All of the books that greeted me on my return to Boston! I’m so excited to dig into this stack for the Best Translated Book Award. I hope everyone had a very happy holiday season (with lots of time for reading!)
I don’t know how I ever got to sleep before audiobooks. I did, clearly, or I’d be dead, but audiobooks are now a permanent fixture in my sleep routine—an enviable eight plus hours of peaceful reverie almost every night. How’s that for sleep goals?!
For me, an audiobook just takes the edge off when I’m trying to fall asleep. I’m a light sleeper and when I’m listening to an audiobook I’m less likely to be startled awake by a car alarm or door slam than if I was falling asleep in relative silence. And I’m not thinking about my day or my to-do list because I’m listening to the book. I’m probably not absorbed in it, but that’s perfect. I don’t want to stay up reading! The audiobook smooths out all of the edges that, for me, come with falling asleep, the distractions and anxieties, and nudges me gently off to sleep.
I’ve selected some of my favorite audiobooks to fall asleep to and collected some great resources from other Book Riot contributors to help you incorporate audiobooks into your nightly routine too! I’ll also add that all of these books are amazing and should be read in the light of day too. Do you have a favorite audiobook to fall asleep to? Let me know in the comments below!
My hands-down favorite audiobook to fall asleep to is H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. It is a raw, haunting, and masterful book in its own right but it’s an even better audiobook. In the wake of her father’s death, Helen Macdonald adopts and raises a goshawk, detailing her battles with the feral creature that is her grief. Macdonald also weaves in the story of the life of T.H. White, the author of The Once and Future King, into her own narrative. White also wrote The Goshawk, a book that profoundly affected Macdonald and she discusses it extensively. In the book, White details his own training of a goshawk. Macdonald’s reading of H is for Hawk is affecting and beautiful—I can’t recommend it enough.
The Peregrine by J.A. Baker, narrated by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart
If you like H is for Hawk and want more nature writing to fall asleep to, my next suggestion is The Peregrine by J. A. Baker. In The Peregrine, Baker follows the daily comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons. He documents what he sees of their activities “with an extraordinary fusion of precision and poetry.” It is a classic in the nature writing genre and the voice of the narrator Dugald Bruce-Lockhart is reminiscent to me of David Attenborough. And with the subject matter, it’s very easy to dip in and out of and not feel like you need to listen for plot, just some gorgeous descriptions of falcons and the English fens.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, translated by Philip Gabriel and narrated by George Blagden
An international bestseller, The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a sweet and poignant story of Nana the cat, his owner Satoru, and their journey around Japan. It’s a charming story (I’ll admit to crying at the end) and I’d recommend it for comfort reading. George Blagden, the narrator, has a lovely, clear voice and he captures the tone of the book well. After reading it the first time straight through—you’ll want to know how the adventure ends—tuning in to sections of this journey, like Nana the cat seeing the ocean for the first time or teaching a kitten to hunt, will be perfect to fall asleep to.
Written by Man Asian Literary prize winner Kyung-Sook Shin and translated by Anton Hur, The Court Dancer is a historical novel set during the dramatic final years of the Korean Empire, the Joseon Dynasty. Based on a true story, The Court Dancer follows the tale of Yi Jin, an orphan who is adopted by the royal court and becomes a beloved dancer. When a French diplomat visits he is mesmerized by the Korean Empire but more specifically with Yi Jin. The writing is beautifully lyrical and narrator Rosa Escoda’s voice captures this and is richly expressive.
Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith, narrated by the author
Poet laureate Tracy K. Smith is a national treasure and although I’ve always loved her poetry, I had never thought to listen to her collections on audio. She has a great voice, emotive and resonant, and it’s a joy to listen to her read. But her poems are not to be slept through and so, in this instance, I’m recommending that you listen to a poem or two as part of a nightly routine. I think about them deeply, even sometimes playing them a couple times, and I’ve found that it has helped me focus, center, and get up the next day with those reflections in mind.
Looking for even more? Contributor Danika Ellis collected some of the great standbys in her post 13 Soothing Audiobooks to Fall Asleep To, including the Harry Potter books (whether you prefer Jim Dale or Stephen Fry) and many others. For a twist on an audiobook of a classic to fall asleep to, I’d recommend Longbourn by Jo Baker and narrated by Emma Fielding. And contributor Laura Marie has collected 6 of the Best Bookish Sleep Habits “to make your dreams as sweet and book-filled as possible.”
This post was originally published on Book Riot as part of New Ears Resolution Week.
