Houston’s Independent Bookstores Make National Spotlight

This article was originally posted at Houston Public Media on 12.29.16

An acclaimed American author has handpicked three booksellers to receive cash bonuses for their hard work.

Brazos Bookstore’s Annalia Luna was totally surprised when she was told she’d be getting a $2,500 check from American author James Patterson.

“I don’t know who nominated me, I have no idea,” Luna says. “But 1,700 people were in the pool this year.”

Patterson chose 149 independent bookstore employees from across the nation. And of the five Texas recipients, three are in Houston. The nominations can come from customers, fellow employees, or others in the industry who feel that the booksellers are passionate about what they do.

Brazos’ Benjamin Rybeck says it’s a testament to the strength of Houston’s indie bookstores. So in a world of giant box stores and online retailers, what keeps Houston’s literary community so strong?

“It’s a boom city still,” Rybeck explains. “People are coming here every single day to work in various industries. And so, as people flow into a city, there are going to be readers.”

Blue Willow Bookshop in West Houston is another success story. When Valerie Koehler bought the place twenty years ago, her annual sales totaled around $30,000. Today, that number hovers between $900,000 and $1 million.

“I think you would find all of us to say that we get a lot of support from our community, whether it’s from reading programs or literacy programs,” Koehler says.

Houston’s third awardee is John Kwiatkowski from Murder by the Book in Rice Village, one of the the largest stores specializing in mystery specialty books in the country.

in the news this week: Three Houston Independent Booksellers Win James Patterson Grants

This article was originally posted at Houstonia Magazine on 12.16.16

IT’S DIFFICULT FOR INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES to compete with Amazon’s endless inventory (and same-day delivery), lightweight tablets that hold up to 3,500 books and, let’s face it, tons of binge-worthy Netflix programing that makes picking up a book anything but a novel idea.

James Patterson, bestselling author who has sold more than 350 million books worldwide, understands the struggle. Every December, the writer gives a “bonus” to standout independent booksellers across the country, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, in partnership with the American Booksellers Association.

This year, Patterson selected 149 winners who were nominated by store owners, fellow booksellers, publishing professionals and even shoppers. Nominees were celebrated for their “contagious enthusiasm, knowledge across all genres, innovation and, most importantly, dedication to books and reading.”

“I loved hearing about the passion these grant recipients have for the work they’re doing—each is committed to hand-selling and carefully curating book recommendations for each person that walks through their doors,” says Patterson. “The attention these employees give to their customers is intrinsic to keeping them interested in reading. Booksellers can really make a difference in people’s lives, and I’m glad to be able to acknowledge their contributions in some way.”

This year, three Houston booksellers were amongst the country’s 149 recipients: Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop, John Kwiatkowski of Murder by the Book and Annalia Luna of Brazos Bookstore.

“Winning this award has shown me that it is not necessary to be the face of a bookstore to be appreciated by the larger book community, and it’s validating to know that even the more oblique ways of bookselling are valued by readers and shoppers alike,” shares Luna, the shipping and returns manager at Brazos. “I’m thankful Mr. Patterson recognized booksellers from fellow Houston bookstores, Murder by the Book and Blue Willow Bookshop,” continues Luna. “True—Texas is not New York or California, but the Houston literary scene is active and vibrant. It’s comforting to see our city get exposure.”

interview w/ sharon olds

This article was originally published at BrazosBookstore.com on 11/8/16

It’s hard to intimidate me. But give the universe a dare, and it will call your bluff. This past week, I drove Andrés Neuman to the airport and spoke on the phone with Sharon Olds. Can anxiety be measured? In my car, the memory of Neuman digging in his fanny pack for his glasses to help with directions; at the bookstore, hiding behind a case pack of alkaline water in the back office while the line connects Texas to New York.

If there is a living poet canon, Olds has always been on that list for me. Not because she herself demands it, but because the people who read her talk about her work the way I babble about The Swell Season.

