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Summer Reading / Women in Translation Month 2021

17 Jul

Happy Summer! I am once again contemplating how to merge Summer Book Bingo with Women in Translation Month. This year, I’m a new parent (have I said anything about that on this blog???), so my reading time is quite constrained. I have given up on trying for a blackout and am just focused on reading five adult books by September 7 (I will have read Goodnight Moon 50,000 times by then. Luckily it’s a brilliant book! I love Kate Bernheimer’s essay on it in Lit Hub.)

I am two books into my goal. I very much enjoyed Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirshenbaum, which I put on the “Made You Laugh” square. It is a dark book about depression with a sharp sense of humor, narrated in a voice I need to return to (I also enjoyed the voice of Kirshenbaum’s An Almost Perfect Moment). The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, which I put on the “Asian American or Pacific Islander” square is a beautiful novel which has one of those surprising-yet-inevitable telescoping endings that you just want to keep mulling over. The next square is “On Your Shelf,” and I’m reading R.L. Maizes’s story collection We Love Anderson Cooper. I am loving it. So this is a very fruitful book bingo thus far!

“Set in an Olympic Host City” is the square I am going to merge with Women In Translation Month. The Seattle Public Library has a list of recommendations on their blog here. I’m thinking I’ll opt for Valeria Luiselli’s Mexico City-based The Story of My Teeth (trans. by Christina Macsweeney). Then I also need a book for the “QTBIPOC” square; SPL once again has suggestions on their blog. Maybe I’ll re-read Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room as I so rarely make the time to re-read, but then again, branching out would be good too. Hmm…

In any case, if the thought of book bingo intrigues you, I also want to share the Women in Translation-focused bingo card Meytal Radzinski made. I made a WITMonth bingo card several years ago, but what I like about this one is it focuses in on specific regions so you get to zoom in on parts of the world you might not have explored yet.

What are you reading this summer?

“A Dill in Every Soup” in Orion Magazine

27 May
Sweet, sweet contributor copies!

I’m happy to have a new lyric essay out in Orion Magazine‘s summer issue, “A Dill in Every Soup.” The essay spans the personal, gastronomical, and ethnopharmacological, leaping from Sappho to the Talmud to Spenser’s Faerie Queene, and more. Here’s how the essay begins:

I love to look at dill. I love to handle it, chop it. It’s an elegant shape. Its featheriness is touchable; I brush it on my cheeks when no one is looking. Its brightness when fresh soothes my eyes. It looks especially lovely beside a newly sliced lemon. Sappho tells Mnasidica to garland her hair with sprays of dill to garner “a glance of the blessed Graces.”

Do I love to eat dill?

While we wait for issues to hit mailboxes and newsstands, and in honor of strawberry season, here is my first essay to be published in Orion, “Cosmic Fruit,” from their Summer 2019 issue. Yum!

ETA: “A Dill in Every Soup” is now online, right over here!

Back in December, holding a bunch of dill.

“The Samoyed” in The Capra Review

1 Feb
The Unicorn Purifies Water (from the Unicorn Tapestries), 1495–1505, Met Cloisters

I’m happy to have new fiction in The Capra Review, and I love the art selected for the piece, The Unicorn Rests in a Garden, which is tangentially part of the story. (Just for fun, I chose a different unicorn piece for this blog post.) Other art mentioned in the story include Greco-Roman sculpture, Piet Mondrian’s abstractions, and Martha Graham’s choreography.

In a way, “The Samoyed” is a companion piece to my story “Old Boyfriends,” which appeared in Propeller Magazine in December 2013. Both stories started out as structural “imitations” of Chekhov stories, “Old Boyfriends” using “Gusev” as a starting point and “The Samoyed” using “The Lady with the Dog,” though I use the term imitation loosely. I wrote about that exercise here on my blog as well as for Ploughshares here. Anyway, here’s how “The Samoyed” begins:

“Modern art is fine for decor,” he said, popping a vodka-soaked olive into his mouth. “But I don’t find it meaningful.” His lips were full, his eyes a gelid blue, his jaw-line well-defined with a stubble that seemed to Jane too calculated.

