31 May 2007

Traveling books

I've joined the "sisterhood," because a) I'm desperate, and b) I love its premise:
Are you unable to walk into a bookstore without buying a book? Do you love book clubs, or discussing books with friends? Would you rather save the money and get the book from a fellow blogger, without spending anything more than the cost of postage by sending a book to another grateful reader?

If so, you are hereby cordially invited to join a little project we’d like to call “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Books.”
Check, check, check.

Shelley and Jessica of Readers Without Borders have started a fun and very practical project:
If you are living abroad, or living at home - wherever - and you like to get new books, but want to spend less money, this is it! All it costs is postage, and meanwhile you’ll be receiving books as well. I’ll let you take a look at the new site to read the “instructions”.

In order to participate, you have to donate a book, which just makes sense. But don’t worry, the book will collect a “heritage” of notes and postcards, etc, from the women who read it. Eventually, at the end of the list, it will be sent back to you, and you will see who all has read and enjoyed it.
I think this is a brilliant idea. The month-long mail waits could get to me, but I plan on not dwelling on it and letting the books arrive as packaged surprises. I used to be an avid letter-writer, but have gotten out of the habit due to how far a way I am and the ridiculous cost of merely mailing a letter. This will make up for a lot, though. A wonderful development. Consider this your open invitation to an international book-swapping group! (In spite of the title, everyone is welcome.)

30 May 2007

By train to Macondo

After 24 years, Gabriel García Márquez returned to Aracataca...on a train painted with yellow butterflies. The train left from Santa Marta late this morning and passed our school during lunch recess. Everyone flocked to the fence to watch history float by. Some of us stood on tables, while a hundred children raced to the end of the school grounds to watch that "magical train" pass. One of my students was riding it. She is nine.

Every recess just before lunch she sits by me while we watch the kids play soccer. She tells me stories from her week and the funny or startling things she's seen and heard. She began slipping me scraps of fiction at the beginning of the year, and I was so delighted and amused by her unconventional stories, I told her that although I'll treasure them forever, I don't want her to lose such great work. I found a blank notebook and she spent nearly an hour eagerly copying down her tales of the beautiful witch who jilted a hapless prince at the altar and flew to Rome and became a millionaire instead...of the girl who murdered the devil because he had once told her that he was her father, and then later (absentmindedly) told her to kill her father...of the man who walked out his front door, hit his head, and promptly forgot who he was...of the lonely sun and the lonely moon who found each other by chance, while the stars first ridiculed them, then attended their wedding... (There are also poems and songs.) It was only last week that I found out who her great-uncle is.

I look forward to sitting on that wooden balance beam tomorrow, watching the kids play soccer and listening to her tell the story of today. Maybe I'll even ask her to write it down.


Scott McLemee on the need for good criticism:
“With the very text of Germinal before him,” as the journalist puts it, the student “was so concerned with showing that he knew how to read his book with a modish approach that he simply could not recognize the most obvious quality of Zola’s great novel — which was its force. He felt no necessary connection between his experience and that described in the novel, but he had brought in wholly arbitrary connections, couched in a critical vocabulary that he had learned by rote, whose historical applications and limitations he did not understand. He was like a tourist in a foreign country; he could imitate the language but not understand it.”
Readers (and students) need to understand that reading is an experience. But I know that academia looks down on personal observations...and God forbid that you're actually moved by a work of literature. Such "emotion" clutters the scientific precision of the criticism, right?

29 May 2007

At last

I've been finally able to adequately air my issues with Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics over at Callie Miller's fantastic litblog, Counterbalance. There's a roundtable discussion taking place, in which I humbly offer Part III. (See also Part I and Part II.) All enlightenment, affirmation, and disagreement welcome!

28 May 2007


I think I'm going to be sick...
But wanting to thin out his collection, he found he couldn't even give away books to libraries or thrift shops, which said they were full. So on Sunday, Wayne began burning his books protest what he sees as society's diminishing support for the printed word.
Which libraries did he go to? How many? Had he even heard of the various charities that donate books to inner-city schools, decimated school libraries in New Orleans, or even the camel bookmobile in Kenya? (There's even a certain little school on Colombia's northern coast that is pretty desperate for books as well.)

