28 April 2005

To the blogroll!

Ok, stop the presses--Jimmy Beck takes the next step toward world domination: starting his own blog. Happiness is a vibrating egg (not just a singing one).

The Count joins the rank of champions of the book quest (which I would've spotted sooner if Technorati weren't so flakey--Dave, it's not just you), and shares info on someone else's fabulous project:
I propose to create, with the help of the Book Review's readers, a literary map of Manhattan -- not of its authors' haunts but those of their characters, a map of the literary stars' homes. [...]

Locating other houses requires close reading or at least alert looking. Bernard Waber places Lyle, Lyle Crocodile for us: ''This is the house. The house on East 88th Street.'' But where on East 88th Street? The clue comes in an illustration: the amiable reptile stands on his front stoop looking at a house to his left marked No. 234. That puts Lyle's own house at No. 236. Alas, a visit to the block shows not the charming brownstone where Lyle lolled but an ordinary tenement. Lyle's house, like Lyle, is a fiction. As it happens, Harriet the Spy lives in the same neighborhood, in a house on East 87th. You'd think someone as clever as she would have noticed a crocodile around the block.

I love wandering through my blogroll only to be sideswiped by the beauty I so easily forget...

Pisan Cantos, LXXXI

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee

~ Ezra Pound

(via wood s lot)

(All apologies for not yet figuring out how to indent individual lines in blogger.)

Book hunger

The sun is on its way into the sea, so it's time to pick up the Quixote. I've found that this cooler part of the day is the best time to read.

I'd been a little concerned about running out of books: Cervantes can only last for so long (although I haven't yet hit p. 300, so I really don't need to be worrying about this now). However, I spied some Murakami, de Bernieres, Okri, and Borges on a fellow teacher's shelf last week, and have felt more relaxed ever since.

The days follow each other in meek procession. Today one of my students exclaimed on the whiteness of my skin, pointing to a white piece of paper in comparison. I grinned and lifted the sleeve of my polo shirt: my tan is definitely improving. She smiled and actually agreed with me--a huge concession from the six-year-old who's always right!

At lunch, a co-worker asked if I missed any food from the States. I said no--that food tastes much better here. When I was in the States, I actually missed food from here more. I love plátano maduro, and it's very hard to find anything remotely decent up north. (Incidentally, I've got to agree with Maud: Cuban food is amazing--and we've got the same sorts of things here.) I'm going to have a feast tonight--I found some arepas (round flat cakes, thicker than tortillas) de choclo (a kind of sweet corn) at the grocery store tonight. I'll slice an avocado over one for dinner. (Yum!)

The wheat bread even tastes better. Somehow, it reminds me of reading Tolkien and the two Jacks (London and Lewis) as a child and loving the simple descriptions of makeshift meals of bread and cheese or boiled potatoes (or the apples the Pevensies found when they were stranded after being pulled back into Narnia for the second time). They always made me hungry.

Last week, after reading of Don Quixote and Sancho's respite with the goatherds, I got hungry and sliced some quesito (Colombian cheese, which comes in soft, sponge-like blocks) and folded sliced bread around it. Perfect. (I can sympathize, sir!) The fruit is better, too--especially pineapple and papaya...

Ok. Dinner time.

Good news, bad news

Yay, I´m not alone!

The Literary Saloon also loves Jasper Fforde, and has just received a galley of The Big Over Easy. (A new Fforde book, plus the HBP all in one month! Excitement abounds...)

In other news, Brian Cox is no longer slated to give voice to Aslan in the new film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe:
The big breaking news concerning this though is that Bryan Cox is NOT going to be the voice of Aslan. Got this straight from the head of Disney voice casting. Cox *was* cast, but then he came in to do the lines and, because he had recently lost 40 pounds, his girth was significantly reduced, and that has affected his famously brusque and burly tone. His pre-weight-loss voice was an ideal voice for Aslan; his post-diet voice is not.

What a shame.

So they're hunting for a new Aslan voice again. They talked about some strong possibilities, but Andrew Adamson hasn't approved anyone yet.
I was really looking forward to Cox´s treatment. We´ll just have to wait and see who else they come up with.

(Via Jeffrey Overstreet)

And this just in from the Teaching Assistant: A fantastic Harry Potter site in Spanish!!