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Bright Spots of 2020

24 Dec
A fun little sprite in the window of an architecture firm in Edgewater, Chicago

Back in December 2016, I remarked that world affairs were horrendous but that I would take a moment to celebrate some bright spots in my life. I’m not surprised that in the intervening years, I didn’t write a similar end-of-year post, and I know we’re not quite out of the dark yet, but I’m feeling hopeful for the future, nonetheless. Some reading, writing, and cooking highlights, forthwith!

According to my Goodreads Year in Books, the most popular book I read this year was War and Peace*, which in truth was a partial re-read during Yiyun Li and A Public Space‘s TolstoyTogether pandemic book club (which continues on as APSTogether). I first read War and Peace the summer between my first and second years at the University of Washington MFA program, as a way to counter my tendency toward sparse detail. It was quite pleasant to return to it this spring, but, alas, my reading life was too over-committed to stay the re-reading course with such a tome. The “least popular” book (for now!) I read won’t actually be released until April 2021; please add my college friend Julian Mortimer Smith’s wonderful collection The World of Dew and Other Stories to your to-read list!

Speaking of speculative short story collections by people named Julian, my one book review this year was of Julian K. Jarboe’s Everyone On the Moon is Essential Personnel. I am sad The Seattle Review of Books went on hiatus, as it has been a wonderfully thoughtful venue for book reviews. My “Dispatch from a Pandemic” in Another Chicago Magazine might be another “highlight” from 2020 except for the whole pandemic part! At least I got to fall in love with the art of Belkis Ayón, profiled in my ACM piece. My last writing highlight of the year is my first short fiction published since 2018 (!), “Hinges” in Gordon Square Review. I had a lovely time at their virtual launch party getting to know a segment of the Cleveland literary community, which I wouldn’t have been able to do under normal circumstances. This also gets me to closer to a side-goal I’ve had for several years, which I picked up from Seattle poet Susan Rich: get published in each of the 50 states. Still have quite a few states to go!

I am currently revising two novels, and between that, the pandemic, and writing 200+ “please vote” letters and postcards before the election, I think I’m going to cut myself some slack on “only” publishing three things this year. I think my biggest accomplishment, however, is learning how to make soup! I’ve made soup before. But it was always lacking the oomph my grandmother’s boasted, even if I knew the secret ingredient in her chicken soup is beef. I’ve started collecting vegetable scraps in a big tub I keep in the freezer. And, at least once a month this spring and fall (not so much in the summer), I have had a cauldron bubbling, and my, what a comfort that has been.

My winter break plans? Chinese BBQ, baby bok choy, rainbow cookies shipped from Brooklyn (courtesy of my sweet MIL); Robert Altman’s film Kansas City via our artsy cinema subscription, Metrograph; and, of course, the necessary trifecta of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, currently: Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist, Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, Michele Bombardier’s What We Do.

Have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season!

*NB: Links to books go to my Bookshop.org affiliate page. If you click through and make a purchase, you’re simultaneously supporting independent bookstores, other authors, and me, via a small commission. (Want to make sure the commission goes to me? It should say “Anca L. Szilágyi” in the top left corner of the screen.) Thank you!

“Hinges” in Gordon Square Review

30 Nov

I’m delighted to have a new short story out today in Gordon Square Review, a journal based in Cleveland that spotlights writers from Northeast Ohio alongside those from around the world. Here’s how “Hinges” begins:

“In fact in Vienna I starved a little.”

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If you’d like to hear me read a snippet of the story, and snippets from the stories, essays, and poems in Issue 7, register here for the virtual launch party happening tomorrow at 7:30 pm EST! (And, if you’d like to hear me read tonight, I’ll be discussing the politics of then and now in historic fiction virtually at Greenlight Bookstore with Kris Waldherr, author of The Lost History of Dreams, and Tauno Biltsted, author of The Anatomist’s Tale; register here for tonight’s event.)

