Summer reading lists have been appearing everywhere in recent weeks, all operating on the assumption that we as a nation will be sitting on a beach somewhere attempting to shrug off the troubles of the world by enjoying some "light" reading. This, of course, is nonsense. While this may be true for some people, most people's reading habits don't change because the weather does. If this were true, people in Florida would never read the Russian masters and Alaskans would never read anything but the Russian masters. And that simply isn't the case.
As publishers of "serious literature," our titles tend not to appear on these lists, so we're going to make our own humble recommendations. Although we've already said that we don't believe that everyone is making (or has already made; it's already very, very hot in New York at the moment) that mental switch to lighter fare, we have chosen these "summer" reads for specific reasons, which we'll explain as we go.
Bad Nature, or with Elvis in Mexico
by Javier Marías
Despite what we said above, we do admit that when it gets warm, certain books come to mind because of their setting. The Sheltering Sky; Under the Volcano; Blood Meridian; The Moviegoer; you get the point. And since I read this novella by the Spanish master, this one. It is, as the title suggests, set in Mexico, where Elvis and his assorted hangers-on and handlers are shooting a film. The narrator, a young Spaniard, is hired because Elvis insists on a proper Castilian accent for his Spanish lines in the movie. But being the only Spanish speaker on the crew, he ends up being dragged along when Elvis decides he wants a bit of local color. They end up in a dive bar full of tough men, and an awkward situation develops when the Mexican patrons insist that he translate everything Elvis and his men have said… including the unsavory parts.
I'd also like to point out that this book is part of our Pearl series. It's under 75 pages and at 4.5" x 7" should easily fit in a back pocket or small purse. Personally we hate carrying anything, especially in the summer, so we're always looking for books that don't require a sturdy tote bag (See: Marías' Your Face Tomorrow novels).
The Hour of the Star
by Clarice Lispector
Look at the new cover for our new edition of Lispector's last novel and masterpiece, translated by her biographer, Benjamin Moser. Doesn't that just scream summer? Beneath that neon-bright sun, however, is a poor, ugly, and sickly young woman from Rio named Macabéa, who wants to be loved like Marilyn Monroe and yet never will be, but at the same time has no idea that she should be unhappy, and happily goes about drinking Coca Cola and seeing all of the new movies. Tragedy, as perhaps you've guessed, isn't far off.
But what truly makes this book perfect for the summer is its style. Lispector is an economic writer (this one, too, is short; only 128 pages), but she makes great use of those words, providing only the most devastatingly incisive details about Macabéa's sad life. For me this meant that I had to close the book every few pages to take stock of the world, the people around me, life in general, because Lispector is, more than anything else, a philosophical novelist, interested in the subjective nature of an individual life. So as you, too, muse on these things, you'll have time to take a sip of that Campari and soda.
A Coney Island of the Mind
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Summer in New York means trips to Coney Island. The Freak Show. The Cyclone. The boardwalk full of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants from neighboring Brighton Beach. It's a wonderful holdover from another era, and many New Yorkers will be very sad when the long-circulating rumors finally come true and the aging attractions are razed in favor of Disney's sanitized version of family fun.
And in addition to inspiring songs by everyone from Les Applegate to Tom Waits, the locale inspired Ferlinghetti's breakthrough poetry collection and serves as the backdrop for a lot of the slice-of-life scenes he so beautifully presents. Admit it, it's been a while since you read this instead of studying for chemistry in high school. Pick it up again and let those memories of carefree summers come flooding back.
Critic Jeremy Lybarger has written an incredibly well-informed review of Ibrahim's autobiographical That Smell. Read it here.
Calling Tyspkin "arguably the most important unsung Jewish writer of the twentieth century," the Jewish Book Council reviews The Bridge Over the Neroch & Other Works. Read it here.
Bookslut's Madeleine Monson-Rosen offers some cultural context in her review of Astragal.
June 2013 News from New Directions
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Colin Torre reviews The Bridge Over the Neroch & Other Works. Read it here.
Brian Hurley takes a look at the collaborative effort by Lydia Davis and Eliot Weinberger. Read it here.
Yet another in-depth look at Ibrahim's novel and the context in which it was written, this one at The Daily Beast.
ND editor Michael Barron interviewed Elaine Lustig for Bomb's blog. Read it here.
May 2013 News from New Directions
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Read Dan Duray's take on the last collection of Leonid Tspkin's work here.