Earlier this year, I made a pact with WHISPER HOLLOW author Chris Cander: I would read STAG’S LEAP if she would read MY FEELINGS by Nick Flynn. (We were sold out of SOME ETHER at the time.) Before this, the only poem I’d ever read by Olds was “Crazy,” as part of a poetry anthology assigned in my freshman year poetry workshop.

I read STAG’S LEAP in one night and cried for hours. Months later, when the phone interview with Olds was finalized, I imagined it would be like my fantasy of seeing Amy Hempel read in person. I would stand there in silence then leave afterward without meeting her because I would have nothing good to say. Alas—walking away is more difficult on the telephone.

When she answers, Olds says, “Hello, this is Sharon Olds,” and she is so chipper that all I can do is laugh. “How are you?” she says, and I confess I’m nervous. I’m nervous, and I can’t even see her. Then it’s her turn to laugh at me, and what she says is “Oh, you should see me. I’m sitting here in ten year old pajamas, full of holes.” She says, “I’m just a person, like you,” and I don’t know how to tell her that is exactly the thing that scares me, not her CV. It’s that she is a person I could meet at the grocery store, and not have any idea the talent she contains.

###

For those who don’t know, STAG’S LEAP illustrates the death of a thirty year marriage. Olds shows the marriage and the undoing, from talking about his affair to him telling her that he has since married his (now former) mistress. Olds does not pretend, at any point, even in the epilogue when she sees her ex-husband and he tells her the news and she does not hate him. They agree that it was not the other woman but a slow split at the root, a slow tear until a back broke.

Still, I don’t think I could write another book after that—at least not one that I would want to publish. What else is there to say, after? Olds, though, says that by the time STAG’S LEAP had been published, “half the poems or three quarters of the poems in ODES had already been written.”

ODES, published in September this year (four years after STAG’S LEAP), is just that, odes on everything from her sister to her whiteness, from tampons to the penis. In other words, the opposite of STAG’S LEAP, but is it a joke?

“The way it works for me, which is not the way it works for every poet, is that I don’t write books,” Olds says, “I write poems.” She writes them all in “a grocery store notebook” with a ballpoint pen, wide lines. She writes them all out, one at a time, by hand because ink is “not percussive like hitting piano keys, like typing is,” and “my thumbs are too big to dance on that little screen, on my phone.”

After five years, give or take, she goes through the “collection” she’s created, to see if it is enough or if any threads emerge. During the writing process, she might type some of them up, but not all of them, and even that step is more of a thinking-through. The transition from page to screen is not just transcription, but an editing process.

“Once I type it up, I change it for the better, I hope,” she says. In the case of STAG’S LEAP, she “tried to rewrite each one to get it right.” When arranged in chronological order of events, the poems told a story, and that story became the book.

“I write poems,” she says. “That’s what I do.”

###

We talk for a minute about her teaching, but after that, she wants to know if there’s anything else I’d like to ask about, any subject. And it’s hard because I do have one question, but it’s not one I think is smart or even fair to ask. It’s a question I have for her not as a faux journalist or fellow poet but as a human being. Olds waves her hand at me with her voice and says that I am free to ask her anything; it’s her choice whether or not she would like to answer.

Again, I did not think that this moment would ever materialize so when it does, the words come out like a postcard she might receive from an elementary school student: “Are you still sad?” She pauses for a moment, intrigued that I think of STAG’S LEAP as a sad book, then offers this: “It seems to me that each of us in a lifetime has some real mourning to do.”

Already, she goes on to say, “Children have things to mourn!” but I am so moved by her first answer, this idea that grief is not a punishment but a task that each of us completes, a thing that no one escapes. Somehow, it makes it smaller and larger, at the same time. “Citizens of this country are in a time of fear and mourning,” she says, “and fear of future mourning.”

