Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


BTBA afterthoughts

So Yuri Herrera and Lisa Dillman won the Best Translated Book Award for fiction, and I think rightfully so, as much as I would have liked to see Chad Post's Open Letter see some payback for how much he/they have paid it forward (or, for that matter, Archipelago Books' entry, seeing as how the awards ceremony was held at The Folly, coincidentally but not oracularly the title of another of last year's releases, though ineligible since it's the first untranslated book we've done since 2007). It's also fitting that a book originating in Mexico won on the eve of Cinco de Mayo, in a year that has seen much more writing making its way north (and heavily featured in PEN World Voices) (as for the other Mexican entry, Luiselli's, I thought the story less compelling than the backstory). I'm glad I predicted that it was among the front-runners in prior posts, but it's time to otherwise assess my guesses retrospectively (afterthoughts sounds so much better than post-mortem, dontcha think?).

While I tried to be objective in setting odds, and to adjust for ancillary factors, trying to separate merit from taste is as silly as trying to peer inside the judges' minds (now a corps that changes each year; and no I don't envy them their task). The judges declined to select honorable mentions this time around, but there were indications that stuff I had down in the middle of the pack were more serious contenders (and so some of my favorites less so). It was a strong and balanced field, any of which will reward attention, but the winner, as in past years, moreso. And so I'm getting started on next year's contenders: after the ceremony, the first book I picked up down the street at McNally-Jackson was Herrera's (and Dillman's) The Transmigration of Bodies. And though I hold the awards in high regard, going forward, I intend to be posting more on non-BTBA stuff than was the case this past year. Stay tuned.

PS for more on Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World, see Complete-Review (with copious review links) and Aaron Bady's take.


BTBA shortlist long-take

Attention Conservation Notice: What, you were expecting Nabokov? Shakespeare? Cervantes?

The fiction shortlist for the eighth Best Translated Book Award (not counting the poll-voted 2008 award) was announced last Tuesday; the winner will be announced 7PM Wednesday, May 4, at The Folly in NYC (and online at TheMillions). While the winner is important, it's the shortlist that most captures my attention, as an unrivalled resource for my reading list: I've read over half of past shortlists, including all the winners (all helpfully compiled in one place), and half of the current one. First things first: the shortlist, reordered by what I consider the chances of taking the prize, even with odds (no sorry I'm not running a book), linked to 3%'s summary arguments (cf MAO) (asterisks mark what I've read; for what I haven't, I rely on the backchatter):
The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter) * [3-1]
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories) * [4-1]
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions) * [5-1]
A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books) [8-1] *
Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press) [10-1]
War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter) * [15-1]
Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions) [25-1]
Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis) [30-1]
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions) [40-1]
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press) [50-1]
Perhaps I overly discount the last two as being overly popular (many have said last year's Luiselli was better), but shuffling around the last half of the list shouldn't matter much. More to the point, it's great to see first-time appearances by publishers And Other Stories, Wakefield Press, and Biblioasis, and Open Letter's first double-billing.

But this is a good opportunity to look back on all the shortlists, to see how different publishers have fared. Of the 80 titles chosen so far, multiple entrants account for more than half:
New Directions: 13 (and 2 winners, +1 in poetry)
Archipelago: 12 (ditto) (but the only press that's made every shortlist) *
Open Letter: 7
Dalkey Archive: 6
NYRB: 6 (1 winner)
On the other side of the ledger, university presses have only made 6 appearances, half by Yale (which won last year), and the major houses are conspicuous by their absence (FSG made its first and only appearance the first time round). And I'm surprised Graywolf hasn't made the cut. But I expect to see more in coming years from some one-timers (Other Press, And Other Stories, Seagull) and from up-and-comers like Deep Vellum and Two Lines.

* Declaimer: (that's right, de- not dis-). I serve on the Board for Archipelago, and it's gratifying to see the press so well regarded despite scant resources. You can help ensure Archipelago's continued and deserved success. And yes, I've read over half that list too.


BTBA longlist short-takes

So the Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist has been announced. (So too the poetry longlist.) My publisher-based prognostication not too shabby (cf MAO's) (biggest miss was the top of my list Tabucchi), but some surprises on top of that: yes multiple listings for New Directions (4) (half of which I hadn't even considered); Open Letter with 3 titles (kudos! I've yet to read the Neuman) (and congrats to Graywolf and Deep Vellum, only other multiples with 2 apiece); different choices for Deep Vellum (which I'd read) and Wakefield (which I hadn't). But the biggest surprise is that Dalkey Archive got skunked; so too Yale/Margellos, Seagull, and Pushkin Press, but Dalkey had more eligible literary titles than anyone else. All in all, about a third of the longlist under my radar, til now.

