Category Archives: Hooray Fiction!

Patti Smith’s Berlin

Patti Smith's Berlin 1

Patti Smith’s most recent memoir, M Train, was my amiable, occasionally absent-minded companion through the frigid first weeks of January in Berlin. Work commitments kept me apart from my husband for the early part of the year, and my solitude created an ideal state of mind to absorb M Train, which in large part is a meditation on being a woman alone in the world—and the search for a great cup of coffee.

Smith writes about her home life in New York City, which centers around a now-shuttered coffee shop, Café ’Ino, and Rockaway Beach, where she impulse-buys a modest bungalow she nicknames the Alamo. She takes us with her on her travels: French Guiana, London, Mexico, Japan, Yorkshire, Tangier, and, as luck would have it, Berlin. At loose ends one weekend while reading the book, I retraced her steps around the city.

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On Earth Is He Doing Here?

The Seven Madmen

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Jorge Luis Borges writes in “The Argentine Writer and Tradition,”

For many years, in books now happily forgotten, I tried to copy down the flavor, the essence of the outlying suburbs of Buenos Aires. Of course, I abounded in local words; I did not omit such words as cuchilleros, milonga, tapia and others, and thus I wrote those forgettable and forgotten books. Then, about a year ago, I wrote a story called “Death and the Compass,” which is a kind of nightmare, a nightmare in which there are elements of Buenos Aires, deformed by the horror of the nightmare. […] There I think of the Paseo Colón and call it rue de Toulon; I think of the country houses of Adrogue and call them Triste-leRoy; when this story was published, my friends told me that at last they had found in what I wrote the flavor of the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Precisely because I had not set out to find that flavor, because I had abandoned myself to a dream, I was able to accomplish, after so many years, what I had previously sought in vain.

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Rufus Wainwright’s Ten Favorite Books

RW10B

Here they are:  Continue reading

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The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye

Sometimes admiration makes you chatty. How many people read Karl Ove Knausgaard and just have to tell you about him?

Other times, admiration strikes you dumb. This is one of those times.

Maybe one reason why I have very little to say about my admiration of The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is because I don’t often read graphic novels. In fact I’ve been kind of an asshole about them in the past. Which leaves me ill-equipped to articulate what’s so great about the ones that really grab me.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye is a 300-page graphic novel about the birth of the country of Malaysia, told through the biography of its greatest (fictional) comic book artist, using every style you can think of: sepia-toned realism, bright bursting Sunday newspaper panels, superhero action sequences, sketchbooks, painted portraits, political propaganda posters, etc. It seems that author Sonny Liew is fifteen different talents in one. This book is art. It’s history. It’s a slippery biography of a fascinatingly realistic character. Continue reading

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Q&A with Minsoo Kang, Translator of The Story of Hong Gildong

The Story of Hong Gildong

Five hundred years ago there was a bandit in Korea named Hong Gildong. His life inspired a story that has been told countless times since then–the story of a magical boy who joins a group of bandits and becomes their king. To celebrate the new English translation of The Story of Hong Gildong, we asked Minsoo Kang a few questions.

When did you first encounter the story of Hong Gildong?

The figure of Hong Gildong is so ubiquitous in modern Korean culture that anyone who grew up in the country would be familiar with the hero as a part of his or her childhood memory. So I cannot pinpoint when exactly I first encountered him, in the same way as it would be impossible for most Americans to remember when exactly they first discovered Superman or Batman. His story is indeed so well known that most Koreans can recite Hong Gildong’s lament at his condition of being an illegitimate child, how he cannot even “address his father as Father and older brother as Brother.” Even here in the United States, I am rather delighted whenever I mention my translation project to Korean-Americans and they respond by saying “Hong Gildong! My childhood hero!” Continue reading

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Imaginary Friends

socal mansion

In high school my friends and I daydreamed about the big house we’d all buy together when we grew up. It would be a big house in Southern California, and every day would be a continuation of our glorious days of summer: dinner parties, Frisbee, car washes, greasy sandwiches, bonfires at the beach. We each had a role: handyman, cook, that guy who does all the spreadsheets.

Perhaps you all know how this ends. Perhaps it is hardly surprising for me to tell you that we are scattered now, that many of us no longer talk at all. I never told them this, but I didn’t want to live in California anyway.

To say we grew apart is a cheap explanation. It leaves much out. Growing apart—what does that mean? Why do some friendships grow and others grow apart? Where is the line between breathing space and total disconnection? Continue reading

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