Monday, June 6, 2016
June 6, 2016: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Lahiri’s In Other Words
[For this year’s installment of my annual Beach Reads series, I wanted to highlight books I’m looking forward to checking out. That means I’ll have less to say about them, of course—but I hope you’ll share your thoughts on these and/or your own Beach Read recommendations for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll go great with suntan lotion and iced beverages!]
Two reasons I’m excited for Jhumpa Lahiri’s first nonfiction book, and why I’m somehow not quite sure.
1) It’s Jhumpa Lahiri!: I’ve written a good bit about Lahiri in this space, and for good reason: she’s one of my favorite contemporary authors, wrote a novel (The Namesake) that teaches as well as any book I’ve encountered to date, and is just prodigiously talented and interesting and thematically all the way up my alley and etc. Any new book by someone who fits all those criteria is welcome news, and likely to end up in my beach bag.
2) Cross-Cultural Multi-Lingual Goodness: The specific subject of Lahiri’s book is her lifelong and evolving relationship with Italian, her third language (after the Hindi of her parents’ homeland and the English of her own) and one in which the book itself is written (along with an accompanying English translation on every page). If you’re saying, “Ben, that sounds like somehow created a book designed to fit your ideas of cross-cultural and multi-lingual American identity,” well, you’re not wrong.
3) And Yet: Ever since I heard about this new book of Lahiri’s, I’ve been somewhat more bothered by the idea of it than those reasons would indicate. Partly I imagine that’s about expectations—I love Lahiri’s fiction, both short and long, and was hoping her new publication would offer more of it. And partly, as best I can psychoanalyze myself, I think it’s about my hesitations with what I might call self-aggrandizing memoirs—the kinds that offer up the writer’s life and perspective as models for others to emulate. But I don’t know that Lahiri’s is one of those—and I do know, per reasons 1 and 2, that there will be a lot to like in it in any case!
Next prospective Beach Read tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this book? Other Beach Reads you’d share?