Summer Reads: Scott Esposito on João Gilberto Noll and Henry Green

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Scott Esposito discusses one of his favorite TLP titles, plus one of his best summer reads.

I’ve gotten fond of telling people that I read João Gilberto Noll’s Quiet Creature on the Corner at least three times before I felt I was beginning to get a handle on what was going on in the book. Which is a strange thing, because the book is barely 100 pages, and sentence-by-sentence the syntax isn’t too exotic, so I didn’t expect it to have quite such an easy time dislocating me.

I finally figured out that there are a few things going on here: first of all, although each individual sentence in Quiet Creature isn’t terribly challenging, the leaps that Noll makes from sentence to sentence can be huge. This is a book with a completely bizarre plot, strange time dilation effects, key moments hidden in innocuous clauses, and generally a lot of drama subsumed beneath placid surfaces. I had to read it once really fast just to get a sense of the shape of it, then a couple more times to add detail onto that framework.

By the time I’d gotten through it that third time, I knew this was a really remarkable little book. As I read it I kept thinking of César Aira, who has praised Noll as one of his favorite Brazilian authors. It definitely partakes in the exuberance and caprice and poeticism of Aira, but it’s also very distinct in its own way: particularly, Noll hits emotional notes you tend not to see in Aira (I frequently call him a “darker Aira”), and it’s clear that he’s after different results than the Argentine. Just what results Noll wants is something I’m not quite clear on yet. But right now I’m working through drafts of our upcoming Noll (Spring 2017), Atlantic Hotel, which is perhaps even stranger than Quiet Creature, and I’m trying to figure this out.

In addition to enjoying Noll, this summer I’ve been immersing myself in the glorious writing of Henry Green, which the good people at NYRB Classics will begin re-issuing this fall. Although Green’s name had long been familiar to me in the vague sort of way reserved for authors-I-mean-to-get-to like Patrick White or Muriel Spark, nothing ever made him seem like a must-read until I came across Tim Parks’s praise of him in his recent book, Where I’m Writing From. Parks has impeccable taste, and what he said about the strangeness of Green’s language completely sold me. Having now experienced Green for myself, I can say this he is truly a great and necessary writer. Start with Caught—about a British, World War II fire-fighter—I doubt it will be your last.

You can get Quiet Creature on the Corner, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.

Summer Reads: Michael Holtmann on Wolfgang Hilbig and Zbigniew Herbert

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Michael Holtmann discusses one of his favorite TLP titles, plus one of his best summer reads.

2016 has been a hell of year, hasn’t it? Between deeply upsetting accounts of discrimination and violence in the U.S., chilling rhetoric emboldened by the presidential campaign, deaths of exemplary musicians and writers, and the seeming precariousness of the European Union, where does one turn for a touch of summertime cheer?

Sure, you can purchase it as part of our cheekily titled “East European Beach Read Set,” but Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Sleep of the Righteous is unlikely to be the first book to come to mind. And yet I find it consoling. There is something instructive about reading a collection of stories rooted in (or, in the spirit of Hilbig, mired in) the postwar past: The Sleep of the Righteous provides evidence of what everyday life is like in a place cut off from the world. In the first few stories, Hilbig, in Isabel Fargo Cole’s glittering translation, captures the point of view of a boy growing up in East Germany after the end of World War II with gentle unflinchingness. Summer is very much present in “The Place of Storms,” where you can almost breathe in the oppressive heat, and “The Bottles in the Cellar,” where a fruitful bounty has turned overripe. As the book catches up in time to the German reunification, Hilbig’s thinly veiled narrator, morally flawed and knowingly broken, writes with great clarity about the effect of his upbringing:

[My wife] regarded us both, my mother and me, as people who were devoid of independence, eternally anxious to do everything right, and who for that very reason—because they were constantly trying to hide, to avoid reproaches . . . because they had no desires and no questions . . . because they skulked about the house as though under some tyranny from which a devastating verdict might come at any moment—for that very reason did every possible thing wrong.

Even with dark contours, Hilbig’s book inspires in me a sense of forgiveness.

For true uplift this summer, I’ve returned to Zbigniew Herbert’s Mr. Cogito, the masterful if also hard-to-find collection of poems translated by John and Bogdana Carpenter. If you’re seeking a dash of charm to balance out some of this era’s pervasive woe, I don’t think you can go wrong with poems such as “Mr. Cogito Looks at His Face in the Mirror,” “Mr. Cogito Considers the Difference Between the Human Voice and the Voice of Nature,” and “Mr. Cogito Laments the Pettiness of Dreams.” Mr. Cogito also happens to conclude with one of the greatest poems in any language, “The Envoy of Mr. Cogito,” which reminds us, in spite of everything the world throws at us, to:

Be faithful Go

You can get The Sleep of the Righteous, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.

Vive la France!

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Happy Bastille Day, mes amis! It’s been a sad July for French letters, as earlier this month, legendary poet Yves Bonnefoy died at the age of 93. Bonnefoy, who won the Goncourt prize for poetry in 1987, was part of a generation of writers that included the world-renowned writers Pierre Chappuis and Jacques Réda, both of whom you can read online in our Two Lines journal archives.