The first time I read Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky, I was blown away. Kurlansky manages to turn a book about an everyday object—one that you and I have seen in every kitchen, every restaurant, and on every table we’ve ever sat down to eat at, throughout our lives—into an utterly fascinating page-turner. I was hooked and have since reread Salt many times and moved on to his other microhistory books, like Cod, Paper, and the latest Milk!: A 10,000 Year Food Fracas. Funny and endlessly fascinating, all of these books have interesting stories, historic recipes, and enough facts to make any reader “Did you know?” royalty.
And Kurlansky’s books are just the tip of the iceberg! There are so many great microhistories, ranging from subjects like butter and cotton to champagne and the color indigo. Check out this list of 50 must-read microhistory books for hours of enjoyment.
Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett
“It is the subject of countless poems and paintings; the top of the weather report; the source of the world’s water. Yet this is the first book to tell the story of rain. Cynthia Barnett’s Rain begins four billion years ago with the torrents that filled the oceans, and builds to the storms of climate change. It weaves together science—the true shape of a raindrop, the mysteries of frog and fish rains—with the human story of our ambition to control rain.”
Broliology: A History of the Umbrella in Life and Literature by Marion Rankine
This book is absolutely delightful! “Brolliology is a beautifully designed and illustrated tour through literature and history. It surprises us with the crucial role that the oft-overlooked umbrella has played over centuries—and not just in keeping us dry. Marion Rankine elevates umbrellas to their rightful place as an object worthy of philosophical inquiry . . . She tackles the gender, class, and social connotations of carrying an umbrella and helps us realize our deep connection to this most forgettable everyday object—which we only think of when we don’t have one.”
Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
“Drawing together many histories—of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores—Rebecca Solnit creates a fascinating portrait of the range of possibilities presented by walking. Arguing that the history of walking includes walking for pleasure as well as for political, aesthetic, and social meaning, Solnit focuses on the walkers whose everyday and extreme acts have shaped our culture, from philosophers to poets to mountaineers.”
Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert
“The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Sven Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today. The result is a book as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.”
Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden
“As entertaining as it is incisive, Stoned is a raucous journey through the history of human desire for what is rare, and therefore precious. What makes a stone a jewel? What makes a jewel priceless? And why do we covet beautiful things? In this brilliant account of how eight jewels shaped the course of history, jeweler and scientist Aja Raden tells an original and often startling story about our unshakeable addiction to beauty and the darker side of human desire.”
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
I can’t resist a Crate and Barrel or a Williams Sonoma. If you’re the same way, then this book is for you. A fascinating and fun history of the tools we use in the kitchen, and how these tools “have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson takes readers on a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of objects we often take for granted.”
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky
“The codfish. Wars have been fought over it, revolutions have been spurred by it, national diets have been based on it, economies and livelihoods have depended on it, and the settlement of North America was driven by it. To the millions it has sustained, it has been a treasure more precious than gold. Indeed, the codfish has played a fascinating and crucial role in world history. Cod spans a thousand years and four continents . . . Mark Kurlansky introduces the explorers, merchants, writers, chefs, and of course the fishermen, whose lives have interwoven with this prolific fish.”
Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky
The big one from Mark Kurlansky. If you’re only going to read one book from this list, it should arguably be this one. “The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Salt is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.”
Those are just some of the great books that made my list. Check this post out in full on Book Riot.
Clarice Lispector is an internationally-acclaimed author widely considered to be Brazil’s greatest modern writer and called the most important Jewish writer since Kafka. She was born in 1920 to a Jewish family in Ukraine and as a result of anti-Semitic violence her family fled to Brazil when she was still an infant. At the age of 23, she burst onto the literary scene with the publication of Near to the Wild Heart.
She is as much legend as she is fact—dark, dazzling, intense, glamorous, “the sphinx of Rio de Janeiro,” “a female Chekhov on the beaches of Guanabara.” She inspires cult-like fervor in her readers. In the introduction to his biography of Lispector, Why This World, Benjamin Moser quotes an anecdote I’ve heard repeated often, “‘Be careful with Clarice,’ a friend told a reader decades ago, using the single name by which she is universally known. ‘It’s not literature. It’s witchcraft.’”
Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, translated by Alison Entrekin
Published in 1943, Near to the Wild Heart introduced Brazil to Clarice Lispector, or as one writer called her “Hurricane Clarice.” The book was a sensation, a hit, written by a previously unknown twenty-three-year-old woman who would go on to dazzle the literary world. Near to the Wild Heart—the title taken from a line from Jame Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—follows Joanna, the heroine, from her childhood through to the dissolution of her marriage, in this novel of agency. In a series of interior monologues and narrative epiphanies, readers come to understand the wild, fleeting, and strange creature that is Joanna but they also get a glimpse at the raw, unadulterated power of Lispector’s prose. It’s revelatory and a perfect starting off point to explore Lispector’s writing.
