Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review: Flesh-Coloured Dominoes

Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Zigmunds Skujins
Translated from the Latvian by Kaija Straumanis
Arcadia Books
$29, 245 pgs
The evolution of mankind depends on its ability to adapt to its own inventions. - Janis
Flesh-Coloured Dominoes by Latvia's Zigmunds Skujins is part surreal farce, part exploration of identity and what it means to possess a collective national identity. The chapters alternate between the eighteenth century misadventures of the Baltic German aristocracy and the Romanovs of Russia and the coming of age of our nameless narrator during the Second World War. Although the two narratives come together - more or less - in the end to answer some of those identity questions, I found the two halves difficult to reconcile.

After his parents disappear with the circus, our narrator is raised by his grandfather, a wise and generous man whose "...old-fashioned ways were tied to exacting precision, his wild imagination to deep-seated knowledge. It's possible his old-fashioned ways weren't really him being old-fashioned, but a display of his disdain for conformity." That disdain for conformity will come in handy - also dangerous - when the Nazis and then the Soviets arrive in Latvia and your identity, and how it is determined, literally means the difference between life and death. The questions of identity raised in this narrative produce a genetic and philosophical knot.

Meanwhile, in the next chapter, Giuseppe Balsamo, alias Count Cagliostro, alias the Great Cophta, is at the height of his occult influence over the European nobility of the late eighteenth century. One of those who falls under his spell is Baroness von Brigen whose husband has reportedly been killed in battle. When the Count, during a séance, tells her otherwise, "Where there were two, now there is one..." in some sort of Frankenstein's monster scenario, the Baroness goes in search of the half of her husband that still exists. Guess which half. The questions of identity raised here are more obvious.

There is much humor to enjoy in Dominoes. Describing a wedding: "There's a mob of clergymen in front of the altar. There's one Orthodox parish priest dressed in gold, like an icon, with a golden mitre on his head. And one Lutheran pastor like a black rooster in a muster of peacocks." On the occasion of our narrator's brother falling in love: "Little is known even now of the nature of love. ... The newest theories about falling in love explain it prosaically - through the effects of dopamine and noradrenaline on the brain's limbic system. ... He [his brother] changed beyond recognition and displayed signs of the limbic system in motion - a person grows wistful, their awareness of the surrounding world decreases, they become particularly stubborn." Skujins is also a master of metaphor. On the impact upon realization of profound truths: "What strange, unbelievable things can happen in a lifetime! Steel structures collapse, the voices of angels are heard between the panting of hate, the adder slinks away with the king's crown on its head, and a newly realised truth slides across your face like a breeze that barely stirs even your eyelashes." On trying to move on after the war ended: "The shadows of our memories still snaked around our ankles, dragged like heavy hems..."

Zigmunds Skujins
The two halves of Flesh-Coloured Dominoes are so strikingly dissimilar as to cause the metaphorical equivalent of whiplash. One half is an irreverent, bawdy romp reminiscent of Rabelais that began rich in humor and word play but failed to evolve satisfactorily. This lack of development rendered the Baroness's narrative repetitive and the meandering quality became tiresome. Perhaps this was meant to convey the general lassitude of her social class during that time period. If so then I now understand the impetus for the French Revolution on a visceral level. Meanwhile the other half of this novel is a deeply affecting, thought-provoking, melancholy meditation on the nature of identity, both personal and national, that I thoroughly enjoyed. For example, this is a conversation between our narrator as a boy and his grandfather when German Latvians began returning to Germany before World War II (even this sentence is difficult to construct):
"Is nationality determined by what's in your blood?"
The question must have been surprising, because Grandfather picked up his magnifying glass again and peered at me through it.
"Empress Catherine II, Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, didn't see Russia once before she turned fifteen. Does that mean that she's not the empress of Russia? Is Hitler not German because Austrian blood, or blood from who knows what other countries, flows through his veins? Around the year 900 the Viking Rollo founded Normandy in northern France. He had a son out of wedlock with some French tanner's daughter; the son became England's William the Conqueror..."
"Then is the concept of nationality non-existent?"
"No, of course not. It's just not one easily explained. The grouping of people into nationalities is a phenomenon in itself...There are often centres of power that crop up in the world that collect and pump up the lesser powers. Until the moment when the totality starts to break up and separate. Connections create devastating tensions."
Indeed. I am left to ponder the possibility that these forcible distinctions will mean the extinction of us all.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Roundup: November 24 - 30

