Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with The FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle writes about some of his recent favorites.
Right now, I’m reading Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery. It’s good, but it’s a lot quicker-going than most of what I read and that’s kind of an adjustment for me. Great structure and storytelling that moves at a clip; more often, I read things that have a degree of resistance, that demand closer reading, that slow you down. This isn’t like that. It’s rich with details and plot movement and subplots and conversations and people with assumed identities who walk the streets in costumes and go by different names.
Before that, I read Can Xue’s Vertical Motion from Open Letter Books—they’re a translation house in Rochester. Over half of what I read is literature in translation; it’s a real passion for me. The Can Xue book is incredible—short stories that I’d call “surrealist,” but it’s a kind of clear-eyed surrealism, as if dreams had invaded the physical world. The stories slip from simple descriptions or accounts of life into strange scenes of unreality that nobody in the stories is really surprised by. Except for the title story, which is a beautiful narrative about creatures who live under the earth and find the surface.
I always try to have some poetry that I’m dipping into, and I’ve been trying to remember to read whole books of poetry instead of just sort of getting an occasional fix. I really like Michael Earl Craig. I read Thin Kimono from Wave Poetry a few years ago and it stuck with me, and I got Can You Relax In My House from Fence Books—such a great title. He’s got a real way with titles: “Raindrops Streak the Window Like They Do In Movies,” “Brute Mystic,” “Here Comes The Dirty Little Wax Baby.” He’s not dissimilar to Can Xue. There’s a sense of a grounded physical world in which things are functioning as they might in dreams, or in one’s inner vision, but there’s also the play of conversational language and a really charming vocabulary of…rustic? rural? life. He lives in Montana, and he’s a farrier, which, if you didn’t know—and I didn’t—means he specializes in taking care of horses’ hooves. Fascinating poet.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Merce Rodoreda, who I got turned onto by Open Letter a few years ago when they published Death in Spring. It was amazing, so I read the collected short stories, which were good but not as good; and then I read A Broken Mirror, which is just a shatteringly great book about the brief rise and slow decay of a family. One of the best books I’ve ever read. It is a total mystery to me why she isn’t widely worshipped; along with Willa Cather, she’s on my list of authors whose works I intend to have read all of before I die. Tremendous, tremendous writer.