30 April 2007


Cristina of the BrontëBlog posts a nice discussion of A.N. Wilson's rereading of Jane Eyre:
Jane Eyre is such a complete work that it will have something for every reader. It is Jane's childhood for Mr Wilson; it is the love story for many other people; it is Jane's development for yet many others; it is Jane's independence and self-respect for others; and so on and so forth. This does not necessarily mean that one aspect is better than the others - it simply means that, for some reason, the reader connects better with it.
But this bit by Wilson is very interesting:
When interviewed by Mr Brocklehurst for her place at the school, Jane is asked, " 'And what is hell? Can you tell me that?' 'A pit full of fire.' 'And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?' 'No, sir.' 'What must you do to avoid it?' I deliberated a moment; my answer, when it came, was objectionable: 'I must keep in good health, and not die.' "

Nothing in the book - not the midnight prowlings of Mrs Rochester nor the drama of Jane's interrupted wedding - quite exceeds the brilliance of this exchange. But, though the second half of the story is so unsatisfactory and in parts so boring, it is not unrelated to Jane's talk with Mr Brocklehurst. Jane Eyre is not merely a justly popular novel. It is also one of the great documents of 19th-century Protestantism. [...]

Mr Rochester, with his appallingly flawed nature, his passion, his willingness to commit bigamy, is a full-blown sinner. But much is forgiven to those who have loved much. As in the Epistle to the Romans, being a sinner is not a bar to grace, it is a gateway. Jane Eyre comes to him not only as a fervent lover but also as a redeemer, so that the biblical last words, quoted by the dying St John in a letter from India, are the key to the story's meaning.

28 April 2007


The "collection of 274 letters" between Flannery O'Connor and Elizabeth Hester "will be opened to the public May 12" at Emory University:
"Hester, a file clerk in an Atlanta credit bureau, lived a reclusive life, but she was an avid reader and intellectual. She also corresponded with British writer Iris Murdoch. Her identity as one of O’Connor’s confidants was kept secret until Hester’s death in 1998."
(via Maud)

Emory is now added to the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University as a place I must visit someday soon. In the meantime, I've been rereading bits from The Habit of Being:
Leaving the Incarnation aside, the very notion of God's existence is not emotionally satisfactory anymore for great numbers of people, which does not mean God ceases to exist. M. Sartre finds God emotionally unsatisfactory in the extreme, as do most of my friends of lesser stature than he. The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds the emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world appears to be going through a dark night of the soul.
(via If Flannery Had A Blog...)

UPDATE: Maud takes a closer look at the contents.

27 April 2007

Diagramming Bolaño

This diagram of Bolaño's work comes via the Spanish-language litblog El lamento de Portnoy (clever!). I'm nearing the end of La pista de hielo and it's interesting seeing it in the context of the "bigger" books of his that everyone's talking about.

24 April 2007

Cien años in braille

A blind and deaf brother and sister in Guadalajara, Mexico were the first to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in braille yesterday during a marathon reading of García Márquez's novel.

The eldest of the two, twenty-six-year-old José Darío Randon Nieblas, explained that he was very interested when they invited him to participate, although he was worried that someone might tell them at which place to pick up the reading "because the amount of pages is different in braille."

The braille version of the novel is nearly 900 pages, as opposed to the new Real Academia Española version, which has 460.

José Darío, whose favorite authors include Mario Vargas Llosa and Victor Hugo, acknowledged that he had never before read Gabo's novel, although he felt that the part he was to read was "exciting."

Five blind children between the ages of 9 and 12 from the Hellen Keller School also participated in the reading.

(With thanks to A.)

[Selections translated from the El Tiempo article.]

The holy grail

Callie of Counterbalance says a mouthful:
What I've always been told, what I always knew to be true but didn't put into practice until recently: giving yourself wholly over to every kind of literary pursuit, literally becoming one with all things bookish (by this i mean reading the best works written by the best writers, talking about the relative merits or non-merits of these works with people who care about literature just as much as you do, identifying what works and doesn't work in these celebrated works, thinking & critically discussing these points, opening your narrow focus to include still more writers and thinkers and ideas) leads to the holy grail for any serious writer -- better writing. My work has reached a new level that I'm both happy with and challenged by. I feel it is directly attributable to the raising of the bar that is inherent whenever you place yourself in the arena of such discussion and when you place your work alongside the very works you fall in love with and/or despise and see how you stack up. You cannot help but want to make your own work better, more ambitious, more of everything you find you love in the work you are consistently reading. I know. Nothing new. And you're not really the audience that needs convincing. But when you see the effects of this hard work (this reading and reading and reading while also trying to write and write and write), it is powerful. So powerful that I advocate it for all writers, knowing full well I'm not the first to do so. I just never took that advice seriously. Now that I see how my reading & critical discussions of this reading has informed my own work - I want to shout it from the skyscraper-tops. Read. Widely. Now.

