Category Archives: Friday Catalogs

Summer Books: Simon & Schuster and Counterpoint/Soft Skull

Friday Catalogs: Simon & Schuster and Counterpoint/Soft Skull Summer ’08

Simon & Schuster

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First up is a book I’ve been hearing a lot about lately, The Book of Chameleons by Angolan Jose Eduardo Agualusa (available, trans. Daniel Hahn). The book received last year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and has been likened to Barges and Calvino. It involves a man who sells pasts, and the plot deals with Angola’s history. Reviews in The Complete Review and the Orlando Sentinel.

I’m heartened to see Simon & Schuster publishing a collection of short stories in translation, Love Today (available, trans. Anthea Bell). The author is Maxim Biller, who has placed two stories from this collection of 27 in The New Yorker.

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Currently available is a book that is getting a number of good reviews (see the LA Times and The Barnes & Noble Review), The God of War by Marisa Silver. The book takes place near the Salton Sea at the bottom of  California and deals with a broken family living in a trailer. As James Gibbons puts it in the Times,

This air of thickening menace is enhanced by the narrative’s setting in
1978, well before the spectacular mass deaths of wildlife at the Salton
Sea in the 1990s but at a time when the area’s imminent environmental
catastrophe had eerily begun to manifest itself. Scores of tilapia
carcasses wash ashore toward the end of novel; a week later, area
residents discover the remains of pelicans and other birds that had
eaten the fouled fish.

Also worth mentioning that is that S&S will publish over here in July the 2007 Costa award winner, The Tenderness of Wolves (Stef Penney). If you’re interested in more, you can read a fair amount of it on Google Books.

Counterpoint/Soft Skull

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Author Tom McCarthy, who saw a lot of success with his novel Remainder, is now publishing a nonfiction study of the comic books about Tintin, the young Belgian reporter, entitled Tintin and the Secret of Literature (available). For more, see the review in the current Bookforum:

McCarthy’s answer, mercifully, is no. Comic books are not literature,
he contends; Hergé’s groundbreaking books, which, as interviewer Numa
Sadoul has noted, “take up an or­ig­inal and autonomous ground between
drawing and writing,” are especially not literature. To read them with
reverence would be a terrible mistake. Which is not to say that Tintin
harbors no secrets. On the contrary, the oeuvre, as McCarthy
demonstrates with hermeneutic élan, is full of mysteries, the most
important of which is Tintin the character’s relationship to literature
itself.

David Ohle’s The Pisstown Chaos sounds just strange enough to be interesting, a novel about "disease and forced relocation." It involves decreed de- and re-coupling every five years and, parasitic infections, and someone called Revered Herman Hooker.

Friday Catalogs: Open Letter and Mark Batty Publisher

Open Letter, the press started up by Chad Post at the University of Rochester upon his departure from the Dalkey Archive, is on the verge of publishing its first round of books. Here’s two of the first six that struck me:

The Pets (Bragi Olafsson, trans Janice Balfour, October) strikes me for two reasons: the first is that it’s translated from Icelandic, and that just seems appealing to me, probably because Iceland has always seemed like an interesting place, but also because I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an Icelandic translation; the second reason this book strikes me is because it seems to be narrated by a person hiding under a bed. That the author appears to be a fan of Paul Auster (he translated City of Glass into Icelandic) would also be a good sign.

Vilnius Poker (Ricardas Gavelis, trans Elizabeth Novickas, January 2009) sounds like it’s either going to be a really great read or a really bad one. It’s narrated by an extremely paranoid office worker in Soviet-ruled Vilnius, and it’s, apparently, 500 pages of him working out his paranoid theories; so it could either be really enjoyable, in a Kafkaesque sort of way, or really painful.

Mark Batty Publisher is the one that published Garth Risk Hallberg’s Hopscotch-inspired novel; in my opinion, it’s a book that, in addition to being innovatively written, is also very nicely designed as an object, as it looks good and integrates numerous photos into the substance of the text.

I mention Garth’s book because after looking at MBP’s slightly-outdated-but-still-worth-mentioning Fall 2007 catalog, it’s clear that Garth’s is a good example of the kind of stuff this publisher produces.

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Imposters (Jim Knoblauch, Shawna Kenney), which is illustrated in the catalog with a photo of a Storm Trooper in a suburban home playing a video game, seems like an interesting photo book. It’s a sort of documentation of Southern Californians who attempt to earn their living by dressing up as various well-known Hollywood-movie figures and skimming a few bucks off of tourists to the area.

I had no idea that stickers were such an essential part of graffiti culture as to inspire a magazine solely devoted to them. PEEL: The Art of the Sticker (Dave Combs, Holly Combs), documents the development of the magazine (also called PEEL) and the sticker’s place in street art.

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I’m not quite sure it’s my thing, but Face Food (DETACH) documents the "art" of crafting Japanese children’s bento box lunches into appealing things, like Pikachu. At any rate, this gives you an idea of the diversity of stuff Mark Batty publishes.