Bookish events in Texas for the week of November 24 - 30, 2014:

Special Events:
In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César ChávezConfederate Reunion Grounds - Mexia, September 27 - November 30

Ben Wheeler Book Fair, November 29

Monday, November 24:
Bookpeople, Musician, Author, TED talker AMANDA PALMER speaking & signing The Art of Asking, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, 7PM

OPAL DIVINE'S, MysteryPeople Presents NOIR AT THE BAR featuring: Glenn Gray, Matthew McBride, CB McKenzie, & Jesse Sublett

Katy Budget Books, M. E. May discusses and signs her Circle City Mystery series, featuring the launch of her newest title, Purged, 6PM

Tuesday, November 25:

B&N - Preston Royal, Sally Blanton, Andrea Alcorn and Steve Richardson sign 100 Things to Do in Dallas and Fort Worth Before You Die, 2PM

The Wild Detectives, Bonnie Friedman will read and sign Surrendering to Oz, 7PM

Rice University - Rice Media Center/Rice Cinema, Arts in the Humanities Lecture Series: Anthony Byrt - Clammy Pipes, or Other First World Problems (reception follows), 7PM

San Antonio
B&N, San Pedro, Sun Poets' Society Open Mic Poetry, 7PM

Wednesday, November 26:
Apparently everyone's cooking...or drinking.

Thursday, November 27:
Thanksgiving holiday - go home people!

Friday, November 28:
Spider House Ballroom, Testify ATX presents Leftovers (storytelling), 7PM

Saturday, November 29:
Texas Star Trading Company, Gus Perini signs (sort of - he's a Basset hound) Tails of Perini Ranch, 1PM

B&N - Arboretum, P.J. Hoover Meet and Greet Book Signing Tut The Story of My Immortal Life, 2PM

Bookpeople, Authors put indies first on Small Business Saturday! Austin authors Mark Pryor and Edward Carey will be selling today

Bookwoman, Indies First - Author Event with several local authors, including Spike Gillespie, Catherine Musemeche, MD, Pamela Ferguson, Debra Winegarten, Scott Wiggerman, Chandra Washington, Blythe Jewell, Mary Bryant Stafford, and Kelly I. Hitchcock, 12PM

El Paso
B&N - Fountains at Farrah, Mark Paulda Signing El Paso 120, 2PM

The Rock House, Bordersenses Barbed Wire Open Mic featuring Charley Barzz, 8PM

Brazos Bookstore, Indies First at Brazos! Come drink, eat cheese, and talk books with Houston writers Mark Dostert and Lacy M. Johnson, 6PM

Writespace, Open Mic Reading, 8PM

B&N - Shops @ North East Mall, Laurie Moore Book Signing Getting Mama Out of Hell, 1PM

B&N, Becoming Prince Charming by Stephanie Rankin book signing, 2PM

The Wine Nest, Indies First & Small Business Saturday: wine pairings with local authors and their works, including Kay Ellington & Barbara Brannon (The Paragraph Ranch), Bear Mills (Ecuadorian Deception) and Carol Morgan (Of Tapestry, Time & Tears), 3PM

Half Price Books, New York Times bestselling mystery author Deborah Crombie will volunteer as a bookseller as part of the Indies First/Small Business Saturday, 1PM

San Antonio
Paragraphs on Padre BoulevardLiterary Mercado, 1PM

B&N, Author Signing for Dr. Nathaniel Hearne - Friday Night Lights: Untold Stories From Behind the Lights, 1PM

Sunday, November 30:
Half Price Books Mother Ship, Wanda Vassallo will read a story from one of her children’s books and sign, including I Was the Mother of a Baby Duck, Animal Trials and Smiles and Lessons from Finned, Feathered and Furry Friends, 3PM


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Great Typo Hunt! (2011)

The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction At a Time  
Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson
Broadway Books
$14, 269 pgs

orthography    1.  The art or study of correct spelling according to established usage. 2. The aspect of language study concerned with letters and their sequences in words. 3. A method of representing a language or the sounds of language by written symbols; spelling.

