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Author Archive: "Jeremy"

My Two Worlds (staff pick)

A meandering and somewhat melancholic work, My Two Worlds is the tale of a nameless author, whom, on the cusp of his 50th birthday, finds himself in Brazil to attend a literary conference. Likely an unsuccessful novelist, the narrator spends his day traversing the city, strolling through the park, and ruminating on whatever crosses his path. My Two Worlds is the first novel(la?) by Argentine author and poet Sergio Chejfec to appear in English translation (despite having written a dozen or so books). Apparently, this book is not quite indicative, stylistically or thematically, of Chejfec's other works, yet it nonetheless provides for an interesting and colorful introduction to his fiction.

Walking is, in part, a kind of superficial archaeology, which I find greatly instructive and somehow moving, because it considers evidence that's humble, irrelevant, even random — the exact opposite of a scientific investigation. It's evidence that, because of its unimportance and its secondary nature, restores a way of inhabiting time: one is an eyewitness to the anonymous, to what history can't classify, and simultaneously witness to what will survive with some difficulty.

There isn't much that happens in the book, but as the narrator wends his way through previously unfamiliar pathways, ...


Dublinesque (staff pick)

"The funeral march has begun, and it is futile for those of us who remain loyal to the printed page to protest and rage in the midst of our despair." Samuel Riba, Dublinesque's depressive and narcissistic protagonist, stumbles upon this and other similarly prophetic sentiments in an online article proclaiming the death of print and the ensuing "disappearance of literary authors." In the early pages of Dublinesque, Enrique Vila-Matas's most recent novel to be translated into English, we learn of Riba's fearful and forlorn attitude as regards the future of literary publishing:

He dreams of the day when the spell of the best-seller will be broken, making way for the reappearance of the talented reader, and for the terms of the moral contract between author and audience to be reconsidered. He dreams of the day when literary publishers can breathe again, those who live for an active reader, for a reader open enough to buy a book and allow a conscience radically different from his own to appear in his mind. He believes that if talent is demanded of a literary publisher or a writer, it must also be demanded of a reader. Because we mustn't deceive ourselves: on the journey

...


The Future Is Not Ours (staff pick)

The Future Is Not Ours collects 23 short stories from writers throughout Latin America, all of whom were born in the decade between 1970 and 1980. Begun initially as a free electronic anthology in 2007 (featuring some 63 authors), a shorter, alternate version with different stories found its way into print two years later and was subsequently published on three continents. This English edition offers 19 of the 20 short stories that appeared in the original print edition plus an additional three selected specifically for this collection, and a replacement for one already featured elsewhere in English.

Of the 23 authors presented (representing 15 countries in all), six of them also had stories selected for Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists issue (#113) and nine were named to the prestigious Bogotá 39 list at the 2007 Hay Festival. Diego Trelles Paz, Peruvian novelist and short story writer, served as the anthology's editor and authored an illuminating prologue about previous Latin American anthologies and the current direction of Latin American literary themes and forms.

While many of the 23 stories in The Future Is Not Ours are too short to offer but a tantalizing glimpse, it is evident there is quite a bit ...


Torment Saint (staff pick)

With the exception of Benjamin Nugent's 2004 biography Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing and Autumn de Wilde's photo/interview book Elliott Smith, not much has been published in the decade following the singer-songwriter's too-early passing. William Todd Schultz's Torment Saint, however, not only remedies that notable lack but serves as what may well come to be the definitive Elliott Smith biography. As a professor of psychology, Schultz offers, in addition to all of the requisite details about childhood and adolescence, critical insight into Elliott as both an individual and an artist, as well as into the myriad influences that shaped his music and lyrical content.

Schultz recounts Smith's upbringing in Texas — one marked by a tumultuous (perhaps abusive) relationship with his stepfather. Smith's formative years in the Lone Star State defined much of his personality and outlook on life — baggage he was unable to escape even after he struck out on his own. It wasn't until he arrived in Portland that he seemingly began to feel comfortable with himself or his talents (if, in fact, he ever truly did). Tracing his musical ascendancy from the Rose City to New York, and eventually Los Angeles, Schultz portrays an artist deeply ...