I'm really sorry, but I just have to say it: ¡Qué gringo tan tonto!

(via Maud)

UPDATE: Tod Goldberg elaborates on the additional insult they've been heaping on this already grievous injury.

24 May 2007

Living literature

Anne Fernald (English professor, Woolf scholar, and fellow litblogger) is currently examining the textual edits that Woolf herself made to Mrs. Dalloway. The adventure begins at the Lilly Library...
The proofs came out of the vault magnificently wrapped, in a gold or bright orange slipcase--fabric covering hard boards--with a red spine. From this, the archivist extracted a folder of the same golden cardboard. Within that folder, a cream-colored box made of thin paper, like a file folder. Finally, within that, the proofs themselves.
She dives right in...and we soon learn that "minor differences" can mean a great deal.

Then she discovers something much more than a "minor" change:
In all of the proofs, there is only one page where Woolf crosses out a whole paragraph and substitutes a (significantly longer) typed page. That single instance is the paragraph in which Septimus kills himself. Seventeen lines in proofs have been crossed out and two typed pages have been added, making the paragraph now twenty-eight lines long. In addition to many small changes, the chief addition here comes toward the beginning of the paragraph, with the addition of Septimus scanning the room for possible means of suicide before deciding to throw himself out the window.

That, it seems to me, gives everyone a lot to think about. To know that, at the very last minute, Woolf was rethinking the book’s climax, giving it greater depth and a slower pace, is to know something about the centrality of Septimus to the novel.
At UCLA, Anne spends time with a personal set of proofs, hand-sewn and bound by Woolf. She continues her work, and amid the hours of detailed reading, something happens:
Then, suddenly, I see something I haven’t seen before--another instance in which her revision falls into a pattern. I hear a resonance and now have a phrase to check--is it an allusion to something?

Today it was birds. What about all the birds? I figured I could do something with the flowers in the books--roses and carnations, hyacinths and lilies--but, until today, I hadn’t thought about the symbolic weight of the birds. Swallows and nightingales I can do (going back to Ovid and the story of Procne and Philomel), but what about sparrows and thrushes?
I dearly love watching this textual drama unfold and hearing about the details of such a painstaking process. As a former proofreader, it isn't just that I enjoy reading about a one-time dream job, it's the ever-evolving process of discovery and the idea that even a novel as famous and studied as Mrs. Dalloway still contains a wealth of insight for those who care enough to look. Books like this are alive--speaking to us from across the years.

I love these glimpses into Virginia's writing process. Looking forward to hearing even more...!

22 May 2007


I've been avoiding news about the new Brontë film because, well... Why go there? But the BrontëBlog points to a piece in today's Telegraph & Argus that actually made me crack a smile about the whole thing:
Charlotte Bronte, played by Michelle Williams, stands and tosses her hair.

Charlotte: "God damn it, Dad! Potatoes again? This is doing nothing for my attempt to get into that 00 frock for the prom, you know."

Patrick (seething): "Don't take the Lord's name in vain, missy! That's my Goddamn job!"

Charlotte storms out. Bryce Dallas Howard is Emily Bronte, absent-mindedly pushing a potato around her plate with her fork.

Emily: "Dad, I think I'd like to go for a walk on the moors. Get some inspiration from the blasted heath for me writin', donchaknow."

Patrick (glowering): "That's the worst Goddamn British accent I ever heard. That's worse than Dick Van Goddam Dyke."

20 May 2007


El Tiempo has a marvelous multimedia spread on the recent film adaptation of Satanás, a novel by Colombian author Mario Mendoza. There's even audio of Mendoza reading a scene from the novel and then the director, Andrés Baiz, reading the same scene from his screenplay.

