Summer Reads 2015 - Saelan's Picks

I've been pretty swamped of late, between working on my dissertation and planning my upcoming marriage, but here's some titles I'm looking forward to digging into as I settle into the honeymoon phase (and go on an actual honymoon).

Satin Island - Tom McCarthy

Tom McCarthy's The Remainder, published in 2005 and currently being adapted for the cinema by Omer Fast, has been hailed in at least some quarters as one of the most compelling books of the 21st century -- it's certainly one of my favourite works by a living author. McCarthy is carrying the torch forward for avant-garde fiction in a Ballardian vein, with one foot in the art world, a place where experimental writing still has a strong readership (for evidence, note that prominent art historian Hal Foster casually quoted McCarthy's latest in a recent review of a different book). The subject of Satin Island (I think) is the defanging of the avant-garde by the new barons of network technology, who have appropriated its language for the arsenal of vertical-monopoly, post-democratic capitalism. Where does that leave the avant-garde novelist? Read to find out.

Sphinx - Anne Garréta

Sphinx is the debut novel, originally published in 1986, by Anne Garréta, one of the few female members of OuLiPo, the French experimental literary group whose mission is to create literature based on mathematical and linguistic restraints, and whose ranks include Georges Perec, Italo Calvino, and Raymond Queneau, among others. This book marks the first time that a book by a female member of OuLiPo has been translated into English. I was sold as soon as I heard that, but if you need more info, how about this: Sphinx is a love story between two characters, the narrator, “I,” and A., written completely without any gendered pronouns or gender markers referring to the main characters.

The Musical Brain - César Aira

Argentine writer César Aira is always a delight -- thus far, New Directions has published ten of Aira's nearly 80 novels, most of which are less than 100 pages long. Aira is the master of microfiction, with his idiosyncratic compositional method of "fuga hacia adelante" or "flight forward," which means that he (supposedly) writes off the top of his head without going back to edit. As a result, his stories are almost always powered by madcap energy and little regard for the laws of physics or causality. The Musical Brain is his first collection of short stories in English, spanning twenty years of work, and it promises an even more condensed presentation of his signature style. Also, it has a pretty neat lenticular cover. New Directions really went all-in on the production values this time.

The Neapolitan Novels - Elena Ferrante

Elena Ferrante's novels have become a sensation akin to Knausgaard's My Struggle: everyone seems to be reading them. I first encountered Ferrante when the The New Yorker described her as "one of Italy's best-known least-known contemporary writers." Her personal life is a bit of a mystery: she does not appear in public and "Elena Ferrante" is assumed to be a pseudonym. This is perhaps because her novels read so much like confessionals, intimate and brutally candid about the narrator’s struggle to retain a cohesive identity within a traditional marriage and amid the burdens of child rearing. Unlike Knausgaard, it would seem that Ferrante would prefer to armour herself against total exposure, which hasn't stopped her from developing a rabid following.

Super Mutant Magic Academy and Frontier 7: SexCoven - Jillian Tamaki

Jillian Tamaki! I have to admit, I had a hard time getting into Supermutant Magic Academy as a webcomic. I didn't really "get" Tamaki's sketchy, splashy line style and it was hard to grasp the overarching narrative one panel at a time. In book form, though, it's amazing. It's a mash-up of all the teen drama of Harry Potter and X-Men with all of the magic and superpowers treated as a mere sidenote to the angst and romance. As she already proved with This One Summer, coming-of-age is really her métier, and this is basically a masterpiece of the genre, hilarious and weird as hell. Even weirder is her issue of Frontier, in which a mysterious mp3 spawns a rave cult in the late 90s. It's brilliant.

Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels - edited by Tom Devlin

If I need to tell you about this collection, you would probably not be reading this blog post right now, would you? This is, at least in my memory, the most capacious tome D+Q has ever published, 800 pages deep of everything that makes this publishing house great. Tons of new, rare, and never-before seen comics from a truly unbelievable lineup of luminaries, with reams of commentary, essays, in-jokes, marginalia, exegesis, and appreciation. It's going to take me more than just this summer to absorb it all, I think.

Playing to the Gallery - Grayson Perry

Thank god, a "light" book about contemporary art that's not patronizing or glib! Grayson Perry, Turner prize winner and self-identified "transvestite potter" is, it turns out, a highly entertaining essayist. What really makes this book are the cheeky, Shrigley-esque illustrations, though. For example:

Book of Numbers - Joshua Cohen

Josh Cohen's Witz came highly recommended by people I trust. I never did read it, though. Now he's got a new book that one critic called, "The single best novel yet written about what it means to remain human in the Internet Era." Whether it lives up to that praise or not, should be a worthwhile read.

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