Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


BTBA 2020 longlist

I'd read fewer of the BTBA-eligible works this past year, on the order of 3% (funny how that number always seems to crop up). This year's nominees are more promising than last; though I've only read two of the fiction and one of the poetry so far (on which more below, along with honorable mentions of some that I thought would make the longlist), several of the others have been on my radar, and a couple already on order.

For publishers on the fiction list, FSG tops the list with three entries, while Archipelago and Graywolf return after a year's absence with two apiece, two also for Knopf (including its Pantheon imprint). And Charco makes the cut in its first year of eligibility (though I'd expected Margarita Garcia Robayo's Fish Soup (Charlotte Coombe), Columbian out-and-downer shorts [LARB] to be the one selected), while Verso makes its first appearance (Vigdis Hjorth, on order). Meanwhile, Deep Vellum and Coffee House dropped out; I thought the latter's Mario Levrero, Empty Words (Annie McDermott), discursive handwriting (and handwringing) [NPR] might make the list (looking forward to The Luminous Novel).

So, a few words on the little I've read so far:

Juan Carlos Onetti, A Dream Come True (Katherine Silver) [Archipelago]: short stories often centered on residents of the river town Santa Maria, another Yoknapatawpha County (Faulkner's influence marked) or Macando (Onetti cited by Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes as an influential precursor). Hits his stride in the '40s and keeps going strong.

Daša Drndić, EEG. (Celia Hawkesworth) [New Directions]: fatal illness of History, neveragain overandover ... kinda cumulative kinda accretive kinda what-the-hell, see also MAO: though this is cumulative, I agree that the others are better, sort of the same as with another book I'd expected to see selected, Laszlo Krasnahorkai's Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming (Ottilie Mulzet) [New Directions], worthwhile but not of the caliber of prior work, diminishing returns seeming to have set in (not for lack of ambition; and I thought it might just be me, but while I'm not as negative as Andrew Singer in WLT I'm also not satisfied that it completes a four-book project [not a tetralogy]) (overreliant on an established style ain't the same as mature, more like overcooked) (and still eagerly awaiting the delayed From the cardinal points, sundry features) (but I digress)

Gemma Gorga, Book of Minutes (Sharon Dolin) [Oberlin]: 60 prose-poems in spirit of Ponge, quotidian metaphysicality; just happened upon in my looking into Catalan lit (and one of two nominated Catalan poetry titles) [sample]

And see also 3%'s continuing coverage of Why this book should win.

In other news, Archipelago Books is extending its offer of free ebooks, both in time and titles!



We interrupt our lack of regularly scheduled programming for a special announcement:
Archipelago Books free ebooks available til April 2
Get thee hence, and thither, and be well.


2019 wrap-up

I've not had a lot to say this year, and won't say as much about my reading as in past years: I've managed two books a week (and so over 100 for the year), of which a third were poetry, a third translated novels, and the rest split fairly evenly between novels in english, short stories, and nonfiction of various stripes.

There seems to be a resurgence in short stories these days; just about half of Archipelago Books' offerings this year are in that category. The Tabucchi, selected from prior Archipelago and New Directions collections, will be the go-to book henceforth, and Vladislavić's early stories exceeded expectations, but there's also a lot newly in translation: the singular Uhart, and the still-to-be-read Onetti, Ambai, and Ikonomou. McPherson put me on to Robert Kelly's unreplicatable experiments in prose, while Song Cave brought new Raymond Roussel and Charco Margarita Garcia Robayo's Fish Soup.

In longer prose, this year's stand-out in english is Anne Burns' Milkman [Graywolf]; and late to the party, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's Kintu [Transit]; for some reason I'd been giving African literature in English short shrift, no longer. In translation, the usual suspects (Daša Drndić, Can Xue, Laszlo Krasznahorkai) were all solid but not at their best, but Dubravka Ugresic's Fox [Open Letter] is top of her game. Some writers new to me also scored high (June was a particularly good month-of-the-book) (also, Lina Meruane's Seeing Red [Deep Vellum]).

I'm still filling gaps in my poetry reading, this year finding a lot of headliners good-but-not-great (Jorie Graham, Rita Dove, Amiri Baraka, Natasha Trethewy, Charles Simic (though his renderings of Vasko Popa [nyrb/poets] are not to be missed)), but found The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks [LoA/American Poets Project] to be essential indeed. Surprisingly, it was poetry in translation that most stood out (see Adam Mickiewicz below): Prévert & Eluard [Black Widow] and Giorgio de Chirico from the Italian [A Public Space] and the surrealist-inflected Miltos Sachtouris (Karen Emmerich, cf) [Archipelago], and as always Chinese classical via David Hinton and David Young, and current via Zephyr. Another stand-out won the BTBA 10 years back, Elena Fanailova's The Russian Version [Ugly Duckling].

As always, the blow-by-blow is available at The Fictional Woods.


belated followups

Belately, I had little to say about the BTBA shortlist and M.A.Orthofer said it for me: "It's an ... interesting variety ....."; nor have I any opinion on the winners, except that it's great for New Press and co-im-press to garner their first awards (yes the prize money goes to authors and translators, but the second-order effects are significant and welcome). It seems as though my tastes are diverging from those of the fiction judges; I'm more likely to follow up with the poetry of Hilda Hilst (who made the fiction longlist four years back).

