Recommended Reading: Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa, James Gleick, Javier Marías, Abdellatif Laabi, André Breton, Tobias Carroll, Alex Beam, Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson

It’s been a very busy time writing-wise around here, so the blogging this month has been very light. My apologies for that. Though, if it’s any consolation, the next issue of The Quarterly Conversation (which has been absorbing some of the energy that might have otherwise gone to blogging) is going to have a ton of great stuff in it.

Anyway, I’ve been reading some good things this month, so let’s share a few of those.

First off, I enjoyed Absolutely on Music a book of conversations between Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa on the subject of classical music. It was a really pleasant read, and a nice change of pace for Murakami, showing a new and very skillful side of his intellect. You can read more in a review I wrote of the book for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Just this week I’ve been knocking away Time Travel, the latest book by James Gleick. What I admire about Gleick is his indefatigable research and his ability to synthesize large amounts of information from a wide variety of disciplines to create his own nuanced picture of a subject. Also, his subjects tend to appeal to me—The Information, his previous book, brought all sort of great ideas to mind. Gleick is something like a sample menu: he doesn’t pursue any one idea into a huge amount of depth, but he does give you tons and tons of samples of all kinds of ideas, all in one place, and in a very readable, witty package. So that’s what I like about him.

I also recently finished Thus Bad Begins, the latest novel by Javier Marías. I’ve got mixed feelings, which are going to be explained in an upcoming review, but for now I will say you could do a hell of a lot worse. Certainly if you dig Marías’s thing, this book is for you.

While I’m mentioning Marías, I should also recommend To Begin at the Beginning, his Cahier, just released. It’s a wonderful little document, and the illustrations, by Cuban artist Wifredo Lam are absolutely stunning.

Earlier this month I did an event with Donald Nicholson-Smith, the translator of In Praise of Defeat, a selected poems from the entire 40-year career of Abdellatif Laabi. Laabi is perhaps the major North African poet of his generation, certainly the leader from Morocco, and there’s been something of a Laabi renaissance in English in recent years. These are well worth your time.

Another thing I’ve been dipping in and out of are the Manifestoes of Surrealism by André Breton. These are very loopy, often frustrating texts, although there is also tons and tons of gold in here. With a mind like Breton’s, you’ve just got to take the good with the nonsense. Certainly there’s a ton in here to think about, and interfacing with Breton’s intelligence for a while will do wonders to anybody’s noodle.

Also, I was very pleased with Tobias Carroll’s first collection of short fiction, Transitory. These stories are mostly set in hipster New York, but they have a very interesting feel to them, almost like you’re back in the old New York of the Henry James era. Carroll kind of combines the old and the new in his own way, and there’s a unified aesthetic here. The premise of each story is always intriguing, and Carroll tends to do a lot with them. Were I to make a critique, it would be that in some of these pieces I wish Carroll had gone a little bit further in penetrating to the depths and complexities of the really ripe situations he’s created here. But that’s more a hope for his next book of stories, and not a knock to this one.

Lastly, I’ll just put in a plug for The Feud by Alex Beam, about Vladimir Nabokov and Edmund Wilson’s infamous feud over Nabokov’s translation of Pushkin. It’s a great story, and one that’s very illustrative of translation. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’d be very surprised if it disappoints.



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