Category Archives: bea

BEA Books Part II

Last week I told you about the first half of books I brought home from BEA. Now we do the second.

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I absolutely must start off with Nine by Polish author Andrzej Stasiuk. This book actually isn’t a new book–it was published last year in English by Harcourt. The way I got my copy was that the Polish government had sent an emissary to BEA to try and create interest in publishing more Polish titles in English. She had a booth that, to be painfully honest, was not lighting BEA on fire, but she had to be the most refreshing person I spoke to the entire time I was at BEA. That is to say, BEA was not nearly as bad as I had feared in terms of commercializing culture, but it was sufficiently so that talking to this woman was a breath of fresh air. Not that she didn’t have an agenda, or wasn’t canny about carrying it out; just that, she was distinct from everyone else. In a good way.

Anyway, Nine. The Polish booth actually didn’t have any samples to hand out (although they had a very nice catalog of the 35 Polish titles the government most wanted translated into English). The way I got my copy of Nine was that, somehow, the copy the Polish government had meant to display in their booth was disfigured during the trip to the U.S. (No word on how this happened.) The book is completely warped, which is hard to do to a hardcover, although it’s not water-damaged. The spine is torn a bit and the cover is not what you would hope for. But, the book is completely readable.

According to the woman at the Polish booth, Andrzej Stasiuk, Nine’s author, is the most important Polish author at work today. The book is about the post-communist generation in Poland, and it deals with the youth, drugs, and, apparently, multiple hallucinatory trips around Warsaw. Stasiuk is famous as a textual innovator who frequently uses stream-of-consciousness. I’m interested.

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While at Coffee House Press’s booth I picked up a copy of the only non-poetry title in their Fall list, Famous Suicides of the Japanese Empire (David Mura, September). Mura is best-known as a poet, and this is his first novel, although he has previously written prose about the Japanese experience. The story deals with a Japanese-American coming of age in Chicago. For more about the author, see this interview with him.

Although New Directions wasn’t handing out copies, they were very excited about publishing the first volume of Roberto Bolano’s poetry in English (November, trans. Laura Healy). They are also publishing another book from the prolific Cesar Aira, albeit in February 2009.

Unfortunates

While at ND’s booth, I managed to get my hands on a copy of B.S. Johnson’s novel in pieces, The Unfortuantes (available, see my previous blog post). This is a great-looking book, and it’s impressive that ND has done such a nice job with it given that no publisher would publish this book the way Johnson originally wanted. I was told that they did a pretty small run, but nonetheless I’m amazed they did one at all.

NYRB Classics is publishing a very interesting, largish book titled Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (July, George R. Stewart). The book delivers pretty much what the title promises–explanations behind place-names throughout the United States. I’m quite eager to check this one out, although I’m somewhat chastened by the fact that Stewart is also the author of the famous (or infamous) post-apocalyptic sci-fi "classic," Earth Abides.

NYRB was also promoting Stefan Zweig’s final novel, The Post-Office Girl, as part of the Reading the World program (available, trans. Joel Rotenberg). For a good take on this book, see William Deresiewicz in The Nation:

But nowhere else in his fiction does Zweig confront the legacy of the
Great War with as deep a social reach or as detailed a human sympathy as
he does in The Post-Office Girl. Zweig completed only one novel,
Beware of Pity; The Post-Office Girl was found among his
literary remains and published in Germany (as Rausch der
Verwandlung
, "The Intoxication of Transformation") only in 1982. Its
appearance in English caps a recent spate of republication. Since 2002,
Pushkin Press has issued six volumes of fiction, while New York Review
Books has published three, all nine of them in attractive editions and
many in new, competent translations. Other presses have contributed
fresh versions of The World of Yesterday, Marie Antoinette,
Zweig’s most popular biography, and another volume of short stories. We
have three recent translations of "Chess Story" and two editions of
Beware of Pity from which to choose, as well as new versions of
some fourteen other tales.

Still, posthumous publication is a dicey business. There’s been more and
more of it lately, for obvious reasons. Venerated authors represent
established "brands" guaranteed to move product, one of the few sure
bets in an increasingly anxious business. Artistic integrity and the
writer’s wishes don’t enter into it. Ernest Hemingway and Elizabeth
Bishop, celebrated perfectionists both, are only two of the authors
lately subjected to the publication of material they had chosen to
suppress. New York Review Books, established in 1999 to revive neglected
classics, is presumably acting on nobler motives here, but there is
reason to question its judgment nevertheless. Zweig nibbled at The
Post-Office Girl
for years. The NYRB press material claims that the
novel was found completed after its author’s death, "awaiting only minor
revisions," but the afterword to the German edition describes a
manuscript in considerable disarray. Given that Zweig chose his own time
of death, and given that he had just finalized two other works and
dispatched them to his publishers, it seems clear that he never managed
to hammer the novel into a shape that satisfied him. NYRB, which seems
to have gotten a little carried away here with its project of
reclamation, should at least have provided the volume with an
introduction (as it did in the case of its other Zweig reissues) airing
these questions fully and candidly.