I was lucky enough to see the trailer yesterday and discovered that it's produced by the same people who did María llena eres de gracia and Rosario Tijeras. Looks like I now know which novel to pick up next--I'll definitely read this one before seeing it.

Related notes:
  • Informal film review at the IMDB (in English).
  • Don't know if this novel has been translated into English yet (I think not), but there's an article about it at Amazon. Here's what you get without paying the requisite $5.95:
    THE TITLE of Mario Mendoza's recent novel Satanas uses Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a leitmotiv. Set in contemporary Bogota, there are various manifestations of evil to explore, such as can be found in any big city: robbery, rape, and violence of various kinds. Since narcotraffic does not inform the story, the protagonists are universal and, in their struggles between good and evil, come to represent a sort of Everyman/Everywoman. The careful structure of the novel presents the reader with four clear protagonists: Maria, Andres, and Padre Ernesto, who strive toward good but are at times overwhelmed by their circumstances and desires [...]

Cloud 9, pt. II

Am about to begin the sixth story in Cloud Atlas, and (again) have a bunch of scribbled notes to post (if for no other reason than to slow down my time with this wonderful book)....
  • Mrs Latham wears Nefertiti earings. (Eve's black horse is named Nefertiti.)
  • Cavendish reads the MS of Half-lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery with v. amusing results (pp. 158, 164, 169).
  • This reminds me that the news article re. Sixsmith--if it were really published in a California paper--would put periods in the titles (e.g., Dr., Ms.). But it doesn't. Don't know if this is intentional or a mistake on the part of the copyeditor. Actually, if the MS is really by a "Hilary V. Hush," she may not have known the difference, and so the mistake is hers, right? (Clever but not Clever enough, as Mr. Cavendish would say.) (Does the US edition correct this, I wonder?)
  • Cavendish encounters delays, much like Sixsmith.
  • Saffron Walden and Cambridge--Cavendish passes through Frobisher's territory.
  • Cavendish uses "Mater" and "Pater" exactly like Frobisher (p. 165). I think I know where all this is going...
  • The little boy Cavendish encounters at Ursula's house says, "Don't move a muscle or I'll mackasser you and put you in a stew!" Uh oh. Now I'm not quite sure. The scrambled reference to Frobisher's old prof Mackerras doesn't come from Cavendish's lips...
  • Cavendish: "My fellow passengers' features melted into forms that were half familiar..." Curiouser and curiouser.
  • His bitter musings on the book trade made me laugh aloud: "The memoirs are bad enough, but all that ruddy fiction! Hero goes on a journey, stranger comes to town, somebody wants something, they get it or they don't, will is pitted against will. 'Admire me, for I am a metaphor.'"
  • p. 173, "A howling singer on the radio strummed a song about how everything that dies some day comes back." Does this section have the most commentary on this sort of thing because it's the first to not be immediately identified as a document (not journal, letter, or novel)--i.e., it's more self-aware? (It's only in Sonmi~451's section that we discover it's a film.)
  • Love that this Sonmi is "451." (I'm sure Bradbury would enjoy this book immensely.)
  • Love how it's the fairy tales that inspire hope and a longing for something better. (Very Chestertonian.)
  • p. 204, the birthmark resurfaces
  • p. 206, evolving language = growing intelligence
  • Sonmi~451 reads Cavendish's beloved Gibbon (who's even referenced obliquely on p. 5 in Ewing's section. I'm sure all these inter-references work forwards as well as backwards, which means I'll just have to read this one again).
  • I like that a "Suleiman" is the true author of Boom-Sook's thesis.
  • Amused by the lack of "gh" in all words where they're supposed to be...and the proper nouns that have become common nouns in Sonmi's universe (ford, disney, starbuck, etc.). I don't think we're that far from the latter, though...which is a bit "fritening" to think about.
  • So The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish is a film and it's Sonmi's turn to comment on the prior work and what actually happens when the story cuts off... Think it's very funny she labels him a "book thief."
Nearly halfway through and I just...need...to...s l o w...d o w n...!

