Saturday, June 24, 2017

What I'm Reading This Summer

*subject to me changing my mind

So like a lot of people I'm thinking about summer reading and pulling things from my TBR piles to have handy on trips, weekends and the lazy afternoons and evenings to come. Summer just makes you want to sit around and when I sit around I typically have a book or two in hand. Here are some new releases I'm looking forward to during the dog days.

The Essex Serpent, by Sarah Perry. This book, a hit in Great Britain, is a historical novel about a widow who stumbles on a local myth and a compelling stranger.

Beautiful Animals, by Laurence Osborne. I always look forward to Osborne's mesmerizing novels, always a heady mix of compelling plot and travelogue-ready setting.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer, is my pick for beach book of the summer, about a man who's turning 50 as his much-younger boyfriend is about to get married. It's been called a "breakout romantic comedy" from this author of literary novels. I can't wait to tuck it into my boat-and-tote when I hit the beaches of Nantucket this season.

Brave Deeds, by David Abrams, has been described as a "powerful novel of war, brotherhood and America." I haven't read Abrams' books before and I'm really excited to start here.

The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud. I heard Messud speak at BEA and was captivated. Her latest  is "compact, compelling, and ferociously sad," "a story about childhood, friendship and community, and a complex examination of the stories we tell ourselves about childhood and friendship." It will be good for when I want a more serious book to read.

Then there's See What I have Done, by Sarah Schmidt, a "riveting debut" that takes on Lizzie Borden. Buckle up!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review: JANE AUSTEN, THE SECRET RADICAL, by Helena Kelly

Jane Austen, The Secret Radical. Published 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf. Nonfiction. Literary essays.

So this is a pretty fun read if you're a Jane Austen fan, and a pretty insightful read whether you consider yourself a Janeite or not. Author Helena Kelly, a scholar and writer who's taught and written extensively on Austen, leads us novel-by-novel examining social and political issues that we may have missed, or glanced only fleetingly.

She starts with Austen herself, what we know of her life and publication history and how she was viewed during her lifetime. Kelly is working on the premise that most people consider Austen's books merely delightful, or as the forerunner of modern chick lit and womens' fiction, or know her mainly or best through the various film adaptations.

Then she takes us on a tour of Austen's six novels starting with Northanger Abbey and ending with Persuasion. She covers topics like entailments, slavery, enclosures, social niceties and gender roles, and the ephemerality of society itself. Some of the topics she covers are particular to Austen's time and place; entailments aren't legal in the United States and haven't been (I think) in practice in Britain in a long time. Enclosures were an entirely new subject to me and I had no idea the role they play in Emma, one of my favorite Austen novels.

I was certainly aware of some of the issues Kelly talks about; I knew that Sense and Sensibility, for example, devolved around the economic fragility of womens' lives, and that slavery played a role in Mansfield Park, which I'd often thought of as Austen's most overtly political novel. But Kelly goes deep and brings out the nuances even seasoned Austen readers might have missed. And she does it with a light touch. Wholly accessible in tone and style, Secret Radical is a book for the lay reader, for the afternoon sofa if not maybe the beach bag. In it Kelly shows us how much more there is to Austen than gentility and sweetly tidy love stories. By the end I was doubting even my beloved Captain Wentworth. It certainly opened my eyes to a more detailed examination of books that I've read and re-read, enjoyed and shared.

As a friend said, it's a very attractive notion to think of Austen as a secret radical- more so than thinking of her as a secret reactionary certainly. And Kelly's book is both delightful and pointed. I strongly recommend Secret Radical to all Austenites, Janeites and readers of any stripe. It will make you think and wonder, and probably make you want to re-read your favorite Austens once more to really see what she's getting at. Or maybe you'll be intrigued enough to try her for the first time. I'm ready to have another go at my favorites. I can't wait to hear how you do with yours.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, June 19, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?



I kind of gave up on The Time Regulation Institute. Actually what happened was, I put it somewhere in my sewing room, and it got buried underneath some fabric, then I picked up another book and a few days later I was like, "what happened to that other book?" and realized I didn't know where it was.