UPDATE: As a result, I've learned that the film debut of Goblet of Fire will be 24 November in Argentina (15 Nov. for US and UK). Hopefully, the Colombian release date won't be too far behind...

26 April 2005

Why I am not a writer

Give me minute, I'll explain.

Growing up as I did with such a huge reverence for books, I've always looked at writers with a kind of awe. The four-year-old-staring-at-a-woman-being-sawed-in-half sort of awe. To me, writers are people who either can't help doing it (i.e., the "born to do it" variety), or work ceaselessly at forging their craft (i.e., the "drive to do it" variety). In other words, they're a special breed. I don't take the word "writer" lightly.

These views were strengthed (read: branded into me) by my unfortunate experience of having taken Literary Writing I as an elective during my senior year of college (I was a lit major). The class was filled with not-so-earnest freshmen and sophomores who longed to see their names in print and had very little desire (this may be an overstatement) to read or study literature. Most days I would walk out of that class nearly trembling with rage. I still haven't gotten over it.

"Being a writer takes sacrifice! You have to love the written word! You have to love books!" I would rant to any friends who were foolish enough to ask me about it.

Until recently, if an acquaintance was simple enough to call me a writer, I would feel lost in the gaping void between the "real" meaning and the "fake" meaning of the few creative writing majors I had the misfortune to know. On the one hand, to deny the title would reek of false modesty and sound as if I were fishing for compliments. On the other hand, to say nothing would be to perpetuate a misapprehension of the nobility of the term. What to do? Had I been smarter, I would've smiled at the clueless being and said, "No--I just love books."

I think this is why blogging makes so much sense to me, and why I've found it such a conducive medium. I can be an "articulate appreciator" (my spin on something Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said) in a worthwhile practice, without having to resort to the "W" word.

Of course, my parents still swear I'll crank out a book one day. Who knows? Maybe in 20 years.

25 April 2005

Happy discoveries

I spent a few minutes online early this morning before heading out the door, and found Bud Parr's post on prose poetry (which definitely helped out my Monday):
A prose poem exists on its own - it is not verse with a backspace. It is deliberate, even if it's a passage from a Ralph Ellison novel or a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. However, we are still left without any way of classifying it other than the 'I knows it when I sees it' rule. At its best, prose poetry gives us a progression where ideas flow seamlessly through the paragraph, the unifying form in its “anti-form,” and gives us a speech pattern, a voice like that of blank verse that can sound natural and musical at once. Breaks between paragraphs give us more pause than those between stanzas and allow for a more conscious shift of ideas and images, beyond which there are few signals. Like “normal” poetry the affect in the end is the same; the language sears our memory while the ideas seep in from conscious and subconscious re-readings.
It made me kick myself that I didn't stash Killarney Clary's Who Whispered Near Me in with all the other books I smuggled between my clothes. Although I can't quote from it just now (damn), here's a stray bit of hers from elsewhere:
The last sure thing that night was my patent leather shoe. Darkness lifted me in his warm shirt and cold jacket. Old voices. Lighted wheel rolling on the lake. The pulse of my day lost its measure; I could feel endlessness and belong there. The lights fell and touched themselves and rose up-by motions repeated, taken and complete.
There is definitely a "language strategy" at play--one that hones the work down to a fine splinter of thought that lodges itself in your heart, pinning emotion in place.

In other poetry news, ReadySteadyBlog mentions a new book on Rilke, The Poet's Guide to Life: The Wisdome of Rilke by Ulrich Baer. Apparently, there's quite a bit of "previously untranslated material" to found within its pages.

Calling all Jane Austen fans! I'm sure you'll be as delighted as I by Laura's fascinating post at Sorrow at Sills Bend: the story of a discovery of a "new" allusion in Mansfield Park. It's a wonderful peek into the world of literary annotation and intertextual theory. (Via Amardeep at The Valve)

24 April 2005

Sunday by the sea

If there's anything better than sitting by an open window, sipping Colombian chocolate (Sol, of course) while catching up on litblog reading, I don't know what it is. (Funny how I don't even miss certain fixtures of my old life: microwave and tv.)

Many thanks to Chris at Splinters for furthering the cause of the book quest! Your kindness will not be forgotten.

