31 October 2010

Reading list: Dark fiction

The list was from the website of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). It was compiled from a survey of their members in 1996. In its introduction it said: "Whether you are new to Horror, or simply want to become familiar with some of the classics and "bests" of dark fiction, the following books are a wonderful place to begin." Wonderful, it says? *shivers*


The Best Ghost Stories of Algernon Blackwood

The Exorcist: William Peter Blatty

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Ray Bradbury

Lost Souls: Poppy Z. Brite

The Hungry Moon: Ramsey Campbell

The Between: Tananarive Due

Darklands: Dennis Etchison

Raven: Charles L Grant

Dead in the Water: Nancy Holder

The Haunting of Hill House: Shirley Jackson

The Lottery and Other Stories: Shirley Jackson

The Turn of the Screw: Henry James

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James

Dr. Adder: K.W. Jeter

The Metamorphosis and Other Stories: Franz Kafka

Pet Sematary: Stephen King

The Shining: Stephen King

The Stand: Stephen King

Skin: Kathe Koja

Dark Dance: Tanith Lee

Conjure Wife: Fritz Leiber

Rosemary's Baby: Ira Levin

Songs of a Dead Dreamer: Thomas Ligotti

Lovers Living, Lovers Dead: Richard Lortz

The Dunwich Horror and Others: H.P. Lovecraft

At the Mountains of Madness: H.P. Lovecraft

The Hill of Dreams: Arthur Machen

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural: Arthur Machen

Sineater: Elizabeth Massie

I Am Legend: Richard Matheson

Relic: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Frankenstein: Mary Shelley

Book of the Dead: John Skipp and Craig Spector, eds.

Ghoul: Michael Slade

Vampire Junction: S.P. Somtow

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Robert Louis Stevenson

Dracula: Bram Stoker

Some of Your Blood: Theodore Sturgeon

Phantom: Thomas Tessier

Sacrifice: Andrew Vachss

- compiled by Thomas Deja and Nicholas Kauffman

Source: http://horror.org/readlist.htm 

30 October 2010

Reading list: Winners of Premio Valle-Inclán & Calouste Gulbenkian Prize

Premio Valle-Inclán is an annual prize awarded to the translator of a book from Spanish to English. It is administered by The Society of Authors. Here’s the complete list of winners.

2010 Joint winners Christopher Johnson for Selected Poetry of Francisco de Quevedo (University of Chicago Press) and
Margaret Jull Costa for Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell by Javier Marías (Chatto and Windus)

2009 Margaret Jull Costa for The Accordionist’s Son by Bernardo Atxaga (Harvill Secker)
Runner up: Edith Grossman Happy Families by Carlos Fuentes (Bloomsbury)

2008 Joint winners Nick Caistor The Past by Alan Pauls (Harvill Secker) and
John Dent-Young for Selected Poems by Luis de Góngora (The University of Chicago Press)

2007 Nick Caistor The Sleeping Voice by Dulce Chacón (Harvill Secker/Alfaguara)
Runner-up: John Cullen Lies by Enrique de Hériz (Weidenfeld/Edhasa)

2006 Margaret Jull Costa Your Face Tomorrow 1: Fever and Spear by Javier Marias (Chatto & Windus)
Runner up: Sonia Soto The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez (Abacus)

2005 Chris Andrews Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño (Harvill)
Runner up: Margaret Jull Costa The Man of Feeling by Javier Marías (Harvill)

2004 Anne McLean Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas (Bloomsbury)

2003 Sam Richard Not Only Fire by Benjamin Prado (Faber and Faber)

2002 John Rutherford Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes (Penguin)
Runner up: Margaret Sayers Peden Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende (Flamingo)

2001 Timothy Adès Homer in Cuernavaca by Alfonso Reyes (Edinburgh University Press)
Runner up: Edith Grossman The Messenger by Mayra Montero (Harvill)

2000 Sonia Soto Winter in Lisbon by Antonio Muñoz Molina (Granta)
Runner up: Margaret Sayers Peden Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende (Flamingo)

1999 Don Share I Have Lots of Heart by Miguel Hernández (Bloodaxe)

1997 Peter Bush The Marx Family Saga by Juan Goytisolo (Faber)

Also administered by the same society, the Calouste Gulbenkian Prize for translation from the Portuguese is awarded every three years.

