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Where I am and where I’ve been

Some updates on Your Face in Mine:

Much gratitude to everyone who has come out to the events so far, and particularly to the organizers and booksellers who put in so much time.

Likewise to the interviewers and radio hosts (and audience members) who have added to the conversation in unexpected ways.

There are more readings and events to come later this month, and in November and December: the Texas Book Festival, the Miami Book Festival, the Hunger Benefit at University of Minnesota-Minneapolis, and more.

And as always: my contact information can be found on the “About” page. I would love to hear from you.

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Where to find me

Your Face in Mine comes out this week, and I’m happy that already the book has gotten some great attention. And started some arguments—as expected.

I’ll be doing a series of readings and events this fall—the list (which will be updated) is at the Events link above. First up is Thursday, August 14th at Book Court in Brooklyn; next week I’ll be reading at Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore, and after that at Housing Works Bookstore Cafe in downtown Manhattan.

I’ll be posting interviews and articles, as well as reviews, on the Press page.

Last, if you’ve read the book and have something to say, or a question to ask, please don’t be shy about writing me directly.

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Remembering Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer, who died Sunday at the astonishing age of 90, was one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century. She had an instantly recognizable touch: her sentences form a verbal slipstream, a kind of continuous pressure of thought, both deliberative and quick, and often surprising. You wouldn’t expect the winner of a Nobel Prize to devote time to a short bagatelle from the point of view of a tapeworm, but she followed the fiction writer’s dictum that any perspective is worth our consideration:

“My place was warm and smooth-walled, rosy-dark, and down into its convolutions (about thirty coiled feet of it) came, sometimes more regularly than others, always ample, many different kinds of nourishment to feed on, silently, unknown and unobserved. An ideal existence!”

This is from Beethoven Was One-Sixteenth Black, her last new collection of short stories, published in 2007.

In the US we tend to view “political novelists” as writers we read out of a sense of obligation rather than pleasure. But no novelist writes in a—political, historical, ideological—vacuum. You either choose to see the ramifications of the lives you describe, or not. Gordimer chose recognition. More importantly, she used her vocation as a fiction writer as a path toward a liberated consciousness—her own consciousness and, through that window, in a partial, biased, fallible way, the consciousness of all Africans. Her work is beautiful, painful, complicated, at times self-indicting. It’s as vital today as it was at the height of apartheid. Here are four of her books everyone should read.

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The Conservationist, which won the Booker Prize in 1974. A meditative, absorbing novel about a single wealthy white South African who clings to a failing farm in a remote corner of the country, unable to give up his claim on the land itself, even as it rejects him.

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The best of her many collections of short stories. I’ve read and re-read this book more than any other book of stories. A textbook in the endless possibilities of the form.

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Probably the best of all of her novels, and the last of her books to be banned by the apartheid regime: a portrait of a jailed white South African communist couple through the eyes of their daughter, who is left to enter adulthood entirely alone. What I love about this book is how rigorous and unsentimental Gordimer’s prose remains throughout—there’s not a single predictable sentence in it.

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Gordimer published several collections of essays and lectures in later life, but this is the one to start with. It includes all of her political writings throughout the apartheid years and reflections on the art of the novel and the short story—a portrait of a rich and intensely complicated life, and a window onto her own emerging radicalization as an opponent of her own government, and, in many ways, her own culture and upbringing.

 

 

 

 

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Booklist on #YourFaceinMine

(Starred review) “In Row’s disquieting near-future medical tale, 38-year-old Kelly Thorndike learns that all things are fungible after he has a chance encounter with a former high-school classmate. The guy who once was Martin Lipkin, Jewish bassist in a rock band with Kelly, is now Martin Wilkinson, a wealthy African American international entrepreneur, complete with a gorgeous African American wife and two African American daughters. They are adopted, of course, because Martin has had “racial reassignment surgery,” or RRS. Turns out there’s a physician in Bangkok who’s added RRS to his repertoire of gender-reassignment surgeries, perfecting the processes of changing skin color, hair texture, facial structure—the whole nine yards. Now Martin wants public-radio-station manager Kelly to document his story to help him come out, as it were, for purposes of, well, no spoilers here. Row has outdone himself in a first novel that offers great quantities of food for thought and discussion involving, for starters, questions of race and identity. Plunging deeper than common notions of the self and racial distinctions, Row presents wholly credible, if not thoroughly trustworthy, characters and complicated circumstances that will inspire serious reflection.”