If STAG’S LEAP has a thesis, it is this: “Sadness and anger are just as important as joy and happiness.” When she says it, it’s so simple, and not a concept that I think anyone would dispute, but Olds wrote it out regardless, in a book that is not meek, maudlin, or morose. It captures a time, this ugly awful time, and paints it as just that: layered. It says, “You are allowed,” the way that Olds says to me now despite the distance between us, in years and miles.

For ODES, Olds says, “There isn’t a test. There isn’t a correct amount of humor to respond to.” Instead, “it’s meant to be a gift.” Not a free one, of course—“that’s how I can afford to pay my rent,” she says—but “what I care about is that you have whatever experience is right for you about the book. We want each other to get whatever each of us can get out of what we give each other in a work of art.”

I was promised fifteen minutes with Olds but she gave me twenty. Before I had even dialed the number, I knew that her other callers slated for her afternoon may well be The New Yorker or The Atlantic, somewhere—someone—more worthy. However, she uses our last minute to ask if there is one more, anything else that I would regret not saying if she were to hang up now, and that kindness and generosity is so pure that I can only say no and thank her for taking the time that she did. She says she is looking forward to meeting me, we say goodbye, and here come the tears.

interview w/ monica youn

This interview was originally posted at BrazosBookstore.com on 10/21/16

There are exceptions to everything but for the most part, living artists are the be all, end all for me. I like the connection and contradiction between a piece of art and the person behind it. The only type of surprise I savor: the one where somewhere in Houston, I am waiting to hear the speaking voice of a writer I don’t know.

The first time I try to call Monica Youn, she asks if we can reschedule. “I’m sort of having a baby crisis,” she says, and at the time, knowing nothing about Youn outside of BLACKACRE, the thing I think is that I am not a mother—meaning yes, of course. That world comes before this other one.

Three days later, I start by asking her to tell me about her book, which is maybe the only question I ask every person I interview. Since the title draws on legal jargon for a hypothetical estate—“Blackacre” is the equivalent to Jane or John Doe as applied to physical property—I suppose I had a mild expectation she would say something about that, or allude to her years as a lawyer.

She starts three times. “It’s not about one thing in particular,” she says. Then she offers the poet version: “Coming to terms with necessity and to what extent the imagination can transform what is given and to what extent the imagination has to come up against the limits of what is possible.”

There is a pause while I finish typing the last thing she says but she takes the moment as though I am standing there with a microphone, eyes big and face shiny. Here is the heart of it: “my own inexperience dealing with infertility and its aftermath, especially the shame that surrounds the concept of infertility.”

This is what it means to talk to a living poet about her work and hearing what it means to her. Because Youn, on paper, is elusive and dense and steeped in structures that I never studied in school. She is, to say it plain, too smart for me. There is no amount of time that I could have studied her meditations on Villon’s fabled hanged man, “Epiphyte,” and cycle of various -acres and found a baby at the bottom of it, unless she told me it was there.

The kaleidoscope of emotion is easier to speak about now that the baby is two, BLACKACRE is out, and she enjoys teaching at Princeton. But it was not always like this, and the book is a physical talisman that represents the five years her and her husband spent trying. “At the same time I was going through this issue with fertility, I was coming to the end of my legal career,” Youn says. “I was coming to an end of a lot of things in my life.”

It is one thing to choose not to produce children; the inability is the ultimate female failure—at least, according to certain stigmas. Youn and her husband, during this process, were “required to deal with a lot of side taboos in the States but also in Korea, where my family is from.” In the end, Youn and her husband decided to use a donor egg, and Youn tells me that the pregnancy itself was a positive experience.

The egg donor process, pregnancy, and writing happened in tandem. “I wanted to get all that darkness out of my system before I became a mother,” Youn says. The memory is still there, of course, and Youn acknowledges that. But better to focus on and try to understand or weave through that before needing to jump headlong into this other thing.