Many thanks to Prose Editor Nardine Taleb, Editor-in-Chief Laura Maylene Walter, Issue 7 Prose Readers Jackie Krogmeier, Alexandra Magearu, and Valli Jo Porter, everyone at Gordon Square Review and Literary Cleveland!

MALEFICIUM by Martine Desjardins

31 Aug

Last week I was nervously waiting at the eye doctor (nervous mainly because of the pandemic, and a woman sitting just a smidge too close, though everyone was masked if not double-masked) and reading Maleficium*, a slender novel-in-stories by Martine Desjardins (trans. Fred A. Reed and David Homel), when I came upon the chapter “Oculus Malignus,” a 19th century confession from a maker of tortoiseshell eyeglasses who has recently gone blind. (*Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.)

The speaker had traveled to Muscat in search of tortoiseshell. There, in addition to slaughtering turtles, he meets a missionary with a scar on her upper lip and “irises […] of an acidic ocher hue.” The missionary shows him her pince-nez, much finer than any tortoiseshell he’d ever seen. Greedily, he asks where she found such material, and she is happy to oblige. By staring directly into the sun, “her lachrymal glands [would secrete] a substance that solidified when exposed to sunlight, and formed scaly tears.”

All of the stories are sensory-rich confessions, nearly all from greedy men who had traveled from Montreal east in search of some prized exotic material. They all come upon this mysteriously seductive woman with the scarred upper lip and some other monstrous quality. They all suffer horribly for their transgressions. As other reviewers have noted, this could be a bit repetitive, but there is a certain satisfaction in seeing the particular twist Desjardins puts on each tale. The gem-like prose, even when discussing all manner of effluvia, is a joy to read.

Here is one more example that captures the beautiful but bizarre storytelling, this time about the woman’s ear:

“The circumvolutions formed a perfect helix at the tip of each lobe, and the vortex with its spirals drew me into the mysterious orifice of her ear canal. I would have liked to place my eye against it, as a keyhole; through a kind of subtle intuition, suddenly I was sure I would find the key to new architectures there.”

The saffron-rich first story inspired me to make a saffron-infused gin cocktail for the virtual version of Publishing Cocktails’ annual summer book swap. Last summer, when an actual book swap was possible, I gave one of my absolute favorite books, Elena Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment and received Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s What Diantha Did. I hope next summer it will once again be possible to actually foist a favorite on a fellow book lover.

A bit of comfort: all issues of Fairy Tale Review free for the foreseeable future

26 Mar

Here is a source of comfort in difficult times: all issues of Fairy Tale Review are free for the foreseeable future. Kate Berheimer wrote on Twitter:

This doesn’t put a dent in the painful news today, but maybe it will help some people through the difficult hours. I’ve always found that being in the company of a good fairy tale helps me do a little bit better, be a little bit kinder. It’s why I founded this journal in 2005. xo

@katebernheimer

I wrote “More Like Home Than Home,” the title story of my story collection, as an antidote to the darkness of Daughters of the Air. It was meant to comfort me, and I hope you find comfort in it too. It appeared in the Wizard of Oz-themed Emerald Issue. Now free and online, thanks to Fairy Tale Review , JSTOR, and Wayne State University Press.

The opening of “More Like Home Than Home” — read the rest here.

Going to AWP Without Going to AWP: Virtual Edition

6 Mar
Neither of these are the physical book fair, but they are *both* at the #AWPVirtualbookfair!

Last year around this time, Michael and I traipsed about Portland for AWP, skirting the conference itself, simply enjoying off-site readings and the book fair on Saturday. It was a lovely way to round out our time in the Pacific Northwest.

