General blog posts

Pearls Before Swine, Chapter 1: All Men Are Dogs

One night, after an unusually ample plate of pulled pork sliders, Keaton Patterson was visited by a large talking pig. “Colossal” was how he described it to Mark Haber, “with a cleft nose and a pierced eyelid. And it wasn’t just talking either—it was eloquent.” He stretched out the last word as though unsure how it ended. “This pig was a soothsayer, a sage. He was sharing his wisdom for the ages and he feared for all of humankind.

The Bridegroom Was a Dog Cover Image
By Yoko Tawada, Margaret Mitsutani (Translator)
ISBN: 9780811220378
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - November 27th, 2012


Keaton: And it just gets weirder and weirder from there.

Mark: Yeah.

Keaton: You know, I was doing a little bit of research. And Yoko Tawada, she’s a very prominent contemporary Japanese writer. She also writes in German apparently. She’s won major awards in both Germany and Japan. THE BRIDEGROOM WAS A DOG in particular won the Akutagawa Prize, which is the biggest literary award you can get in Japan.

Mark: Yeah. It’s like their Pulitzer or something.

Keaton: So, this story is roundly considered a classic of contemporary Japanese literature.

Mark: Yeah.

Keaton: But what does it “mean?”

Mark: Yes! Exactly! What is Tawada saying?

Keaton: There are certain elements of it that I think are very pertinent to Japanese society. It seems that there’s a definite look at gender roles, or the changing of gender roles...

Mark: Yeah. Gender roles, conforming to what society says you’re supposed to be.

Keaton: Also, modernization. You have the ancient part of the town and the newer modern apartments being built. All of the mothers—interestingly, you never hear about any of the students’ fathers—but all the mothers seem a little unnerved by this unmarried twenty-nine year old woman. So, there’s definitely a preoccupation with changing gender norms in Japanese society there. And in Japanese society, you know women have had a long upward battle with progressivism and equality issues. And so here comes this guy into this single, independent woman’s life. And he really instantly subjugates her right away it seems. He seems to objectify her. He just comes in and says, “I’m here to stay,” and then they have sex.

Mark: She’s actually powerless, yeah.

Keaton: And she doesn’t resist him at all, but it doesn’t seem like she really wants to [have sex] either.

Mark: No. And she even says toward the end she doesn’t even like to look at him.

Keaton: They have this really kind of passionate sexual affair. It goes on for awhile but then almost peters out immediately. And on the other side of the gender roles theme, a lot is made about how Taro likes to clean. The mothers talk about how maybe Japanese men are becoming sissies these days. But who doesn’t like a guy who cleans?

Mark: Right! Exactly! Exactly!

Keaton: So again, the relationships between men and women, dominate gender roles all seem in flux. And we’ve all heard the phrase “all men are dogs” before. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Mark: Yeah, true!

Keaton: And apparently Taro is an adulterer. So...

Mark: True! He’s a dog. There you go.

Keaton: What are some other issues in Japanese culture we see here? Bullying.

Mark: Bullying, yes. Being an outcast.

Keaton: There’s the new girl at the school, Fukiko, who gets bullied for being “strange.” That really affects Mitsuko. And so going back to rumors, there’s this idea of members of society pointing out and ostracizing those who are not quite the same. Anyone who’s perceived as being strange is ostracized—Mitsuko the independent woman, Fukiko the new girl...but I’m talking too much!

Mark: I think theme of small town gossip is really important to the story. It’s just universal, you know? How rumors can affect what other think of someone who is different. All these mothers, who are kind of reluctant to send their kids to Mitsuko’s school, speculate about her past. They don’t really know her, but they make up stories about her.

Keaton: To get away from the plot for a minute and just talk about the structure, I don’t remember the last time I read sentences as long as the ones in this book. I mean, this story is sixty pages long...I think there’s like thirty sentences in the whole book. Do you think maybe she’s trying to mimic a conversational tone, the yarn-ness of a folk tale?

Mark: It definitely feels like a folk tale.

Keaton: I mean there are whole paragraphs, whole pages that are single sentences. But nevertheless there’s always this really fluid feel to the prose.

Mark: Yeah. It’s really well written. I was thinking about how clever it is that she can go seamlessly from one viewpoint to another: “But then we heard this....but then there was this...but then she told a story to the class...” It’s almost like a movie. It just moves from one viewpoint to the other effortlessly.

Keaton: Where is the point of view in this story? Is there a real, singular narrator here? It almost seems like there’s none.

Mark: It’s kind of omniscient.

Keaton: It’s like the miasma of voices of the community rumoring back and forth, giving rise to the story. There’s no specific point of view. All that uncertainty just kind of adds to the eeriness of it, I think. And then with the ending, you just read this strange tale...and then it’s just gone. I think that’s just the way things happen in life too around certain events. Certain occurrences really... [Keaton begins to cough uncontrollably] Sorry, I got some rib caught in my throat. You know, stories kind of pop up in our lives, in our surrounding society, our little cultures, and they just infect everything for a while, get everyone’s attention, it’s the center of attention, and then it’s just gone.

Mark: Yeah. Then it’s gone.