18 May 2007

Cloud 9

I'm about to begin the fourth story in Cloud Atlas ("The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish") and have decided to post some random notes from my reading. I'm tickled by the fact that my first-time experiences with such lauded authors (Barth, Markson) are turning into these love-fests. I'm not gushing because everyone else says they're great (although they are). I'm gushing because I'm finding so much to enjoy, appreciate, and admire in the work of contemporary writers. Fiction is alive and well, folks (as if there were really any doubt). You just have to know where to look. And it's no coincidence that I first heard of Markson and Mitchell via litblogs. I know I'm missing out on so many more wonderful books, but thank God I've at least made it this far. For such remarkable recommendations (and myriad other reasons), litblogs will always have my undying gratitude and devotion.

Ok. So I've got a borrowed copy and can't write in it, but the post-its are getting filled up too fast too soon. To whit:
  • I can't help but think that the reference to Psalm 81:7 means more than Ewing thinks it does ("the secret place of thunder"). It's also on this page that that he encounters more humming--this time of the insect variety, as opposed to the swarm of natives on p. 6. Language and non-language both equal sound and communication. Looking forward to see where this theme goes.
  • p. 21--J.E.'s footnote. Suspicions as to this individual's identity confirmed (?) in the next section (Frobisher's).
  • Although Ewing is well-intentioned and his journal is interesting in a Mysterious Island, Sea-Wolf sense, I couldn't get away from the creepiness of his "Ailment" and the fact that the ship is called "Prophetess."
  • Javier and Dr. Moses have got to be related.
  • Is locker No909 a reference to Mitchell's previous novel (Number9Dream)?
  • I'm intrigued by the judgements of later readers on former writers: Frobisher's estimation of Dr. Goose and Ewing's supposed gullibilty, and Luisa's take on Sixsmith's portrayal in Frobisher's letters. But I love reading the actual "documents" prior to their discovery. I think this is the first time I've seen this (as opposed to discovery and then inclusion, as in most novels). I enjoy making my own judgments on the characters in their writing before I encounter the judgments of later readers--it makes the story that much more complex.
  • I think that the "birthmark" issue is the same sort of thing as Ewing's "Ailment" somehow...
  • Funny that Luisa's mom lives in Ewingville. Love how intentional all these details are.
Also very happy to discover that El atlas de las nubes exists, translated by Víctor Úbeda. There is no way I'm keeping this one to myself.

17 May 2007

The happy dance

A fellow teacher and I got to talking about the book scarcity dilemma, and when he mentioned that he just finished reading Cloud Atlas, I nearly fell over (and probably did a good job of scaring him). We decided to loan each other books, and so this morning I received a British paperback copy of Cloud Atlas (!!), and I am thrilled. I've been wanting to read this one for a very long time, and just heard at the beginning of the week that I would not be able to get it in from Bogotá. This is marvelous. (Delirio --which I am enjoying very much--will just have to share her place in my mochila for the time being.)

I try to keep this blog focused on books and not my personal life (but for book-related things), but Sylvia kindly added me on to this meme, and this morning's good news has left me feeling giddy enough to participate.

Eight random things...
  • I'm the eldest of five children.
  • I was born at home.
  • I took ballet lessons for nearly ten years.
  • I've lived in 13 cities in three countries since the age of 11.
  • As with Dorothy, I "hate, loathe, despise, and abominate" shopping for clothes.
  • I once stood in line behind Alister McGrath at a corner store in Oxford.
  • I did not pass out or feel queasy while listening to Chuck Palahniuk read "Guts."
  • My first job out of college was at The Saturday Evening Post (and I lived to tell the tale).
Because it's already been around a bit, anyone who'd like to pick this up is more than welcome. Meanwhile, I'll hold Cloud Atlas in my hot little hands and gloat as if I'd just won a trip to Tahiti...