23 April 2007

An appreciation

[cross-posted at 400 Windmills]

This is World Book and Copyright Day, in memory of Cervantes, Shakespeare, and others. (It's quite fitting that we remember both Cervantes and the importance of intellectual property as Don Quixote wouldn't be the book it is without his creative act of self-defence: the novel's second part.)

At the Hay Festival in Cartagena this past January, Colombian author Jaime Manrique Ardila (Our Lives Are the Rivers; Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me) had some wonderful things to say about the book that has stayed with him the most: Don Quixote. He said he didn't understand anything the first time he read it at the age of 14, but that his vision of the world had irrevocably changed. While teaching in Massachusetts, he took a class on Don Quixote taught by a friend of his, who was dying of AIDS. It was an life-changing experience.

Manrique said he always wanted to teach it just to be able to read it again. He's read it five times--at the ages of 14, 21, 33, 45, and 52--and always feels like there's something more to understand. It's impossible to comprehend it all: only the heart can absorb Cervantes' humanity. Every page is a book. It takes Proust, Woolf, and everyone combined in order to compare to Cervantes (only Shakespeare rivals him).

He's spoken to Edith Grossman (who translated his volume of poetry, My Night with Federico García Lorca) about it. She's read it 14 times. He admitted that it was a bit unfair to pick Don Quixote as his most recommended book, as all books are based on it. Eduardo Lago, director of the Cervantes Institute in New York, was present as well and explained how he reads Don Quixote every ten years to see how he's changed.

20 April 2007

Poema de invierno

Llovió toda mi infancia.
Las mujeres altas de la familia
aleteaban entre los alambres
descolgando la ropa. Y achicando
hacia el patio
el agua que oleaba a los cuartos.
Aparábamos las goteras del techo
colocando platones y bacinillas
que vaciábamos al sifón cuando desbordaban.
Andábamos descalzos remangados los pantalones,
los zapatos de todos amparados en la repisa.
Madre volaba con un plástico hacia la sala
para cubrir la enciclopedia.
Atravesaba los tejados la luz de los rayos.
A la sombra del palo de agua
colocaba mi abuela un cabo de vela
y sus rezos no dejaban que se apagara.
Se iba la luz toda la noche.
Tuve la dicha de una impermeable de hule
que me cosió mi madre
para poder ir a la escuela
sin mojar los cuadernos.
Acaba zapatos con solo ponérmelos.
Un día salió el sol.
Ya mi padre había muerto.

~ Jotamario Arbeláez

(English translation)

17 April 2007

Saving Pandora (and internet radio)

As an avid Pandora listener, I can't imagine what I'd do without it. I've discovered so many new artists (and yes, have bought CDs). Here is Tim Westergren's letter explaining the situation. I really hope things change and that the government stops encroaching on the internet...
Hi, it's Tim from Pandora,

I'm writing today to ask for your help. The survival of Pandora and all of Internet radio is in jeopardy because of a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington, DC to almost triple the licensing fees for Internet radio sites like Pandora. The new royalty rates are irrationally high, more than four times what satellite radio pays, and broadcast radio doesn't pay these at all. Left unchanged, these new royalties will kill every Internet radio site, including Pandora.

In response to these new and unfair fees, we have formed the SaveNetRadio Coalition, a group that includes listeners, artists, labels and webcasters. I hope that you will consider joining us.

Please sign our petition urging your Congressional representative to act to save Internet radio.

Please feel free to forward this link/email to your friends - the more petitioners we can get, the better.

Understand that we are fully supportive of paying royalties to the artists whose music we play, and have done so since our inception. As a former touring musician myself, I'm no stranger to the challenges facing working musicians. The issue we have with the recent ruling is that it puts the cost of streaming far out of the range of ANY webcaster's business potential.

I hope you'll take just a few minutes to sign our petition - it WILL make a difference. As a young industry, we do not have the lobbying power of the RIAA. You, our listeners, are by far our biggest and most influential allies.

As always, and now more than ever, thank you for your support.

-Tim Westergren
(Pandora founder)


Dr. Randle got back to me today with the results of this weekend's consultation:
Question 4 (of 4): What do you see?
A turtle

Last one. You said… Well that’s a nice normal response for us to finish on. Most people see the penguin. Or the frog. Or the turtle. Animals generally are a good sign with this one. There is an exception to that rule but, well, it’s not something you need to worry about. Good answer. Okay, shall we say same time next week?

