Friday, January 27, 2012

What are we talking about, again?

For a while, I used to write posts for the Reader under the theme of "Six Degrees of the Library Collection". They were fun little posts that connected authors and titles found at the library, through commonalities and links between the books or the writers. I recently noticed something that is more of a One Degree of the Library collection: a number of books that are all linked to each other through their very similar titles.

The book that got me thinking was What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank (M), a new short story collection by Nathan Englander that is to be released this February. Englander is an author to watch. His two previous publications—the 1999 short story collection For the Relief of Unbearable Urges and the 2007 novel The Ministry of Special Cases—both received rave reviews. Of The Ministry of Special Cases, Booklist said "Four p's best describe this work: poignant, powerful, political, and yet personal." Expect a similar approach in his newest, which has already received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

When I saw a write up of the Englander book, I felt like I'd encountered the title before: or almost. The book that immediately jumped to mind was What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (M) by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is a well known Japanese fiction author, sometimes categorized as surrealist, who writes thoughtful, often melancholy stories that feature themes of science fiction and fantasy, and offer commentary on modern life. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is one of Murakami's few nonfiction titles. In it he talks about his personal interest and participation in long distance running.

Intrigued by these titular similarities, I also tracked down What We Talk About When We Talk About War (M) , the name of a talk given by Canadian author Noah Richler at the Frye Festival in Moncton in 2010. The lecture is due to be published as a book by Fredericton's Goose Lane Press this spring and, according to the publisher, discusses Richler's view "that in the past decade, Canada has gone from being a peacekeeping to a “warrior” nation, and he examines what this says about us as a country."

Keen readers may have already figured out the connection between these books: the short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (and the collection of the same name). Both Englander and Murakami indicate that their titles are direct tributes to the Carver title, I haven't encountered whether Richler intended the same or not. Of Carver's collection, said "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is not only the most well-known short story title of the latter part of the 20th century; it has come to stand for an entire aesthetic, the bare-bones prose style for which Raymond Carver became famous." The stories from this Carver collection can be found in the Halifax Public Library in the collection entitled Where I'm Calling From (M).

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