Author: Antonio Tabucchi, translated from the Italian by Tim Parks
2013, Archipelago Books
Filed Under: Literary, Short Stories
|C4 Ratings...out of
The good people at Archipelago Books are out with a new Antonio Tabucchi title in English this spring, and while I can’t gush about it the way I did about The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico, I think you might still find The Woman of Porto Pim worth your while.
The title short story is a classic, old-fashioned tale of love, betrayal, and murder set in a small whaling village. The voice of the narrator, an aged tavern singer, is full of longing and mystery. It’s one of the finest short stories I’ve read anywhere in a long time.
The book, on the other hand, is something more curious. It’s a tourist’s love letter to the Azores, a set of remote Atlantic islands considered an autonomous region of Portugal. Fueled by a hybrid of research, personal experience, and imagination, The Woman of Porto Pim offers a brief overview on the whaling regulations governing the islands, a first-person account of a whale hunt, and a few observations on human beings from the point of view of the hunted whales. …
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Author: Jane Shore
Filed Under: Poetry
|C4 Ratings...out of
Jane Shore is a poet of memory, sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet. She is a poet of moments with family and friends, also sharp and sweet. Spanning childhood above a New Jersey dress shop, fleets of Jewish mothers and aunts, mourning her own mother, and raising her own daughter: her poems are usually both in simultaneity, and always to her soft and playful music. Not near the end of her already long career, her new book collects her best and brings with them some fresh quirks she has remembered. So That Said repeats what she has already said, but says also, this style has already been said by me. She is moving on. High stakes she has at least one more statement to make―if not in mind―a the Tempest of her own, her own Geography III, perhaps two or three of them.
That Said starts with the new, then works through her five previous volumes, in order. Most major poets are best known by their selected or collected works―a mistake, I feel, as most including Shore’s leave out cover artworks and internal subdivisions, not to mention the all-too-revealing worse poems, poems the authors consider irrelevant. This distinction, between still relevant and not, validates a selected poems collection beyond publicity, beyond best-of. Which poems did these authors at one time considered worthy of publication, but years later not? I have a suspicion that most worse poems are originally included only because the authors so badly want them there, work of so many months or years making them less worse. Shore’s books are slim, so she need not leave many out, but some she does. …
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[Every so often on on our Twitter feed we'll point to something other than books that caught our attention. In this occasional series, we highlight a few of those things, and a few others. Follow it here. The recommenders (Aaron, Sean, Nico, and Marc) are denoted by initials.]
Saga - Aaron’s mentioned this comic a lot on the podcast and in his column. I’m not a big comic reader, but Saga is one I’ve stuck with. [NV]
Pedagogy of the Oppressed – Halfway though teacher school and finding things becoming a bit stale, I’ve started to branch out from my practical classwork and explore more pedagogical primary texts. Paulo Freire’s masterwork, written as a response to thinkers like Marx and Hegel, is not an easy read. But it’s got a lot to say, and sheds light on why, despite our best efforts, America’s schools are failing. If only the policymakers would read this sort of stuff. [SC]
Room 237 – Anyone who’s ever really loved a movie, even if it wasn’t The Shining, will get a kick out of this documentary. Director Rodney Ascher gives his subjects, all Shining obsessives, room to explain their often bizarre theories about the film’s hidden messages without judgment, and only slight traces of irony. The plausibility of the interpretations isn’t the point; Ascher is more interested in the dedication to lateral thinking, and the unique relationship between reader and text. [AB]
PBS Digital Studios – The channels especially worth checking out are Off Book, Idea Channel, and Blank on Blank, but if you only have time for one video, watch the Blank on Blank featuring Larry King (“Larry King on Getting Seduced”). [MV]
The Glades - Unassuming, surprisingly good cop show on USA. The first two seasons are out on Netflix. The new season arrives this May. Also try Life starring that dude from Homeland. [NV]
