Trove Vol. 1: Take Us Back
January 2021's backlist book recommendations
Hello and welcome to the first issue of Trove! As booksellers, we often feel pressure to skim through the ever-accumulating piles of new books that arrive at our stores every season, every month, every day. We found that trying to keep up, or valuing a book’s merit based on how new or seemingly “urgent” it was, was in fact making us lose sight of our love of literature. So as a rebellion against the tireless emphasis on the new and buzzy books of the moment, we’re carving out time to go beyond what the Internet lists are telling us to read. Instead, we’ll be dedicating this newsletter to celebrating the vast trove of gorgeous and enduring books from days past and across all genres.
Trove is book recommendations, micro reviews, reading advice, collages, love notes to writers, translators, and publishers, and above all, a place to remember books that continue to thrill us about the possibilities of literature.
We are living through a uniquely awful present. So what better time to dip back into the past?
Emma & Cristina
Moderato Cantabile by
Marguerite Duras, translated by Richard Seaver (1966)
Marguerite Duras’s Moderato Cantabile is, perhaps, a perfect book. It is vague and repetitive, nearly nothing happens and yet, every time I reread it I learn something new, find myself unsettled all over again. There is a murder on the street outside a café. A woman hears the scream during her son’s piano lesson and then returns to the café every night for a week. She sits with the same man as they feed each other’s imaginations, spinning stories of what could have led to such a crime, drinking always more and more, while the people of the town stare on uncomfortably, aware of what is taking place. Every night the woman walks back to the house she shares with her husband later and later, more and more intoxicated, sick from wine and something else happening inside of her; she is trapped and hurtling towards breaking point. For those who like a taut atmosphere and stories of women clawing at their cages. —ER
Attempts At a Life by Danielle Dutton (2007) | fiction,
Tarpaulin Sky Press
It’s difficult to categorize Danielle Dutton’s debut novel. Attempts at a Life has the qualities of micro-fiction, borders on biography, and also encompasses elements of poetry. Using fragmented thoughts and re-imaginations of past literary heroines, the result is a meticulous arrangement of collage-like narratives. While each short story offers its own literary treat (playful puns on classic titles, Sappho references, mentions of different literary works), the section “Everybody’s Autobiography, or Nine Attempts at a Life” is particularly delectable. In nine different segments the narrator creates various versions of the lives they could have led, each one set in a different decade or location, each one contemplating the intrinsic sadness and small joys of life. Dutton has gone on to write three other books and founded the cult-favorite small press Dorothy, a publishing project, but I’ll always be fond of this not-quite novella. For those who love the seductive nature of an experimental work and seek a dreamy exploration of the universes we build when we let our imaginations run wild. —CR
Ventrakl by Christian Hawkey (2010) | hybrid,
Ugly Ducking Presse
Christian Hawkey’s exhilarating book Ventrakl, somewhere between poetry, translation, and biography, redefines what all three can be. Hawkey writes through and around the poetry of Georg Trakl, a significant figure of 20th century German-language literature, whose experience in the war cast a dark light over the rest of his life. Hawkey’s own experience of the US war in Iraq lends him an entry point to Trakl’s poetry, which then spurs him into a writing experiment that goes ever deeper, intertwining their words and works. Hawkey’s attempts to “translate” or relate or perhaps simply connect to Trakl’s writing take the form of homophonic translations, “conversations” with the poet using lines from his work, cut-ups of his poems based on references to color, and other experimental translations that allow Hawkey to get to the bottom of Trakl’s writing and convey his inner world to us on the page. This book offers a way out of the author/translator dichotomy, and allows us to envision a new way to connect to the writers we love. For those interested in what translation can be and exploding binaries. —ER
The Almond: The Sexual Awakening of a Muslim Woman by Nedjma, translated by C. Jane Hunter (2006) | fiction,
In conversation with the author Nedjma, a pseudonym to protect their identity, the interviewee asks how they found their way to writing. Nedjma responds, “Oh, it’s really quite simple. It’s because I was fed up.” In the wake of 9/11, the xenophobic remarks, absurd judgements and inaccurate depictions of Arab and Muslim culture were, and remain, at an all-time high. Nedjma shatters preconceived ideas of female identity within Islamic societies, giving a sensory and experiential take of one woman’s journey in leaving a repressive culture and finding sexual enlightenment in the process. A balance between literary eroticism and political commentary, this novel predominately displays the power of pleasure while centering on the emotional, historical, human, and spiritual facets that build a life. For those interested in voices that break open the literary establishment and unveil the ways merely existing can be an act of dissent. —CR
Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump (2016)| fiction,
This month’s lost treasure—a book that is out of print or otherwise difficult to find—is Ladivine. French writer Marie NDiaye is a master of creating an unsettling atmosphere and delicately but ruthlessly picking apart her characters’ inner psyches, perhaps no more so than in Ladivine. A chilling and incisive novel about the cruelty we inflict on ourselves and on others in trying to escape where we come from or the parts of ourselves we most despise, somewhere at the intersection of Elena Ferrante and Franz Kafka. Ladivine might be Marie NDiaye’s least read English translation—it was never released in paperback—but I would argue by far her most layered and enthralling book translated into English by her ever-excellent Jordan Stump. A woman named Malinka changes her name, quits her job, and leaves town to keep her mother, of whom she is deeply ashamed, at arm’s length, never introducing her to her own daughter, who will go on to spurn Malinka in her turn. A humiliation transmitted through generations will lead a host of interconnected women—two of whom are named Clarisse, two of whom are named Ladivine—down strange and surreal paths in their desperate quest to find something resembling peace. A vacation spent in a curious country where everyone is convinced one of the women has just attended an extravagant wedding, a dutiful dog that seems to be another of these women reincarnated, and a murder trial are just a few of the elements that accumulate in the book’s ultimate question: What stares back at us when we stop being afraid to look? —ER