2018 So Far

I always enjoy monthly reading and review re-caps (or “wrap-ups” as some like to call them) on other book blogs, even if I seldom post my own. Now that I’ve more time on my hands, I thought it might be fun to put together my own re-cap, though I’m going to keep my opinions about specific books having to do with the BTBA to myself this time around jusst so as not to give anything away by mistake. Anyway, here’s where I’m at four months into 2018.

Total Books Read:  26 (I’ve set myself a goal of 100 books this year and, according to Goodreads, I’m 8 books behind schedule)

Books Read for BTBA:  23

Translations:  24

Audiobooks:  1

Books Written by Women: 10

Total Languages Translated: 11

 

Books Reviewed & Recommended Elsewhere:

 

Some Random Stuff I’m Excited About:

The Best Translated Book Award Longlist – Shortlist is due out any day now.

The Paris Review Gets a New Editor (Book Riot, 4/18/18) – and I can’t wait to see what she has planned.  Emily Nemens is such a departure from The Paris Review’s traditional vibe, or at least she seems to me.  She comes across as so… well… so millennial versus mid-century, Manhattan intellectual, Mad Men image the magazine has long cultivated. For anyone else out there tracking this – she takes control in June. Of course, magazine publishing being what it is, I’m guessing that means we won’t see what her vision for the magazine looks like until the Winter Issue. And even then it will be her first, so she will probably be conservative in her changes/initiatives.  But what if she’s NOT???? She’s a visual artist with a very distinctive style – and I can’t help wondering how it will that influence the artists she chooses?  I know, I know – this is all entirely speculative on my part, backed by few facts, even less knowledge and an excess of enthusiasm.  Whatever. I intend to enjoy every single minute of it.  Expect more on this topic from me in the months to come.

Messy Tony’s Why This Book SHOULDN’T Win Posts for the #BTBA2018 – After months of reading, comparing and agonizing over these books, reading Tony’s satirical take on the final long list makes me happy.

And, best for last: I made the (personal) discovery that THIS existed — At the Edge of the Wood by Masatsugu Ono — while doing research for my review of Lion Cross Point. Translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter, who also translated A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, At the Edge of the Wood is published by Strangers Press – a teeny-tiny publisher I’d never heard of based out of Norwich, England – in 2017. The copy I ordered finally arrived at the end of April, it’s bound together with lovely white staples and has french flaps… I can’t wait to dig in.

 

 

2017 In Review

2017 was not the best year. I am very aware that may be the understatement of the decade, but there it is.  I med an old blogging friend at this year’s Brooklyn Book Festival and tried to explain to him why I’d retreated from Social Media (and the world) – which amounted to a list of the same reasons that everyone who eventually retreats from, and leaves, Social Media (Twitter) gives. So I won’t bore you with the details. Enough to say that I spent most of 2017 on the couch watching television or hiding behind a book. A lot of reading got done but not a lot of writing.

Looking back, though, I see that I accomplished more than I realized. But isn’t that always the way?

I’m still contributing over at Book Riot. You can find links to everything I’ve written for them on my Book Riot Contributor’s Page. I’ve also reviewed for Foreword Reviews, The LA Review of Books, Quarterly Conversation and The Rumpus. Below are 3 which I am particularly proud of:

A few other highlights:

  • In 2017 I read 60+ Books, over half were translations.
  • Books by Women Authors – 10.  This is roughly 30% of the books I’ve read in translation…  to be honest I thought there’d be more. Which just reinforces the fact that unless I make a conscious effort to read women authors, it’s just not going to happen.
  • Languages – 9 (not including English). French, Spanish & Japanese novels made up the bulk of my reading in Translation.  I also read books translated from Yiddish, Italian, German and Korean.
  • Surprise of the Year –  Return to the Dark Valley by Santiago Gamboa, translated by Howard Curtis. I’d never heard of Gamboa before picking up this book and I don’t understand why. I’ll definitely be reading more of his work in 2018.
  • Disappointment of the Year – I really didn’t like The Impossible Fairy Tale by Han Yujoo, translated by Janet Hong. There’s a whole list of reasons I go into in my review of Han Yujoo’s novel at the Rumpus, but for those looking for the hot take:  the book relies on a series of literary gimmicks and clichés rather than substance and structure.  The shame of it is that she is talented enough to almost pull it off, which is saying a lot.
  • I attended both the 2017 PEN World Voices Festival in New York City & AWP in Washington D.C.
  • I’m also a judge for the 2018 Best Translated Book Award, which is something I’ve wanted to be a part of for a long time.
  • And for the first time EVER I managed to complete my GoodReads Challenge for the year!

So that’s it for 2017. I didn’t want to spend too much time dwelling on this past year – I’d rather look to the future.  Check back soon for my post on goals, news and resolutions for 2018.

