Two volumes of Franz Kafka’s letters are forthcoming next month from Schocken: Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors; and Letters to Felice.
Schocken’s blurb for Friends, Family and Editors:
Collected after his death by his friend and literary executor Max Brod, here are more than two decades’ worth of Franz Kafka’s letters to the men and women with whom he maintained his closest personal relationships, from his years as a student in Prague in the early 1900s to his final months in the sanatorium near Vienna where he died in 1924.
Sometimes surprisingly humorous, sometimes wrenchingly sad, they include charming notes to school friends; fascinating accounts to Brod about his work in its various stages of publication; correspondence with his publisher, Kurt Wolff, about manuscripts in progress, suggested book titles, type design, and late royalty statements; revealing exchanges with other young writers of the day, including Martin Buber and Felix Weltsch, on life, literature, and girls; and heartbreaking reports to his parents, sisters, and friends on the declining state of his health in the last months of his life.
Franz Kafka met Felice Bauer in August 1912, at the home of his friend Max Brod. Energetic, down-to-earth, and life-affirming, the twenty-five-year-old secretary was everything Kafka was not, and he was instantly smitten. Because he was living in Prague and she in Berlin, his courtship was largely an epistolary one—passionate, self-deprecating, and anxious letters sent almost daily, sometimes even two or three times a day. But soon after their engagement was announced in 1914, Kafka began to worry that marriage would interfere with his writing and his need for solitude.
The more than five hundred letters Kafka wrote to Felice—through their breakup, a second engagement in 1917, and their final parting in the fall of that year, when Kafka began to feel the effects of the tuberculosis that would eventually claim his life—reveal the full measure of his inner turmoil as he tried, in vain, to balance his desire for human connection with what he felt were the solitary demands of his craft.
Picked up Samuel Delany’s famous/infamous novel Dhalgren today. I had an Audible credit and used it to get the audiobook (35 hours!), but as always, I need to do a tandem thing.
The book is enormous. I also hate the generic “prestige” cover (with a quote from Jonathan Lethem, of course). Okay, “hate” is a bit strong a verb, but c’mon—I mean look at this “genre” cover for Delany’s novel Driftglass that was right by the used copy of Dhalgren I picked up:
I also picked up Leon Forrest’s 1973 debut novel There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden on the recommendation of a dude I follow on Twitter who has the Good Taste. From Ralph Ellison’s introduction:
Yesterday, I spent over an hour browsing old sci-fi paperbacks at my favorite book store. I posted some pics of ones I didn’t pick up.
I couldn’t resist these two though, books by Brazilian authors I’d never heard of—The Order of the Day, a novel by Marcio Souza, and Murilo Rubiao’s collection The Ex-Magician and Other Stories.
Four review copies in yesterday’s mail (solicited and unsolicited). I get behind on these books acquired posts, so I’ll lump the books in all at once and quickly.
First and foremost: Lucia Berlin’s collection A Manual for Cleaning Women is new in trade paperback from Picador. The book got a ton of buzz last year when it came out in hardback last year, and I didn’t read it then, but I did read the Black Sparrow-published collection Homesick. Many of the stories in Manual were first published in Homesick. They are very good stories—funny and gritty and elegant and sad and real. Full review forthcoming; in the meantime here’s Lydia Davis, who wrote the intro to Manual:
I have always had faith that the best writers will rise to the top, like cream, sooner or later, and will become exactly as well-known as they should be-their work talked about, quoted, taught, performed, filmed, set to music, anthologized. Perhaps, with the present collection, Lucia Berlin will begin to gain the attention she deserves.
The kind people at Nobrow sent along three gorgeous Hilda graphic novels by Luke Pearson ten days ago, and we’ve (my family, I mean) read each of them repeatedly since then—we’ve read them independently and to each other (my daughter started her own Hilda comic). I’ll have a proper essay-review thing up down the line, but for now, the short review: These are excellent, gorgeous books—funny, richly-detailed, sweet, and just a little scary (when they need to be).
Emily Barton’s The Book of Esther is new from Crown (Penguin-Random House). Their blurb:
Eastern Europe, August 1942. The Khazar kaganate, an isolated nation of Turkic warrior Jews, lies between the Pontus Euxinus (the Black Sea) and the Khazar Sea (the Caspian). It also happens to lie between a belligerent nation to the west that the Khazars call Germania—and a city the rest of the world calls Stalingrad.
After witnessing the first foray of Germani warplanes into sovereign Khazar territory, Esther bat Josephus, daughter of Khazaria’s chief policy adviser, knows she must fight for her country. Germania is gaining ground and if they are successful, the Khazar kaganate will be wiped out. Only Esther sees the ominous implications of Germania’s disregard for Jewish lives. But as a woman she is prohibited from joining the war effort. Her one chance is to set out on her mechanical horse, Seleme, accompanied by Itakh, her adopted brother, to seek a fabled village of kabbalists. They may hold the key to her destiny: their rumored ability to change her into a man so that she may convince her entire nation to join in the fight for its very existence against an enemy like none Khazaria has faced before.
