Backchat: Not to Read

Alejandro Zambra, Not to Read (trans. Megan McDowell)

Alejandro Zambra, Not to Read.
Translated by Megan McDowell.
Fitzcarraldo Editions. £12.99.
Buy direct from the publisher.

Splice publishes new content on Mondays and Wednesdays, but throughout the week we bulk it out with bonus material on Facebook and Twitter. On Fridays, “Backchat” looks at the week that was and gathers up all the bonus material in one place.

This week on Splice, Jason DeYoung reviewed Not to Read, Alejandro Zambra’s collection of essays on literature. “Zambra opens up different territories to reading and exploring with enthusiastic and creditable recommendations”, he writes. “Think of Not to Read as a chance to listen to another reader who has read a literary canon you haven’t; or, perhaps, you have read these books, and thus you can balance your affinities and grumbles against another’s well-formed opinions.”

We had planned to follow up Jason’s review with a brief Q&A with Zambra’s translator, Megan McDowell, but a cruel twist of fate thwarted those plans. We hope to bring you her thoughts on Not to Read at a later date.

In the meantime, of course, you can read McDowell’s introduction to Not to Read, plus the first three of Zambra’s essays, at the book’s Amazon page; just click “Look Inside” on the cover image. The first essay, “Obligatory Readings”, can also be found at the website of Fitzcarraldo Editions, the publisher of the book, by clicking “Read Preview” next to the “Subscribe” button. And Zambra’s essay on Cesare Pavese, originally published in Granta in 2013, is still freely available on the Granta website, while an edited version of his essay on Nicanor Parra appeared in the New Yorker earlier this year. More recently, following the publication of Not to ReadBookanista excerpted Zambra’s provocative essay ‘Against Poets’.

In reviewing Not to Read, Jason DeYoung went through Zambra’s back catalogue and came away impressed by titles like BonsaiMy Documents, and Multiple Choice. A lot of Zambra’s fiction is available online, too. A good place to start would be the first three “Reading Comprehension” entries, extracted from Multiple Choice, in the New Yorker, in Granta, and in Harper’s.

More recently, The White Review ran a fantastic interview with Zambra, discussing all things Not to Read. And if you would like to see what Megan McDowell has to say about the art of translation and her relationships with various Latin American writers, you’ll find her in conversation with the Paris Review and also at LitHub. Those two interviews focus mostly on her work translating Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, but she shares her impressions of Alejandro Zambra (and others) as well.

That’s all for this week! Next week we’ll be looking at two novels composed in fragments, each of which looks at the lives of historical figures in order to say something difficult about someone in the present day: Alicia Kopf’s Brother in Ice, translated by Mara Faye Lethem, and John Edgar Wideman’s American Histories. Follow Splice on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with everything as it unfolds…