In this special, mid-month edition of Friday Reads, Issue 20 contributor LaToya Faulk shares her recent recommendations and reflects on motherhood in the pandemic, entering discussions on race and queerness with her daughter, and the life-altering power of babies. Take a read and make sure to grab your copy of Issue 20 here.
Recommendations: Little Labors by Rivka Galchen; The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert; Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway; Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journey into Race, Motherhood, and History by Camille T. Dungy
Since March, I’ve been home with my precious and verbose seven-year-old girl. It’s mostly me and her, so mothering feels more immediate. Such immediacy has a way of repositioning the self-as-reader, and I’ve found refuge in the declarative work of writers who incite new ways of understanding how to parent in the blissfulness of childrearing and the failures of it too, especially under the precarious times of a pandemic. With this, books like Rivka Galchen’s Little Labors, Brandy Colbert The Only Black Girls in Town, Natasha Tretheway’s Memorial Drive, and Camille T. Dungy’s Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journey into Race, Motherhood, and History bring me closer to understanding the many ways we imprint ourselves upon our children, and how they equally imprint themselves upon us.
These poems and versions are from Claudia Prado’s El Interior de la Ballena (Editorial Nusud, 2000), a novel-in-verse based on Prado’s agrarian family legacy in Patagonia. Prado is an Argentinian poet and filmmaker known for making groundbreaking, socially progressive art. El Interior de la Ballena was her debut, a poetry collection that received the bronze Concurso Régimen de Fomento a la Producción Literaria Nacional y Estímulo a la Industria Editorial del Fondo nacional de las Artes (this is the third place award for the biggest literature prize in Argentina). Mixing fiction with oral history, Prado imagines her ancestors’ 19th century migration from the Basque Country into Argentina and, ultimately, southward into the oceanic desert. These poems offer a rare look at the Patagonian plateau between 1892 and 1963, years of intense immigration and population growth, written through a feminist lens. In addition to poems written in the poet’s own voice, the book also makes wide use of monologue and persona techniques, weaving together this intergenerational story through a multiplicity of voices: here speaks a woman who, against her will, is taken to that desert; here is revealed the thoughts of an orphan laborer; here, a chicken thief celebrates his sad prize. In El Interior de la Ballena, Prado uses her page to privilege the often unseen and unheard, composing in silence as much as sound, and in so doing creates a poetics of Patagonia itself. When read together, the poems quilt a place, time, and lineage through a story of strong women, wounded and wounding men, and a rural and unforgiving landscape from which hard-scrabble labor is the origin of survival.
I first encountered the phrase “victim of hospitality” in the Republic of Georgia, where after many elaborate toasts in their honor, plates of food pushed their way, and cups of wine pressed into their hands, tourists begin to sense the impossibility of turning something down. As generously good-natured as these offers are, at some point the visitors’ inability to reject them represents their larger lack of control within the unfamiliar setting.
In Marie NDiaye’s novel That Time of Year, translated from the French by Jordan Stump, a schoolteacher from Paris experiences a more ominous loss of control over his life while on vacation. The character, Herman, becomes the victim of a much darker kind of hospitality, and he is eventually so numbed by local good manners, glacial bureaucracy, and gloomy weather that he loses his desire to escape his hospitable captors.
Lusophones love to tout the uniqueness of their (our) language, and in even the most roundabout of metalinguistic conversations, all roads eventually lead to saudade. But aside from a vague quasi-mysticism about loss that surrounds the word, the meaning is straightforward—saudades tuas, I miss you. Saudades de Portugal. I miss Portugal. Loss, longing. We have tools in English that serve to get the point across quite easily.
In the November installment of Friday Reads, our Issue 20 contributors reflect on the pedagogies of teaching over Zoom, the engines of colonialism, and the process of breaking down cultural divides. As the weather gets colder, curl up with one of these recommendations, and make sure to pick up your copy of Issue 20 today.
Recommendations: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; Poems in the Manner Of… by David Lehman; The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller; Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire by Annette K. Joseph-Gabriel
I feel greedy, I have a frog in my throat because of this
expensive beer. I start to ask around, like a detective,
and immediately get some info
from the writer sitting at our table nearby,
whom I got to know just now. The house of Ashbery has likely mahogany doors facing
the square, probably where city hall is. I don’t even think about visiting without letting someone know first. I stop and read a few poems in a bookshop.
You won’t repeat the jokes, I say,
you’ll go around to all the apartments on Halloween with pumpkins, like I used to do
in my childhood, but then the main thing was trick or treat, not to force someone for an interview or a photograph.
It’s that time of year again: bid for a personalized, handwritten postcard from your favorite author through The Common’s seventh annual author postcard auction! The personalization of the postcards makes them fantastic gifts, just in time for the holidays.
Join in on the fun this year for a chance to receive a postcard from New York Times-bestsellers, National Book Award-winners, and MacArthur Fellows. In the past few years, authors have famously gone all out with their postcards: expect to receive anything from long letters to drawings and doodles to haikus.
New this year, in celebration of The Common’s 10th anniversary, some bidders will also receive rewards from Penguin Classics! The first and every fifth bidder, plus the highest bidder and top two underbidders (just missed out on winning!), will receive one of a handful of books from the gorgeous Deluxe or hardcover Vitae series including F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, George Elliot’s Middlemarch, and the autobiography of Frederick Douglass.
Online bidding will open to the public at 10 am EST on November 9, 2020. Participating authors include literary powerhouses such as André Aciman,Susan Choi, and Valeria Luiselli, as well as writer-performers Jenny Slate and David Sedaris. Newcomers to the auction include acclaimed writers Anne Carson and Phil Klay and world-renowned singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant.
It’s July 2020. I am supposed to be in Portugal for the tenth edition of the DISQUIET International Literary Program. Instead I’m at my home in Amherst, Massachusetts, about half a mile from the very common the magazine that you hold in your hands is named after.