I am nervous. I am about to review a book about typos and I will edit this thing within an inch of its life.

In 2008 Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson formed the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL) and set out to right a great wrong. A great many wrongs. They took off on a road trip, a mission to rescue the English language from dire abuse and neglect, and educate whoever happened to be standing around. They looked for typos, otherwise known as “the black hordes of error,” at each stop and always found what they were looking for. There were countless misspellings, apostrophe confusion, possessive problems, homophones and many more. But finding the typos was only the first step. Mr. Deck carried with him  a TEAL Kit, a plastic bag containing the tricks of his trade: markers, Sharpies, chalk, stick-on letters and Wite-Out.  He did not pack glass tubing for neon signs but who knew? The thing is, Jeff and Benjamin not only looked for typos, they also corrected them.

I have been supplied with my very own TEAL kit. Here is an example of my efforts.

First off, everyone please agree to ignore the part about Texas dirt. OK. This is one of my t-shirts. I call your attention to the 4th line. “Lets” should be “let’s.” It’s missing an apostrophe. As a contraction of the words “let” and “us” it needs an apostrophe to stand in for the missing “u.” See?

And here is the corrected shirt. I have added an apostrophe as best I could with the black Sharpie in my TEAL kit. In this photograph it looks a little like a fly.

The authors made necessary corrections, both overt and covert, throughout the country. As you can imagine not everyone was receptive of our heroes and their mission.  Apathy ran amuck but some shopkeepers, restaurant managers, park rangers, store clerks, museum curators, etc., were friendly, if puzzled.  Some were mostly concerned about where the blame for the typo would be placed, certainly not on them. Others were openly hostile. And then there were the criminal charges.

Here let me again offer an example of my efforts. I submit to you the following sign. “Alinement” is misspelled. It should read “Alignment.” I’ve seen this sign every day for years. It rankles. So I’m standing on the opposite side of the street with my camera when a man drove by. Then he backed up in the middle of the street and into the lot next to the building with the offending sign. He came loping across the street and demanded to know why I was taking pictures of his shop. Yep, the owner.  Good grief. So I had to explain what I was doing, about the typos and Jeff and Benjamin and my review, etc. So the guy finally says OK he was just wondering what I wanted with his shop. Then he said he had heard of the typo hunt. Kid you not.

The authors did wrestle with larger questions regarding their calling, lest you think this mere fun and games. How strictly do we enforce the rules? Should they be rules or more like guidelines? What about education? The authors visited elementary classrooms for inspiration. Should art be exempt from the rules? What part do idioms play? Should written language be stricter than spoken language? Should quarter be given?

I enjoyed this book so much. It encompassed two of my favorite things, language and road trips. Typos are my pet peeve and have been torturing me for years. I have raised three children whom I harassed about language all the time. I now  have two readers and one turncoat. This book has something for everyone: language, anthropology, sociology, geography, friendships, the open road and dark nights of the soul. I laughed out loud and learned some things too.

Our heroes are planning another road trip but have distilled their mission. Next time out they will EDIT. Which is what I’m going to do now.

Also, I didn’t know “smoothen” was a word.

Please check out the authors and the famous blog:
Facebook: Typo Eradication Advancement League

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monday Roundup: November 17 - 23

Bookish events in Texas for the week of November 17 - 23, 2014:

Special Events:
In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César ChávezConfederate Reunion Grounds - Mexia, September 27 - November 30

El Paso Community College Literary Fiesta, November 22

Monday, November 17:
B&N - Arboretum, Anna Todd sign After We Collided and Christina Lauren signs Dirty Rowdy Thing, 7PM

Austin Beerworks, Steve Hindy is in town to talk Craft Beer Revolution, 8PM

Bookpeople, MysteryPeople present New York Times Magazine Writer JOHN CONNOLLY speaking & signing The Wolf in Winter: A Charlie Parker Thriller, 7PM

Malvern Books, readings and a discussion with Valerie Miles, editor of A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, and live Flamenco music from guitarist David Córdoba, 7PM

Spider House Cafe & BallroomAustin Poetry Slam, 8PM

Half Price Books Mother Ship, Anne Rice signs her new book, Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles, 5PM

Paul Quinn College, Voices that Matter series: Alison Levine will discuss On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership, 7:30PM

