The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares, and The Houseguest & Other Stories by Amparo Dávila

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The Invention of Morel is a classic of Latin American literature written by one of its premier writers of the 20th century. These are facts, yet I only heard of it for the first time within the past year, and indirectly while reading about Jorge Luis Borges. Its author, Adolfo Bioy Casares, was an equal to his lifelong friend and collaborator during their respective lifetimes, but while Borges’ influence has spread with fittingly labyrinthian pervasiveness over all of literature since his death, Casares’ has faded – at least in regard to English speaking audiences. I make this judgement after looking for other books by the very prolific Casares in print/translation, and the only titles other than Morel I am able to find are another short fantastical novel, Asleep in the Sun, a collection of stories, A Russian Doll & Other Stories, and an experimental murder mystery he co-wrote with Sylvina Ocampo (another widely respected writer in her lifetime whose work remains almost entirely untranslated into English), Where There’s Love, There’s Hate. Even his collaborations with Borges appear to have faded out of print.

Morel is an eerie, hypnotic, and wildly inventive novella that deserves to be read and discussed alongside the best of Borges’ stories. The New York Review Books edition even comes with a prologue by Borges expressing his admiration for the novella with absolutely no restraint. And that is the last time I will mention Casares’ legendary friend.

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Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño

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Taking nearly a year to read a new Roberto Bolaño is an unforgivable sin. Bolaño is the kind of writer who, once discovered, should be returned to every six months at the least. The cause of this shameful delay on my part is because for the past year I have been intending on reading his 900-page posthumously published finale, 2666. The past couple years I have been working hard to get better at reading more 500-plus-page books, but I definitely haven’t reached the point where I can pick up an 900-pager without months of deliberation. Last year I read Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote (it’s amazing, read it), clocking in at a satisfying 1,000 pages. By the end of this year, my goal is to finally read 2666.

Diversion aside, while I didn’t read Bolaño’s magnum opus, I did read a book that nonetheless reveals his genius. Nazi Literature in the Americas is structured as an encyclopedia of writers who were either born or based in Latin America and North America, and, as the title implies, whose work and private life were politically and/or morally dubious. But as a master craftsman, Bolaño takes this idea and explores it with eloquent subtlety.

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The Answers by Catherine Lacey

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A lesser writer would have taken the concept behind The Answers and used its strangeness as a vehicle for quirk and comedy. But in Catherine Lacey’s hands, the story is explored with complete seriousness and a mournful melancholy that manages to make even the most exaggerated moments deeply touching.

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Amazon Broke The Sale Embargo on the new Handmaid’s Tale Sequel, and I’m Never Buying A Book From Them Again

Long title, I know, but each word is necessary. This is my first ever post on here that isn’t essentially a book review, but I need to say this.

Fuck Amazon.

Amazon has broken the sale embargo on The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and one of the most hugely anticipated  books in recent memory. If you don’t know what a sale embargo is, and I only do because I worked at a bookstore for two years. it is an official restriction on selling a particular book until it’s official release date. Penguin Random House and Hachette are the two publishers that put embargoes on all of their new releases, the rest of the publishers reserve them for their most anticipated releases. The Testaments is published by Penguin Random House, but it would have been embargoed no matter who published it. And Amazon knows this, and in spite of that they have already been sending out copies of the book a week in advance.

Any independent bookstore worth your love and respect respects embargoes. It is a way of levelling the playing field for all bookstores, and, again, any bookstore that is worth your love and respect is trying to help all independent bookstores survive. Amazon does none of this. The way in which Amazon sells books – cutting prices and taking a loss specifically to get you to buy from them and abandon bookstores, opening up trashy boutique bookstores, breaking embargoes, etc. etc. – is designed to run independent bookstores out of business. If you went into a bookstore every day for an entire week it wouldn’t take more than a day or two for you to overhear a customer asking a bookseller why they are selling a book for so much more than it is on Amazon (i.e., selling it for it’s listed price on the book itself) and complaining that having to wait two to three days for a book is unnecessary when they could get it from Amazon the next day. And the way these customers say these things clearly show that they think the store itself is at fault for realities out of the store’s control, and that them buying the book from Amazon is a just punishment for the store’s negligence.

