Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Year in Reading (What I actually read)

I set myself a goal of reading 50 books this year (almost to dare myself to read that many), with the idea of starting off with a set of particular books I planned to read. But I have had quite the year of exploring new books and of deliberately seeking out books in the genres I'm most interested in cultivating (books from the Fascist period in Italy, for example). That means that I often will put aside a book I am reading to make room for a new arrival. Hence, the best laid plans of mice and men....But here's what I actually wound up reading:

Books I read:
1. L'Isola di Arturo -- Elsa Morante
2. La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucria -- Dacia Maraini
3. Sagittario -- Natalia Ginzburg
4. Le voci della sera -- Natalia Ginzburg (re-read)
5. Happiness as Such -- Natalia Ginzburg
6. Suspended Sentences (Part I) -- Patrick Modiano
7. Paris Nocturne -- Patrick Modiano
8. Villa Triste -- Patrick Modiano
9. Suspended Sentences (Trilogy -- Part II) -- Patrick Modiano
10. L'uomo che non ho sposato -- Rossana Campo
11. Country Girl (memoir) -- Edna O'Brien
12. Harry Potter, Book 3
13. Wide Sargasso Sea -- Jean Rhys
14. Best American Essays, 2018
15. Autumn Light: Season of Fire and Farewell -- Pico Iyer
16. Starting Out in the Evening -- Brian Morton
17. A Girl Returned -- Donatella Di Pietrantonio
18. County Girls trilogy (fiction) -- Edna O'Brien
19. Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories (edited by Jhumpa Lahiri)
20. Je vois des antennes partout -- by Julie Delporte (in French, yes, but it is a graphic novel and I missed lots of words)
21. In Patagonia -- Bruce Chatwin
22. Harry Potter, Book 4
23. Harry Potter, Book 5 (new fave in the series?!)
24. The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep, Nerina Ramlakhan
25. Walden

Annual re-reading
26. A Christmas Carol -- Charles Dickens (I have read it now for several years running)

(More after the jump)

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Year in Writing (and Translation) -- 2019

The year -- in writing, in living, in anything -- never quite turns out how you planned it, right?

Sad to say, I rarely get all the writing done that I'd like. But one reason -- one culprit! -- is literary translation. And in fact, to be fair, this letter to myself is a roundup of what I accomplished in writing AND translation this year. Next year I might add 'thinking' -- because maybe that counts (?). Or maybe I am doing a whole of thinking but not a whole lot of doing?

I'll start with the writing first, given the origins of this annual column, which began after I read a similar piece by the novelist, essayist and sometime travel writer Alexander Chee (proud to say he is also a Wes alum!). I always hesitate to mention this because swinging around a name like that can create expectations and then I have to hasten to add that I didn't accomplish anything near what Chee accomplished, that year or any subsequent year. But it remains my inspiration, and it's also useful as a reality check. By the time he wrote his roundup, he was way more successful than I am -- yet still charting out the year.

With that said, I am happy to report I landed my first byline with Longreads. (Hopefully my first of several since it is truly a wonderful space for writing). And not just any byline, but a piece where I could retell the rebirth of my writing life.

I also published an essay on Ploughshares magazine's website about the novel I am translating, Passaggio in ombra by Mariateresa Di Lascia. It was my first byline with Ploughshares but more importantly, it was my way of keeping this project on the collective radar of the wider literary community. I was thrilled to win a $5,000 grant from PEN America last year for this translation project-in-progress, but I really want to see it come into English. And I need a publisher to do that (preferably one who sees value in publishing a novel that exposed the pains of #MeToo long before the #MeToo era). You can read the piece by clicking here.

But I suppose the big news for me was really once again translation-related: I won a short-term fellowship at the New York Public Library to study the works of Holocaust-era writers, one of whom I've begun to translate. I'll be at the library for two weeks in April and I presume I will float in bibliophilic ecstasy around the stacks, and in the great reading room, and maybe out front with the lions. The New York Public Library! Pinch me.

So much was not finished (a long essay on Italy, for starters). And oy, the rejections! So many. They particularly sting when they involve translations because I feel as though I have let down the Italian author whose words I have the privilege of ferrying over to the Anglophone world.

Of course, I also lived this year, and lived in a way that both frustrated writing and fostered it. I say frustrated because I've actually set a goal for myself to live more, write less (yes, you read right). At the same time, we visited Montreal again, my new home-away-from-home, and I was so swept up in Francophilia that I wrote loads, if only in my journal. I shouldn't say 'if only,' though, since my journal is not merely the record of my thoughts but the incubator for many writing projects.

One more "distraction": teaching. Two milestone moments in my nascent teaching career: I taught a course on Italian Women Writers (my passion) in Italian (yes), and I taught a course on the Literature of Travel at my alma mater, Wesleyan University. This kind of "distraction" (from writing/translating) is seriously welcomed! Revisiting the place where I came of age intellectually (or tried to), I found I walked the campus, not alone this time or with friends, but with the Ghosts of Jeanne Past.

I'll end on a note that I typically post to Facebook when I publish this column: What did you accomplish this year? In writing or translation or running or anything. Where's your Year in Writing or Year in Running (or insert field of endeavor here)?

I always ask this question ... but who will answer? Give me a Christmas gift and answer the question. I know you did something you're proud of. Please tell us! (here or on Facebook)

**Peace and love**

Monday, December 02, 2019

Time for the panettone -- from the archives

I've always thought about panettone at this time of the year, even back before you could find the little Italian Christmas loaves everywhere in America. And I'm reposting this essay -- about the ritual of going to buy a panettone in Florence -- from a few years back:

I opened the panettone.

I wasn't going to. I bought it last week at the Whole Foods store on Ponce in Atlanta with the idea of bringing it somewhere as a special treat.

But then I thought, well, I would like a special treat. Right here, right now.

So I opened it, and still mulling over a long-awaited email I had received from a British friend this morning, I had a flashback to the days when I lived in Florence and I would buy a panettone to bring for Christmas dinner.

Read the rest of the post here.