Given limited intereligibility, there's a fair bit of overlap with the IFFP Man Booker Int'l longlist: Agualusa, Ferrante, Lianke, Mujila (and a different [ie the wrong] Kurniawan). Winnowing this down to a 10-title shortlist (April 19; winner May 4 @ The Folly, NYC) is a task I don't envy; I think Gospodinov, Herrera, and either Lispector or Kurniawan or both have the inside track, but I've been wrong before, and I've more reading to do before being wrong again.

(PS while my attention was diverted, M&G award discussion forums moved on to Goodreads)



the sun sets in purple yellow cloud bruise
above a contrail cuts a fresh scar
below the backlit trees grow vague

clouds blacken against the ashen horizon
the evening star rides the rising wind
a porchlight palpitates through branches


an update of sorts

The end of the month brings the longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, and I've now got 40 of the eligibles under my belt (~30% of my reading overall), including those mentioned as not yet read in the middle of my prior post (except towards list's end), without substantively changing my assessment.

What I can add is:
Wakefield Press: Unica Zürn, The Trumpets of Jericho (Christina Svendsen), though only as a longlist longshot;
and José Eduardo Agualusa, A General Theory of Oblivion (Daniel Hahn) [Archipelago] also has a shot (cf TQC)

I should mention that, like Zambra's My Documents, Anne Garréta's Sphinx [Deep Vellum] has received much praise (though not so much from me, more than faint, less than swoon) (and I found Chudori's Home too melodidactic); but it's not my place to second-guess. Besides, there's so much I haven't read (just f'rinstance Makine via Graywolf) (or don't intend to: Daoud via Other, Knausgaard via Archipelago) that it's short odds the longlist will lengthen my reading list.
(for more speculation, see The Mookse and the Gripes forum)


the year in reading

It's not over yet, but far enough along to sum up some. Rather than adding to all the 'best of' lists, which weren't all that good this time around, I'll embellish on themes that emerged in the course of the year.

I feel I've finally got a good grounding in Argentinian literature, beyond Borges and Cortázar, and Bioy Casares and Sábato and Arlt, and Puig and Piglia and Aira and (a bit of) Chejfec. I've already raved about Marechal; other works added to the fold include:
Juan José Saer, La Grande (Steve Dolph) [Open Letter]
Pedro Mairal, The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra (Nick Caistor) [New Vessel]
Silvina Ocampo, Thus Were Their Faces (Daniel Balderston) [nyrb]
Silvina Ocampo: Selected and Translated (Jason Weiss) [nyrb/poets]
Alan Pauls, A History of Money (Ellie Robins) [Melville House]
Juan Filloy, Caterva (Brendan Riley) [Dalkey]
Juan José Saer, The One Before (Roanne L. Kantor) [Open Letter]
Haroldo Conti, Southeaster (Jon Lindsay Miles) [& other stories]
Yes, I'd read Filloy (Op Oloop) and Saer (The Witness and Scars) before, but this year's are stand-outs (as was Ocampo's poetry, but all were well worthwhile). And it's not like there's not more: Andrés Neuman, for one ... in any case, it's wonderful how much more has been made available lately.

But my reading's been all over the map this year, nearly 3/4 of it in translation. Beyond Argentina, I made inroads into South Africa (with which it rhymes) and Mexico, as more has become available thence too (but not only; f'rinstance I've yet to encroach upon Arabic or Korean lit). As for individual authors, I got caught up with (or in) Pinget (thx Red Dust! and Barbara Wright), Tabucchi, and Modiano. And poetry ... the nyrb/poets series, German monuments (Benn, Bachmann, Celan), French provinces (Tappy, du Bouchet, Bonnefoy) ... mo' Oulipo (Forte, Garréta, Le Tellier, Bury) ...