On the top of the questions I never ask is what the writer hopes readers will find in her book, but it seemed like a good question to ask Youn, given that the inspiration for the book and my experience of the book were so different. “You know, after readings, women come up to me and they tell me about their experiences with infertility and they’re always speaking in whispers,” Youn says. “They’re personally ashamed in a way that they wouldn’t be ashamed of another medical issue. And I think part of the reason I wrote this book, even though it was quite difficult to be this public about something this personal, is that I want to sort of start a conversation about that shame and what it’s about, and to try to dismantle it.”

Right away, I think of Lacy Johnson and her memoir THE OTHER SIDE and how it was published at a time when America was beginning to open up conversation about rape and sexual abuse. It went on to be a finalist for an Edgar Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award. BLACKACRE has been longlisted for this year’s National Book Award for poetry, following her previous collection IGNATZ, which was an NBA finalist.

“Perhaps [BLACKACRE] would have been different if I wrote it at a different time during the process,” Youn says. “I wrote it when I knew there would be a happy ending.”

BOOKSELLING IN THE 21ST CENTURY: WHEN YOUR BOOKSTORE GETS ROBBED

This feature was originally published at Literary Hub on 9/29/16

Anything can happen in twelve hours. Twelve hours: we close the doors on Sunday, September 18, and arrive the next morning to find the front door shattered. Inside, the usual signs of petty theft: the cash register broken, anything that had been locked now torn open like a wound. That call—the one that demands leaving the house without a shower, that summons for police reports—is never wanted, but it comes regardless.

No victims, no suspects, no witnesses. It is just a thing that happened. A thing happened and we did what is done when things happen: fret some and plan our next move. Phone calls are made; emails are sent. We do what we are supposed to do and hope the rest of the Monday is kind. We gather in front of the now pixelated front door and take a photo for our social media: six of us put up our middle fingers at someone who may well never see them. We tweet, “To whoever broke into our store & took our monies & hurt our door—screw you! #IndieBookstores #riseabove #alsowhy”

We laugh and it is enough. In Tacoma, Washington, fellow indie bookseller Kenny Coble sees our post, calls the store to order a book, and posts this tweet: “Someone broke into one of my favorite bookstores, @BrazosBookstore. Let’s show them some love and buy a book. brazosbookstore.com.” The hope? That a few people might follow his lead.

Coble, after all, has over 4,500 followers but often, it is hard to measure what that means, outside the abstract non-country that is the internet. Soon, we find out. Twelve hours: Coble posts one tweet and 21 people from 13 different states order from our website. Some orders are from friends—you know who you are—but many more are people who have never been to our store, or even the state of Texas. A few orders arrive from Litsy members (despite that we have yet to create a Litsy account).

It was not always like this, as Scott Esposito can attest. Founder of Quarterly Conversation, Director of Publicity and Senior Editor at Two Lines Press, and author ofThe Surrender, whose original publication was funded partially by Kickstarter, owes much to the internet. When I ask him about social media over email, his response is that social media is “the glue that holds it all together.” He reminds me that 20 years ago, it would be impossible to have “regular, day-to-day interactions with people in Los Angeles, Houston, New York, Paris, Melbourne,” where we can trade book recommendations and quotes we love “without paying thousands of dollars” to do it.

What social media does, Esposito says, is “[allow] a new kind of group consciousness to arise among the different parts of the literary worlds… the emergence of various online literary scenes that are not bounded by geography.” Today, the book community now reaches beyond publishers, bookstores, state lines, or any other arbitrary limits. That is how people from Ohio and Massachusetts can cross another book off their To Be Read pile by poking through our online store, because we are part of the book community which has no borders. “When I saw what was happening with Brazos… I thought how much I love being in this community and how many good people there are here who care about things and will take the time to do the right thing,” Esposito writes.

Total, we had almost 30 orders from 14 states and one from D.C. We had retweets from readers, writers, booksellers, bookstores, publishers, literary magazines, publicists, every type of bookish citizen. At the time of this article, our original tweet had over one hundred retweets with over three hundred likes. In what other industry could this happen? In what other time could this happen?

