The Book Report, by Leigh Stein
Image art by Alex Cook
The Book Report is a series that promises to deliver exactly what it promises: reports on books by the people who’ve read them. Catch evenings of live, in-person Book Reports that will remind you of the third grade in the best possible way with hosts Leigh Stein and Sasha Fletcher every month at The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in New York. The next one is December 10, and you should go.
Very premium literary masterwork Super Sad True Love Story begins in Italy, a beautiful place I have never seen, which is good way to start novel because it says, Reader, I have seen beautiful things and now I will tell you about them.
I learned a lot about Italian romance in this story. For example, in Italy, a woman with name of Eunice can be object of sexual desire. Also, in Italy, eating rabbit is prelude to semiconsensual oral sex. Most important thing I learn is this: I never knew what super sad, true love was until I meet Mr. Gary Shteyngart himself.
“I hear New York writer interviewed on NPR,” Mother told me, when I was home in Chicago. “He is Jewish and teaches at Columbia University?”
“Mr. Gary Shteyngart?” I inquired, hopefully.
“Very funny man. Have you met him?”
“No,” I said, thinking how ridiculous it would be to become proximal with famous writer.
"Thank You" – New Fiction by Alejandro Zambra
Alejandro Zambra is one of our favorite living writers. His first book, Bonsai, won the Chilean Critics’ Award for Best Novel of the Year in 2006. We first read his work when Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Ways of Going Home in 2013. What distinguishes Alejandro from his contemporaries is the sweetness and intimacy of his writing, and his confidence in letting himself be as he is. As you read his work, there’s never the impression that he is second-guessing himself, thinking, “So-and-so would do it this way,” or “Such-and-such editor would say that.” He exhibits this remarkable confidence on the page, one that allows him to be himself and to speak, a special kind of generosity. It feels like knowing and speaking to a sweetheart—it never feels like he’s an author who pretends, or tries to teach, or falls into egotistical traps. Flaws in writing often come from flaws in character. Alejandro doesn’t seem to have any of those. He’s just a lovely, special, strange person who seems to look at his actual world and describe it in his actual, natural voice, and he leaves it at that. He has the authority that J. M. Coetzee, V. S. Naipaul, and Bret Easton Ellis have all identified as the writer’s bedrock.
“I got a feeling you two are together and you’re keepin’ it a secret”—“No we’re not,” they answer in unison, and it’s the truth: for a little over a month now they’ve been sleeping together, they eat, read, and work together, so that someone with a tendency to exaggerate, someone who watched them and carefully parsed the words they say to each other, the way their bodies move closer to each other and entwine—a brash person, someone who still believed in these sorts of things, would say they really loved each other, or that at least they shared a dangerous and generous passion; and yet they are not together, if there is one thing they are very clear about it is precisely this, that they are not together. She is Argentine and he’s Chilean, and it’s much better to refer to them like that, the Argentine woman, the Chilean man.
They’d planned on walking, they’d talked about how nice it is to go long distances on foot, and they even reached the point where they were dividing people into two groups: those who never walk long distances and those who do, and who they believe are, because of that, better. They’d planned on walking, but on a whim they hailed a taxi, and they had known for months, even before they’d arrived in Mexico City, when they’d received a set of instructions that was full of warnings, that they should never hail a taxi in the street, and up till then it had never occurred to them to hail a taxi in the street, but this time, on a whim, they did it, and soon she thought the driver was going the wrong way and she said as much to the Chilean in a whispered voice, and he reassured her out loud, but his words didn’t even get to take effect because right away the taxi stopped and two men got in and the Chilean reacted valiantly, recklessly, confusedly, childishly, stupidly: he punched one of the bandits in the nose, and he went on struggling for long seconds while she shouted, Stop it, stop it, stop it. The Chilean stopped, and the bandits let him have it, they showed him no mercy, they may have even broken something, but this all happened long ago, a good ten minutes ago. By now they’ve already given up their money and their credit cards and they’ve already recited their ATM PIN numbers and there’s only a little time left that to them seems like an eternity, during which they ride with their eyes squeezed shut, “Shut your eyes, pinches cabrones,” the two men tell them.
An Excerpt from Tao Lin’s Taipei
Over the past month or so we’ve been publishing a whole slew of iPhone photos Tao Lin took on a recent visit to Taipei, the place from which his new novel takes its title. Pictures are all well and good (and we’ll be publishing another batch of them tomorrow), but to give you a real idea of what Tao’s new book is like, we thought it fitting to publish an excerpt. This is the first glimpse of Taipei Vintage has released, and it concerns the main character, Paul, and his difficult upbringing in Florida.
Taipei will be released on June 4 from Vintage and is available for pre-order now.
Paul’s father was 28 and Paul’s mother was 24 when they alone (out of a combined fifteen to twenty-five siblings) left Taiwan for America. Paul was born in Virginia six years later, in 1983, when his brother was 7. Paul was 3 when the family moved to Apopka, a pastoral suburb near Orlando, Florida.