Dr Randle

Thanks to Bookninja and Conversational Reading, I now have another one for the wishlist: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. But after reading the first few pages of the novel, I think Dr. Randle might have a bit more explaining to do...

UPDATE: Largehearted Boy gives Steven Hall a playlist.

16 April 2007


The horrified numbness that shrouded me all day finally cracked when I sat quietly and began experiencing the loveliness that's at the tip of my fingers every day (praying, praying for the families, for lives shattered by incomprehensible tragedy). Reading intelligent discussion on my (not so) secret dream... Watching the clip Jeff shared of his beautiful daughter... Feeling like I'm sitting at Uncle Kurt's feet, just listening...

Anything else?


Well—I just discovered a prayer for writers. I'd heard of prayers for sailors and kings and soldiers and so on—but never of a prayer for writers. Could I put that in here?




It was written by Samuel Johnson on April 3, 1753, the day on which he signed a contract that required him to write the first complete dictionary of the English language. He was praying for himself. Perhaps April third should be celebrated as Writers' Day. Anyway, this is the prayer: “O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labor, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall render up, at the last day, an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.”


That seems to be a wish to carry his talent as far and as fast as he can.


Yes. He was a notorious hack.

15 April 2007

First term reading list

Seeing as how we just began the second term at school this past week, I decided to lift a great idea from Bookdwarf and post a few mini-reviews. Because I have neither the time nor the talent to write real reviews about the books I read, I think this sort of recap at the end of each academic term is good goal to have. I don't how much attention my "books on the nightstand/back on the shelf" sections get, plus it helps me say something about some wonderful books that may not have provoked their own posts (through my own fault rather than theirs!).

In reverse chronological order:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ~ Purple Hibiscus
I first heard of Adichie in a 2004 post of Maud's and made a mental note to get to "that book" someday. Nearly three years and a continent later, I've finally read it (a Saturday well-spent) and would recommend it without hesitation. Faith and legalism, abuse and love, oppression and liberation all coexist not only under one roof, but in one man. That the daughter, Kambili, seems unobstrusive is an understatement. It's almost as if she is slowly disappearing into the background of events she can do nothing to affect or control. (I completely identified with her startling self-effacement and desire to be unseen.) There is suffering, but she accepts it. Her journey is made all the more real by her refusal to reject and judge, even while she learns how unacceptable many aspects of her world have become. Adichie's description of life in Nigeria reminded me a lot of what life is like here in Santa Marta. I loved the richness of the particulars of her world, and the pain expressed by those who had to leave it. (Of note: Laila Lalami's conversation with Adichie.)

Philip Pullman ~ The Amber Spyglass
I was deeply intrigued by The Golden Compass, but just plain disappointed with this last book in the trilogy. The theology (and its inversion) didn't bother me, neither did his take on Paradise Lost (although it would be interesting to read C.S. Lewis' Preface to Paradise Lost alongside this series). I freely admit to loving Lewis and Tolkien and Pullman (the latter's venom against the former doesn't bother me as it's the work I'm interested in, not petty hatreds). But this doesn't change the fact that I closed this novel on several unanswered questions. The mysterious nature of the name of the series, His Dark Materials, was very much tied into the nature of Dust. But this intriguing aspect of the book was never brought to bear on the outcome of the last novel. I guess you could say that it was, technically, but there were many missed opportunities to tie in the fate of these particles with the fate of the characters and all that they discover. Let's just say he didn't do Blake justice. (Also, can someone please explain to me why none of the movie stills include any of the characters' daemons?)

I made no secret of what I think (and learned) about Barth (and I still have another post in the draft stage). This is a book that anyone with even a passing interest in literature should read. These innovative stories should be read and then reread--not because they're clever, but because he achieves another level of understanding of world-weary humanity.
Here readers will find: a story in the form of a cutout Mobius strip; a story narrated by a spermatazoon on its journey of fertilization; a story in which the narrator (the author's recorded voice) pleads with the author himself (standing by) to put it out of its misery; a story narrating its own coming-into-being; a story about speaking in tongues in which each of six brief speeches is "metrically identical" to the Lord's Prayer; a story that takes the notion of story-within-story to its hilarious limits; and stories such as "Life-Story" and "Lost in the Funhouse" itself, perhaps the prototypical and most influential metafictions in postmodern American literature.
Enough said. Go read it.

