All posts by Kadi Hughes

SnarkNotes: The 3 Percent

As readers, we are spoiled by all the wonderful books written in English. But there is a vast world of international literature out there. The oft-quoted statistic is only 3 percent of all books published annually in English are translated works — an astounding number when you think of all the different cultures and languages not represented. Consider this a chance to take an international jaunt from your armchair. We’ve pulled together some of our favorite Books in Translation from the past few years. Tray tables up! We’re off to South America, the Middle East, and Russia.

atnightincirclesAt Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón (Peru)
Peruvian writer Daniel Alarcón’s At Night We Walk in Circles is a slow-burning, unnerving novel.  In an unnamed South American country, Henry was a celebrated, radical playwright who had been imprisoned for his work. After prison and divorce, he attempts to reclaim the glory days of his theater group, Diciembre, with a new tour through the countryside. Nelson, a young and heartbroken actor, joins Diciembre, and is willing to give up everything to work with his idol. Little does he know how much he will end up giving as the tour unearths personal and political demons.
You Should Read It If…you like surreal novels with political allegory and dramatic third acts.
Culture Binge Mashup: Blindness by José Saramago meets The Motorcycle Diaries meets Waiting for Guffman

PeopleofforeverThe People of Forever Are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu (Israel)
In Shani Boianjiu’s powerful debut novel, Yael, Ashivag, and Lea are childhood friends from a small, dusty border town in Israel. They each enter compulsory military service and journey down drastically different paths. Each woman deals with sex, relationships and their own limited futures with a war zone as backdrop. The women gossip, bicker, and love all while preparing constantly for a disaster that may never come. While the book has a lightness and humor, Boianjiu doesn’t shy away from the complicated political situation of the country, and exposes the complexity of growing up in modern Israel.
You Should Read It If…you like warts-and-all female coming-of-age novels.
Culture Binge Mash-up: Girls meets The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien meets Jarhead.

icetrilogyThe Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin (Russia)
Vladimir Sorokin is widely held as one of the best contemporary Russian writers. The Ice Trilogy is an eerie epic combining science-fiction, New Ageism, Soviet propaganda, and pulpy mayhem. A group of scientists trek into Siberia in 1908 to uncover a mysterious object that fell from the sky, a giant block of ice. Our narrator has a spiritual awakening from the ice and embarks on a  spirit quest around the country to find his kindred, The Children of the Light, awakening them and bringing around the destruction of the world. But in the end do they find redemption or illusion? There is no way around it — this is a really, really strange book. You might not like it but it will haunt you after reading.
You Should Read It If…you like postmodern parody, speculative fiction, Russian intensity, and ice.
Culture Binge Mash-up: Dune meets Doomsday Cults meets 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

What else do you think should be on our list? 

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Lit Links: Is the CIA Behind Your MFA?

How Iowa Flattened Literature
Is the CIA behind your MFA? The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at the original and rapid rise of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and how it shaped contemporary literature.

A Physics of the Heart: On Grief, M-Theory, and Skippy Dies
Writer Kalpana Narayan reads Paul Murray’s brilliant novel Skippy Dies as a way to process her friends’ deaths and hope for different outcomes in a parallel universe.

411 on Indie Books of 2014
The Outlet has compiled a best-of list of books coming out this year from independent publishers. We’re especially looking forward to Noir: A Love Story by Edward J Rathke (CCM).

The Check Is in the Mail
In September, bestselling author James Patterson pledged $1 million of his personal wealth to support independent bookstores. He started mailing out installments to bookstores across the country this week. You can still nominate your favorite shop here.

Laughing Politely with Mark Twain
The latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is dedicated to all things comedy, including a wonderful essay c. 1870 by Mark Twain about playing to a tough crowd in Boston.

Check back each Friday for new Lit Links, a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb.

Speakeasy with Gary Shteyngart

Speakeasy is our weekly Q&A series with authors, publishers, agents and literary ne’er-do-wells. We put our interviewees through a grueling questionnaire and chat a bit about their upcoming projects. 

After three acclaimed novels (The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, Absurdistan, Super Sad True Love Story), Gary Shteyngart delves candidly into his own life with his latest, Little Failure: A Memoir. Using his trademark self-deprecation, linguistic wit and sharp observations, Shteyngart covers his childhood immigration from the USSR to the USA,  his colorful parents and being a cultural misfit. As in his previous works, Shteyngart has created a hilarious book that deftly exposes deeper truths and realities.

Culture Binge chatted with the always charming and clever Shteyngart on bathroom reading, dachshund-cuddling, and boycotting the Sochi Olympics (but not for the reasons you think).

What book do you wish you’d written?
Nabokov’s Pnin. It’s so much better than my books. But then he’s dead and I’m alive. Mwahahaha.

Hemingway had mojitos, Raymond Chandler had gimlets. Henry Miller had French prostitutes. Hunter S. Thomson had, well, everything. What are your writing vices?
Is dachshund-cuddling a vice? Cause I’m doing it right now. Instead of penning the next semi-okay American novel I’m doing belly kisses and snout snuggles.

What book is currently on your nightstand/next to your toilet?
All of them. My library is funneled directly to my toilet. That is also where I produce content.

