Recommended Reading is a collection of some books I’ve read recently that I’m recommending to you. It’s just stuff I’ve liked, nothing to do with release dates, theme, etc, etc, just great books. Read more here.
Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich (tr Bela Shayevich)
This book is one of the most humanizing, acute things I’ve ever read about the Soviets and what Russia has become in the post-USSR era, but more than that it is first and foremost awe-inspiring literature. As I said in my review:
What is most important about Alexievich is that even though she treads deeply into the Russian psyche, her books have immense humanistic power. Like her other books, “Secondhand Time” is told through oral monologues, and its stories transcend national boundaries: the mother remembering the teenage son who committed suicide, the woman who leaves her husband for a murderer serving a life sentence in a remote prison, the delicate son with the macho father who forces him through a hellish military enlistment, the immigrant who has fled civil war only to find a life of depredation and degradation.
Alexievich grapples with some of the biggest questions in life, politics, and nation (she foregrounds the work with some questions from Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor), and her book is remarkably touching and full of wisdom-lines from people who have lived through the very most life can throw at a person. An incredible read.
There is basically one book on film that there’s 100% approval of, and this is that book. It is a week-long series of interview that Francois Truffaut conducted with Alfred Hitchcock, covering his entire career output. Hilarious, creep, incisive, eye-opening, absurd, frightening . . . it is all of these things, an homage to the art of film by two of its greatest practitioners.
The Skin by Curzio Malaparte (tr David Moore)
Curzio Malaparte was a fascist in support of Mussolini, the only Italian journalist to report for the Eastern Front in the Ukraine (and who did so with such honesty that he got himself in trouble), a communist after the war, and a man with a beautiful house on Capri that he designed himself and that Goddard used in his film of Moravia’s Contempt. He also named himself “Malaparte” in opposition to Napoleon’s “Bonaparte.”
An eccentric gentleman, you might say, and The Skin is a book about Naples during the war that is every bit as repulsive, honest, visceral, cynical, hopeful and original as you might expect from such a man. As I remarked previously, I can’t say I “liked” The Skin, but it was a remarkable and necessary reading experience.
Because She Never Asked by Enrique Vila-Matas (tr. Valerie Miles)
When I interviewed Valerie Miles about this novella, she told me that it was Vila-Matas’s favorite piece of his own writing because it contained elements of his entire career, crunched and refracted in on themselves. It was also a thing Vila-Matas wrote about a near-death illness, so it came out of very intense circumstances that provoked deep reflection.
I can see all of these elements in this book, which is a “collaboration” of sorts with the Sophie Calle, who also “collaborated” in a similar way with Paul Auster. It’s Vila-Matas at his most coy, his most seductive and feinting and impenetrable.