14 May 2007

A bibliophile's plight

Well, my light at the end of the tunnel is rapidly going out. I heard back from that bookstore in Bogotá, and of the few books I requested, they only have one: The Raw Shark Texts. The problem? The quoted price is $92,000 pesos, which equates to $46 ($46!) US dollars (and this is before shipping costs). But I'm so desperate for a new novel, that I just might go for it. (Those of you who've read it--would it be worth it?)

Amazon doesn't even ship to Colombia, but Powell's does--if I'm willing to pay $14 for shipping and wait two months. [Correction: Just found out that they do ship here, but we're not mentioned on their country list.]

I've been thinking long and hard about getting an ebook reader, and learned a lot from this ebook reader review--including the fact that the iLiad comes with a stylus (great!) and a $700 price tag (not so great). The pros and cons of the Sony Reader (since it's priced at a more "modest" $350) seem to all cancel each other out. Or do they? Although they don't have many of the books on my overly-optimistic future reading list (and tons of bestseller crap), I did find 5 books out of a starter list of 20. And although they're all basically full price, I can have them immediately and not bother with shipping fees or waiting forever. The fine print scared me ("Use of companion CONNECT eBook Store limited to US residents"), but a user's review explains how this is due to billing purposes. It won't lock me out because of my ISP (as is now the case with Pandora--a tragic loss as far as I'm concerned, which doesn't help the situation).

Meanwhile, all this readerly angst is distracting me from what I do have: I'm really enjoying Laura Restrepo's Delirio and the narrative style, which seems to draw a lot from Faulkner and Woolf (more on this when I finish the book). I'm trying to keep things in perspective, read all I can here, and strategically plan a list of used books that my father can bring on his August visit.

If anything, I hope this situation helps many of you to never take interlibrary loan for granted again. Seriously.

But any advice you could give would be very welcome (even tips on helping me deal with my withdrawal symptoms)...

(ebook review via Conversational Reading)

UPDATE: More conversation over at lowebrow.

12 May 2007

Chesterton and Borges

In pointing to a recent (and very interesting) discussion about Orthodoxy, Ed declares,
"Let me add G.K. Chesterton (along with Maugham) as one of the most needlessly dismissed writers of the 20th century I’d like to write about sometime. (And, incidentally, he had quite a lot to say about Dickens, which was one of the first critical books I ever read.)"
I've read and loved GKC since I was a kid. One of my favorite literary discoveries over the years has been his influence on Jorge Luis Borges. As an undergrad, I stumbled on Enrique Anderson Imbert's lengthy essay, "Chesterton en Borges," in a copy of El realismo mágico y otros ensayos. In it, he relates how Borges encountered Chesterton’s writing in 1914 while living in Switzerland, and read him so frequently (along with Stevenson and Kipling) that he could recite entire passages off by heart. Borges' earliest reference to Chesterton is found in his 1932 essay, “El arte narrativo y la magia” (“Narrative Art and Magic”), where he praises the strategies of surprise in his short stories.

Borges references Chesterton in “The Book of Sand” where he writes, “Somewhere I recalled reading that the best place to hide a leaf is in a forest.” This is probably a direct reference to Chesterton’s story “The Sign of the Broken Sword,” where Father Brown says, “Where would a wise man hide a leaf? In the forest. [. . .] If there were no forest, he would make a forest. And if he wished to hide a dead leaf, he would make a dead forest.”

Borges also specifically mentions Chesterton’s story “The Blast of the Book” in a 1935 essay in which he recommends that this (as well as other works of Chesterton’s) be anthologized. This story shares quite a few themes and elements with "The Book of Sand." While Borges' story relates the dilemma of a man who receives a mysterious book (infinite in that it can never be read the same way twice and seems to have no beginning or end) from a Presbyterian Bible salesman, Chesterton’s tale revolves around a mysterious book that has contributed to the dramatic disappearances of five people. The book's owner is a Scottish missionary who tells the skeptical professor, “I’ve got to tell my story to somebody who knows, because it’s true. And, all joking apart, it’s tragic as well as true.”

