Wednesday, June 1, 2011
An Author I Love and How I Came to Love Her So
A little more than a year ago, fumbling through the disorganized stacks of books that fill our lovingly and aptly titled 'Cave,' the sector of Green Apple where we process most of our used buys, I stumbled across a title that piqued my interest. Yoko Tawada's The Bridegroom Was a Dog appeared to me as a perfect little book, an undersized hardback with a plain white cover, the title elegantly printed across it in a black seriffed typeface with Tawada's name above in red. The only garnishes, a tiny illustration of an anthropomorphized Weimaraner, licking its chops, dressed in the suit of a Western groom, and a bit of fine print in one corner stating that the book had once been honored with Japan's Akutagawa Prize.
There was something sort of foreboding about the initial appearance of the novel. It looked a little nasty, if in an literary sort of way. I was thinking maybe like Nabokov, or one of those Angela Carter short stories that features a gruff sexual undertone. Unfortunately I was leaving the next day for a long vacation that would take me to a few of this country's major cities, and had already had planned my vacation reads (I'd been saving Karinthy's Metropole for New York City). So I passed the book along to a coworker who I thought likely to be interested in it as well, and it was the day before I left Chicago that I received a text message from her informing me that the Tawada book was definitely worth my time.
I checked at Myopic Books in Chicago first (probably my favorite bookstore outside of Green Apple), but to no avail. Lacking the time to scout out anywhere else in the midwest, I settled for a copy of Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver and moved on. Not having the advantage of living in Manhattan to make routine searches The Strand felt hopeless, but I made the effort anyhow. No luck of course, but the stressed out book buyer who helped me was at least able to let me know that the book was out of print before he had to resume being shouted at by some irate Austrian. I had similar though less colorful experiences at a small handful of used bookstores in Brooklyn whose names I have forgotten. I stuck out again at Seattle's Magus Books, but was provided a water damaged copy of The Invention of Morel for cheap as consolation. New Orleans' Faulkner House sold me a copy of A Happy Man (which returned to SF as my staff pick I might add) and Maple Street Books found me too poor to afford anything, although I did have an interesting conversation with an employee there about NOLA literacy, the need for bookstores post-Katrina both corporate and non, leaving me feeling like a spoiled yuppie brat for having home with an option to say "scram" to places like Borders.
I couldn't find a good used bookstore in LA. I think we drove past them all too fast. What gives, SoCal? Suggestions?
I ignored what I hadn't managed to finish of my new stack of literature without even thinking about it upon my return to San Francisco. I read The Bridegroom Was a Dog right away. It turned out to be everything I had hoped for and more. A strange and grimy few works of fiction beyond just the titular story. Not only that but Tawada's themes throughout the book were wrapped around travel, language, the sense of feeling foreign and the search for things missing both physically perceived and otherwise. The fact that I had looked for it cross country to find it at home exactly where I knew it would be seemed oddly appropriate.
Yoko Tawada writes in both Japanese and German, her works requiring translation from either/or depending on the book. Aside from The Akutagawa Prize she has been honored with The Gunzo Prize, The Goethe Medal, The Ito Sei Literary Prize, The Adelbert von Chamisso Prize (for foreign writers who contributing to German Culture), the prestigious Tanizaki Prize, and probably some more that I haven't read about. Also, shining above all of these impressive credentials, she is a total weirdo. Why not take a look? Believe me it is worth the trouble.
CLICK HERE to see our selection of novels by Yoko Tawada and note, a few we have as remainders. Excellent new books for cheap. You can't lose.