The other book I picked up was Smoke, by Dan Vyleta, which I'm loving. It's set in an alternate late-nineteenth century England (or so) in a society where sin- bad feelings, anger, lust, etc.- manifests physically as smoke that rises from the skin. Three teenage members of the upper classes- two boys and a girl- find themselves on the wrong side of authority after they glean the beginnings of smoky secrets. I'm really enjoying its rich prose and forward-moving action and recommend it for readers of books like The Night Circus and The Magicians. It's out in paperback at the end of June and would be a great choice for the beachbag.
I'm also reading The Making of Jane Austen, by Devoney Looser, about how popular culture has shaped readers' understanding of Jane Austen and her novels from publication to the present day. It's fascinating and rich in detail.

And that's it for me right now. I was sick all last week so I didn't go to the gym, therefore no new gym book. But I'm hopeful that this week will be different!

What are you reading?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Salon - Back in the Saddle


Happy Father's Day! My dad, Richie, is off living his dream in Shenzhen, China, so we won't be taking him out to brunch but I hope he's having a great day.

This week has been all about re-entry. I had San Francisco; I had BEA; I had Bread Loaf; and I had a quilting retreat. Then I had a cold. Now I almost have my routine back.

The rough draft of my translation is done. Tomorrow I'll print it out and start the editing process. I'm excited. I have another book on deck I want to do, a public-domain historical novel, and I plan to re-join the French Institute here in NYC so I have a nice Frenchy place to do my work and the resources I need at hand. Also I love free-movie Tuesdays.

And I'm back on track with reading- no more half-finishing boring books. I have too many TBRs post-BEA. I'm loving all the books I'm reading now.

Mostly I'm just loving that it's summer and reliably warm every day. The city I live in is utterly delightful when the sun is out. Isn't everyone's? No but really, it's amazing here. Amazing views of NYC, lots of green space, a whole entire pier loaded with food trucks every night. What more could I ask for?

Doing this writing, even if it never pans out, has really put a spring in my step and given me a reason to get up in the morning. I love what I'm doing. Like I said I don't know where it's going but I want to follow.

Today I have a few hours at the bookstore in the afternoon and some relaxing beforehand. Hope you are having a great day whatever you're up to.

Friday, June 16, 2017

When Ferrante Isn't Enough

It's summer and you've got Ferrante Fever. You've read all of the Neapolitan Quartet, and maybe even some of her earlier, shorter fiction, and maybe her book of essays Frantumaglia, and her "children's" book The Beach at Night, and now you don't know what to do. You want more Italian literature- you're even willing to read translations- but you don't know where to start.

I can help.

Here are some of my favorite Italian novels in translation for Ferrante fanatics.

Swimming to Elba, by Sylvia Avallone. It's about two girls growing up, and apart, in a working class town in Tuscany. Translated by Antony Shugaar.


Happy Ending, by Francesca Durante, is a beautiful art-house-movie of a novel about wealthy family, also in Tuscany, dealing with love, loss and change. Translated by Annapaola Concogni.

From the Land of the Moon, by Milena
Agus, is a tiny perfect gem about a woman who finds out her life is not worthless after all . Translated by Ann Goldstein.

Crossroads or As God Commands, by Niccolo Ammaniti, about a group of friends with wild dreams to make their lives better and how it all goes wrong one stormy night in Italy, and a coming of age story about a 14 year old who finds himself picking up the pieces of their disastrous decisions.  Translated by Jonathan Hunt.

Quiet Chaos, by Sandro Veronesi, is about a man whose life is falling apart. His partner dies as he saves the life of another woman. And now he has to care for his young daughter and put the pieces back together. Simple, but perfect, and winner of Italy's Strega Prize. Translated by Michael F. Moore.

I Hadn't Understood, by Diego de Silva, is a funny and
moving crime novel (I know, right?) about a loser trying to save his career and win the woman of his dreams, avoid the mob and solve a murder. Spoiler alert: it works. Translated by Antony Shugaar.

Eva Sleeps, by Francesca Melandri, is a heart-string-puller about a woman who has a little girl out of wedlock in 1950s/1960s South Tyrol, and what happens to that girl when she grows up. It's a wonderful story. Translated by Katherine Gregor.



Wednesday, June 14, 2017

I Went to Bread Loaf, and All My Husband Got Was a Lousy Coffee Mug

Recently I had the very good fortune to spend a week at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Ripton, Vermont, in an introductory course on literary translation.
breadloaf

This is a little hard for me to admit but it's kind of always been my dream to translate. I know, just start, right? I did my honor's thesis in college on translation (I translated a short story by A.S. Byatt into French, very badly) and really enjoyed it, even though it was in many ways a really miserable experience. So what did I enjoy? The work. Which I loved even when I did miserably at it, even when my advisor covered my pages in red pen, even when she told me, after reading my theoretical introduction, that was clear to her that I was more interested "in the practice of translation than the theory." Even when I got strep over spring break and barely finished on time. But not during the grueling defense. Yeah, not that part.