Both stories deal with an obsession with pattern and order--the potential for madness due to the illusion of attainable solution. After ceaseless investigation, Borges’ narrator finally comes to the realization that his book “was monstrous. What good did it do me to think that I [. . .] was any less monstrous? I felt that the book was a nightmarish object, an obscene thing that affronted and tainted reality itself.” He had become consumed with systematically attempting to discover some order or pattern to the “devilish” volume. He relates, "A prisoner of the book, I almost never went out anymore. [. . .] I set about listing [the illustrations] alphabetically in a notebook, which I was not long in filling up. Never once was an illustration repeated. At night, in the meager intervals my insomnia granted, I dreamed of the book." He soon intentionally loses it in an immense library, abandoning his need to plumb the depths of its mystery in an effort to attain freedom and preserve his sanity.

Similarly, Chesterton’s professor comes to the point where he is impelled to tell Father Brown “every detail of this monstrous mystery” and the priest reveals the truth of the matter by pointing out how the pattern of “disappearances” was a deception. He tells the professor,
“I suppose the hardest thing is to convince anybody that 0 plus 0 plus 0 = 0. Men believe the oddest things if they are in a series; that is why Macbeth believed the three words of the three witches; though the first was something he knew himself; and the last something he could only bring about himself.”
By being wholly preoccupied with the similarity of the facts of each disappearance, the professor had been trapped by his own rationality--much like Borges' narrator. Although the resolution of Borges’ story does not come by way of outside intervention as does Chesterton's, the abandonment of excessive (obsessive?) order creates freedom in both cases.

Related notes:
  • I love that Borges' story begins with an epigraph from George Herbert's poem "The Collar."
  • Maximus Clarke (aka Mr. Maud) created a fascinating interactive puzzle inspired by "The Book of Sand."
  • A simple search of "Chesterton" via Bud's newly implemented feature at MetaxuCafé brought up six pages of hits. Evidently, there's much more good litblog reading to be found.
  • Meanwhile, A. and I are reading El hombre que fue Jueves. (I love rereading favorite books in their Spanish translations.)

08 May 2007

A detectiveless detective story

It's been amazing to see the current English-speaking world's fascination with the work of Roberto Bolaño. It makes me wonder about all of the other Spanish-language writers (past and present) who would be similarly heralded (although possibly not hailed as icons) if their work would only be translated into English. Of course, there also exists the sense that being translated into English is the goal of those who mainly seek mainstream success, not a worry of the serious writer. Nevertheless, Bolaño's novels Los detectives salvajes and 2666 wound up as numbers 3 and 4 (respectively) of Semana's list of "the 100 greatest Spanish-language novels of the past 25 years." (For the sake of comparison, Estrella distante emerged at #14, while the more well-known La sombra del viento by Carlos Ruiz Zafón came out as #88 and García Márquez's Memorias de mis putas tristes was #91.)

I recently finished one of Bolaño's earlier novels, La pista de hielo ("The Ice Rink"), because it was the only one I could find in my (tiny) local bookstore, but it also seemed like a good place to start. Three (unreliable?) narrators take turns telling their version of the events leading up to a brutal murder in Benvingut Palace, an abandoned mansion in an unnamed small coastal Spanish town near Barcelona. From the very first page's passing reference to Jack the Ripper (which turned out to be more of a tip-off than I initially realized), I knew I had to pay close attention to each of these narrative strands.

Remo Morán is a Chilean one-time writer who wound up doing odd jobs to survive and eventually began a few small businesses (hotel, shop, campsite). Gaspar Heredia, a Mexican poet-drifter and past acquaintance of Morán's, lands a job as a night watchman at Morán's tourist campsite. Enric Rosquelles is a native Catalan who holds a position in the city government and is a self-professed confidant of the mayor (always making casual references to "Pilar").