Keaton: It’s kind of like the effervescence of these stories, or just society in general. If society is built on stories, and stories are transient, especially folk tales...

Mark: Right! Just like events in life. What seems so important and is the focus of everyone’s attention suddenly is done. And then it’s on to the next thing...life!

Keaton: And it really does seem that Tawada is trying to mimic an oral tradition rather than a written story.

Mark: It very much does. Down to the teacher telling the story. “Let me tell you a story, children…” And that’s in the larger context of the story we’re reading.

Keaton: And you know, the continuation of the oral tradition depends on stories being passed down. So when a story loses people’s interest...

Mark: It dies off.

Keaton: Right. And maybe there’s a sense of that fading of a more “magical” past in THE BRIDEGROOM WAS A DOG.

Mark: That’s very interesting.

Keaton: Yeah. I’d like to see some more of what Tawada has written.

Mark: She has more books from New Directions.

Keaton: So, we’ll say “thumbs up” to THE BRIDEGROOM WAS A DOG?

Mark: I say “thumbs up”!

Keaton: And how about to Pizzitola’s? They get a thumbs up?

Mark: Yeah! Definitely an all around success. What do we have to look forward to for our next installment? I think we’ve chosen.

Keaton: Next month, we’re going to discuss Paul Auster’s THE RED NOTEBOOK, New Directions Pearl number I-know-not-what.

Mark: Some number.

Keaton: We’ll figure it out. See you next time for Pearls Before Swine!

The Red Notebook Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811220972
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - July 16th, 2013

Exploration of the Power Elite: A Q&A with Kevin Kwan

by Annalia Linnan

Some books are like macarons—rich, delicate, meant to be sampled rather than devoured—while others are like potato chips: you sit down to read a chapter, and two hours later, you forgot about the laundry, you haven’t eaten dinner, and where did all those crumbs come from? Kevin Kwan’s latest novel, CHINA RICH GIRLFRIEND, is a bag of kettle cooked chips.

China Rich Girlfriend Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385539081
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Doubleday Books - June 16th, 2015

Kevin Kwan speaks at the Asia Society Texas Center on Tuesday, June 16. Ticket information is available here.

Literature as Love: An Other Press Profile

by Annalia Linnan

Growing up, I always said that I didn’t like talking on the phone. There were many justifications for this: I never knew what to say, it was weird hearing someone without seeing them, holding a chunky 90s landline phone got uncomfortable after a while, etc.

Pointing at the Moon: Nick Flynn and His Feelings

by BJ Love

Nick Flynn has a long and storied history. We know this because he has shared a good chunk of it with us in his memoirs ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY, THE TICKING IS THE BOMB, and THE REENACTMENTS. With so much personal information available, it’s often hard to separate author from speaker, character from public persona.

Even in his less personal projects, like the poetry collections BLIND HUBER and THE CAPTAIN ASKS FOR A SHOW OF HANDS, one easily sees Flynn above the poems manipulating each word, every idea, like a puppeteer with his marionettes.

My Feelings: Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977108
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Graywolf Press - June 2nd, 2015

Signed copies of MY FEELINGS are available now!

Beneath Everything Is the Wilderness: An Interview with Colin Winnette

by Lawrence Lenhart

Haints Stay Cover Image
ISBN: 9781937512323
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Two Dollar Radio - June 2nd, 2015

Burnin’ It Down: A Q&A with Mat Johnson

By Michele Nereim

Loving Day Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812993455
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Spiegel & Grau - May 26th, 2015

Pace, Rage, and Hysteria of Youth: A Q&A with Zoe Pilger

Ann-Marie is twenty-three and fancy free now that her long-term relationship has ended. She was down for a while, but hanging out with Vic, a thirty-six-year-old man with a military medal on his sweater, seems like a fun way to get back up. Her good luck continues when her hero, a fictional second wave feminist named Stephanie Haight, dines at the upscale restaurant where Ann-Marie is a reluctant receptionist. Our protagonist is well-versed in Haight’s writing: “To wait is a woman’s prerogative….To wait is a woman’s raison d'être. To wait and see what a man will do for you.

Eat My Heart Out Cover Image
ISBN: 9781558618855
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Feminist Press - May 5th, 2015


A semi-regular column about overlooked new releases and obscure backlist classics that deserve your reconsideration.

I was ecstatic when I heard our friends at New Directions were releasing Rachel Kushner’s long out-of-print collection of stories, THE STRANGE CASE OF RACHEL K, originally published before her more famous works. However, perhaps due to its small-sized format and the odd title that makes it seem like some kind of memoir, it has slipped by many of our fiction customers’ radars over the past two months.

The Strange Case of Rachel K Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811224215
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - March 24th, 2015

Constant Motion: Unnamed Press and THE PAPER MAN

The Paper Man Cover Image
ISBN: 9781939419224
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Unnamed Press - May 19th, 2015

Writing to Live: A Q&A with Maggie Nelson

Staff Pick Logo
The Argonauts Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555977078
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Graywolf Press - May 5th, 2015

Staff Pick Logo
Bluets Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933517407
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wave Books - October 1st, 2009