Recommendations from the staff at Seven Stories Press
The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)
and Vertical Motion by Can Xue (translated by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping)
I know, I know! I'm extremely late to hop on the Ferrante train. The Days of Abandonment is incredible. I neglected all of my responsibilities and read it in a single day. I burned a pie. I let my laundry sit in the washer. I subsisted entirely on cereal eaten straight out of the box. It was impossible for me to properly accomplish anything while this book was in-progress. It just so happens that my favorite genre of novel is Literary Translation That Features Extremely Dramatic Woman Dealing Poorly with Adversity, so this book is tailor-made for me. Needless to say, I highly recommend.
I also highly recommend Vertical Motion by Can Xue, which I just started this weekend. Her writing is so dreamy, and I can't wait to devour the rest of the stories in this excellent collection, and the rest of her books in English!
Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic by Lisa Stevenson
This ethnography on the tuberculosis epidemic and the subsequent suicide epidemic that afflicted the Canadian Inuit made me question what it means to care for others. Suicide prevention and tuberculosis eradication embody the psychic life of biopolitics, a desire to make people live that can be experienced as murderous. Stevenson posits mournful care as a way of staying alive by witnessing the death in life.
Qualification: A Graphic Memoir in 12 Steps by David Heatley
David Heatley isn't an addict, yet for six years he finds himself a regular attendee of different "anonymous" support groups. Qualification is a hilarious graphic memoir about a man's addiction to the 12 Steps in his quest for acceptance.
Essays One by Lydia Davis
This month I recommend Lydia Davis's gigantic Essays One, which I'm slowly but steadily making my way through. It's a delight to see how her mind works. I also recommend the Die Hard movies, because nothing says happy holidays like John McClane rappelling down buildings and crawling through air vents with the grace and good humor of a man who knows he will never die.
The Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani (translated by Sam Taylor; originally titled Chanson Douce)
You can't stop reading this book or seeing darkness, madness encroaching on the edges of regular people's lives even after you've finished it—especially after! I heard it described not as a story, but a compulsion, and it's so true—each brilliant sentence propelling you to its catastrophic end with subtle, double-edged observations of motherhood, class, race, and power.
The Facts of Winter by Paul Poissel (translated by Paul La Farge)
During the winter of 1881, the French author and verified insomniac, Paul Poissel, wrote one of the strangest little books I own. In The Facts of Winter, Poissel concocts a series of fictionalized dreams all dreamed up by people in and around Paris. These imaginative vignettes—most of them no longer than a paragraph—document the bizarre and neurotic dream-logic of these strangers while creating an unusual community of sleepers across the city. As someone who rarely remembers his own dreams, reading these delightfully absurd scenarios is a treat.
Special Sound Series Vol. 2 by Shigeo Sekito
Something about Shigeo Sekito’s electric organ playing is so entrancing. Released in the mid-70s—when Yamaha and Moog still reigned in recording studios—Special Sounds twists jazz standards into warbling Japanese elevator music. Perfect for mundane tasks, it makes riding the subway seem slick, even cool … not so stuffy and sweaty.