Nevertheless, we are lucky to have the book, not only for its
devastating picture of postwar Austrian life but also because it
represents so radical a departure from Zweig’s other fiction as to
signal the existence of a hitherto unsuspected literary personality. . . .

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At the University of Minnesota Press booth I found an interesting cultural/theoretic book. Despite the unassuming title, French Theory (available, Francois Cusset, trans. Jeff Fort)  attempts no lesser goal than to explain how French theory infiltrated and dominated the intellectual and cultural fabric of U.S. thought. As Scott McLemee puts it in his Bookforum review:

The guiding question in Cusset’s book is, How did it come to pass that
a group of French intellectuals who were seldom closely affiliated,
pursued radically incompatible lines of thought, and were often quite
passé at home turned by the mid-1980s into hotly coveted exports for
the American intellectual market? Indeed, these thinkers were
transformed into something like the various models of a single
brand—repackaged, cross-promoted, and vended with the steep discounts
made possible through economies of scale.

Continuum showed me an early copy of America’s Film Legacy (October, Daniel Eagan). Basically, this book takes on each of the 450 most important American films, as chosen by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. This is a pretty diverse list–everything from Koyaanisqatsi to Boyz N the Hood to The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra.

Friday Column: BEA Book Roundup, Part 1

Here’s the first batch of books I personally picked up at BEA and am excited about reading. (See part II of the BEA book roundup here.)

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If there’s one thing you know about 2666, it’s that it revolves around the mysterious deaths of hundreds of women in the Mexican border-city of Ciudad Juarez. Well, 2666 is not the only novel published in 2008 to cover this phenomenon. If I Die in Juarez (Stella Pope Duarte, available, University of Arizona Press) is an novel about the murders, actually written from the perspectives of some of the women who died. As such, it complements 2666 rather well, since that book gives us suffocatingly little detail about anything that actually takes place during the murders. (As a related note, I was surprised to find that no one in the U of Arizona booth had heard of Roberto Bolano or 2666. They’re missing a huge publicity opportunity.)

While I was at the Bookforum/Reading the World party I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Dan Wickett, and he recommended that I grab a copy of Ma Jian’s Beijing Coma (available, FSG, trans. Flora Drew), which he said he read 300 pages of in the plane ride from Ann Arbor. The plot deals with a young man who was put into a coma by a bullet during the Democracy Spring protests in Beijing in 1989, and we enter his mind in the 10th year of the coma. For a rave review of this book, have a look at this one in The Telegraph.

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Coming in at a merciful 89 pages is Michelle Cliff’s If I Could Write this in Fire (August, University of Minnesota Press). This collection of literary nonfiction by the Jamaican-born Cliff involves her journey from Jamaica to England, her life there, and the discovery of her voice as a diasporic writer. For more on Cliff and her previous novels, have a look at her Emory University page.

It’s not often that a collection of prose poems about a soul singer gets my attention, but the people at the University of Georgia Press did just that with Winners Have Yet to Be Announced (available, Ed Palvic). They compared it to Michael Ondaatje’s fictionalization of jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden, Coming Through Slaughter, both for its subject-matter and its innovative approach. Slaughter attempts to mimic the syncopated feel of jazz with its prose structure. Winners is different but similar, using a spare, poetic approach through sections labeled "Interviews," "Listening Notes," and "Conversations," among others.

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The good people at Milkweed pressed into my hands the newest book from Gary Amdahl, I Am Death (available). This title of this two-novella collection may throw some, but others who know Amdahl from his earlier collection, Visigoth (see here for our review), know his reputation as a "manly" author, writing about traditionally masculine subjects undergoing changes in contemporary times. Or, as Bookforum explained it in their review of I Am Death, "The two novellas gathered in Gary Amdahl’s second book, I Am Death, offer a portrait of American men as fearful and bloodthirsty, as lost boys in need of both a kick in the ass and a big hug."

After salivating over the 2666 paperback for a while at the FSG booth, the people there kindly directed my attention to Jonathan Carroll’s The Ghost in Love (September). Though the garish cover had my eyeballs telling me "no," the description of this book as "Murakamiesque" had me sticking around long enough to hear more. It’s about a death gone awry–literally, the protagonist dies, but then things get bungled in the afterlife. And then things get complicated.

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Of course, a stop by the NYRB Classics booth was obligatory. I’m most excited about the impending publication of their second Vladimir Sorokin translation (which I believe is an original translations, as was NYRB’s previous translation of his novel Ice), this one of his Soviet satire, The Queue (August, trans. Sally Laird). But that’s not what NYRB was handing out. One of the two books I picked up was Der Nister’s The Family Mashber (available, trans. Leonard Wolf, not Woolf). The back copy on this one sells the book just fine, so I quote:

A tale of a family divided a la The Brothers Karamazov a detailed and panoramic picture of an Eastern European town and its people, a social satire, a kabbalistic allegory, a brilliantly innovative fusion of modernist art and traditional storytelling, a tale of weird humor and mounting tragic power whose margins are embellished with a host of uncanny and fantastical figures . . .

