01 August 2010

Reading diary: February 2010

Bibliogamy (noun). I don't think this word or its derivatives (bibliogamist, bibliogamous) have entered common usage. It roughly means an inveterate reader or a reader who develops relationships (love affairs) with books. It can mean someone who is faithfully reading one book at a time (in the sense of monogamy), or one who is unfaithful to one book (i.e., reads several books at a time, which isn't a bad thing).

Synonyms: book-lover; bibliophile; bookworm; biblioyena; bibliovulture.

Sentence example: Last February, the love month, Rise found himself bibliogamous.

And yet the word can fairly describe me the whole year round. Most of the time, I'm not a one-book man. I tend to have 4, 5, sometimes more books being read at any one time. I always have books, or should I say, they always have me.


8. Sixty-Nine by Murakami Ryū, translated by Ralph F. McCarthy

I imagine that if Ryu and Haruki were classmates in high school, silly Haruki will be the sidekick of smartass Ryu. That Ryu will be the bully who will initiate Haruki to Rimbaud and rock music and Camus. And that the disciple Haruki will suck it all in and intellectually surpass the impulsive Ryu. But Ryu will not care so much. He already had a streak of enfant terribleness in him. I’m kind of describing the plot here.

The similarities between the two writers are obvious, at least with Haruki’s early books and this one of Ryu’s. They both have written angsty novels. That is to say, silly coming-of-age stories. They both mention a lot of songs in their texts. As if by mere mention you hear the soundtrack playing. I like 69 very much. Its humor is loud funny, constantly bluffing, un-literary. It’s not overdone. Haruki’s humor, for his part, is serious and delivered with a straight face. Haruki is deadpan. The kind of joke that's not spontaneous but can also be rewarding if you're into it. I'll read more of both.

I just gave away this book. This book is published by Kodansha. Kodansha books have nice covers and are so prettily bound they resemble yummy candies with chewy covers. The jacket over paperbacks, a good waste of trees.

9. City Gates by Elias Khoury, translated by Paula Haydar

A stranger enters an abandoned city. He meets some deranged characters. His adventures are surreal, illogical, like dream sequences. There really is no plot to speak of. The text is full of symbolisms about the dire consequences of nuclear war or some epidemic. The images used however are gratuitous, the narrative style most irritating.

It’s something like a hyper-poetic apocalyptic book that relies too much on effects and the manipulation of language. The effects slide into false imagery. I broke up with this book. It's one of the worst I’ve read in a long time.

10. Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview by Mónica Maristain, translated by Sybil Perez

Bolaño in conversation can sometimes crack you up, sometimes give you serious pause. He's very quotable. And what a bibliophile! He seemed to have read all the essential works from Latin America and beyond. He is generous in sharing his opinionated estimations of writers; he certainly knows his titans (Cervantes, Borges, Rulfo, Kafka, Twain, Melville, etc.).

One would think that the novels he wrote are a synthesis of a lifetime of parsing through the great books. The various schools of thought he teached himself (such as surrealism, magic realism, 'pataphysics, existentialism) probably enabled him to create his own visceral style.

This book is tailored for Bolaño aficionados. Considering that about 40% of its content is available online, this appears at first to be a book that capitalizes too much on the B hype. However, this is the first and so far the only available assortment of interviews (in English translation) with the writer that is quite necessary to understanding his body of work.

11. War by Candlelight by Daniel Alarcón

Alarcón's short stories are restrained, unassuming. He’s not overdoing them with catchy metaphors but they can be poetic. And he keeps them interesting enough to turn the page. The stories are distinctly Latin American, above average. Not a book to be hyper about but you get some sense of what is possible.

Some of Alarcón's stories can be accessed online at The New Yorker site. He is in fact just recently crowned as one of the "20 under 40": top fiction writers under the age of 40 to watch out for. Let the watching begin.

12. The Wild Geese by Mori Ōgai, translated by Kingo Ochiai and Sanford Goldstein

A beautiful symbolic novel about the two states of nature that an individual can simultaneously experience: freedom and imprisonment. The story centers on a young woman who consented to become a rich man's mistress in exchange for material comforts for her and her father. The rich man's life and relationship with his legal wife are also explored. A complication arises when the mistress falls in love with a young man. Mori Ōgai's deft touch with characterization is evident in this small novel. The story is presented with the right mix of suspense, psychological acuity, and mystery. The ending delivers an open-ended resolution that sustains the originality of the story. If it had been the usual neat ending, then I would not recommend this book highly enough.

13. The Engagement by Georges Simenon, translated by Anna Moschovakis

Simenon is notorious for having penned a very large number of novels. This is one of those that concerns, in a way, man's precarious place in the world. It's a high-strung detective story that reads like a manifesto for modern man's futile search for happiness and understanding. This is the first book of the French novelist I've read and it looks like his prolificacy in novel writing was more than repaid by his large imagination. This is also the first book I've read under the imprint of New York Review Books. Certainly not my last as I've started collecting these select titles.

14. Homage to the Lame Wolf, selected poems by Vasko Popa, translated by Charles Simic

Charles Simic said in the introduction that it took him all of 20 years to finish the translation of one of the poems in this book. This kind of dedication is something that shows in the end product. The poems are couched in short lines, always courting the lower virtues of preciousness and precociousness, and yet they convey the careful pace of a poet who knows that the limits of his self-artistry are confined in the short telling lines. The strong presence (essence) of wolf (fauna) in the poems animates Popa's lines. Read it for the sheer pleasure of howling.


  1. There is also BIBLIOMANCY - that is, divination by book, choosing a random passage, often from the Bible but also from the works of Virgil, as a form of oracle or decision-making!

  2. i guess i am bibliogamous. this is an impressive reading list, rise. i have settled into complacency with my reading, and maybe it's time once again to try something new. thanks for your recommendations!

  3. Hydriotaphia, I liked that word! It will be a great name for a book blog.

  4. Thanks for your visit, aloi. Something new in reading is always a discovery worth making.