Originally published in 1945, this novel about the loss of innocence shines in a new translation.
Thirteen-year-old Agostino finds himself in a precarious position, poised between childhood and adolescence. He’s a loving son to his gorgeous, widowed mother and at first is content to spend time with her on a Mediterranean beach. Eventually, however, the mother begins a flirtatious relationship with Renzo, a young man who works on the local boats. Agostino feels his mother’s attraction to Renzo and is powerless to do anything about it. Inhabiting the same space are some local neighborhood boys, used to a more rough-and-tumble—and frankly vulgar—existence. Their ribald repartee at first embarrasses and later intrigues the highly innocent Agostino, who never quite fits in with this subculture. Moravia is psychologically astute in portraying the agony of Agostino, who for the first time begins to notice his mother as a woman and, at times, a very seductive one. To escape from the tormented ambivalence he feels, he starts to hang out with the local boys, who tease and mock him. Out of Agostino’s struggle comes the realization that “he had bartered away his former innocence, not for the virile, serene condition he had aspired to but rather for a confused hybrid state in which, without any form of recompense, the old repulsions were compounded by the new.” At the end of the novella, nothing is resolved for the moment since Agostino, after all, remains a 13-year-old—and would anyone seriously want to return to that age?
Perceptive and razor-sharp insights into the agony of adolescence.
An artist investigates how we make meaning from words on a page.
In this brilliant amalgam of philosophy, psychology, literary theory and visual art, Knopf associate art director and cover designer Mendelsund inquires about the complex process of reading. “Words are effective not because of what they carry in them,” writes the author, “but for their latent potential to unlock the accumulated experience of the reader. Words ‘contain’ meanings, but, more important, words potentiate meaning….” Writers “tell us stories, and they also tell us how to read these stories,” he writes. “The author teaches me how to imagine, as well as when to imagine, and how much.” Copiously illustrated with maps, doodles, works of art, plates from illustrated books, cartoons, book jackets, facsimiles of texts, photographs, botanical drawings and a few publicity shots of movie stars, the book exemplifies the idea that reading is not a linear process. Even if readers follow consecutive words, they incorporate into reading memories, distractions, predispositions, desires and expectations. “Authors are curators of experience,” writes Mendelsund. “Yet no matter how pure the data set that authors provide to readers…readers’ brains will continue in their prescribed assignment: to analyze, screen, and sort.” In 19 brief, zesty chapters, the author considers such topics as the relationship of reading to time, skill, visual acuity, fantasy, synesthesia and belief. “The Part & The Whole” presents lucidly the basic concepts of metaphor, with succinct definitions of metonymy and synecdoche. Throughout the book, Mendelsund draws on various writers, from Wittgenstein to Woolf, Tolstoy to Twain, Melville to Calvino, to support his assertion that “Verisimilitude is not only a false idol, but also an unattainable goal. So we reduce. And it is not without reverence that we reduce. This is how we apprehend our world.”
Mendelsund amply attains his goal to produce a quirky, fresh and altogether delightful meditation on the miraculous act of reading.
Inoue’s first book, published in Japan in 1949, recounts a tragic love triangle from the different perspectives of those affected.
The book begins with a framing device that feels old-fashioned yet contemporary in its self-consciousness. The “author” explains that he recently received a mysterious letter from a man named Misugi Josuke, who claims to be the subject of a poem published by the “author.” Josuke thinks the poem captured the “desolate dried-up riverbed” within him. He encloses three letters that came to him, asking that the “author” read and then destroy them. The first, addressed to Uncle Josuke, comes from a woman named Shoko, whose mother, Saiko, has recently died. Saiko divorced Shoko’s father for adultery when Shoko was 5. Josuke and his wife, Midori, have been close family friends for as long as Shoko can remember, and Shoko has always felt a special closeness to gentle Midori. The day before Saiko’s death, Shoko was supposed to burn her mother’s diary, but she read it and was shocked to learn that Saiko and Josuke have been having an affair for 13 years and that Saiko has been wracked with guilt. While thanking Josuke for his support, Shoko tells him she never wants to see him or Midori again. She also sends along a letter Saiko left for him. But the second letter is from Midori, who writes that she wants to end their marriage, which has been a sham all along. While appearing to involve herself with other men, she's always pined for Josuke, who's remained coolly aloof. She knows he thought he was protecting her from knowledge of his affair, but she discloses her own secret: She has always known. Saiko’s letter is a farewell. About to die, she tells Josuke her own guilty, passionate secret, one that Josuke has never suspected. Nor will the reader, although it makes complete sense.