Perhaps most surprising was the kind note we received from the lovely Valeria Luiselli, author of many titles including The Story of My Teeth. In an email addressed to store manager Mark Haber, she writes, “my humble contribution to Brazos’s convalescence” and attached this talisman, a relic from the days when she dreamed of opening her own bookstore:

ATTENTION BIBLIOPIRATES

Stealing books is a centenary Practice. It is not a good Practice, though in some cases it can be deemed respectable, as it may come to constitute a form of redistribution of our greatest Wealth. But even in a trade like this one, there is a Code of Conduct. Any Bibliopirate worthy of his or her Guild, must follow at least three norms:

1) Never steal a book by an author who is still alive.

2) Never steal a book published by an Independent Press.

3) Never steal a book from an Independent Bookstore.

VL & Brazos Bookstore & Bibliopirates

No books were harmed during our robbery but the message remains the same: where there are books, there will always be book people, and where there are book people, there will always be ideas, and people willing to support and protect them.

Twelve hours: we asked each other why anyone would choose a bookstore as a mark. Twelve hours: we remember a bookstore is more than its building.

chaotic and/or exuberant

mark haber & mauro javier cardenas discuss the revolutionaries try again, language, etc:

For me Latin American English doesn’t simply mean sequencing words from both languages but tilting English to sound like my strand of Spanish such that, for some natives, the language will sound chaotic and / or exuberant, while for Latin Americans living in the USA the language will scan. Carmen Boullosa, the first Latin American who read my novel, picked up on my Latin American English immediately. I hope there will be more readers like her in the years to come.

( full Q&A here )

Q&A w/ laia jufresa, sophie hughes

This interview was originally published at BrazosBookstore.com on 9/12/16

How to stump me as a bookseller: come into the store and ask me for a funny, happy book where nothing bad happens. Because the truth is, I will fail you, one hundred percent of the time. The flip side? People ask me about my favorite books and often, I can see their eyes glaze over as I mention rape, suicide, addiction—as if those books can’t also have moments that are funny and happy.

Laia Jufresa’s debut novel, UMAMI, is such a book. In a hovel nested inside Mexico City, three families lose a mother, a daughter, and a wife. One leaves, one drowns, and one dies. However, Jufresa is not interested in that. Instead, UMAMI focuses on the next four years, and the way the neighbors inside the Belldrop Mews wade through their grief. Each character speaks in the present tense from a different year, between 2000 and 2004. Together, their accounts make a portrait of the ways we learn (or refuse) to cope.

Jufresa and her translator Sophie Hughes were kind enough to answer questions about the novel via e-mail.

*

Brazos Bookstore: UMAMI, to me, feels rooted in Mexico, even though the characters rarely leave their cloister. How do the Belldrop Mews and its tenants reflect the larger Mexico City? What is missing?

Laia Jufresa: Over 20 million people live in Mexico City. It’s a chaotic place that somehow manages to function and which, despite its unambiguous name, is more like many different cities at once. So this story, which takes place mostly inside an enclosed space of only five houses, does not portray the city (nor was that my intention). However, I agree with you in that the novel is very rooted in Mexico, but perhaps this happens not out of some sense of place as much as through the language, the atmospheres, the day-to-day of the characters and the tone of the relationships between neighbors and family members. I have lived in Mexico City, but only for about a third of my life, so in my heart and imaginary it remains a place made of emotional ties and singular expressions more than concrete streets and corners. So perhaps that’s what came through when I used it as a setting.

Sophie Hughes: I’ll only add that this novel touched me because it is universal. UMAMI brims with Mexico, but not the one I’d ever been sold in documentaries, articles, or movies before I moved here. I don’t read books set in foreign lands to see how exotic and foreign they are, but rather to hope to find in them common facets that define human nature. That’s the key for me. That’s why literature must be translated: so that books like UMAMI can come along and be brilliantly, movingly, entertainingly self-aware and honest in their observations about a place we may have a dubiously warped outsider’s vision of. Laia rips any narco-lit or magical realism label off a truly indefinable city.