Yesterday, Barcelona celebrated St. Jordi's Day and over at 400 Windmills, I posted a few thoughts on Cervantes by three Latin American authors: Mempo Giardinelli, Hernán Lara Zavala, and Noé Jitrik.

Singer-songwriter Denison Witmer has a new album coming out in July, partially inspired by the poetry of Li-Young Lee:
"The lyrics to 'Everything But Sleep' are largely inspired by a Li Young-Lee poem titled 'Pillow,' which is found in his 'Book Of My Nights.' I have been carrying his book with me pretty much everywhere I've been going for the last few years. Thinking back, Lee's book is most likely what first put the idea of making a record about dreaming into my head."
(Via Heather at The Innocence Mission discussion list)

Michael Dirda reviews Gregory Rabassa's If This Be Treason:
While a young instructor at Columbia in the late 1940s and '50s, he started translating stories for a literary review called Odyssey. Then one day -- at the dawn of the '60s, with Rabassa by now a tenured professor -- he received a phone call from Sara Blackburn, an editor at Pantheon.Would he be interested in translating a novel by the Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar?

"It was Rayuela, which was to appear in English as Hopscotch. I had heard of Cortázar but hadn't read the book. This didn't prevent me from accepting the offer. Still without having read the book, I submitted the two sample chapters requested. Both Sara and Julio liked my version so I signed a contract to do my first translation of a long work for a commercial publisher. It was the start of a career I hadn't sought after and the beginning of a beautiful friendship with the incomparable Julio. True to my original instincts (or perhaps my inherent laziness and impatience) and to the subsequent amazement of those to whom I confessed my hubristic ploy, I translated the book as I read it for the first time. . . . This would become my usual technique with subsequent books. I used the excuse that it gave the translation the freshness that a first reading would have and which ought to make others' reading of the translation be endowed with that same feeling."

This sounds convincing until Rabassa goes on to add, with disarming candor, "I have put forth this explanation so many times that I have come to believe it, loath as I am to confess that I was just too lazy to read the book twice." If that seems a little shocking, there's more to come: "It's my notion, loose as it might be, that when I'm translating a book I'm simply reading it in English."
Rabassa's thoughts on "magic realism":

Though García Márquez's work made the term magic realism famous, Rabassa here points to Demetrio Aguilera-Malta as "the great master of the genre," especially in his "defining novel," Seven Serpents and Seven Moons. He also sings the praises of the structurally complex Avalovara by Osman Lins, of the swinging Macho Camacho's Beat of Luis Rafael Sánchez, and of the Proust-like A Meditation and Return to Región of the Spaniard Juan Benet. These are all very good books, as I can attest, since I assigned them for review in Book World, where they were duly lauded by respected novelists and critics. But do they still find the readers they merit? Among other matters, If This Be Treason reminds us of the many Latin American writers whom we sometimes overlook because of the looming prominence of García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.
(Via The Page)

Although it took me *forever* to find my way in (indicative of the other three Pevensies' issue?), the new filmsite for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is worth visiting--if for nothing else than to see Richard Taylor in action again! (Via Jeffrey Overstreet)

22 April 2005

Bright spots

A grateful smile and enthusiastic wave to wood s lot for spreading the word of the book quest. May you have amazing luck in finding ridiculously cheap copies of your own wished-for books!

For Earth Day, we planted a few trees. My class reached a compromise (with the boys lobbying for "Dash," although they were outnumbered) so we named our little mango tree "Armonía Dash Bureche." I'm sure she'll be very happy there.

I received an email from the indomitable Sarah Jane on Paste's visual arts issue. Apparently, they have a couple works by one of my most favorite people in the world: Joseph Arthur. Also, this brief piece of his:

Painting might be impossible to write about
It’s a place beyond words from where it comes
It’s nature showing strange flowers
It’s a drug that obliterates the self
It’s a mirror in the spirit world
It’s where the shadows come out to play
It’s a shared hallucination
It’s dream made materials set a blaze in the night
Maybe it goes beyond everything else
Like playing a guitar without strings
It’s a place man meets God and says
What the fuck
I love to paint
It’s where I go to church

Words fail when I try to describe the night Jane and I saw him on April Fool's Day (my last concert). Pure bliss. Aside from the powerful music, he also completed a painting on stage by working on it during certain songs throughout the evening. I'd never seen that done before--it was strangely moving (especially during "Invisible Hands"). His live arrangements vary quite markedly from the recorded versions--like ongoing explorations--and that night's performance of "All of Our Hands" was a poignant display of dire truth.

