The book chooses the reader. I believe this; however, I also believe that the reader has an obligation to make himself available to the book.
Listen: Years ago, I stopped taking advice on reading material. First, every reader has his own tastes; second, some readers just aren't very discerning—they'll read anything; and finally, RIYL only applies to people who want to read books like the ones they've read. Moreover, as a literature and creative writing student, I struggled to split my time between the assigned texts and the books that interested me, and the required readings only interested me after they ceased to be assignments. Maybe I'm coming off as contrarian—as someone who just doesn't like being told what to do—but really, I'm just a slow reader, and I only absorb materials out of personal interest rather than obligation.
I felt vindicated in this view when I read once that Jorge Luis Borges' father introduced him to the library, saying that it didn't matter what he read as long as he kept reading. I began to imagine a world in which each reader creates a personal canon, one that speaks to his experiences and helps him navigate life's questions, rather than a universal canon that makes those of us who don't fall in line feel like we're falling behind. This isn't to say that we should ignore the canon altogether, but rather that we should be like Borges and allow the books to choose us. But we need to make ourselves available by picking the books up.
Have a look, then, Santa Fe, at this incomplete and totally biased guide to summer reading, and give yourself a chance to be found. No one will hold it against you if you don't feel a connection.
Translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel
Alfred A Knopf
“Your imagination has some special kind of power,” Tengo Kawana, one of several main characters in Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, 1Q84, tells another protagonist. “It’s entirely original, and quite contagious.” In the context of a book that continually questions and twists the concept of reality, such a statement feels consciously metaphysical, as though the author had intentionally painted himself into the landscape. Murakami, the prolific Japanese author known for his own original, contagious imagination, creates a brave new world in 1Q84—a world so vibrant and seductive that, after a weekend spent immersed in this 900-plus-page tome, you may start to believe you inhabit it. 1Q84 is long, but utterly captivating, which means you can quietly deride the people reading books of less ambitious length while actually enjoying a fascinating story.
The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
That this book is a national bestseller is partly a testament to the increasing importance of—and general interest in—education reform. But Diane Ravitch is both an engaging writer and a respected expert on the subject, so perhaps it’s not surprising that The Death and Life of the Great American School System is widely considered one of the best and most comprehensive analyses of the US education system and the various attempts to reform it. Ravitch—who served as Assistant Secretary of Education under George HW Bush and was once a vocal proponent of “choice, charters, merit pay and accountability”—now deconstructs these theories and arrives at a wholly different conclusion about what works and doesn’t in education reform. (Lest she be deemed fickle, she quotes John Maynard Keynes: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”) This book is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of public education—which, frankly, should include all of us.
No One is Here Except All of Us
Ramona Ausubel has found a way to let a story breathe while also giving great specificity to language—a rare trait among new authors. No One is Here Except All of Us tells the story of a small tribe of Romanian Jews who, in the latter years of World War II, decide to stop running. They cannot survive in the world they inhabit, so at the insistence of leading lady Lena and a mysterious man washed ashore, they decide to invent a new one, creating new histories for everyone. The community isolates itself from the violent outside world, but its safety bubble has some holes. Based on Ausubel’s great-grandmother, Lena is plaintive and powerful in her resilience—a brave participant in history, putting her love for her tribe above her own survival. Where Ausubel supplements her grandmother’s stories with imaginative material, one might conclude that she learned the importance of storytelling and of tribal bonds from her 18 years in Santa Fe. Infinitely soulful and tender, Ausubel’s characters mold stories within stories just to escape the truths of their world.
Albert of Adelaide
Howard L Anderson
Hachette Book Group
In Albert of Adelaide, Albert the Platypus escapes Adelaide Zoo in search of Old Australia and his home. Albert must learn how to distinguish friend from foe in the tough outback, while also gaining the skills to get out of tricky situations such as fleeing a mining town that wrongly accuses him of arson. He has to stay one step ahead of dingoes and the search crew of marsupials that want him dead or alive. That brings up a good point about this silly summer read—you may need to brush up on your knowledge of Australian mammals for the cast of characters, including a scheming wombat, drunken bandicoots, kangaroos, wallabies and more. (Anna Harney)
I’m not usually one for Mafia stories, they usually end up the same: with people dying. Nonetheless, I kept reading Robert Covelli’s story, filled with drily humorous and elevated dialogue, as well as a soap-opera-worthy list of supporting characters accompanying the protagonist, former mobster-turned-good guy Tasio Pecoranera. The trouble begins when a man is found dead with an ice pick in his chest outside a soup kitchen. Then, the puzzle follows a twisted web of family, violence and business in the underbelly of Buffalo, NY. In soup kitchens, diners, malls and streets, Black Sheep depicts a place and time where business is as treacherous as street violence.
