Category Archives: Literature

How Culture Makes Us Feel: Announcing Avidly Reads

Interviewed by Evan Kindley

For the past five years, Avidly has been one of the most original, surprising, and entertaining venues for cultural criticism and personal narrative on the web. Founded by Sarah Mesle and Sarah Blackwood in 2012, Avidly has brought us essays on everything from Ernest Shackleton’s “Chilly Ponies” and weird sex to Brexit and Dylann Roof. Now Sarah and Sarah are bringing their sui generis editorial sensibility to a new book imprint, Avidly Reads, to be published under the auspices of NYU Press beginning in 2019. The first three titles — Jordan Stein’s Avidly Reads: Theory, Eric Thurm’s Avidly Reads: Board Games, and Kathryn Bond Stockton’s Avidly Reads: Making Out — have just been announced (and are described in detail below). I emailed the Sarahs to find out more about what they have in store. Continue reading

Think of It As An Existential Lesson: Deb Olin Unferth and Elizabeth Haidle’s I, Parrot

By Nathan Scott McNamara

I, Parrot is the graphic novel written by Deb Olin Unferth and illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle; it’s also the name of the how-to guide contained within. “If you have a parrot, you can be pretty certain this book is for you,” that manual reads. The guide appears throughout the graphic novel, framing the impossibility of the situation the narrator, Daphne, has ended up in. “Anyone who has a parrot is not up to the task. How do you think he likes being locked in a small dark box for his entire life? Do you think you can do anything other than try unsuccessfully to keep the bird from sliding into crippling, suicidal depression while you slowly squash every instinct he has?” The manual notes that birds fly over 100 miles a day. “Think of caring for your parrot as an existential lesson.” Continue reading

Come Rain or Shine: Marion Rankine Discusses the Complexities of the Common Brolly

By Cleaver Patterson

In today’s world of cutthroat publishing it’s some feat for a first time author to not only have their debut book snapped up by a renowned indie publisher like New York’s Melville House, but also have the head of said company approach you themselves about the project. But this was just the case for Australian writer Marion Rankine, whose book Brolliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature was published by the prizewinning publisher in November. Though umbrellas may sound an odd subject, Rankine’s quirky and beautifully illustrated book proves that there’s more to the humble brolly than simply a means to keep dry. As she explained to me when we spoke recently, writing about them has opened up a whole new world of the strange and bizarre. Continue reading

Electric Fences and Intersectionality: Michael Perry’s Montaigne in Barn Boots  

By Gretchen Lida

The 16th-century French nobleman Michel de Montaigne, widely considered the father of the essay, spent the second half of his life writing personal essays, and pioneered writing about such personal things as our bowel movements, our sex lives, and anything else that wandered into his private vineyard or snuck into his castle. Michael Perry’s new essay collection, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy, brings the essayist to life once more. Perry’s poignant, balanced, achingly funny prose is more than an ode to or critique of Michel De Montaigne. Instead, Perry uses the original essays to better understand his own life and bring a bit more humanity to an increasingly divisive world. Continue reading

The Olfactory Factory: Wolfgang Hilbig’s Old Rendering Plant

By Nathan Scott McNamara

In his 1939 essay “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire,” Walter Benjamin wrote about the way smell makes time dissolve: “The scent is the inaccessible refuge of memoire involontaire. It is unlikely to associate itself with a visual image; out of all possible sensual impressions, it will ally itself only with the same scent.” Benjamin references Marcel Proust’s famed “madeleine moment” from In Search of Lost Time, in which the taste of a pastry involuntarily transports the narrator back to Combray. “If the recognition of a scent can provide greater consolation than any other memory,” Benjamin continues, “this may be because it deeply anesthetizes the sense of time. A scent may drown entire years in the remembered odor it evokes.”  Continue reading

Ishiguro Before and After: On Translating a Nobel Laureate into Ukrainian

By Tetiana Savchynska

On October 5 I awoke to the news that Kazuo Ishiguro had received this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature. I was overjoyed. Over the past few months I had been translating his latest novel, The Buried Giant, into Ukrainian, and therefore felt a particular kinship with both the author and his characters. As with all my previous translations, during the translation process I had been worried about the work’s reception in Ukraine. I had often asked myself, “Would the book receive enough publicity? Would The Buried Giant make a splash in Ukrainian or remain largely unnoticed?” Continue reading

Ta-Nehisi Coates Discusses We Were Eight Years In Power, the Trump Administration, and the Influence of Hip-Hop on His Writing

By Pamela Avila

“You should be scared. You laugh not to cry, but don’t laugh too much, you should be scared,” said author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates to 1,270 people on November 6 during a sold-out event for his latest collection We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. Coates was in conversation with Elizabeth Hinton, author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America. She came with no softball questions, and Coates held no punches. Continue reading

Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Recommended Reading

By Anna Leahy

During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, some of us are getting screening mammograms, and others are celebrating a breast cancer survival benchmark, our own or someone else’s. Some of us are calculating our breast cancer risk and realizing that most women will never develop breast cancer, but some will. Some of us are wearing pink ribbons and are heartened by bus drivers and police officers in pink hats, and others are cringing at what’s been dubbed pink-washing of a serious health and healthcare issue. Some of us are following Julia Louis Dreyfus, who announced on Twitter at the end of last month that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s tough for even a healthy adult woman in the United States to avoid thinking about this disease as we make our ways through October each year. Continue reading

Eve Ewing Bends Time and Space in Electric Arches

By Pamela Avila

Her book release party on September 12th at Marwen Gallery in Chicago sold out in 12 hours. Later that month, at bell hooks’s home in Kentucky, a woman read a poem off of Electric Arches at hooks’s intimate birthday gathering, to which she said, “About how old is this Eve? You can tell her I have her book and enjoyed her poem.”

Eve Ewing took to social media to share the indescribable excitement she felt when she heard the news. She also screamed into a pillow. Continue reading

Magical Monstrosity and Everyday Oppression Collide in Her Body and Other Parties

By Bradley Babendir

Carmen Maria Machado begins her debut by asserting control. The first story in Her Body and Other Parties, “The Husband Stitch,” starts with a parenthetical guide to reading the story aloud. There are five instructions, but two stand out; the first is for the narrator’s father: “kind, booming; like your father; or the man you wish was your father.” The second is for “all other women,” for whom the reader is instructed to use a voice “interchangeable” with the one they use for the narrator. This dynamic largely shapes the book, as Machado and her narrators recognize and battle against the heteropatriarchal structures that have tried to shape their lives. Continue reading