I’ve been on a reading rollercoaster the last several months. When I get stressed for no reason or feel really down, I don’t want to read, but instead I want to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. However, I continued with The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman, reading volumes 3-6. Gaiman’s mind is a fantastic place. The mythology, storytelling, and character development is gripping and realistic (the latter to an extent.) Aside from that, I read Made for Love by Alissa Nutting, which I thoroughly enjoyed. You can read Michael’s review in this issue or by going here. Michael and I both enjoyed the novel and although it’s no Tampa, it was a quirky book with a bit of darkness bubbling just below the surface. Most recently I reread Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille (a literary staple here at The Literati), and let me tell you that although I read it two years ago, there was nothing I forgot about the book, not one single detail. Bataille had some sort of magic power when it came to writing. Whether or not I was traumatized the first time reading it, my second time cemented this book as one of my favourites. It also made it onto one of our lists.
Lastly, Caitlin Doughty’s newest effort, From Here to Eternity, was a lovely collection of essays about death rituals from all over the world, in an effort to normalize the idea of confronting the deaths of your loved ones in different ways instead of embalming and spending thousands for a casket and an expensive funeral. It was quite similar to her debut, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, which covers several topics she talks about on her YouTube channel, all to expose her viewers to alternative ways to take care of bodies, or how other cultures take care of their dead. I genuinely enjoyed both of her books and highly recommend them to gain insight on something that happens to all of us but something we don’t talk about nearly enough. Overall, these were the books that I enjoyed reading in the last few months. In the next few months, I will be reading a lot more horror and trying to read more translated fiction .
August was WITmonth, a reading even created by Meytal Radzinski dedicated to reading women in translation. I had thought about unofficially joining in on this great event and went to the library to pick up some books. As always I walked out with too many books. I now had my fair share of books in translation and for the past few months I have been working my way through all of them. These books ranged from thrillers like Can You Hear Me? by Elena Varvello to dense works of literature like Belladonna by Daša Drndić. I had my chance to read Tove Jansson for the first time with Fair Play as well as finally picking upSuite Française by Irène Némirovsky.
I finished reading every novel written by Elena Ferrante when I read Troubling Love and The Lost Daughter, which is a big deal for me since I’ve never been a completionist (the vast majority of my reading is trying new authors). To make sure my reputation as Russian lit obsessed is still intact, I also read The Big Green Tent by Lyudmila Ulitskaya. The highlights from this reading experience include Belladonna, Men by Marie Darrieussecq and Savage Theories by Pola Oloixarac. While this experience is now over, it reminded me why I love reading translations but it also showed me just how imbalanced the publishing world still is, especially with the genders.
While my reading has been focused on women in translation, it didn’t take up all my time. I was able to read some excellent new novels, including Made for Love by Alissa Nutting, Taboo by Kim Scott and I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell. As well as some rereading some favourites, like The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill and Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille. I have no real plans for the rest of the year but I do expect to reread some of my favourites and continue working through my huge pile of unread books.
My reading over the past few weeks has been a patchwork of American topics in postmodernism and twentieth century literature. My most recent was a delve into the writings of Flannery O’Connor, who explores Catholicism and the Southern Gothic in a series of short stories that include bible salesmen, fake wooden legs and dysfunctional families. O’Connor’s portrayal of the Southern American ‘drifter’ has weaved its way into the cultural portrayal of the landscape, and her prose is just as biting and memorable as the backdrop she places her stories on to. It is fitting too, then, that I was also asked to read the poems of Elizabeth Bishop who was a known correspondent of O’Connor’s during her time writing. Bishop’s poetry explores a very different landscape – the horizon of New York and its inhabitants – yet it is still sparked by an engagement with the city and its artistic influence.
Two new terms I think it is also important to mention that I can come across this week are ‘post-racialism’ and ‘New Narrative’. Post-racialism was studied in relation to Paul Beatty’s 2016 Man Booker winner The Sellout, and defines a world past race, a world after race, where race no longer has to be seen, discussed or acknowledged. Mostly, the term is used in injunction with Obama’s presidency where many recognized a post-racial period following his inauguration, forgetting the take into account pockets of America, both in terms of geography and class that are hot with racial tension following the election of a Black President. The Sellout is a work that one could argue sits next to this ideology as a satire of its conception.
New Narrative takes us back to 1970s San Francisco and to the formation of a new literary phenomenon. New Narrative is the attempt to fuse social experience with narrative and to create work that is so embedded with the contemporary social scene that it cannot be read outside these contexts. Such work, such as Rob Halpern’s Placeholder, contains issues of the masculine crisis following the Vietnam War and seeks to integrate the homosexual experience into this through the use of pornography. It is an extremely complex novel, but evaluating pornography as its own genre with harmful capital investment gives a good structure in which to begin reading Placeholder.