Yesterday's things

In a recent interview, Salman Rushdie gave his thoughts on "magical realism":

R: I think the problem with that phrase is that it's now used rather lazily as a label. And when people use it, they tend to mean magical and not realism. You know, what the phrase tends to mean is the use of fantasy rather than a different approach to the realistic novel. Which is what it really meant.

W: "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

R: Yeah, exactly. And I think magical realism means something in that South American context, in the sense that it describes the work of a certain group of writers at a certain period. French surrealism is really the same thing as South American magical realism, and surrealism has some meaning in that French context of that time. North American fabulism of the 1970s, of the kind of Pynchon/Coover kind, is essentially the same thing as magical realism as well. But it has a meaning in terms of a North American context. I think there's always been, in the history of literature from the "Arabian Nights" and "Don Quixote" to the present day, a tendency amongst writers to seek to encompass the real world without necessarily using only naturalistic techniques. And I think, I hope, that I am part of that tradition. But I also think that my books are also very different, one from each other.
(Via Zayne at The Orchard)

Elsewhere, a delightful conversation with Álvaro Mutis finds him opining on that ubiquitous term:

What happens is that critics invent these words, if you know what I mean. Authentic magic realism is José Saramago's El memorial del convento, or the work of German Romantics like E. T. A. Hoffmann. But basically, magic realism is just an easy way for critics in the United States and Europe to think about Latin American literature. My books have been described this way and there's nothing magic realist about them. A book like One Hundred Years of Solitude is a work that presents an extraordinary universe made up of magic and truth and horror and sadness . . . one can just simplify all of that and call it magical realism.

Other Mutis snippets:

"[M]y life became a long trip and I met thousands of people, in all different kinds of situations. And this was like a continuation of what I had experienced as a child. In this way I lost the sense of belonging to a particular country. I know that I am Colombian and will be until I die, and there are landscapes in Colombia that I love and am fascinated by, and they appear in my poetry, but I don't feel a commitment to any one country because, after all, I'm just passing through."

"You know who is my greatest literary influence? Charles Dickens. Why? A real influence is an author who communicates an energy and a great desire to tell a story, and it isn't that you want to write like Dickens, but rather that when you read Dickens, you feel an imaginative energy that you use to your own ends. In other words, you're not going to write Oliver Twist. Dickens has an impressive imagination for situations, characters, places, corners. There are corners of his Dombey that I swear I've been to. I have read all of Conrad. I admire him enormously, and it has never occurred to me in the seven novels that I have written to do anything that bears any relation to Conrad. So people tell me, as if it went without saying, that The Snow of the Admiral is like Heart of Darkness, because a boat travels up a river. Well, I've traveled up that river, not in a beat-up boat, but in a nice one with engineers and such over the course of 15 or 20 days, and I know what it's like. So, I put Maqroll there, not thinking of Conrad, but of myself. If someone like Dickens, or someone completely different, such as Proust, who gives you an impression of the interior of life, helps you when you are sitting in front of the typewriter and gives you a kind of compass in your writing, then you can use that influence to write whatever you want to."

"As I don't follow politics, I have never voted, and the most recent political event that really preoccupies me and which I am still struggling to accept is the fall of Byzantium at the hand of the Turks in 1453."

"The amazing thing with Gabo is that Gabo, when I met him, was 21 or 22, but he was already a fully formed writer. Gabo has never lived an instant without his typewriter; writing is his destiny. What happened was that he would tell me about the book, and he would tell me about things that he was thinking about, but didn't end up in the book. I would tell our friends, 'Listen, Gabo is writing a novel in which a man does this, this, and this.' And then, when I read the book, it was a completely different book than the one we'd been talking about." (Via Golden Rule Jones in a comment at the Litblog Co-op)

Also, Maud points to Billy Collins' article on e.e. cummings. Is it really true that "he is not widely enjoyed these days"? Last month, I responded at length to another article that was similarly preoccupied with cummings' form at the expense of his content.

