[Editor's note: Don't miss Nathan Englander at the City of Books on Friday, February 17. See our events calendar for all the details.]
It's been five years since I last guest-blogged for Powell's. I'm happy to be back — and back with a new book (which is out on Tuesday, and one fine reason why I resurface). Also, blogging on launch week gives me a really nice opportunity to reconnect with you all, and, if everything goes according to plan, for you to have a prime vantage point from which to watch me as I become psychologically unmoored as the week progresses. This "unmooring" is a long-honored book-launch tradition that is dear to my heart. (Though, really, a day before the on-sale date, and I still feel fine.)
Since you, kindly people, are the folks who take an interest in a bookstore blog (which means, we probably have something in common), I thought constructing a map of the landscape of books that surround me in a sort of topographical fashion might be a fine way to reconnect. So, if we start in bed, I woke up with the new issue of Granta opened, face down, at my side. The new issue includes Sasha Hemon's essay about his family dog from back in Sarajevo. Sasha told me that very same story on a long walk in Chicago a couple of months ago. It's amazing to read, both as essay, and (see: vantage point, above) as opportunity to see how a story told on a long walk transmogrifies into a finished, printed piece. (There is simply no excuse for using that word, but I leave "transmogrify" in. God knows, it'll never fit into a short story without a wedge to make room.)
To my right, also open face down, is Joan Didion's Slouching towards Bethlehem. I've been reading it, one short piece at a time, for a stretch. Right beyond it, and anchoring the night table, is Adam Johnson's The Orphan Master's Son, a novel about North Korea. Behind and below Mr. Johnson's book, I count another 26 volumes and see another three on the floor. I think I should admit that these are just not going to get read and leave them outside my neighbor's door (which is what I do with books that I finally admit are not for me; it's a happy system that we have). But, before dismissing the whole teetering stack, I spy one that I do want to read — and will read — at the top of the pile. The Tin Drum sits atop that hill of novels. (Are there any Tin Drum lovers out there who would like to inspire me to dig in? Please do. I'd love to hear what you have to say about it.)
So as not to bore you to death, and not to turn this into 57-page post, I best just slip past the books in the hallway, and ignore the ones on the coffee table, and stacked up against the walls. I don't dare peer into my office, or tell you what's on the shelves lining the rest of the living room walls. I'll race right over to the books acquired (and I'm afraid to admit how many there are) this last week. So, what I know I'm going to devour is Aerogrammes and Other Stories, an advance copy of Tania James's new collection. And there's Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, a nonfiction exploration of a "Mumbai undercity."
The slimmest book to cross the threshold this week is A Coney Island of the Mind, poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And the fattest — and one that I'm really wildly excited by — is a cookbook called What to Cook and How to Cook It, by Jane Hornby. It's 100 recipes detailed in the most wonderfully compulsive manner, with photographs all along the way and through every stage. So, someone like me, who is maybe learning to cook, and is maybe hyper-exacting but has no idea what certain instructions mean, finally understands precisely-precisely what, say, the difference between finely chopped and roughly chopped, diced and sliced, really means.
÷ ÷ ÷
Nathan Englander is the author of the novel The Ministry of Special Cases and the story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, which earned him a PEN/Malamud Award and the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction. His latest book is the story collection What We Talk About When We Talk about Anne Frank.
Books mentioned in this post
Nathan Englander is the author of What We Talk About When We Talk about Anne Frank: Stories