2009 Peter Bush for Equator by Miguel Sousa Tavares (Bloomsbury)
Runner up: Margaret Jull Costa The City and the Mountains by Eça de Queíroz (Dedalus)

2002 Richard Zenith The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Penguin)
Runner up: Margaret Jull Costa The Migrant Painter of Birds by Lidia Jorge (Harvill)

1998 Landeg White The Lusídas by Luis Vaz de Camões (OUP)

1995 Giovanni Pontiero The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by Jose Saramago (Harvill)

1992 Margaret Jull Costa The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Serpent’s Tail),
Nicholas Round Freiluis de Sousa by Almeida Garrett (unpublished)


See also winners of translation prizes from other languages (Arabic, Dutch/Flemish, French, German, Italian, Modern Greek, and Swedish):

(See other translation prizes here.)

29 October 2010

Reading list: PEN Translation Prize winners

The PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize is given annually by the PEN American Center for the outstanding work of a translator from any language into English.

Here’s the complete list of winners:

2011 Ibrahim Muhawi, Journal of an Ordinary Grief by Mahmoud Darwish

2010 Michael Henry Heim, Wonder by Hugo Claus

2009 Natasha Wimmer, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2008 Margaret Jull Costa, The Maias by Eça de Queirós

2007 Sandra Smith, Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky

2006 Philip Gabriel, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

2005 Tim Wilkinson, Fatelessness by Imre Kertész

2004 Margaret Sayers Peden, Sepharad by Antonio Muñoz Molina

2003 R.W. Flint, The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesare Pavese (New York Review Books)

2002 Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Viking)

2001 Tiina Nunnally, Kristin Lavransdatter III, The Cross by Sigrid Undset (Penguin)

2000 Richard Sieburth, Selected Writings by Gerard De Nerval (Penguin)

1999 Michael Hofmann, The Tale of the 1002nd Night by Joseph Roth (St. Martin's)

1998 Peter Constantine, Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann (Sun & Moon)

1997 Arnold Pomerans, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh (Viking)

1996 Stanislaw Baranczak & Clare Cavanagh, View With a Grain of Sand by Wislawa Szymborska (Harcourt)

1995 Burton Watson, Selected Poems of Su Tung-p'o (Copper Canyon)

1994 Bill Zavatsky & Zack Rogow, Earthlight by André Breton (Sun & Moon)

1993 Thomas Hoisington, The Adventures of Mr. Nicholas Wisdom by Ignacy Krasicki (Northwestern University Press)

1992 David Rosenberg, The Poet's Bible (Hyperion)

1991 Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (North Point Press)

1990 William Weaver, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)

1989 Matthew Ward, The Stranger by Albert Camus (Random House)

1988 Madeline Levine & Francine Prose, A Scrap of Time by Ida Fink (Pantheon)

1987 John E. Woods, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind (Knopf)

1986 Prose: Barbara Bray, The Lover by Marguerite Duras (Pantheon)
Poetry: Dennis Tedlock, Popul Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life (Simon and Schuster)

1985 Prose: Helen R. Lane, The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
 Poetry: Seamus Heaney, Sweeney Astray (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

1984 William Weaver, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)

1983 Richard Wilbur, Four Comedies: The Misanthrope, Tartuffe, The Learned Ladies, The School for Wives by Molière (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)

1982 Hiroaki Sato & Burton Watson, From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry (Anchor Press/University of Washington Press)