El Paso
The Black Orchid Lounge, Bordersenses Barbed Wire Open Mic, 8PM

B&N, San Pedro, Sun Poets' Society Open Mic Poetry, 7PM

The Twig Book Shop, Join authors Crystal Henry and P.C. Zick for a “Girls Night In” at The Twig: wine and cheese will be served as the authors discuss their new books: Henry’s humorous look at marriage and kids in Naked Salsa, and Zick’s “gripping and entertaining” romantic thriller Native Lands, 5PM

Wednesday, November 19:
Bookwoman, Catherine Musemeche, MD Reading & Signing- Small: Life and Death on the Front Lines of Pediatric Surgery, 7:30PM

Farewell Books, Vortex Release Party with William Cardini, 7PM

Harry Ransom Center, Molly Haskell, film critic and author of Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited, explores the popularity and influence of both the book and film, 7PM

Liberty Bar, Award-Winning Horror Author CHRISTOPHER BUEHLMAN speaking & signing The Lesser Dead, 7PM

Malvern Books, W. Joe’s Poetry Corner with Christopher Carmona, 7PM

Colorado City
Colorado High School, Shilo Harris will speak and sign Steel Will: My Journey Through Hell to Become the Main I Was Meant to Be, 10AM

Half Price Books - Northwest Highway (aka the Mother Ship), John Connolly will discuss The Wolf in Winter, 7PM

The Wild Detectives, Valerie Miles Reading from & Discussing A THOUSAND FORESTS IN ONE ACORN, 7:30PM

Leap Houston, join WOMEN IN CLOTHES contributor Sasha Plotnikova for a clothes swap, 6PM

Thursday, November 20:

Bookpeople, BookPeople and Edible Austin Presents Author and Texas Chef JACK GILMORE
speaking and signing Jack Allen's Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas, 7PM

Westwood Country Club, Literary Lunch with Jack Gilmore, author of Jack Allen’s Kitchen: Celebrating the Tastes of Texas, 11:15AM

Heroes Sports Bar & Grill, Dallas Poetry Slam & Open Mic featuring Fatima, 8PM


San Antonio

B&N - Preston/Park, Debjani Mukherjee Biswas discusses and signs Unleash the Power of Diversity Multi Cultural Competence for Business Results, 2PM

B&N - Preston/Park, Larry Pivnick signs The Kilgore Curse, 4PM

Fort Worth
Galveston Bookshop, Ellen Mansoor Collier signs Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns, 3PM

B&N - River Oaks, K. S. Love signs Sex, Love, & Kemistry, 11AM

B&N - River Oaks, Adan Medrano signs Truly Texas Mexican A Native Culinary Heritage in Recipes, 2PM

B&N - Westheimer, Robert Park signs The Blueprint, 1PM

B&N - Shops @ North East Mall, Nicole Donascimento Signing The Lucky Nickel, 5PM

B&N - Vista Ridge, George Arnold Signs Kremlin Kerfuffle: Koshki of the CIA, 1PM

B&N, Mike Hancock signs Fallen, 2PM

B&N - Palms Crossing, Meet the Author: Krystal Alanis Linder signs Never Enough Time, 5PM

B&N - Preston & Park, Larry Pivnick will discuss The Kilgore Curse, 4PM

B&N - Preston & Park, Polly Holyoke signs The Neptune Project, 6PM

San Antonio
B&N - La Cantera, Jay Brandon and Joe Holley Discussion of Shadow Knight's Mate and The Purse Bearer A Novel of Love, Lust and Texas Politics, 2PM

The Twig Book Shop, Joan Cook Carabin reads and signs One-of-a-Kind Judge: The Honorable Hippo Garcia, 11AM

Viva! Bookstore, Poetry Reading & Book Signing: Love and War, 1PM

South Padre Island
B&N - Arboretum, Howie Richey signs Party Weird Festivals & Fringe Gatherings of Austin, 1PM

Bookpeople, Acclaimed Authors Thomas McNeely & Doug Dorst in conversation, 4PM

Bookwoman, Kid Me Not Reading & Signing with Aralyn Hughes & Local Contributors, 3PM

B&N - Lincoln Park, Marney Makridakis signs Hop, Skip, Jump 75 Ways to Playfully Manifest a Meaningful Life, 3PM

