The Rail Recommends
Theodore Hamm (Editor): I’m digging Living to Tell the Tale, translated by Edith Grossman (Knopf), particularly for the magic of Marquez’s melancholy Marxism. The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq (Seven Stories/ Akashic) is an excellent takedown by the Alternet crew. Matthew Sharpe’s new novel The Sleeping Father (Soft Skull) makes me feel the pain of growing up in Connecticut, even though I was raised elsewhere. And I’ve been enjoying the old paperback copy of James Baldwin’s late novel Just Above My Head that I got from a street vendor in the Village the other day. Check out this line: “I looked and looked and looked at the telephone: I looked at the telephone and I looked at the telephone.” Wow!
Williams Cole (Contributing Editor): War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges (Anchor) weaves through history, personal experience and literature, allowing ex-war correspondent Hedges to serve up powerful insights into behavior in war, fear as motivation, the perversions of nationalism, and addiction to the emotions of battle. The conclusions are honest, sad, and far from trivial. Richard Yates’s Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (Delta) is a collection of sublime short stories from a golden era. Yates has enjoyed a posthumous comeback and these stories represent an apogee of the form: clear, arduously crafted, vacant of stylistic mumbo-jumbo, and with endings that send a tingle down the spine. And I’ve been reading Al Franken’s Lies and Lying Liars that Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton). Sure, it’s a bestseller, but it’s one that partially represents the vibrant backlash that’s creeping into the mainstream against liars like Bill O’Reilly. It’s also well researched and fun reading with humor that is self-deprecating enough that it doesn’t get too annoying.
Mónica de la Torre (Poetry Editor): Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile (New Directions) is the deathbed confessions of an Opus Dei priest who is also a poet and literary critic. As he recalls the highlights of his life a wide range of characters—including Neruda, Pinochet, Jünger, and an anorexic Guatemalan painter—make startling appearances. Roberto Bolaño, who passed away last summer at 50, might be the author whose literary achievements hover over contemporary Latin American novelists the way García Márquez’s did with previous generations of writers. See Through by Frances Richard (Four Way Books) reminds me that the great Argentine poet Olga Orozco once wrote that true poetry “doesn’t engender resonant or conceptual ghosts in order to trap them into words, but rather causes the ghosts already trapped in language to burst forth.” That’s exactly what Richard manages to do. Her poetry haunts us. It is unique, free of the gimmicks one finds in much current writing trying to pass as original, and frighteningly resonant. And I recommend Circumference: Poetry in Translation (Issue 1, Autumn/ Winter 2003), Stefania Heim and Jennifer Kronovet’s impressive and nothing-short-of-heroic undertaking. In a single issue of this beautiful journal one can find bilingual versions of Li Po, Catulus, Paul Celan, Henri Michaux, Georg Trakl, Nazim Hikmet, André Breton, and a host of other international poets, translated by esteemed poet/translators such as Clayton Eshleman and Marilyn Hacker as well as by younger practitioners of this much-needed art.
Donald Breckenridge (Fiction Editor): The Inman Diary: A Public and Private Confession, edited by Daniel Aaron (Harvard University Press) is one man’s intimate lifelong confession and a portrait of America that spans seven decades. Juan Carlos Onetti’s novel A Brief Life, translated by Hortense Carpentier (Serpent’s Tail) is where Onetti lays the groundwork for Camus, Sartre, Cortazar, Marquez, and a thousand pretenders. This is his masterpiece, a novel by which all others must be judged. And I’m reading Arno Schmidt's The Collected Novellas: Early Fiction 1949-1964, Volume 1, translated by John E. Woods (Dalkey Archive). I love Arno Schmidt, his fiction is profoundly humane, deeply funny and highly addictive.
Christian Parenti (Contributing Editor): Doug Henwood’s After the New Economy (New Press) is, as always, funny, very smart, and radical. This is the book on the US economy to read. On empire, I highly recommend David Harvey’s The New Imperialism (Oxford), a theoretical essay on the deep forces driving US foreign policy, a.k.a. permanent global war. Speaking of wars gone bad, I am re-reading Daniel Ellsberg’s memoir, Secrets (Penguin). Yes, it is already a national bestseller and hardly needs a boost from the Rail but it really is a superb book, and a superb life of struggle.
Johannah Rodgers (Editor-at-large): First, Noam Chomsky’s Language and Thought (Moyer Bell). For anyone who has not read Chomsky’s linguistic writings, I highly recommend them as an important and necessary complement to his political writings. The three lectures that make up this book were delivered at Berkeley in January, 1967 and, besides being a very concise overview of the theory and history of transformational grammar, they are just plain interesting and thought-provoking. Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual (David Godine) is a novel that purports to be about a wealthy obsessive compulsive who lives in an apartment building in Paris and who decides to spend his life visiting the ports of the world, creating water colors of them, having the paintings made into jigsaw puzzles by a master puzzle builder, reassembling them, returning the completed puzzles to their place of origin, and having them destroyed, is, obviously, an allegory for many things. Through descriptions of the objects and fixtures that are present in the building, the novel also investigates the lives of current and former residents. And my list would have to include Richardson’s Clarissa, which is an absolutely amazing and essential novel but one that, as many are aware, is a bit long, about 1,000,000 words!
Ellen Pearlman (Editor-at-large): Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus, edited by Regina Weinreich (Viking Penguin) collects hundreds of haikus from 1956-66, when Kerouac jotted down on pocket-sized notebooks little poems “as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorelia.” He took the traditional 17-syllable form, honing it to just three simple lines. Weinreich has mined the tombs of Kerouac’s work, including the still-sealed Berg Archives at the New York City Public Library. This volume is a welcome addition in the pantheon of Kerouac literature and to the study of American haiku. Outcast Samurai Dancer is a collection of photographs by Meital Hershkovitz, with text by Hillary Raphael (Creation Books). These are stunning, grotesque photographs of Japan’s current dance avant-garde shot in gritty environments with an “in-your-face” verve. Distortion never looked so gorgeous. And Freud’s Alphabet by Jonathan Tel, (Counterpoint Press) is an imagistic novel of Freud’s finals days in 1939 London. It scrambles time and space, and throat cancer serves as metaphor for the state of Europe’s decaying pre-war psyche. Told as a series of 26 vignettes using the alphabet from A-Z, its sensibility echoes the Beatles’ Abbey Road period using subconscious villanel-like imagery.
John Reed (Editor-at-large): I’ve been reading The Vanishing Moon, a novel by Joseph Coulson (Archipelago Books). It chronicles the American family with enormous intensity. His sense of history is vast, his sense of detail fine, Coulson is the ferryman to that America just beyond tragic and wondrous. Nelly Reifler’s collection of stories, See Through (Simon & Schuster), is as dark and delightful as chocolate truffles. You’ll enjoy them, and feel guilty for it. And, she’s a Brooklyn native. And I recommend Natural Trouble, a collection of poems by Scott Hightower (Fordham Press). Tough-minded and elegant, Hightower is a singular balance of poetic tradition and poetic revolution. Hightower, in his second book, effortlessly demonstrates a compassion and wisdom that commands the attention of his readers.