Advice on picking books to read in a foreign language
someone asked me the other day about helping them select a fiction book to read in a foreign language so here are my recommendations. generally, I prefer to read a physical book, so often I do not have access to a dictionary because I am in public and can’t be bothered getting my phone out every 2 seconds. these are aimed at people like that. I also read a lot in the beginning to improve vocabulary so that’s the flip-side of this list. and this is largely for European languages, because that’s what I read, contributions from other languages would be cool!
Mike, I get the feeling I'd really appreciate Absurdist literature, but I have no idea where to start (except a vague sense that I should read Camus). Do you have any recommendations? Preferably something that's an enjoyable and thought-provoking read without being too dense.
Oooo! Yeah, sure. Though I might say: if density is something you are looking to avoid, it’s gonna be tough going.
The main characteristic of absurdist lit is that it’s gonna deal with Why People Are the Way People Are. With that as your jumping off point, add the fact that lots of it was inspired by (or inspired) dada-ist, surrealist and postmodern art practice and well… yeah… not exactly Stereotypical Beach Reading.
That being said, I might start with one of the following, each of which meet roughly your criteria:
The Stranger, Camus
The Trial, Kafka
If you’re into those there’s all kinds of area for you to explore (not all of it strictly “Absurdist Lit”, but all having many of its characteristics).
If you’re into the French thing, there is more Camus but there are also many plays written by Sartre, Genet and Ionesco. And all their related theoretical/critical writings as well!
If you’re into Kafka, there’s so much more Kafka. I’m a big fan of The Castle and his collected stories. From here, I might suggest moving to Beckett? I started reading Beckett with Three Novels which is a challenge; if you wanna start easy, begin with some of his plays. Ever read Waiting for Godot? Maybe now’s the time.
From Heller there are many American writers that’d be logical next steps. It kinda depends upon how deep into American Post-Modernism you wanna get. Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five), Donald Barthelme (Sixty Stories)… maybe even William S Burroughs (Naked Lunch, Nova Trilogy)? … (thats a biiiig stretch) are possible options.
I’m currently reading JR by William Gaddis and it is great, definitely relates to this in a big way, though lacks some on-the-nose nihilism and that sense of struggle you find in absurdist works.
So. There are some things to try! Definitely not mutually exclusive; some paths based on my sense of these novels. If you end up reading any of these, lemme know how it goes! And if you finish a bunch please read like… a Toni Morrison or Margaret Atwood book because dang this is a long list of white dudes.
I have to admit, I am highly entertained by seeing arguments about what Ron Paul would do if elected President. I like reading them, because I’ve always loved absurdist literature. I’m not going to bother talking about why he’s not a viable candidate, because he proves it every time he opens his mouth.