If you’re looking for even more French literature to gorge yourself on, we’ve got you covered. Let poet Claire Malroux lead you down into the grottoes, or else float into the clouds with Vénus Khoury-Ghata in poems translated by the award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker. Then sneak off to Switzerland for a rendezvous with Swiss poet Vahé Godel and hop over to Quebec to read Chilean-born Marilú Mallet‘s story about refugees, translated by J.T. Townley.

If you’re looking for something you can bring to the beach, we’re selling our three French titles for 50% OFF this month! That’s TWO books by the incredible Marie NDiaye AND Jonathan Littell‘s The Fata Morgana Books in what we’re calling the “French Riviera Set.” You can buy all three books for $20 here! And read more about our Bastille-storming-worthy July sale!

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Don’t forget to take a moment to reflect on days gone by with Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano. We’ve got audio from our salon with one of Modiano‘s translators, Chris Clarke. Among other things, Clarke touches on Guy Debord, French grammar, and the streets of Paris.

If you’re in the Bay Area this month, escape into the world of French cinema at the Berkeley Pacific Film Archive. They’ll be showing films by François Truffaut this month, including Day for Night, Jules and Jim, and Shoot the Piano Player.

Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center is screening films by young French filmmakers all month. Be young! Be French!

If you’re in sweltering New York tonight, head to Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore for a celebratory French Poetry Party!

Two Lines Back Issues As Low As $2

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JULY ONLY!!!
SALE ON TWO LINES BACK ISSUES!!!

Summer’s the perfect time to connect with your inner nomad and explore the world. Let us help you by stocking up on hard-to-find issues of Two Lines. We’re selling issues 1 through 20 for just $2 (stock permitting), and Issues 21 through 24 are half off!

$$$ SIX DOLLARS !!!

ISSUE 24 — FEATURING Jeffrey Yang, Medardo Fraile, Margaret Jull Costa, Rabee Jaber, Kareem James Abu-Zeid | Buy Now!

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ISSUE 22 — FEATURING Lydia Davis, Yuri Herrera, Daniel Levin Becker, Wayne Miller, Jeffrey Angles | Buy Now!

ISSUE 21 — FEATURING Johannes Göransson, Antonio Tabucchi, Marcos Giralt Torrente, Natasha Wimmer, and Edward Gauvin | Buy Now!

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ISSUE 20 — FEATURING Scholastique Mukasonga, Wolfgang Hilbig, Jeffrey Yang, Sergio Chejfec, Susan Bernofsky, and Christopher Merrill | Buy Now!

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ISSUE 18 — FEATURING Alejandra Pizarnik, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, César Aira, Marilyn Hacker, Albert Cossery, Luc Sante, and Rosanna Warren | Buy Now!

ISSUE 17 — FEATURING Inger Christensen, Lydia Davis, Oliverio Girondo, Mikhail Shishkin, Mikhail Shishkin, Natasha Wimmer, and Jeffrey Yang | Buy Now!

ISSUE 16 — FEATURING José Manuel Prieto, Anna Szabó, Yoko Tawada, Mahmoud Darwish, George Szirtes, Margaret Jull Costa, and Marilyn Hacker | Buy Now!

ISSUE 15 — FEATURING Antonio Muñoz Molina, Margaret Jull Costa, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, John Biguenet, and Sidney Wade | Buy Now!

ISSUE 14 — FEATURING Tomas Tranströmer, Robert Hass, Vicente Huidobro, Mercè Rodoreda, and Forrest Gander | Buy Now!

ISSUE 13 — FEATURING Jorge Volpi, Suzanne Jill Levine, Dahlia Ravikovitch, Charlotte Mandell, César Vallejo, and Rosmarie Waldrop | Buy Now!

ISSUE 12 — FEATURING Ingeborg Bachmann, John Felstiner, Brother Anthony of Taizé, and Yehuda Amichai | Buy Now!

ISSUE 11 — FEATURING Don Mee Choi, Donald A. Yates, Eunice Odio, and Marilyn Hacker | Buy Now!

ISSUE 10 — FEATURING Pablo Picasso, Suzanne Jill Levine, Marian Schwartz, and Aleksandr Anashevich | Buy Now!

SOLD OUT! ISSUE 9 FEATURING Ko Un, Enrique Anderson-Imbert, Giovanni Giudici, and Félix Morisseau-Leroy

ISSUE 8 — FEATURING Yoko Tawada, Cesare Pavese, Umberto Saba, Amélie Nothomb, X-504, and Richard Plantagenet, Coeur-de-Lion | Buy Now!

ISSUE 7 — FEATURING Karel Čapek, Luis Cernuda, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Pura López Colomé, and Forrest Gander | Buy Now!

ISSUE 6 — FEATURING Henri Michaux, Charles Baudelaire, Beatriz Escalante, Parents & Teachers of Tierra y Libertad, Chiapas, and Saigyo | Buy Now!

ISSUE 5 — FEATURING César Vallejo, Peter Handke, Daimon Searls, Jayadeva, and Ryuichi Tamura | Buy Now!

