Even though nothing much seems to change these days, radical shifts are happening in the undercurrent of my moods and most of the books on my original pandemic reading list are things I don’t even want to face right now. Yes, I still wonder about small details in The Great Influenza, but I know I’ll never re-read that book and have given it to our local Little Free Library (from whence it was quickly snatched up). Instead, the book I find myself recommending most right now (and most want to re-read) is Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey. Let me tell you all the reasons why…
Reading is Escape
I think we all intellectually understand that reading takes us out of the moment we’re in and immerses us in something else. For a while I needed to be immersed in the worst that could happen to remember that anything else is better. Right now I want to explore the world that exists beyond the one mile route I walk every morning with my family.
Ways to Disappear is set in a steamy Brazil where American translator Emma Neufeld goes in search of Beatriz Yagoda, a Brazilian author who had climbed a tree and then disappeared. Emma is (of course) also searching for herself as she tromps around Brazil and it’s easy to get wonderfully lost in the antics that ensue and in the locations. Even as I type this, I’m remembering how the book recalled for me a time when I ate a fresh papaya on Ipanema Beach (a sensation no papaya since has ever matched – à la Proust).
Before the virus, we’d been planning on maybe finally taking my son to Europe this year. He’s only four, but I haven’t traveled internationally with my husband for eight years and we were ready. We won’t make it this year, and my son would not be interested in this book, but the ways that reading this book felt like being abroad are making me misty right now.
It’s Really Funny
If you’re not yet at a place where you need/want a laugh, buy this book anyway for the day that you do. Emma is delightfully, poignantly messy and lovable. The well-constructed plot (including a very colorful loan shark) is worthy of a 1940s romantic comedy. And it’s wonderfully sexy. One taste of the humor is the moment in the book when a second-rate Brazilian author also climbs into a tree to see if their book sales will also skyrocket. I smiled throughout this book. That alone was worth the cover price.
Novey Writes Beautifully
There are a number of things I could have titled this section: Novey and I clearly love some of the same authors (Clarice Lispector to start), Novey does a wonderful job of inhabiting the worldview of a translator in her characterization, this book feels effortless and also smart. They’re all true. It’s rare for a book to hit both the “escapist” and the “damned well put together” buttons at the same time and Novey definitely accomplished both with this book. I look forward to reading it again and also to ordering more of her books from my local independent bookstore.
This is the place where I usually suggest that you order the book from Powell’s so I get a small commission and you support a great bookstore. But now is an especially important time to give extra support to the bookstores in your local community. Many of them will have shipping specials or other creative ways to get you the books you need. If you’re in Washington, here’s a list of bookstores that are still open in some way.
Life at Home
If you’re wondering what life is like where I’m at, I published a poem this past week. The moment it describes is about two weeks old and many things have subtly shifted, but it captures the then as well as I could.
Natasha Oliver saysApril 18, 2020 at 10:19 am
From where do you get your book recommendations? I mean, you find the most interesting stories and draw me in with your description of them. This is now on my list, though, it is a long one!
Reading something that can help us activate our imagination of “far off” places is really helpful right now, and if I can chuckle every now and again, then I’m bound to love it even more.
Isla McKetta, MFA saysApril 18, 2020 at 10:23 am
I have no idea! I think Twitter and then also some newsletters I subscribe to. I think the trick is that books are the only thing my brain can actually remember (or maybe it’s just that I’m that diligent about Goodreads). I’d read another of Novey’s books recently (though I don’t remember how I found it) and then wanted more, so I found this one. I think you’ll like it (eventually, whenever you get to it, as I still believe books find you when you’re ready). Love to you and yours!