Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Spring 2009: Long Tail—Meehan Crist and Jim Ruland

By James Marcus

To continue the Long Tail series, we have suggestions from Believer editor Meehan Crist and from Jim Ruland, whose most recent collection of short fiction is Big Lonesome. (You can read the earlier, omnibus post here. And a reminder: we asked respondents which work in translation had the deepest effect on their reading and writing.)

Meehan Crist: The first time I read Auschwitz and After by Charlotte Delbo, translated from the French by Rosette C. Lamont, I could hardly believe that such a book had been written. imageDelbo blends poetry, reportage, and memoir to create a singular cartography of almost unspeakable physical and mental suffering. It is truly an example of how form can arise from, perhaps be demanded by, content. The book is a fascinating companion to Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, because it portrays women’s response to life in the camps, which was arguably different from the responses of men in Levi’s account. It is valuable both as a historical document and as the work of a singular prose stylist.

Jim Ruland: The first time I read Jean-Philippe Toussaint I was standing in the main gallery of BEA in L.A. last year. imageI was flipping through Monsieur, Toussaint’s second novel, and stopped to read a page.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of ten thousand books crying out for attention, I was instantly, unequivocally hooked . Somehow the words of a Belgian author from a work written in French and published 20 years ago found purchase in my imagination. And it hasn’t left. Since then I’ve read four Toussaint novels—two of them twice—and look forward to rereading Monsieur later this spring. Toussaint’s novels are slender affairs that can be read in an afternoon. They’re full of motion, obsessed with ideas, and utterly unconcerned with motive. Dalkey Archive Press recently re-released a trio of Toussaint’s books (one in June, two in November of 2008) and each one is a treasure.