2017

15 books
  • Float

    Anne Carson

    First, this is an intriguing object: a clear box filled with twenty-two chapbooks. Each cover is printed in a similar texture in shades that to me represent the range of hues of bodies of water at different times of day and in various types of weather: blues, deep blues, grays, greens. Inside the text has similar variance whether verse, prose, lecture, play. The themes also range about from the classics (Carson’s field of scholarship) to “a chorus of Gertrude Steins performing an essay about falling” to philosophical studies of translation in “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent.” She prefaces it with a John Cage quote, who of course did his own explorations into the framework of silence, before...more

  • The Idiot

    Elif Batuman

    Essentially a novel in two parts, the first comprises Selin’s first year at Harvard in the year 1995, as Selin chooses to study linguistics and Russian, meets a Hungarian mathematician, Ivan, begins emailing Ivan, and develops a crush on him through their correspondence. They have an awkward flirtation, being painfully unable to have a conversation outside of their strange emails. The second part covers the summer when Selin travels to Paris with her friend Svetlana and then Hungary to teach English in a small town, which she basically only does to try to see Ivan, even though this seems ill-advised. The book is episodic, focused on the humor and poignancy of banal moments. Usually that sounds like something I am...more

  • Transit

    Rachel Cusk

    Rachel Cusk’s previous novel Outline was an unexpected pleasure, so it was also a nice surprise to find out the book was the first in a trilogy — Transit is the second installment. This book follows a similar structure, where each chapter is centered around a conversation between Faye, the heart of the story, and people she meets. Whereas in the last book, she was traveling and the conversations were focused more on the other people, this one has her at home, albeit a new home after divorcing her husband. (A home that needs to be renovated extensively, while the tenants in the downstairs flat protest at even moderate sound.)

    In some ways perhaps I love this book less than Outline,...more

  • White Tears

    Hari Kunzru

    Hari Kunzru is a British-born writer and has only lived in the US since 2008, yet he weaves a tale about the roots of appropriation in our culture in this stunning literary thriller. Two college friends, both white, bond over a shared obsession with old blues music. Carter is from a rich, well-connected family with the money to set up a recording studio full of “authentic” analog equipment, and Seth is an introspective nerd with a habit of wandering the city recording ambient noise. By chance Seth picks up audio of a man singing a haunting tune on the street, which the duo mixes to sound like a genuine blues tune digitized from an old 78 record. Carter shares...more

  • 4 3 2 1

    Paul Auster

    After establishing the parental background and birth of Archie Ferguson, 4 3 2 1 promptly splits off into four directions, four possible paths of this one person. While certain aspects of each life are constant — all four Archies have an interest in writing and most are attracted to same woman — there’s a fair amount of variance in each version and how the constants are played out. Rooted in the banalities of each life, the concept is compelling but sometimes bogged down in too much detail. Archie #1’s experience working on Columbia’s newspaper during the 1968 Vietnam War protests, and to a lesser extent Archie #4’s exposure to the Newark race riots, bordered on a slog-level amount of detail, and I’m not sure for what purpose...more

  • If Not, Winter

    Sappho, translated by Anne Carson

    more

  • Freedom is a Constant Struggle

    Angela Y Davis

    This slim collection of interviews and speeches covers some similar ideas in different contexts, and while I had a little wish that these had been reworked into one super essay, it’s also no big deal to revisit comparable concepts a few times when they are so significant. Plus it’s fascinating to get a sense of how Angela Davis structures a talk. A preeminent scholar, activist, and general bad-ass person, the connections she makes between the protests in Ferguson in 2014 (and on) with the ongoing fight of the Palestinian people are crucial. It’s not just that the systems of oppression are alike, but that the militarism of the police forces in the US overall is directly tied to the...more

  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing

    Madeleine Thien

    What was a zero anyway? A zero signified nothing, all it did was tell you nothing about nothing. Still, wasn’t zero also something meaningful, a number in and of itself? In jianpu notation, zero indicated a caesura, a pause or rest of indeterminate length. Did time that went uncounted, unrecorded, still qualify as time? If zero was both everything and nothing, did an empty life have exactly the same weight as a full life? Was zero like the desert, both finite and infinite?

    A sprawling novel centered around two generations of an extended family — two closely connected families, really — from the oppression of China’s Cultural Revolution through the violence of the student protests in 1989 into the modern day where some characters...more

  • Things We Lost in the Fire

    Mariana Enríquez

    Beautifully eerie stories set across Argentina pairing the darkness of modern life, with its extreme poverty, violence, and crime, to the murkiness of otherworldly terrors. It’s been almost two months since I read this collection, and it has stuck with me in a way that I know I will want to read this again. Strangely the only story that didn’t grab me is the eponymous “Things We Lost in the Fire,” in which women self-immolate to protect themselves from domestic violence. But having loved the rest of the book, maybe I read it in an off moment and will see it differently on a re-read.

    This is the first book of Enríquez’s to be translated to English, and I hope...more

  • 300 Arguments

    Sarah Manguso

    The premise of this slim offering is contained in one of the 300 snippets: “Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” While I definitely found some quotable moments in the quotable passages (which is kind of funny!), it didn’t really work for me as a book; it just didn’t feel crafted. Some of the “arguments” are funny or sardonic, some feel rather profound, while others strike me as throwaways. The trouble is the ones that do sound like a long book’s quotable passages just beg for the rest of the book, and the rest are fragments for the sake of the premise.

    This one suggests it...more

Pages