Fire at Eden’s Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story

Written by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Brent Walth, Fire at Eden's Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story chronicles Governor McCall's personal life and political career. Much like its subject, this engaging biography is characterized by its abundance of both verve and aplomb — an exceptional work that recalls the labors of an exceptional leader. Whether for crafting a portrait of an important political figure, or for distilling the unique essence of an American epoch, or simply because it is an altogether intriguing work of nonfiction, Fire at Eden's Gate is an important, singular, and unforgettable work that should be read by every Pacific Northwesterner.


The Great Animal Orchestra (staff pick)

Bernie Krause's The Great Animal Orchestra offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of bioacoustics, soundscapes, and the evolution of music. Krause, a naturalist and recording artist (he was formerly a member of The Weavers and is noted for his pioneering and influential work with synthesizers and in film), developed his niche hypothesis to describe the unique "sound signatures" made up of varying nonhuman animal voices that define a particular time and place (which may shift in response to other environmental factors, including man-made noise). This "biophony," as he termed it, can reflect the staggering diversity and density of biological sounds found within wild habitats and stands in contrast to both geophony ("nonbiological natural sounds" — wind, water, etc.) and anthrophony ("human-generated sound" — e.g., jet engines, automobiles, sonar, and that most abhorrent of human inventions, the leaf blower).

Much of The Great Animal Orchestra contains autobiographical elements that recall Krause's trajectory from musician to soundscape field recorder. Krause provides a history of the specialized subject, as well as some requisite background into the elements and composition of sound. Having recorded in a variety of remote regions throughout the world, he recounts a number of formative experiences that helped shape his ...


The Life of Super-Earths (staff pick)

A brief, yet informative primer on the search for exoplanets, The Life of Super-Earths outlines the accelerating quest to discover potentially habitable planets outside of our solar system. Dimitar Sasselov, a Harvard astronomy professor, offers the intriguing back story of the scientific developments that have led to the discovery of over 600 extrasolar planets. Sasselov goes into considerable detail in conveying the methods utilized to determine whether a particular star does, in fact, have orbiting planets (including astrometry, the Doppler effect, gravitational lensing, spectroscopy, and the detection of transiting planets). He writes about the formations of super-earths, presumptive requirements for life thereon, and the myriad reasons why some planets may well be more conducive and supportive of life than our own.

While the entire book is rather fascinating, the sparse portions dealing with Perovskite (a mineral found within the Earth's mantle which composes some 40 percent of our planet's mass), high-pressure ices (VII, X, and XI) that can exist at 1,000 degrees Kelvin, and the future of synthetic biology are of particular note. Of the 200 billion stars in just our own galaxy, there are an estimated 100 million orbiting planets with habitable potential — making the prospects for life outside ...


The Sixth Extinction

With beautiful, luminous prose and incisive reporting, New Yorker Staff Writer Elizabeth Kolbert explores earth's sixth mass extinction. As biodiversity loss continues to accelerate — at the hands of our own species — Kolbert offers a compelling look at extinctions past and present.


Many Subtle Channels (staff pick)

Ebullient to those already under the Oulipian spell and likely befuddling to those ingenuity intolerant, Daniel Levin Becker's Many Subtle Channels is a fascinating, engaging, and well-researched account of Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle (translating loosely as the "workshop for potential literature"), a collective of mostly French writers and mathematicians that employ(ed) a range of constraints in their work to aid in the exploration of the seemingly limitless possibilities and forms inherent in literary creation.

Oulipian inquiry has yielded novels without certain vowels, love stories without gender, poems without words, books that never end, books that do nothing but end, books that would technically take longer to read than most geological eras have lasted, books that share the exercise of mourning, books that aim to keep the reader from reading them, books that exist for no particular reason other than to amuse and perplex, books that may not actually exist at all. These works, all of them governed in some way by strict technical constraints or elaborate architectural designs, are attempts to prove the hypothesis that the most arbitrary structural mandates can be the most creatively liberating.

Levin Becker traces Oulipo's origins and follows them through a half-century to their myriad present-day spin-offs ...


Seiobo There Below

Not since Bolaño's 2666 have I read a novel that was at once so beautifully composed, heartbreaking, imperfectly epic, singular, effortlessly alluring, sprawlingly reflective, and comprising the gradations of earthly reality and its many hues of horror and hopefulness. László Krasznahorkai's Seiobo There Below — if such an achievement could even be distilled without imperiling its potency — is a work of art and beauty about art and beauty. With the sacred, solemn, and sublime swirling nearby, Seiobo stakes its claim against a world that increasingly cherishes the disposable and frivolous while overlooking and discarding the sacramental or magnificent.


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