In his frequently hilarious memoir The World's Largest Man, Harrison Scott Key recalls his Mississippi childhood, his domineering father and how both shaped him into the man he is today. Our reviewer says, "Both laugh-out-loud funny and observant about the ways we become our parents while asserting ourselves, The World’s Largest Man is a wise delight." (Read the review.)
We asked Key to tell us about three books he's enjoyed reading lately.
It's hard to imagine Twain as a debut author, age 34, looking like a young game show host with a black coiffure and a bed skirt attached to his lip. Published in 1869, his first book may also be the first funny, creative nonfiction book ever written, a story about a cruise to Europe and the Holy Land, long before David Foster Wallace made us want to jump overboard with A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. Twain writes such terrible things about Muslims that if he said them today I'm sure he'd be stoned by every tolerant progressive in North America, although they'd probably feel bad about it once they see how he treats the Church and her relics. Nevertheless, everything we love about Twain is here, especially that tenuous balance between cynicism and a genuine wonder at how beautiful the world can be anyway.
Many of these stories were first published in The New Yorker, including the longest one in the collection, a novella called "Sell Out", which is easily the funniest novella ever written by a human being in the land we know as America. In it, Rich tells a timeless tale about a Jewish immigrant who is preserved for a hundred years in a large vat of pickle juice and then reanimated. I know, I know, you've heard that story before. But Rich has a fresh take. For example, there's a character in the story named Simon Rich, and the pickled immigrant is his great-great-grandfather, and if you think that sounds too silly to be very funny, then maybe you should fall into a vat of something vinegary and see how it feels.
I remember a theologian making reference to this book as being very sad and depressing, a sort of portent of the meaninglessness of postmodernity, and I've already got enough sadness in my life, thank you very much, what with Facebook and bloating. But then I remembered that Heller was the guy who wrote Catch-22, and that book was sort of funny, so maybe the theologian was confused? Turns out, the theologian was right! It is sad and depressing! But it's a very funny kind of sadness, for example, when the narrator says this about his job: "It's a real problem to decide whether it's more boring to do something boring than to pass along everything boring that comes in to somebody else and then have nothing to do at all." I guess theologians are sometimes wrong.
Thank you, Harrison! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Chia Chong)
Outdoor grilling season is in full-swing, and celebrated chef Rick Bayless has just the right multi-purpose seasoning for you. Try his modified recipe from More Mexican Everyday for a traditional salsa negra, a sweet and smoky paste that can be used on everything from grilled meats to sandwiches.
Sweet-Sour Dark Chipotle Seasoning • Salsa Negra
Don’t think of this Veracruz specialty as a typical salsa, in spite of its Spanish name; it’s more of a seasoning paste, with deep, dark richness and smoldering heat—just right for adding depth and complexity to the simplest of dishes. The traditional version of this salsa is so involved (oil-roast the chiles and garlic, soak in raw-sugar water, puree and cook slowly in an oily pan for an hour or more) that no one really makes it at home. Which is the reason I worked on a quick cheater version, but one that, to my taste, is pretty darn close to the original.
Makes about 2 cups
Place the two cans of chiles (and their canning liquid), molasses, vinegar, sugar and ½ cup water in a blender and process until completely smooth. Scrape into a small saucepan and set over medium heat. Let the mixture come to a brisk simmer, then turn the heat to medium-low and continue simmering, stirring regularly, until the mixture is the consistency of tomato paste, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce. If necessary, add some water, a splash at a time, until the salsa is the consistency of runny ketchup. Cool, taste and season with salt; it may not need any, depending on the saltiness of your soy sauce. (That said, keep in mind that salsa negra should be seasoned highly, both to preserve it for longer storage and to make it useful as a seasoning.) Transfer the salsa to a pint-size jar and store, covered, in the refrigerator, where it will last for a month or two.
The Simplest Uses for Sweet-Sour Dark Chipotle Seasoning
1. Spoon onto raw oysters or add to cocktail sauce for shrimp
2. Toss with nuts and a little oil and bake for a delicious nibble
3. Toss with shrimp or smear on chicken after sautéing or grilling
4. Use as a glaze for practically anything off the grill. It’s particularly good on tuna, mackerel and sardines, as well as eggplant.