1981 John E. Woods, Evening Edged in Gold by Arno Schmidt (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich)

1980 Charles Simic, Homage to the Lame Wolf by Vasco Popa (Oberlin College/Field Translation Series)

1979 Charles Wright, The Storm and Other Poems by Eugenio Montale (Oberlin College/Field Translation Series)

1978 Adrienne Foulke, One Way or Another by Leonardo Sciascia (Harper & Row)

1977 Gregory Rabassa, The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Harper & Row)

1976 Richard Howard, A Short History of Decay by E. M. Cioran (Viking Press)

1975 Helen R. Lane, Count Julian by Juan Goytisolo (Viking Press/Richard Seaver Books)

1974 Hardie St. Martin & Leonard Mades, The Obscene Bird of Night by Jose Donoso (Knopf)

1973 J. P. McCullough, The Poems of Sextus Propertius (University of California Press)

1972 Richard & Clara Winston, Letters of Thomas Mann (Knopf)

1971 Max Hayward, Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandelstam (Atheneum)

1970 Sidney Alexander, The History of Italy by Francesco Guicciardini (Macmillan)

1969 W. S. Merwin, Selected Translations 1948 (Atheneum)

1968 Vladimir Markov & Merrill Sparks, editors Modern Russian Poetry (Bobbs-Merrill)

1967 Harriet de Onis, Sagarana by J. Guimaraes Rosa (Knopf)

1966 Geoffrey Skelton & Adrian Mitchell, MaratSade by Peter Weiss (Atheneum)

1965 Joseph Barnes, The Story of a Life by Konstantin Paustovsky (Pantheon)

1964 Ralph Manheim, The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (Pantheon)

1963 Archibald Colquhoun, The Viceroys by Federico de Roberto (Harcourt Brace)

Source: http://www.pen.org/page.php/prmID/591

This post is part of the (ever-growing) reading lists based on book translation prizes.

28 October 2010

Reading list: Rómulo Gallegos Prize winners

The "Premio internacional de novela Rómulo Gallegos" is a bi-annual book prize awarded by the Venezuelan government to "perpetuate and honor the work of the eminent novelist [Rómulo Gallegos] and also to stimulate the creative activity of Spanish language writers." It was named after the Venezuelan statesman and novelist.

The first recipient of the prize, awarded in 1967, was Mario Vargas Llosa.

Here’s the complete list of previous winners. Only half were so far translated into English.

• 1967: La casa verde, by Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru (English translation by Gregory Rabassa: The Green House)

• 1972: Cien años de soledad, by Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia (English translation by Gregory Rabassa: One Hundred Years of Solitude)

• 1977: Terra nostra, by Carlos Fuentes of Mexico (English translation by Margaret Sayers Peden: Terra Nostra)

• 1982: Palinuro de México, by Fernando del Paso of Mexico (English translation by Elisabeth Plaister: Palinuro of Mexico)

• 1987: Los perros del paraíso, by Abel Posse of Argentina (English translation by Margaret Sayers Peden: The Dogs of Paradise)

• 1989: La casa de las dos palmas, by Manuel Mejía Vallejo of Colombia

• 1991: La visita en el tiempo, by Arturo Uslar Pietri of Venezuela

• 1993: Santo oficio de la memoria, by Mempo Giardinelli of Argentina

• 1995: Mañana en la batalla piensa en mí, by Javier Marías of Spain (English translation by Margaret Jull Costa: Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me)

• 1997: Mal de amores, by Ángeles Mastretta of Mexico (English translation by Margaret Sayers Peden: Lovesick)

• 1999: Los detectives salvajes, by Roberto Bolaño of Chile (English translation by Natasha Wimmer: The Savage Detectives)

• 2001: El viaje vertical, by Enrique Vila-Matas of Spain

• 2003: El desbarrancadero, by Fernando Vallejo of Colombia

• 2005: El vano ayer, by Isaac Rosa of Spain

• 2007: El tren pasa primero, by Elena Poniatowska of Mexico

• 2009: El País de la Canela, by William Ospina of Colombia

• 2011: Blanco nocturno, by Ricardo Piglia of Argentina

20 October 2010

The Hare (César Aira)

Prolegomena to César Aira

"The longer a book is, the less it is literature," the Argentinean novelist César Aira said in an interview. With this standard, The Hare (248 pages), Aira's longest fiction available in English, is presumably the least literary of the lot. The rest of his translated fictions are of novella length, from An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (87 pages) to Ghosts (139 pages).

Brevity seems to be the general rule. The exceptions, as with The Hare, are rare. Brevity denotes focus. Spontaneous combustion of ideas. Short gestation of larvae. Fleeting span of attention. Quick entertainment. Literary lite. Aira's stories court all of these characteristics. Then briefly, without warning, they suddenly pull away from their encasing, take flight on newly-minted wings.

In addition to their compact form, a distinct quality of Aira’s works is their sharp turns of plot. His style is of the improvised sort. His narratives are digressive. They go off tangent. They leap quantum mechanically. The plots become entangled. This owes in part to the method of writing that Aira adopted for himself. He never edits his work, never plans ahead what he is going to write, and just writes whatever comes to mind. He calls it the el continuo ("continuum") or la huida hacia adelante ("forward movement").

