- Last night there was a modest ceremony for a little-known prize called the National Book Award. Congratulations to its winners this year: Evan Osnos in nonfiction, for The Age of Ambition; Phil Klay in fiction, for his collection Redeployment; Louise Glück in poetry, for Faithful and Virtuous Night; and Jacqueline Woodson in young people’s literature, for Brown Girl Dreaming. The Daily interviewed Klay earlier this year, and The Paris Review published five of Glück’s poems in our Winter 2007 issue—read one here.
- While we’re at it, why won’t the National Book Foundation bring back its award for translation, which was eliminated in the eighties? “The prize was a model of award-as-activism … Its administrators leveraged the National Book Awards’s clout in service of a category of literature that desperately needed popular attention and validation.”
- Mike Nichols has died at eighty-three. (Not to diminish his incredible accomplishments as a director, but NB: his “Mother and Son” skit with Elaine May is still funny more than half a century later.)
- A new game, Ether One, brings us closer to the experience of dementia: “Your job is to dive into the mind of Jean Thompson, a sixty-nine-year-old woman diagnosed with dementia, and retrieve a series of lost memories … The collection gradually overwhelms the player’s ability to remember just where all of these things came from and why they seemed important enough to retrieve. Why did I bring this plate all the way back here? Whose hat is this supposed to be again? It’s a tidy simulation of the cognitive degradation of dementia.”
- “How does one write a mouse-washing scene? There aren’t a lot of examples in literature, and in any event I didn’t want my mouse-washing scene to be contaminated by the work of other fiction writers.”
When the novelist Adam Thirlwell told me his idea, I was skeptical: to publish a work of fiction in many translations, each version being a translation of the one before. But Adam Thirlwell is Adam Thirlwell, “schemey like a nine-year-old,” as one collaborator describes him, with “weird vibes, as if he does unorthodox things to the books he carries to the bathroom.” Multiples, the new issue of McSweeney’s, edited by Thirlwell, is an unorthodox thing of beauty, a stunt that only a kid would attempt, and an absolute pleasure to read—though almost nobody on earth will be able to read every page. What Thirlwell has done is to assemble new or obscure works by Kierkegaard, Vila-Matas, Krasznahorkai, et al., translated (and retranslated, and retranslated) by a dream team of polyglot writers. So, for example, Dave Eggers translates a Spanish translation by Alejandro Zambra of an English translation by Nathan Englander of a Hebrew translation by Etgar Keret of an English translation by John Wray of a previously untranslated short story by Franz Kafka. It’s a game of pro-level Chinese whispers, and—thanks to Thirlwell’s list of contributors—a wide-angle snapshot of our literary firmament, circa now. Plus, the afterwords by Thirlwell and Francesco Pacifico have persuaded me not only that it would be fun to read Emilio Gadda in Italian, but that a translator can have more fun with an untranslatable writer than I ever dared to dream. —Lorin Stein
The editors of the New York Times blog Anxiety recently asked Laszlo Krasznahorkai to contribute an essay on the theme. This is the writer who eschews paragraph breaks and short sentences because he feels they are artificial and whose subjects are often very bleak—which is to say, he’s their ideal contributor. The author himself describes it as “a lyrical essay about the terrible meeting between boorishness and aggressiveness,” but with Krasznahorkai, it’s so much more than that. There are paragraph breaks and the occasional brief sentence (one wonders if the former appeared in the original version), but this is a hard little gem, a Möbius strip of what feels simultaneously like madness and utter logic. —Nicole Rudick