ISSUE 4 — FEATURING Juan Goytisolo, Peter Bush, Stephane Mallarmé, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Marian Schwartz, Jack Hirschman, and Alexander Pushkin | Buy Now!

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Summer Reads: Emily Wolahan on Kim Kyung Ju and Xu Zechen

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Emily Wolahan discusses one of her favorite TLP titles, plus one of her best summer reads.

Since only part of any summer is spent on vacation, it’s great to read books that transport me when I’m still at home. Kim Kyung Ju’s book of poems, I Am a Season that Does Not Exist in the World (Black Ocean 2015) is a different cosmic trip on each page. Translated from the Korean by Jake Levine, Kim’s poems pile surrealist imagery and linguistic turns one on the other. There’s a quickness to Kim’s writing; his energy circles in one lyrical, strange place. In “My Sorrow Suddenly Began Like a Love for Mom that Never Existed,” he writes:

Mom sitting on a flower bed blowing a soap bubble. Dad riding my wooden horse. Not returning home. Playing with a bottle cap. We have black shit in our stomach and sleep. Sprinkle a little ramen powder on our palm. Let’s eat. Older brother, the floor inside my outer world, that is the thing that I want to be. Sisters at night secretly draw Korean Barbies with big eyes on the white backs of calendars.

Each poem in I Am a Season immersed me in Kim’s world. It was easy to linger over Kim’s book. I could put it down and know that when I opened up to my spot (or any point of the book), I’d walk straight back into a totally unique vision of reality.

The other book of transformation and transportation that consumed me was Xu Zechen’s Running through Beijing. Where Kim Kung Ju creates an architecture of strange imagination, Xu Zechen speeds us through an other worldly Beijing of hustlers and wishful young people. Running through Beijing was one of the books I couldn’t stop until I finished it. Xu manages to convey in his writing the pace that his main character, Dunhuang, must maintain to get by in Beijing. Dunhuang is a hustler of the first order, a young man briefly in prison for selling fake IDs. Upon his release, he gets into selling pirated DVDs and making terrible, romantic choices. Every encounter he has is on the fly, every relationship casual.

The plot is great in Running and Dunhuang’s voice comes through as sharp and real as I remember Raskolnikov’s did—you either were that kid or you knew that kid. Despite the specificity of his surroundings and choices, Dunhuang himself is universal. And Xu’s descriptions of Dunhuang and Beijing are crucial to that feeling of “being there”:

Another trip to Changhong Bridge, another stack of DVDs. He’d have to go restock that afternoon. Kuang Shan was shocked at how often he was coming back to Cosmic, and how well he was doing selling on his own. Dunhuang said, “I’ve just got one rule: it’s life or death. Or if you want to be pretentious about it: professionalism.”

Translated by Eric Abrahamsen from the Chinese, Xu’s prose creates an incredible landscape of a dusty, fast-paced Beijing without much to offer anyone on the margin.

You can get Running Through Beijing, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.

Summer Reads: Sarah Coolidge on Elena Ferrante and Marie NDiaye

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We’re having a July Summer Sale, with up to 50% off all Two Lines Press titles and back issues of our journal for as low as $2.

Here, Two Lines Press’s Sarah Coolidge discusses one of her favorite TLP titles, plus one of her best summer reads.

If you haven’t yet read Elena Ferrante, this summer is the perfect time to dive in, headfirst. Her four Neapolitan novels—My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child—are not only beautifully written, they are extraordinarily personal testaments to the female experience. Don’t be misled by blurbs that reduce them to a series about female friendship. True, the books center on the ever-evolving, contentious relationship between Lenu and Lila, two girls growing up in 1950s Naples. But the books could just as easily be described as a series about enemies. Or envy. Or coming to terms with womanhood in its full range—beautiful, repulsive, empowering, and self-effacing. But the book is not just for women. You’ll find that Elena Ferrante has an unprecedented talent for picking up on the ways that all of us maneuver through the world. And you’ll find yourself underlying lines that manage to put in words ideas that are so simple, so true, and yet have always eluded capture. Who is Elena Ferrante? Where does the fiction end and the autobiography begin? Not even her translator, Ann Goldstein, knows.

Just as elusive is Marie NDiaye. Anyone who hasn’t read this French writer of Senegalese descent is missing out on some of the best prose that’s out there today. Seductively restrained, poetically arranged, even a small book like Self-Portrait in Green, translated by Jordan Stump, will linger in your mind for months. The reclusive writer from France avoids autobiographical concreteness in her “self-portrait” by highlighting particular women she has known, who all distinguish themselves by inexplicably, eerily, always appearing dressed in green. We observe these women—friends, family members, and strangers—together with NDiaye, trying to piece together some sort of logic, but it always dissolves before we find clarity. Similar to Nabokov’s approach in his autobiography Speak, Memory, NDiaye picks and chooses so as to create patterns replete with literary symbolism from a reality that is always threatening to slip into fictional freefall. And after all, summer demands the blurring of life and fantasy. Lie in the sun with a book propped on your stomach and let these writers consume you.

You can get Self-Portrait in Green, plus 9 other Two Lines Press titles, for up to 50% off in our July Summer Sale. See all the details here.