This slight but elegant and moving novella is a lovely introduction to a prolific Japanese writer (1907-1991) largely unknown in the West.
A journalist’s account of growing up between cultures and learning to embrace both her ethnic and bisexual identities.
Former ColorLines magazine executive editor Hernández (co-editor: Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism, 2002) was raised as the first-generation American child of a working-class Colombian mother and Cuban father. For her, “everything real”—from family conversations to the observations of her beloved aunts to favorite TV shows—happened in Spanish. However, her family wanted their daughter to achieve more in life than they could, so learning English “to become white” and Americanized became the goal they impressed upon their daughter. Yet as Hernández came to understand, learning a language that was hers by nationality but not by ethnicity meant growing away from her family and adopting the attitude that she had “no history, no past, no culture.” The break was not easy; so much from her colorful dual heritage formed the bedrock of her identity. In her parents’ world, saints performed miracles, and cups of water could carry messages between the living and the dead. In that world, too, women married (or avoided) certain kinds of men. As Hernández grew into adulthood and sexuality, she fulfilled her parents’ desire to find a “gringo” boyfriend. At the same time, she discovered a desire for lesbian and transgender women. Her family castigated Hernández for her bisexuality but also lauded their daughter for finding middle-class success as a New York Times reporter. Striving to be true to herself as a queer (rather than queer and whitewashed) Latina, she eventually took a chance writing for a social justice magazine in San Francisco. Warm and thoughtful, Hernández writes with cleareyed compassion about living, and redefining success, at the intersection of social, ethnic and racial difference.
Personal storytelling at its most authentic and heartfelt.
Using innovative page design, Frank crafts an unflinching look at illness.
In the emergency room at 4 a.m., Chess is whisked into invasive medical testing—a colonoscopy—and then into a hospital room. She’s had severe gastrointestinal symptoms before, but this is her first diagnosis: the chronic, autoimmune disorder Crohn’s, an inflammatory bowel disease. Her roommate, Shannon, has Crohn’s, too. Their conversations—acerbic, worried, snippy—progress down each page in fast-reading columns of verse. When the curtain between their beds is closed, a vertical line appears between Chess’ text column and Shannon’s, emphasizing the room’s physicality and restriction. A doctor calls Crohn’s “tough and / unpredictable”; Chess finds it disgusting (“gross green bubbles / glub up from my insides, / slip down the tube”), painful (her insides “burn”) and humiliating—especially the mortifying incident that sent her to the emergency room. Chess laughs until she cries, and then “the rage flows, / shocking and unstoppable / as shit.” Her future holds prescriptions, side effects, food restrictions, flare-ups—and remissions. Frank’s portrayal of chronic, mostly invisible sickness is spot-on. Illness isn’t metaphor, it isn’t a consequence, it isn’t a literary vehicle—it’s a precarious and uprooting fact of life, inconvenient and enraging, but not the end of the world.
Riveting, humanizing and real.
(Verse fiction. 13-17)
An acclaimed playwright reflects on her art and craft.
MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer nominee Ruhl (Drama/Yale Univ.) is a busy mother of three whose work is often interrupted by her children’s needs—for food, say, or “a fake knife to cut…fake fruit.” Instead of writing “something totalizing, something grand,” she has collected some thoughts on theater: writing plays, acting, watching productions and dealing with “Other People: Directors, Designers, Dramaturgs, and Children.” Though she claims that she knows “next to nothing,” she notes that theater is not “about knowing, or putting forward a thesis,” but about “making knowledge” from the prismatic perspectives of a few characters. Ruhl’s essays, generally a page or two, sometimes are much briefer. In “An essay in praise of smallness,” she writes, simply, “I admire minimalism.” In an essay entitled “Is there an objective standard of taste?” she responds, “No.” Several essays consider the power of language. “In the world of imaginary things, speech acts are everywhere,” she writes. “One declares the imaginary world into being.” For Ruhl, theater depends on physicality rather than psychological analysis. Future playwrights, she maintains, would do well to study juggling rather than literary theory. “Words like ‘liminal’ and words like ‘unpack’ should go in essays about theater and get banished from rehearsal rooms,” she writes. “Actors used to be akin to prostitutes in the public mind. Now we are akin to professors.” The author laments the lack of freedom for a playwright to fail, caused in part by subscription audiences who may “feel that by subscribing, they have been inoculated against failure” and in part by the cost of mounting plays. She also laments the “whitewashed” stage: Casts are predominantly white, unless a playwright specifically calls for a nonwhite actor in a particular role.
Ruhl’s musings may remind readers of Lydia Davis’ aphoristic short stories: fresh, piquant and slyly irreverent.
Lacing traditional fairy tales through real-life perils, Heppermann produces short poems with raw pain, scathing commentary and fierce liberation. There’s no linear arc; instead, girls buck and fight and hurt. One poem takes the expression “You Go, Girl!” literally, banishing anyone with “wetness, dryness, tightness, looseness, / redness, yellowing, blackheads, whiteheads, the blues.” In a structure heartbreakingly inverted from “The Three Little Pigs” (and nodding to “Rumpelstiltskin”), one girl’s body goes from “a house of bricks, / point guard on the JV team” to “a house of sticks, / kindling in Converse high-tops,” until finally “she’s building herself out of straw / as light as the needle swimming in her bathroom scale. / The smaller the number, the closer to gold.” She’s her own wolf, destroying herself. Sexual repression, molestation and endless beauty judgments bite and sting, causing eating disorders, self-injury, internalization of rules—and rebellion. A hypothetical miller’s daughter says, “No, I can’t spin that room full of straw into gold. / …. / No, I can’t give you the child; / the child will never exist.” Gretel’s act of eating will literally rescue Hansel; Red Riding Hood reclaims sexual agency, declaring, “If that woodsman shows up now, / I will totally kick his ass.”
Full of razors that cut—and razors to cut off shackles: a must.
(author’s note, index of first lines, index of photographs)
An investigation of our first encounters with the giant squid, a creature “more bizarre than anything appearing in Star Wars.”
Poet and creative writing teacher Frank (The Morrow Plants: Poems, 2013, etc.) moves like a wraith around the myth, superstition and spirit of the giant squid—and not as a single-subject exploration but through the conjured memory of Moses Harvey, a preacher in Newfoundland during the mid-1800s. Harvey had heard stories of the beast—a kraken, a devil-fish that lived up to its name—and one morning in 1874, he was able to lay eyes on one. It was washed ashore, dead, but damn if he wasn’t going to commune with the creature up close and personal. He paid some men to carry the squid to his tub—“Nothing says domestication like a giant squid strung over a clawfoot bathtub”—before he said farewell and shipped it off to Yale for safekeeping. Surrounding the event is a great embroidery of story: “I am mythmaking, I suppose,” writes Frank, and he does it with transporting authority. Readers walk through the cold, pins-and-needles rain that falls forever in Newfoundland and perambulate the town as Frank walked it in modern times. The author concocts the background out of whole cloth, an imagined scenario. Though there are facts enough to keep it real, there are also moments in which there is a strong sense of the unconscious at work. “Somewhere, in the recesses of these recessive versions of our dominant truths,” writes Frank, “behind a daisy chain of lanterns and Darwin’s theories drunk and conga-lining, Rudolph Valentino was blond.” This track eventually wends its way back to myth and Newfoundland.
Fantastical, atmospherically moody and Poe-like in its laudanum-fueled dreaminess.
A disgruntled English professor pours out his hopes, affections and frustrations in an interconnected series of recommendation letters.
