Displaying articles for: August 2011

East of the West

A young man -- he was born in Bulgaria in 1982 -- Miroslav Penkov possesses an old soul. Such is the conclusion to be drawn, at least, from the haunting, haunted stories in his debut collection East of the West. They all exhibit an elegiac, melancholy wisdom more fitting for some aged, seasoned Isaac Bashevis Singer or even Tolstoy. They evoke tears, but not a frenzy of wailing; sorrow, but not utter despair. They seem reflective of the period after everything has collapsed, when people realize life continues, post apocalypse, and they must now figure out how to carry on. Of course, the disintegration of the Soviet empire plays a large part in all this.


"The Borrower" Author Rebecca Makkai Makes the Ultimate Reading List for Young LGBT Readers (VIDEO)

Rebecca Makkai's The Borrower is one of those rare debut novels that makes an impact through its message as well as its literary achievement. Praised widely for being beautifully written, and chosen by The Daily Beast as a must read, The Borrower chronicles the relationship between a librarian and a ten-year-old patron who turns to her out of confusion about his sexuality. Their adventures take them around the country on a journey that proves both comic and moving -- but more important, Makkai is reaching out to lonely, confused kids everywhere, offering solace in the form of books. Here's her reading list and the video she made explaining her picks. Pass this along to everyone you know -- because they probably know a struggling kid who needs it.


Philip Levine Named U.S. Poet Laureate

It's always exciting to contemplate the naming of a new poet to the office of U.S. Poet Laureate.  Philip Levine, the 83-year-old Detroit native and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Simple Truth, has been named by the Librarian of Congress as the Poet Laureate for 2011-12. 


In his review of Mr. Levine's last collection, News of the World, our reviewer, Christopher Phelps, wrote: "Levine's is a world where men and women 'buy and sell each other.' It is also "an immense, endless opera punctuated by the high notes of sirens & the basso profundo of trucks & jackhammers & ferries & tugboats."  You can read the full review here.


Who Are We -- And Should It Matter in the 21st Century?

The recent tragic shootings in Norway by Anders Breivik lend Gary Younge's new book an extra measure of importance and highlight the timely utility of this thoughtful and thought-provoking study, dating even from its pre-Oslo conception by an intrepid journalist with his finger firmly on the zeitgeist. Younge's bold remit is nothing less than the examination of "identity" in all its manifestations -- "religious adherence, chromosomal composition or melanin content," as he wittily phrases it at one point -- and identity's role, for good or ill, in the individual and civic lives of all peoples.


Murder by High Tide

If ever there were a moment for Americans to fall in love with the incredible legacy of Franco-Belgian comics -- or la bande dessinée -- that time might be now, given the high profile of Steven Spielberg's forthcoming Tintin film. But the imperviousness of US audiences to Gallic funnybooks cannot be overestimated, given that they have already turned their collective nose up at so much, from Jacques Tardi to Lewis Trondheim to Asterix, all of which remain minority passions in this country. In further evidence, Luc Besson's 2010 film The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, adapted from Tardi, still has not been deemed release-worthy in the USA. Nevertheless, any hope at all of seducing new readers in America must rely on sheer availability of the texts, in attractive new translations, and no one is doing more along these lines than the publisher Fantagraphics.


April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.