The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated by Katrina Dodson
Gathered from the nine collections published during her lifetime, The Complete Stories captures Clarice Lispector in all of her “darkness and dazzle.” The stories, written during her adolescence all the way up until her death, are inventive and haunting, often about women at various stages of their lives. Some are more traditional than the novels she’s come to be known for but as a whole the collection is a great way to “get” (or grasp at, at least) a sense of Lispector and her prose. You can dip in and out of these stories—86 in the hardcover and 89 in the paperback with three newly discovered stories—but I would recommend picking them up early in your reading of Lispector.
The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector, translated by Benjamin Moser
Clarice Lispector’s last novel is a short, strange, tour de force—a masterpiece of a book. In The Hour of the Star, Lispector follows the narrator Rodrigo S.M., a pretentious, cosmopolitan writer describing the act of writing. He is writing about his creation, Macabéa, one of “life’s unfortunates” a woman living in the slums of Rio. She is poor, sickly, and unloved, and yet she lives simply and happily. “Lispector employs her pathetic heroine against her urbane, empty narrator—edge of despair to edge of despair—and working them like a pair of scissors, she cuts away the reader’s preconceived notions about poverty, identity, love, and the art of fiction.”
A Breath of Life by Clarice Lispector, translated by Johnny Lorenz
If you enjoyed The Hour of the Star but want even more discussion and Lispector brilliance about the theme of creation, A Breath of Life is your perfect next step. Published after her death, A Breath of Life is a dialogue between an author (thinly disguised as Lispector) and his creation, Angela. She is sparklingly alive—speaking, breathing, and dying. Their back and forth is dazzling but also desperate and difficult. Lispector is dying during the writing of this novel and her mind often turns around thoughts of death. “The work’s almost occult appeal arises from the perception that if Angela dies, Clarice will have to die as well. And she did.”
The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector, translated by Idra Novey
Published in 1964, The Passion According to G.H. is Lispector’s great mystical novel. In The Passion, Lispector follows G.H., a high class Rio sculptress, who enters her maid’s empty room, sees a cockroach and panicking, slams the door and crushes it. She watches the cockroach die over the course of the book and “at the end of the novel, at the height of a spiritual crisis, comes the most famous and most genuinely shocking scene in Brazilian literature.” It’s a brilliant and hypnotic book—there’s little in the way of plot but G.H.’s inner monologue, her stream of consciousness, is utterly amazing. And the ending, which is challenging and unsettling, left me absolutely speechless. It’s a powerful novel, one that I’d recommend as a fitting end to a reading pathway.
If You Want Even More . . .
Água Viva by Clarice Lispector, translated by Stefan Tobler
I can almost guarantee that you’ve never read anything like Água Viva. It’s “Lispector at her most philosophically radical” and that’s really saying something when it comes to Lispector. Plotless and essentially characterless, Água Viva is a prolonged meditation on the nature of life, time, and creation. As challenging as it might sound, it’s profound and immensely rewarding. “Epiphanies are delivered one after the other in a book-length relay, a final and magnificent apotheosis of Lispectorisms. I could quote every line and still not do the book justice.”—Rachel Kushner in Bookforum
The Chandelier by Clarice Lispector, translated by Benjmain Moser and Magdalena Edwards
The Chandelier is Clarice Lispector’s second novel—now translated many years later and published for the first time in English. It was hotly anticipated by devoted Lispector fans (myself included.) It’s an intense and interior novel following the story of one woman’s life as she seeks freedom and meaning, but it’s also so much more than that. Benjamin Moser, her biographer, writes that it “stands out in a strange and difficult body of work, as perhaps her strangest and most difficult book.” The writing is powerful and strange, fluid and crushing. I’d recommend it particularly to fans of Lispector who have read a lot of her work and who want to trace the trajectory of her early work to her later masterpieces, like The Passion According to G.H.
In the introduction to The Complete Stories, Benjamin Moser writes, “Hers is an art that makes us want to know the woman; she is a woman that makes us want to know her art.” If you find yourself (as I did) wanting to know more about Lispector herself I recommend Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector.
This post was originally published on Book Riot.
Fall is usually a bonanza for new releases and this one is no exception. New books from fan favorites Murakami, Rodoreda, and Knausgaard; thrilling English debuts; and more—you can’t go wrong with a season stacked like this. Check out these fall 2018 new releases in translation.