Amazon is making us ungrateful shitheads. We need what we want NOW not LATER. Waiting is a compromise, and this is the 21st century where compromises are faults in reality to be conquered. Let’s just conveniently ignore that our rampant commercialism and needing everything we want immediately is destroying our planet, running independent businesses out of business, and killing service workers such as the delivery drivers that are forced to follow the impossible deadlines in order to get you your themed dildos and pumpkin spice face cream in time for your required next-day delivery.

I wish I could say I was a total Amazon boycotter like multiple of my former bookstore co-workers, but I’m not. I have Prime, I watch their shows and movies and utilize Prime to buy amenities that I probably wouldn’t ever take the time to show for at a store. And I’ve bought books. After beginning to work at Books Inc. in San Francisco I mostly limited myself to buying books from third-party sellers. But of course Amazon’s third-party practices are as godawful as the rest of the company.

So now, after years of complacency and indulgence in lazy convenience, I will finally put my money where my mouth is in an admittedly rather limited capacity, and maybe this will lead to future strength of mind. I hereby vow to never buy a book from Amazon again. I have prompted my friends and will now prompt you as well: if you see or (more likely for you) hear of me purchasing books from Amazon I urge you to terrorize me into buying a plane or bus ticket so you can come to where I live and punch me in the face.

One more time: fuck Amazon.

 

The New Me by Halle Butler

The New Me by Halle Butler proves that it is possible for a book to simultaneously confirm all our worst fears about the meaninglessness of modern life and to also serve as an argument for why it’s (mostly) worth living.

Millie is a thirty-year-old temp starting yet another low-paying office job as an assistant receptionist at an upscale design studio. She dislikes all of the women she works with and spends her considerable amount of free time overhearing their conversations and basking in how much more vapid and frivolous they are than her. She spends her evenings at the messy apartment her parents pay for, watching Forensic Files on a loop, eating the sad dinners that she can afford on her $12 an hour salary, and getting drunk on booze that she bought with money she could’ve used for food instead. If reading any of this is making you feel like a mirror is being mockingly held in your face, you are part of a gloriously miserable troupe known as Millennials. With infectious mirth Butler hits on the ceaseless anxiety, manic rage, and chronic helplessness that is existing in the 21st century.

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Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Things We Lost In The Fire by Mariana Enriquez was a unique reading experience. I distinctly recall being left somewhat disappointed by a number of the stories in this collection, especially the first few. They all would end with an explosion of nightmarish and violent imagery with complex supernatural elements, definitely following the end-with-a-bang mentality. And this endings would be a let down because Enriquez did such a good job building the atmosphere, sending the reader deeper into her characters’ nightmares, and you’d know that something horrifying was looming ever-closer. The endings just didn’t seem to add as much to the story as I had hoped, and took on the quality of a lot of shock and flash lacking substance. But at some point in the collection the complex themes and ideas of the stories started to align fantastically with the deeply disturbing imagery that Enriquez is so gifted at creating in every story.

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V. by Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon’s debut novel V. was published when he was twenty-six. V. is sprawling, overwhelmingly complex, and clocks in at a nimble 547 pages. I turned twenty-six this year, and what life’s work can I place next to Pynchon’s at the same age? Well, I’ve written a handful of messy and pretentious short stories, and many messy and pretentious book and film reviews, and only the latter was published by anyone other than myself, albeit on tiny websites. But enough with the existential crisis this is causing me, writing about this book will be challenging enough.

At twenty-six, Pynchon had a comprehensive knowledge of a staggering amount of historical and technical information, which he expressed through V., with some of the novel’s most significant examples being: the British intellectual and political communities in Egypt at the end of 19th century, espionage in Florence circa 1899, German expatriates in 1920s South Africa, the Herero wars, Malta in the midst of the Suez Crisis and under German bombardment in World War II, and, lastly, the bohemian scene of 1950s New York City (although Pynchon did see this first-hand).

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