Arthur Conan Doyle ~ A Study in Scarlet
Picked it up on a Saturday morning and read it for the first time while snuggled in a hammock. I was surprised by Holmes' youth (although the arrogance was to be expected) and didn't realize a trip to 19th-century Utah would be part of the experience as well. It was really fun to read. Watson's skepticism goes nicely with his new housemate's enormous self-assurance, and the vivid prose keeps the urgency of the empty-house murder alive in the back of the reader's mind, even while the focus is elsewhere.

Michael Chabon ~ Wonder Boys
My sister brought this down with her on a visit last year, and I began reading it one night when I was having trouble sleeping. (She had taken a class on novel-to-film adaptation in the Netherlands, and to my delight, the book was filled with her notes.) Let's just say it solved the problem quite nicely, and I kept it by my bed for a few months until I hit the Passover scene, and then finished it a couple of days later. At some point it stopped being a "cleverer-than-thou" take on writers and their besetting demons and became more about the characters. I still think Richard Russo's Straight Man is much more funny and heartbreaking, but I would pick up Chabon again.

Laird Hunt ~ The Exquisite
I began writing about it here, but it soon blossomed into its own post. Here are some more insightful links:
Vladimir Nabokov ~ Speak, Memory
I offered a few thoughts in prior posts on this rich memoir. I suspect that all memoirs (past, present, and future) will be compared to Nabokov's. The dense, tangible details and the immediacy with which he recalls the moments that comprised his childhood made me feel as if I were sitting next to him, watching it all on an old reel. There is no artifice or pretense about how he relates the history of his family, just that familiar biting frankness and open tenderness that I've always loved him for.

Agatha Christie ~ And Then There Were None
I'd read this before as a teenager (and was suitably creeped out), but this copy came with the adventure game based on it, which I received for Christmas (and which I have yet to finish, as it's an endless inventory hunt). I read it one night in my hammock on the balcony and it still sent chills up my spine. I'll head back to the house at some point soon... (Also of note: The Official Agatha Christie Website.)

A friend gave me a copy of this novel (a favorite of hers), and I gladly read it before seeing the movie. Süskind's description of Grenouille's unemotional, detached thought processes are fascinating, and his refusal to sentimentalize or make judgments on events make this a curiously objective read. Alas, it wasn't quite that way with Tykwer's film. Although highly competent, the film softens the ending and opts to moralize on what's taken place, robbing the very last line of its power.

Another one I went on about at length. It's a brilliant book--a good thing to read while slowly working my way up to Rayuela. As Pablo Neruda said,
Anyone who doesn't read Cortázar is doomed. Not to read him is a grave invisible disease which in time can have terrible consequences. Something similar to a man who had never tasted peaches. He would be quietly getting sadder, noticeably paler, and probably little by little, he would lose his hair. I don't want those things to happen to me, and so I greedily devour all the fabrications, myths, contradictions, and mortal games of the great Julio Cortázar.
A selection of a group blog discussing the classics. It took me awhile to catch up, but I'm very glad I did (and also proved that I can read books online). Stendhal's masterpiece frustrated and provoked me, while unveiling societal hypocrisy and one young man's desire to navigate it all while striving for a heroic end.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o ~ Wizard of the Crow
The book that helped me usher in this new year: a rollicking, intimate, hilarious, dire, prophetic work on the nature of dictatorship and the wealth of wisdom possessed by the people of Africa. It was the Winter 2007 pick of The Litblog Co-op, and there are many excellent conversations about the book and interviews with the author to be found. It's an immensely readable yarn that improves upon our limited Western understanding of Africa's problems and strengths, and takes a "both/and" approach to such issues as faith vs. magic, politics vs. art, male vs. female. Brilliant and highly recommended.

UPDATE: ...And winner of the fiction prize at the California Book Awards! (Via the Literary Saloon)

A curious singularity

On Thursday I posted my thoughts on Isaac Bashevis Singer's story "Gimple the Fool":
I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this freewheeling, compassionate, absorbing tale. Most of us feel like dyed-in-the-wool cynics these days, and probably have a hard time fathoming Gimple's actions. But such wide-eyed gullibility doesn't stem from idiocy, but from hope and a helpless compassion:
I believed them, and I hope at least that did them some good. [...] Besides, you can't pass through life unscathed, nor expect to.

14 April 2007

Making memories

I just discovered a beautiful little clip at Alfaguara's site. Last November, Azinhaga, the little town in Portugal where José Saramago was born, planned a special celebration and homage for him on the occasion of the publication of his childhood memoirs and his 84th birthday.