THE BOOK OF ESTHER is a genre-bending novel by a writer who invents worlds “out of Calvino or Borges” (The New Yorker). Reminiscent of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, readers will delight in this tour de force novel which blends rich steampunk fantasy, powerful feminism, and Jewish mysticism into a singular piece of fiction.
Barbara Taylor Bradford’s novel The Cavendon Luck is new from St. Martin’s. Their blurb:
It is 1938 in England, and Miles and Cecily Ingham have lead the family in bringing the Cavendon estate back from the brink of disaster. But now, with the arrival of World War II, Cavendon Hall will face its biggest challenge yet. It is a challenge that will push the Inghams and Swanns to protect each other and the villagers, and reveal their true capacity for survival and rebirth.
Told with Bradford’s deft, evocative prose and featuring a beloved cast of characters, The Cavendon Luck is a story of intrigue, romance, sorrow, and joy that readers won’t soon forget.
The Barbusse literally fell into my hands when I was pulling down a different book. I’d never heard of Hell until today but its title, cover, and blurb — “the most highly study of voyeurism” — sold me. Penguin’s Writers from Other Europe has always intrigued me and the cover alone on Tadeusz Konwicki’s A Dreambook for Our Time led to me picking it up.
Two new ones from Biblioasis.
Party Wall is a novel by Catherine Leroux (English translation by Lazer Lederhendler). The blurb:
Catherine Leroux’s The Party Wall shifts between and ties together stories about pairs joined in surprising ways. A woman learns that she may not be the biological mother of her own son despite having given birth to him; a brother and sister unite, as their mother dies, to search for their long-lost father; two young sisters take a detour home, unaware of the tragedy that awaits; and a political couple—when the husband accedes to power in a post-apocalyptic future state—is shaken by the revelation of their own shared, if equally unknown, history.
Lyrical, intelligent, and profound, The Party Wall is luminously human, a surreally unforgettable journey through the barriers that can both separate us and bring us together.
And Bad Things Happen, a story collection by Kris Bertin. The blurb:
The characters in Bad Things Happen—professors, janitors, webcam models, small-time criminals—are between things. Between jobs and marriages, states of sobriety, joy and anguish; between who they are and who they want to be. Kris Bertin’s unforgettable debut introduces us to people at the tenuous moment before everything in their lives change, for better or worse.
My friend gave me Tiny Splendor’s Box of Books, Vol. IX last weekend.
Here’s the tracklist:
I was initially trying to limit myself to looking at one a day but then stopped trying to limit myself to looking at one a day and now I’ve looked at all of them. (Is “look” the right verb? Not sure. “Book” may not be the right noun, either. These book pamphlet art zine comic things are fun though).
This is what a few of the books look like out of the box:
Jeffrey Cheung’s book cracked me up.
And I really really dig Danny Shimodaa’s contribution:
And I’ll end the post with positive vibes from Cahill Wesson:
I love the covers of these two new titles from new indie Whisk(e)y Tit.
Here’s the not-blurb for Joey Truman’s Postal Child:
Whitey Whitlock had an ear for the birds. He could whistle their songs as well as they could. He did so on his route. He talked to the birds.The birds talked back.
Whitey was a black man. He was called Whitey because the index finger on his left hand was white. A birthmark. His first name was Esmerelda. Middle name Torno. His last name was Whitlock because his mom’s last name was Whitlock.
His mom was high when Whitey was born. She was also high when she named him. Esmerelda was the name of her sister, the only person in the world who ever treated her decently, and Torno was short for tornado, because that’s how it felt when Whitey came out.
Whitey’s mom had a penchant for the cocaine.
She was a good mom though. Albeit an inconsistent mom.Whitey learned how to deal with her mood swings and her ever-present hangovers. By the time he was three he could make his own breakfasts. By the time he was eight he could get himself to school. By the time he was ten he was doing all the shopping and housework. By the time he was twelve he could do all the paperwork that allowed him and his mom not to starve or be homeless. On one of the pubescent days leading up to his thirteenth birthday he woke up to find his mom dead on the couch.
And the blurb-blurb for James Strah’s Queer and Alone (which about, by the way, Whisk(e)y Tit publisher Miette threatens/offers to “tattoo the entire text to your torso while smoking clove cigarettes” (not sure who’s doing the smoking there)):
Monrovia. Bali. Bombay. Cayman Islands. Hollywood. The names of faraway places dot the pages of Queer and Alone like thousands of islands in a deep blue sea. Indeed, the hero – or is he an ironic anti-hero? – of this novel is a man literally at sea. He is Desmond Farrquahr who boards a steamer bound for Hong Kong by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Looking for experience, taking in the sights, hoping. For what?
Queer and Alone is a wildly exuberant travelogue as monologue, an eccentric American’s view of tourism. One might call it a “scatalogical romance,” with a story and a girl in every port. “It’s all part of the novel experience of being there,” Farrquahr wordplays with the reader. As narrator of the novel he shows off incredibly sly linguistic gifts that turn even the slightest image or sound into the dazzling rhythms of word magic.
