If you have never heard of Antosha Chekhonte, the brilliant parodist who published sharp, persistently hilarious sketches in Russian humor magazines (like The Alarm Clock and Dragonfly) during the late 1870s and early 1880s — well, you’re forgiven. Chekhonte, if you didn’t guess right away, was actually the young Anton Chekhov, and his first book of writings, The Prank, has never been published. Thankfully, this mess will be corrected this July when the New York Review of Books releases the slim book — a collection that Chekhov meant to usher his breakthrough into wider literary fame — for the first time in more than 130 years. … Read More
Contemporary literature is an amorphous, expansive thing, and it isn’t always easy to pinpoint how or why it is changing or what it may become. But in the current moment, at least one promising development is certain: literary writing that challenges or refuses stable gender binaries is of increasing critical and aesthetic prominence. The last month alone has seen the publication and widespread critical acclaim of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, a moving, multi-genre consideration of gender fluidity (among other themes). At the end of April, too, American audiences were finally able to access Anne Garétta’s Sphinx — wonderfully translated from the French by Emma Ramadan — a novel that uses no gender markers to refer to its protagonists. With these books in mind, the list below contains a collection of novels that feature agender, bigender, or gender-fluid characters or… Read More
It’s time to rethink everything. Everything. What it means to write and what it means to write for a public — and which public. What do I want from this writing? Money? A career? Recognition? A place in the community? A change in the government? World peace? Is it an artifice, is it therapy? Is it therapy because it is an artifice, or in spite of that? Does it have to do with constructing an identity, a position in society? Or simply with entertaining myself, with entertaining others? Will I still write if they don’t pay… Read More
“When it was proclaimed that the Library contained all books, the first impression was one of extravagant happiness,” wrote Jorge Luis Borges in his classic of philosophical fiction, “The Library of Babel.” One of the most revered stories-as-thought-experiments ever committed to print, Borges’ fiction posits the Universe as a library (“composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries”) that contains every possible text. This intellectual vision, at once playful and poised, has stirred authors (like Umberto Eco and Terry Pratchett) and philosophers (W.V.O. Quine and Daniel Dennett) alike for more than 75 years.
Has translated literature in the United States turned a corner? With some exceptions, readers of literature in translation (which should include every schoolchild in the land) no longer wait listlessly for their favorite authors to be translated. Thanks to a thriving, industrious translation community at home and abroad, the situation is now the opposite: brilliant unknown or unfamiliar authors are published every month, along with new translations of classics, lost or beloved. Surely there is still work to be done, but we have the translation community to thank for doing it. … Read More
I Am Radar begins in darkness: the title character, Radar Radmanovic, is born to his mother Charlene during a hospital blackout. Charlene’s husband, Kermin Radmanovic, is tinkering with a transceiver radio in the delivery room, waiting to “announce his child’s arrival to the world.” But when the lights come on the doctor is holding on to her newborn child, a baby “so dark it shimmered purple in the beam of light, like an eggplant.” … Read More
With her new novel, After Birth, Elisa Albert has already demonstrated a genius for concision. At under two-hundred pages, the book is fiercely brief, a breathless psychodramatic tour that begs to be re-read immediately. This is to say nothing of its perfectly clipped sentences — lines hijacked from a generation of men who seem not to know how to use them — that privilege clarity, precision, and rhythm above all else. And then the paragraphs: I’m convinced that Albert is among to the two or three best paragraph writers we have, mostly because, in their pithiness, they never sacrifice momentum. … Read More
A few weeks ago, I changed a setting on my notation app. It now allows me to save all of my notes to a journal file, a long scroll of text that records each stray thought I enter into any device. This master file, I’ve been thinking lately, has become the document of my life, my soul, if you will. It’s a shitty version of a soul to have, but, along with what I write here and elsewhere, it’s also the best approximation of my self. And at least I can track and change it voluntarily.
“My father was a computer, my mother a typewriter,” Alejandro Zambra writes in My Documents, “I was a blank page, and now I am a book.” … Read More
Written in the third creature, Mort(e) by Robert Repino is an interspecies war novel that hews closely to the actions and thoughts of a cat named Mort(e). First known as Sebastian, Mort(e) is inspired to change his name after a singularity-event brought about by a race of intelligent ants. … Read More
This week I reached into a pile of January galleys and removed a hideous green object called Coyote. It’s written by Colin Winnette, an author I’ve never heard of, for Les Figues Press, a publisher I’m not overly familiar with. It was selected for the 2013 NOS Book Contest, a prize I don’t know, by Aimee Bender, a writer who I’ve been meaning to read.
Poised somewhere between a long short story and a novella, Coyote selects a handful of clichés from the rural imaginary — missing children, trashy talk shows, crime procedural, domestic violence, etc. — and overcooks them in the deranged mind of its protagonist. This is a good thing. In order to write about rural America, writers must deal with its viciously circular self-image: the rural imagination is mediated by its own minstrelization on television and in cinema. It has absorbed a representation of itself that it never authored in the first place. … Read More