Lucky Dog Books - Oak Cliff, JAMES HOWELL signing COUNTDOWN TO ATOMGEDDON, 1PM

B&N - Westheimer Crossing, Bartee Haile Signing Murder Most Texan, 2PM

B&N - Shops @ North East Mall, Heather Stapp Signing The Narrow Path, 12PM

B&N - Shops @ North East Mall, Nick Farrell Signing In Spite of Me, 4PM

San Antonio

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Review: A Distant Father

A Distant Father by Antonio Skármeta  
Translated from the Spanish by John Cullen
$15.95, 101 pages

A Distant Father by Antonio Skármeta is a spare but arresting novella. A master at work, Skármeta proves that it isn’t necessary to painstakingly draw every individual brick in a wall; a few suggestive brushstrokes, mere scaffolding, can deliver full impact.

The author of Il Postino: The Postman, which inspired the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, Skármeta won the Premio Iberoamericano Planeta Casa de América de Narrativa for his novel The Days of the Rainbow. He was awarded Chile’s National Literature Prize earlier this year. In his latest, Skármeta begins casting his spell immediately, on page one:
“My life is made up of rustic elements, rural things: the dying wail of the local train, winter apples, the moisture on lemons touched by early morning frost, the patient spider in a shadowy corner of my room, the breeze that moves my curtains.”
Jacques is a young teacher in the tiny, provincial village of Contulmo, Chile, who also translates works in French for newspapers while dreaming of one day publishing his own poetry. On the day he arrived home a year ago with his teaching degree in hand, he stepped off the train onto the platform in time for his father to kiss him and climb onto that same train and disappear. Jacques’s description of the effect his father’s departure has on his mother is a perfect example of those few, deceptively simple brushstrokes evoking depths of feeling: “When Dad went away, my mother was suddenly extinguished, like a candle blown out by a gust of frosty wind.”

In keeping with Skármeta’s framework style, humor occurs in discrete pockets; it insinuates, never shouts, as when Jacques explains why his second job is necessary: “A nurse in the hospital initiated me into the vice of smoking cheap cigarettes, and in order to support this habit—which gave me bronchitis—I’ve had to find a second job.” And when he speaks of his attempts to have his own poems published: “Sometimes I include an original poem of my own in the envelope with my translations and ask the editor to consider publishing it. His response, though negative, is courteous, given that he never rejects my poems and never prints them either.”

Antonio Skármeta
Eloquent of loss and bewilderment, Skármeta’s sentences are succinct while simultaneously offering pleasant surprises in their keen observations. These astute sentences regularly bring you up short, packing an unexpected wallop: “Everybody around here is very respectable, and I have no doubt that Teresa and Elena come from a good family, but every time they go to Santiago, they buy dresses with plunging necklines and tight jeans that cling to their hips and squeeze the air out of my lungs.”

Jacques’s floundering attempts to become his own man, without the guidance of his father, lead him into questionable alliances and situations, liaisons that, while not necessarily dangerous, do threaten to expose secrets that are held close by every small town. In the end, Jacques asserts himself, instead of letting events control him, and engineers a generous and loving orchestration of his own.

This review originally appeared in Monkeybicycle.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: Confessions by Jaume Cabré

Confessions by Jaume Cabré  
Translated from the Catalan by Mara Faye Lethem
ArcadiaBooks (London)
$38, 751 pgs
The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity. - Leo Tolstoy
There isn’t a single organization that can protect itself from a grain of sand. – Michel Tournier

Confiteor. I cannot do it justice. Mea culpa. This work requires superlatives which don’t exist. Confessions by Jaume Cabré is the best argument I’ve ever encountered for the continuing necessity of a liberal arts education and also the best argument I’ve ever encountered for honoring the 10th commandment. It is a huge-hearted achievement: I laughed and cried; I was disgusted and delighted; I frequently spoke out loud to the characters, sometimes muttering and sometimes shouting. It is a good thing I live in the middle of nowhere – I might’ve alarmed an entire apartment block. ANYWAY, Confessions is the story of one man’s life and simultaneously a history of Europe, a history of ideas, an exposition on the nature of evil, an object lesson on the corrosive effects of envy, and an exploration of the character of beauty, as well as the consequences of obtaining it. 
"Someday I’ll bring the Storioni to class."
"Poor you. If you do, you’ll find out what a good hard cuff is."
"So what do we have it for?"
Father left the violin on the table and looked at me with his hands on his hips.
"What do we have it for, what do we have it for…" he mimicked me.
"Yes." Now I was peeved. "What do we have it for if it’s always in its case inside the safe and we can’t even look at it?"
"I have it to have it. Do you understand?"

