I’m a fast but monogamous reader. Since I rarely have more than one book open at a time, I’m going to name the title I’ll be finishing this afternoon, the two I read over the last few days, and the two I’ll be tackling next.
Currently I’m reading Italo Calvino’s Into the War. Calvino is as important to me as any writer I could mention, and I assumed I had already devoured everything he had ever published, or at least everything I was likely to see, but suddenly a little flurry of previously untranslated books are finding their way into print in the US and England. (Next month, for instance, Princeton University is publishing a 632-page volume of his letters that is by far the volume I’m most eagerly anticipating this year.) Into the War, published in the UK as part of the Penguin Modern Classics series, comprises a trio of autobiographical essays about Calvino’s experiences as a sixteen-year-old boy in the months immediately after Italy entered the Second World War. Calvino didn’t value autobiographical writing very highly and considered this book one of his least essential, but the final essay, “UNPA Nights,” about a night of compulsory Fascist Youth service he and a friend spent guarding—or, more accurately, failing to guard—the local school buildingsis a gem.
I just finished Twins by Megan Milks—a chapbook published in a limited edition of fifty copies and distributed through Etsy by a tiny press called Birds of Lace. It’s a short, wonderful mash-up of the Sweet Valley High books and the Choose Your Own Adventure books, with a dash of both the Baby-Sitters Club and Bruce Coville’s My Teacher Is an Alien, and it’s one of the cleverest and most purely enjoyable discoveries I’ve made this year.
I also recently finished The Man Who Walked through Walls by Marcel Ayme, a Pushkin Press edition of a collection of short conceptual fantasies originally published in France in 1943. Many of the stories here resolve as grimly as anything by Kafka, but they have this swiftness and this light comic tone that somehow makes them feel like a rock skipping over water, so fleet and so gorgeous. My favorite was “Tickets on Time: Extracts from the Diary of Jules Flegmon,” about the black market in time that arises when the authorities decree that “the unemployed and other superfluous mouths” must cease to exist for a few days each month.
And next on my stack are Godforsaken Idaho: Stories by Shawn Vestal, which was published just this week by Houghton Mifflin, and The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell by Carlos Rojas, which was also published just this week, by Yale University Press. I know Vestal’s work only from “The First Several Hundred Years Following My Death,” a chronicle of the afterlife in which the dead spend their centuries bowed under the weight of nostalgia, which I included in an anthology I edited several years ago. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of his stories. As for Rojas, it would seem that he’s one of the great Spanish-language writers who emerged in the late-sixties, though I myself heard his name for the first time only this year. Lorca Ascends to Hell was translated by Edith Grossman, and the jacket copy compares Rojas to Marquez, Coetzee, and Saramago. I’m excited to dive into its pages.
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