Concentric circles

On the strength of Bud's praise for Laird Hunt's novel The Exquisite, I picked it up while I was stateside in January, hoping to save it for a rainy day. In his review Bud quips, "It’s not as confusing as I make it sound, not, that is, if you don’t try too hard to make sense of it."

Very true. Read it for enjoyment (and the language!)--don't worry about figuring it all out. I look forward to rereading it because although I liked it the first time around, I know there are a lot of "echoes" and references I missed. I was, however, struck by the description of "an interesting picture in a brushed-silver frame":
Concentric rings drew the eye into a cloud of intersecting lines in the center. To get there you had to go through a number of color combinations: yellow gave way to green-yellow gave way to salmon then to salmon-gray then gray-silver then gray-yellow, etc., to dizzying effect. The smooth-edged somewhat irregular outer rings looked to have been laid down by hand with colored pencil, while the mesh-textured inner rings looked a little like they had been created with Spirographs, those grooved plastic drawing rings that were in vogue in my childhood, and that I used a few times at a friend's house, though it goes without saying that the results were nothing like this.
As soon as I read this, I felt it was the perfect visual metaphor for the novel (and not only because of the allusion to Sebald's The Rings of Saturn). By placing this Emma Kunz reproduction in the front room of Henry's first job, Hunt alerts the reader to the "wheels within wheels" nature of the story.

Elsewhere, Henry observes,
I looked out the window. No balloon came. No bird blew by. The sounds of the street seemed very distant. I seemed very distant. Empty circles within circles. Inertia clearly had the upper hand.
Henry also posits a "theory of two New Yorks," which Mr. Kindt "calculated became a dizzying sixteen million New Yorks if there was one of each for each New Yorker":
The one contains the other, I said.

The larger the smaller, or is it the other way around?

I don't know.

It is nevertheless a lovely notion, he said. All cities must be wrapped in a similar doubling embrace.

And all people, I said.

Yes, Henry, of course, we are all of us wrapped in the darkened shadows of our afterselves.
Later in the novel, in a chilling hint of minor revelation, Kindt the invader is invaded by an invader of his own--more circles leading nowhere. More references to the sadness that "builds like sediment with the kind of predictability that still manages to astonish, the kind that often ends by masking its original cause[.]"

But there is humor here, too. Henry describes an illustration by "fellow fifth-grader" Eva Grace Cotrero of "a moon lamp, a device she was working on that was supposed to promote healing by harnessing moonbeams." The book is dedicated to Hunt's daughter, Eva Grace.

As Matt Cheney noted,
The two main stories converge and diverge without explaining each other. They are echoes of echoes, their original sources lost, or at least distant, and so the echoes go on inhabiting the same air. This is a book so full of plots that everything that seems important also seems tangential. It's no surprise that Aris Kindt is a connoisseur of herrings; within the mysteries of The Exquisite, plenty of the herrings are red, but they're part of an entire rainbow -- or, to switch metaphors, an ocean of tributaries filled with plotting fish. No resolution is for sure, and every version of the truth tells some sort of story, with each story being as valid as the other -- the point is not the resolution, but the pleasure of the telling, just as the joy of murder stories is not in how they end up, but in the planning, preparation, and execution that lead to the end. Cut out all possibility of an end, and most of the pleasures still remain, while new pleasures reveal themselves.
As Hunt himself said, "The Exquisite doesn't so much call for readers to solve puzzles, but, in the face of multiple vectors of narrative, etc., to do some puzzling."

P.S. I believe I've found the Kunz piece in question--the 18th work of the online gallery slideshow.

Word magician

In today's edition of El Tiempo, there's an interesting review of Margret S. de Oliveira's La lengua ladina de García Márquez, a glossary of 1600 "colombianisms" found in his work. The meanings of words such as embullar, halalcsillag, mambí, sinecura, ferragosto, guatacuco, and jofaina are given in the context of the particular passages in which they're found.
"García Márquez es un prestidigitador de las palabras. Tiene una relación muy particular con ellas, juega, hace magia con ellas. No solo son la materia prima de su oficio, sino que hace maravillas", sostiene Oliveira.
In her 40-year study of García Márquez's work, Oliveira traveled to Colombia's northern coast [Ed. note--My lovely home!] and spent time in Aracataca. She also read his entire body of work in its English, French, and German translations, because of the help he would give his translators:
Sé que García Márquez a veces ayuda a sus traductores, ellos le envían listas de preguntas y él se las responde, o les da guías para hacer la traducción. Entonces, me leí toda su obra en español, inglés, francés y alemán porque a veces no encontraba una referencia lexicográfica de ciertas palabras y así fue como encontré algunos giros que no aparecían en ningún diccionario", dice la autora.
Another one destined for the TBR stack!