This captivating new novel from must-watch author Guadalupe Nettel is one of the buzziest books of the fall and I can’t wait to get my hands on it—luckily it’s one of the first new releases of September! “In parallel and entwining stories that move from Havana to Paris to New York City, no routine, no argument for the pleasures of solitude, can withstand our most human drive to find ourselves in another, and fall in love. And no depth of emotion can protect us from love’s inevitable loss.” It looks utterly brilliant. (September 4th, Coffee House Press)
My Struggle: Book Six by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated by Don Bartlett and Martin Aitken
The final book in the long awaited, internationally acclaimed My Struggle series. The series as a whole, and in particular this final volume, is an astonishing and “engrossing look into the mind of one of the most groundbreaking artists of our time.” And for the first time, Knausgaard confronts and discusses the title of his series, Mein Kampf, and Hitler. Publishers Weekly writes, “The final book of Knausgaard’s six-volume masterpiece goes maximalist and metatextual, examining the impact that the autobiographical series has had on the author’s life and the lives of those around him…the rationale for his project comes into brilliant focus.” (September 18th, Archipelago)
Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
Prepare yourself, Murakami fans—there’s another one coming! After his wife abandons him, a portrait painter in Tokyo finds himself in the mountain home of a famous artist. He discovers a previously unknown painting in the attic that begins a very Murakami-esque adventure, reminiscent of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. “A tour de force of love and loneliness, war and art—as well as a loving homage to The Great Gatsby—Killing Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.” (October 9th, Knopf)
In this U.S. debut from major French writer Anne Serre, three governesses shut off in a remote country home are preparing a party for their young pupils. Well, they’re supposed to be, at least, but in this “intense, delicious meringue of a novel” they’re off instead having frenzied erotic adventures. Kirkus calls it “A sensualist, surrealist romp” writing that “each sentence evokes a dream logic both languid and circuitous as the governesses move through a fever of domesticity and sexual abandon.” (October 30th, New Directions)
Camellia Street by Mercè Rodoreda, translated by David Rosenthal
Mercè Rodoreda is widely regarded as the most important Catalan writer of the 20th century. I’m just starting to read through her extensive list and I’m thrilled to see a new release this fall from Open Letter. Published in 1966, Camellia Street is arguably one of the starkest, but also one of the most important of Rodoreda’s works. It chronicles the life of a prostitute in war-torn Barcelona of the 1940s and ’50s. “Episodic in style, [Rodoreda’s] language is breathtaking and transportive, ultimately showing the reader the universal beauty and injustice of fate…An incredibly original work and not to be missed.” —Mark Haber, Brazos Bookstore (November 20th, Open Letter Books)
The Taiga Syndrome by Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana
I’m a huge fan of The Iliac Crest by Cristina Rivera Garza and translated by Sarah Booker and I can’t wait for the upcoming The Taiga Syndrome, Garza’s take on a contemporary Latin American detective novel. The narrative follows an ex-detective as she searches for a missing couple. It’s complicated and genre bending, with nods to fairy tales—Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood specifically—and written in a striking style that’s all her own. In a starred review, Kirkus writes: “Like the best speculative fiction, it follows the sinuous paths of its own logic but gives the reader plenty of room to play. Fans of fairy tales and detective stories, Kathryn Davis and Idra Novey, will all find something to love. An eerie, slippery gem of a book.” (October 1st, Dorothy)
Twenty years in the making, CoDex 1962 is the great modern epic you didn’t know you were missing out on. Sjón’s great trilogy is now complete and available in English in this collected edition. The trilogy begins at a German inn during WWII where a Jewish fugitive and his lover, a maid at the inn, form a baby from a piece of clay. The fugitive arrives in Iceland with his clay son and becomes involved in a murder mystery. The final book intertwines that story with a very modern tale of genetics and biotech set in Reykjavík. “In CoDex 1962, Sjón has woven ancient and modern material and folklore and cosmic myths into a singular masterpiece—encompassing genre fiction, theology, expressionist film, comic strips, Fortean studies, genetics, and, of course, the rich tradition of Icelandic storytelling.” (September 11th, FSG)
One Part Woman by Perumal Marugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
Selling over 100,000 copies in India, One Part Woman is the U.S. debut of bestselling author Perumal Marugan. I’m thrilled to read this thoughtful book—it’s a cultural phenomenon in India and jump started conversations about caste, family expectations, and female empowerment. Set in South India during the British colonial period, One Part Woman tells the story of a couple trying to conceive and the efforts they make to have a baby and please their family. (October 9th, Grove Press/Black Cat)
This post was originally published on Book Riot.