At cocktail parties, what do you tell people you do for a living?
Air conditioning and refrigerator repair. It’s a growth industry.

In Little Failure, you mention the rather gruesome deaths of family members (an uncle mutilated in Stalin’s labor camps, relatives who were buried alive). What would you like on your own tombstone epitaph?
Here Lies Shteyngart. He Grew Up Without Gulags and Death Camps, So He Tortured Himself.

Little Failure is your first memoir. What does memoir allow you to express that fiction doesn’t?
It allows me to put in some truly amazing photos of myself in a sailor suit climbing a makeshift ladder in 1970s Leningrad. Couldn’t do that in a novel.

As someone very familiar with the absurd reality of modern Russia, which story coming out of the coverage of the Olympics in Sochi have you found the most amusing?
I’m celebrating 41 years of not giving a damn about the Winter Olympics. There’s no badminton in this thing, so who cares. Let it all go to hell.

Gary Shteyngart will speak at The Philadelphia Free Library on Monday, February 24 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $15. Little Failure: A Memoir is on sale now at your local independent bookstore or via Amazon.

SnarkNotes: The Latest and Greatest

There are a lot of excellent books out there. But reading takes time and no matter how much you may want to read, things can get in the way — like day-long Netflix binges, crafting Spotify playlists that make you look effortlessly cool, Instagramming your cat attacking the wind, etc. Fear not! Culture Binge presents a weekly feature, SnarkNotes, to cut through the cluttered world of books and guide you toward what you should be reading.

We’re kicking off the series by bringing you up to speed on The Latest and Greatest recent novels. At the end of each year, there’s always a pileup of “Best of” lists, literary prizes and holiday releases. Now that the dust has settled and we are firmly in 2014, we’ve taken stock of all of the recommendations, rants and raves and distilled them to our top picks.

the_luminaries_a_pThe Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
This whopper of a book (over 800 pages) garnered 28-year-old New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton the 2013 Man Booker prize. Set in New Zealand in the height of the gold rush of the 1860s, The Luminaries has an extraordinary cast of characters: lucky prospectors and unlucky indentured Chinese laborers, crafty criminals and vengeful opium dealers, an honest newspaperman and a pessimistic Maori, an opportunistic madam and a romantic whore. Their lives intersect with the murder of a hermit and the disappearance of a wealthy prospector—but these relationships are more fated than they first appear.  The book was just optioned for a BBC miniseries so read it now to be ahead of the culture curve.
You Should Read It If… you like deliciously rich Dickensian novels with fully-formed, complex characters and touches of the supernatural.
Culture Binge Mashup Deadwood meets Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh meets The Lumineers.

the_flamethrowersThe Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
In Rachel Kushner’s novel (a finalist for the National Book Award),  a young, unnamed female narrator leaves her native Nevada to make it in the New York art world of the 1970s. She falls in with a successful Italian artist—heir to a motorcycle empire—and his eccentric circle of philandering artists, drunk patrons, naive scenesters and broken dolls. She races motorcycles, travels to Italy,  and gets pulled into the revolutionary spirit of the decade. A novel about speed, youth and messy love, The Flamethrowers is a fantastic portrayal of a young woman navigating an insane world and realizing that people can be pretty shitty.
You Should Read It If… you love strong female narrators, motorcycle racing and wish you had experienced NYC before Giuliani.
Culture Binge Mashup Warhol’s Factory meets Antonioni’s Blow-Up meets Chrissie Hynde.

thegoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
A literary darling, Donna Tartt (A Secret History, The Little Friend)  publishes a book about once every 10 years. Each one is worth the wait. In her latest, The Goldfinch, teenager Theo Decker is examining a Dutch masterwork, “The Goldfinch,”  at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with his mother when a bomb explodes and his life is shattered. He shuttles from a friend’s home on the Upper East Side to his estranged father’s rough scene in Las Vegas and back to New York, all the while carrying a deep secret and haunting guilt. He befriends an energetic and damaged Ukrainian, Boris, who shepherds him into a strange underground of international art theft and Russian gangsters.
You Should Read It If… you like larger-than-life characters, beautifully constructed prose and epic relationships.
Culture Binge Mashup Great Expectations meets Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann meets In Bruges.

Lit Links: Literature’s “Women Problem,” Lego Red Wedding

Every Friday, we share a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb. 

How to Tweet like Boris from The GoldfinchThe Million‘s Claire Cameron nails the voice of Donna Tartt’s most fun character.

Millions of People Reading Alone, Together The Atlantic looks at the success of Goodreads and what this means for publishing.

Literature’s “Women Problem” Spurred by Wikipedia’s recent move to separate female writers from American writers, Brainpickings revisits anecdotes by Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates and more on the issue of being “a writer who is also a woman.”

On the Road, now in Google Maps – A German student, Gregor Weichbrodt, plugged all the coordinates mentioned in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road into Google Maps, creating a new document for Beat die-hards to follow.

Your favorite scenes from literature…now in Lego form.  British book retailer Waterstones is running a Lego competition, so get in your best versions of Pet Sematary or Infinite Jest while you can.
(via Bookriot)

**Image is “The Red Wedding” from George R.R. Martin’s Storm of Swords. And you thought we weren’t going to do anything special for Valentine’s Day!