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Sally Ito -- Night Table Recommendations

Wednesday, Sep 21, 2011 at 10:26am

Giving a book is like giving an obligation. - Gabriel Zaid in So Many Books.

My life is one long night of unfinished books. - A character in one my unfinished short stories.

I had a bit of a laugh when I received the request for Night Table recommendations from McNally Robinson's because I have a bad habit of starting a lot of books (usually at night) and never finishing them. So of course I'd never deign to actually recommend any book to put on one's night table for one to actually finish, keeping also Zaid's comment in mind! In other words, the little list I'm putting forth here is simply what I'm reading now and if you should happen to be interested in the books, all the better!

Since I'm a writer of different genres, a translator, and a teacher, I've usually got books on hand to meet those various needs of my writing life as they arise.

Click *More* to read further...

Something Nice: Songs for Children by Kaneko Misuzu. Translated by D.P. Dutcher.

This is a book of children's poems written by the Taisho era Japanese poet, Kaneko Misuzu (1903-1930). I first heard about Misuzu Kaneko sometime last year; her poetry has recently been much celebrated in Japan and is slowly making its way into English translation. This book is one of only two English translations I know of Misuzu's work. Simple but profound, her verse has a child-like quality to it that I find deeply moving. I've read other poetry books for children before, but there was something that struck a chord in me with Misuzu's work that attracted me to her poems. Right now, my aunt in Japan and I have been translating her verse into English and it's been a real pleasure to encounter Misuzu's work in the Japanese original (parts of which I can read) and craft that sensibility into English.

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascale Mercier.

I had never heard of this book or read about it until it was sent to me as a gift from a friend in Iceland who picked it up at a fundraiser for the Japan Tsunami/Earthquake in that country. So I came to this book out of sheer obligation, and actually it's been a pleasure so far to read. I would describe it as a male mid-life crisis book - a 57 year old professor of the classical languages, Raimund Gregorius, abruptly leaves his career position at Swiss university to pursue the life of a little known Portuguese doctor whom he is attempting to understand through the late doctor's arcane and privately published book, A Goldsmith of Words.

The Art of Time in Memoir: Then, Again. By Sven Birkerts.

Okay, so I put a hold on this book at the library in spring just after I had finished translating my maternal grandfather's memoir from Japanese into English and just before I left for Japan for four months. Throughout the process of translation, I had been grappling with how my grandfather was telling his story, and how such a story in its constituent parts could be made to be more interesting, more literary and somehow I heard about this book. It was only after I came back from Japan that I got notice from the library that the book I had put on hold was now available.

The Art of Short Fiction, Brief Edition. Edited by Gary Geddes.

I'm teaching creative writing short fiction in the fall at Canadian Mennonite University. This is the text I usually use and before I teach, I like to read it again. The selected short stories - Geddes is a superb anthologist - are always worth re-reading and dissecting. The essays in the back by the writers on the craft of writing the short story are also useful and illuminating. Re-reading these stories have whet my appetite again for the form and have returned me to my many files of uncompleted short stories with a renewed sense of vigor in, well, finishing them!

A Large Harmonium by Sue Sorensen.

You've heard of Eat Local, well, this is my Read Local pick at the moment. This is a brand new release from Saskatchewan's Coteau Books. A Large Harmonium is a year in the life of Winnipeg professor, English mother and literary critic, Janet Erlicksen who negotiates the various travails of her academic and domestic life with gusto and wit. Beware, this is a very funny book - with an engaging narrator from the get-go. I'm having to co-read this one with my husband, but I'm pretty sure I'll finish this one. It's not long, it's funny, and you can feel good reading it because, hey, it's local.


Born in Taber, Alberta, Sally Ito is a writer, editor, and translator living in Winnipeg with her husband and two children. Currently, she is an instructor of Creative Writing and a contributor to a children's multicultural literary blog. To express a deep abiding love for things 'visible and invisible' is what she aspires to in writing her poetry; failing and yet ever striving is the process through which she hopes one day to arrive. Ito's latest collection is Alert to Glory, published by Turnstone Press and recently launched at our Grant Park location.

Categories: Reviews, Discussions, Authors, Night Table Recommendations

More articles from books


Alert to Glory

- Sally Ito

Trade paperback $17.00 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $15.30

Plunging deep into the soul, Sally Ito renders a spiritual examination like no other in her new poetry collection, Alert to Glory. With this cohesive meditation of creativity, motherhood and poetry, Ito discerns spiritual gifts in daily acts of raising children and writing. Her images tie in to profound moments with clear, fearless language: a clematis vine ceases to exist when the speaker is distracted by a poem - her first child. "I'm the poem, he says./Look at me!" Children's teeth falling out, the endless exhaustion of mother's work, and the sight of an old baby carriage connect to deeper insights.

So Many Books!

- Gabriel Zaid, Natasha Wimmer

Trade Paperback $22.50 - Add to Cart

"Reading liberates the reader and transports him from his book to a reading of himself and all of life. It leads him to participate in conversations, and in some cases to arrange them . . . It could even be said that to publish a book is to insert it into the middle of a conversation." (from So Many Books)

Join the conversation! In So Many Books, Gabriel Zaid offers his observations on the literary condition: a highly original analysis of the predicament that readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, and teachers find themselves in today--when there are simply more books than any of us can contemplate. "...Zaid traces the preoccupation with reading back through Dr. Johnson, Seneca, and even the Bible ('Of making many books there is no end'). He emerges as a playful celebrant of literary proliferation, noting that there is a new book published every thirty seconds, and optimistically points out that publishers who moan about low sales 'see as a failure what is actually a blessing: The book business, unlike newspapers, films, or television, is viable on a small scale.' Zaid, who claims to own more than ten thousand books, says he has sometimes thought that 'a chastity glove for authors who can't contain themselves' would be a good idea. Nonetheless, he cheerfully opines that 'the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.'"--The New Yorker    

Night Train to Lisbon

- Pascal Mercier, Barbara Harshav

Trade paperback $25.50 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $22.95

In Swiss novelist Mercier's U.S. debut, Raimund Gregorius is a gifted but dull 57-year-old high school classical languages teacher in Switzerland. After a chance meeting with a Portuguese woman in the rain, he discovers the work of a Portuguese poet and doctor, Amadeu de Prado, persecuted under Salazar's regime. Transfixed by the work, Gregorius boards a train for Lisbon, bent on discovering Prado's fate and on uncovering more of his work. He returns to the sites of Prado's life and interviews the major players—Prado's sisters, lovers, fellow resistors and estranged best friend—and begins to lose himself. The artful unspooling of Prado's fraught life is richly detailed: full of surprises and paradoxes, it incorporates a vivid rendering of the Portuguese resistance to Salazar. The novel, Mercier's third in Europe, was a blockbuster there. Long philosophical interludes in Prado's voice may not play as well in the U.S., but the book comes through on the enigmas of trying to live and write under fascism.

The Art of Time in Memoir

- Sven Birkerts

Trade paperback $18.50 - Add to Cart
Reader Reward Price: $16.65

The Art Of series is a new line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism. Each book will be a brief, witty, and useful exploration of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry by a writer impassioned by a singular craft issue. The Art Of volumes will provide a series of sustained examinations of key but sometimes neglected aspects of creative writing by some of contemporary literature's finest practioners.

In The Art of Time in Memoir, critic and memoirist Sven Birkerts examines the human impulse to write about the self. By examining memoirs such as Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory; Virginia Woolf's unfinished A Sketch of the Past; and Mary Karr's The Liars' Club, Birkerts describes the memoirist's essential art of assembling patterns of meaning, stirring to life our own sense of past and present.