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A Bookseller’s (late) Summer Reading List

The longtime bookseller, writer, and co-owner of Point Reyes Books tells us what’s on his reading list for July and August.

Hope, like the summer fog that drapes the Bay Area under its gloomy chill, springs eternal. As the father of a five month old baby, it may be unlikely that I’ll find the time or energy to read as much as I’d like this summer, but I am going into July and August with email notifications turned off and my Screen Time set to its shortest duration.

First up, a book that could take me all summer and then some to get through: Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s monumental Baron Wenckheim’s Homecoming, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, published by New Directions in September 2019. Krasznahorkai is, of course, one of our undisputed contemporaries, a writer whose work, I’m certain, will be read well into the next century. He demands a lot from readers–he famously solid block of text deflects those unwilling to take on the challenge of working painstakingly through his work–but the rewards are commensurate with the challenge. I expect the Baron to provide the dark humor, the deep insight into the human condition, and the occasional glimpse of light into this dark world that Krasznahorkai’s previous novels have offered.

Like Krasznahorkai, Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich shines brightest in the darkest recesses of the human heart. Her latest, translated by the famed duo of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and published by Random House on July 2, is called Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of WWII, and is, as one might gather from that subtitle, not a cheerful book. Written in her usual polyphonic style, with oral histories layered, echoing, and resonating across its pages, Last Witnesses may not be anyone’s idea of a beach read, but is (as is all of Alexievich’s work) an important contribution to the fight against historical amnesia.

In order not to fall too far into despair, I’ll also pick up some lighter fare, including Yannick Haenel’s “wonderfully mad” novel Hold Fast Your Crown, translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan and published by Other Press, a finalist for the Prix Goncourt that has as its subject a screenwriter’s failed attempt to get his enormous screenplay about the life of Herman Melville made. Haenal’s novel was recommended to me by bookseller extraordinaire/translation enthusiast Mark Haber, whose forthcoming novel, Reinhardt’s Garden (Coffee House Press, October 1) is next on my TBR pile. I expect this to be great fun.

Naturally, I’ll also be spending some time with books published by Two Lines, including Marie NDiaye’s My Heart Hemmed In, translated by Jordan Stump. There is no one who writes quite like NDiaye and I am excited to binge on a few of her recently translated novels that I’ve yet to read. I’m also eager to confirm all the buzz about Igiaba Scego’s Beyond Babylon, translated by Aaron Robertson.

And, finally, my summer reading list wouldn’t be complete without mention of two more forthcoming books: Sergio Chejfec’s The Incompletes, translated by Heather Cleary and due out in September from Open Letter Books, is something I’ve been waiting for since running out of Chejfec to read a few years ago. And finally, The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zerán and translated by Sophie Hughes, was shortlisted for the Man Booker International and is something I should have read well before its August 6 publication date, but it’s never too late to dive into another of Coffee House Press’s Latin American gems.