Not to Read

Alejandro Zambra

Translated and edited by Megan McDowell

French paperback with flaps, 288 pages
Published 18 April 2018

Read preview

In Not to Read, Alejandro Zambra outlines his own particular theory of reading that also offers a kind of blurry self-portrait, or literary autobiography. Whether writing about Natalia Ginzburg, typewriters and computers, Paul Léautaud, or how to be silent in German, his essays function as a laboratory for his novels, a testing ground for ideas, readings and style. Not to Read also presents an alternative pantheon of Latin American literature – Zambra would rather talk about Nicanor Parra than Pablo Neruda, Mario Levrero than Gabriel García Márquez. His voice is that of a trusted friend telling you about a book or an author he’s excited about, how he reads, and why he writes. A standard-bearer of his generation in Chile, with Not to Read Alejandro Zambra confirms he is one of the most engaging writers of our time.

‘When I read Zambra I feel like someone’s shooting fireworks inside my head. His prose is as compact as a grain of gunpowder, but its allusions and ramifications branch out and illuminate even the most remote corners of our minds.’
— Valeria Luiselli, author of The Story of My Teeth

‘There is no writer like Alejandro Zambra, no one as bold, as subtle, as funny.’ 
— Daniel Alarcón, author of At Night We Walk In Circles

‘Falling in love with Zambra’s literature is a fascinating road to travel. Imaginative and original, he is a master of short forms; I adore his devastating audacity.’ 
— Enrique Vila-Matas, author of The Illogic of Kassel

‘Lost in the pages of Not To Read, all the loneliness of the long form writer disappears. This wise, wry collection of Zambra’s musings on world literature reminds us that there is profound community in reading, writing and in being a writer beyond the machinery of publishing. In a world where the instant and new is valued and disposable, this book keeps faith through its warmth and humanity. It is a lifeline for all who love reading, and for all who write.’
— Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young 

‘Zambra has emerged as one of the most perceptive and generous writers on literature currently at work.… Most poets and fiction writers are, presumably, obsessed with books. It is rare, however, to find one who is able to articulate that obsession with as little pretense and as much élan as Zambra.’
Andrew Martin, New York Review of Books

‘Each mini essay has a depth and purpose other writers would struggle to fit into a chapter…. The text is crystal clear and fresh, a thing of joy.’
Manchester Review of Books

Praise for My Documents

‘This dynamite collection of stories has it all – Chile and Belgium, exile and homecomings, Pinochet and Simon and Garfunkel – but what I love most about the tales is their strangeness, their intelligence, and their splendid honesty.’ 
— Junot Díaz, New Yorker

My Documents represents a new form. When I think about Alejandro Zambra, I feel happy for the future of fiction.’
— Adam Thirlwell, author of Lurid and Cute

‘If you are going to read Alejandro Zambra, which you should, don’t just read My Documents, read everything he’s done.’
— Chris Power, Guardian

‘His books are like a phone call in the middle of the night from an old friend, and afterward, I missed the charming and funny voice on the other end, with its strange and beautiful stories.’ 
— Nicole Krauss, author of Forest Dark

The White Review interview Alejandro Zambra

Alejandro Zambra was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1975. He is the author of Chilean Poet, Multiple Choice, Not to Read, My Documents, Ways of Going Home, The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai. In Chile, among other honours, he has won the National Book Council Award for best novel three times. In English, he has won the English PEN Award and the PEN/O. Henry Prize and was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He has also won the Prince Claus Award (Holland) and received a Cullman Center Fellowship from the New York Public Library. His books have been translated into twenty languages, and his stories have been published in the New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, the Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s and Harper’s, among other publications. He has taught creative writing and Hispanic literature for fifteen years and currently lives in Mexico City.

Megan McDowell has translated many contemporary authors from Latin America and Spain, including Alejandro Zambra, Samanta Schweblin, Mariana Enriquez, Lina Meruane, Diego Zúñiga, and Carlos Fonseca. Her translations have been published in the New Yorker, Tin House, Paris Review, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, Words Without Borders, and Vice, among others. Her translation of Alejandro Zambra’s Ways of Going Home won the 2013 English PEN award for writing in translation, and her translation of Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. She lives in Santiago, Chile.

Read more...