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I received There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya¬†for Christmas from Jamie, who said she was drawn to it right away and thought I would be, too. Correct! I’d read about it when it first came out and was completely intrigued.

The story collection is translated from Russian into English by Keith Gessen (n+1) and Anna Summers. Their introduction situates it within a global context–they recount a story in which, in 1973, Petrushevskaya, a young, long-suffering widow, hitchhiked on a pilgrimage to Thomas Mann’s home on the Baltic coast with the intention of also meeting with an editor who may not have known that her writing was banned in Russia (the meeting paid off). They describe how her bleak, dark fiction about the lives of Russian women was transgressive enough to be a threat to the government even though it was never explicitly political. When the USSR fell apart, Petrushevskaya’s work became available and she, in turn, became, as the introduction says, “Russia’s best-known living writer” (ix).¬† This translation makes her work available to readers of English.

So, I was excited to read the book, in part because of its brave, feminist author’s extraordinary career trajectory, but also because the idea of literary “scary fairy tales” was pretty fun. Read the rest of this entry »

My relationship with Anthony Bourdain is a conflicted one. I can’t say I love him and hate him in equal measures; love wins out. But he does irritate the shit out of me. But he’s kind of hot. But he’s so arrogant! But he shows me so many kinds of interesting food on the television. But he makes it all about him! But sometimes he’s really poetic. And he’s from New Jersey. And he went to Vassar! But he dropped out. You see what I mean.

I received his book A Cook’s Tour for my birthday. Read the rest of this entry »

The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard is the second book I’ve finished in 2010. What was the first? Who knows. It doesn’t matter. Anyone who has read this book knows that it tends to crowd out all else. It is the kind of book that one wants to injest, or tear up and wear close to the skin.

Ms. Beard’s collection, comprised of thirteen autobiographical stories (including the preface), contains tales of her childhood, her adulthood, the nebulous years in between, the time she and her cousin were in rowboat together, unborn in their mothers’ stomachs. She tries the boundaries of nonfiction, inhabiting her dying mother’s memory, recounting moments from her infancy, conversations for which she couldn’t have been present. But, showing us how her parents reacted (would have reacted?) to her as a screaming baby or a toddler bereft at the loss of a favorite doll, gives us their personalities, their relationships, the dynamics of the family in a way the reader can fully imagine. Rather than just presenting the outlines of what can be fact-checked, she renders her remembered reality. In stretching the genre, she writes truer stories. Read the rest of this entry »