Syntax of Things reminded me of The Decemberists' very enjoyable appearance on Morning Becomes Eclectic. (Picaresque was the last album I bought before leaving the States.) The set included (among others) "Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect," "We Both Go Down Together," "Engine Driver" (my new favorite), and a madcap version of "The Mariner's Revenge Song" (which made me want to pick up Moby-Dick again!). Much fun was had by all.

21 April 2005

Land of letters

Aw, shucks. Such warm encouragement is inspiring!

Although it feels perfectly normal to be living here (one of the quirks of being bi-cultural, more on that at some point), it is a bit surreal to see things like the aforementioned high-rise, as well as SUVs with license plates that say Aracataca (the real "Macondo," which is about an hour's drive away). Imagine a Yoknapatawpha Suite next to a Holiday Inn!

My issues are of your general former-lit-major-slash-proofreader-turned-elementary-educator variety. However, yesterday was great. Highlights included origami frogs we made in art and the appearance of a windmill in the phonics workbook (under the letter "w"). Yes, I had to explain that a windmill is a molina. I asked the class (of six-year-olds, mind) if they knew about Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. One little boy looked up at me with a gap-toothed smile and said, "Vale" (subsequently stealing my heart). And for the benefit of the others, I...er...well...wound up semi-acting out Quixote's charge (and subsequent fall) on his noble steed Rocinante.

Needless to say, I think I need to tie in random items with stories more often. Pig? Charlotte's Web. Mop? Cinderella. Pin? Dancing angels.

Ok. Maybe not.

At any rate, I'm learning. Tomorrow we're celebrating "el Día del Idioma Español" (Spanish Language Day)--Cervantes and Shakespeare both died on 23 April 1616--and the school will display (homemade) literary exhibits, as well as hold a special assembly. I'm looking forward to it.

Also, between 20 April and 2 May, Bogotá is hosting its 18th annual "Feria Internacional del Libro" (International Book Fair: less spectacular and truncated English version here). With the participation of 95% of the Colombian publishing community, they're expecting about 400,000 people to attend. Events include a conference on the music in Don Quixote, a complete exhibit of all the first critical editions of "el Quijote," a photographic exposition of Quixote's geographical route through Spain by the Colombian photographer Rodrigo Moncada, as well as several panel discussions by Latin American and Spanish authors. Then there are the events commemorating the 200th anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen's birth, and a children's book drive.

The central theme of the fair is "In Praise of Reading: from the Quixote to Pinocchio," and the Colombian Ministry of Culture (with its recent reading and library initiative, under the administration of president Álvaro Uribe) is leading other organizations in support of the fair, which is a perfect place to "draw the attention of Colombians to the necessity of cultivating reading, to reflect on the culture of the book, to hear about national and international authors' experiences as readers, to discuss policies and processes of developing readers, among other activities" (roughly translated from the site).

Participating authors include: "Fernando Savater (España), Alberto Manguel (Argentina), Mempo Giardinelli (Argentina), Juan Villoro (México), Noé Jítrik (Argentina), Hernán Lara Zavala (México), Tununa Mercado (Argentina), Fernando Cruz Kronfly (Colombia)." There will also be additional activities such as a panel discussion on writing, which will include "Fernando del Paso (México) and R. H. Moreno Durán (Colombia)," and a discussion on Latin American literature with "Juan Villoro (México), Mempo Giardinelli (Argentina) y Santiago Gamboa (Colombia)."

It sounds amazing. Some of the author topics will be questions such as, "Who and What is a Reader? What Book Changed Your Life?" and "How are Your Personal Libraries Arranged?"

I'm not sure if I can swing a visit down to Bogotá in time to participate, but I'm definitely looking into it.

19 April 2005

On translation

Here are a few good posts that fit nicely with Bud Parr's excellent coverage of PEN America's recent panel of Cervantes translators...

1) The perspective of the reader

So Many Books (third item) quotes from Stephen Greenblatt's article on translation:

I have never struggled through "Don Quixote" in my faltering Spanish, but I am convinced that I have read and admired not a novel by Edith Grossman but one by Cervantes. I cannot read a word of Russian, but I believe I have heard in "Anna Karenina" the voice of Tolstoy and not of the most recent translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Though I would surely be a better (or at least a better-educated) person if I could read ancient Greek, I console myself with the thought that blind Homer still sings for me in the English of Robert Fitzgerald, Stanley Lombardo or Robert Fagles.

