50 Must-Read Microhistory Books

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 CodPaper, 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.

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Reading Pathways: Clarice Lispector Books

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 2018 New Releases in Translation

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.

After the Winter by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey  

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 GatsbyKilling Commendatore is a stunning work of imagination from one of our greatest writers.” (October 9th, Knopf)

The Governesses by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson

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)

CoDex 1962: A Trilogy by Sjón, translated by Victoria Cribb

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.

Announcing the 2018 National Book Awards Translated Literature Longlist

The National Book Foundation announced the 2018 National Book Awards Translated Literature longlist. It is the first time this award in its current iteration will be given (there was a previous translation award years ago). This prize, which represents a permanent fifth National Book Award category, was announced earlier this year and will honor a work of fiction or nonfiction that has been translated into English and published in the U.S.

Disoriental by Négar Djavadi, translated by Tina Kover

Comemadre by Roque Larraquy, translated by Heather Cleary

The Beekeeper: Rescuing the Stolen Women of Iraq by Dunya Mikhail, translated by Max Weiss and Dunya Mikhail

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan

Love by Hanne Ørstavik, translated by Martin Aitken

Wait, Blink: A Perfect Picture of Inner Life by Gunnhild Øyehaug, translated by Kari Dickson

Trick by Domenico Starnone, translated by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, translated by Margaret Mitsutani

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, translated by Jennifer Croft

Aetherial Worlds by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Anya Migdal

The shortlist will be announced October 10th. The 69th National Book Awards Ceremony will be held at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City on Wednesday, November 14, and will also be live-streamed online in its entirety. The $10,000 prize will be split evenly between the winning author and translator.

“The judges for the category this year are Harold Augenbraum, the acting editor of The Yale Review and the former executive director of the National Book Foundation; Karen Maeda Allman, the author-events co-coordinator at the Elliott Bay Book Company, in Seattle; Sinan Antoon, a poet, novelist, and translator; Susan Bernofsky, who directs the literary translation program at the Columbia University School of the Arts, and Álvaro Enrigue, whose most recent novel is Sudden Death.”

Are any of your favorite books in translation on this list? Are there any you think are missing?

This post was originally published on Book Riot.

The End of Summer

Well, August is over and summer is coming to a close. This August was the most exciting Women in Translation Month yet and I wanted to share one of my favorite reads of the month: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal. In The Summer Book, celebrated artist and author Tove Jansson “distills the essence of the summer—its sunlight and storms—into twenty-two crystalline vignettes.” The vignettes follow six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother and their adventures on a remote island in the gulf of Finland. This is my first time reading what many consider a modern classic and I couldn’t agree more—The Summer Book is utterly perfect. It’s quiet and subtle, warm and wise, but with one single striking and devastating sentence Jansson changes your reading and understanding of the whole book.  I read it on my vacation on Cape Cod and it was such a special reading experience.

But you should read Women in Translation all year long! I wrote up this list of 50 Must-Read Books by Women in Translation on Book Riot—give it a look! 

Recommended Reads for Women in Translation Month!

August is Women in Translation Month! Roughly 30% of books published in English translation are written by women, according to numbers pulled from the translation database begun by Three Percent and Open Letter and now hosted by Publishers Weekly. Founded by literary blogger Meytal Radzinski, Women in Translation Month was started to promote women writers from around the world and combat this dreadfully low statistic. Looking for books to start your #WITMonth reading? Here are some amazing books I’m reading this August.

August by Romina Paula, translated by Jennifer Croft

A raw, heartrending novel of grief, loss, and returning home. A young woman, Emilia, returns to her rural hometown in Patagonia to scatter the ashes of her best friend who died by suicide five years earlier. Written as if to her best friend, August is a nostalgic, complicated, and poignant confessional. Emilia is baring her soul—but for any reader who has also left home, she feels dangerously close to baring ours too. Kirkus Reviews describes it: “Paula’s English-language debut is almost impossible to put down: moody, atmospheric, at times cinematic, her novel is indicative of a fresh and fiery talent with, hopefully, more to come.”

 

Bride and Groom by Alisa Ganieva, translated by Carol Apollonio

From an exciting new voice in modern Russian literature, Bride and Groom is a complex and layered love story about two young people living in Dagestan. Alisa Ganieva’s English debut The Mountain and the Wall was met with stunning praise and excitement and Bride and Groom continues the trend. While exploring themes of love and fate, familial and cultural expectations, and the sway of tradition, Bride and Groom also deals directly with Dagestan’s “internal conflicts with Islamic radicalization in the aftermath of its Soviet past.” That all might sound a little heavy for a love story, but Ganieva’s writing is always surprising—witty, folkloric, thoughtful, compelling—and I can’t recommend Bride and Groom enough.

 

Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins

Winner of the Prix du libraires du Québec, Suzanne is a fictionalized account of the life of the author’s maternal grandmother. Author and director Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette never knew her mother’s mother, a painter and poet who abandoned her husband and young family and was associated with Les Automatistes, a movement of dissident artists. She hired a private detective to piece together Suzanne’s life—and what a life it was! “From Montreal to New York to Brussels, from lover to lover, through an abortion, alcoholism, Buddhism, and an asylum. It takes readers through the Great Depression, Québec’s Quiet Revolution, women’s liberation, and the American civil rights movement, offering a portrait of a volatile, fascinating woman on the margins of history.” I’m just starting Suzanne and it’s a beautifully written and striking examination of artistry, motherhood, and family.

 

The Great Passage by Shion Mura, translated by Juliet Winters Carpenter

Delightfully charming and thoughtful, this novel from award-winning Japanese author Shion Miura is the perfect feel-good read for lovers of language. Kohei Araki believes that “a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words” and he has been lovingly crafting dictionaries for thirty-seven years. But it’s time to retire and find his replacement—enter Mitsuya Majime, a young and eccentric book lover. Majime sets off on his new task and along the way he learns about words like lovefriendship, and passion. With shifts in narrative and asides that focus on the meaning of particular words, The Great Passage is a stylistically interesting and endlessly sweet novel.

This post was originally published on Book Riot.