UPDATE: Just found a more in-depth article that appeared ten days ago, which contains examples of 24 entries such as,
envainado prnl coloq Col.

Enredado; metido (alguien) en líos, contrariedades, problemas. "...la desgracia de mi pobre hijo a quienes los infantes de marina tenían traspuesto en la casa presidencial, tan lejos de su madre, señor, sin una esposa solícita que lo asistiera a media noche si lo despertaba un dolor, y envainado con ese empleo de presidente de la república por un sueldo rastrero* de trescientos pesos mensuales..." ('El otoño del patriarca')

filipichín m obsol

Persona vestida con elegancia o con excesivo esmero. SIN lechugino, petimetre. "Yo caminaba ansioso de que me tragara la tierra dentro de mi atuendo de filipichín, pero nadie se fijó en mí, salvo un mulato escuálido que dormitaba sentado en el portón de una casa de vcindad." (Memoria de mis putas tristes)

zurullo m coloq vulg

Pedazo de excremento sólido. SIN mojón."Tantos conventos en esta ciudad y el señor obispo nos manda los zurullos', protestó la abadesa." (Del amor y otros demonios)

13 April 2007

The whole point

Scott Esposito writes,
A single volume of Nietzsche will furnish you with far more quotable theories about the world than any of these [books]. But Nietzsche tells you what to think. These novels, like all great art, embody interesting ways of viewing the world and rely on you to decide what they mean.
What kinds of novels is he talking about? Head over to Conversational Reading and enjoy Friday's column.

12 April 2007

Saints everywhere

I checked in briefly early this morning and was hit with the wave of litblogs mourning the death of Kurt Vonnegut, one of greatest compassionate writers who have ever lived. I still can't quite believe it. As Carolyn said, you know it's bound to happen but that doesn't make it any easier to take.

I hope many litbloggers reach for their books and quote favorite passages, share memories, tell stories... What a life. When I lived in Indianapolis, every morning I would drive past the hotel that once contained the "Bluebird Room" from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (my favorite). Remembering his work like that would help me through the tedium of the workdays, and I would try to keep hold of that sense of heartbreak and wonder that floods our daily lives.

Here are a few past posts, and some highlights from his "last speech for money":
“people are in revolt against life itself.”

“If you really want to hurt your parents and don’t want to be gay, go into the arts.”

“To hell with the advances in computers,” he says after he finishes singing. “YOU are supposed to advance and become, not the computers. Find out what’s inside you. And don’t kill anybody."

“war is a very profitable thing for a few people. Jesus used to be so merciful and loving of the poor. But now he’s a Republican."

“You meet saints every where. They can be anywhere. They are people behaving decently in an indecent society."

The greatest peace, Vonnegut wraps up, “comes from the knowledge that I have enough. Joe Heller told me that.

“I began writing because I found myself possessed. I looked at what I wrote and I said ‘How the hell did I do that?’

“We may all be possessed. I hope so.”

11 April 2007

Shaving syllables

Publisher's Weekly presents an all-too brief conversation with Annie Dillard about The Maytrees. Sounds like her m.o. this time around is completely different from The Living, but the delight in words is the same:
Isn't it hard to kill off your own characters and writing?

I've made the decision many times. Of course, I always save them in a file. And then I got to the part that was really interesting: shaving the book by the syllable. If there was a three-syllable word, I'd say, is there a two syllable word for this, etc. That was really fun. And then I told my husband, Robert Richardson [author of William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism], "I'm having so much trouble." And he said, "Decide what the book is about and take away everything that isn't about that." That's a really good guideline. I always put a little index card above my desk that says: "This book is about THIS!"

So, what is this book about?

It's about the marriage of these two people. It's about their lifelong love. I wanted to call it a "Romantic Comedy about Light Pollution." Sadly, my editors made me remove my joke.
Looking forward to more interviews with her as the release date nears.

Again, I highly recommend reading "The Two of Us" (Harper's, Nov. 2003) if you're at all iffy about this one.

(Via TEV)

Shakespeare's "Tarantino phase"

Scott McLemee spends some quality time with Titus Andronicus:
[Q]uestions of context and literary intertextuality are one thing, while the experience of watching the work itself performed is quite another. For Titus Andronicus is, to repeat, one batshit crazy play. It is surreal, nightmarish. It is also, to a surprising degree, rather vile. Some members of the audience weep, which is understandable; but I can testify that at least one patron wanted to take a shower afterwards.
(A friend of mine passed out while watching Julie Taymor's film version.)
During the forum at the Shakespeare Theatre over the weekend, Denise Albanese mentioned that she frequently teaches Titus at George Mason. I gave her a call to ask about that. And also, frankly, just because I wanted to discuss about the play with somebody who had lived with it for a while. (Exposure to its surrealistic overload does leave you wanting to “talk it off,” as it were.)