This year, because of our move, I never had any intentions of going to the conference in San Antonio, but because of the coronavirus, lots of folks, including my publisher Lanternfish Press have cancelled their trips. Because small presses depend on AWP each year for sales, a virtual book fair has been set up as a Google Doc by Trevor Ketner, publisher of Skull + Wind Press, inspired by poets G. Calvocoressi, Dana Levin, and Greg Pardlo. Now folks can browse from afar, and check out the many beautiful books and journals on sale here at #AWPVirtualBookfair. In random scrolling through the virtual book fair, I came across this intriguing book of poetry, Goodbye Wolf, by Nik De Dominic. Most discount codes are good through Sunday. Lanternfish Press is offering 30% off all of their books (including Daughters of the Air); use the code AWP2020.

Another press I love that has cancelled its trip to San Antonio is Fairy Tale Review. Their newest issue, back issues, subscriptions, and the complete set of issues are 20% off. Use code AWP20. The title story of my in-progress story collection, “More Like Home Than Home,” is in their Wizard of Oz-themed Emerald Issue. It’s set in Brooklyn in the 1980s and is a potpourri of the Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Twelve Dancing Princesses.

But what is a book fair without getting to pick up a book and open it at random? Below is random page from Daughters of the Air (you can read the opening over at Tin House). Beneath that, a taste of what all is in FTR’s Emerald Issue.

Stay healthy out there! Enjoy yer book browsing & book reading!

“a delightful little amuse-bouche of a book”

12 Dec

Paul Constant of The Seattle Review of Books had some lovely things to say about my new chapbook Sugar: “It’s a delightful little amuse-bouche of a book, with an ending that will charm Seattleites and tourists alike.” You can read more here.

This Saturday at 3 pm at the Chin Music Press shop in Pike Place Market, I will be reading from Sugar, as well as some foodie excerpts from Daughters of the Air. The fabulous poets Montreux Rotholz and Alex Gallo-Brown will join me, and there will be treats. Constant says it’s the literary event of the week! Here is the event on Facebook. Hope to see you there.

Umami by Laia Jufrese

23 Aug

Snapseed 5I first came upon Laia Jufrese’s Umami (translated by Sophie Hughes) thanks to the Seattle Public Library’s personalized recommendation system, Your Next 5 Books. Of the five books recommended, Umami zoomed to the top, as I have a soft spot for precocious 12-year-old narrators and an inclination toward foodie things. (You can see the whole list they recommended to me here.)

Umami is not a food novel in the sense of Like Water For Chocolate (which is not a criticism of either book and is just an observation) and it doesn’t just follow the travails of Ana, the Agatha Christie-gobbling, traditional Mexican-gardening tween. There are five narrators in this achronological story, each grappling with grief. Ana is creating a milpa in her parents’ underutilized garden, part of the mews in which they live. Doctor Alfonso Semitiel, an anthropologist who studies pre-Hispanic food systems and brought the term “umami” to the Western world, owns the mews and lives there too. He named each of the houses of the mews after each type of taste: Sweet, Bitter, Sour, Salty, and Umami.

Alfonso is a widower, Ana’s little sister Luz mysteriously drowned two years before the novel opens, and Ana’s friend Pina (named after the contemporary dancer Pina Bausch) and Pina’s father Beto have been abandoned by her mother Chela. Ana, Alfonso, and Luz all narrate their own chapters in the first person. Pina and Marina, another resident of the mews who babysits Ana and who suffers from depression, are narrated in the third person. There’s a lot going on here, and it took me a while to get into the flow of the book. Though I enjoyed Pina and Marina’s chapters, Ana, Alfonso, and Luz were more compelling to me. Their wordplay was snappier (though Marina invents names for colors, like “obligreenation…Green out of obligation”), their interests more idiosyncratic. It’s hard to feel close to every narrator, and the voices were not wildly different. Ultimately, what pulled me through was the mystery of Luz’s drowning, gradually revealed through her narration, using the fairy tale-ish perspective of a five-year-old. The other hook came somewhat late in the book, two creepy AF dolls, one of which can breathe.  The fabulist in me was charmed by this surprise, and they become quite a heartbreaking addition, in the end.

 

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