Whatcha reading, Lauren Cerand?

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Lauren Cerand is a literary publicist extraordinaire, PR rep, and strategic consultant based out of New York (and, full disclosure, a previous sponsor of the SRoB). She's working on great stuff this year: new works by Tayari Jones, Molly Crabapple, Daniel Handler (as well as Lemony Snicket), the Windham-Campbell Prizes, and Relegation Books.

What are you reading now?

I have been learning Italian — going to weekly language and conversation classes — for about six months, so I try to read Italian literature and books about Italian culture as often as I can. Right now I'm reading Natalia Ginzburg's Family Lexicon (NYRB Classics), which reminds me in some ways of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, a novel that absolutely floored me in its depiction of a world of desire and fantasy encroached upon by malevolent forces. Family Lexicon in that in-between genre that we don't have so much here in America, a bit like French auto-fiction, where some elements are obviously novelistic and some are true and even more so, it's not really the point of the exercise. We tend to be obsessed with the idea of an objective truth to the exclusion of all else. The story is about a family living in Turin, their secret jokes and typical idiosyncrasies, and what their anti-fascism will cost them. Right now it's still early in the book, and the heroine's observations about her family, and how they might be different than other families, are richly layered with cultural and historical significance that I'm still puzzling out, sort of like when reading Georges Perec's "I Remember". So I'm taking this one slow, even though it's not a terribly long text.

What did you read last?

Owing to the aforementioned interest in Italian culture, I recently read a mystery, which I wouldn't normally gravitate to in other circumstances. It's called The Apothecary's Shop by Roberto Tiraboschi, and it was published by Europa Editions, which also put out Ties by Domenico Starnone, a novel of a marriage and family relationships that are not what they seem in retrospect. I read that a few weeks back and loved it (and which won a prize like, the next day, so I felt very clever for a moment with my morning coffee). In The Apothecary's Shop, the setting is Medieval Venice, not at all a period that I know much about. It's an extremely elegant intrigue, with cosmopolitan influences that reflect the character of the city, several unlikely plot twists, and the panache to put just enough confidence in the mind of the reader to keep the pages turning quickly. All of the characters are very strange in their own ways and very believable, and fans of Game of Thrones and all of the Law & Order type franchises would really enjoy this one. I thought I knew much more than I did, and discovering how small my vision was delighted me in the end. When I was in Venice in August, I sat for awhile in a garden on the island of Murano, and although it is small, uneventful memory in many regards, it is also a fully-formed one, and this novel was a window into things that might have plausibly happened there a millennium ago.

What are you reading next?

Right now I am waiting for a used copy of The Happy Summer Days: A Sicilian Childhood by Fulco Santostefano della Cerda, Duke of Verdura, who designed jewelry for Chanel, including her iconic Maltese Cross cuffs, and then under his own name, Verdura, inspired by natural motifs, to arrive in the mail. While I'm passing the time, I'll re-read Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time to Keep Silence, a memoir of retreats spent writing and reflecting in monasteries across Europe. When I was reading Adam Federman's terrific biography, Fasting and Feasting: The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray last month, the quotable electric zing of her letters ("Everything that grows has its peculiar grace."), her commitment to personal originality, and her wandering ways reminded me Fermor, and so I went to find the book of his that I own on my shelf, and wouldn't you know, it's just the right one.