As for the other of NYRB’s books that I picked up–next time.

Graywolf was very rapidly dispensing galleys of Per Petterson’s newest novel, To Siberia. This rapidly rising 67-year-old author is probably now best-known as the winner of last year’s IMPAC Dublin award. He first came to my attention last year when his In the Wake was featured as a Reading the World book.

Marilynne Robinson fans will be happy to know that they won’t have to wait 20 years for her follow-up to Gilead. It’s called Home and you can buy it from FSG in September. Need I say more?

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And lastly, the very, very large debut novel from Padma Viswanathan, The Toss of a Lemon (September, Harcourt). This is the trans-generational saga of an Indian woman seems to be garnering a pretty strong publicity effort from Harcourt. Though it kicks off with an epigraph from Salman Rushdie, a brief look at the prose indicates that Viswanathan eschews his increasingly tiresome excesses. For a preview, have a look at this excerpt from the novel, first published in the literary journal AGNI.

(Want more books? See part II of the BEA book roundup here.)

2666–The Big Book of BEA?

Chad Post is declaring 2666 the "big book" of BEA

Jeff’s comments about how they marketed The Savage Detectives and what they’re doing for 2666
was fascinating to me. (As I told him afterwards, I think Jeff’s one of
the most brilliant publicists out there and I could spend a whole panel
simply interviewing him.) In a very real way, 2666 may be the “Big Book” of BEA
2008 that I claimed didn’t exist in my last post. Jeff said the
response has been overwhelming and that they gave out 400 copies (!) of
the galley at the book fair. I know print runs smaller than that . . .

He was incredibly honest about facts and figures related to The Savage Detectives,
revealing that in the catalog they put the initial print run at
35,000-40,000 and that based on advances in the mid-teens (16-17,000)
the first printing was in the low-20s. All of which is remarkable. The
Natasha Wimmer essay was a huge help in creating a context for
reviewers to approach the book, as was the website they specially
created for this book. Jeff gave both New Directions and FSG
editor Lorin Stein a lot of credit for helping make Bolano take off,
even saying that three-in-one paperback set was an idea of Lorin’s.

Since we’re talking 2666 and sales potential, I might as will blog a little about why I’m not sure 2666 will have the same appeal as TSD did.

During BEA I finally got to meet Martin Riker of the Dalkey Archive Press, and one of the things we talked about were my ongoing impressions of 2666. I really think this is a book that requires a good deal of patience from the reader, and it’s somewhat atypical among the Bolano I’ve read in that it moves extremely slowly and doesn’t have any really compelling characters.

That’s not to say that I have an unfavorable view of the book (I’ve yet to make up my mind); just that its not exactly the Bolano that people who have read the translations thus far will know.

Martin had an interesting response to this. His impression was that Bolano, especially in The Savage Detectives, had been sold as an author that pulls you in from the start and keeps holding on all the way through. His impression was that this was no small factor in this book’s broad popularity.

I can’t comment on the degree to which this is true, but, if this is true, then I think a lot of people are going to have their expectations of 2666 challenged once they start reading the book. That is, if they’re expecting something that "pulls you in," I don’t think they’ll find that in 2666.

Just to give an example, right now I’m reading a 300-page section right in the heart of 2666. This part, I think, is the main part of this book.It’s largely comprised of short (1- to 2-page) police-style narrations of discovering the bodies of murdered women and then brief explanations as to whether the murderer was found or not. That’s mostly what this section is, over and over again.

This is not the most gripping material. It’s moving at its own pace according to somewhat obscure logic, it’s frequently gruesome, and you need to have a lot of patience to let it develop on its own and speculate about where it is going. I don’t remember any section from TSD that’s like this.

More BEA Photos

Nyrb
The New York Review booth

Fredramey
Unbridled publisher Fred Ramey

Scientologist
As you can see, I was not joking about the 20 ft. posters

BEA Photos

More photos tomorrow. And for even more, check The Quarterly Conversation Facebook site.

Richardnash
Finally, I met Richard Nash of Soft Skull.

Johnfox
John Fox of BookFox, who contributed a nice review of Murakami’s After Dark a few issues ago.

Ericlorberer
Eric Lorberer, Rain Taxi‘s tireless editor, had a booth for the first time at BEA.

Calliecarolyn
You’ll recognize Callie (left) from Counterbalance and Carolyn from Pinky’s Paperhaus.

Scott
And there I am. As you can tell, I’ve either just finished talking to the Scientologists (oh yeah, they were there, with 20 foot high L-Ron posters) or I’ve seen one too many galleys of Conversations with God.

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