Tuesday, July 5, 2016

New Galleys June 2016

Some day I will be able to read all the galleys I want to read and give the appropriate attention to all the good books that cross my path, but that day will probably require feats of science that spit in the eye of god, and though, I'm as into abominations of humanity's hubris as much as the next guy, that day isn't coming any time soon. But every now and then I can let you know about the galleys I've come across that I'm excited about, even if I never get around to reading them and even if I don't write about them as much as they might deserve. So, for those of you versed in the dark arts of Netgalley and Edelweiss, or really into adding stuff to your various TBR lists, here are some recent galleys to look for. 

The Hidden Keys by Andres Alexis

Andres Alexis' previous book, Fifteen Dogs, was just about the most critically acclaimed book in Canada when it came out and The Hidden Keys is his follow up. Some keywords in the plot summary: expert thief, dive bar, stolen diamond, hidden fortune, mementos, fake-German artist, a detective, philosophical concerns, Treasure Island. I assume I'm not the only bookseller who scanned the publisher copy and said, probably far too loudly for the comfort of those surrounding them, “Holy fuck! Well, then...”

Ema the Captive by Cesar Aira

Aira is on my personal Nobel Prize shortlist (with Anne Carson, Sherman Alexie and a few others) so I always look forward to his next book. At 128 pages, this is a hefty work for Aira, whose books usually clock in well under that. According to the summary, this also seems to be a bit darker than Aira tends to be, centering around a kidnapping, rape, and then sex work. But, of course, with Aira, the summary generally tells you nothing of importance about the book. Perhaps more than any other writer, Aira captures the logic and motion of dreams; where you begin has nothing to do with where you end and somehow it all fits together.

The Poem is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them by Stephen Burt

Some day, when I'm an eccentric millionaire and I have the time and money to write whatever I want whenever I want, I'm going to write books like this. There are some mildly grandiose claims on the back of the book about how it will guide readers through the fractious world of contemporary poetry, but I bet Burt just loves these poems and thought it would be rewarding to write about them.

And that is fucking awesome. Criticism isn't always about applying some preexisting theory to some work; it's also about how people read books and poems and the processes through which those poems become a part of someone's life. Furthermore, people are reading new books now, and so there should be criticism about new books now, beyond the initial reviews and the Amazon rating. New books deserve serious, book-length criticism as much as the old standards (do we really need another book about Jane Austen?) so, regardless of what happens next, I'm psyched to see this book exists.

Sirens by Joshua Mohr

I'm not much of a memoir reader. It's not that I have anything against memoirs per se, I'm just not much of a memoir reader. But I am a Joshua Mohr reader (Once you've finished noting down all these galleys go get yourself Damascus.) and so have read some of his personal essays already. And they are great. So that tells me his memoir is a book to be excited about.

Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction by Benjamin Percy

“There really should be a collection of craft essays by someone who wrote a literary werewolf novel,” is something that all of us should have been saying for a long time. It is really interesting watching some very old, obsolete zombie ideas finally trundling towards the whirring chainsaw of progress, and the idea of “literary” and “genre” as qualitative rather than descriptive terms is one of them.

The distinction between “literature” and “genre” writing hasn't been meaningful, well I was going to say “since at least critical theorist Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose,” but the more I think about it, the more “literature” and “genre” writing have always co-existed (Hey, look everyone, it's Frankenstein and "The Murders of Rue Morgue!") and the distinction seems to have been created mostly as a way for certain people (you know who) to justify their favorite books as factually better than other books.

Which is a long way of saying Thrill Me sounds awesome. Literary nonfiction is having something of a moment and I'm glad that moment is beginning to encompass more than just the personal essay. (Which is not a knock against the personal essay. You've all read Jamison, Nelson, and Als, right?) As I mentioned above, there is so much room for criticism to grow into the conversation among readers, writers, and texts it was always meant to be, and Percy's Thrill Me might be a part of that growth.

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam

This debut novel is set during the course of a single day in an evacuation camp during the Sri Lankan Civil War and follows a young man who has been asked to marry an old man's daughter. This was personally recommended for me by Michele Filgate, who I will always think of as a fellow member of the Valeria Luiselli vanguard, so obviously it needs to go on this list of new galleys.

Scratch by Steve Himmer

Fram managed to blend the spy novel, adventure novel, office novel, and domestic drama into a delightfully quirky tale about following your dreams that is also, in a way, one very long pun on the phrase “The Cold War.” (And I am a big fan of the dark art of the longform pun. See also: Tristram Shandy.) With a stranger coming to town only to discover said town featured a shapeshifter known as Scratch, Himmer's new book seems like it's aiming for that similar interstitial ground, with perhaps and extra dash of Victor LaValle and maybe a pinch of Tristan Egolf as well.

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