It’s summer! Hopefully this means you have a little down time to read books you might not otherwise. Though it is literally my job to make such recommendations, I thought I might do so here for free, as well. I’m focusing on independent presses for a couple of reasons, but I’ll spare you the sermon. Short version: big publishers get plenty of publicity already.
- Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, Kintu (Transit Books) — It’s a big, dense book. But, alas, such is life! Quit your whining. It’s worth every page, this one. I love enormous stories where the coursing, cursed bloodline of a family tells the story of something so much larger. Makumbi’s book is a story about Uganda, true, and while she is definitely not interested in Anglocizing it for you, it’s one of the achievements of the novel that neither is this compromise necessary.
- Elena Passarello, Animals Strike Curious Poses (Sarabande Books) — I can’t say enough good about this essay collection. There has been some talk about how maybe the internet has wore out the essay-form for a bit. That’s probably bunk however you spin it, but Passarello rips it to shred and feeds it to birds (who surely should know better than to eat paper). Anyway: this is the best new essay collection of the year. Come at me.
- Mathias Énard, Compass [trans. Charlotte Mandell] (New Directions) — Another big book, I’m sorry. And, yes, it is one of those books — long, semi-florid sentences; self-obsessed male narrator; West reflecting on East. Somehow, though, Énard more than pulls this off. I’ve liked everything of his I’ve read thus far, but this feels like what he’s been building toward. Kotsko, especially take notice of all the music in this book. Compass has tapped into something very special, and I suspect it’ll be one we’re talking about for some time.
- Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet [trans. Jerónimo Pizarro & Margaret Jull Costa] (New Directions) — You probably have heard of this one. Maybe you even own one of the translations. I don’t know … there’s just something about this time and place that begs for us all to return to Pessoa’s classic. The quintessential example of the book that took a lifetime to write, and has been a lifeline for so many.
- Fleur Jaeggy, These Possible Lives [trans. Minna Zallman Proctor] (New Directions) — Another book from New Directions. They’re always solid, but they really hit a good stride this year. This is a very slim collection of essays about three writers — De Quincey, Keats, & Marcel Schwob (more on him in a second) — but its so mighty in its effect and sheer style. A perfect length to hole up with you for an afternoon or evening at the bar.
- Marcel Schwob, The King in the Golden Mask [trans. Kit Schluter] (Wakefield Press) — Speaking of Schwob, I can’t tell you how happy I am that Wakefield Press (and translator Kit Schluter) are making him more readily accessible in English. Vicious and sublime, dark and hallucinatory, reading him for the first time somehow leaves a mark on your subsequent reading. A master storyteller, whose influences you feel and influence is felt … even if too rarely identified as such.
- Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf) — This is somehow Soldier’s first book of poetry. It’s staggeringly good. I’ll leave her to describe it: “I am a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation—and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.” Every word of this is woven into her debut collection. Whereas will be rightly lauded with awards come fall.
- Ibn Khālawayh, Names of the Lion [trans. David Larsen] (Wave Books) — Probably a curious choice, but I think many of you will really dig this. A cult classic you couldn’t get your hand on for years, this is David Larsen’s English translation of the 10th-century Arabic lexicographer Ibn Khālawayh’s list of names of lions. Larsen is a poet himself and an Arabic scholar, both of which shine through in his introduction and stellar notations throughout the collection. He notes that Ibn Khālawayh would in no way have regarded his intent as poetic, but there’s no denying that something poetic is happening in Larsen’s engagement with his work.
- Leonora Carrington, The Complete Stories (Dorothy Project) — During a time that is too-often-to-be-useful called “surreal,” it’s helpful that so much actual surrealism is coming back into print. Leading the charge is Leonora Carrington. Here you have debutante’s swapping roles with a wolf, both of whom are hungry for something different; a rocking horses suffering its fate; and, naturally corpses. It’s weird to call Carrington “a joy,” and yet indulging such weirdness also feels perfectly appropriate.
- Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida (Coffee House Press) — I’m delighted that this debut novel has been garnering such great reviews. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, it’s hard to deny it is a perfect vehicle for storytelling. Goal-oriented monomania . . . it drives the athlete as much as it does any Ahab. Gabe Habash has crafted a really special book. One of the best sports novels I’ve ever read … and surely one of the year’s best novels, period.
2 thoughts on “Ten Books For Your Summer Reading”
So, ah, if you had to a give a shout out to one or two books from Big Publishing so far this year . . .
Amelia Gray’s ISADORA (FSG) & Katie Kitamura’s A SEPARATION (Riverhead)
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