The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins

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Before reading Curtis Dawkins’ short story collection The Graybar Hotel, you should decide how you’re going to come to terms with Dawkins’ crime of murder that put him in prison for life without parole. Decide if you are comfortable with the book’s profits going to an “education fund” for Dawkins’ children.

In the early morning of Oct. 31, 2004, Dawkins shot Thomas Bowman to death during a drug-fueled crime spree in a neighborhood of Kalamazoo, Michigan. In his book, the only explicit reference to the murder is “The night I killed a man was a horrible ordeal, especially for his family, my family” in the book’s acknowledgments. This detached and somewhat unapologetic sentiment is followed by “you learn within twenty-four hours of hearing a prison door slam shut, either you will die regretting the past or you’ll learn to live in the present.” He is correct. Pages of melodramatic regret would not change anything. Continue reading

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What to Read in December

The Vanishing Princess by Jenny Diski: “The stories in The Vanishing Princess showcase a rarely seen side of this beloved writer, channeling both the piercing social examination of her nonfiction and the vivid, dreamlike landscapes of her novels.”

Ultraluminous by Katherine Faw: “A high-end, girlfriend-experience prostitute has just returned to her native New York City after more than a decade abroad―in Dubai, with a man she recalls only as the Sheikh―but it’s unclear why exactly she’s come back. The daring new novel from Katherine Faw, the brilliant author of Young God, is a scintillating story of money, sex, and power told in Faw’s viciously sharp prose.”

The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke: “Yan Lianke―“China’s most feted and most banned author” (Financial Times)―is a master of imaginative satire, and his prize-winning works have been published around the world to the highest honors. Now, his two most acclaimed novellas are collected here in a single volume―masterfully crafted stories that explore the sacrifices made for family, the driving will to survive, and the longing to leave behind a personal legacy.”

Also this month: We’ll interview Michelle Kuo, review The Graybar Hotel, and reveal the 10 Best Books of 2017…

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The Literary Tourist Interviews Sam Taylor

The Literary Tourist is a column of conversations between literary translators about newly released books in translation. This month Andrea Gregovich interviews novelist, journalist, and French translator Sam Taylor, author of The Ground is Burning and The Republic of Trees. The Seventh Function of Language, a bawdy and fanciful detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, is the second novel Sam has translated by France’s Laurent Binet.

Andrea Gregovich: The Seventh Function of Language is a detective novel about the death of Roland Barthes, who in real life died when he got hit by a laundry van under what I’ve always understood to be unsuspicious circumstances. This novel proposes, instead, a fictitious conspiracy around his death: he was onto a higher function of language than the ones he’d already identified in his theoretical work, and this new function would allow a speaker to use their words to make anyone do anything. Kind of the holy grail of literary theory, which could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I’m fascinated by this Seventh Function—did the author invent this? Is it a concept somewhere in the texts of literary theory?

Sam Taylor: My understanding is that it was originally a minor addendum to Roman Jakobson’s six functions of language, which Laurent Binet imagined as a sort of superpower. Continue reading

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The Writer’s Diary

For much of 2017, a writer’s diary has been on my nightstand. I started with Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On, his diaries from 2005-2015; then Joan Didion’s South and West: From a Notebook, written in 1970 and 1976; and finally, David Sedaris’s Theft by Finding, covering a quarter of a century starting in 1977. The genre is not a staple for me. It was a coincidence that three writers I admire published such books within seven months of each other. That I consumed them in rapid succession attests to my previously unrealized appetite for information about their lives.

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Non-Fiction by Non-Men: Sarah Perry

Sarah Perry is the author of After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, A Daughter’s Search, a memoir about her mother Crystal’s murder when Perry was twelve and the subsequent over-a-decade-long investigation. Perry holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction from Columbia University, where she served as publisher of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and was a member of the journal’s nonfiction editorial board. She is the recipient of a Writers’ Fellowship from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and a Javits Fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education, and has attended residencies at Norton Island in Maine and PLAYA in Oregon. Perry’s prose has appeared in Blood & Thunder magazine, Bluestockings Literary, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn and should not be confused with the British author Sarah Perry.

EB: How did you begin writing nonfiction?

SP: I was a self-identified writer as a kid, a big nerd, and as I mention in my book, I liked to write stories. But after my mom died, it became not fun anymore—the trauma of the incident had filled up my imagination. I always wanted to get back, though. I wrote bad poetry in high school, like we all did—

EB: Yup. Continue reading

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Binging on John Updike

Stunning Sentences

Pigeon Feathers led to Problems and Other Stories, to Trust Me, In the Beauty of the Lilies, Seek My Face, and The Widows of Eastwick. I didn’t set out to make a knick in Updike’s massive oeuvre; rather, I got sucked in, his writing mesmerizing me with one explosive image after another. Ultimately I was humbled—my writing felt anemic compared to his—and inspired to work harder, see more.

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