Of the this year's Best Translated Book Award-eligible englishings (or should that be americanings?), I've 25 30 under my belt (plus poetry), and I'll choose one per publisher for shortlist projection (with increasing uncertainty and longerlisting in descent):
Archipelago Books: Antonio Tabucchi Tristano Dies: A Life (Elizabeth Harris)
& other stories: Yuri Herrera, Signs Preceding the End of the World (Lisa Dillman)
Open Letter: Georgi Gospodinov, The Physics of Sorrow (Angela Rodel)
New Directions: Clarice Lispector, Complete Stories (Katrina Dodson)
[but may add another, between Aira shorts, Castellanos Moya, and Kurniawan]
Dalkey Archive: Juan Filloy, Caterva (Brendan Riley)
Two Lines: Wolfgang Hilbig, The Sleep of the Righteous (Isabel Fargo Cole)
[still have to pick up Richard Weiner, The Game for Real Benjamin Paloff)]
Seagull: Wolfgang Hilbig, 'I' (Isabel Fargo Cole)
Graywolf: Daniel Sada, One Out of Two (Katherine Silver) [in hand not yet read]
Yale/Margellos: Patrick Modiano, After the Circus (Mark Polizzotti) [still to buy, on MAO's say-so; only eligible Y/M I've read is Máirtín Ó Cadhain, The Dirty Dust (Cré na Cille)) (Alan Titley)]
Deep Vellum: Sergio Pitol, The Art of Flight (George Henson)
[tough call, I've read half their list so far, and Piglia or Shishkin or the in hand not yet read Chudori might be chosen]
Pushkin Press: Mikhail Elizarov, The Librarian (Andrew Bromfield) still to buy
AmazonCrossing: Bae Suah, Nowhere to Be Found (Sora Kim-Russell), on the to-buy list, wonder where I'll get it ... see MAO and review links therein.
[AC mostly translates genre but throws a bit'o'lit into the mix, augmenting rather than competing; in fact, Amazon funds the BTBA prizes and provides grants to non-profits: not so much a drop in the bucket as in the thimble.]
Braziller: Juan Villoro, The Guilty (Kimi Traube)
Coffee House: Valeria Luiselli, The Story of My Teeth (Christina MacSweeney) [I've only read Faces in the Crowd]
and as for the not my cuppa:
Europa Editions: Elena Ferrante, The Story of a Lost Child (Ann Goldstein)
McSweeney's: Alejandro Zambra, My Documents (Megan McDowell) has its advocates; I'm not among them.
(and I just don't know about Knopf's Pamuk or FSG's Ulitskaya or and so on ...)

It being that time of year, the season of giving, given that half of the publishers listed above are non-profits that depend upon donor support, for those US-based (Archipelago, Coffee House, Dalkey Archive, Deep Vellum, Graywolf, Open Letter, Two Lines) I encourage your tax-deductible contributions, so that they can translate those bucks into books.

Other high points not covered above I'd like to mention and recommend:
Gabriel Josipovici, Hotel Andromeda [Carcanet]
William Golding, The Spire [Harcourt]
Percival Everett, Erasure [Graywolf]
The Tale of the Heike (Royall Tyler) [Viking]
Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days (Susan Bernofsky) [New Directions]
Erlom Akhvlediani, Vano and Niko (Mikheil Kakabadze) [Dalkey Archive]
Josep Pla, Life Embitters (Peter Bush) [Archipelago]
Christian Bök, The Xenotext: Book I [Coach House]
S.J. Naudé, The Alphabet of Birds (S.J.Naudé) [& other stories]
(meant to say, not the only ones ... see here for a fuller rendering, including review links and such)


barter vs banter

When it comes to the question of what money is, the answer takes the form
1) a medium of exchange,
2) a store of value,
3) a unit/measure (that is, standard) of account,
though fresh-water economics generally gives precedence to the first item.

So why hasn't language been similarly split into
1) a medium of communication,
2) a store of meaning,
3) a standard of representation,
with the first item taking precedence among some of the hard-core? (Linguistics takes a tripartite division into form, content [semantics], and context [pragmatics], but it's not the same thing.)

And of course written language traces its roots to accountancy ... I could go on with other overlaps, conceptual and otherwise, but will leave all that unpaid/unsaid.

(yeah I'm still here, just all over the place, service will resume with 2015 reading in review shortly.)



So I've been at this thing off and on, lately more off than on, for ten years. In that span I've read nearly a thousand books, and for a long time recorded first impressions here for my own benefit but stopped when it became more hindrance than help (last year's monologging just displaced litchatboard dialogging since resumed). I've cast a wide net, and in particular got caught up with Latin American (esp Argentinean) and Eastern European literature (as translations have burgeoned), and filled many gaps in my poetry reading while creating some in The Bookshelf of Good Intentions. Not that I'll ever be well-read, not that that is the object; study is its own reward, with a bonus of better understanding (not to say knowledge), and of not knowing where it may lead, as the field may deepen but never narrows, as literature creates its own context even as it operates within a larger one, moreso than other arts. (Something similar pertains in mathematics.)