All the Cartoon Network programming recently added to Netflix – I spent a lot of time watching Dexter’s Laboratory in college, but never while high. And I’m not high while watching it now on Instant View. I don’t know what that means, except that I am obviously an adult. You can be, too, if you watch a bunch of cartoons all the time. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem, Voltron, He-Man, and other 80s action cartoons, also on Netflix – the thing I said above about being cool, but times ten. [AB]
Adventure Time – For some reason Aaron left this off the list of great CN shows that just came to Netflix. Adventure Time is one of my favorite shows, maybe ever–especially as you get to the later seasons–some of the references are so subtle and esoteric that even the most diehard Zelda-fan stoner would probably miss them. But, like Dexter’s Laboratory, drugs aren’t compulsory. [SC]
You Need a Budget - I got this on Steam for $20 and it’s already been worth the price. It’s a simple budget program, but the accompanying iPhone app makes it easy to keep track of your expenditures, without giving it your bank info, like Mint asks for. [NV]
Professor Blastoff - Comedians Tig Notaro, David Huntsberger, and Kyle Dunnigan share a hobbyist’s interest in and enthusiasm for science, philosophy, and unexplained phenomena, and their podcast is ostensibly an occasion to explore such topics with guests, including fellow comics, scholars, and the occasional fan. Every episode reliably descends into silliness, and recent highlights include the game “Name That Punky”, which is based on Dunnigan’s uncanny impression of “Punky Brewster” actor George Gaynes. [AB]
The Terror – The Flaming Lips’ latest album is pretty ballsy in how out there it is. Gone are the catchy, happy tunes ripe for advertisement-background exploitation of the last 10-15 years. This album is full of complex, psychedelic sound layers that harkens back to the days of Zaireeka. (I linked to the video–NSFW–for one of the songs.) [SC]
Waiting For Something to Happen – The critical consensus seems to be that “Waiting For Something to Happen” is a lesser effort than Veronica Falls’ debut album, but I’m enjoying it just as much as the eponymous record. And I can’t stop listening to “Buried Alive”, so that’s a solid recommendation even if you don’t think the rest of the album holds up. [AB]
Planet Money - For years I avoided the Planet Money podcast because high finance sounds so damn boring. As it turns out, this podcast is closer to Radiolab than CNBC. Recent episodes touched on the economic weirdness of North Korea (e.g., they can’t get gas, so their trucks run on wood), the way the Amish do business, and the insane history of the American federal income tax. [NV]
Sklarbro Country – Randy and Jason Sklar file reports from the more absurd shadowlands for the sports world with their twice weekly podcast (“Sklarbro County”, the sister show, takes a more general “weird news” approach.) While many comedy podcasts are, for better or worse, heavily improvised and ramshackle, “Sklarbro Country” is carefully crafted, while still allowing the Sklars to riff on stories and banter with their guests. If you have no interest in sports, or aren’t already a fan of the Sklar Brothers, you will be after listening. [AB]
Zombies, Run – As much an audiobook as a game, this iPhone/Android app makes going out for a jog into an interactive game. Run to complete missions, and the more you run the more supplies you get to build your township HQ. There’s not much too it, and the story is pretty cheesy, but it’s a nice alternative to music and podcasts when out for a run. [SC]
Game of Thrones (the Xbox game) - I picked this up for $20 on Amazon, expecting nothing, and it knocked my socks off. It’s like watching a long season of the HBO show, with a pretty unique RPG game in the breaks between cutscenes. One of the best videogame stories I’ve ever seen. [NV]
Papers, Please – Indie game where you act as a border checkpoint agent for a fictional country in the Soviet bloc. Poses some pretty interesting ethical and moral dilemmas. You can play it free in your browser. [SC]
Who Made It? Kieron Gillen (w), Jamie McKelvie & Mike Norton (a), Matthew Wilson (c), and Clayton Cowles (l)
What Is It?: One of the most beloved comics of the 2000s, relaunched under the Marvel Now! banner by friends/frequent collaborators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, with the excellent Mike Norton on inks. Young Avengers follows teenaged heroes Wiccan, Hulkling, Hawkeye (Kate Bishop, the young, female Hawkeye), Noh-Varr, Miss America Chavez, and Kid Loki as they try to stop an alien parasite from using them as bio-batteries.