Paul cried the first day of preschool for around ten minutes after his mother, who was secretly watching and also crying, seemed to have left. It was their first time apart. Paul’s mother watched as the principal cajoled Paul into interacting with his classmates, among whom he was well liked and popular, if a bit shy and “disengaged, sometimes,” said one of the high school students who worked at the preschool, which was called the Discovery Center. Each day, after that, Paul cried less and transitioned more abruptly from crying to interacting with classmates, and by the middle of the second week he didn’t cry anymore. At home, where mostly only Mandarin was spoken, Paul was loud and either slug-like or, his mother would say in English, “hyperactive,” rarely walking to maneuver through the house, only crawling, rolling like a log, sprinting, hopping, or climbing across sofas, counters, tables, chairs, etc. in a game called “don’t touch the ground.” Whenever motionless and not asleep or sleepy, lying on carpet in sunlight, or in bed with eyes open, bristling with undirectionalized momentum, he would want to intensely sprint in all directions simultaneously, with one unit of striving, never stopping. He would blurrily anticipate this unimaginably worldward action, then burst off his bed to standing position, or make a loud noise and violently spasm, or jolt from the carpet into a sprint, flailing his arms, feeling always incompletely satisfied.
Sewing for the Heart
Art by Kike Besada.
Yoko Ogawa writes creepy, ominous gothic novels and stories—sort of like a Japanese Flannery O’Connor or Shirley Jackson. Except sexier and a lot more Asian. She came to prominence in the late 80s in her native Japan and has since written more than 20 works of fiction and nonfiction, all of them commercially and critically viable.
Hotel Iris (2010), for instance, tells the story of Mari, a teenage girl who works in a desolate hotel by the ocean. When she falls into a twisted romance with an older man, a translator of Russian novels who may or may not have murdered his wife and who also likes to beat and humiliate Mari during sex, the teenager has a realization: “It occurred to me that I had never heard such a beautiful voice giving an order,” she thinks. “It was calm and imposing, with no hint of indecision. Even the word ‘whore’ was somehow appealing.”
“Sewing for the Heart” is from Yoko’s new collection, Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales (Picador February 2013), and it’s as perversely tantalizing as anything she’s written. In the story, a comely cabaret singer with the outlandish birth defect of a heart that developed outside her body hires a reclusive bag maker to sew a satchel to protect the misplaced organ.
We’ve paired this story with Spanish artist Kike Besada’s collages. Kike dug through old medical journals that he found in an NYC thrift store and cut out pictures of bags, hearts, hospitals, and all sorts of other things in order to come up with just the right macabre imagery for a story that is heartfelt in the most literal sense.
“Dr. Y from Respiratory Medicine. Dr. Y from Respiratory Medicine. Please contact the pharmacy immediately.”
The public-address system had been repeating this announcement for some time. I wondered who Dr. Y was and where he could be, as I studied the hospital directory. Central Records, Electroshock Clinic, Conference Center, Endoscopy… It was all like a foreign language to me.
“Why do they keep paging this Dr. Y?” I asked the woman behind the information desk.
“No one’s seen him this morning,” she said. She seemed annoyed by my question, and I was sorry I had bothered her.
“Could you tell me where to find the cardiac ward?” I said, getting to my real question. I pronounced each word slowly and carefully, hoping to quiet the pounding of my heart.
“Take that elevator to the sixth floor.” She pointed past a crowd of people gathered in front of admitting; I noticed her nail polish was chipped.
I am a bag maker. For more than 20 years now I’ve kept a shop near the train station. It’s just a small place, but it has a nice display window facing the street. Inside, there are tables for the bags and a mirror, and a workshop in back, behind a curtain, with shelves for my materials. The window features a few purses, an ostrich handbag, and a suitcase. A jauntily posed mannequin clutches one of the purses, but her face is covered in a fine layer of dust since I haven’t changed the window in years.
I live on the second floor, above the shop. My apartment has just two rooms—an eat-in kitchen and a living room that doubles as my bedroom—but the place is bright and pleasant. On clear afternoons, the sun streams in through the window and I have to move the hamster’s cage under the washstand. Hamsters don’t like direct sunlight.
In the evening, after closing shop, I go upstairs, take off my work clothes, shower, and eat my dinner. This takes next to no time. When you live alone as I have for many years, daily life only becomes simpler and simpler. It’s been a long time since I’ve cleaned up the bathroom for someone, or changed the towels, or so much as made dressing for my salad. I have only myself to please, and that doesn’t take much.
But compared to the world upstairs, my life with my bags below is quite rich. I never weary of them, of caressing and gazing at my wonderful creations. When I make a bag, I begin by picturing how it will look when it’s finished. Then I sketch each imagined detail, from the shiny clasp to the finest stitches in the seams. Next, I transfer the design to pattern paper and cut out the pieces from the raw material, and then finally I sew them together. As the bag begins to take shape on my table, my heart beats uncontrollably and I feel as though my hands wield all the powers of the universe.