Confessions is written in the form of an epic letter from Adrià Ardevol to Sara Voltes-Epstein, the love of his life. From the Spanish Inquisition to the present day, Adrià attempts to explain his family’s history so that Sara may understand the decisions he has made, the decisions he was too cowardly to make, and that sometimes the sins of the odious father are visited, unfairly or no, upon the son. It is possible to view Adrià's final circumstances as poetic justice. Or not. And yes, I realize how cryptic that is, but if I say much more I’ll give it away: I’m striving for no spoilers. As Adrià notes early on, “It’s strange: there are so many things I want to explain to you and yet I keep getting distracted and wasting time with reflections that would make Freud drool. Perhaps it’s because my relationship with my father is to blame for everything. Perhaps because it was my fault he died.” There’s a teaser for you.

I was intrigued from the opening sentence, “It wasn’t until last night, walking along the wet streets of Vallcarca, that I finally comprehended that being born into my family had been an unforgivable mistake.” And then I was enchanted:
“Have you noticed that life is an inscrutable accident? Out of Father’s millions of spermatozoa, only one fertilizes the egg it reaches. That you were born; that I was born, those are vast random accidents. We could have been born millions of different beings who wouldn’t have been either you or me. That we both like Brahms is also a coincidence. That your family has had so many deaths and so few survivors. All random. If the itinerary of our genes and then our lives had shifted along another of the millions of possible forks in the road, none of this would have been written and who knows who would read it. It’s mind blowing.”
Jaume Cabré
Confessions is intermittently horrifying. It is the bloody history of Europe, after all: the Inquisition, the Third Reich and Franco, to name a very few. I felt physically ill when the origins of the number Adrià’s father used for the combination lock on his office safe were casually revealed. But Confessions is often funny, too, with a sly, droll humor. There is a running joke throughout the work regarding the degree of flatness or roundness of the world, depending on the place and era. For instance, discussing a fire that was deliberately set and burned down a hardwood forest used for making instruments, “…in the Year of Our Lord 1690, when the world was round for almost everyone…” progressing to “The Year of Our Lord 1705…when the earth was increasingly round…” to approximately 1960 “…in those days when Franco ruled and the earth again became flat for us…”

Also running throughout the book are Black Eagle, the Valiant Arapaho Warrior Chief, and Sheriff Carson. Childhood toys consulted by an anxious Adrià during childhood, they pop up regularly during his adulthood to offer sage advice and timely warnings that are frequently hilarious in their understated manner. For instance, Adrià has just announced to his mother that he will no longer take violin lessons: 
"That is my decision. You are going to have to put up with it,” I dared to say.
That was a declaration of war. But there was no other way I could do it. I left Father’s study without looking back.
"How." [Black Eagle]
"You can start painting my face with war paint. Black and white from the mouth to the ears and two yellow stripes from top to bottom."
"Stop joking, I’m trembling."
Please don’t let that number – 751 pages – discourage you. Granted, Confessions develops slowly for the first 80 or so pages and it slows down again for the last 30 pages. But in between it sweeps you along and I was amazed at how quickly a hundred pages passed. It can be confusing in the beginning. The author shifts between first, second and third person narrative – pay attention to pronouns. The child Adrià will disassociate via third person when he becomes particularly anxious. In addition, the speaker of any given sentence will, without warning, not be the same speaker who finishes the sentence. Frequently the era in which a paragraph begins will shift several hundred years backward or forward in time before you finish reading that paragraph. For example, a sentence may begin with Adrià in Barcelona in 1968 and by the end of the sentence you’re listening to Lorenzo Storioni of Cremona and the year is 1764 or maybe you’re listening to Julià de Sau, a monk at Sant Pere del Burgal, and the year is 1380.