Why Aren’t You Reading It?:
- You hate “teen” books
- Like my personal podcast pals, you laughed at my description of Gillen and McKelvie’s excellent Phonogram and its sequel, Phonogram: the Singles Club
- You’re too cool or grown-up for superhero comics
- You’re a jerk
I can’t help you with that last one; you’ll have to work it out on your own. Probably it’s best to begin with therapy, or a support group for jerks, something like that. Your other objections, however, are much easier to address.
While Young Avengers does follow the exploits of teenaged heroes (or not-quite teenaged, in Loki’s case) who are grappling with romantic relationships, the awkward balance of fun and responsibility, and disapproving parents, it’s no more a “teen” book than Avengers is an “adult” book. In fact the first issue of Young Avengers addresses sex with a maturity and humor that many comics, mainstream or otherwise, can’t manage. Yes, Gillen is unabashedly writing about the experience of being young, but he takes that experience seriously. Which isn’t to suggest that the book is a grim trudge through “realistic” problems – far from it. Young Avengers is thick with the writer’s dry wit and obsession with pop music, and is on the whole a fun read every month. But underneath the humor is a genuine interest in the lives of young people.
I came to the book at a time when I’m doing everything I can to avoid stories about teenagers having fun; they just end up reminding me that my own youth was underwhelming and dull, spent fearing life instead of embracing it. Much as I enjoyed it, I had a hard time reading The Singles Club for that exact reason. Young Avengers is easier to take because it feels much less plausible (the magic in the Phonogram books is all just meant to be figurative anyway, isn’t it?) but I still feel that pang of regret when I read it. No amount of vivid superhero action can cover up the consistency and clarity of the characters’ voices.
A strong, emotionally honest narrative is crucial in making a superhero comic cool. But design consciousness is in, and no superhero comic can be cool without a distinctive style. Look at Hawkeye: the striking covers, the palette heavy on purple, the minimalist title page – all provocative design decisions, and all frequently cited as reasons why readers and critics love the title. Young Avengers isn’t as overtly against the current as Hawkguy, but Jaime McKelvie’s attention to fashion and the expressiveness of his and Mike Norton’s clean lines aren’t commonly seen in superhero comics. For example, the schematic/splash page of Noh-Varr’s fight scene (complete with key to identify important moments in the choreography) is not only a novel depiction of action – maybe the only thing that comes close is Frank Quitely’s and Chris Burnham’s depictions of Damian Wayne’s acrobatics in Batman and Robin and Batman, Inc. – but also a neat bit of pop art. That’s probably not everyone’s idea of cool, but it’s aimed at the young and hip – the rest of us get to congratulate ourselves for being savvy enough to catch on.
Finally, Scott Pilgrim creator Bryan Lee O’Malley implicitly endorsed the book by providing a great alternate cover for the first issue – if nothing else convinces you to try it out, that should.
Where You Should Start: There’ve only been four issues so far, and a number of reprintings, so you should be able to pick up the entire run so far from your local comic shop. And if you don’t have a local comic shop or just prefer to read digitally, every issue is available through Comixology. There’s also a trade paperback collecting the first five issues scheduled for release this September, but why wait that long?
Author: Alicia Suskin Ostriker
2013, University of Pittsburgh Press
Filed Under: Poetry
|C4 Ratings...out of
To be a Jew means different things to different people, perhaps especially to different Jews. Is it the religion? The history? The ethnicity? If the religion, what about it? The belief system? The holiday calendar? In her Preface to The Book of Life, Alicia Ostriker asks these questions a little differently: “What is it to be a Jewish poet? What is it to be a Jewish woman poet?” Jewishness, she tells us, “has grown on me like a taste for herring, like a needle in a sweatshop relentlessly stitching,” evoking Jewish cultural images. Which is to say that it’s been a process of discovery for her, and continues to be. These poems, culled from a third of a century of writing, track that process. Her parents and grandparents were Marxists, for whom religion was opium. The essence of Judaism for them was social activism. We see those concerns in Ostriker’s verse but we also find a mystical, visionary, even prophetic thread as well.