So anyway, I had this miserable experience, and got very discouraged. Basically any dreams about grad school or translating I might have had at the time were crushed to atoms as a result and my life took a very different course. But I'm in mid life now and thinking about chasing a dream or two and I want to give this a try.
breadloaf

I applied for the program at Bread Loaf and promptly got rejected. Which I expected. But then just two weeks before the start of the program I found out there would be a spot for me after all. So I printed out a bunch of stuff, read a bunch of stuff, did a bunch of exercises, bought some tickets, pulled together a capsule wardrobe to fit in my new travel bag and off to Vermont I went.

The week was marvelous. It was rainy and cold, and a whirlwind, but it was marvelous. We had several things to read, and several things to translate, and a "final project" of sorts to turn in, a translation of our choosing. I picked Niki de Saint Phalle's Mon Secret, which I talked about on this blog. I did the first six or seven pages; because of the large format of the book, that translates (no pun intended) to about two pages of typed English text. I plan to finish translating the book, for myself if not for publication, and I even have another book picked out when I'm done.

In addition to the exercises, readings and endless socializing, we got to meet some publishing executives from New Directions, Open Letter Press and New Vessel Press, all of whom I admire and read. They gave us some great tips and next steps and helped familiarize all of us with the publication process. The first step is to determine that the rights for the work are available; otherwise the project is not commercially viable. I have written to de Saint Phalle's estate and the publisher, La Différence, to see if the rights are still available but I want to finish working on it either way. I have about ten pages to go. I expect that they either won't respond or tell me the rights are not available but I want to finish anyway.

So I'll try to keep you posted. Maybe this goes nowhere, maybe it doesn't. We'll see!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


It's Monday and I'm going to try to start blogging regularly again.

It's been a week. I'll write more about my week a later. But for right now, books.

The Time Regulation Institute is a novel I picked up last week, by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar and translated by Maureen Freely. It's a classic Turkish novel. I'll tell you more when I'm further along.

I think that's it for now. I have to pick a new nonfiction read, and a new book for the gym. And go through my BEA stash and and and. What are you reading?



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

BEA Thoughts

I'm off at a conference this week, but last week was Book Expo America (BEA), the annual book-stravaganza for the publishing industry, held this year in New York, its frequent home.

This year was the third or fourth that I've attended BEA, first as a librarian, then as a blogger and finally this year as a bookseller. I had my fancy VIP badge and a tote I picked up right outside the subway, not to mention comfortable shoes and plenty of water. I love BEA for the networking, the panels and (yes) the opportunity to replenish my pile of galleys. Basically it's the highlight of the bookish year.

All of these things were present this year but this year's show had a slightly shrunken feel. Some of my favorite presses were absent- Europa Editions didn't have a booth, and neither (I think) did Melville House. I don't remember seeing New Directions but it's possible I missed them. I did see Other Press, NYRB Classics and Graywolf, along with City Lights, Akashic, Soho and the Big Five. The academic presses were there and I got a tote bag with cats on it from Baker & Taylor. There were at least two book-subscription-box companies present and lots of random things like coloring book companies, masseurs and more.

But it was noticeably smaller and it didn't seem as crowded as it usually does. I heard that BEA was limiting the number of blogger tickets but I noticed quite a few bloggers none the less. That's fine with me; someday I'll be back (again) as a blogger and I really believe the opportunity to attend BEA as a blogger does a lot to cement that person's relationship with the professional side of the industry and helps people who want to take on a more professional role within it, be that as an agent, author, bookseller, or bookstore owner. I have friends who started as bloggers who have gone on to one or more of those roles, as have I.

What did I accomplish? I went to a good panel on small presses and translations; I picked up some catalogs from a craft-book publisher to bring to my quilting retreat this weekend; found some great galleys (more on that in a later post) and caught up with friends and colleagues. I was at the Adult Author Breakfast on Wednesday with Stephen King, which was pretty exciting. But because of that ticket, which cost a pretty penny, I had to cancel my reservation at the Europa Editions breakfast, sadly for me the only chance to interact with them at BEA. Oh well, we can't do everything I guess.