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Publisher’s Weekly on #YourFaceinMine

(Starred review) “This furiously smart first novel from Row (who wrote The Train to Lo Wu) opens up difficult conversations about race and identity. The narrator, Kelly Thorndike, is back in his hometown, Baltimore, after his wife and daughter die in an accident. Now in his mid-30s, Kelly reconnects with Martin, a friend from his high school days. Back then, Martin was a white Jewish kid known as Martin Lipkin, but he suffered from racial dysphoria and later underwent “racial reassignment surgery.” Now Martin is a black man named Martin Wilkinson, and he recruits Kelly to tell his story. Martin’s relationship to the truth is flexible, and there’s potentially a lot of money to be made. Not every plot twist is believable, but that seems appropriate—although set in the present day, the book is also a foray to the edge of possibility. Martin’s goal of spinning racial reassignment into a global enterprise is half business plan and half pipe dream, but for Martin and his partners, the future is now. Your Face in Mine (note the slipperiness of the title: who’s who here?) takes readers on a zesty, twisty, sometimes uncomfortable ride.”

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GWB

“As she leaves the toll booth and pulls toward the right lane the traffic gains momentum, and the great cables of the bridge rise up on either side, like giant wings, like Gothic arches. She thinks, this is my cathedral. She rolls the windows down, and hot, sticky air rushes through the car, smelling of the river. Roger, she thinks, if I had your ashes I would carry them out to the middle in a Chinese takeout container, and toss them off, just casually, over my shoulder. Roger, if you could have died the way you lived, with sarcasm, with subtlety, with the Pixies on the stereo, then it would have been all right. If it had been AIDS, if it had been leukemia, it would have been OK, as long as we had twenty-four hours’ notice, enough time to call a few friends and chill a bottle of champagne, so we could drink it at the bitter end, like Chekhov.”

from “Nobody Ever Gets Lost”

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2013: My Year in Reading

“‘You seem fully immersed in a study of oppression. Any reason for this?’

‘Well, I do live in the world.’” Rebecca Lee, Bobcat and Other Stories. (Algonquin)

“Step by step, she forced her husband’s friend to the wall. Whenever he recalled his embarrassment he felt like crawling into a hole. Could such a wanton woman ever be so solemn? We can only say that since she has lost all credibility, she must be acting.” Can Xue, Five Spice Street. (Yale)

“I probably shouldn’t be telling you such ugly, monstruous things, Cal/ and I’m not. I’m telling the Andromedans, / to plea for a place in their galaxy. / I want to tell them I am among weak / people here, and I am strongBrenda Shaughnessy, Our Andromeda. (Copper Canyon)

“In Kundera’s novels…we can intuit the obvious meaning: what could be more vulgar than to arbitrarily give—from a childish desire for verisimilitude or, at best, mere convenience—an invented name to an invented character? In my opinion, Kundera should have gone further: what could be more vulgar than an invented character?” Laurent Binet, HHhH. (Picador)

“Today, artists can no longer pretend to constitute an avant-garde offering a radical critique. But this is is not a reason to proclaim that their political role has ended; they have an important role to play in the hegemonic struggle. By constructing new practices and new subjectivities, they can help subvert the existing configuration of power. In fact, this has always been the role of artists, and it is only the modernist illusion of the privileged position of the artist that has made us believe otherwise.” Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics. (Verso)

“Beds are made of trees, and coffins are beds with lids. Death is sleep without bottom. Its nature silent and consciousless and densely dark—

Imagine you are walking through a dream. But your dream is not just that, not just open. Your dream isn’t just one big gray open scape of mist you can step into, you can walk anywhere through, stick a hand or arm or leg into and just wiggle anywhere, no.

There are obstructions, even here. This is a dream with obstructions.

And so it is real. So it is real life.” Joshua Cohen, Four New Messages. (Graywolf)

“I’m not saying that such writing should be discarded: Who hasn’t been moved by a great memoir? But I’m sensing that literature—infinite in its potential of ranges and expressions—is in a rut, tending to hit the same note again and again, confining itself to the narrowest of spectrums, resulting in a practice that has fallen out of step and unable to take part in arguably the most vital and exciting literary discourses of our time.” Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing. (Columbia)

“Everything I can say about what it means to lose, what it means to do without, the inadequate weight of the past, you already know.” Claire Vaye Watkins, Battleborn. (Riverhead)

“I cannot stress enough how much this mechanistic world, as it becomes more and more efficient, resulting in ever increasing brutality, has required me to FIND MY BODY to FIND MY PLANET in order to find my poetry.” CA Conrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon. (Wave)

“This book is dedicated to mankind.” Michel Houellebecq, The Elementary Particles. (Knopf)

“Much of his poetry, when translated, looks bullet-ridden, torn, and scooped out, though when heard in their original language, read aloud by the author…these same poems, while unintelligible, have been known to make the listener weep and thereafter dwell on a history of lost opportunities.” Manuel Gonzales, The Miniature Wife and Other Stories (Riverhead)

Usually extreme love rebounds as enmity / while the slightest kindness is met with joy.” Hong Zicheng, Vegetable Roots Discourse. (Counterpoint)

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