2) The perspective of the translator

The Rake excerpts a review of (the *wonderful*) Gregory Rabassa's memoir If This Be Treason: Translation and Its Dyscontents:

Traduttore traditore? Rabassa long ago transcended that cliched Italian notion of "translator as traitor," even if he accepts its truth in regard to many aspects of his art. The words that more commonly come to literary sorts who have read Rabassa's work are "magician" and "artist."

Hopscotch started Rabassa on the road to those accolades by winning him the first National Book Award for Translation (now, alas, a defunct prize). García Márquez, on Cortázar's advice, waited for Rabassa to finish other projects so the busy translator could turn to what became One Hundred Years of Solitude. Later, Gabo, as García Márquez is known to friends [as well as to pretty much all of Colombia--Ed.], famously remarked that he preferred Rabassa's translation to his own Spanish version. Mr. Translator, typically, responds with charm:

"I can only humbly assume that the credit lies with the English language, that the book should have been written in English and I was only trying to correct that mistake. My mystical feeling, however, is that Gabo already had the English words hiding behind the Spanish and all I had to do was tease them out."

3) The problem of language

Collected Miscellany offers an interesting contrast in quoting an article on biblical translation:

The problem isn't with Scripture, it's with language itself. In a recent essay in Harper's, Kitty Burns Florey remarks that trying to get English to conform to the rules of Latin grammar is "something like forcing a struggling cat into the carrier for a trip to the vet." Trying to get Hebrew (which is lusciously poetic) and Greek (which relies heavily on context for the meaning of words) to fit nicely into the parameters of English is similarly problematic.

From what I understand, arguments regarding translation basically boil down to questions of the "literal" or "loose," which lead to issues of the "purpose" of a text: to serve the author or the reader? And is the reader really better served if the author's view is simplified? (Funny how, in general, most literary translations are concerned with fidelity to the original, whereas in modern biblical translation the preoccupation is with the reader.)

Anyone remember that Lingua Franca article on Kundera's battles with his translators ("Infidelity" by Caleb Crain)? I seem to remember that he was more in favor of the literal slant...

Of course, the first two items are felicitous on both counts.

Always winter and never Christmas

Many thanks to The Happy Booker (just call her Ulysses) for passing along The Book Quiz. This is about as deeply personal as I'll get on this blog, but suffice it to say, it was right on the money:

You're The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe!
by C.S. Lewis

You were just looking for some decent clothes when everything changed quite dramatically. For the better or for the worse, it is still hard to tell. Now it seems like winter will never end and you feel cursed. Soon there will be an epic struggle between two forces in your life and you are very concerned about a betrayal that could turn the balance. If this makes it sound like you're re-enacting Christian theological events, that may or may not be coincidence. When in doubt, put your trust in zoo animals.

18 April 2005

The subversive Cervantes

From a post by Jason Pettus over at 400 Windmills:

As my own life has transitioned over the last ten years, though, into one of writing for a living myself, I have of course found it more important to do go back and read more classic literature, which was the whole impetus behind asking Bud if I could join 400 Windmills in the first place. Which is great for a second reason as well, which I can't emphasize enough to the younger visitors to this site; namely, how much more appreciation I have for older books now, the older I get and the more world experiences I accumulate. Thinking about it yesterday, I realized that I probably wouldn't have liked DQ if it had been forced on me in high school, but now I'm astounded by what a savvy, jaded yet optimistic view of the world Cervantes posits in the novel. He mocks noble virtues on a page-by-page basis, even while quietly championing some of them as well; in doing so, he basically strips away the artifice of etiquette and fake moralizing, the fairytale of revisionism and radical politics, and basically says, "Look folks, here's how it is. The world is rough and complex and many times the lines authority figures hand you are complete BS. Yet there are certain little parts of it that are usually true, too, as long as you take the time and smarts to examine the situation yourself." [...]