“It’s almost always the first play I teach,” she said. “I do that because very often students have only encountered Shakespeare in high school and have a misunderstanding of him as safe, moral, and dull. This one really dislodges the idea that Shakespeare is full of eternal moral truths. It takes place in a different world from what they expect.”

And how does Titus go over with her students?

“Many of them have a very hard time with it,” she told me. “They expect to be able to like somebody in a piece of literature, to find somebody they can identify with, and that is quite difficult in this case. It’s hard to identify with Titus, who kills his own son for dishonoring him. The moral ambiguity of the play is very, very difficult for some of them.”

Such confusion seems appropriate, in a way. Yet I suspect that there is a certain moral ambiguity about experiencing Titus Andronicus as containing moral ambiguity.

10 April 2007

Lights and tunnels

Arriving back to work after an uneventful semana santa, a colleague gifted me with a golden ticket: the business card of an English-language bookstore in Bogotá. This is going to go a looong way towards reducing the amount of complaining I do around here about having no access to new titles in English.

Authors looks lovely:
As a direct importer of titles from the US, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and South Africa we are delighted to offer terrific prices on any English language titles you may be seeking.
Oddly enough, this has renewed my resolve to make it through the present stack and keep building my Spanish library.

Last Tuesday, A. and I day-tripped it to Barranquilla, where I found Spanish translations of Philip Pullman's Count Karlstein and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday. Today I went on an (incomprehensibly) unsuccessful search for José Eustacio Rivera's La vorágine, but picked up the newly-revised edition of Cien años de soledad (which is selling like the proverbial hotcakes around here) and José Saramago's recent memoir, Las pequeñas memorias. I began the latter this evening and am glowing. His wife, Pilar del Río, translated it from the original Portuguese, and the dedication is hers alone:
A Pilar, que todavía no había nacido,
                      y tanto tardó en llegar.
Things are definitely looking up.

Now. If I could only find an affordable bookcase...

Blogging as croquet

Quoting Darby again:
I've said it before, and I hate that it has to be said again: if you, in the literary criticism and analysis world, make fun of people who should naturally be your primary audience (i.e., people who love literature and love talking about literature and love responding to discussions about literature and generating new discussions about literature), you are a huge recursive tool. I'm sorry, but it's true: you are a monkey wrench you have thrown into your own self.
Bloggers are readers too, you know. Seems that most who criticize us forget that we simply love books.

And Another Thing.

Whatever happened to that old sentiment of Chesterton's? "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly," right? I may be reckless, but I think this is worth bringing up:
[I]t is a towering levity, an uproarious amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little, and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run. To smatter the tongues of men and angels, to dabble in the dreadful sciences, to juggle with pillars and pyramids and toss up the planets like balls, this is that inner audacity and indifference which the human soul, like a conjurer catching oranges, must keep up for ever. This is that insanely frivolous thing we call sanity.
Or maybe we should all just read this:
"Oh, Parkinson, Parkinson!" I cried, patting him affectionately on the head with a mallet, "how far you really are from the pure love of the sport--you who can play. It is only we who play badly who love the Game itself. You love glory; you love applause; you love the earthquake voice of victory; you do not love croquet. You do not love croquet until you love being beaten at croquet. It is we the bunglers who adore the occupation in the abstract. It is we to whom it is art for art's sake. If we may see the face of Croquet herself (if I may so express myself) we are content to see her face turned upon us in anger. Our play is called amateurish; and we wear proudly the name of amateur, for amateurs is but the French for Lovers. We accept all adventures from our Lady, the most disastrous or the most dreary. We wait outside her iron gates (I allude to the hoops), vainly essaying to enter. Our devoted balls, impetuous and full of chivalry, will not be confined within the pedantic boundaries of the mere croquet ground. Our balls seek honour in the ends of the earth; they turn up in the flower-beds and the conservatory; they are to be found in the front garden and the next street. No, Parkinson! The good painter has skill. It is the bad painter who loves his art. The good musician loves being a musician, the bad musician loves music. With such a pure and hopeless passion do I worship croquet. I love the game itself. I love the parallelogram of grass marked out with chalk or tape, as if its limits were the frontiers of my sacred Fatherland, the four seas of Britain. I love the mere swing of the mallets, and the click of the balls is music. The four colours are to me sacramental and symbolic, like the red of martyrdom, or the white of Easter Day. You lose all this, my poor Parkinson. You have to solace yourself for the absence of this vision by the paltry consolation of being able to go through hoops and to hit the stick."
Oh, Gessen, Gessen! I freely admit that I have no clue what I'm doing here most of the time, but I absolutely love it.