It's been more years since I've spoken about inverted humped yield curves (elaborated in links therein), but that's where we are now (and have been since March). The paucity of prior examples makes any economic forecast highly speculative, but Germany '94 & Australia '12 both saw a ratcheting-down (non-recessionary) of GDP for years after (which may be one reason why the Fed's talking rate cutting this past week). 'Twill be interesting to see how all this unfolds ...


BTBA 2019 longlist

Another year, another longlist (of which I've read a handful: Olga Tokarczuk, Ondjaki, Dubravka Ugresic, and Can Xue [the latter pair after the turn of the year], and, in poetry, Luljeta Lleshanaku); as always, adding new blips to the radar (I generally end up reading a third of the fiction longlist, half the shortlist). While disappointed that my favorite press, Archipelago Books, was not included on any longlist this year (first time for that; last year the first time not on any shortlist), it's gratifying to see the variety of small presses making up the list (as too with the MBIP this year, indicating a healthy ecology; on the other hand, Dublin could find only one translation), and particularly the return of university presses (nearly shut out last year). I expect that 3% coverage will elaborate on the contenders, while Mooksie and Gripes' forum will sort them out, but that's just about all I'm willing to forecast.


arrhythmia of the waves arriving
syncopate pebbles and shards of shell
rattle as waters withdraw
the shore a shifting near horizon

instantaneous constellations
scintillate sunlight scatters
across the fibrillate surface concealing
the pulse of the currents beneath


The Bookshelf of Good Intentions (slight return)

Ten years or so ago I made a little list that I've got through for the most part in the meantime. Of course it's not static, despite some items' persistence (like Eliot's Daniel Deronda or the remainder of The Canterbury Tales), and some things lead to others (eg Genji to Heike and Ise [and 100 Poets]), while others arrive with a thud (such as John E Woods' Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream). But it is not my purpose to update much less chronicle; rather, it's to mark a confluence that has allowed me to put a dent in the list.

Long absent from my list was Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz, for lack of a translation not mired in period furnishings. Luckily for me, translator Bill Johnston felt similarly, and did something about it, and so too did Archipelago Books, for whom he'd also done Magdalena Tulli, Wiesław Myśliwski, Witold Gombrowicz & Tadeusz Różewicz (and, elsewhere, Andrzej Stasiuk and Tomasz Różycki) (all of which I'd read, many of which garnered prizes; I regret not being able to read Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, available only as audiobook). Johnston brings out how Mickiewicz subverts the epic form with elegiac comedy, sharing something of the sensitivities of Byron's Don Juan (as he remarked in a presentation at Poet's House in NYC last month). So this was the briefest of residencies on the BoGI, but prompted a further displacement ...

... since I figured, as long as I'm doing foundational national literature from the second quarter of the 19th century, what about Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed? Looking back 2 centuries rather than 2 decades (as Mickiewicz did), it also looked forward to unifying the Italian language (if not the Risorgimento, however alert to then contemporary echoes). Now, this ordinarily ain't my cuppa, à la Scott and all, but the first quarter to third displayed a mastery before threads started to fray, and Bruce Penman's translation made even the slogging bits tolerable.

Continuing with the impetus of the 1830ish theme, I've queued up my long-deferred Pushkin project (see top link), Nabokov's detailing of Eugene Onegin, along with the Little Tragedies (hey another Don Juan subref! yes that had its moment on the BoGI too). Moreso than Manzoni or Mickiewicz (a friend of his), Pushkin remains a presence in the national literature, particularly due to its penchant for incorporating its precursors (eg Dovlatov, Bitov). Not quite yet, other things to attend to, but as New Year's resolutions go, I think this one will be seen through.



forever lasts to the end of time
while eternity is timeless, still
present even after time's run out


2018 best of

Whew, wanted to get this wrapped up by Christmas, tis the seasoning of the year (attention conservation notice: I has a taste) ... for the first time since 2012 I fell short of 100 books read, other things on my mind. That's life, I s'pose. But I made the most of my reading.

This year's big project was The Journey to the West in 4 (revised) volumes (Anthony C. Yu) [Chicago], incited by remaindering at bookculture (as was The Story of the Stone, many years back). Hit the sweet spots of interest in syncretism and cultural transmission: yes Monkey steals the show, but the blend of Zen Tao Kung & alchemy sets the stage; began to wear in V3, have to say that one reason I persevered was that the Tang Monk's journey is the reader's as well, with all its trials and tribs, and another of the main characters, the Idiot, is constantly looking to bail out ... of course this may be an anachronistic way of taking it, but it certainly wasn't to achieve merit.