I've never been to Book Con, a newish event tied to BEA and aimed at consumers. I don't bother with signings much at BEA although I did wait in line to get James Patterson to sign something for my father in law, who is a fan, and I got a crockpot cookbook signed by its author who is a legend in the annals of crockpot cooking. I spun a wheel and won a YA book I will probably not read from one of those subscription services. And I waited in line, with an author who hugged me when I told him I was a blogger, for a tote bag we both agreed looked cute from a distance but was actually kind of crappy when we got it in our hands. If you're going to put your name on something designed to hold books, maybe that bag shouldn't be see-through. It's just a thought.

Nevertheless I got a lot out of it and I'm glad I went. I always appreciate the opportunity and look forward to attending in the future.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

On Re-Reading THE SON, by Philipp Meyer

I read The Son, Philipp Meyer's should-be-a-classic novel about generations of a Texas cattle and oil family, when it came out in 2013. It was heavily promoted by its publisher HarperCollins and it did not disappoint. It was one of my favorite books of that year and I was very sad to see it lose the Pulitzer for which it was nominated to the more popular The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's big hit. I don't know how popular The Son was, but it is the kind of book that deserves big prizes and a big audience.

Fast forward a few years, and AMC has made a miniseries out of it, starring Pierce Brosnan as hardscrabble Eli McCullough, the patriarch who goes from Comanche captive to teenage outlaw to founder of a wealthy and powerful family that puts on civilized life like makeup but in whom violence and the desire for freedom simmer nonetheless. I haven't seen the TV show yet; I took on the project of rereading the book because when I watch the show I wanted to have the book fresh in my mind.

Re-reading The Son was most definitely worth effort. Last year I read S.C. Gwynne's masterful Empire of the Summer Moon, about the Comanche tribe and specifically its last leader, Quanah Parker; filled with details of Comanche culture and life, it's a great prequel to The Son and backs up Meyer's accounts of Comanche life. Large sections of The Son are concerned with Eli's life as a captive and later member of the band and I feel better about the accuracy of Meyer's depiction now- and more impressed with Meyer's research and the way he weaves that research into the story.

Meyer presents each of the three main characters- Eli, his son Peter and great-granddaughter Jeannie- through their stories. In other words, we don't watch events unfold so much as hear each person's version of the events of his or her life. Eli is telling his life story to a historian, as an old man, after living through so very much. His weariness, along with his joys and regrets, color his tale. Peter's is presented day by day through his diary, until his diary runs out and we get a coda of his life after. We hear apprehension, horror, fear, love and joy as it happens. And Jeannie's presentation is the trickiest to figure, because we don't know the circumstances of her telling until the very end, but Meyer drops hints that something is not quite right. With her story we see the world changing again as another McCullough misfit tries to find a place for herself. Re-reading helped me put hers together from the beginning because I know how it ends. Then a fourth character enters the stage and the McCullough saga is transformed again.

The TV show has helped drive some sales of the book, at least in the bookstore where I work and mostly because I've tried to be relentless about pushing to get it in the store and out to customers. One thing I love about the current outpouring of adaptations is how it's helping drive sales of amazing books. If you haven't read The Son, whether or not you're watching the show, I urge you to pick up and read this classic American novel not just of the West but of family and the human spirit.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mon Secret, by Niki de Saint Phalle

Mon Secret, by Niki de Saint Phalle. Published 2010, SNELA La Différence. In French. Memoir.

In this brief graphic memoir, late French artist Niki de Sainte Phalle details the sexual abuse she endured at the hands of her father, a banker, and some of the consequences on her including some experiences of treatment.

The book appears to be hand-written and from time to time includes stylized, illustrated lettering at moments of great emotional strain. Snakes are a recurring motif and she often draws her S as a snake. She also places emphasis on the letter P, especially when spelling père, or father, and V, for viol, or rape.

The appeal of the book for me is both its look- de Saint Phalle's use of illustrated script and the casual feel of the handwritten pages- and the power of its deceptively simple text. The narrative starts off slowly; her family, based in New York City, rents a house in New England every summer. They go to a new place every year. It's beautiful there, seductive, but there's a menace just under the surface the year she is 11. The first sign is the snakes but I think we're meant to understand the snakes as a symbol of her father's sexuality.

It's a powerful book, raw and emotional. Mon Secret can be read in one sitting comfortably; it's only 30 or so pages long, and although the book is in a larger format the large scrawl of the writing means each page has little text. The vocabulary is also pretty basic and intermediate students of French could handle it with ease.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.