5. Believe it or not, it’s good on peanut butter–banana sandwiches
6. Use instead of Worcestershire and hot sauce for a spicy bloody Mary
7. Stir into cream cheese with crumbled bacon for an amazing bagel spread
8. Stir into caramel sauce and use as a dip for apples
9. Add to the pot when braising shortribs
Copyright © 2015 by Rick Bayless. Excerped from More Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless published by Norton. Read our review of this book.
Get ready for some fabulous summer reading! LibraryReads has put together a list of the 10 books coming out in June that librarians are most excited about putting on their shelves.
Our Fiction Top Pick from Annie Barrows, The Truth According to Us, makes the list, and our cover star Judy Blume's novel In the Unlikely Event is also highly anticipated. Erika Johansen continues the fantasy saga she began with The Queen of the Tearling with The Invasion of the Tearling in June.
You can see the full June LibraryReads list here. Which book are you most looking forward to picking up at your local library or bookstore?
Last night, Hungarian author László Krasznahorkai was announced as the winner of the Man Booker International Prize during a ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The award is given every two years to a fiction author whose body of work is deemed extraordinary on an international level.
With an experimental style influenced by Kafka, Krasznahorkai is Hungary's most acclaimed author. Chair of judges Marina Warner says, "László Krasznahorkai is a visionary writer of extraordinary intensity and vocal range who captures the texture of present day existence in scenes that are terrifying, strange, appallingly comic, and often shatteringly beautiful."
Krasznahorkai has five novels available in English translation, and his memoir, Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens, will be available in January 2016.
Want more books in translation? Check out our list of 15 of the best books in translation from the past year.
It seems the reading world can't get enough of these psychological thrillers starring deceptive, unreliable female characters. Knight plays with our allegiances in this juicy domestic noir, already in the works to become a film with 20th Century Fox. Her debut tells the story of Catherine, a successful documentary filmmaker who receives a manuscript that describes in excruciating detail a day from her life she has tried so hard to forget. And at the end of the manuscript, Catherine's character dies. In alternating chapters, readers meet Stephen Brigstocke, who knows Catherine's secret all too well.
She tries to dislodge it with thoughts of the previous evening, before she picked up the book. The contentment of settling into their new home: of wine and supper; curling up on the sofa; dozing in front of the TV and then she and Robert melting into bed. A quiet happiness she had taken for granted: but it is too quiet to bring her comfort. She cannot sleep so she gets out of bed and goes downstairs.
They still have a downstairs, just about. A maisonette, not a house anymore. They moved from the house three weeks ago. Two bedrooms now, not four. Two bedrooms are a better fit for her and Robert. One for them. One spare. They've gone for open plan too. No doors. They don't need to shut doors now Nicholas has left. She turns on the kitchen light and takes a glass from the cupboard and fills it. No tap. Cool water on command from the new fridge. It's more like a wardrobe than a fridge. Dread slicks her palms with sweat. She is hot, almost feverish, and is thankful for the coolness of the newly laid limestone floor. The water helps a little. As she gulps it down she looks out of the vast glass windows running along the back of this new, alien home. Only black out there. Nothing to see. She hasn't got round to blinds yet. She is exposed. Looked at. They can see her, but she can't see them.
What are you reading today?
While self-publishing success stories are getting more and more common these days, William Paul Young's novel The Shack was among the first. After selling 1,000 copies of a modest 10,000 print run in 2007, the story of a man who meets God in the form of a genial black woman became a word-of-mouth hit.
As Young explained in a 2008 BookPage interview, "We spent less than $300 on marketing and promotion through the first 1.2 million books. So anybody who hears about this almost always says, 'This has to be a God thing.' "
On September 22, Young will be taking on the creation story in a new novel, Eve (Howard Books), which promises to "free us from faulty interpretations that have compromised human relationships since the Garden of Eden." Definitely an ambitious goal, but Young isn't afraid of shaking things up. In his words, "controversy is a great thing."
Will you read it?
RELATED CONTENT: Read more about this year's fall fiction releases.