Several times over the last couple weeks, I attempted to begin Ron Rash’s new book, The Cove. Set in Appalachia at the tail end of World War I, the novel drops in on Laurel Shelton and her brother Hank, who live on a farm, bordering said cove, on land reputed to be haunted. Their town is filled with Steinbeckian characters, and the introduction might suggest a Dorothy Allison tale of unraveling family secrets were it not for the deeper foreboding tone and the catalytic appearance of a mysterious mute. The Cove is a mystery, drawing its energy from the paranoia and nationalism of its time. Already the book, by the author of Serena, has received widespread, if careful, praise from critics, but I can’t seem to find its rhythm. I can’t get past the language, which I take to be clunky while other critics read it as authentic. So I find myself in the position of using The Cove to illustrate the point I made in the introduction to this issue. I picked it up, and it didn’t pick me, but it may you.
Disturbing Art Lessons: A Memoir of Questionable Ideas and Equivocal Experiences
Eli Levin, maverick realist both in art and outlook, reflects on his 60-year art career and its discontents in his new memoir, Disturbing Art Lessons. This book encapsulates his vast memory of an academic and informal education, forming his neoclassical style as well as imparting a distasteful view of fine art and what makes it “important.” While the abstract expressionists reigned over New York, Levin was rendering figures, commenting that “Realists were considered hopelessly old-fashioned and disturbingly leftist.” He includes an impressive list of influential people and movements—impressive because he remembers so much detail. Levin’s contrariness is evident in his love of pre-modern masters, both famous and obscure, and his choice of egg tempera as a medium. That enduring defiance is evident in his admission toward book’s end: “If realism came into fashion, I would probably be against it,” he writes, tongue firmly placed in cheek. (Scott Shuker)
The Great Taos Bank Robbery and Other True Stories
University of New Mexico Press
Tony Hillerman was a journalist and editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican in the ’50s and ’60s, as well as a famous mystery novelist. He passed away four years ago, but he left us The Great Taos Bank Robbery and Other True Stories. The book depicts a New Mexico familiar to both Hillerman and current residents. These accounts of northern New Mexico exemplify Hillerman’s journalistic sensibility and literary prowess. The stories could easily be told around a campfire, read on the beach or carried on the trail. They span the political, mythological and just plain bizarre—bank robberies, creation stories, physical descriptions of the Land of Enchantment and more. This edition includes a foreword by his daughter, Anne Hillerman, as well as new photos. (Anna Harney)
Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontier of Fatherhood
Tomas Moniz and Jeremy Adam Smith (editors)
Collecting the best of the zine Rad Dad and the blog Daddy Dialectic, editors Tomas Moniz and Jeremy Adam Smith are changing the dialogue for parenting. Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood not only inserts dads into a narrative from which they have long been excluded, but also encourages them to hold on to values they held before the EPT test prompted a “We gotta talk.” “I see now how storytelling works at a cultural, social level,” Moniz writes in the conclusion, “how myths of capitalism, Christianity, patriarchy are told over and over and over until our kids tell them back to each other while at play, to their teachers in their homework, to us if we listen during those tucking-in times or in the quiet hours when we wake up together in our bed. This is linguistic terrorism.” Fuck yeah! Oops, I mean, eff yeah. You know what…fuck yeah! (Matthew Irwin)
Every one of us has had one of those days when we can't find parking, driving in endless circles, eyes straining for spots like vultures on the verge of starvation. Though most of us would merely rant about the incident over drinks that night, Melody Sumner Carnahan and Michael Sumner decided to move to New Mexico.
The couple started the Burning Books Publishers in Oakland, Calif., in 1979. Drawing heavily from the couple's joint writer/graphic-designer background, the company publishes not just works of words, but of visual arts as well.
