hi! I asked you about your out of print favorites when what i ought to have asked you is: what relatively unknown/unread/obscure books do you LOVE. like, your favorite book that no one else has ever heard of. sorry, i'll stop asking annoying open ended questions after this.
Hello again Anonymous! This is hard: once you read a book, once you know it that well, it’s hard to remember that it may be a different kind of unknown. And this is particularly true when it’s something you love, and you tell all your friends about it, insist, insist, and make them read it, and then everyone you know is tired of you talking about that book that no one’s heard of—you bore—and suddenly this book feels like it’s reached saturation, at least in your own little market of friends who hear you blab about books. (The nice thing about working at a bookstore is that you can blab at people and never see them again. Thanks, customers!)
And also, since quiet anti-epic is not exactly my wheelhouse, my selections there tend to be the obvious ones. Also I’m young enough that a bulk of my reading tends to be The English Major Classics and whatever I felt I missed. Certain obscurities feel like an indulgence; I still haven’t read so much! Though my original recommendations still stand. Anyway, I’m not sure how long you’ve been participating in the McNally Jackson Internet Experience, but here are some things I blab about here and on the twitter because I think they’re under-read:
Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, a poem-essay about the color blue, and William Gass’ On Being Blue, an essay-poem about the color blue (though mostly sex & writing). These two paired together are known as the bluefer-twofer.
Ander Monson’s weird and wonderful Vanishing Point, which didn’t get talked about enough. Contains the single best close reading of Doritos I’ve read.
Short stories! I purchased Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy a few years ago and have since bought copies for four other people...can you recommend a new great short story writer?
Can I admit something shameful, something I’m not proud of, as an employee of McNally Jackson? I’ve never read him. (Simon wrote a bunch of his first collection in our cafe, which is why being a McNJer and leaving Simon unread is doubly bad.)
But I have read some short stories! One of my favorite collections is Jason Brown’s Why the Devil Chose New England for His Work. You can read my staff pick.
And! Andre Dubus! Not to be confused with his same-named son, Andre Dubus’ collected stories is another all-time favorite: the longer ones set in New England are particularly great. (He’s not, however, exactly new. But still. He could be new to you.)
And, of course, the ever-lovely Emma Straub’s Other People We Married, which makes for a funny kind of sequel to Love Begins in Winter based on their titles. Lorrie Moore (!) says, “In these stories of grief, love, loss and transplantation, Emma Straub demonstrates her brilliance, her humor, her sharp observational powers, as well as her lyrical gifts and affection for the world. She is a terrific new talent.” Which I’ll ditto.
To walk into a modern-day bookstore is a little bit like studying a single photograph out of the infinite number of photographs that cold be taken of the world: It offers the reader a frame. Within that frame, she can decide what she likes and doesn’t like, what is for her and not for her. She can browse, selecting this offering and rejecting that, and in this way she can begin to assemble a program of taste and self.
“Reading The Tiger’s Wife, I began to consider the things that attracted me to books when I myself was a young-adult (i.e., late elementary school) reader. Basically, I was a nerdy lowbrow: I was in it for sex, humor and death. If a book wasn’t going to give me the scoop on puberty or throw me some puns, I wanted it to scare me in a way that felt serious and adult-perhaps with the Holocaust, or cancer.”
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Knowing that a book exists is one thing, being made to recognize its existence by someone else another. It is the fact of Lord Mark’s showing her the portrait, and not the portrait itself, that so topples Milly: “It was perhaps as a good a moment as she should have with any one, or have in any connexion whatever.”A personal recommendation is not the same as one cast out to anonymous strangers on the internet.
I will try, therefore, to be as specific as possible: if you are my age, self-absorbed, and aimless but not hopeless, you should read these books immediately. Perhaps the figure sketched in them will impress you as your own, and perhaps it will resolve something for you. Sometimes books enter your life at exactly the right moment. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d think: like people, they tend to appear too early, when you are too foolish to appreciate them, or too late, when they have been claimed by someone else.
From this piece by Elizabeth Gumport, up at This Recording.
What book(s) might you suggest for a gentleman of a certain age (dad age) whose interests learn toward the Krakauer/Lansing camp of adventure nonfiction? Other interests include but are not limited to: bicycles, sailing, beautifully crafted sentences. Other than MOBY DICK progenitor INTO THE HEART OF THE SEA, do you have any recommendations?
“Self-consciousness is the curse of the city and all that sophistication implies. It is the glimpse of oneself in a storefront window, the unbidden awareness of reactions on the faces of other people—the novelist’s world, not the poet’s. I’ve lived there. I remember what the city has to offer: human companionship, major-league baseball, and a clatter of quickening stimulus like a rush from strong drugs that leaves you drained. I remember how you bide your time in the city, and think, if you stop to think, ‘next year…I’ll start living; next year…I’ll start my life.’”—From Annie Dillard’s A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
“I never found it possible to think without thinking about myself thinking. And I’m not sure if that’s a casualty of being me or a casualty of being human, so I decided to assume the latter and just go ahead with the project of thinking of me as if it were a legitimate human enterprise and would be enlightening to other humans.”—Anne Carson again, from her Paris Review interview again.
Thanks for the awesome sci-fi suggestions from Dustin a while back! Just Tumbled my purchases a moment ago. Very excited to start on the M. John Harrison in particular. Tumblr! It has actual ROI. I spent $57.68 thanks to your lovely suggestions.
I am going to show this to the bosslady so she knows that I am doing important work over here. All the jokes about Moby-Dick are worth it.
McNally Jackson is proud to announce The Bridge, a new reading series devoted to literary translation. It aims to promote public awareness about the art of translation by serving as a regular venue for readings, by both well-established and emerging translators and authors, and discussions on a range of issues related to this important literary art and practice.
Tonight at 7 pm, we have Edith Grossman—author of Why Translation Matters, and translator of the edition Don Quixote you probably own, Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and others—and Steve Dolph, translator of Juan Jose Saer’s Sixty-Five Years of Washington, recently out from Open Letter.
“The deli is a good place to stage New York stories. There are lots of things to do there, from grocery shopping to armed robbery, and the setting makes them feel both particular and universal. Once, in our early months in the city, my roommate received a pack of Camels on credit at our corner store. This meant that dreams could come true. Once, alone and drunk late at night, I abandoned a copy of The House of Mirth on the counter while purchasing ice cream. This meant that I was a fool—but, because I recovered it the next day, not a total fool.”—From this review of Ben Ryder Howe’s My Korean Deli by Molly Fischer. It’s great, and not just because Molly lets me date her.
I know it's been a week, but if Anonymous is still looking for quietly beautiful books about two people in love or not in love but still married (or somewhere in between), I recommend 'A Happy Marriage' by Rafael Yglesias. It's an intoxicating picture of a life lived in New York, and also so joyfully sad at points that I was crying on the plane on my way to a wedding (and I never cry).
Yes! Anonymous is still looking for an answer—they* asked another question, which I haven’t had the time to give the time it deserves. Anonymous! This is for you.
*They is a perfectly acceptable gender-neutral singular pronoun.