Thrills, enlightenment and gripping historical fiction await readers of this week's paperback releases:
Hope to Die
By James Patterson
Grand Central • $16 • ISBN 9781455515820
When five members of the Cross family are kidnapped by an obsessed genius, Alex must play the madman's game to get them back alive.
The Angel in My Pocket
By Sukey Forbes
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143127574
In a profoundly moving meditation on grief and the path to healing, Forbes recounts her struggle to rediscover joy and meaning in life after enduring the death of her 6-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Descended from a long line of New England Brahmins and spiritual seekers (including Ralph Waldo Emerson), Forbes writes about her own dark night of the soul with grace and hard-earned wisdom.
By Laird Hunt
Little, Brown • $16 • ISBN 9780316370165
Narrated by a Civil War soldier who calls herself "Ash Thompson" to disguise her true identity, Hunt's widely praised novel gives palpable life to historical accounts of women on both sides who risked everything to take up arms. Readers will find themselves transfixed by Ash's unique voice and her struggle to survive the war and make it back home to her gentle husband Bartholomew and their Indiana farm. The paperback includes a reader's guide.
Tomorrow, the winner of the Man Booker International Prize will be announced. To celebrate, we've gathered 15 of the best books in translation from the past year. There's a whole world of reading out there—go explore!
And check back next week for news about the upcoming translations we're most excited about.
Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt (Greenland), translated by Denise Newman
The winner of the 2015 PEN Translation Prize, this collection of stories deals with themes of sex and gender in marvelously odd ways. Aidt's stories are dreamlike (or, perhaps more accurately, they run on a scale of fever dream to nightmare), and she fearlessly tackles society's strange ills.
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (Mexico), translated by Lisa Dillman
Desperate to find her missing brother in America, Makina, a young Mexican woman, agrees to cross the border as a drug mule. The story unfolds like a myth as Makina crosses the Styx-like Rio Grande into the underworld of America. This novella is a beautiful, haunting take on the migrant experience.
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (France), translated by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce
If you're looking for a lovely summer jaunt through Paris with a native guide, then this is your book. When a bookseller finds a lost purse with a fascinating little notebook in it, he's determined to find its owner. With charming characters and a delightfully whimsical plot, it calls to mind the indie films the French are famous for, à la Amélie.
The Musical Brain by César Aira (Argentina), translated by Chris Andrews
Aira, known for the frenetic energy of his short stories and his seemingly endless imagination (he's published more than 80 books!), is quite popular in Latin America. His latest translated work is a collection of very—well—short short stories that mine deep into the bizarre and surreal. Aira is among the finalists for the Man Booker International prize this year.
Acclaimed author Petterson (Out Stealing Horses) returns with the quietly powerful prose that made him an international bestseller. In his latest novel, two men have a chance meeting that reminds them of disturbing events from their shared boyhood and the abrupt end of their friendship 35 years prior.
Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda (Dutch), translated by Jonathan Reeder
To an observer, it would appear that Siem Sigerius is living a charmed life. He has a beautiful family and home, and the future of his career looks bright. But of course, life in the Sigerius household is not as lovely as it appears. Siem has dark secrets in his past, and the family’s veneer begins to fade as truths are revealed.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Japan), translated by Philip Gabriel
Murakami has a massive international fan base, and when his latest novel was published in Japan in 2013, American fans were practically foaming at the mouth to get their hands on the English translation. In summer 2014, Murakami's hard-working translator finally delivered. Focusing on the wayward Tsukuru and his quest to find out why his tight-knit group of friends abruptly dumped him, Murakami successfully weaves another fabulous tale.
Old book, new translation. Notes from a Dead House (also known as The House of the Dead) is one of the greatest pieces of Russian literature from one of the best authors—Russian or otherwise—of the 19th century. The award-winning translator duo tackles this Russian masterpiece with a nuanced (and doubled!) knowledge of language and history.
It's the classic dead-body-in-a-locked-room mystery in internationally best-selling author Higashino's latest thrilling mystery. Get ready to ditch your friends—and not just because you'll be busy reading. This novel may plant the fear in your heart that your dearest friends have got it in for you.