Whether it’s describing racial fantasy films in Africa, investigating murder in Bombay, or seducing stately women in staterooms, Farrquahr manages to have the most ingenious takes on culture. In one of the most funny scenes in the novel the narrator is seen eating several (dis)courses of a chopstick dinner that makes the ideologies of both East and West seem like entangled sesame noodles. Tourism moves closer to zany anthopology whenever Farrquahr acts as guide.
Desmond Farrquahr is a very queer fellow if judged by any conventional standards. But isn’t the world itself a queer place these days?
I swung by my favorite used bookstore this afternoon; it’s right near the grocery store and I needed to pick up some mint and some ricotta. I was hoping to pick up Elena Ferrante’s novel My Brilliant Friend at the bookstore. I started the audiobook of My Brilliant Friend today, after finishing the audiobook of Adrian Jones Pearson’s novel Cow Country this weekend. (Full review of Cow Country forthcoming but a real quick review: great performance/reading of a very strange book which I enjoyed very much, but which I also suspect will have very limited appeal. Cow cult classic to come). But so anyway, I’m really digging the Ferrante, and decided I wanted to obtain a physical copy to reread passages (and maybe share some on this blog). My store had several copies of four of Ferrante’s novels–but no Friend. While scanning the F section, my eye alighted (alit?) on a strange-looking hardback spine—Warren Fine’s Their Family. I turned it around and the cover…well, I knew I was gonna leave with it. Knopf, 1972—a few years before Gordon Lish was to become editor there, sure, but interesting bona fides I suppose. Fine does not seem to be beloved by anyone on the internet, and his books seem to have failed to go into second printings of any kind. The Fs are near the Es, and I glanced over the works of Mr. Stanley Elkin, who has his own section there, somehow. I finally broke through the second chapter of his novel The Franchiser this weekend (it’s all unattributed dialog, that chapter, sorta like Gaddis’s JR); I’m really digging The Franchiser now that I’ve tuned into the voice. (It also helps to not try reading it exclusively at night after too many bourbons or wines). Again, the spine of the novel looked interesting so I flipped The Dick Gibson Show around and, again, I knew I was gonna leave with it. Henri Michaux’s Miserable Miracle I found in the “Drugs” section—which I was not perusing (because I am no longer 19)—well I guess I was perusing it, but that’s only because it happens to be right next to this particular bookshop’s collection of Black Sparrow Press titles, which I always scan over. Anyway, the Michaux’s Miserable Miracle was turned face out; NYRB titles always deserve a quick scan, and the cover reminded me of a Cy Twombly painting. Flicking through it revealed a strange structure, full of marginal side notes and doodles and diagrams and drawings. And oh, it’s about a mescaline trip, I think. You can actually read it here, but this version is missing all the drawings and sidenotes.
Oh, and so then I forgot to go pick up the ricotta and the mint.
Went to the bookstore this afternoon to pick up the much-acclaimed collection of stories by Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women (typing out the title, I suddenly hear its ambiguities). My trusty local used bookshop didn’t have a copy, but they did have Homesick, and I love Black Sparrow editions, so hey, cool.
I’ve been tearing through Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels lately after picking up Rocannon’s World at sorta-random. I’m in the middle of City of Illusion right now, having finished (a third read of) The Dispossessed (fantastic), The Word for World Is Forest (a bit too on-the-nose critique of the Vietnam War; also, James Cameron should send Le Guin some Avatar bucks), and Planet of Exile, which was great. (And oh: George R.R. Martin should send Le Guin some Game of Thrones bucks for that one: Planet of Exile has barbarian invaders from the north, seasons that last for decades, a constant fear that “winter is coming,” and its own white walkers (snow ghouls)).
So well and anyway: I already have a copy of The Left Hand of Darkness, which is the next title in the sequence in which I’m reading the Hainish books. My pilfered copy isfrom years back, and I’ve read it a few times—but I just couldn’t pass up this first edition copy with its lovely Klimtesque cover art by Leo and Diane Dillon.
I like to think I know my way around the labyrinthine used bookstore I frequently frequent, but I somehow missed the “Ls” of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section and wound up in Misc S. I was headed to the “Ls” to pick up another Ursula K. Le Guin novel, after having finished Rocannon’s World this afternoon. (I was looking not-so-specifically for The Word for World Is Forest, which my bookshop somehow didn’t have). Anyway, my eye was drawn to the Penguin edition of Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker (above), which was one of those yeah, I know, I need to read it books. I also saw another one by the Strugatski bros, which I picked up, even though I still haven’t read Hard to Be a God.
I couldn’t resist this hardback edition of Three Hainish Novels, an Ursula K. Le Guin omnibus, which collects Rocannon’s World with Planet of Exile and City of Illusion. I haven’t read the other two, but I’ll get to them after a rereading of The Dispossessed.