Archive for the 'literature' Category

An Awkward Book to Carry Around

‘God Says No’ review is over here.

(This had been up but I deleted it. Learning to live with myself, guys.)


"I want to read my own production and astonish myself"

In one index of his growing international reputation, Mr. Bellatin recently signed a multibook deal with Gallimard, the prestigious French publisher, that calls for his next several works to be issued in France before they appear in Spanish in Latin America. As usual he has seized on that opportunity to make mischief: rather than publish his original manuscript here, he intends to have someone else render the French translation back into Spanish.

There is a feature on Mexican writer Mario Bellatín in the NY Times from last Sunday. His novella Beauty Salon (originally published in Spanish in 1994) is out now in translation (by Kurt Hollander) from City Lights Books. Between him and Alejandro Zambra you can read very few pages and still be hip to contemporary Latin American letters. Get on it (my slow ass is).

"…that we failed to imagine for ourselves a world we could truly thrive in."

In the past twenty years we’ve seen the rise of capitalism 2.0: globalization, which can truly do only one thing well, and that is commodify and sell. All other factors must be subordinated to this goal. Local cultures and traditional ways of life—if they can’t be appropriated and sold—must be smoothed out, pulverized, and replaced by quantifiable markets.

The truly great promise of poetry—today, right now—is as a functioning site of resistance to globalization; and to be very clear, I don’t mean that poetry should be explicitly political, or anti- or pro-anything. Sloganeering is best left to pamphlets. Poetry resists simply by stubbornly existing largely outside the control of the capitalist hegemony, by creating a true and uncommodifiable culture. —Jeremy Schmall at HTMLGIANT

Read that. The post, of course, gets bonus points for the picture at its end.

Evolution Through Storytelling

I stood up—the pain beginning to set in—and unpacked my mother’s chicken-and-pepper sandwich; it was stale, the pepper mushy and bitter. I turned on the lights, found my notebook, and after biting into the sandwich and staring at the blank page for a long time, wrote a poem that I titled “Love and Obstacles,” the first lines: There are walls between the world and me,/and I have to walk through them.

Literature is a constant and storytelling is necessity in Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles, a collection of interlocking stories about the growth of a nameless Bosnian writer. It begins and ends with stories that include American storytellers—Spinelli the conman and McCalister the Pulitzer winner—and between these are many Bosnians who approach the act of writing in vastly different ways—from poetry, to straight nonfiction, to aggressive notes to roommates, to film. Through it all, the protagonist is evolving, bringing the lessons from each storyteller he meets into the next experience.

The protagonist has in common with Hemon all the skeletal aspects of life—birthplace, vocation, and ultimate life as a not-quite-exiled writer in the US. This is the case in each of his books, and as in the others it takes nothing away from the work. English is Hemon’s second language and he takes no aspect of it for granted; from using words we don’t hear in ways we couldn’t have imagined to his perfect use of the oft-maligned semicolon. He often gets playful: “atwitter,” “asparkle,” and “adrizzle” all make appearances.

“The Conductor” is the collection’s best moment. Placed between stories of the protagonist’s youth in Bosnia and his life in America, it encompasses the chronological trajectory of the collection and gives it its shape. At the beginning, the protagonist is a student of literature in Sarajevo who goes to a café to hang out with the famous poets, including the most famous of them all, Dedo. Eventually, after the war in Sarajevo when they are living in the States, they are both invited to speak on the same panel and end up sleeping in the same bed. It, like the entire book, is a gorgeous, seamless ride from youthful stupidity to wise uncertainty.

What is most refreshing is that through it all, we’re not wrestling with whether or not his Bosnian nationality is important to him, or whether Americans are assholes, or if his father’s hatred of fiction means anything grand. There is no tossing and turning over politics or relevance, it’s just human characters, living and being portrayed in writing that is both palpable and meditative.

A Rare Whiff of Un-Hot Air

If you write a good book it’s easy to get published, it’s just hard to get paid. But everybody has a job when they write their first novel. And if they don’t, they should.

Stephen Elliott’s thoughts on the state of publishing, at The Rumpus

I was at the party he mentions in the first paragraph and it was indeed a very entertaining event, worthy of the awesomeness of The Rumpus. It was at Highline Ballroom, which serves really delicious food (Disclaimer: I was starving at the time). I’m not the biggest fan of each artist who graced the stage, but everyone did what they do brilliantly. Eugene Mirman was hilarious and read a draft of the commencement speech he’ll be giving at his old high school; Anthony Swofford read an excerpt from a memoir he’d only started weeks before; Matthew Caws of Nada Surf, solo on electric guitar, was tight and I felt really bad for only knowing “Popular”; Amy Tan is undeniably fierce; and Stephen Elliott himself as host was quite endearing. Oh, and the novel God Says No by James Hannaham, who read, published by McSweeney’s is—I’m positive before reading—really good. Let’s all buy it.


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