It's not that everything on the page is drawn by random chance. It may be to some extent. It could be chance that spurred one to read a book and never look back again. Like what Roberto Bolaño said, once you start reading Aira, it will be hard to stop. Translators from the Spanish need to descend on the books like vultures. Seriously.

A third characteristic of Aira’s outputs is his ginormous number of books. To date, he has produced some xx books to his name. The exact quantity is now never known. But the average production is two books a year. (He is perhaps rivaled only in this department by James Patterson and his minions: Patterson clones.) Thankfully, these works have been slowly trickling down in English. The indie publisher New Directions, who brought out his last half dozen short books in translation, has acquired the rights to several more.

Yet another quality of Aira's experiments (for they are nothing but fictional experiments, pseudo-theoretical ventures, quick business deals, educated guesses, unfinished proofs, hypothetical tracts, to be tested by time and the reader's patience) is their diversity. His oeuvre is a mix of genres, from the low blow to high art. Aira's prose is not so much a hybrid animal but half man, half machine. A literary cyborg: half fiction, half machine. In a shelf devoted to Aira, the fault lines of sci-fi sit snug with a ghost story, memoir gone berserk, child psychology and psychopathology, architectural musings and unbuilt construction, cinematographic battle scenes, and stunning nature writing. He does pick out deliberately several elements from air to fire, like the last airbender.

We can add one more to these identification keys of an Aira book. Each novel, or novella, has a missing key that could perhaps (though sometimes it couldn't, however much budging) unlock the book's architecture. There is a "manual" embedded in the book that could at least approach the gate, if it can't be entered. How to push through the darkness, if one can't see the way. Read on or drop dead. The manual is what often comes in the form of digression. But the keys were also reported to be as inconspicuous as a harmless paragraph, a bent passage, sentence, or phrase. Each book has a purported key that may or may not fit the lock. Each book is probably a key. Only, the keyhole is blocked.

Which brings us to The Hare. It's set in the Argentine pampas sometime in the 19th century, after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, starring an English naturalist and several Mapuche Indians. I can't say I'm prepared for this. I can't say I was ever prepared for an Aira. The senses are trying to be vigilant for telltale triggers. Is it the obvious hare in the title? Will it build upon a wonky premise and progress into a psychedelic trip? As in How I Became a Nun, where a young child was poisoned by strawberry ice cream, an experience that marked her/him forever. As in An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, where the artist was stranded by the force of nature and never recovered from the episode. As in Ghosts, where nude male ghosts frolic around a condominium building and never demanded for anything except for the one crucial thing. Or as in The Literary Conference, where a novelist-slash-Mad Scientist attempted a cloning experiment that resulted in something akin to a war of the worlds.

There's something autistic in all of these encounters. They induce a kind of epiphanic panic. Like the word epiphanic, they attract attention to themselves. Much more so when the author self-identifies with the main protagonist, as the young girl César Aira in How I Became a Nun, or as César the novelist-slash-Mad Scientist in The Literary Conference. Authorial presence is another aspect of Aira's fiction. A madcap presence.

La liebre is translated by Nick Caistor, published by Serpent’s Tail in 1995, and is out of print. Emblazoned on the front cover is the blurb "The Borges of the Pampas." Uh, okay. Labyrinths, mirrors, dreams, puzzles: check. The comparison is perhaps more pronounced in terms of the two writers' blind adherence to innovation and form. Aira's acknowledged masters, however, are the "anti-literary" set of Manuel Puig, Osvaldo Lamborghini, and Copi. Not to mention Marcel Duchamp.

The Hare is about an English naturalist/geographer Clarke who entered Mapuche Indian territory in Argentina to search for an elusive species of mammal, the Legibrerian Hare. Clarke is brother-in-law of a genius named Darwin (yes, the one). The story begins with Clarke consulting Rosas, the historical Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas, "Restorer of the Laws" in the Argentine pampas, to inform him of his scientific expedition. Rosas lent Clarke a good horse and assisted him in finding a guide to the area. He was also asked to bring a young watercolor painter with him. Earlier, he also consulted another talented painter who refused to go with him. There are obviously shades of the artistes and their art here as in An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter.