Mara Faye Lethem
Adrià has taken advantage of creative license and invented scenes and dialogue from the distant past. He freely admits this: “Don’t look at me like that. I know I make things up: but I’m still telling the truth.” Once you understand that a scene being described from the past will abruptly become the present, you will  become accustomed to these segues and slip into the rhythm. If you get confused then you can always consult the Dramatis Personae at the back of the book. Oh, yeah – that reminds me: be prepared for Latin. And German. And French and Russian and Hebrew. You get the idea. Confessions is a novel for linguists and other lovers of language. Major kudos and possibly sainthood should go to translator Mara Faye Lethem.

Jaume Cabré is a playwright, essayist, and author of several novels that have sold more than a million copies throughout Europe. He has won several awards, among them the 42è Premi d'Honor de les Lletres Catalanes and the Creu de Sant Jordi. Confessions has won so many awards that I don’t have room to list them all so you may follow this link to read about them. Mara Faye Lethem is a literary translator of Catalan and Spanish. Her translations have appeared in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2010, The Paris Review and McSweeney’s.

Confessions is a sumptuous, gorgeous, ambitious, exasperating, disorienting, maddening, brilliant challenge and you must persevere. It is so worth the effort. I realize that I am just gushing here and critics aren't supposed to gush, I know, but this book is as close to perfect as it is possible for a book to be. Confessions has taken a spot in my Top 5.

Confiteor. Mea culpa.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Monday Roundup: November 10 - 16!

Bookish events in Texas for the week of November 10 - 16, 2014:

Special Events:
In His Own Words: The Life and Work of César ChávezConfederate Reunion Grounds - Mexia, September 27 - November 30

Ann and Stephen Kaufman Jewish Book & Arts Fair, Houston, November 1 - 16

Monday, November 10:
Austin Book & Comics, Farel Dalrymple's Wrenchies tour, 4PM

Bookpeople, MysteryPeople Presents Acclaimed Authors Terry Shames speaking & signing the Samuel Craddock series & Rob Brunet speaking & signing Stinking Rich, 7PM

Monkeywrench Books, Book Discussion- Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation, 7PM

Fort Worth
Fort Worth Club, Douglas Brinkley will discuss The Nixon Tapes, 5:30PM

Blue Willow Bookshop, Shannon Messenger will discuss and sign EVERBLAZE, the third book in the KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES series, 5PM

Murder By the Book, Stuart Neville will sign and discuss The Final Silence and Paul Charles will sign and discuss Down on Cyprus Avenue, 6:30PM

Wortham Theater Center - Cullen Theater, Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series: Michael Cunningham, 7:30PM

First United Bank, Alvin Lynn will discuss and sign "Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls: A Tale of Two Journeys," 4PM

Tuesday, November 11:
Bookpeople, MysteryPeople Presents Texas Fiction Triumverate Miles Arceneaux speaking & signing Ransom Island, 7PM

Bullock Texas State History Museum, Debra Winegarten discusses and signs her book Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist, 2PM

Malvern Books, Raw Paw Reading Series: Mind Maze, 7PM

Spider House Cafe & BallroomAustin Poetry Slam, 8PM

Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, Ruchama King Feuerman will discuss In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist, 7PM

Fort Worth
TCU Dee J. Kelly Alumni and Visitors Center, Doug J. Swanson will discuss Blood Aces: The Wild Ride of Benny Binion, 7PM


University of Houston - Honors College, Discussion and Q&A with Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’ o, a 2014 Nobel Prize Nominee and Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irving, reception follows, 4PM

Warehouse Live, Moth StorySLAM: Last Minute, 7:30PM

San Antonio
B&N, San Pedro, Sun Poets' Society Open Mic Poetry, 7PM

Viva! Bookstore, poet Nancy Deen will read from and sign In Love and War, 12PM

Wednesday, November 12:
Allen Public Library, Stephen Fagin, associate curator and oral historian at The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, will discuss his book Assassination and Commemoration: JFK, Dallas and The Sixth Floor Museum, 7:30PM

BookPeopleBestselling Author GARTH STEIN speaking & signing A Sudden Light, 7PM

UT - The Joynes Suite, poet Carrie Fountain, 7PM

Half Price Books - Northwest Highway (aka the Mother Ship), Tracy Lawson will sell and sign her new Dystopian Young Adult novel, Counteract, 4PM

