This week, the world's most elusive and delicious cheese, an autistic savant on mathematics and life, and Jason's newest graphic novel. Plus: taking a lit course taught by Borges.
The Glass Ocean by Lori Baker (Penguin) – Baker conjures the strange Victorian world, both lush and barren, of 18-year-old orphan Carlotta Dell’Oro. Over six feet tall, fiery-haired, and filled with longing for the parents who were distant and full of mystery even when alive, Carlotta imagines the story of their lives and her own existence. Two decades before, when young Leo Dell’Oro sails as ship’s artist with acclaimed naturalist Felix Girard on his expedition to the New World, Felix’s gorgeous, clever daughter, Clotilde, teases the awkward Leo and captures his heart. When Felix disappears in a small boat, Clotilde goes with Leo to England.
Professor Borges: A Course on English Literature by Jorge Luis Borges, edited by Martin Arias and Martin Hadis, trans. from the Spanish by Katherine Silva (New Directions) - This mesmerizing volume preserves the eclectic, erudite, and charismatic style of Argentine writer Borges and his insights on English literature, via his 1966 class at the University of Buenos Aires. Working from the transcriptions of tapes made by students, the editors have reconstructed the course, which traced English literature from its Saxon roots through the 19th century. The 25 lectures, on subjects including Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon elegies, and the novels of Charles Dickens, are bookended by informative essays and extensive, helpful endnotes.
Lost Cat by Jason (Fantagraphics) - A humorous PI story populated by animals takes a turn toward the absurd in the newest—and longest yet—graphic novel by Jason (Athos in America). Dan, a dog detective who evokes Humphrey Bogart’s down-on-their-luck antiheroes, is consumed by a chance connection brought about when he discovers a lost cat.
Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean (Pajama Presss) - Fifteen-year-old Nix Humbolt narrates his daily life in Bullbirds Cove, Newfound-land, where he and his family, one of only 23 remaining after the fishing industry collapsed, struggle to survive economic challenges, small-town politics, and adolescence. MacLean writes in short free-verse chapters that read like prose stripped of all unnecessary words.
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti (Dial) - Working as a proofreader on the newsletter for his local deli, Paterniti stumbled upon the story of a sublime cheese, Páramo de Guzmán (named after the family village from which it originates), that the deli’s owner discovered by chance in London. Made from the fresh milk of Churra sheep, “the cheese was submerged, after its first aging, in extra-virgin olive oil and aged again, for at least a year.” Intrigued by the story, as well as by the craft and love that went into making the cheese, Paterniti sets off on a quest to find the creator of Páramo de Guzmán and to listen to his story.
The Boy on the Bridge by Natalie Standiford (Scholastic) - Standiford (Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters) paints a somber portrait of communist Russia during the early 1980s in this love story tinged with intrigue. Laura, an American college student studying in Leningrad, is homesick and tired of “bitter cold, inedible food, filthy dorms, boring classes.” That’s before she meets Alyosha, a handsome young Russian artist who appears on a bridge just in time to save her from two aggressive gypsy women.
Thinking in Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math by Daniel Tammett (Little, Brown) - An autistic savant shares his insights on mathematics and life in this far-ranging collection of entertaining and thoughtful essays. Tammet’s (Born on a Blue Day) interests are intriguing and stunning in their diversity—one moment he’s considering the existence of extraterrestrial life and breaking down astronomer Frank Drake’s famous equation for calculating the number of intelligent civilizations in the universe; the next, he’s exploring Shakespeare’s fascination with “the presence of absence” and the ways in which nothing can reveal far more than something.
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez, trans. from the Spanish by Anne McLean (Riverhead) - Around 1996, when murder and bloody mayhem fueled by the drug trade were commonplace in Bogotá, the young law professor Antonio Yammara befriends enigmatic stranger Ricardo Laverde. One night, assassins on motorbikes open fire on the two, killing Laverde and seriously wounding Yammara. Conflicted and at a loss to understand the damage Laverde has wrought, Yammara looks into his life story.