Indaba My Children: African Folktales

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A Year in Reading: Sabrina Orah Mark

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2020 was the year the cover of my copy of Donald Barthelme’s Sixty Stories fell off.  I now keep it on with a bright yellow rubber-band.  And right after my Barthelme fell off, the cover of my Giambattista Basile’s The Tales of Tales fell off.  And before I could rubber-band my Basile back on, I misplaced the cover.  What was on it again?  A woman holding a human heart?  I can’t remember.   And then in June the first three pages of my Old Testament loosened from its binding and fluttered like three old white birds to the floor.  Now Genesis begins on day three: flowers, plants, trees.  Now light has been reunited with darkness.   

Which is to say,
there has been a lot of wear and tear.         

Other than the books that literally came undone, the other books that kept me from coming undone were books about coming undone.  They were books about being unmoored or having so much moor the moor was like an unmooring.  Kate Zambreno’s Drifts, Catherine Lacey’s Pew, and Marie-Helene Bertino’s Parakeet all reimagined what point of view even is, and spun me around and around until I was 99% certain the air I was breathing was impossible air but still it was – how could this be? – air.  May the spell each of those books put on me never break.     

And then the cover of Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles fell off.  I was surprised it hadn’t fallen off years ago.  I read it once a day. 

Also, Erika Meitner’s Holy Moly Carry Me, Oni Buchanan’s Time Being, Aimee Bender’s The Butterfly Lampshade, Jenny Erpenbeck’s Not a Novel, Robert Hass’s Summer Snow, Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, Amina Cain’s Indelicacy, and Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through all lit up my heart permanently.    

I finished Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating in late February.  Right before the shutdown.  Not only does it have my favorite kind of plot (the friendship between a woman and a snail), but it is a gorgeous reminder that staying still is another way of traveling and sightseeing. 

Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa’s Indaba, My Children (African Folk Tales) and George Perec’s Species of Spaces and Other Pieces unraveled me tenderly.

Nathalie Léger’s The White Dress left me in tatters.   I will one day sew these tatters back into a garment I will wear when I write my last story. 

I read an advanced copy of Edward Carey’s The Swallowed Man which might not only be the greatest fairytale ever told, but also the most beautiful, tender book about being a father and an artist I’ve ever read.  

For most of November, I’ve been wandering around with Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book because I miss my grandmother and grief is also an island weathered by sunshine and storms. 

More from A Year in Reading 2020

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