Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from Lydia Davis, Preti Taneja, and more—that are publishing this week.
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Essays Two by Lydia Davis
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Essays Two: “In this riveting and erudite collection (after Essays One), Davis documents the adventures and challenges of her work as a translator, moving with ease between the technical challenges posed by a complex text and her personal relationship with literature. Several pieces describe her process of translating Proust’s Swann’s Way into English: ‘The Child as Writer’ provides critical and biographical insight as Davis diagrams the syntax of Proust’s ‘sophisticated and polished’ sentences, while in ‘Proust in His Bedroom,’ she reads his correspondence and pays a visit to his apartment in Paris. Sections are dedicated to her experience learning Spanish, Dutch, and Norwegian, often through context and logic: In ‘Learning Bokmal’ (an older form of Norwegian), Davis explains how she is exhilarated by ‘the fact of doing it by myself.’ In ‘Translating ‘Bob, Son of Battle: The Last Gray Dog of Kenmuir’,’ Davis describes her desire to keep a book from her childhood from being forgotten, and her project of modernizing the book’s language, while ‘Buzzing, Humming, or Droning’ considers the many Madame Bovary translations. Thorough, idiosyncratic, and inimitable, Davis is the kind of intelligent and attentive reader a book is lucky to find. Readers, in turn, are lucky to have this collection, a worthy addition to the Davis canon.”
Aftermath by Preti Taneja
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Aftermath: “Novelist Taneja (We That Are Young) explores colonialism, violence, and grief in this stunning experimental collection. Taneja taught creative writing for three years at a prison in Britain, until one of her students, Usman Kahn, went on to kill two people after his release. She digs into her subsequent grief and places it within the context of capitalism, white supremacy, and terrorism. ‘There is a hierarchy to grief,’ she suggests in ‘Disenfranchised grief,’ while in an essay titled ‘An event happens and,’ she writes ‘In moments of deep loss we become as children, trained to seek comfort in the old fairy tales: the fundamental good versus the fundamental evil.’ In ‘Violence as trauma as form,’ meanwhile, she wishes for ‘a different map… other words.’ Taneja writes with clarity, depth, and specificity about the role of writing as a source of survival and power, while remaining blunt and clear-eyed about the moments when words fail. She also turns a critical lens toward the way language shapes violence, suggesting in the epilogue that “Power tells a story to sustain itself, it has no empathy for those it harms.” This poetic, urgent, and self-reflective work will delight fans of Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.
People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (translated by Ted Goossen)
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about People from My Neighborhood: “Kawakami’s magical and engaging collection (after Strange Weather in Tokyo) pulls the reader into a small Japanese community via stories told by unnamed narrators. In ‘The Secret,’ the narrator’s life changes upon meeting a child who never ages despite the two spending 30 years together. ‘Grandma’ follows a neighbor who plays cards with a child narrator and asks the child for money, until something causes their dynamic to change. ‘The Office’ features a gazebo where a man waits for ‘customers.’ The narrator brings a friend named Kanae to the gazebo, who is rude to the man, though they later discover the man has a surprising talent. In ‘Brains,’ Kanae encourages the narrator to tickle her older sister, a form of torture, because her sister’s nearly blue eyes make her look like a stranger, despite her Japanese features. In ‘The Hachirō Lottery,’ a group of families take turns caring for a neighborhood child who has 14 siblings. Everyone fortifies themselves against an alarming gravity-defying event in ‘Weightlessness,’ though Kanae convinces the narrator to sneak out of school to experience the phenomenon. Throughout, Kawakami effectively anchors the stories’ uncanny moments with everyday details. This thought-provoking, offbeat collection is worth a look.”
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Small Things Like These: ‘Irish story writer Keegan’s gorgeously textured second novella (after Foster) centers on a family man who wants to do the right thing. It’s almost Christmas in a small town south of Dublin, Ireland, in 1985. Bighearted coal dealer Bill Furlong makes deliveries at all hours, buys dinner for his men, plays Santa Claus for the local children, and cares for his five daughters along with his wife, Eileen. Meanwhile, rumors circulate about the ‘training school’ at a nearby convent, suggesting it’s a front for free labor by young unwed mothers to support a laundry service, but no one wants to rock the boat. When Bill is there on a delivery, a teenage girl begs him to take her with him, and he politely makes excuses. He also notices broken glass topping the walls. Eileen tells him to ‘stay on the right side of people,’ but he feels he should do something—not just because he imagines his own daughters imprisoned there, but because he was born to a 16-year-old unwed mother who could have suffered a similar fate. Keegan beautifully conveys Bill’s interior life as he returns to the house where he was raised (‘Wasn’t it sweet to be where you were and let it remind you of the past… despite the upset’). It all leads to a bittersweet culmination, a sort of anti–Christmas Carol, but to Bill it’s simply sweet. Readers will be touched.”
Also on shelves this week: Rifqa by Mohammed El-Kurd and In Transit by Nicholas Pierce.