BB: Why tell a story over five years through five voices?

LJ: I wanted to write about grief not in a melodramatic or immediate way, but by paying attention to its many ripples over time and as felt by different members of a small community. This interest led me to strive for a polyphony. Long before I had the story clear in my head, I was working on the different voices. I had the voice of a little girl who dies, and the voice of her sister seemingly finally over her period of mourning. This meant I needed a chronological structure that would allow those voices to coexist. I didn’t want to write a novel where the dead speak, so I needed the novel’s time span to allow me to include those two realities. Ditto for the other characters and their different losses or absences.

BB: There are two mysteries the characters want to solve—Why did Chela leave? How did Luz drown if she knows how to swim?—and another that is a riddle for the reader—What are “The Girls” that Alfonso is always on about?

The last section solves two of these puzzles and both revelations are mesmerizing! How do you create a universe in which these things are possible and also taken seriously?

LJ: That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I don’t think there’s one answer. In a way the whole book is my answer to how you would do just that—combine the serious and the absurd sides of real life—for this particular story.

I think one big important thing for me is achieving a sort of straight-forwardness with the voice, a place where I feel the voice is speaking truthfully, and then the story itself can be about anything at all. So perhaps it’s not so much about things being possible and taken seriously, as much as achieving a narration that makes things (anything) feel plausible, and feel as important to the reader as they do to the characters. But that building takes time and that’s why the last section seems to reveal so much.

The other key, I think, is the word you used: a universe. I think UMAMI is a book it takes a while to get into because it’s so far from the One Hero Journey roadmap that permeates so many of today’s narrative. I’ve read reviews that say things along the lines of “stick with it, it will be rewarding!”, and I sometimes cringe at this, thinking it is a flaw, perhaps one typical of first novels even, that I didn’t manage to fully hook the reader from page one. But other times I think what came through is that deep down I like books and characters—and people—that you have to get to know a bit before falling in love because there’s more to them than meets the eye. Building a universe, setting it up well enough—yet with only very minimal descriptions—so that the reader can leisurely move inside it, that’s something I’m really interested in. And I think perhaps building the Mews was the only way I could wrap my head around that task. Perhaps when you have closed walls you have spots where those mysteries and their many implications can bounce off or slowly percolate, whereas if the story was placed in an entire city as we discussed earlier, these very subtle nuances would get lost, and these puzzles that are so dear to the characters would seem meaningless.

BB: In this story, the female characters are bold while the men are passive and/or the ones who are left (either by death or by choice). Was that a conscious decision?

LJ: Not really. But so little in my writing process is a conscious decision…If it didn’t come naturally to me, though, I think this probably would be the one thing I’d make a point of attempting: to build complex multi-layered female characters. They’re rare where I come from. Not in life, of course, but Mexican literature, so rich in many other aspects—form, language, the mix of humor and seriousness, etc.—has taken so long to catch up to life in this one truth: that women are humans. I didn’t use to care but it bothers me more and more, somehow, to read book after book never finding a woman in it that isn’t a glaring stereotype—the whore or the mother. So yes, after this rant I’d say it probably was a decision, albeit an unconscious one, in that it’s something that matters to me. Not as a cause per se, but just because I find it ludicrous that something as rich and open as literature would be denied something as rich and endless as women’s inner worlds and daily acts of all sorts.

SH: This didn’t occur to me when I first read the book, but it certainly became clear as I translated it. I think Laia writes multi-layered characters whether they’re male, female, or inanimate reborn dolls. And I think when you read this book it’s not a glaringly obviously female targeted, if such a novel exists. Having said that, as a woman, I will never look at motherhood the same way again. Laia’s character’s decimation of society’s response to her having chosen not to have children is vital and brilliant, without ever moralizing. Of course, like any good novel, UMAMI doesn’t wear any moral or political messages on its sleeve, but it does pose some very pertinent questions about the human and female condition (and those terms themselves).