In poetry. I've finally filled enough gaps to feel fairly well-grounded: this year, with selected by Thom Gunn, Yvor Winters, Mark Strand, Charles Olson, Anthony Hecht, A.R. Ammons, and W.S. Graham (the bookends the best) (also by poets better known as translators: Alastair Reid [meh], Michael Hofmann [solid], Richard Howard [Harold Bloom: "Robert Browning's authentic heir"; mixed blessing, that, at least early on], Dick Davis [rent formalwear]); in translation, Doris Kareva, Adam Zagajewski, Eleni Vakalo, and from waybackthen, Li Shangyin and One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, all very good; and among more current poets, Tracy K. Smith and Layli Long Soldier, the latter of which enticed me in to a couple of Native American poetry anthologies, including that recently edited by Heid E. Erdrich (a form of collection I normally avoid), as another part of catching up on the "N.A. Renaissance" (of which I'd only read Louise Erdrich previously) in preparation for Tommy Orange's There There, best U.S. debut of the year (and Wu He's Remains of Life fits in here somewhere as internationally indigenous).

For other fiction writers in English this year, there were a few standouts:
Gerald Murnane, Border Districts [FSG]: still Bernhard on 'ludes [MAOrthofer; previously]
Gabriel Josipovici, The Cemetery in Barnes [Carcanet]: counterpointing Monteverdi's L'Orfeo with Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, with Joachim du Bellay's Regrets providing a third voice, there's something fugal about it, yet another art developing in the transition from Renaissance to Baroque (curious as to why a few of the details regarding Barnes Cemetery [link in following] were twiddled) [Mitchelmore]
Eley Williams, Attrib. and other stories [Influx]: varied difficulties with and around words [TLS, TWR interview]

Of foriegn authors new to me though not BTBA-eligible this year:
Daša Drndić, Belladonna (Celia Hawkesworth) [NDP]: as impressive as expected, wide-ranging yet focused; alludes back to prior work (Trieste, Leica Format, also englished, though I won't be backtracking to them) without undue dependence thereon [MAO] and TLS fair use: "This novel—the first of a trilogy featuring Ban—resembles topography, as if inviting the reader up on the top of a mountain to survey a geography as mutable and varied as that of the Balkans themselves. These lands, that have so regularly changed nationality and provoked persecution, are also the groundsoil of Drndic's previous ten novels. Celia Hawkesworth's translation indelibly transcribes perhaps one of the strangest and strongest books on ageing and rage, and the need to bear constant witness." And Doppelgänger (S,D, Curtis & Celia Hawkesworth) [Istros], an asymmetric pairing of tales darkly humorous or vice versa [MAO]. Looking forward to EEG [MAO].
Filip David, The House of Remembering and Forgetting (Christina Pribicevich Zorić) [Peter Owen]: Shoah survivor identity crises, the problem of evil & Jewish mysticism, nother must-read [LARB]
Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury (Eliza Marciniak) [Transit]: late communist rural Polish upbringing, surprisingly engaging debut (and hey poet's prose!) [WLT]

As for the BTBA-eligible, I've read nearly a score, and of what I've read consider Olga Tokarczuk's Flights (Jennifer Croft) [Riverhead] to have the inside track, with Vladimir Sharov's The Rehearsals (Oliver Ready) [Dedalus] (and so it is written, microcosmically [MAO, LARB]) right alongside, while MAO favors Carlos Rojas' The Valley of the Fallen (Edith Grossman) [Yale/Margellos], and Dag Solstad's T Singer (Tiina Nunnaly) [New Directions]. In recent years the judging has diverged from either of our esteemations, though still on worthy works (cf their ruminations): I expect that due consideration will be given to Hanne Ørstavik's Love (Martin Aitken) [archipelago] mother and son unparallelled stream of consiousness [MAO] and Ondjaki's Transparent City (Stephen Henighan) [biblioasis], Luanda seen through [JoburgRB], as well as others I've not (yet) read. But my preferences tend towards more inventive works, not for everybody:
Maria Gabriela Llansol, The Geography of Rebels Trilogy (Audrey Young) [Deep Vellum]: more like the topology of mystics, mostly, achronoillogical (and many referents unfamiliar [to me anyways, thx wiki et al]), infused with a unique poetics ... no neither Pessoan nor Lispectorate but similarly sui generis [TMN]
Wolfgang Hilbig, The Tidings of the Trees (Isabel Fargo Cole) [Two Lines]: a notch up from The Old Rendering Plant which is sayn sumpin [FullStop, Asymptote]
Brice Matthieussent, Revenge of the Translator (Emma Ramadan) [Deep Vellum]: pomover-the-top author-translator-character contention replete with red herrings in sauce [LARB]
Willem Frederik Hermans, An Untouched House (David Colmer) [archipelago]: WWII insensibility [MAO]
Alicia Kopf, Brother in Ice (Mara Faye Lethem) [& Other Stories]: exploration of the poles, art, writing, family, self [TWR]
Dino Buzzati, Catastrophe and other stories (Judith Landry) [Ecco]: the sense of unease shared with The Tartar Steppe the more remarkable for being accomplished in such short scope [3AM]
Matei Calinescu, The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter (Adriana Calinescu and Breon Mitchell) [nyrb]: sui generis must-read [MAO]

The above by no means exhausts what I found worthwhile but I'll leave it at that, as I've left a more complete rendering at The Fictional Woods (in a slightly less convenient format since migration to a new platforum, c'est la vie). Merry Christmas!