A selection of what our editors have been reading and recommending this winter:
Ashley Nelson Levy, Publisher
“Writings about place are almost always about the writer: The most rigorous are a series of self-exposures, revelations of their chroniclers’ prejudices and ignorances,” writes Hanya Yanagihara in last year’s The New York Times Style Magazine to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia (Penguin Classics, 2003). When I picked up the book last month I had not been to Patagonia or previously read Chatwin, and it felt like a solid introduction to the two. It was a reminder of the travel writer’s task: to be present while becoming invisible, to map out the land while camouflaging into it, to shed light on its residents without exploiting or trivializing or exoticizing what one finds. Chatwin’s trip begins with a quest to see about a Mylodon, and ends with a text as nomadic as the writer himself, weaving in the history, politics, and folklore of this enigmatic terrain, even spending a few chapters with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Yanagihara continues: “We think of travelers as people who have no attachment to things, but true travelers are people who really have no attachment to place. Home is not a beloved memory or something to yearn for and fetishize, but merely a matter of circumstance: a piece of land (sometimes large, but usually small) on which one eats and sleeps, sometimes for a lifetime, and sometimes for a day. Home, therefore, is anywhere, and yet nowhere as well.” This is interesting to consider in the context of one of our forthcoming nonfiction books, False Calm (Transit Books, October 2018), by Maria Sonia Cristoff, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Cristoff takes on the role of crónista, cataloging the stories of the Patagonian ghost towns left behind by the oil boom. But the twist is that Patagonia is home to Cristoff; born in Trelew, she left to escape the isolation and has now returned to capture the stories of those who stayed. It’s a beautiful book dedicated to the people it explores and a fitting response to Chatwin and all those who came before.
Adam Z. Levy, Publisher
One of my most recent reading delights came from Emily Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey (Norton, November 2017). It's hard to imagine there'd be much you could make new in a text that's seen 60 previous translations into English, but when Wilson—who is the first woman to have translated Homer's epic—introduces us to her Odysseus, we meet a man who's enticingly hard to pin down. It's a radical departure from what came before and now, seemingly, the only way forward. Here's Wilson, in Wyatt Mason's profile of her in The New York Times Magazine:
“One of the things I struggled with,” Wilson continued, sounding more exhilarated than frustrated as she began to unpack “polytropos,” the first description we get of Odysseus, “is of course this whole question of whether he is passive—the ‘much turning’ or ‘much turned’—right? This was—”
“Treat me,” I interrupted, “as if I don’t know Greek,” as, in fact, I do not.
“The prefix poly,” Wilson said, laughing, “means ‘many’ or ‘multiple.’ Tropos means ‘turn.’ ‘Many’ or ‘multiple’ could suggest that he’s much turned, as if he is the one who has been put in the situation of having been to Troy, and back, and all around, gods and goddesses and monsters turning him off the straight course that, ideally, he’d like to be on. Or, it could be that he’s this untrustworthy kind of guy who is always going to get out of any situation by turning it to his advantage. It could be that he’s the turner.”
With her solution, Wilson gets to have it both ways, and we're lucky enough to spend the rest of the book burrowing into our "complicated man." It's a heck of a lot of fun.
Liza St. James, Editor-at-Large
I read Third-Millennium Heart (Action Books/Broken Dimanche Press, September 2017) in one sitting, but it’s easy to imagine reading it slowly, a couple pages a week. I say this because Danish poet Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s “increasingly fleeting and flexible patterns” (as a repeated line goes) lend themselves to various interpretations and emotions, even within and throughout a single reading. Her lines are wildly capacious, and the poems can feel wry and dark and wise at once. Matriarchy, capitalism, language, networks, the body—from among the book’s connected vessels a refrain repeats: “atrium, ventricle, cubicle.” The imagery throughout these spare pages layers on top of itself, creating a texture that becomes an experiential crescendo.
Truth and justice, I want to cut / their hearts out / carefully / and wear them as earrings; I’ll be all dressed up.
Days after I first read the book, I found myself on the Wikipedia page for the third millennium, scrolling through predictions, half-expecting to find mention of a Mothers Market between the forecasted planetary occultations and species extinctions. I heard Katrine Øgaard Jensen read from her inventive translation last year as part of the sui generis Brooklyn-based series Us&Them, and, as stunning as her neologisms sounded then (“comajubilation,” “namedrunk,” “exoheart”), by the time I reached the poems I’d heard, they’d already opened up further and taken on new patterns of meaning.