It’s a special moment when a stranger gives you back the gift of a long-forgotten but much-loved book. It happened to me this week: a woman handed over The Men’s Club by Leonard Michaels, mentioning that she’d recently read Sylvia. “Sylvia!” I said, and a flood of memories—no, something stronger: a former me suddenly inhabiting and vying with the now-me—took over.
When the Viennese author Stefan Zweig first travelled to Brazil in 1936, he deemed the South American country “terra incognita in the cultural sense.”
Now that we've lived with Brazil through the Olympics coverage and caught glimpses of the place and its people, we look to a variety of novels to pull us further into this diverse land.
We built this site one year ago and maintain it out of a desire to share—to share books, to trade ideas, to gush about the words that excite us and to puzzle our way through pressing, challenging ideas. The second-best thing about reading something amazing that shakes our foundations or just makes us sit back in awe is knowing that we can pass it on to others who will also feel that joy or shock or comfort or provocation.
Thank you for being our readers. We take you along every day when we visit bookstores and libraries, and we think of you with every book we pick up.
During the two years that Henry David Thoreau spent on Walden Pond, physical labors—the completion of his cabin, the cultivation of food to nourish his body—prevented much reading, the act that nourishes the spirit. “Yet,” he writes in Walden, “I sustained myself by the prospect of such reading in future.”
And then there are those novelists whose esteem grows with each book they fail to publish. Rumors and expectations mount. When—if—it finally appears, the book will change the way we read and write. Harold Brodkey, one of the most notorious of them all, garnered more celebrity each year, indeed each decade, that he missed deadlines for his long-awaited novel.
Readers assumed it was a pseudonym. The author, some said, had to be a man. Surely it couldn’t be as simple—as complex—as it seemed: in 1943, the twenty-three-year-old Ukrainian-born Clarice Lispector, daughter of Russian-Jewish émigrés living in exile in Brazil, published a debut novel that generated the kind of literary celebrity that no longer exists. Critics and readers established a new name for this literary wonder: the author became known as nothing less than “Hurricane Clarice.”
The Nobel Prize for Literature has never been awarded to a photographer, but over the past forty years the Brazilian-born Sebastião Salgado has traveled the globe to tell some of the world’s most pressing stories. From drought in the Sudan to genocide in Rwanda, forced migrations across borders, refugee camps in Africa, the burning oil fields in Kuwait to the glorious pristine corners and species of our planet, Salgado has given us iconic images of the past half-century.
I tend to prefer, perversely, fiction that makes me uncomfortable, novels that force me to question the choices I’ve made, stories that remind me that I am the center—only—of my own tiny universe and that many other universes bump into mine and are influenced by mine, just as mine takes hits from all of theirs. Some of my favorite novels unnerve me. They make me want to take to bed for days. Or to march in the street to overthrow every wrong.
This has been a rough week. A rough month. A rough year. Sometimes we don’t want to talk about it anymore; we just want comfort, wisdom, love so we can get strong enough to talk about it again and again, until we fix what’s gone wrong. But today, just some words from writers we love about how to love, how to listen, how to empathize.
After a long-awaited trip comes the inevitable letdown: the lazy or exciting or action-packed days in a foreign city are finished, the cheap and delicious local food long digested (those whole sardines covered in salt grilled on the street, tar-thick rich coffee, tarts piled high with custard, endless flakey pastries…), the few phrases we’ve perfected in Portuguese (or Italian or Spanish) continue to fade until they are forgotten completely.
How do we make sense of it all? And how do we solidify our experiences so that they don’t fade into barely remembered swathes of color, blurs of beauty, those flashes that make us ask each other: in what city did we taste that unusual sparkling red?
One year ago when we decided to devote a website to reading and literature, we turned to the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa for guidance and a name.
Over the past week, we’ve been enjoying our morning coffee at the poet’s hangout, Café a Brasileira, and reading his work while we enjoy Lisbon, where he was born in 1888 and died in 1935. Join us in following him and his legacy around the city.
Nothing tormented me more as a child Catholic than the idea—the promise—of eternal life after death. What would I do forever?
Jennifer Levasseur finds herself following in Antonio Tabucchi's footsteps, wondering about the resurrection of the body and our responsibility to be active in political discourse.