[Overeager emphasis mine.]

09 April 2007

New Dillard

Thanks to Brook, I now know that Annie Dillard has not only updated her website, but has recently published a new book!

To whit:
FORTHCOMING APRIL 5---a SHORT novel of lifelong love in marriage, set on Cape Cod among the Provincetown artists' colony people, starting in the 1940's.
Checking in at Amazon, I see that the release date has been pushed up to 1 June (and will also be an unabridged audiobook). Here's what Booklist has to say:
Dillard, a member in good standing of the school of Emerson and Thoreau, reads the living world with the elevated attention accorded sacred texts. This habit of mind shapes her prized nonfiction, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) to For the Time Being (1999), and underlies her fiction, first, in The Living (1992), a historical saga set in the Pacific Northwest. And now in this rhapsodic novel of our times set on Cape Cod and portraying free-spirited characters dazzled by the sea, stars, sun, wind, and dunes. Deary, a country-club escapee, sleeps in the sand's cradling embrace. Poet Toby Maytree cherishes the beach shack his coast guard father built, which is where he takes beautiful and meditative Lou, launching a epic love. Dillard's gift for combining scientific precision with soul-stirring lyricism has never been more beguiling and philosophically resonant. Can Lou and Maytree's seaside idyll last? Yes and no. Broken bones and broken promises do not altogether slay love, or dispel osmotic understanding. The ocean gives, takes, gives back. Lou is an anchorite, free of clock time and clutter, devoted to the story of the land. Maytree is a voyager who, in old age, returns home. In this mythic and transfixing tale, Dillard wryly questions notions of love, exalts in life's metamorphoses, and celebrates goodness. As she casts a spell sensuous and metaphysical, Dillard covertly bids us to emulate may trees--the resilient hawthorn--the tree of joy, of spring, of the heart.
This review sounds a bit too...sweet for Dillard. If her last published work of fiction, "The Two of Them," is any indication, this new novel will be a searing work of beauty.

Incidentally, "The Two of Them" was published in Harper's November 2003 issue. (As Maud said, "Looks like I do have that 17 bucks, after all"!)

07 April 2007

Filling in the gaps in my education

I've just finished Lost in the Funhouse and officially adore John Barth. So what's a girl estranged from further book access to do? Learn all she can...

I took so many lit courses in college that I accidentally double-majored in my own major, but still did not make it to Barth. (Shameful, I know.) So I flip through Annie Dillard's Living by Fiction (published in 1982) and reread:
When a writer like Barth speaks up in his fiction today, he returns to Sterne, he parodies the eighteenth-century novel, and he makes a virtue of his own self-consciousness. Barth parodies his self-consciousness too, brilliantly: he even celebrates the self-awareness of the writer whose chosen art is so developed and all its possibilities so known that he cannot enter into it forgetfully.
I admire how she gets his "playful irony" and the joyful nature of his work (pulsing with life, energy, and reader involvement).

But I need more, and so I find some great links to audio interviews with him and begin to listen (starting here). I dig up Dan Green's posts on Barth and reread this (because it's what helped me to pick up Barth in the first place):
[I]t is Lost in the Funhouse in which Barth most purposefully engages in literary experiment. So singlemindedly does he do so, in fact, that readers who encounter this book now, shorn of the context in which it was both so controversial and so influential, might think it dated, a relic of an era in which experiment in fiction could be so noteworthy. (They would be mistaken to judge it so, however, as it is an example of the sort of fiction that, in Barth's own words, is still "au courant" but also "manage[s] nonetheless to speak eloquently and memorably to our human hearts and conditions, as the greatest artists have always done.") [...]

I do believe Barth will ultimately be judged an important postwar writer, largely because of the accomplishment of a book like Lost in the Funhouse, which, however much it absorbs the influence of writers such as Borges and Nabokov, also transforms that influence into a frequently outrageous kind of comic fiction that discloses the many ways in which storyelling can trip over its own narrative feet, but in the process demonstrates that fiction still has plenty of innate if unexploited resources from which it might continue to draw.
Regardless of what anyone has to say about the "flaws" of litblogs, the solace and shared appreciative enjoyment of literature that I continually find will always keep me coming back. Yet it's also the constant learning that I love: discovery, revelation, and insight galore for the hungry reader.