It's a difficult worldview to maintain sometimes, and definitely one that a lot of people would rather not consider: that Republicans are actually right sometimes, that terrorists sometimes have good points to make about their anti-Americanism, that all those people in the world who piss you off also have nuggets with which you agree. In a nutshell, that the world exists as a series of grays, not in black and white, which 1) not only is a fairly modern idea; but 2) tends not to be a very popular one. Which I guess is the double surprise of reading DQ in 2005, that not only is it a thoroughly modern book that is highly entertaining on its own, but also that the book would remain this popular for 400 years in the first place. Cervantes, when all is said and done, is preaching a fairly subversive message in DQ, which is what led me to thinking of him in the modern world in terms of "The Simpsons" or McSweeney's; he's saying basically that everyone is a liar, that everyone makes mistakes, that even the craziest members of our society still sometimes have very good things to say, and things that they believe in that we should believe in ourselves. This usually is something the general populace seems to not want to hear, so it really surprises me that the book has been as popular as it has for as long as it has.

17 April 2005

A bibliophile's quest

When I was about 10, I decided to organize all of my books into an "official" libary. I made little pockets for date-stamp slips and spent hours hand-writing each book's information on index cards to create a card catalogue (with protracted debates with myself as to whether I should include the Library of Congress blurbs from the insides or the text from the back covers).

Last week I arrived at the school in Santa Marta where I'll begin my two-year assignment. I brought an armful of books that I had picked up at a library sale, since I'd been told that they could use more books for the school's library.

They weren't kidding.

I owned more books at the age of 10 than they now have in their English section. Yet it's a wonderful room: the few English and Spanish shelves are side-by-side near the librarian's desk. There are games in the corner, resources for teachers on a far wall, and colorful puzzle-mats on the floor. It's a cool, quiet place where I watched my new class leaf through the books and whisper excitedly about what they found.

So I've decided to add a little book recycle bin to this blog. I can't offer remuneration, but if you happen to find a book or two (suitable for K-7th grade) you'd be willing to pass on to the southern hemisphere, feel free to get in touch. I can, however, promise a happy home and a long life to any lonely books.

I knew when I accepted this job that my main challenge would be the dearth of bookstores and libraries. So I brought what I could (what's a little extra baggage fee compared to modestly-filled shelves?) and determined to stoically face whatever came next. Here's to hazarding the wilds of a book-starved town!

16 April 2005

At home in Santa Marta

Coming back to the blogosphere after nearly three weeks of transcontinental moving, I find that there have been deaths, births, a wedding, a rescued library, and an outed Foetry.

In other words, a lot of cybertime has zoomed by.

Plus, there have been some exciting developments: namely, The Valve and The Litblog Co-op.

The former is a group litblog headed by the redoubtable John Holbo and sponsored by the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. Some of my favorite people are involved, and I'm looking forward to getting up to speed.

The latter is the game and grinning brainchild of Mark Sarvas, which is occupied with "Uniting the leading literary weblogs for the purpose of drawing attention to the best of contemporary fiction, authors and presses that are struggling to be noticed in a flooded marketplace." Four times a year, the 20 litbloggers involved will announce a "Read This!" recommendation to eager, thoughtful, intelligent, independent-minded readers everywhere. It was bound to happen, and I'm extremely pleased that it finally has. Dan Green answers some of Scott McLemee's questions regarding this worthy endeavor over at Inside Higher Ed.

I was also delighted to see that BookLust has officially smashed some sort of glass ceiling with her devilishly clever strip, "The Amazing Adventures of Lethem and Chabon." Here's to further installments of "Art Imitating Lit"!

Meanwhile, I've been busy playing catch-up with the Quixote and am thrilled by the intriguing discussions that have arisen. I feel very privileged to be part of such a vibrant group. (And it doesn't hurt that Cervantes cracks me up either!)

Incidentally, to add to the current thoughts on repetitive links, some of us have readers that don't really frequent other litblogs (i.e., various family members and friends), so sometimes a little linking goes a long way in spite of it being old news to the myriad pros.

I'll probably say this too often, but I'm extremely grateful for litblogs. I know that they'll continue to be a chief contributor to my sanity this year as I fumble through my days as a new teacher in my "fatherland."

The sea washes onto the beach far below my open window, and I smile at the sounds of the music coming from Carlos Vives' little dive next door ("Mi Ranchito"). I've had a rough week (two words: classroom management), but feel somehow optimistic. A fellow teacher that lives in the building has a view of the beach that widens on part of the town and includes a high-rise with "Macondo" in huge letters along the top. For after all, this is where García Márquez's mother went to school and where his parents later married. The heat can be heavy, but the rhythm of the ocean quiets troubled dreams.