Jun 7

JQ Magazine: Book Review — ‘Monkey Business Volume 5’

"'Monkey Business' is a magnetic force that attracts writers who can create magical kingdoms in a single page." (A Public Space)

Monkey Business is a magnetic force that attracts writers who can create magical kingdoms in a single page.” (A Public Space)

By Brett Rawson (Akita-ken, 2007-09) for JQ magazine. Brett is a writer, translator, and Ramen Runner. He has an MFA in Creative Writing Non-Fiction from The New School, and his writing has appeared in Narratively and Nowhere magazine. He is also co-founder of the quarterly publication The Seventh Wave and founder of Handwritten, a place in space for pen and paper.

After reading Monkey Business Volume 5, the image of a blender might pop into your mind. Perhaps this is because it is almost summer and you have recently begun making smoothies in the early morning. Or perhaps this is because you came across the description Monkey Business as genre-defying, which made you think of cross-genre, blending boundaries, and thereafter, the physical image of the object itself: the blender.

But most likely, this is because you read the opening vignette to Monkey Business, “Photographs Are Images,” by rising Japanese writer Aoko Matsuda, which ends as such:

Everything you’ve read up to this point has been images. […] These strings of letters are images. These chains of words are images. Stories are images. The story you’re reading this very minute is an image.

Carefully selected as the opener to Volume 5, this year’s Monkey Business is all about ways of seeing, and perceiving, images and the imagination, and objects and subjects.

What exactly is in this year’s Monkey Business? There are vignettes, short stories, graphic narratives inspired by poems, chapters from novels, essays, comic strips, excerpts from a fictional diary, and twelve Twitter stories. From one to the next, you’ll get the sensation of traveling through space and time, and that isn’t just because there is a series of four stories under the theme “In Another Time and Place,” but because of the worlds these writers create.

Monkey Business is a magnetic force that attracts writers who can create magical kingdoms in a single page. This volume features work by legendary and rising writers alike, but to list a few, it features work from Japanese metafictional master Toh Enjoe; magical realist Hideo Furukawa, who is hailed by many as Haruki Murakami’s prodigy; Hiromi Ito, one of the most highly regarded poets in Japan; Aoko Matsuda, one of Japan’s most promising young novelists; Murakami himself, but this time on the art of writing; and many more.

On the Western front, there is work from Stuart Dybek, one of the most important short story writers in America; Charles Simic, who was appointed fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2007; Steve Erickson, a recent winner of a Lannan Literary Award for Lifetime Achievement, who has also been a huge influence for Japanese writers including Hideo Furukawa; and many more.

Once you read these stories, you will surely have the image of a blender in your head because of all the translation work that goes into Monkey Business. That is, after all, what it feels likes to translate—throw all the words into a blender, toss in a little upbringing, add in a splash of accents, some experience, and press “blend.” And what do you get? If you’re Jeffrey Angles, Ted Goossen, David Boyd, Jay Rubin, Paul Warham, or Michael Emmerich, you get pure translations. If you’re me, or maybe you, you get something closer to puree translations, or more simply, baby talk.

But blenders and blunders aside, Monkey Business is back this year with a whole lot to love. Enjoy the ingredients that make up Volume 5. But as you pace through it, keep Aoko Matsuda’s vignette, “Photograph Are Images,” in mind. And when you set the book down, look up. Now, what do you see?

For more JQ magazine book reviews, click here.

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