Things begin taking shape when Rosquelles falls hard for competitive ice skater, Nuria Martí. Using public funds, he converts the mansion's empty swimming pool into an ice rink, where Nuria begins to train. What follows in the "day in the life" confessions of the three men is not only information about their lives and hardships (with certain details conveniently left out), but also unsensationalized clues and observations that contribute to the overall picture. There is no "detective" in this story and nothing to intentionally "solve," but the reader is left to puzzle through these accounts, (unnecessarily?) suspicious of everything. (I felt misdirected not only in the matter of the killer's identity, but in that of the victim as well--you don't know that you really don't know.)

Certain motifs and similarities of description can be found in all three accounts: mentions of cold air, velvet voices, hell, purgatory, etc. What's interesting is how the meaning or tenor of the phrases change depending on the different contexts (and characters) in which they're mentioned. This clued me in to the nuance of what Bolaño has achieved because, ultimately, the three men remain the unsolved enigmas of the novel. The events and circumstances of the story seem to be catalysts for the exploration of their characters, because although all three have good intentions, one is left wondering if they'll ever successfully leave behind their own personal roads to hell.

Marcelo Ballvé's observations on two of Bolaño's other novels also serve as perfect descriptions for what occurs in La pista de hielo:
  • For Bolaño, Latin America is not only a geographical expanse; it is a state of mind. It is the pieces, the ghosts, exiles took with them as they scattered around the world.
  • Bolaño always dealt with the impacts of violence in the private realm.
  • Bolaño spun his characters' muddled testimonies into fiction. His usual narrative technique was to write as if his characters or narrators, typically speaking in the first person, were giving a deposition on their personal histories to an invisible stenographer, or as if they were talking to a detective taking witness statements.
  • In Bolaño's fiction the scope of the testimonial is expanded as it collects material from the unexamined corners of inner lives, from characters' experiences on the fringes, the margins of the actual "action." His characters are not generals or patriarchs, leaders or dictators. They are victims, witnesses, obscure operatives, bystanders; what they know is usually fragmentary or unreliable.
See also: Rodrigo Fresán's article in The Believer and Wendy Lesser's essay, "The Mysterious Chilean" for The Threepenny Review.

07 May 2007


Author Fernando Vallejo, most famous for his novel La Virgen de los Sicarios (Our Lady of the Assassins, on which Barbet Schroeder's film is based), has emphatically renounced his Colombian citizenship:
"Colombia shut its doors to me so I that I couldn't make a decent living that wasn't in the government or politics, which I despise, and made me sleep in the street, covered with newspapers and alongside the homeless of 7th Street and the abandoned dogs."

Since then, "I consider my brothers to be" the dogs, the writer immediately pointed out, who said that he does not feel Colombian.
He became a Mexican citizen last week, where he's lived since 1971.

I refuse to judge him, as I cannot fathom the effects of such a life, but I find the whole portrayal of the situation (and Vallejo's hatred) to be unbearably sad.

Dangerous reading

Maud points to Martin Konrad's brilliant "conceptual series highlighting constraints on freedom of expression," "Dirty Books." (Click through the series beginning with the first usual suspect, Steinbeck.)

Inspired by both this and Maud's additional mention of the "school board member in Illinois District 128" who "objected to Flannery O’Connor's 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' because of 'violent imagery,' 'racial slurs,' and — my favorite part — 'anti-Christian language,'" I'll toss in another book that meets the criteria...

"...contains profanity..."
"...sexual and social explicitness..."
"...excessive violence..."

Related: Darby's initial reaction to "A Good Man is Hard to Find."

05 May 2007

from "His growing thought"

Trembling I sit day and night, my friends are astonish'd at me.
Yet they forgive my wanderings, I rest not from my great task!
To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination
O Saviour pour upon me thy Spirit of meekness & love:
Annihilate the Selfhood in me, be thou all my life!
Guide thou my hand which trembles exceedingly upon the rock of ages [...]

I write in South Molton Street what I both feel and know,
In regions of Humanity, in London's opening streets.

