A Summer of Reading, Sardinia, the Warwick Prize, & More

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This summer I’m a guest at the Isle of Stories Festival in Sardinia, with an event July 3 (more details here). I’m taking some writing with me–about done with a novella entitled “Bliss” and some short stories. But I’m also taking some books! And what books. Great stuff has come in the door recently. In addition to the Lispector Complete Stories (more info below), I’m in the middle of reading some great books. Here are some first impressions.

ENRIQUE VILA-MATAS’ A BRIEF HISTORY OF PORTABLE LITERATURE (New Directions)–I must admit I envy Vila-Matas. He’s sneaky, funny, gets to be somewhat experimental but is still accessible, and underneath it all he knows how to tell an entertaining story. This tale of a secret society of writers and artists could just be an in-joke, but it’s not.

JOSEPH ROTH’S THE HOTEL YEARS (New Directions)–Written between WWI and WII, these essays cover a variety of topics, serious and less serious. Some are observations in a moment, others deeply evocative of setting, and some touch on politics. I’m just getting into this one, but it’s already an interesting look at the past, in a sense. For some reason, I’m drawn to think of the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel (perhaps I should be chided for that) and then its source material while I’m reading.

MARIANNE FRITZ’S THE WEIGHT OF THINGS (Dorothy Project). Brian Evenson blurbed this one as starting out simply and gently and then wading “into resonant darkness.” I haven’t gotten to the darkness yet, but it is already striking me in good ways and I’m intrigued. ALTHOUGH NOTHING INTRIGUES ME MORE than backcover copy mentioning a 10,000-page book by Fritz titled “Fortress” that she created elaborate diagrams in full color for and which Dorothy Project claims is untranslatable. For shame for shame, Dorothy. I think you should do it. At the very least, I am going to have to track down a copy in the original Austrian.

JUSSI ADLER-OLSEN’s THE KEEPER OF LOST CAUSES (Plume)–Although this one starts out a bit shakily, this first Department Q novel soon finds its sea legs and becomes an engrossing mystery about an abducted woman and the eccentric and shaken detective who picks up the cold case and begins to pursue it. Lively, with some unexpected scenes on a human level as well as good twists. I’ve become addicted to this one and expect it to hold up to the end.

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Earlier this summer, I also read the following books (in no particular order), all of which I recommend and some of which seem like essential reading.

EKA KURNIAWAN’s BEAUTY IS A WOUND (New Directions) –This Indonesian author’s English-language debut is scatological, scandalous, lively, beautiful and dark and messed up and fantastical. It’s like One Hundred Years of Solitude kicked into another gear, with almost a punk sensibility housed within gorgeous writing–and stories coiled within stories within stories. One of the most brilliant things about the novel is how Kurniawan never loses the thread even when spinning so many tales at once.

PHIL KLAY’s REDEPLOYMENT (Penguin)–I still feel that this is best paired with The Corpse Exhibition by Hassan Blasim but on a re-read I really liked quite a few of these stories. A couple fall flat, like one set on a college campus, but in general it was a recommended read, with several that seemed brave and different to me.

JOANNA WALSH’s VERTIGO (Dorothy Project)–Stunning short, sharp shocks with insight that reminds me of the very personal work of Clarice Lispector. Forthcoming–don’t miss it. Packs a wallop into a very small space. I suspect this will get some year-end kudos.

AMELIA GRAY’s GUTSHOT (FSG Originals)–Odd, weird, disturbing stories about people in air ducts and casual conversations about, well, being gutshot. Modern fables with a visceral quality that will alter your brain.

ALEXANDRA HOROWITZ’s ON LOOKING (Scribner)–“Eleven walks through expert eyes” that should be required reading for writers as it’s a fascinating showcase of bias, emphasis, and how we miss things in our environment depending on our background.

NELL ZINK’s MISLAID (Ecco)–A hilarious but also serious comedy of errors and comedy of clashing cultures. Zink’s strengths from her first novel Wall Creeper are all on display in this tale of the South. Some good interrogation of dominant hierarchy and systems as well.

CLARICE LISPECTOR’s The Complete Stories (New Directions)–I don’t know how to describe this book except as a revelation and transcendent. It’s tough to write such personal stories that seem so universal. Lispector can take the smallest detail and make it fascinating and the center of a story, or she use a wider lens. This collection, to me, is as important to any writer as the collected stories of Vladimir Nabokov. Like the Nabokov, these stories are arranged in chronological order, so you can chart the writer’s progress over the years. (I’ll be reviewing this one shortly.)

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Finally, in other news, my Nebula Award for Annihilation came in the mail yesterday–and if you missed it, Annihilation is on the long list for the Warwick Prize, which comes with a generous 25,000-pounds for the winner. Will my slim novel containing multitudes beat out some of those heavy hitters? We’ll see. The short list is announced in a few months.
VanderMeer--Nebula Award