of some the best books i have read in 2013 and then the tab froze as I did some HTML edits. So here is a succinct version I should have posted in the first place.
Top-Picks: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño; Das Kunstseidene Mädchen/The Artificial Silk Girl by Imgard Keun; Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler; Er ist Weider Da/He’s Back! by Timur Vermes; Rechnung Offen/Open Tab by Inger-Maria Mahlke; Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera by Bertold Brecht
This was hands-down the longest book I’ve ever read in Spanish, and it was an epic, labyrinthine story. Academics, detectives, serial killers. Bolaño’s shorter works seem to have had a greater impact on me (see: Amuleto and Nocturno de Chile), but this novel had me up at night, turning pages and scribbling notes to myself about the possible who-dunnits. See more that I’ve written/posted about the book here [possible spoilers!]. 5/5 Stars.
Das Kunstseidene Mädchen:
From my Goodreads review: I seemed to be tempted to underline every fourth paragraph, as Doris spews out mostly unfiltered truths with a down-to-earth voice, cloaked in just enough naivety to produce a comic effect but not mocking enough to discount her very real observations. For a book written in the 1930s, it seems like the kind of writing you’d find on a tumblr - and I think that is awesome. 4/5 Stars.
It’s been nearly a full year since I read this collection of stories from Blake Butler, but a few of them have really stuck with me over that time. Scorch Atlas is like a compendium of apocalyptic plagues, recounted in a language that is twisted in such a way that everything oozes, mucks, and generally disgusts. There are neighborhoods buried in gunk, starving families, and tarry smells. If you’re interested in more experimental, somewhat disjointed fiction, you’ll enjoy the way Butler turns his words into the very vile landscape that he is portraying.
Er ist wieder da:
Again, from my Goodreads review: An interesting read, but also a bit disturbing. As other critics have voiced, how interesting is Vermes’ satire when it profits from the same structure that it mocks? Vermes certainly ends on a critical tone, suggesting a risen Hitler could command the kind of popular appeal necessary to found his own political party in modern day Germany. Most of the laughs are either historically tied-in or the result of unfamiliarity with the new German “otherness” - it will be interesting to see if “Er is wieder da” can be successfully translated for US readership.
Via Goodreads, an excerpt of my review: Set in a quickly changing Neukölln apartment building, Mahlke tells the stories of a host of residents, each from a very different personal background but all having an unsettled account of their own. Reflecting on the low ratings, and my own ‘merely sated’ 3-Stars, I think one flaw is that these characters are either generic (Der Ägypter) or complex but frustratingly lacking context (Lucas’ mother). Undoubtedly part of Mahlke’s plan, the new agents of gentrification are never concretely present in the storyline, appearing only as small reference or, more often, personified by the bah-humbug grumblings of the Hauseigentümer Claas. Also unfortunate is the presence of only one Turkish-German character; Ümit serves mostly as an antagonistic voice for Lucas, as well as a kind of comedic-relief-overflow-valve.
While I was hoping for a nuanced critic-vis-à-vis-community-biopic, “Rechnung offen” turned out to be a relatively limited foray into the consecuences of gentrification. Still, I found Mahlke’s portrayal of Lucas to be entertaining and believable, and there is certainly some worthwhile commentary within the nearly 300 pages.
I was really pleasantly surprised by Brecht’s Threepenny Opera: it has everything you could really want, including tragicomedic ballads, snake-oil characters, and a good dose of social satire. My favorite song was “Das Lied der Unzulänglichkeit des menschlichen Strebens” - The Song of the Insufficiency of Human Endeavor, which includes the great verses:
Ja; renn nur nach dem Glück
doch renne nicht zu sehr!
Denn alle rennen nach dem Glück
Das Glück rennt hinterher.
Denn für dieses Leben
Ist der Mensch nicht anspruchslos genug
drum ist all sein Streben
nur ein Selbstbetrug.
Yeah, just chase after happiness
but don’t wind yourself too much!
‘Cause everyone’s chasin’ happiness down
Happiness runs here and there.
