Yearly Archives: 2009

Away for New Year’s

See you all in 2010.


This should keep you busy till at least 2011.

Pim & Francie Review at The Quarterly Conversation

Pim & Francie, one of the strangest books we’ve reviewed in a while, courtesy of Scott Bryan Wilson. Here’s a taste of the review:

Adding to the confusion are sequences that seem like they’re from something longer but are taken out of that context and stuck in the middle of the book. For instance, Pim and Francie, having dismembered some sort of animal (i.e., taken off his arms, legs, and penis), tease him that they’ll let him go on one condition, but we never see any event preceding this two-page sequence, nor anything after it. Additionally, these pages are zoomed in on so that some of the art and word balloons are cut off at the margins, denying us even more understanding. The entire book is fractured in this way, so that pages that seem from a sketchbook are next to pages that appear to have been ripped up and thrown away, only to be taken out of the trash and taped back together, though never finished. Many pages appear to be stained with coffee or tea.

Tests of Time

Ron Silliman:

Some poets have chosen to embrace the new with everything from flarf to technology-based visual poetries. Others have decided that the “timeless” values of tradition will outlast even this. They recall and sometimes reiterate the archaeologist’s maxim that ultimately hard copy is truth. If you can’t dig it up in 5,000 years, did it ever exist? Ian Hamilton Finlay, with his stone-carved minimal texts, may outlast us all.

El fondo del cielo Review

Moleskine Literario posts a review of El fondo del cielo by Rodrigo Fresan. Cielo, you might recall, was Enrique Vila-Matas’ recommendation from The Quarterly Conversation’s Translate This Book! roundtable.

It does sound interesting:

Entre la imposibilidad de verse a uno mismo fuera del Universo, y la necesidad imperiosa de ver un planeta distinto al nuestro, se forma esta novela que según el autor “quizá no sea la novela de amor más grande pero sí –seguro- la más larga” pues alcanza desde el estallido del Big Bang hasta el final de la Era de Las Cosas Extrañas, dentro de 7.590 millones de años.

And then there’s this:

De manera voluntaria, Fresán ha querido hacer una novela de, con y sobre la ciencia ficción, donde diferentes dimensiones temporales y espaciales existen paralelo. Evadir esa complejidad sería darle la espalda al logro mayor del libro, como es el conseguir que todas esas dimensiones tengan sentido y se engarcen con precisión en el argumento. Sin embargo, me permito desmontar la novela en dos bloques distintos solo para poder reseñarla y admirarla. Como si fueran dos versiones de la misma novela, o dos novelas enlazadas que luego, al terminar de leerlas, formarán una sola obra espléndida sobre personajes que no pertenecen a ningún mundo escrita, al mismo tiempo, por Kurt Vonnegut, por un lado, y John Cheever por otro.

Forthcoming Titles from Open Letter

Chad unveils Open Letter’s titles for summer 2010.

Some excellent stuff here. I very enthusiastically reviewed Quim Monzo’s The Enormity of the Tragedy for the Philly Inquirer two years ago, so I’m thrilled to see Open Letter will be bringing out his novel Gasoline.

Also on the list is A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch, which we excerpted and discussed at The Quarterly Conversation. And I’m thrilled to see The Private Lives of Trees by Alejandro Zambra since we very much liked his novella Bonsai (am I noting a tree theme here?) in TQC.


I've been on a bit of a Stoner crusade since I read this book back in October. It really is that good, and given that it was out of print for a good 30 years until NYRB published their edition in 2006, I figured it must be fairly overlooked.

Well, looks like it may not be quite as overlooked as I thought. In addition to my own appreciation for it at The Millions' Year in Reading, we find two other partisans. Edan Lepucki:

Stoner by John Williams is not about a dude who smokes blunts all day. It’s about a man named William Stoner, and the book tells his life story in a mere 278 pages. The prose is unadorned and crisp, and it captures the true essence of its protagonist, a man who grew up on a farm, and then studied, and went onto teach, English literature at the University of Missouri. In other words, a person who isn’t particularly noteworthy in the broader scheme of things. This is a heartbreaking and beautiful novel, one of the best I have ever read, or will have the privilege to read, in my life.

And Patrick Brown:

Stoner, by John Williams, is not only the best novel I read this year, but it’s among the best I’ve ever read. It is also, I think, the sort of book that people aren’t writing right now. It’s a life, from the moment when its protagonist Bill Stoner really comes alive in a sophomore English class at the University of Missouri through his career as a professor of English there. About halfway through the novel is one of the best scenes I’ve ever encountered in a book. I don’t want to describe it too much here, as discovering it is one of the pleasures of the book, but I think they should teach it in writing classes everywhere, as it really is a perfect scene. In fact, Stoner is a perfect novel.

So one more time, with feeling: read Stoner! And feel free to join me in 2010 for Butcher's Crossing.

Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer

For a while now I’ve cast a curious eye at my galley of Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer. There’s the obligatory Kafka reference on the back copy, there’s the rave from Thomas Mann, it’s from Archipelago books (always a positive sign), and the title just sounds interesting. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I have a mile-long stack of books compared to classic authors, praised by titans, put out by great publishers, and screaming for my attention. So, in other words, I haven’t really had that last push to take it down from the shelf.

Well, it might have just come. Michael Orthofer calls this book a classic:

A longtime Weiss fan — and great admirer of this book — I’ve long been touting this as one of the great untranslated German novels of the twentieth century — and now it’s finally here!

And he points to Joshua Cohen’s enthusiastic review:

George Letham, Physician and Murderer is only the fourth book of Weiss’ to be published in English (The Eyewitness, The Aristocrat, and Franziska preceded it), but it is the longest and most characteristic. Its 500 pages tell the story of a man who, in order to end his unhappy marriage and so to immerse himself in research, injects his older, wealthier, well-insured wife with a lethal poison known as Agent Y, then proceeds to botch a cover-up: The man leaves the syringe at the crime scene, and he immediately rushes off to confess to his father, a powerful official in municipal bureaucracy. (It sometimes seems as if all fathers in Austro-Hungarian fiction are “powerful officials in municipal bureaucracies.”) Letham, after being underserved by an inept lawyer, is sentenced to a tropical penal colony ravaged by Yellow Fever, known in the book as Y.F. (Joel Rotenberg’s translation is occasionally disappointingly faithful.) There, as prisoner, he finds the professional purpose that was unavailable to him in civilian life, as he begins to search for the origins of the epidemic. Formerly an isolated technician, in the colony he’s forced to interact with patients, especially with a young beautiful Portuguese girl—in addition to convicted murderers, rapists, thieves and, what’s worse, benign homosexuals such as his cellmate, March. (Georg Letham is notable among period novels for being entirely uneuphemistic in its treatment of homosexuality.)


So, what'd you get today, and what'd you give to your book-loving friends?

Books to Read in 2010

Apropos of my Books to Watch for in 2010 post from last week, I’ve been receiving further suggestions (and finding more of my own picks). So I’ve updated the original list and will keep updating it as more suggestions roll in.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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