Book Reviews In the Wild

20170415_174812-e1492299406699.jpgSo far, 2017 has been a good reading year. I’m even a few books ahead on my Goodreads Reading Challenge.

I wanted to post links to some reviews I’ve written for other sites in the past few months (in case you all missed me).

Cockroaches, written by Scholastique Mukasonga and translated by Jordan Stump, is a memoir from of a survivor of the Rwandan genocides.  What makes her account so moving is that Mukasonga was living in France when the majority of her family was massacred, and so her story is as much about surviving having your loved ones violently taken from you as it is about the years leading up to and surrounding  the horrific event.  You can read my review of Cockroaches at The Quarterly Conversation.

I wasn’t that impressed with South Korean writer Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale (translated by Janet Hong), but I have a pretty low tolerance for performative, avant garde literature.  The story which superficially is about abuse and violence in children devolves in the second half of the book into a meta-fictional hodge-podge. Such Small Hands by Spanish writer Andrés Barba (translated by Lisa Dillman) is a more powerful, and less pretentious, novel that deals with similar themes. You can read my review of The Impossible Fairy Tale at The Rumpus.

I’ve also been writing fairly regularly over at Book Riot about translations – mostly lists of book recommendations organized by themes, though there are some essays in the mix. There you’ll find recommendations of Japanese novels, French feminist writers, micropresses or – if you’re feeling political – an essay about hearing Masha Gessen give the Arthur Miller Lecture at the 2017 PEN Festival in New York which shaped my reflections on the current U.S. president’s lack of literary background and inability to articulate clear thoughts.  I’ve been writing at Book Riot for a few months now and am trying to keep my Clippings Page (see the menu above) updated with links.

Hopefully I’ll have more to share soon.

 

A Golden Age of Podcasts

I like to say that I was listening to podcasts before they were hip (check out this post from waaay back in 2009). Maybe I don’t really think that’s true, but I have been listening to them for a long time. Word on the street is that we’re currently in a golden age of podcasts, and there’s definitely a lot to choose from.  Quality and content range from three guys celebrating their love of pencils to a multi-part GE sponsored radio play/commercial publicizing new ultrasound technology. You know podcasts have gone mainstream when even Lena Dunham has gotten into the game.

There are currently 27 different podcasts on my phone (I have a Galaxy and use the Podcast Addict app).  Some you might have heard of – five are produced by Slate, three by the BBC, and at least five are radio shows you can listen to on National Public Radio. Welcome to Nightvale and “You Must Remember This” are two projects that were conceived as podcasts and are performed as theater.  Both have received huge amounts of well-earned media attention.

What is the attraction? When you think about it podcasts appear like a step back into another golden age… of radio.  Which is a large part of their charm. The majority of the ones I listen to, while better produced than their predecessors, stay true to what’s proven to be a successful formula.  They are still, for the most part, just recorded conversations.  Usually between two and three hosts.  The limitation of the medium is precisely what makes it intimate and warm.

Here’s an updated list of a few of my favorites, all with a literary spin of course:

Book Fight!  Tom & Mike are university professors by day, underground podcasters by night (literally, they record in a basement). Book Fight! is the only podcast that regularly has me laughing out loud… I’ve completely given up listening to it at work. Whether they are discussing a book, critiquing NaNoWriMo forums, exploring the deepest darkest corners of fan fiction or breaking raccoon news – listening to these guys is like grabbing a beer with a couple of good friends.

The Longform Podcast is a series of interviews with journalists. They have recorded 177 episodes to date. Past guests include Ira Glass, Gay Talese, Alex Blumberg, Hanna Rosin, Tavi Gevinson and Malcolm Gladwell.  They’ve interviewed Ta-Nehisi Coates three times.  If you have even the smallest interest in writing you should be listening to this podcast.  Not only is it interesting and entertaining, it’s a capsule education in journalism.

There’s not much to say about The Erasable Podcast other than it’s a podcast devoted to pencils. The three hosts are pencil aficionados who review different brands, critique the quality of graphite, lament off-center cores, rate the best sharpeners and erasers – to be honest, it’s a bit nuts. They’ve spent multiple episodes discussing Field Notes notebooks at great length. To date they’ve recorded 43 episodes. 43 episodes devoted entirely to the subject of pencils. I try to explain it to friends, but they stare back at me blankly.  Then they take the perfectly sharpened pencil I offer them (I now own several different varieties, as well as a schoolhouse-style hand crank sharpener and a Field Notes subscription) and wander off.