‘Cause for this life
Man isn’t humble enough
Thus is all his toil
Nothin’ but a pipe dream.
(Of course, the original rhymes and is thus 100x better)
La tumba del marinero/The Sailor’s Grave by Luna Miguel
Another incredible collection of poetry from my favorite young Spanish poet, Luna Miguel. I wrote a review (in what is probably an error-filled Spanish) here, but I suppose it’s best to put the grammatically correct English version here: Another marvelous, hideous collection of poetry from Luna Miguel. In a way, the whole book squirms and oozes, speaking of disease and love, seasickness and disgust. But it’s not an ugly book - it’s a muddy book in the way you can enjoy squishing your feet in spring puddles. We all want to see our insides, even when we’re frightened at first glance. And that kind of pull, of the sickness that we feel inside, is the force of Luna’s “The Sailor’s Grave”.
Bluebird and Other Tattoos by Luna Miguel, translations by Jeremy Spencer
Bluebird and Other Tattoos is the first ever bilingual print publication of Spanish poet Luna Miguel’s beautiful poetry. I’m a diehard fan of Luna and her work, and this edition is no let-down. One of the best things about this specific publication is that it is organized chronologically, which allows the reader to follow the poet as she develops both thematically and stylistically. I do have my reservations about some of the English translations, but they represent a minority of the poems in the collection and I am happy to support the publishers over at Scrambler Books. I’ve been following this small-press since receiving my copy of Bluebirds, and I’m ecstatic to see that the folks there are really committed to bringing works-in-translation to the English market. So I send my affections to both Luna Miguel and Scrambler Books.
Poemas y antipoemas by Nicanor Parra
Parra was a giant influence on Roberto Bolaño, and his poems and antipoems are a joy to read, filled with the kind of kickass-style of a man who doesn’t need to explain himself. Oh and also, he did a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking thing in memory of Bolaño.
Cosmopolitan Anxieties: Turkish Challenges to Citizenship and Belonging in Germany by Ruth Mandel
I’ll paste in my Goodreads review, but let me preface by saying this is one of the most interesting books I have ever read, and has really help shaped my academic interests towards transnational issues.
Ruth Mandel’s analysis of Germany’s so-called Ausländerproblematik is enlightening and nuanced. First deconstructing the rhetoric behind German conceptions of Turks (as well as the so-called Deutschtürken), Mandel then continues to provide analysis of the constructions of identity among all parties. Included in her book is a significant reflection on historical events, all leading up to a summary of current identity politics. Perhaps the most valuable information included are Mandel’s lengthy, often anecdotal observations of minority groups within the Turkish diaspora, particularly relating to Alevis. This was the first text that I have read in my study of the Turkish diaspora of Germany, and it has provided numerous, useful terms present in both Turkish and German discourses. Mandel certainly maintains a critical view on German policies regarding foreigners, however these views are pervasively and persuasively founded in a level-headed dialog. In all, Mandel’s book seems to me to be the best starting point for an engaging and multifaceted study of identity politics and the Turkish diaspora in Germany. 5/5 Stars - If you have any interest in Turkish diaspora in Germany, German reactions, etc. you have to start with this book!
Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance by Ian Buruma
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, and found it quite interesting. Its obvious that I have an interest in the valors and pitfalls of Multiculturalism, and Buruma gives a rich context for the murder of Theo van Gogh, an outspoken Dutch media star who was killed by Dutch-Moroccan muslim who had become entrenched in a small radical group, comprised of both the more genuine “jihadists” and other möchtegern’s. Buruma is able to give very detailed descriptions and backgrounds of many prominent Dutch personas, which serves to underline the close-knit group in which ever member seems to have slept with another ‘public intellectual’. Unfortunately, it seems that Buruma is perhaps too close to this privileged group, and in the end he seems to come to a rather hard-to-swallow conclusion: maybe we should all be a little more tolerant of intolerance, in order to spare some bloodshed. I find the implications of such an attitude a little too disturbing to lend it much credit.
