Blogs

 

We're really excited to announce that, beginning in September, The Booksmith will host monthly get-together-discussions for members of The Rumpus' fab new book club (and those who may want to become members of that cool club).

These in-person gatherings are in addition to members' on-line chats with the author, and afford continuing discussion about writer and book. Rumpus founder Stephen Elliott will participate in many of these evenings.

 

More information soon, but save the dates!

 


 

 

 

Found in Translation:  A Unique Book Group

 

Last year at the Booksmith we started a new book group – Found in Translation.  While our reader community is comprised mostly of San Francisco residents, there is incredible international diversity in this community in terms of countries of origin, languages spoken, world travelers, and people who are just incredibly curious about other societies and cultures.   Found in Translation is a celebration of this diversity and a concerted attempt by us to continue enhancing it.  I have read and enjoyed several of the book group’s picks and each one has enabled me to learn and appreciate something new about a different culture – France, Lebanon, Chile!  I have also been really impressed by how much I enjoyed the group’s discussions – they help me get so much more out of each book.  I recently interviewed Scott Esposito, the discussion leader of the group, who hand-picks each book for us and also leads the discussions.

 

Our next book group meeting is on Tuesday July 20th and we will be discussing French writer Honore de Balzac's book Eugenie Grandet.  So, put your DVRs on record, log out of Facebook and join us to meet other book lovers.

 

Praveen:  How did you become passionate about translated literature?

Scott:  It's pretty simple: I love great literature, and I always read the books that seem the most innovative and most exciting. Over the past few years, more and more of those books have been literature in translation. I like a lot of U.S. writers too, but with translated literature you get so many different viewpoints and styles that the books feel very fresh. It's all about encountering new ways to understand this world we all live in.

 

Praveen:  Where do you learn about new translations?

Scott:  I work at a local nonprofit called the Center for the Art of Translation, which is all about publishing and promoting great new literature in translation. In addition to that, I review books for places like the Los Angeles Times and edit an online book review. So between those things, publishers and translators are constantly telling me about the best new books out there.

 

Praveen:  There were over one million new books published in the US in 2009.  With so many new books bring published these days, what's so unique and interesting about translated fiction?

Scott:  That's the thing about translations--of those million books, only a few hundred were novels in translation. I like to think of translations as the survivors, those few, hardy books that are so compelling for one reason or another that they overcame the odds and actually got into print in the U.S.

 

Here's what I mean: the first thing to note about those million books is that the bulk of them books are self-published, most of which is outright garbage. No offense to self-published authors, but unless you're a complete genius you need a good editor, as well as friends and colleagues to help push that manuscript further.

 

In other words, filters help us readers get the best book possible. And translations have been through more filters than any other kind of book. First they had to beat out all the other books vying to get published in their native language. Then they had to be a success in their home country. Then they had to get noticed by a translator and be compelling enough for a U.S. publisher to go out and publish.

 

So the quality is generally very high, and because each nation and region has a different history and writing tradition you get a huge amount of diversity in terms of plots, styles, characters, etc.

 

Praveen:  What are some upcoming books the book group is planning to read?

Scott:  I'm pretty excited about our October book, titled Broken Glass. It's a new release by an author many consider the Congo's leading writer, Alain Mabanckou. He's a real enfant terrible, but though his books can be acerbic, mordant, and incredibly ironic, they're also very true to what that country is like right now.

 

The Boston Globe just reviewed Broken Glass, and this quote speaks for itself: "Like all the bar patrons, [the protagonist] Broken Glass is captivated by a marathon urinating contest between Robinette, a plump, likeable prostitute, and Casimir, a dapper, mysterious man."

 

Not all of the group's books are quite this bawdy. In August we're reading The Accordionist's Son by Bernardo Atxaga, the leading writer of Spain's Basque region. It's all about this amazing land and its tumultuous history under Spain's fascist dictator Francisco Franco. It's a great book that, quite literally, has done a huge amount to put the Basque region on the world map.

 

And in September we're doing a book by one of the Czech Republic's leading authors, Michael Ajvaz. It's called The Golden Age, and it's maybe best described as a cross between Borges and Gulliver's Travels.

 

Praveen:  Who are some of the regular participants in the book group?

Scott:  We have all kinds of passionate readers. One is a young woman who just moved here from the East Coast, and she joined because she was looking for other book-lovers in the area to get to know. Another member is a freelance writer and all-around bibliophile whose work you can read up at The Rumpus. And then there's a retired gentleman who by his own admission reads far too slowly to read most of the group's books--he just loves to hear the discussion about the books and uses it to find new things to read.

