Hope everyone had a happy holiday season! We’re kicking off Q1 with a new Pigeon’s Picks, and soon we hope we can make some announcements about the new Ox and Pigeon books coming your way in 2015. If you have picks of your own, please share your recommendations with us on Facebook or Twitter!
Lucas: Paraísos, by Iosi Havilio. I’m only about a third of the way through, but damn. I was initially leery after a bit of a slow start, but I’ve become swept up in this book just as the narrator is swept up in an increasingly jarring series of events, each one almost imperceptibly more off-kilter than the last. Her apathetic, slightly melancholy, Eeyore-as-a-victim-of-Late-Capitalism tone is pitch perfect; it’s a tone that, every time I pick up the book and start reading again, makes me think, “Yes.” The prose is lovely, so finely crafted and distinct it seems effortless, which is, of course, the first sign of just how much work went into this novel. Havilio packs his text with seriously original observations and laugh-out-loud turns of phrase. He’s almost too good. Luckily for all you non-Spanish speakers, UK press And Other Stories have brought this out in an English translation as Paradises, along with another of Havilio’s novels, Opendoor (both books translated by Beth Fowler). I should note here, just in case, that they have also had US presence/distribution since last year, lest we Yanks miss out on this action. Go ahead and support a great indie publisher that is doing incredible work. You’ll get yourself a fine novel out of the deal.
Jason: Monastery, by Eduardo Halfon, translation by Lisa Dillman and Daniel Hahn. I was introduced to Halfon when I bought The Polish Boxer through a Words Without Borders fundraiser. I knew nothing about him at the time, and that book was such a pleasant surprise. I’m not too big on authors that insert themselves into their stories, but it doesn’t bother me at all when Halfon does it (and so far in this one he does it just as often as he did in The Polish Boxer). These are somewhat sparse stories with the right amount of unexpectedly relatable moments, and overall I would describe both books as captivating. For me, the pleasure I find in literary fiction is often different than the “page-turner” urgency I get from crime novels, but Halfon manages to wrap what I like about both into his books. Highly recommended. Looking forward to seeing more of his writing translated.
Tim: This article by Sam Sacks about the place of religion in James Wood’s. The article is Open Letters Monthly, a great place for longreads of real substance. Wood is one of my favorite critics (I especially love How Fiction Works), and though I’m not sure I agree with everything Sacks says here I still think it’s a great piece of writing that captures why Wood is sometimes so incisive and sometimes so blind. “… Wood’s strength as a critic is built into the ironies he embodies, as someone who writes evangelically against evangelism. Here is an opponent of fixed meanings whose assertions of what the novel should be are adamant and unchanging. Here is a critic who longs for books to approximate the capacious, transcendent sense of the divine using only the materials of the real and the human.” Check it out.