The Book of Life is divided into six parts, which roughly cover the various aspects of her Jewishness, her Jewish anxieties and interests. The first part consists of more personal poems, growing up Jewish in America and specifically the lower east side of Manhattan, poems about parents, grandparents, grandchildren. An elegy for Allen Ginsberg. These poems are very “haimish” — homey, folksy, if not really nostalgic; they contain a certain angst. …
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[This feature is a brief summary of interesting books coming out each month. Follow it here. Click the title links to find these books at Goodreads.]
A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré (out 5/7)
John le Carré, possibly the world’s most famous spy novelist (at worst, he’s number 2 behind Ian Fleming) is still going strong at 81. His latest is about a counter-terror operation that goes wrong and gets covered up, and one man’s effort to correct it. If it’s anywhere near as good as its book trailer, I’m on board.
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini (out 5/21)
The pre-eminent Afghan-American novelist has a new novel out this month. The flap copy is maddeningly vague, saying the new novel is “about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.” I’m not sure what that means, but as the preeminent writer about an often overlooked part of the world, Hosseini gets a pass for shoddy PR work.
A Guide to Being Born: Stories, by Ramona Ausubel (out 5/2)
Ramona Ausubel’s relatively well-received debut novel, No One Is Here Except All of Us, centered around a Jewish village in Romania in 1939, and their decision to “deny any relationship with the known and start over from scratch.” I’m a fan of magical realism, but I think it works better in the short form, and that’s why I’m more intrigued by this story collection, with an abundance of weird ideas.
The Names of Our Tears, by P.L. Gaus (out 5/28)
A mystery revolving around an Amish drug mule. I’ve never heard of Gaus, so I can’t vouch that it’ll be good, but you don’t hear that premise every day.
NOS4A2, by Joe Hill (out now)
Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he seems to be following in the old man’s footsteps (minus the booze and drugs, hopefully). Hill’s new horror novel, about a supernatural killer and the escaped victim who’s trying to hunt him down, feature a nauseating title and terrible flap copy, but it’s been getting pretty decent buzz.
The Kings and Queens of Roam, by Daniel Wallace (out 5/7)
The author of Big Fish returns with a new “modern fairy tale.”
You Are One of Them, by Elliott Holt (out 5/30)
Holt’s debut novel follows a pair of American girls—Jenny and Sarah—who, at the height of the cold war, write to the Soviet premier asking for peace. The premier invites Jenny to Moscow, but ignores Sarah’s letter, which makes Sarah jealous until Jenny’s plane crashes, killing her and her family. Ten years later, Sarah gets a letter suggesting that Jenny’s death might’ve been a hoax. Sounds like a unique premise for digging into the old exploring-a-friendship trope.
The River of No Return, by Bee Ridgeway (out now)
This sci-fi debut novel follows a Napoleon-era soldier who wakes up in a modern hospital two hundred years after he should have died, the ward of a time-travel organization known as The Guild.
Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of WW II, by Mitchell Zuckoff (out now)
The author of the well-received Lost in Shangri-La returns with another true story of WWII. This time around, Zuckoff follows the crews of two planes that crash in northern Greenland, and their struggle to survive in the harsh climate until rescue arrives.
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Not a lot of reviews to get excited about this week. The May edition of Nico’s Book Radar will run tomorrow, so check back then for some additional reading ideas.
My Beloved Brontosaurus, by Brian Switek. Reviewed by Tess Taylor (Barnes and Noble Review).
Dinosaurs are fucking awesome. I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Because of this, dinosaur books are almost always written with enthusiasm and even exhuberance, which in turn makes reading about dinosaurs more often than not also fucking awesome. Who wouldn’t want to check out a “zany, sometimes mind-blowing romp through the new science of old bones”–I’m in.
Bunker Hill, by Nathaniel Philbrick. Reviewed by Walter Isaacson (Washington Post).
I used to live a block from the Bunker Hill monument, otherwise I might have overlooked this one. But if you’re in the mood for a history book, this actually looks pretty good. And anyone who wants to join in the post-bombing Boston love might want to dig into this and learn about the city’s revolutionary roots. I’ve already ordered a copy for a father’s day gift.
