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This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Carson, Hatterr, Fidel

February 8, 2013 | by

pbdepart

If you’re going to judge a book by its endpapers, then I recommend Julie Morstad’s The Wayside. I’ve spent a fair amount of time imagining them on the walls of the drawing room I don’t have. It helps that the rest of the book—all new drawings by the Canadian illustrator—is equal parts charming and strange. There’s definitely an Edward Gorey–esque feel to her work, but I also see occasional hints of William Pène du Bois (in a troupe of women acrobats) and Amy Cutler (in the wonderful patterned textiles). I think my favorite drawing may be a double gatefold depicting groups of flatly rendered performing-arts kids doing their thing. It’s Attic form meets Fame. —Nicole Rudick

In the early fifties, a married Cuban socialite has an epistolary romance with a dashing political prisoner. They meet for one night, and the woman bears his child. Meanwhile the young man, freed from prison, seizes command of the struggle against Batista and becomes ruler of their country. It sounds (and reads) like a novel, but Havana Dreams, Wendy Gimbel’s 1998 portrait of Naty Revuelta and her daughter Alina, is a work of intimate reportage, and the relationship of these two women to Fidel Castro takes on an uncanny symbolic weight. The book invaded my own dreams. —Lorin Stein

I’ve been immersing myself in comedy lately and am reading the sadly forgotten All About H. Hatterr by G. V. Desani. It was reissued as an NYRB Classic a few years ago, and given that NYRB’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations are in full swing, it seems fitting to be reading it now. In the introduction, Anthony Burgess says, “It is the language that makes the book, a sort of creative chaos that grumbles at the restraining banks.” He also quotes T. S. Eliot on Hatterr: “In all my experience, I have not met with anything quite like it. It is amazing that anyone should be able to sustain a piece of work in this style and tempo at such length.” How can you not find, read, and savor a book that has sentences like: “Is it Right? Hell, I won’t controversy. Why the chick first or is it the egg-ovum? Does a feller wear braces to keep his trousers up, or is it to stop ‘em slipping down? Did he say, Kiss me, Hardy! or, Kismet, Hardy?! Is Hanchow pronounced &cow, &Co., or what the hell? Personally, I wear a belt.” —Diksha Basu

Arthur Miller almost ruined my second reading of The Ballad of the Sad Cafe this weekend when I ran into this quote of his on Carson’s Wikipedia page: “Moving, yes, but a minor author. And broken by illness at such a young age.” So I was relieved to find this lovely letter to McCullers from Miller’s contemporary Tennessee Williams, which brought the mood back. Thanks, Tennessee. I wish my friends wrote letters like that to me. —Andrew Plimpton

I typically read right before bed, in a half-awake state of literary delirium. (Did I just read ten pages and not remember any of it? What year is it, Benjy Compson?) The title character of Andrés Neuman’s Traveler of the Century finds himself in a similar state, after spending a night in the small town of Wandernburg, located somewhere between Prussia and Saxony. Streets the traveler have walked before lead him to different locations, various characters (an organ grinder who lives in a cave, a Jack the Ripper–type murderer) enter the story as if from thin air, and our traveler falls into a love affair so graphic you’d think it could only happen in a dream (I think you get the comparison). I was swept up immediately, not just by a story that spans numerous genres—is it epistolary, historical, or a murder mystery?—but by Neuman’s ability to populate the town with an array of truly alive characters that I never wanted to leave. “[D]o you know what you have to do in order not to get lost in Wandernburg?” asks the organ grinder at one point. “Always take the longest route.” —Justin Alvarez

My calendar claims that we’ve been celebrating Children’s Authors and Illustrators Week for the past few days. I haven’t been to any related events, but the supposed holiday has reminded me to return to one of my favorite collections of graphic design: 75 Years of Children’s Book Week Posters: Celebrating Great Illustrators of American Children’s Books. It’s essentially a who’s who of classic twentieth-century illustration: Chris Van Allsburg, Tomi Ungerer, Maurice Sendak, Jessie Wilcox Smith, and our own William Pène du Bois are just the tip of the iceberg. You can see many of the works within on a Pinterest page maintained by the Children’s Book Council; the 1957 poster, by Alice and Martin Provensen, is a personal favorite. And if you want to really go down the rabbit hole, check out the rest of the CBC’s Pinterest presence. I recommend starting with Kidlit Maps. —Clare Fentress

 

1 COMMENT

1 Comments

  1. Keir Kramlich | February 13, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    I think it’s interesting that I published a similar post on my site about Desani’s only novel two weeks before this post, I wonder if Diksha Basu read it?

    http://www.bookrarities.com/2013/01/all-about-h-hatterr-by-gv-desani.html

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