BB: Always, there is this sentiment from the characters that English dilutes everything in a way that is almost unforgivable. Bilingual characters are judged on whether they can mask their natural accent when using their second language. How did that attitude affect the translation process?

LJ: I’ll let Sophie get that one but I’ll just share that when my friend Carmen Cáceres, an Argentinian writer, read one of the first drafts she said to me, “This book is SO Mexican! They’re all obsessed with English!” I was taken aback. I would have named many other very Mexican features the book has before hitting upon that particular one. But then I thought about it and had to accept she was absolutely right.

SH: It wasn’t so much the attitude as the nitty-gritty “Gah, how will I get this outsider’s view of this English word across if the text I’m writing is in English?” Often, precisely because she’s so fluent and interested in English as a native Spanish speaker, the point of Laia’s jokes are at risk of being lost in English translation. To give an example: teenage Ana’s dad is Mexican, and her mom English, and she’s grown up bilingual.

“According to Dad, on principle you should distrust any language that uses the same word for libre and gratis.”

Here I had to trust that English readers have just enough of an awareness of (or subconscious link to) the Latin roots underpinning their language that even if they don’t speak Spanish, they’ll get the joke. If you don’t find any humor in UMAMI, you can be certain it’s because I’ve failed at my job.

BB: What projects are you working on now?

LJ: I just finished my first movie script. Hardest thing I’ve ever written, by the way. But now it has a director and a producer and if they somehow find loads of money, it will perhaps be a movie someday? In the meantime, I’m having a baby in a few months and striving to learn German so I can properly howl at the people in the delivery room when the time comes. (Because I live in Germany, not because I find that classier.)

SH: I’ve just translated a good chunk of LA RESTA (2015) by Alia Trabucco Zerán. Searing, intelligent, breathless, brave, uniquely crafted: you’ll definitely see this novel in English one day. And by chance, I translated a sample for a friend of hers, Guiseppe Caputo, who’s written a novel EL MUNDO HUÉRFANO that’s flying off the shelves in Colombia. I really want this book to find an English-language publisher. The setting is a kind of Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet beach wasteland/fairground. The relationship between father and his gay son one of the most tender I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The descriptions of the young man’s sex life are beautiful and brutal. I hope we get increasingly used to seeing literary novels that include homosexual sex in our bookshops. How can we hope for new novels to speak truthfully, as indeed Laia puts it, if we suppress what shocks us in its novelty or seeming inapplicability to our personal lives?

BB: What are recent works in translation you would recommend? What authors or works would you like to see translated into English?

LJ: I just found out Samantha Schweblin’s first novel (DISTANCIA DE RESCATE) is coming out in English! Do Not Miss It. It will be called FEVER DREAM and it’s translated by Megan McDowell.

And I wish Jorge Ibargüengoitia and Fabio Morabito were more available in translation.

SH: I wholeheartedly agree with Laia on Schweblin. I’m interested to see the reception. She may divide readers, but isn’t that what good books do—prompt discussion? FEVER DREAM appeals to me because it paints a dark, dramatic underbelly of motherhood. The same appeal as UMAMI had, in fact, although they are two very different novels. This is a good time for Latin American literature in translation. Mario Bellatín, Carmen Boullosa, Álvaro Enrigue, Verónica Gerber, Julián Herbert, Yuri Herrera, Laia Jufresa, Valeria Luiselli, Emiliano Monge, Guadalupe Nettel, Eduardo Rabasa, Daniel Saldaña Paris, Carlos Velázquez, and Juan Pablo Villalobos are contemporary authors recently or about to be published in English from Mexico alone! Just because no one (thankfully) has put a name on it yet (i.e. the Boom, the Crack) doesn’t mean something significant isn’t happening in front of readers’ eyes. I get the feeling at Brazos I’m preaching to the converted, though…