The journal Anomalous has published an all-Oulipo issue. While not members of the Oulipo, the contributors have used constraint to shape their contributions to the issue. Here are the rules:
10 cards chosen at random each correspond to a word, use them in the order they were drawn, connect them by whatever means necessary. Our authors unmoored their lonely boats and sailed off into possibility, Sharpie-ing out Wikipedia pages, purchasing desk plants to increase productivity, drinking bottles of water to stay hydrated as they added constraint after constraint to their sweaty barbells. So settle into your nest of scraps and find some additional insulation; your prayers have been answered. The five-alarm fire next door is the most brilliant shade of orange you’ve ever seen.
A head’s-up about the forthcoming release of Time Ages in a Hurry by Antonio Tabucchi (currently April 14, 2015). There are reviews at Kirkus and Publishers Weekly and an excerpt at Guernica.
I feel like Tabucchi could stand to have more coverage in English. As the Complete Review shows, his books have been translated for some time, and lately there has been new energy around him, as a lot of his titles have been re-issued or re-translated in the past years, and will continue to be appearing down the line. While he has gotten some hits in larger-scale venues, he hasn’t really gotten a lot of love in the prestige periodicals in the U.S. (notably, though, both the LRB and the TLS have covered him recently).
Wow, everything about this review of Silvina Ocampo’s Thus Were Their Faces just makes me want to cry. And I do mean everything, from the beyond clichéd title to pretty much everything the critic tries to say about this book.
There are various circles of hell for bad critics. There’s the “criticized this lasagne for not being a chicken sandwich,” when a critic takes a book to task for not doing something it never wanted to do. There’s the “talks about him/herself instead of the book.” And then there’s what I think is the greatest sin of all, which is making a book you loved sound difficult and boring and just plain loathsome.
Critics have a responsibility, which is to be able to communicate what you love about a book, in non-clichéd terms that serve the author and that inspire the reader to connect with a work of art that you love. In everything a critic writes, you should always be striving to do this. And if you can’t—or won’t—get out of the way and let somebody else do that job.
What happens in this review is pretty much the opposite of what should happen. The first three paragraphs are solely about the critic telling you how difficult it is to articulate why he likes Thus Were Their Faces. Okay, I know that some books are easier to discuss than others. And it is true—Silvina Ocampo (like most great writers) frustrates easy summation. But your job as a critic is to find that language—not spend 3 self-obsessed paragraphs explaining why you can’t find the language. Anyone who doesn’t already know who Silvina is has stopped reading by this point.
Things gets worse. The critic brings out just about every possible “difficult literature” trope to make this book sound way over the head of just about everybody. Moreover, a lot of this review sounds like a first draft, like the entire paragraph where he likens reading Silvina to falling in love, or when he explains how her stories “trouble the binary between fantasy and reality.” Couldn’t you say the same for just about everything written by Silvina and her circle in Buenos Aires? Shouldn’t you make the effort to go deeper into this writer’s prose so that you can do justice to this artistry that you profess to love?
The really sad thing about this review is that the critic actually really, really likes this book, and this seems to be his best effort at getting other people to read it. This is sad. It’s moments such as these when you have to ask yourself exactly what you’re doing here and whether or not you’re really fit for the job at hand. Because I honestly can’t imagine anyone who didn’t already like Silvina reading this review and actually wanting to read this book.
In fairness, I will add that this critic has written nicely about other books previously at the same paper. Which is good, but there’s no excuse for phoning in something like this.
Incidentally, I happened to find this review because I’m writing my own piece on Thus Were Their Faces. Keep an eye out for that one down the line. For those of you who do need to be persuaded to experience this remarkable author, I hope to provide you with those reasons.
Ever since its first publication in 1934, Miklós Szentkuthy’s Prae has continued to baffle generations of critics and readers alike. Regarded as a seminal work by some, dismissed as a pretentious monstrosity by others, Prae, Szentkuthy’s first work, was published when the Hungarian author was merely twenty-six years old. To date, the book has never been translated in its entirety into any language, though excerpts appeared in French and Serbo-Croatian in the 1970s, and sections had been . . . continue reading, and add your comments
The Dream of My Return by Horacio Castellanos Moya publishes today.
After a quick browse through this, the latest of Horacio Castellanos Moya novels, I’m thinking this might be the best Moya novel to hit the English language since Senselessness. I’ve been a fan of some of the Moyas to appear in the wake of Senselessness, but none of them has really had quite the power and cohesion of that book. This one might be it.
In addition to being Moya’s latest novel in English, it is his latest novel, period, and . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I’ve been working my way through Elena Ferrante’s three translated Neapolitan novels for an interview with editor Michael Reynolds and translator Ann Goldstein, and some things are beginning to crystallize in my mind.
I think one of the things that makes these books fascinating is how Ferrante is able to make her narrator, Lenú, into a sort of Levi Strauss-ian anthropologist of her world; namely, Italy’s South during the ’50s and ’60s. No doubt that much of the success of these books also rests in the fact that this world is one that has been the source . . . continue reading, and add your comments
A few things of mine that have run lately.
1. An interview with Jeremy Davies, author of the new novel Fancy and editor with Dalkey Archive Press.
2. An audio interview with Karen Emmerich on Greek literature and her experiences translating it.
3. The Greatest Unreliable Narrator Ever?
4. The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology
I love the classics, so it’s fantastic to see NYRB releasing a new translation of Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, translated and with an introduction by Joel Agee.
Pretty fantastic stuff:
Prometheus Bound is the starkest and strangest of the classic Greek tragedies, a play in which god and man are presented as radically, irreconcilably at odds. It begins with the shock of hammer blows as the Titan Prometheus is shackled to a rock in the Caucasus. This is his punishment for giving the gift of fire to humankind and for thwarting Zeus’s decision to exterminate the human . . . continue reading, and add your comments
I wanted to throw a little attention toward Adventures In Immediate Irreality by Max Blecher. I haven’t had time to read this book yet, but I’m going to. It has a lot going for it—first of all, Daniel Medin speaks highly of it, which is a high endorsement. Secondly, it is the final book to be translated by the late Michael Henry Heim, which makes it very much of note.
And check out this biography:
Max Blecher’s father was a successful Jewish merchant and the owner of a porcelain shop. Blecher attended primary and secondary school . . . continue reading, and add your comments
The first Sebald that I read was The Rings of Saturn. This was in the spring of 2006.
Back then I didn’t like writing in my books, so I used these sticky colored tape things to mark passages I found interesting.
After that was On the Natural History of Destruction. There was no real reason I read this one next—I just happened to find it used at Moe’s Books, and I took it to Mexico with me.
I read it . . . continue reading, and add your comments