Archive for the ‘Books’ Category
The thin house–a house four feet wide and occupying a space between two buildings in Warsaw–isn’t a likely candidate to entertain the guests who show up unexpectedly and demand a story from the author on the spot in the title story of Etgar Keret’s latest collection, Suddenly, a Knock On the Door. While it would not be able to hold the action of the piece, it does explain the style of the Israeli author’s storytelling: as Steven Kurutz of The New York Times writes, the thin house, built with Keret in mind, is “small but complete.” There are a total of thirty-six stories contained within the 188 pages of the book, an average of five pages per story, though as we know averages work, many come in much shorter, with some barely stretching over one page. In these brief pieces, Keret packs in whole worlds.
After missing Junot Diaz’s performance at Book Court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, I consoled myself by reflecting on his new short story collection. Before I cracked the spine, the odds were long that Diaz could meet the high standard of his debut collection Drown, or his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, or his recent MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, which even super fans conceded was belated and perhaps gratuitous. And after being inspired by Drown to study fiction writing in graduate school, teaching the book for years to high school and college students in literature and creative writing classes, and raving about Diaz to anyone who would listen, the new book felt like a referendum on my credibility as a writer, teacher, and human being. I hesitated for several weeks before buying the book, rationalizing that if I didn’t read it, I wouldn’t be disappointed. Fortunately, Diaz delivered. Like its predecessors, This is How You Lose Her is technically dazzling, culturally challenging, and emotionally devastating. Line by line, page by page, story by story, it is a book that breaks and mends your heart.
Junot Diaz is perhaps the best fiction writer in America, having won the hearts and minds of readers over nearly two decades with his three books: the short story collection Drown, the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and his new story collection This is How You Lose Her, a series of linked short stories, mostly about infidelity, mostly narrated by Diaz’s ghetto geek alter ego Yunior, and set in the three places the author has called home: the Dominican Republic, New Jersey, and Boston. The book features Diaz’s now signature style of deceptively simple prose that mixes lofty language and street talk, English and Spanish, and high and low culture. As if all that weren’t enough, Diaz recently won a MacArthur Foundation Award, netting him half a million dollars and the label of genius.
On Tuesday night, Diaz regaled a packed house at Brooklyn’s BookCourt, one of the city’s finest independent bookstores. Rather than opening with a reading, he began by taking questions from the audience. Writer, librarian, and Diaz fan Krissa Corbett Cavouras was on hand to record the dialogue. Disclaimer: the following was transcribed on a smartphone, may contain slight inaccuracies, and has been lightly edited for clarity. Also, there are a lot of swear words.
On creative writing programs (MFAs):
“Creative writing programs are the best way to get young people into a hundred thousand dollars of debt. I mean, is there any connection between the proliferation of creative writing programs and the collapse of people actually reading any of these books, and the collapse of bookstores? And how about what this does, it creates one-hit novelists, where you get one shot against the bottom line. You don’t get a second chance.”
“Creative writing programs have become the lottery machine for the intellectual set. Young writers should wait until, I don’t know, 27? What’s the hurry? Deep down in your heart if you’re serious about being artists, it doesn’t matter if the work comes early or late. It’s the ones who are in a rush who aren’t actually artists; they just want approval.”
“Do all the wrong things, make a ton of mistakes in your life; you’ll find that you actually bring news from the world to your art. Don’t graduate from college and go straight to an MFA. It’s a pyramid scheme and it doesn’t necessarily improve your art.”
For many American readers, In Time’s Rift will be the first introduction to the German poet Ernst Meister. Published by Wave Books, the collection consists of short, concise poems that “at once entice and irritate the mouth and mind,” as translators Graham Foust and Samuel Frederick write in their introduction. Staff writer Gina Myers recently sat down with Foust, who is the author of several collections of poetry, to discuss the new book of translations.
Frontier Psychiatrist: How did this project come about? Did you have experience prior to this book doing translations? What got you interested in translating this particular writer?
