in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. The Cosmopolitans, by Nadia Kalman.
If you read a Russian novel in English—-Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Gogol’s Dead Souls—-have you really read the novel at all? I ask this not as a person ready to denounce the weird syntax and general surreality of English translations of Russian novels, but as a lover of Russian literature who doesn’t speak or read Russian and, as a result, wonders whether he’s ever actually read any. Or is what English-speaking folk love so about Russian literature not the literature itself, but the translation—-the sheer oddball-ness of the way Russian is rendered into English? (And, parenthetically, why is Prince Myshkin such an idiot in The Idiot?) I don’t know, but this newish novel is about Russians, but written in English, so don’t even worry about this meta-lexicographical problem if you pick it up. Whew.
2. Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, by Lauren Redniss.
This cutesy book with a lot of pictures is about the tragic fates of the doomed couple that discovered radium/radiation. It’s a little bit chic-lit and a little bit Starbucks—-not the story, but the illustrations—-so I was tempted to dismiss it, but then I figured that good information is good information even when its accompanying art reminds me of the cover of The Devil Wears Prada. Why hate?
3. Haiti Noir, edited by Edwidge Danticat.
Akashic put this out as part of its “[Random Geographical Location] Noir” series just in time for the anniversary of Earthquake … um… the earthquake in Haiti. (I was about to type “Earthquake Katrina.” Why don’t earthquakes have names?) “Always cool to read something from Haiti these days that’s not about USAID, even if it is about murderers and serial killers and whatever else might put the ‘noir’ in this ‘noir’ collection!” I exclaim while sliding into a bubbling pool of liquid gold.
4. She Was One of Us: Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Worker, by Brigid O’Farrell.
Labor unions and their bearded supporters kind of bum me out with their soggy, stained fliers and pointless elections for shop steward and poorly laid-out newsletters printed in the service of generally hopeless causes, but they bum me out in a good way, like realizing “Starsky & Hutch” starring Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller is playing on USA on a Sunday afternoon.
5. Tonight No Poetry Will Serve: Poems 2007-2010, by Adrienne Rich.
Nobody really wants to read poetry, or eat kale. People want to read the novelization of “The Goonies” and eat chocolate. But, like kale, poetry’s good for you. And Adrienne Rich’s metaphorical kale is the chocolate-tiest of the bunch.