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Author Archive: "Jeremy"

Desert Solitaire

No author encapsulated and celebrated the American Southwest more engagingly than iconoclast and raconteur Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness — now nearly a half-century old — is a classic of environmental writing. In this autobiographical work, Abbey chronicles his time as a park ranger and reflects on landscape, culture, politics, tourism, environmental disregard, and degradation — doing so with a unique blend of ornery charm and breathtaking description. Though set in his beloved Southwest, Desert Solitaire beautifully and brashly captures the essence of the American outdoors, replete with disdain for those who'd seek to spoil its natural wonder.


The Mad Toy (staff pick)

Sometimes at night I would think of the beauty with which poets made the world shake, and my heart would flood with pain, like a mouth filling with a scream.

Admired by the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Juan Carlos Onetti, Julio Cortázar, and Roberto Bolaño, Argentine novelist, playwright, and journalist Roberto Arlt was a pre-Boom writer who inspired many a South American author (including fellow countryman César Aira). Throughout his stunning collection of essays, Between Parentheses, Bolaño mentions Arlt on a number of occasions:

The second line of descent is more complex. It begins with Roberto Arlt, though it's likely that Arlt is totally innocent of this mess. Let's say, to put it modestly, that Arlt is Jesus Christ, Argentina is Israel, of course, and Buenos Aires is Jerusalem. Arlt is born and lives a rather short life, dying at forty-two, if I'm not mistaken. He's a contemporary of Borges. Borges is born in 1899 and Arlt in 1900. But unlike Borges, Arlt grows up poor, and as an adolescent he goes to work instead of to Geneva. Arlt's most frequently held job was as a reporter, and it's in the light of the newspaper trade that one views many of

...


The End of Night (staff pick)

Remarkably, estimates are that eight out of every ten children born in America today will never know "what it means." That is, 80 percent will never know a night dark enough that they can see the Milky Way.

Remarkable and depressing. The End of Night follows author Paul Bogard as he travels the world to discover the pernicious effects of our overdependence on artificial lighting. Our compulsive need to illuminate the night has had many unintended and deleterious consequences for both our own well-being and that of our nonhuman neighbors. Despite there being "no statistically significant evidence that street lighting impacts the level of crime," we persist in our need to eradicate not only the perceived (but nearly nonexistent) threat of post-dusk violence, but also the latent fear that underlies our dis-ease with the darkness and mystery of the evening and early morning hours in general.

Bogard visits foreign and domestic cities, national parks, observatories, workplaces, suburbs, and rural areas to interview a host of both experts and laypeople on light pollution and related subjects. Much of the information he uncovers is rather disturbing, especially the effects on wildlife and personal health (including a possible causal link with cancer). As places throughout ...


Gasoline (staff pick)

Three decades after it was first published, Quim Monzó's Gasoline still offers seductive insight into the lives of artists and the myriad challenges inherent in the creative process. The Catalan author's novel (one of five of his books available in English translation), split into two parts, features two protagonists at very different points in their artistic careers. Heribert, with his best successes behind him, has become bored, aloof, and passionless, while Hubert, ready to usurp more than Heribert's aesthetic achievements, is inspired and inexhaustible — yet, the two of them seem to inevitably end up facing the same dissatisfaction and disappointment.

At times surrealist, revealing, and droll, Gasoline perhaps offers more questions than it provides answers. Is Hubert destined to become Heribert? Is one's success merely the springboard for his successors? Are ego and selfishness ultimately noxious influences on the artist? Does triumph unavoidably lead to torpor? Might true love be unattainable for the aesthete? Rather than clarification, Monzó's story contents itself with portraiture and personification.

With a cast of characters whose names almost uniformly begin with 'h' (Heribert, Hubert, Helena, Hildegarda, Hug, Hipólita, Hilari, Hannah, Hilda, Herundina, Henrietta, Heloise, and Hester), Gasoline is as much commentary on the cyclical trappings of ...


Everything Happens as It Does (staff pick)

Winner of the 2013 (or 2012, depending on your source) Contemporary Bulgarian Writers Contest, Everything Happens as It Does  is Albena Stambolova's debut novel (originally published in 2002). Stambolova, also a practicing psychotherapist, has since gone on to write two additional novels (preceded by a collection of short stories from 1985 and "A Psychoanalytical Study on Marguerite Duras"). Everything Happens as It Does begins with a brief prologue indicative of the style, prose, and ambience that follows throughout:

This story considers itself the story of everyone. I don't know if this is true. You will be the one to decide.

I myself am certain that all stories are love stories, so I have refrained from classifying it as such.

It is simply the story of women and men who are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, loved ones and friends... or, in a nutshell, of people who are tigers and lions, oranges and lemons.

This story is neither funny, nor sad. It is simply a story that takes place somewhere on the border between the world we know and the world we are no longer very sure about.

Stambolova's slim novel features seven main characters (and some ancillary ones) whose lives inevitably intersect in ways ...