When Clarke eventually arrived at the camps of the Mapuche, he had a guarded conversation with its chief, Cafulcurá. The kind of conversation that skirted the specifics and was more like a battle of wills. While fluent in the tribe's language, Clarke was aware that certain words have double meanings and he was cautious in what he says lest he offend the natives. He was sure that his mission to find the hare was suspect in the eyes of the Mapuche. Is that the reason why Cafulcurá spoke to him seemingly in circles? Suddenly, there was a commotion from outside the tent. Loud cries of a hare sighting were heard and Clarke went to investigate. A "white" hare was presumably spotted but it escaped and took flight in the air. The Indians, young and old, were still craning their necks looking at the sky. Clarke, like the reader of an Aira book, was gradually feeling that he was being had. We know it's hard to shake that feeling.

Here's a striking passage early in the book. Cafulcurá, the chief of the Mapuche, was talking to Clarke:

   "I was just thinking," Cafulcurá said all of a sudden, "of what you were telling me. Your brother-in-law is a genius, there's no doubt of that. When I met him, I thought he was simply a likeable young man; but after what you've said, I'll have to change my judgement. Nothing unusual in that. But I should say: he's a genius in his own field. I myself have sought to convey similar ideas, but – and look what a strange case of transformation this is – I always did it by means of poetry. In matters like these, it's important to win people's belief. But in this particular case, it so happens that we Mapuche have no need to believe in anything, because we've always known that changes of this kind occur. It is sufficient for a breeze to blow a thousand leagues away for one species to be transformed into another. You may ask how. We explain it, or at least I explain it ..."

   He paused for a while to consider how he did explain it.

The Butterfly Effect

It is sufficient for a breeze to blow a thousand leagues away for one species to be transformed into another. The passage can be a clue to the novel's appropriation of scientific concepts: the "butterfly effect", evolution, and ecological connectivity.

In the 1960s, meteorologist Edward Lorenz discovered that very slight differences in initial atmospheric conditions can produce very different weather forecast. This principle has been compared to a butterfly flapping its wings in one place (say, Buenos Aires) which can alter the subsequent weather pattern in a distant place (say, a tornado in Texas). This is a debated concept in the science of meteorology, though lately it has been adopted in the modeling of uncertainties in climate change scenarios. Cafulcurá continued:

   "It's simply a matter of seeing everything that is visible, without exception. And then if, as is obvious, everything is connected to everything else, how could the homogeneous and the heterogeneous not also be linked?"

   In the Huilliche tongue, these last two nouns had several meanings. Clarke could not immediately decide how they were being used on this occasion, and asked for an explanation. He knew what he was letting himself in for, because the Indians could be especially labyrinthine in these delicate issues of semantics: their idea of the continuum prevented them from giving clear and precise definitions. On this occasion, however, his sacrifice has not been unrewarded, because Cafulcurá's digression, starting from the sense of "right" and "left" that the two words also had, ended thus:

Connectivity, the butterfly effect, and consequent change support the view of Aira's narrative continuum in the space-time. In terms of the theory of evolution, the initial conditions of the environment and other externalities determine the variation of species. The butterfly effect is a fitting model for Aira's texts. The initial conditions of the story are subtle determinants of next conditions, which themselves are the bases of the final conditions. Cafulcurá's digression ended thus:

   "We have a word for 'government' which signifies, in addition to a whole range of other things, a 'path', but not just an ordinary path – the path that certain animals take when they leap in a zigzag fashion, if you follow me; although at the same time we ignore their deviations to the right and left, which due to a secondary effect of the trajectory end up of course not being deviations at all, but a particular kind of straight line."

Aira describes a certain kind of perturbation wherein the patterns within a chaotic system are not at first evident but later the alignment begins to show when the trajectory of the "secondary effect" is plotted. (The zigzag line of the animals' path makes me think of an unusual pictorial poem. Bolaño, perturbation. I am reminded of Césarea Tinajero's poem, "Sión" in The Savage Detectives.) The idea of continuity/discontinuity was continued again when Clarke spoke to Cafulcurá's son, Reymacurá, who spoke to him in more candid fashion than his father, but no less contradictory.

The "irregular path" was referred to again when Clarke got lost while trying to locate the stream where the young painter under his care was bathing:

   Getting there proved no easy matter. Apart from the fact that all the emotions and riding had left him with his head spinning and feeling drowsy with exhaustion (he had got used to a siesta, and it was exactly that time of day), he had no idea where this oasis was. The previous afternoon he had simply followed Gauna [his guide]. Now, on his own, every direction looked the same. Of course, in the absolute flatness of the salt pans, all he had to do was discover which direction to take – then the shortest route was obvious. But, as happens with every line, there were tiny deviations, and these inevitably produced far-reaching effects. In reality, on this plain, any one point was always elusive.