Graham Foust: I’ve been working on these poems since about 2004 because Jack Davis, this guy who lives in Canada and has something to do with sitting in fire towers during the summer, wrote me this letter because he had read one of my books and he said it was strange to see an American poet influenced by Ernst Meister, and I was like I have no idea who that is. So we corresponded for a bit about that. And it was funny, right after he sent me that letter, I read at Woodland Pattern, and I was looking at this wall of poetry books kind of overwhelmed, but I saw this British selected poems of Ernst Meister’s called Not Orpheus done by Richard Dove, who is this well known translator of German, so I bought it and read it, and was like, yeah, I totally get why he said that. I felt an immediate kinship with the book. But the translations seemed a little weird, or wooden, or not very poem-y. They seemed more like sketches for what a poem could be, so I just started teaching myself German and tried to retranslate the poems. The poems aren’t really in any order, but I didn’t know that at the time. So I would just kind of work on it when I didn’t have things of my own to do and that went on for several years, maybe six years. And then I met my dad’s wife’s daughter’s husband who is a German professor–that’s Sam. And I was like well this guy will surely have heard of Ernst Meister, and he was like I don’t know who the fuck that is. It wasn’t that he was uninterested, he was just like, who is this guy? So I sent him the poems, and he said they were amazing poems but the translations – eh. So he asked if we wanted to work together, and we did. And the focus of this was that no one had done a whole book of his in English before, they just sort of cherry-picked poems throughout his corpus. But his last three books are sort of a trilogy, so we decided to do the last three books.
Telegraph Avenue connects Oakland and Berkeley, two cities whose historically different racial compositions have earned them separate boilerplate reputations in the mind of outsiders: Oakland, gritty, home of the Raiders, music Mecca, melting pot; Berkeley, local, micro-climate-gifted, capital of yuppie fantasyland. Michael Chabon’s latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, is set against and among such clichés as it tells of two couples, one black and one white, for whom the eponymous avenue and environs are everything.
Issues of race shot through the twin lenses of pop-culture and politics are all over Telegraph Avenue. The Black Panthers and Huey Newton play a part, as do Kung-Fu, big old American cars, and Pam Grier. There’s funk, soul, R&B, and the real meaning behind “A Love Supreme.” Chabon runs down the history of black music in the East Bay and how the first black workers came to Oakland. Nearly an entire funeral eulogy is given to expounding upon what Creole signifies. There’s a white lawyer desperate to sound “black,” and a white teenager who thinks he knows what the inside of his black friend’s house will look like before entering. And we get a black midwife’s vow to become a doctor so “then when I reach out to a black woman while she’s having a baby, maybe then she’s going to reach back.” Her white business partner, “the Alice Waters of midwives,” doesn’t understand the urgency behind the promise.
David Byrne’s new manifesto slash memoir, How Music Works, has been written many times before. Ethnomusicologists and philosophers, from Theodor Adorno to Walter Benjamin to David Suisman, have chronicled the historical shift from classical to popular music, lamenting it, praising it, and/or evaluating the societal changes brought about by it and its corresponding technology. Byrne’s book, which illustrates the history of analog and digital recording, narrates the advent of the music industry, and claims to describe how to create a music scene or subculture offers almost nothing new. One could learn a similar amount about modern musical historical shifts through a single listen of LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge.” So what gives David Byrne the right to write?
Zadie Smith’s writing has certainly changed in the 12 years since her debut novel White Teeth. She takes more risks and has become more obscure, placing more weight on the shoulders of the reader to interpret her meaning. While her style may be off-putting to some, it does allow her to creatively describe, say, the placement of teeth and fillings in one character’s mouth with a literary graphic.
In her new novel NW, Smith explores the London neighborhood through the eyes of best friends Leah and Keisha over the course of 35 years. Despite how much her neighborhood has fallen on hard times, Leah still feels sympathetic to those that dwell there, and relates to them as well. They are of the generation that grew up without global-minimizing connective technology, but eventually grew into it. Their first memories are of a limited location: Northwest London and the subtle differences between the people, streets, and homes that exist therein. They knew where their friends were without Twitter and how to get somewhere without Google Maps. Which is not to say they don’t embrace social media when they grow up. Who knew ChatRoulette could be referenced in literature?). So how does one stay grounded in the physical realm while steadily adapting to an abstract one?