The Mongolian Conspiracy (staff pick)

Mexico City–born novelist, playwright, and poet Rafael Bernal is best known for his detective fiction. The Mongolian Conspiracy, the most popular of his works, follows Filiberto García, a cantankerous hired gun tasked with uncovering an alleged plot to assassinate both the American and Mexican presidents. García's investigation leads him throughout the Mexican capital, chasing leads into Chinatown, working together with American and Russian counterparts, and encountering a host of shady, enigmatic characters that more often than not end up losing their lives. As García nears revelations that will unravel the plot, a love interest steals his heart, and his frustrations of having to deal with others boil over.

The Mongolian Conspiracy is an enthralling, high-paced, and frequently funny crime/detective thriller. Filiberto, despite his ornery nature, is a fantastically conceived character, perhaps as memorable as any other in the genre. Bernal's tale, described by novelist Francisco Goldman as "The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City," is a lively, memorable romp through international intrigue and the dark recesses of the Mexico City underground.


Countdown (staff pick)

We humans, despite our natural aptitude for mathematics, seem to have an arduous time making sense of concepts that involve very large numbers. Unfortunately, however, abstract notions have absolute consequences, whether anticipated or otherwise. Although it took until the early 1800s for global population to reach its first billion, it has doubled twice since the year 1900, giving us now some seven billion people worldwide. Around the year 2050, the United Nations estimates that there may well be 10 billion of us inhabiting this fragile pale blue dot we call home. As journalist Alan Weisman points out in his rousing, urgent new book, Countdown, every four and a half days, we add another million people to our population tally — without the corresponding increase in available resources.

Weisman's previous work, The World without Us, imagined our planet suddenly devoid of human presence in a thought experiment that sought to examine how quickly nature could restore itself to balance — sans homo sapiens. In Countdown, a more than ample follow-up, he considers overpopulation and the myriad threats that may come with exceeding our planet's carrying capacity. Visiting more than 20 countries around the globe, Weisman immersed himself in vastly disparate cultures, interviewing ...


The Lives of Things (staff pick)

Originally published in Portuguese in 1978 (as Objecto Quase), The Lives of Things collects six short stories that are amongst the earliest of José Saramago's writings to have yet been translated into English. Released the year after Manual of Painting and Calligraphy (long out of print in English, but recently republished) and some four years before his epic Baltasar and Blimunda, The Lives of Things finds the Portuguese Nobel laureate experimenting with and developing the style that would later come to define his career. Saramago seldom wrote in the short story format, so in addition to glimpsing some of his earlier writing, this volume also makes for a curious entry in a body of work made up of predominantly full-length novels.

As with much of his fiction, the half dozen tales in The Lives of Things are richly imagined allegories, a few of which are informed by Saramago's characteristic political sensibilities. The collection's first story, "The Chair," is a thinly veiled reference to longtime Portuguese prime minister António de Oliveira Salazar (whose repressive and authoritarian regime informed much of Saramago's work), and the resulting brain hemorrhage he suffered after falling from a chair. "Embargo" (the inspiration for a 2010 Portuguese film ...


Guadalajara (staff pick)

Guadalajara is a strong, inventive collection of short stories from Catalan journalist and fiction writer Quim Monzó. Of the 14 stories featured in Guadalajara, there is not a single one lacking in intrigue, imagination, or charm. Monzó's prose is alluring enough, but it is the quality of his overall storytelling that allows this work its radiance. While nearly all of the stories tend to be rather brief affairs, Monzó manages to infuse them with an enduring, arousing effect. The range of subjects and themes in Guadalajara's stories is impressive, demonstrating not only Monzó's evident talent working within the form but also the deceptive ease with which he is able to craft an inherently interesting tale.

Of particular note are the four stories in the collection's second section, each of which reimagines a classic tale in a particularly clever and distinctive way (Ulysses/Odysseus and the Trojan Horse, William Tell, Kafka's Gregor Samsa, and Robin Hood). Other stories in Guadalajara that stand out within this veritably accomplished collection are "Family Life," "Life Is So Short," "Strategies," and "The Lives of the Prophets." The fourth of his books to be translated into English, Guadalajara is a fine collection of short stories that ably exemplifies ...


Sometimes a Great Movie (staff pick)

In the summer of 1970, out on the central Oregon coast, Paul Newman and company filmed a cinematic adaptation of Ken Kesey's epic 1964 novel, Sometimes a Great Notion. The final installment in Matt Love's Newport trilogy, Sometimes a Great Movie chronicles the film's production with an array of first-person accounts, photographs, and newspaper clippings of the time. A large portion of the book is composed of these local stories wherein coastal residents recall their interactions with actors and crew alike, providing a very personal, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the effects of movie making on a community.

As a narrative thread woven throughout the book, Love attempts to track down corroborating evidence of the now-legendary story regarding Paul Newman (apparently never without a can of Olympia beer), a chainsaw, and the eventual fate of an innocent pool table. Sometimes a Great Movie, in turn, focuses not only on the production process of the film, but also upon Kesey and his masterful book, the creative differences that led to the firing of the movie's original director, the actors and actresses themselves, the logistics of finding a suitable filming location, the film's critical reception, as well as its current commercial status (languishing, with no ...


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