 

 Praveen:  What commitment do new participants need to make in order to join the book group?

Scott:  The commitment is very low--in fact, strictly speaking you don't even have to read the book. We just want people eager to meet other readers and interested in finding out about great new books. If you can say that, then you're perfect for us!

 

 

Inspired by Elmore Leonard's ten rules for writing fiction, the Guardian (UK) asks a slew of other writers to chime in. They provide some commonsense directives, some very funny suggestions, some honestly inspiring words, and certainly enough reading to effectively postpone one's writing...Read 'em all here.

 

 

A colleague notes the Wordcount website. At first look, the minimalist look belied the often fascinating "nearness" of words to one another. (For examples, read the About section -- then enter a word and check the ones appearing immediately before and after. Could become addicting.)

 If you're word-inclined further, take the plunge and subscribe to Anu Garg's A.Word.A.Day email. They are sometimes spectacular, sometimes odd, and always full of actually useful information, including origins and usage. (And you'll receive a weekly recap once each week, perfect for archiving for reference!) 

 

 

 

 

Book trailer for the Neil Gaiman-edited STORIES. Lovely!

 

 

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Dispatches from the BEA (from Rachel M.)

 

The only thing worth schleping out to the Javits Center, a huge wasteland of a convention center in NYC on 11th avenue (did you even know New York had an 11th avenue?) is for Book Expo America.  And schlep we did.  So here’s a sneak preview of what’s to come over the next few months, reported in no particular order and tied together solely by the fact that I’m crazy about these books.  Keep an eye out for them as the come down the pipeline; they’re worth waiting for.

 

To the End of the Land

by David Grossman

Knopf, September 2010

 

When Ora’s youngest son leaves to take part in a major military operation in Lebanon at the end of his Israeli army service, Ora takes to the hills—literally—with a close childhood friend to escape the possibility of bad news.  Like Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, To the End of the Land  uses the logic, thought patterns, and sentence construction of trauma to force the reader close and closer to what it feels like to live in the suspended state of enormous loss.  Hoping that both her constant motion and the telling of Ofer, her son’s, life story will keep him safe, Ora and Avram embark on a journey driven by “magical thinking” across the country that all three of them have sacrificed enormously to protect.  Grossman, as always, writes brilliantly about the psychological, social, and familial effects living in a state perpetually engaged with the threat of war has on its people—be they the aggressors or the victims.  I read this 630-page novel in a frenzied day and a half.  I couldn’t put it down.  I couldn’t think about anything else.  To the End of the Land does what truly great books do: it changes you; when I finished reading it the world was the same but I was different.

 

All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost

by Lan Samantha Chang

Norton, September 2010

 

Set at a renowned writing school, two young poets, Roman and Bernard are drawn into orbit around a brilliant, harsh, and captivating professor and poet, Miranda.  As both men strive to win her attention and respect, “the boundaries between mentorship, friendship, and love are blurred.”  Once they leave school, Miranda’s presence continues to cast a shadow on their lives and their art, serving to illuminate the different paths that they’ve chosen as they each labor to reach the heart of their ambitions and art.  A fierce, captivating gem of a novel.  Lan Samantha Chang is a stunning and under-read writer.  All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost is destined to make her a household name.

 

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Scribner, November 2010

 

A not-just-readable but riveting “biography” of cancer.  Mukherjee writes about cancer from virtually every way possible—from its first documented case thousands of years ago to the patients he is serving today.  And he comes at his subject with a researcher’s precision, a historian’s perspective, and a biographer’s infatuation.  Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Mukherjee’s book will totally change not just who is reading science or medical literature but how it is being read.  On every level, this book is a game-changer.

 

Great House

by Nicole Krauss

Norton, October 2010

 

If you read The History of Love you’re already familiar with Krauss’s dexterity of voice-driven, intertwined, first person narratives (and if you haven’t read The History of Love you will put this down right now, go rustle up a copy, and not come back until you’ve read it—trust me, you’ll thank me later).  Great House employs all of those techniques again but because they are being employed by a master, it really doesn’t matter that we’ve seen that routine before.  The novel tracks four narratives, connected across time and place by the appearance and disappearance of looming, bulky desk, which was supposedly owned by Lorca at some point in its past.  Like her previous two novels, Krauss focuses on nothing less than the struggle to create meaning out of madness, and the enduring and, at times, suffocating power of memory.

 

Rachel M. 5/27

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