So what is it that I study? And why the slant towards foreign literature? Yes, there's history, and culture, but that's more ground than figure for me. What piques my interest is two-fold: the art of representation through language (which is rich enough to carry over in literary translation), and the situation of the individual apprehending his/her culture or society, whether at large or in detail (not only the author but also the intended reader). Between the two, without immersion in either the language or cultural/societal matrix, I take away (or better: incorporate, assimilate) more than I'd be able to otherwise: the different forms empathy takes, perspectives askew from those I'm familiar or comfortable with, just f'rinstance. I may not always get it, but I always get something out of it. And it's those little somethings I've tried to share here, and by formulating those somethings to draw more out of them for myself.

There are plenty of reasons for reading (or blogging), and plenty of ways to do it; I'm not saying that my rationale, or method, is better than others (even if I'm pretty good at rationalization and methodization), just that it works for me. For that matter, my idea of study differs from most, self-directed, more serendipitous than systematic; in this I've followed not so much a calling as resonances (and have described myself as a strict interdisciplinarian). Despite which, I've been able to lay claim to expertise in some areas (eg APL programming, financial markets: made for a nondeadening way to make a living) and to something beyond lay knowledge in many others.

Enough of explaining myself (even if only to myself). This being a bloggiversary ... I've catalogued past work before, on Nabokov and others; I'll add to the list homages to imitations of riffs on Frost, Dickinson, WCWilliams & Lewis Carroll ... and poems and prose I have no one to blame for but myself. And a bit of lit crit on spec, blue-skying on Tlön.


Reading music: scattered notes

At times certain themes emerge in my reading matter; this time, music was the keynote, or more properly, the incorporation of musical form into the writing, playing on Walter Pater's old saw on art's aspirations. All of the following required a slower tempo than I'm used to, but with commensurate reward.

The theme was introduced by Ingeborg Bachmann's Malina, though I'd picked it up more as another instance of a poet's novel; she'd also done opera libretti, and takes opera as structure and tone for the three-part narrative (with three principal parts), while permutational elements of duodecaphony are compositionally brought in. Other (Viennese) influences include Wittgenstein (Ludwig not Paul: of what we cannot sing we must be silent), and Freud, not to mention the novelists. Mark Anderson contributes a voluble valuable afterword, "Death Arias in Vienna", situating all this and more (but alas not online). Philip Boehm's translation seems a bit flat, but I suspect it's a matter of trade-offs. [John Taylor in Context]

Curiously, A.G. Porta overlaps some of the same territory in The No World Concerto (translated by Darren Koolman and Rhett McNeil), especially Schoenberg and Wittgenstein. Again it wasn't so much the music that prompted me as his early collaboration with Roberto Bolaño (Consejos de un discípulo de Morrison a un fanático de Joyce (Advice from a disciple of Morrison to a fan of Joyce), 1984 Premio Ámbito Literario winner; didn't publish on his own til 1999 with Braudel por (by) Braudel). No World in turn won the 2005 Premio Café Gijón and is the first to be englished. So ... two mirrors bumping into each other walking down the road ... or,

As noted in the review linked below, it is indeed "vulnerable to the line of attack James Wood mounted against Paul Auster in a 2009 New Yorker takedown: 'Because nothing is persuasively assembled, the inevitable postmodern disassembly leaves one largely untouched . . . Presence fails to turn into significant absence, because presence was not present enough.'"; and the Austerizing is annoying (to nonfans like yrs truly; fans will eat it up) but mitigated (but only mitigated) by relevance to the formal conceits (the Tractatus as well as dodecacaphony [tho warped rather than wrapped]). (Incidentally, the review is wrong in its finding that "the only full proper name I found in the novel was that of Leon Kowalski"; the other is Mrs. Oedipa Maas.) (and my lukecoldness may be attributable to having recently read Malina, better where there's overlap, but unfair comparison). [Eric Lundgren in TQC; interview in Bomb]

Finally, a novel that attracted specifically because of the music: Kirsty Gunn's The Big Music, on the Highland bagpipes and the pibrach (since I can't spell piobaireachd), analogue to the concerto. The story also blends elements of genealogy, history, and pedagogy (the last would put me off were it not stylistically justified; that said, the authorial instrusive asterisks make explicit much of what is clear implicitly, and so annoys). The review below covers the ground, but I'll note that one note is never sounded (until the last appendix). [Andrea Scrima in TQC; interview]

(I'm also dipping into Songbook: The Selected Poems of Umberto Saba [George Hochfield & Leonard Nathan], but the early stuff loses its music in translation ...)