Though it’s not a new book, While You’re Reading (Gerard Unger) sounds like an interesting enough read. It’s all about what actually happens within a person’s eyes and brain while they read. Intriguingly, the book goes into things like type design to explain what they do to facilitate this process.

Friday Catalogs: Archipelago Books

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Just when Francois Monti’s piece on Eric Chevillard has got me wondering about contemporary French literature, I see that Archipelago Press is publishing Small Lives by Pierre Michon (April, trans. Jody Gladding and Elizabeth DeShays). The catalog describes it as:

In Small Lives, Michon explores the act of writing through the intimate portraits of eight interconnected characters. In this evocative poetic narrative, the quest to breathe life into the stories of these individuals becomes an exploration of the author’s own voice.

I’m curious about what seems like a metafictional twist to these stories, and also, so far as "poetic narratives" go, the French seem to do them well.

One cannot help but be intrigued by Hyperion (April, Friedrich Hölderlin, trans. Ross Benjamin), a 200-year-old epistolary novel by a German Romantic about a Greek hermit and a German friend that won the approval of Nietzsche and Walter Benjamin.

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I wonder if the translator too liberties with the title of Plants Don’t Drink Coffee (August, Unai Elorriaga, trans. Amaia Gabantxo). Either way, it’s a great title, and it’s gotten me interested in the Basque tale of four crisscrossing lives. So does El Mundo’s gloss on Elorriaga—"Elorriaga seeks to explain reality outside conventional lines, he doesn’t avoid it"—which has me thinking of Witch Grass by Queneau.

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I’m not entirely sure about Mafeking Road (May 2008, Herman Charles Bosman). On the one hand, it would be good to read a voice out of South Africa besides Coetzee and Gordimer, but on the other hand, it’s difficult to get a read of this book from the catalog copy.

Likewise with A Mind at Peace (July, Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar, trans. Erdag Goknar). This novel about the Westernizing Turkey of the 1920s and ’30s sounds interesting, but I don’t know enough about what kind of writer Tanpinar is to be sure.

One last note. Though it’s a bit early to mention it, Archipelago will be publishing Halldór Laxness’s first novel, The Great Weaver from Kashmir in October.

Friday Catalogs: Dalkey Archive Press

Were I stranded for a couple months with nothing but Dalkey’s spring ’08 lineup, I don’t think I’d mind. There’s really a lot of very-intriguing sounding stuff here. These are my favorites from this strong season.

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First-off, Dalkey is happily giving me more of two of my favorite non-American authors. First is Jean-Philippe Toussaint, whose short comic novel Television, which reads kind of like a book Jim Jarmusch would have written, made a wonderful impression on me when Dalkey published it a couple years back. Now they are publishing Monsieur (June, trans. John Lambert), more of Toussaint’s trademark style of having nothing really happen, but making it all deadpan hilarious and somehow meaningful.

After Toussaint I am looking forward to Estonian Mati Unt, author of the previously translated (by Dalkey) surrealist Things in the Night. (Read my review here.) Now they bring us Diary of a Blood Donor (May, trans. Ants Eert), which is being billed as "a postmodern tale of vampires and a mysterious trip to Leningrad."

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Probably the best-known Portuguese author in the U.S., Antonio Lobo Atunes, sees his book Knowledge of Hell published in English in March (trans. Clifford E. Landers). Apparently, the "hell" here refers to the narrator’s job, as this is a book narrated by a psychologist who hates psychology and who is driving back to work from a vacation. The book mixes Portugal’s colonial past with Angola with elements of the surreal and, of course, thoughts on modern-day psychology.

Last fall I was impressed by, if not wholly taken with, Place-names by French New Novelist Jean Ricardou. This spring Dalkey is publishing a book that sounds somewhat similar in its construction, as well as in its playfulness and willingness to break down our concept of a novel. Hotel Crystal (May, Oliver Rolin, trans. Jane Kuntz) is a manuscript scribbled on bits of hotel stationary and postcards, ostensibly assembled by an impartial editor, consisting of descriptions of hotel rooms. Fear not, as the text soon bends toward shadowy networks, thuggery, and spy spoofs.

Makbara (July, Juan Goytisolo, trans. Helen Lane) is not only the name of a novel but also, says the Dalkey catalog, Arab for the place in cemeteries where people carry on relations. That’s about all the catalog tells us about this book, but that’s enough. (It also bills Goytisolo at "Spain’s greatest living writer.")

There is some good criticism to be had in this catalog. Dalkey publishes yet another book from Viktor Shklovsky (to add to their 6 others), Literature and Cinematography (June, trans. Irina Masinovsky). It’s a short (75 pages) manifesto about the function of arts and, obviously, literature’s relationship to film. Originally published in 1923.

Then there is Fiction Now, (August, Warren Motte) an overview of contemporary French novelists.

