coming north will come to town tonight.
I swim around in bed. My head’s attempting to begin
its routine shift down through the old transmission
to let me make the slope and slip the gearstick into neutral at the crown
before freewheeling down the ocean road descent into the ghost town,
there, the coastal one, with a stone pier bare as skin, familiar
seafront houses hunched and boarded-over for the winter,
and beside the tattered nets a rowing boat lies upturned on the beach.
Aside from a mongrel, inside, asleep at someone’s slippered feet,
everything faces the sea. But the plumbing’s sighs are almost human.
Airlocks collect and slide from duct to duct so the radiators whine.
The hiding places grow further hidden. A priesthole’s given over
to a spider’s architecture. A well tries on a grassy manhole cover,
threaded, dangerous as fingers. An ivied sycamore in the forest at Drum Manor,
resonant and upright and empty as an organ pipe, where for a panicked hour
a boy will not be found. I arch one foot to scratch the other.
I would shed myself to segue into sleep. I would enter
but the opening is of a new off-Broadway Hamlet. The gulf is war.
This hiatus, my father’s hernia. The cleft’s a treble on the score
of Scott Joplin’s Entertainer. This respite is a care home,
the recess a playground. This division I slither into is a complicated sum:
thirteen over seven. I give in. I turn the television on.
The weatherman for Boston is discussing how, Thank Heaven,
the snowstorm missed, and turned, and headed out to sea.
Is it particularly human, this, to lie awake? To touch the papery
encircling bark but watch through a knot, and wait?
Everyone on earth is sleeping. I am the keel-scrape
beneath their tidal breathing which is shifting down through tempo
to the waveform of the sea. The gathered even draw and lift of air.
Further east a blizzard of homogenous decisions breathes above
the folding and unfolding pane and counterpane of waves
as if the white so loves the world it tries to make a map of it,
exact and blank to start again, but the sea will not stay under it.
The ricepaper wafers are melting. Millions of babynails cling
to the wind lifting hoarsely off the Atlantic. The whole thing
is mesmeric. For hours the snow will fall like rhythm.
NPR recently re-aired Rosecrans Baldwin‘s “My Guilty Pleasure” – a great segment on All Things Considered. Mr. Baldwin was recommending The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec: Pterror over Paris and the Eiffel Tower Demon – the first in a series of graphic novels by legendary French comics artist Jacques Tardi. The series came out in France in 1976, but has received a fresh new English translation from Fantagraphics Books.
The plot of the first volume is absolutely nuts: Paris at the turn of the Century is being attacked by a revived pterodactyl and the only one who can save the city is a cynical popular novelist: Adele Blanc-Sec. Think of her as a sort of Belle Epoque Lara Croft. The story pinballs from hard-boiled thriller to murder mystery to science fiction — complete with mad scientists, bumbling policemen and disloyal henchmen — and Adele rolling her eyes and shooting at bad guys throughout. It’s completely wonderful and hilarious and I’m still not sure I know exactly what happened. But the main attraction is the stunningly gorgeous artwork – intensely detailed, beautifully atmospheric. As Mr. Baldwin says “The sublime value … is exploring Tardi’s re-creation of Paris at the turn of the 20th century. We see, for example, the orientalism craze that occupied the city before World War I. Or we trip down the stairs of a secret cult’s hideout that has been constructed underneath the Pont-Neuf. This is Paris not only as it existed, but as it might have — the real and the imagined vigorously combined.”
Fantagraphics says they are planning to bring out all ten volumes in the series. After gulping down the first two, I can’t wait.
By the way, the trailer for Luc Besson’s film is here. It was released in France in 2010, but as far as I can find, there is no date set for a US release. Pourquois pas?
A month or so ago, Ed Champion made this excellent short doc about Gary Shteyngart’s proclivity for giving blurbs. It features a ton of great writers including John Wray, Karen Russell, Arthur Phillips, Ed White, Miss A.M. Homes, (who is filmed trying to bribe squirrels with money in Central Park because why not), Molly Ringwald, (my client), who taped her part in artist Will Ryman‘s gorgeous loft, and ends with The Great Man himself. Vive Shteyngart!
The Browser asked Alain de Botton to recommend his favorite essay collections and I was happy to see him make the case for Geoff Dyer‘s Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It – I was the publicist at Pantheon when this brilliant book came out over a decade ago, and remember trying to convince booksellers that the book didn’t really belong in the “Yoga” or “Self Help” section…but where to shelve it? The only possible place is the “Geoff Dyer” section – which every bookstore should have.
Alain’s list is here.
Sonia Sotomayor on 60 Minutes last weekend was a perfect author TV interview – the segment gives just enough of an idea of what Justice Sotomayor’s book is about, a hint of her personality and a couple newsworthy sound bites (“tough bitch”?! What?!) This segment leaves me wanting to know more about her and makes me want to buy her book – I love it.
One of my favorite publishers (to work with and to read), Europa Editions, will be publishing a new series of critically acclaimed crime novels from around the world: Europa World Noir starts in Naples 1931 with Maurizio De Giovanni’s I Will Have Vengeance. All I know is I want every single one of these books.