Here’s The Thing is a national public radio show hosted by Alex Baldwin. Regardless of how you feel about Baldwin as an actor or human being, he is one hell of an interviewer. He has a gift for engaging his guests in conversation, and within minutes they are laughing and joking like old friends at a cocktail party.  And it doesn’t hurt that the man has the most beautiful voice on radio. Warning: Baldwin mostly has Hollywood and TV celebrities, with the occasional NYC personality, on his show. So if you aren’t one for celebrity interviews (I’m not either) you might think Here’s The Thing isn’t for you. But you’d be wrong.

The LARB Radio Hour, hosted by Tom Lutz, Laurie Wiener & Seth Greenland reminds me of an old-style late night television show – all about books.  I think it’s the opening music.  The hosts are knowledgable, irreverent, and just generally lots of fun. Michael Silverblatt, host KCRW’s Bookworm, was a guest for two episodes.  It remains one of my favorite interviews of all time.  Silverblatt revealed that a listener called him to task for the lack of diversity amongst his guests. Not only did he acknowledge it – he promised the reader that he’d make a change. And if you listen to the show now, you realize that is exactly what he did. Lutz, Wiener & Greenland are publishing industry insiders (Lutz is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Review of Books) talking to their peers and colleagues. Their guests trust them – you can hear it in their interactions. It makes for fantastic radio.

Starting 2016 A Little Late This Year

Happy 2016!  I’ve never been a consistent reviewer and, true to form, it’s been some time since I last posted. But while I’ve been taking the last couple months off I haven’t been entirely relaxing. Completely the opposite, in fact.  I’ve been working on submissions outside of this blog – something I want to do more of in the future and which will (by necessity) change the content of the posts you’ll find here.

Are you surprised?  Does any of this sound familiar?  I’ve noticed a lot of posts lately, by some of my favorite bloggers, saying much the same thing.  Bloggers burned out by the daily grind of keeping up a blog, finding it difficult to balance their online & offline lives or just wanting to focus more on submitting their work to places that might pay. Many of these blogs, like mine, came online around 2009 – which leads me to wonder why we all seem to be feeling the same way at the same time. A case of the seven  year itch perhaps?

Displaying 20160119_064006.jpg
Emma, who has eaten so many of the books reviewed on this blog that there was really no choice but to make her a mascot.

Submitting reviews while still creating content here is obviously going to create some challenges.  My posts are still going to be about books and translations – this will remain a literary blog – so the reviews aren’t going away.  Mostly because I’ve never been much of a personal essayist. I’m not a particularly private person, it isn’t that, but my private life isn’t particularly interesting. And I really love writing reviews.  Yet there’s no denying that this blog has grown stale – probably for you as much as for me. That’s something I hope to change going forward.

If all goes as planned 2016 is going to be a busy year. And for my first official post of the New Year let’s start with Reading & Writing Goals of 2016.

I always sign up for the GoodReads Reading Challenge. Even though after 3 years of trying I still haven’t hit my goal. This year I’m going for 60 books and I’m already 3 books behind! But part of my reading goals for 2o16 is to actually spend more time reading. Doesn’t everyone feel like they have less and less time these days?  To combat the hyper-acceleration of modern life (yep, I went there!) I’m working on a major restructuring of how I live. More about that later this week.  (Here’s a hint: a certain Japanese book is part of my plan).  Back to Goodreads –  who else is taking part  in the challenge and how many books have you set as your goal? Let me know in the comments.

What’s on the reading list?  Translations, of course.  But also some non-fiction. Last year there was no plan – no rhyme or reason as to what I was reading. And I prefer to have a plan.  I was discussing the blog with a friend and she brought up a series on gardening books I did the first year of the blog.  Those are some of my favorite posts because I was able to explore a single subject in-depth.  In hindsight two factors made that series possible.  First, I wasn’t getting as many review copies back then.  More often than not the mail tends to dictate what I read now.  This isn’t a bad thing – I’m definitely NOT complaining. I’ve been introduced to authors and publishers and books from all over the world – and am hugely grateful for the education and the opportunities that have resulted.  But last year I was reading by the seat of my pants.  Which leads to the second factor – planning. Series like the one on gardening take some advance planning.  There needs to be more of that here in 2016.  The goal is that every month is going to have a unifying theme and/or focus.  Not necessarily reading books from a single country or a region for a month.  I’m thinking of more abstract ideas –  sometimes it will be a personal writing challenge I set myself, or a type of book, a specific subject or idea. I’ve got a few things planned but am always open to suggestions.

Lastly, expect more experimentation. The majority of posts on this blog have been straightforward reviews of translations.  And you’ll still find those here.  But there will also be more nonfiction, more interviews, more opinions and news pieces (I’ve become a bit obsessed with traditional journalism over the last few months)…  and maybe my version of creative writing.  We’ll see.  The real goal this year is to mix things up a little.