Quickly: Franzen on spending time with a self-help book. Two US presidents co-leading the country sounds like a disaster. This novel about Mallory’s third Everest ascent has promise.
I think the winter is finally over.
ten stories, real short
Bonnie ZoBell, what a name!
worth a look and see
He Died With His Eyes Open
an A.L. Kennedy rec
deserves to be read
The Quantum Thief
very smart sci-fi
deals in quantum abstractions
solid heist tale, too
the other new Roach
just old Readers’ Digest bits
not that worth your time
What Things Are Made Of
“oil-slicked doomed penguins”
deliriously strange poems
check this collection
The Best of All Possible Worlds
for shame i09
calling babytown frolics!
Author: Karen Lord
2013, Ballantine Books
Filed under: Sci-fi
Find it at Goodreads
|C4 Ratings...out of
I think my sci-fi kick is officially over. I started reading this book after seeing a gushing post about it at io9, a preeminent sci-fi website. The post was titled “If you want to see what science fiction is capable of in 2013, you ought to pick up this book.” There are other bold claims in the piece (like “it’s a quick, fun read”), but the title is heart of the matter. If this is all science fiction is capable of these days, I don’t want any part of it.
In The Best of All Possible Worlds, there are four races of humans in the galaxy: Terrans, Ntshune, Sadiri, and Zhinuvians. The Sadiri are long-lived telepaths who have explored the universe with their “mindships”—they’re basically halfway between Vulcans and Elves. In fact, one Sadiri clan actually calls themselves Elves. It’s almost stupefyingly derivative, and the world-building is by far the best part of the novel.
The Terrans are humans as we think of them, the Zhinuvians or performers are something, and the Ntshune are… I don’t even know. Partially that’s because the utterly dry and life-devoid prose put me to sleep every time I started to read this book, and partially it’s because it doesn’t matter what the Ntshune are, because they have nothing to do with anything.
The inciting incident of the novel (I actually hesitate to call it a novel, more on that shortly), is a horrible act of genocide, committed by the Ainya against the Sadiri. Specifically, the Ainya blew up Sadira altogether. Which seems to have been a stupid decision, because the Sadiri and their semi-allies the Zhinuvians are the only ones with ships that can reach the Ain. So the Ainya are stranded wherever that planet is, and they literally don’t factor into the novel again, ever. …
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[Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds, a shamefully overhyped book (C4 review here), has just come out in paperback and continues to wail for attention: the book sports 11 full pages of laudatory front matter, including snippets from 27 reviews and several dozen blurbtastically purple and inane write-ups from novelists.
Many of these blurbs confuse C4 contributor Dave Duhr, so for the next couple of weeks he will be writing open letters to a few of these blurbers and we’ll run them in this space. Because we’re confused, too.
The first is addressed to Alice Sebold (The Lovely Bones), whose Yellow Birds blurb reads, “This is a novel I’ve been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence. All of us owe Kevin Powers our heartfelt gratitude.”]
Dear Alice Sebold:
I write to you today in the hopes that you’ll clarify for me the first line of your Yellow Birds blurb. When you said, “This is a novel I’ve been waiting for,” did you mean that when you wrote the blurb, you still had not received the manuscript? How long had you been waiting? Sometimes when I order a book the shipping takes nearly two weeks! So I understand your aggravation. But I wonder if it was really necessary to take a public potshot at Mr. Powers and/or his publicist for their tardiness in getting a copy to you.
It’s strange, too, that you would then write the rest of the blurb before receiving and reading the book. Unless you wrote the second and third lines days later, after the book arrived and after (I hope, though I’m not certain) reading it in its entirety? In which case—and this is solely for future reference, of course—I would have recommended expressing the passage of time in some manner. For example: “This is a novel I’ve been waiting for. (Dum dee dum dee dum.) Mail came today, no bird book. (Dum dee dum dee dum.) No mail on Saturdays now, WTF? (Dum dee dum dee dum.) Oh wow it came today! (Dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum dee dum.) I have now read a few pages of The Yellow Birds and can confidently say that so far it seems born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence,” yada. …
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