In “The Gristmill of Praise,” a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Schumacher (Creative Writing/University of Minnesota; The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls, 2012, etc.) revealed that in a single year, she receives more than 1,600 letters of recommendation and writes 50 to 100 of her own. This onslaught of praise inspired her to write a very funny epistolary novel composed of recommendation letters written by a caustic, frustrated and cautiously hopeful English professor named Jason Fitger. He's a former literary wunderkind who parodied his own writing teacher in a successful first novel called Stain 20 years ago and has since parlayed three unsuccessful follow-ups into a tenured position at a small liberal arts college. Over the course of 100 letters, we learn that waste water is leaking into Fitger’s office from the construction of a glorious new economics center above the English department; that he’s engaged in a losing battle of office politics with the administration; that he has a cordial but cold relationship with his ex-wife over in the law school; and that he’s generally kind to most of his students, even the ones who are moving on from college to the local liquor store. His writing, meanwhile, is tremendously florid and mostly cynical: “Mr. Duffy Napp has just transmitted a nine-word email asking that I immediately send a letter of reference to your firm on his behalf; his request has summoned from the basement of my heart a star-spangled constellation of joy, so eager am I to see Mr. Napp well established at Maladin IT.” Most of all, we learn that the failed novelist still has hope for the future—if not for himself, then for one of his students, Darren Browles, whom he's mentoring through a difficult first novel. It’s an unusual form for comedy, but it works.
Truth is stranger than fiction in this acid satire of the academic doldrums.
In the late summer of 2012, a British judge faces a complex case while dealing with her husband’s infidelity in this thoughtful, well-wrought novel.
Fiona Maye, at 59, has just learned of an awful crack in her marriage when she must rule on the opposing medical and religious interests surrounding a 17-year-old boy who will likely die without blood transfusions. The cancer patient, weeks shy of the age when he could speak for himself, has embraced his parents’ deep faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses and their abhorrence of letting what the Bible deems a pollutant enter his body. The scenes before the bench and at the boy's hospital bedside are taut and intelligent, like the best courtroom dramas. The ruling produces two intriguing twists that, among other things, suggest a telling allusion to James Joyce’s 17-year-old Michael Furey in “The Dead.” Meanwhile, McEwan (Sweet Tooth, 2012, etc.), in a rich character study that begs for a James Ivory film, shows Fiona reckoning with the doubt, depression and temporary triumphs of the betrayed—like an almost Elizabethan digression on changing the locks of their flat—not to mention guilt at stressing over her career and forgoing children. As Fiona thinks of a case: “All this sorrow had common themes, there was a human sameness to it, but it continued to fascinate her.” Also running through the book is a musical theme, literal and verbal, in which Fiona escapes the legal world and “the subdued drama of her half-life with Jack” to play solo and in duets.
McEwan, always a smart, engaging writer, here takes more than one familiar situation and creates at every turn something new and emotionally rewarding in a way he hasn’t done so well since On Chesil Beach (2007).
A summer of family drama, secrets and change in a small beach town.
Rose’s family has always vacationed in Awago Beach. It’s “a place where beer grows on trees and everyone can sleep in until eleven,” but this year’s getaway is proving less idyllic than those of the past. Rose’s parents argue constantly, and she is painfully aware of her mother’s unhappiness. Though her friendship with Windy, a younger girl, remains strong, Rose is increasingly curious about the town’s older teens, especially Dunc, a clerk at the general store. Jillian and Mariko Tamaki (Skim, 2008) skillfully portray the emotional ups and downs of a girl on the cusp of adolescence in this eloquent graphic novel. Rose waxes nostalgic for past summers even as she rejects some old pursuits as too childlike and mimics the older teens. The realistic dialogue and sensitive first-person narration convey Rose’s naïveté and confusion, and Windy’s comfort in her own skin contrasts with Rose’s uncertainty. Both the text and art highlight small but meaningful incidents as readers gradually learn the truth behind the tension in Rose’s family. Printed in dark blue ink, Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations feature strong, fluid lines, and the detailed backgrounds and stunning two-page spreads throughout the work establish the mood and a compelling sense of place.