~ William Blake, Jerusalem

(The Digital Blake Text Project: The Complete Poetry and Prose of William Blake)

04 May 2007

Books on the floor no more

After weeks of my stacks sadly sitting on this side of the balcony, we found the perfect bookshelves. The last time I bought shelves (Boston, 2003) a friend and I lugged the ridiculously heavy box home on the T. This time (Santa Marta, 2007) I rode home (with the same kind of ridiculously heavy box) in a taxi from one end of town to the other. A white sticker on said box proclaims, "Línea California, Hecho en Colombia." (As I dragged the box through the front door, I realized that those words could be used to describe me...)

I am home and very happy to be organizing books again.

Inborn expectations

A very informative and measured post by Sarah Weinman on the controversy surrounding Chabon's new novel:
[I]t was and always will be Chabon's right to write the book he envisioned in the way he saw fit, and the end result is that THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION is, on balance, a page-turner with extra philosophical weight. But I am probably the only person among litbloggers, book reviewers and other literary types whose first language is Yiddish - or certainly, the only person of my generation who is a native Yiddish speaker (even though, I admit, I understand the language better than I speak it these days.) Which meant that even though I enjoyed the book, I couldn't quite shake the inborn expectations I had in hoping somehow that there would be a more living, breathing personification of a Yiddish-speaking homeland instead of the more ersatz, mainstream-friendly result that is winning Chabon a lot of praise from my critical peers. There's no trace of anti-Semitism (a very silly argument put forward by a gossip section, anyway) but there is, to my mind, a rather cavalier attitude about Yiddish as a closed-in, precious culture that falls away upon closer examination of the culture in question.
The entire post is a well-considered piece definitely worth your time.

03 May 2007

Reader on Cervantes

[cross-posted at 400 Windmills]

I tried to slow down while reading Reader's Block. I tried. I put it down several times, attempting to prolong the experience (especially as it's the last unread contemporary novel I had left). Unfortunately, my self-control was only good for two days. This is a book that brought back the best memories of undergrad life: breathless excitement about literature and that sense of (for lack of a better term) chummy intimacy with the giants on whose shoulders we supposedly stand--a shared burden and understanding of the failure and beauty that besets us all. (Yes, this makes David Markson another deserving hug-recipient.) It's an addictive, sad, exhilarating, frightening, compassionate work. On the back cover, Kurt Vonnegut calls it, "Hypnotic...a profoundly rewarding read." Yes.

Somehow, I began keeping track of all of his Cervantes references (any mention of Don Quixote always makes me smile) and wound up with 13:
Cervantes was a tax collector during the outfitting of the Armada.

And was imprisoned when his accounts did not balance.


Thomas Hobbes was born prematurely when his mother became hysterical at the approach of the Spanish Armada.


Shakespeare died in Stratford on April 23, 1616, a Tuesday.

Cervantes died in Madrid on April 23, 1616, a Saturday.

The difference being between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian. Cervantes died ten days earlier.


Then we will have Homer and Don Quixote, and then we will have saunter and chat, and one more laugh before we die.

Said William Cowper, who was mad through most of his life.


Erostratus burned down the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in 356 B.C., so that his name would be remembered through history.

One of those who remembered it was Cervantes, who lets Don Quixote tell Sancho Panza the story.

And that Alexander was born on the same night.


Captured by Moorish pirates at sea, Cervantes spent five years as a slave before being ransomed.


Once more before I die I will read Don Quixote, said Gissing.


El Caballero de la Triste Figura.


Cervantes is buried at a convent in Madrid, though exactly where in its cemetery is not known. Nor is there a known portrait of him.


Salvador de Madariaga propounds strongly suggestive evidence that Cervantes may have been a Sephardic Jew.


Jane Austen. Anne Bradstreet. Cervantes.


Pierre Menard.


A Christ of our neighborhood, Ortega called Don Quixote.

02 May 2007

A shot of perspective

More than one owner of a significant personal library, in the early years after Gutenberg, made it plain that no printed volume would ever be a part of it.
~ David Markson, Reader's Block