After 10 years of intentionally producing art in obsolete delivery systems, Sumner began to battle "horizon deficit disorder"—he'd grown sick of looking at the ocean and wanted to live in the desert. Then, one day, every parking space in Oakland was occupied (by a car, not by unemployed activists). Understanding that the universe was giving them a sign, the pair packed up and headed east.
"Santa Fe seemed like a good place to park at the time," Carnahan tells SFR in an email. "We did have to suffer afflictions out near Starvation Peak for a few years before actually being allowed into town."
Here, Burning Books has retained its dedication to "the production and publication of unmuzzled literature, music and art." And last fall, the publisher released its newest project, Quadrants.
Quadrants is a collection of debut novels by "seasoned" writers—seasoned meaning each author has plenty of writing experience under his belt (from operas to poems to short fiction), but none has published a novel before. All four authors "happened to be working on first novels…[Assigning] a title and a deadline to the collection got them to finish their books!" Carnahan says.
The unusual name has its roots in trigonometry, as Carnahan explains. "A quadrant is an arc of 90 degrees that is one-quarter of a circle," she says. "Each of the four writers is an arc of the circle that completes the series."
Each author brings a unique voice to the collection, and their stories range from espionage to love stories to Chimayó Good Friday pilgrimages, but all use location and geography as a key element.
The collection includes a fifth book, titled Q+1. An anthology of each contributing author, Q+1 comprises "microfiction, tall tales, absurdist prose and 'classic short stories.'"
At least two of the Quadrants authors will be attending book signings and events throughout the summer. Order the book set through burningbooks.org
The Year of the Gadfly
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The familiar elements of the prep-school novel populate Jennifer Miller’s debut work: secret societies, cloistered New England classrooms, and the archetypal struggle between the cool kids and the rejects. But Miller also ventures into unfamiliar territory: One character, Lily, is a soft-spoken albino; her parallel protagonist, Iris, is an overly earnest, defiantly dorky kid bent on becoming a famous journalist and given to carrying on real conversations with the ghost of Edward R Murrow. Some characters lack development, while others’ actions seem a bit forced, but on the whole, the novel is original, and Miller’s fluid writing style and occasional humor make it a fun, fast read—perfect for a day at the beach. (Alexa Schirtzinger)
Written with hardboiled, pulp-fiction ooziness and delivered in a VHS cassette case, Andrew Bonazelli’s DTV (Direct-to-Video) opens in a Jean-Claude Van Damme-like film with frat boys (“walking kegstands”) picking on an old bartender, like really beating his ass. Then our hero, played by Burke Knox, appears to teach them some manners. The title screen flashes, The Legal Limit, and then we’re in a Comic-Con knockoff event with fan-boys lining up to ask questions. In the next scene (or chapter, depending on how you read the book), we meet Pierre-Georges, and now we really think of Van Damme, and we can’t help but think Bonazelli is making fun of the action star. We hope that he is. Accompanied by an action-movie soundtrack that includes contributions from Wolvhammer, The Atlas Moth, The Austerity Program and Dirt Farmer, DTV is an action movie about aging action heroes and Tinseltown’s underside, disguised as a book. We don’t want to watch it, but we can’t stop staring. (Matthew Irwin)
Journal of Experimental Fiction 45
Mark Rothko, born Mark Rothkowitz in 1903, spent some time in Santa Fe between 1938 and 1949. He also accepted funding from the CIA. The first uncelebrated detail of the painter’s life comes from the scholar Noah Hoffman, the second from author Harold Jaffe. But whereas Hoffman’s findings create a new argument about Rothko’s aesthetic influences, Jaffe’s calls into question the influence of wealth and power over culture. More interestingly, Jaffe juxtaposes the Rothko revelation, without any transition or explanation, with his examinations of the photographer Diane Arbus, whose fascination with freaks seemed devoid of compassion, her inability to empathize with them particularly evident when she attempts to make a connection. “Arbus/Rothko” is one of 13 “docufictions” about “a well-known personage who either died of an overdose or was invested in ‘drugs’ to the extent that they contributed to his/her death” in Jaffe’s new collection OD. Pulling from historical documents and news reports, Jaffe uses the cold tone of a reporter as a direct response to official views of history, people and events. (Matthew Irwin)
Santa Fe Reporter