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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Summer Reads 2017: Saelan

Hi, everyone! Here's a few things I've either read lately or that I'm looking forward to reading soon:


Leonora Carrington - The Milk of Dreams; The Complete Stories; and Down Below

Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) is best known for her Surrealist paintings of the 1930s and 40s, but she also wrote novels and stories (as fantastical and macabre as you'd expect), several of which have just been republished in nice editions from NYRB and Dorothy Press. I think her children's book, The Milk of Dreams, will be too creepy for my three-year-old, but I'll be happy to read it myself, along with her complete stories and Down Below, the novelistic memoir of her harrowing internment in a Spanish mental asylum at age nineteen. 


Martin Felipe Castagnet - Bodies of Summer

The always-excellent Dalkey Archive Press brings us this translation of fast-rising Argetinian writer Martin Felipe Castagnet's first novel, a kind of experimental sci-fi in which he imagines a world essentially similar to ours, with one crucial difference: death has been abolished via the ability to "burn" consciousness into new bodies. The protagonist, coming from a poor family, finds that his mind has been transferred into the only new body his family could afford -- an aging, overweight woman's. Despite the grandiose narrative possibilities offered by a world without death, Castagnet concentrates on the mundane, everyday ramifications. Already the recipient of awards and glowing reviews in Latin America and France, this volume offers the English-speaking world an introduction to a brilliant new voice in Latin American literature.



Leanne Betasamosake Simpson - This Accident of Being Lost

Leanne Simpson's Islands of Decolonial Love has been a store favourite and continuous top-seller since it came out in 2013. I'm excited to dive into the latest collection of songs, poems, and short stories by this wildly talented and versatile writer. In This Accident of Being Lost, fragmentary, hashtag-studded poems rub shoulders with song lyrics and short stories that blend traditional storytelling with science-fiction and wry, observational domestic realism.


Qiu Miaojin - Notes of a Crocodile

This one comes highly recommended from my colleague Helen, who chose it for the latest installment of her Reading Across Borders book club. Notes of a Crocodile, newly translated by Bonnie Huie, is a coming-of-age story set in post-martial-law-era Taipei. Like Last Words from Montmartre, the other brilliant novel Qiu Miaojin produced in her short life (1969-95), Notes of a Crocodile is a postmodern assemblage of vignettes, diary entries, satire, and cultural references, filled with aching queer melancholy.


Eça de Queiros - The Illustrious House of Ramires

This new edition from New Directions, translated by the venerable Margaret Jull Costa, presents a classic novel from one of Portugal's greatest writers, Eça de Queiros (1845-1900), who is often compared to Flaubert and Stendhal. In this quixotic farce, an idealistic and charming but hopelessly inept aristocratic heir attempts to write a great historical novel based on the heroic deeds of his ancestors, but ''the record of their valour is ironically counterpointed by his own chicanery.''


Goliarda Sapienza - The Art of Joy

To be honest, this book is 700 pages, so I don't know if I'm going to get to it/through it, but my colleague Julie loved it and I'm highly intrigued by the description. Sapienza (1924-96) was an Italian actress and novelist who was little known in her day, but who has recently been rediscovered, with The Art of Joy (first published in 1976) earning this Modern Classics edition from Penguin. The story is an irrepressible epic of secular wisdom in which the quasi-autobiographical (and ironically-named) character of Modesta shamelessly romps through Italy's violent 20th century, flouting conventional morality in a continuous, freewheeling adventure that is intellectual, sexual, and political.


Raymond Roussel - Locus Solus

I've been meaning to read Roussel -- a profound influence on the Surrealists, Oulipo, the authors of the nouveau roman, and other 20th-century experimentors -- for years, so maybe this beautiful new edition of Locus Solus from New Directions is a good place to start. Originally published in French in 1914, it offers an ironic and imaginative tour through the lavish estate of Martial Canterel, a wealthy eccentric who has devoted his fortune to the production of deranged innovations in art and science: among them, weather machines, electric cats, mosaics of human teeth, and a theatre of reanimated corpses. I think this would nicely echo my favourite book that I read so far this year: J.K. Huysmans' A Rébours.


Jillian Tamaki - Boundless

How to begin praising Jillian Tamaki? Perhaps best known for coming-of-age stories like This One Summer and Supermutant Magic Academy, Tamaki has an incredible gift for rendering nonconforming young people in a way that is as authentic as it is contemporary -- that is, true to the experience of socially-mediated, constantly-distracted life while also attentive to the natural rhythms of the everyday (and the natural world -- there's plenty of animals and plants in her work). Tamaki's restless line, like her characters, also resists definition -- she has a definite sensibility but no one drawing style. This is aptly illustrated across this anthology of consistently excellent short pieces, which includes (imo) her best work to date, the "Sex Coven" story that previously appeared as an issue of Frontier. Boundless' only flaw is that it leaves the reader wanting a full-length graphic novel, more Tamaki to savour.


Jesse Jacobs - Crawl Space

Jesse Jacobs has worked on Adventure Time and his solo comics have a similar vibe of psychedelic zaniness. As in previous outings like the popular Safari Honeymoon and By This You Shall Know Him, Jacobs delights in building trippy alternative universes populated by weird flora and fauna. With Crawl Space, he lets his most unhinged decorative tendencies go nuts, using insanely-detailed patterns and stylization and a combination of black-and-white (for "normal reality") and rainbow colours to imagine a cosmic portal to another dimension, accessible through a high-school kid's washer and dryer. Like Adventure Time, the result is irreverent and absurd, but also surprisingly deep, tinged with insight and tenderness.


Keiler Roberts - Sunburning

Keiler Roberts' comics about bipolar disorder, depression, and parenting totally charmed me with their deadpan humour and singularly affectless drawing style. Told as a rambling series of disconnected anecdotes without any particular arc, Roberts' drawing and storytelling are both perfectly matched to her subject matter: surviving the banality of life. Highly relatable, and not only because I also have a toddler, too.


Dana Cree - Hello, My Name is Ice Cream; Jonah Campbell - Eaten Back to Life; Sarah Britton - Naturally Nourished

And here's three food books I've been enjoying lately! I was recently gifted an ice cream maker (thereby compounding my existing obsession with frozen treats) and Dana Cree's Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream is so far the best ice cream book I've found. The flavours aren't quite as great, across the board, as Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream At Home (until recently, the gold standard of home ice cream books), but it's got more detail about the science and craft of ice cream, making it more useful overall -- it's the Food Lab of the topic. Naturally Nourished is the latest from My New Roots author Sarah Britton and it's already gotten a lot of use in my mostly-vegetarian kitchen. Local hipster sommelier Jonah Campbell also has a sequel to his previous book, Food and TremblingEaten Back to Life practically drips with Campbell's obsessive enthusiasm for the minutiae of food culture, which he writes about his intellectual aplomb. 

And two books I'm really looking forward to reading that won't be out until later this summer:


Michael Robbins - Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music; Jaako Pallasvuo - Retreat

Michael Robbins is one of my favourite poets and essayists -- this forthcoming volume collects some of his consistently excellent and often contrarian music and literary criticism. Jaako Pallasvuo is a Finnish artist who, among his diverse output, also makes comics. His Pure Shores was one of my favourite comics of 2015, and I'm excited for this new one to get out in the world. Full disclosure: I've read it, it's amazing, and there's a blurb from me on the back.



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