And then we have Intersections (July), a collection of 17 essays on the works of Richard Powers. Appropriately enough for Powers, the essays have a wide range (photography, systems theory, ecocriticism, and neuroscience are all mentioned). Powers himself contributes an essay, as well as does Sven Birkerts.

Friday Catalogs: Columbia University Press

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Columbia University is publishing a book on Sebald that sounds worth a look. Called W.G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity, it looks at Sebald’s narratives with attention to "archival
institutions and processes that lit at the heart of modernity"–photography, museums, libraries, and others. March

Also from Columbia is The Journey Abandoned, an unfinished and lost novel from the critic Lionel Trilling. That it’s by Trilling merits some attention, but the catalog describes it as only
a "third" of a book. June

Did you know that Dubai is an expatriate, undemocratic city that’s the Gulf’s premier trading center? I didn’t before I read the description of Christopher Davidson’s
overview of this city, Dubai, but now I’m intrigued. May

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The Middle East is one of those areas that English-language readers do not have a whole lot of access to. Simply titled Modern Arabic Fiction, this book seems to be a remedy of sorts–all 1088 pages of it. March

Eilenn Chang has received some attention thanks largely to NYRB’s translations of some of her works; Columbia has their own now, Written on Water. Chang is
primarily known as a novelist, but this book offers a "collectin of Chang’s thoughts on art, literature, war, and urban life." March

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From Columbia’s film imprint (Wallflower Press) comes a book on the film The Five Obstructions. The film–a dual effort by Lars von Trier and Jorgen Leth–explores
gamesmanship and constraint in the making of movies (and art in general). The book is called Dekalog 01: On the Five Obstructions and is the first in a series
on contemporary films. March

Friday Catalogs: New Directions

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Published in hardcover last year but still worth mentioning is the paperback release of Roberto Bolaño’s Amulet. (May) If you haven’t read it yet, this is a good one to tide you over between the publication of Nazi Literature in the Americas and 2666, currently slated to come fro FSG in November. (As a sidenote, I really like what New Directions is doing with the covers to Bolaño’s paperback releases.)

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As mentioned earlier on this blog, B.S. Johnson’s famous "book in a box," The Unfortunates will be published by New Directions in its originally intended format. (May)

I’m intrigued by Senselessness, forthcoming from the Honduran Horacio Castellanos Moya. (May) The book has to do with a bohemian author hired by the Catholic Church to tidy up a 1,100 page report documenting the massacre and torture of thousands of indigenous in an unnamed Latin American country.

Notable in light of the recent publication of Autonauts of the Cosmoroute is the release in paperback of Julio Cortazar’s Final Exam. (July) One of his earlier novels, it’s billed here as his "allegorical, bitter, and melancholy farewell to Argentina" with "daring typography, shifts in rhythm," and general stream-of-conscious mayhem.

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And lastly, I am intrigued by Lands of Memory by Uruguayan Felisberto Hernandez, which New Directions is publishing in paperback. (July) This NYT review sums up what makes me intrigued:

He published sparsely; one story first saw print in the almanac of the State Insurance Bank. He read Freud and Proust and made memory his particular subject, but in tiny, idiosyncratic works that sometimes have to be either pieced together or filleted before they can be read. Some of his work is in shorthand that has yet to be deciphered. His first novel is 21 paragraphs long. Even without the enthusiasm of the likes of Borges, Calvino and Cortázar, and the dubious title ”father of magic realism,” he’d be a shoo-in for the avant-garde academy: seriously unsuccessful, randy, individual to the brink of solipsism, a textual challenge and sometimes literally unreadable.

Friday Catalogs: Soft Skull/Counterpoint

Here’s what caught my attention as I browsed Soft Skull and Counterpoint’s Winter 2008 catalog.

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Lydia Millett fans will be happy to know that she has a new book out, How the Dead Dream. The cover features an extreme close-up of what I think is a T. Rex face, and the book deals with a supercharged LA estate developer named T. who eventually takes a "Conradesque"
journey up a tropical island river. Pubbing in January.

Counterpoint is publishing two new books from the late Donald Barthelme. Not-Knowing (February) is a book of essays and interviews. The Teachings of Don B. (February)seems like a hodgepodge: satires, fables, illustrated stories, and plays. The big news here is that Teachings features a foreword by Thomas Pynchon.

Another Barthelme, recently published by Shoemaker and Hoard, is Flying to America, a collection of previously uncollected and/or unpublished stories.

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Although I don’t know much about the author, I’m intrigued by The Devil Gets His Due, a collection of Leslie Fiedler’s essays. The copy calls him a popular essayist in Europe who broke down barriers between high and low cinema, literature, and history. Pubbing in March.

And lastly there’s Reproduce and Revolt. This book is a collection of street-savvy political graphics, but since everything in it is open source, anyone can use the included images in whatever they want. Available.

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