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  • Staff Picks

    We’re book people and here is where we share what we read.

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    Andrés de la Casa-Huertas

    Zama

    Zama

    by Antonio Di Benedetto

    NYRB Classics, 2016.

    The novel was written in 1956 and while praised by people like Borges and Saer, it was not part of the Latin American literary boom in the 60s because its lack of ‘Magic Realism.’ In recent years, Zama has been acknowledged as a masterpiece in the Spanish language, after younger writers such as Ricardo Piglia and Roberto Bolaño have mentioned it as an important reference. Di Benedetto tells the story of Don Diego de Zama, a creole civil servant in the Spanish Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata in the late 18th Century, who hopes to be promoted from his post in a remote province to the capital in Buenos Aires. Written in first person, we witness the contradictions of his hypocritical, small-minded personality as he plays the game to earn his promotion from the Spanish crown, which is deaf, petty and even meaner. Di Benedetto’s archaic prose –yet precise and full of purpose– creates an elusive and claustrophobic narration infused with very enjoyable absurdity and dry humor, plenty of 20th century existential anguish.

    One Hundred Twenty One Days

    One Hundred Twenty-One Days

    by Michèle Audin

    Deep Vellum, 2016.

    There is a story locked up in One Hundred Twenty-One Days, but it’s not in its pages. In this novel, the story is the space to which all the heterogenous chapters point to, but merely touch, as a tangent line does to a point in a curve. This mathematical reference isn’t casual; Audin, a mathematician herself, plays with narrative using language in different codes as a function to describe the lives of French and German mathematicians during the time of the World Wars; words as “an exquisite formulation for the unspeakable.”

    Blackout

    Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

    by Sarah Hepola

    Grand Central Publishing, 2015

    Who doesn’t like to feel empowered. Alcohol makes us feel like a better version of ourselves. And there is nothing wrong with that, at least as long as you don’t choose that funnier, wittier, brighter, more confident, more extroverted, more liberated version of you to face the world on a regular basis and deny your own insecurities. In her memoir Sarah Hepola shares with brutal honesty, dry wit, and warm heart how she opted for the latter. Her drunk stories are dark-humored, quite enjoyable and endearing (it’s impossible not to root for her), bittersweet sometimes, but it’s the second half of the book, in which she shares her experience after quitting and coming to terms with herself, that becomes an insightful and poignant manual to fight bare hands the “complete inability to tolerate the moment.” You’re probably far from alcoholism but this book may teach you a thing or two about yourself.

    Sphinx

    Sphinx

    by Anne Garréta

    Deep Vellum, 2015

    Sphinx is dark mercury, an elusive first-person narration of a genderless love story that unfolds in the decadent nights of 80’s Paris. Witten under Oulipian constraint (Oulipian literature uses constrained writing techniques as a way to trigger ideas and inspiration), Anne Garréta constantly makes us evaluate the nature of male/female roles in the relation by removing every mention to the protagonists’ gender. Oh, and don’t miss the translator’s notes at the end of the book, they’re fascinating.

    Freedom

    Freedom

    by Jonathan Franzen

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

    One of my resolutions this year is to catch up with American Literature. I’ve started with what some call the Great (contemporary) American Novel. The book is up to the expectations; Freedom is a profound, rich and unsettling portrait of middle class America in which Franzen models with acute psychology a bleak, yet somehow heroic set of characters that struggle with the boundaries of their personal liberties.

    speak

    Speak

    by Loiusa Hall

    Ecco, 2015

    Speak is, without a doubt, the best book I’ve read from (and in) 2015. Louisa Hall’s multiple voice narration about AI unfolds elegantly a deep reflection on what it means to be human. As a reader, I particularly loved how the author pushes the story forward and creates meaning just by the delicate intricacies between the different voices’ stories; there are no statements, it’s up to us the readers to build up the story and to come up with our conclusions. A book packed with Eureka moments.

    como la sombra se va

    Como la sombra que se va

    by Antonio Muñoz Molina

    Seix Barral, 2014

    Antonio Muñoz Molina desarrolla en paralelo dos relatos: el de la huída a Lisboa de James Earl Ray después de asesinar a Martin Luther King y la propia autobiografía del autor alrededor de los días en que gestaba su segunda novela, El Invierno en Lisboa, a finales de los 80. La Historia como novela y al contrario que Mailer no viceversa; un escarceo brillante entre lo real y la ficción en el que el autor recompone con agudeza y empatía lo que debió pasar y no sabemos. Lo mejor: las reflexiones del autor sobre el proceso de contar una historia.

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