Texas Theater, Oral Fixation presents “Train Wreck," 8PM

El Paso
UTEP - Centennial Museum and Welcome Center, Lisa Napoli will discuss and sign Radio Shangri-La: What I Discovered on my Accidental Journey to the Happiest Kingdom on Earth, 5PM

B&N - Stonebriar Mall, Shannon Messenger signs Everblaze, 6PM

B&N - Arboretum, Poetry Open Mic, 7:30PM

Bookpeople, Sports Writer JACKSON MICHAEL & Former University of Texas Longhorn DOUG ENGLISH speaking & signing The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, 7PM

Bookwoman, Second Thursday Open Mic featuring Natalia Trevino, 7:15PM

Harry Ransom Center, Rebecca Solnit speaks about her new book, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness with book signing to follow, 7PM

Herman Brown Library, Book Signing and Presentation with David K. Langford and Lorie Woodward Cantu, authors of Hillingdon Ranch: Four Seasons, Six Generations, 1:30PM

B&N - Lincoln Park, George Bush signs 41 A Portrait of My Father, 9AM

Dallas Heritage Village at Old City Park, Rosa Walston Latimer who will speak on her book Harvey Houses of Texas: Historic Hospitality from the Gulf Coast to the Panhandle, 6:30PM

Highland Park United Methodist Church, Kathryn Harrison will discuss Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, 7PM

The Wild Detectives, Launch Party (Reading & Book Signing) for Crepuscule W/ Nellie by Joe Milazzo, 7PM

El Paso
UTEP - Rubin Center for Visual Arts, BorderSenses Literary Journal will celebrate its 20th issue and 20th anniversary at a release party, 6PM


River Oaks Bookstore, Robin McCorquodale will read and sign Falling into Harmony, 5PM

Rothko Chapel, Mainstreaming Torture: a discussion featuring Dr. Rebecca Gordon and Dr. Sarah Sentilles, moderated by Juan E. Méndez - book signing follows, 7PM

Friday, November 14:
Our Lady of the Lake University - Providence Hall, an afternoon with Nan Cuba, 4:30PM

Saturday, November 15:
Half Price Books - Lincoln Square, Tracy D. Pierce will sign his latest book, The 2 Faces of Leadership: Merging the Best of Both Leadership Styles, 1PM

Austin Public Library - Yarborough Branch, Debra Winegarten discusses and signs her book Oveta Culp Hobby: Colonel, Cabinet Member, Philanthropist, 1PM

B&N - Arboretum, Aaron De Orive and Martha Wells discuss and sign Blade Singer, 2PM

Bookpeople, Bestselling Author R. L. STINE speaking & signing Party Games: A Fear Street Novel, 12PM
Dallas Public Library - Preston Royal Branch, Sara Rose Salih, a young Dallas author, discusses her first book for middle schoolers, Tales of a Sevie, 2PM

El Paso

B&N - West Oaks Village, Lora-Marie Bernard signs Lower Brazos River Canals, 12PM

B&N - Westheimer, George Arnold Signing Kerfuffle: Koshki of the CIA, 9AM

Murder By the Book, Mike Vance and John Nova Lomax will sign and discuss Murder & Mayhem in Houston: Historic Bayou City Crime, 4:30PM

River Oaks Bookstore, Lilas Taha reads and signs Shadows of Damascus, 4PM

LLANO ESTACADO WINERY, Terry Thompson-Anderson signs Texas On the Table, 2PM

Lucky Dog Books (aka Paperbacks Plus), JAMES HOWELL signing COUNTDOWN TO ATOMGEDDON, 1PM


South Padre Island
Bookpeople, Violet Crown Publishers Showcase!, 3PM

Jewish Community Center of Houston, Ari Shavit presents My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, 7:30PM

B&N - The Ecuadorian Deception by Bear Mills book signing, 2PM

Half Price Books, James Howell will sell and sign his book, Countdown to Atomgeddon: The Race to Build the First Atomic Bomb, 1PM

San Antonio
The Twig Book Shop, Carolyn Osborn Celebrating her new novel, Where We Are Now, 3PM

The Woodlands
B&N - Woodlands Mall, Brian Kilmeade signs George Washington's Secret Six The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, 1PM