I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin (South Korea), translated by Sora Kim-Russell
Shin is one of South Korea's most acclaimed authors, and her novel Please Look After Mom was on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011. Set during the harrowing 1980s in South Korea, the novel plays out in the memories of Jung Yoon, a brilliant but lost college student, adrift until a poetry professor rescues her and three friends.
The Last Lover by Can Xue (China), translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
Experimental author Xue delves into the perrenial topics of love, sexuality and all its weirdness in her latest novel. Although set in surreal environments, Xue strikes to the heart of very real emotions. Realities blur and fantasies come to life in this lush, atmospheric novel from one of China's most respected authors.
Billie by Anna Gavalda (France), translated by Jennifer Rappaport
Gavalda's latest, a #1 bestseller in France, has been translated into more than 20 languages, and Jennifer Rappaport has finally added English to the list. This moving tale follows two young friends trapped in the Cévennes Mountains who turn to trading stories from their pasts in order to keep up morale and their will to live.
There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Russia), translated by Anna Summers
This collection of three novellas from a Russian legend wins the honor of "Best Title on This List." (It also includes this fabulous maternal motto: “Love them, they’ll torture you; don’t love them, they’ll leave you anyway.”) Petrushevskaya tips her hat to her Russian-writer predecessors (in one story of familial disaster, a folder is labeled "Notes from the Edge of the Table") while bringing a dark humor all her own to her brilliant writing.
Dendera by Yuya Sato (Japan) translated by Edwin Hawkes and Nathan A. Collins
Sato reimagines the Japanese custom of ubasute—the practice of leaving the elderly in the wilderness to die during hard times—in his latest novel. Kayu Saito was supposed to die alone on top of a mountain. Instead, she survives and finds herself in a utopia of abandoned old women. But soon a threat arrives in the form of a ferocious mother bear. This novel is an intriguing fable of maternity, violence, aging and mortality.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson (Sweden), translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Jonas Jonasson’s whimsical and witty novel follows a young Nombeko Mayeki, the titular “girl” stuck in 1960s Soweto. The profoundly determined 15-year-old sets off with millions of smuggled diamonds on a journey to South Africa’s National Library, where she encounters Israeli Mossad agents, a lovable Chinese official, an American Vietnam War deserter and Swedish twins with grand plans to bring down their country’s monarch. Jonasson’s hilarious and pointed satire sheds light on our increasingly global world and societal issues.
See anything you'd like to read? Check back next week for news about the upcoming translations we're looking forward to.
Best-selling author Lisa Lutz's latest novel, How to Start a Fire, follows the lives of three women who became friends during their college years. Our reviewer writes, "With wit and a gift for capturing the repartee between siblings and old friends, Lutz brings us a memorable and ultimately uplifting saga of three strong, unique women." (Read the review.)
We asked Lutz to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker
I’m interested in medicine in general, but pre-modern medicine especially fascinates me. Blood Work is an absorbing and gruesome account of the history of blood transfusions, with a bizarre cast of characters from the procedure’s vanguard. It focuses on the 1600s and the physician Jean Denis, who is framed for murder after a failed transfusion attempt between a calf and a madman. But it’s also about the public’s perception and the politics of medicine, and it’s a great murder mystery. Although I must admit that I had to time my reading very carefully, away from meals.
This was the novel that stuck with me the most from last year. I read it cold, without having any notion of what it was about, and that’s how I’d want everyone else to read it. But if you must know something: It’s narrated by Rosemary Cooke, the daughter of two psychology professors. She has a brother on the run from the FBI and a sister, Fern. That’s all I’ll give away. This insanely brilliant, complex and funny novel is about family and much, much more. The writing is just so perfect and alive. I can’t recommend it enough.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
I’ve had Stewart’s Wicked Plants on my coffee table for ages, so I was thrilled to get a galley of her first novel, which is apparently the first in a series. It’s basically the origin story of the first female deputy sheriffs. In 1914, Constance Kopp and her two sisters go into town one day, and a silk factory owner runs over their buggy. Constance goes to great lengths to get reimbursed for damages, soon igniting a full-on war. With the aid of a local sheriff she learns to defend her property, and the first female “lawman” is born. It’s a totally absorbing, often funny tale based on real characters who make you proud that women like them existed back then. I’m looking forward to the next installment.
Thank you, Lisa! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?