Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book--a key inspiration for Rivka Galchen's new book--contains a list of "Things That Make One Nervous." And wouldn't the blessed event top almost anyone's list?
Little Labors is a slanted, enchanted literary miscellany. Varying in length from just a sentence or paragraph to a several-page story or essay, Galchen's puzzle pieces assemble into a shining, unpredictable, mordant picture of the ordinary-extraordinary nature of babies and literature. Anecdotal or analytic, each part opens up an odd and tender world of wonder. The 47 Ronin; the black magic of maternal love; babies morphing from pumas to chickens; the quasi-repellent concept of "women writers"; origami-ophilia in Oklahoma as a gateway drug to a lifelong obsession with Japan; discussions of favorite passages from the Heian masterpieces Genji and The Pillow Book; the frightening prevalence of orange as today's new chic color for baby gifts; Frankenstein as a sort of baby; babies gold mines; babies as tiny Godzillas ...
Little Labors-atomized and exploratory, conceptually byzantine and freshly forthright-delights.
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About the Author
Rivka Galchen earned her medical degree at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and completed a residency in psychiatry and also completed her MFA at Columbia University, where she was a Robert Bingham fellow. She has published essays in The Believer and Scientific American, and in 2006 she was awarded a Rona Jaffe Writers Award.
A brilliant young writer.
Galchen has a knack for taking a thread and fraying it, so that a sentence never quite ends up where you expect.--James Wood
Galchen is an elegant and careful writer.
An engaging mind offers reflections on being a mother, being a writer, and having a baby.
Galchen is, for my money, one of the most gifted stylists writing in American English today. Her funniness is otherworldly; she is the reigning champion of litotes, or understatement for effect. Preternaturally deft, Galchen can do almost anything with next to nothing.
This essay collection from fiction and science writer Rivka Galchen is not your mother's motherhood lit. Brief, gemlike reflections on adjusting to life under the rule of a baby daughter (called 'the puma') are interwoven with literary and historical references. It's a book that will ring both familiar and strange.--Anya Kamenetz
As Galchen adeptly demonstrates, the pram in the hall is no longer the sombre enemy of good art--ignoring it is.--Gavin Tomson
Galchen's sentences catch your attention and hold it with a tight fist: Delicious.--Alan Cheuse
No training wheels, no banisters, no practice breaths, Galchen drives right in to a fantastical series of meditations, observations, mysterious epiphanies, and failures of belief brought on in a mother, presumably Galchen, caring for her infant daughter, often called "the puma." Galchen does something more profound than tackle motherhood; she utterly reinvents and reanimates the subject.--Christopher Bollen
Little Labors has range. It contemplates both "the royalty of infants" and the uselessness of babies (compared to other animals). It's rare to find a work of likewise small stature grow so ponderously into such an expansive, magnanimous, and living thing. Like a child -- if you want -- or a book with meaning.--Jonathon Sturgeon
Galchen's implicit proposition -- that babies can be the subject of serious art, that we may coo and think simultaneously -- feels surprising, even radical, in a world where motherhood and intellectualism are still placed instinctively at odds. It may be a little book, but it is not a small one.
Little Labors offer a glimpse into an unknown future, a chance for women still unsure about children to see how their lives and minds might change.
Little Labors is a short, beguiling book about babies. About babies in art (with wrongly shaped heads), about babies in literature (rare, often monstrous), and about the arrival of a baby in author Rivka Galchen's apartment.It is not a novel, nor a memoir, nor exactly is it an essay. It is more a wunderkabinett of baby-related curios. There are anecdotes about the effort of obtaining a passport for the baby, about homeless men's reaction to the baby, about a mean neighbor who repeatedly asks whether the baby is abnormally large. There are lists, of authors with and without kids, and of "mother writers" which includes Elena Ferrante and Sarah Manguso, and also, "two of the most celebrated," Karl Ove Knausgaard and Louie C.K. There are ruminations on class, taste, Godzilla, Rumpelstiltskin, the color orange, screens. It is a peculiar book, and astonishing in its effect.