Words Without Borders Staff Picks for Summer Reading

By Bud Parr


It was awkward at first. Halfway through our annual Memorial Day Words Without Borders vs Doctors Without Borders softball game, Joshua – our shortstop – starts asking us all what we’re recommending to our friends to read this summer. You can guess the outcome of the game, but I did manage to jot down some of the suggestions I heard while playing outfield:


Geoff (pitcher) said “I’ve been reading African memoirs lately, and amid accounts of child soldiers, genocide, slavery, and FGM, I was charmed to discover “An African in Greenland,” written by Téte-Michel Kpomassie and translated from the French by James Kirkup. Kpomassie, a native of Togo, had a near-death experience after falling from a coconut tree. In his unsettled state he encountered a book about the Eskimos, and the result was a highly unusual cross-cultural adventure.”


Joshua (shortstop) said “I'll be reading small press books this summer including Jan Kjaerstad’s The Conqueror, Jakov Lind’s Landscape in Concrete (both by Open Letter, publisher of the upcoming Words Without Borders anthology, The Wall in My Head), Javiar Marias’s Voyage Along the Horizon, and Harry Stephen Keeler’s The Riddle of the Traveling Skull (both by McSweeney’s). An older book that I just read and would recommend for summer reading is Idiots: Five Fairy Tales and Other Stories by Jakob Arjouni, translated by Anthea Bell.”


Sam (first base) recommended 2666 by Roberto Bolaño: "Nightmare-inducing, labyrinthine novel centered around the murder of hundreds of women in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso. Transports you from the eastern front of WWII to pre-millenial Mexico, across thousands of miles and scores of years. Buy the three paperback, slip-covered volume for portability and beach-reading."

She also recommended Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya (see his writing at Words Without Borders here). "Hard core readers have raved about this slip of the novel, which begins, 'I am not complete in the mind.' The narrator has been retained by the catholic church to copyedit an 1100 page report on war crimes committed in Guatemala's civil war. Best read in one sitting, ideal for a 2 or 3 hour plane trip."


Marc (catcher) is reading the complete stories of John Updike and discovering the work of Larry Brown. He said he's looking forward to two soon-to-be-published novels, Generosity: An Enhancement by Richard Powers and The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. (We teased him for not being more "international" in his reading for a Words Without Borders guy, but he hit a home run (the only one of the game) so we left him alone.)


Rohan (third base) recommended Ode to Kirihito by Osamu Tezuka (see his writing at Words Without Borders here). "Get wrapped up in this larger-than-life morality tale from "God of Manga" Osamu Tezuka. Striking for its deft pacing, its resolutely manga roots and its willingnesss to combine melodrama and Christian iconography with the dark, macabre and comic, Ode to Kirihito is epic narrative in manga compression--the perfect 832-page-bolt of oddities, deliverance, reversals and revelations to jump-start your summer reading. "


Ana María (right field) gave a great recommendation that I'm going to have to read: The Exception by Christian Jungersen, translated by Anna Paterson, published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday: “A terrifying examination of how our natural propensity for self-justification can tip us headlong into dehumanizing evil.”


Susan (second base) recommended Cesar Aira’s Ghosts. "Set on a blazingly hot New Year’s Eve in a half-built Buenos Aires luxury high-rise inhabited only by the caretaker’s family and a flock of startlingly carnal ghosts; languor gives way to suspense and a shocking, inexorable conclusion."

She is also looking forward to reading Jose Manuel Prieto’s Rex, Merce Rodoreda’s Death in Spring, and Roberto Bolaño’s Skating Rink (due out in August).


Nicolle (left field) said "this summer, I am going to read 1. Wonder by Hugo Claus (Archipelago, May 2009 release) and so should you. Belgian Fascists are great for thebeach! 2. The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales (New Directions, May 2009 release) because Cuban halfway houses surely are light beach reading and 3. anything else I can get my hands on. I hear Ugly Duckling's got some Russian poets on the way too.


And me? I have something unusual (for me) to recommend: Emmanuel Guibert's The Photographer, which is the story of a 1986 Doctors Without Borders mission in Afghanistan told through Guibert's illustrations and photographs by his friend, the photo-journalist Didier Lefèvre (who subsequently died at the early age of 49). I saw Guibert speak at the PEN World Voices Festival and was not only moved by what he said of the book but also by his passion for his friend Lefèvre and his work. Translated by Alexis Siegel, the book's power comes out of the black and white photographs and the storyboard, which gives each picture context and continuity; together an entirely unique form of storytelling.

One I'm looking forward to reading is Julio Cortázar's Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, which he wrote in the eighties, but was only translated into English a couple of years ago by Anne McLean for Archipelago Books. As Pablo Neruda said "Anyone who doesn't read Cortázar is doomed."



Anyone who witnessed my short career with the Skaneateles Little League would have known better than to make me the pitcher. Deep right field would be more like it. But I’m honored.
COMMENT: I love your final quote. I love the full quote:


“Anyone who doesn’t read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a serious invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who has never tasted peaches. He would quietly become sadder… and, probably, little by little, he would lose his hair.”



Also: Words Without Borders, PEN American Center would like to challenge you to a softball game.
DATE: 05/29/2009 10:33:43 AM

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