Let me start off by saying that, until this year, I had never read a comic book all the way through (the closest I ever came was translating a Spanish-edition of a Spiderman comic for a friend as we lay drunk in our hostel room in Madrid). However, this came to a swift change after an impulse purchase of:
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan with illustrations by Fiona Staples
After seeing a few tumblr posts featuring Lying Cat - a feline who, you guessed it, serves as a lie-detector, I decided to pick up the First Volume of Saga and give it a whirl. And I’m elated that I did, because it has been one of the best things I’ve read all year. I ripped through the first edition and had to immediately purchase all the remaining chapters. I don’t want to give out any spoilers for potential readers, but here’s a short list of reasons why you should give the series a shot:
- A refreshingly diverse cast of characters, including strong females, weak females who become strong, whiney males, teddy-bear-on-the-inside-males, and everything in-between.
- Beautiful artwork by Fiona Staples. Like, really … amazing.
- An engaging story line that takes center stage via …
- Pointed dialog and narration that is efficient and smart and ..
- Full of humor. Humor done right - not sloppy or unnatural.
- The universe of Saga is that perfect Dr. Who-like mix of vanilla sci-fi and whimsical I-don’t-know-what.
- Lying Cat. Trust me, she’s great.
- Bad Bitches - in the best way possible.
- There is a good deal of sex. Funny sex, sexy sex, and honest sex.
- You don’t need any more reasons - It’s great, really.
So, there it is: a review of (most) of the (mostly) good books I read this year. If you want to keep track of my reading habits, you can take a look at my profile over at Goodreads.
Reading my poem “Museum Of Cancers” with the great poet Sam Riviere, at 89plus Marathon (Serpentine Gallery, London) last month.
Infinite love and respect for Luna Miguel
In Barcelona, you relate to our best young writers like Luna Miguel and Antonio J. Rodriguez. Do you read some Spanish literature?
I like Luna and Antonio a lot. One book of poetry from Luna, Bluebird and Other Tattoos (Scrambler Books, 2012) is published in English and I think it’s one of my…
Yo how do I enter this profession? Lol
this was based on a text post (I think) that I saw on tumblr awhile ago.
Pues, qué belleza. Qué putrefacción. A veces huele, ese libro. A veces huele incluso muy mal. Porque ese libro es una tumba, y el cuerpo todavía está vivo - lleno de gusanos y palabras retorciéndose.
Azucár como arma. Cánceres que se crecen y que se propagan.
La tumba del marinero comparte unos poemas que ya han sido publicados en la edición norteamericana que se llama Bluebird and Other Tattoos (The Scrambler, 2012). Sin embargo, la mayoría son nuevos. Leí los poemas en voz alta, sentado en una muelle del lago Michigan. Me parecía apropriado. El poemario (o bien novela política) trata de enfermedades, de amores (que quizá sean enfermedades), de disgustos.
Vengan a enterarse por qué “la vida no puede ser experimentada ni por los vivos ni por los muertos”. Que lean a Luna Miguel.
Another marvelous, hideous collection of poetry from Luna Miguel. In a way, the whole book squirms and oozes, speaking of disease and love, seasickness and disgust. But it’s not an ugly book - it’s a muddy book in the way you can enjoy squishing your feet in spring puddles. We all want to see our insides, even when we’re frightened at first glance. And that kind of pull, of the sickness that we feel inside, is the force of Luna’s “The Sailor’s Grave”.
Some of my favorite poems:
Four: Monogamy One: Seams (also appears in Bluebirds) Eight: Bad Blood (a long segment in which things grow and grow and then shrink into the end of the world)
If your Spanish will serve, order La tumba del marinero. Hopefully we’ll be seeing much more of Luna’s work translated for the US!
I guess if people were interested, I could translate the other two stories. It just seems odd to translate a text originally written in English back into English cause, well, you lose a lot of style.
Poetry is not dead, re-print. And my new book “La tumba del marinero”, very soooooonnnn!
qué ganas de leerlos!