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