At the center of the concept of the butterfly effect is chaos theory which deals with how infinitesimal changes in certain variables can cause random effects in complex systems. As with similar insinuations in his short books, Aira may as well be describing his process of writing. The "storyline" usually plunges from one direction into another, abruptly taking a sideways route. Tiny shifts in the plot affect the overall emphasis of the story. The connect-the-dots approach teases out an overall pattern from the various images. The dots, however disparate, are transparently there, plotted as a course toward a certain destination, dotted as with i's. Only connect.

The question insists itself: What does the elusive hare signify? An unattainable treasure, or insight? Or simply the story's closure?

Early in the book, certain motifs already pile up. The double meaning of words in the Mapuche language reflects the delicate relations between the native and the outsider. Where 'government' also means 'path' and where 'right' and 'left' are signified by other words, the communication gap is asking for things to fall apart. The Mapuche word for 'law' itself could mean many things, more than six things in fact, that the difficulty of establishing a common law must be evident. The squinting eyes of the Mapuche (i.e., double vision), which had been mentioned several times so far and also caricatured in the cover of the book, could also be correlated to the double meaning of words. The characters were seeing double, not deigning to separate one image from the other, the real thing from its shadow or artifice or ghost.

The Airaesque

Aira's brief books are very open to critical analysis, which makes them slippery and at the same time challenging reads. Aira is an open interpretation and an open-ended phenomenon. He himself is discovering the limits of narrative stability where realistic representations don't bleed too much on surrealism and whose footing in the fantastic is sure and confident. It's hard to dismiss Aira's unpolished philosophical ideas, not least because they are bound in words of poetry and they are theories-in-progress. There is a searching tone to his character's odysseys.

The long book at hand is already replete with double-edged words and double vision that arise out of the characters' voluntary choice to say or see things the way they want to. In other words, out of a writer's resistance to conform to simple narrative itineraries. I was waiting for the moment when the apparently sideways story align itself and open up to many-worlds interpretations. Or the other way around: when a linear story begins to branch out and go haywire. Early in the book a kidnapping incident took place in the middle of a hunting expedition. It looked like just the ticket to story's self-destruction.

"The Borges of the Pampas" may be better classified as its own genetic species, as The Aira of the Pampas. Let us call Aira's butterfly effect, for simplicity and in homage to another fictive insect – the metamorphosed bug or beetle – as the Airaesque. The Airaesque is characterized by an apparent disjuncture of the narrative, where events are disrupted to give way to quasi-philosophical digressions. The Airaesque is the deliberate and conscious flouting of logic and literary conventions. It is a representation of a literary search for meaning, without due regard for whatever methodical means are used to justify the obscene ends. Where the act of disruptive writing is a reflection of chaotic reading. The Airaesque is artistic gestation nipped at the precise point when the story is just about to escape absurdity, in order to re-enter absurdity. The Airaesque is the climax and ending that resist further epiphanies. The Airaesque is the obsessive-compulsive order.

One may encounter the Airaesque in delightful anguish. As Mallén, the Mapuche shaman, warns Clarke before telling him an apocryphal story: "By now we're in the realm of pure fiction, for which I apologise."

(First posted in Project Dog-eared)

18 October 2010

"Apihin Ang Api" (Axel Pinpin)

Oppress the Oppressed
by Axel Pinpin

Cut them clean in half like a shelled coconut,
Hold tight the left hand and slacken the right,
Best to pick out the young buds from the old hand,
Do not regret this, do not ever regret this.
Let anarchy descend and tear them apart.
Their selfishness will sweeten the taste buds
Of our sweet deals, our sugarcoated victories.

Grind like coconut the poor people's power.
Grind, ground, collect all hard workers.
Go grind, ground more, strip down to skin.
Do not feel merciful, do not ever feel merciful.
Their vinaigrette sweat is vintage wine,
Their suffering is the best fodder
For our drunkenness for power.

Squeeze out like milk the poor man's sweat.
Squeeze once, twice; set aside the extract.
If possible, thrice, four times till pure tears well up.
Do not pity them, do not ever pity their fates.
Their hard work is our unequalled joy,
Their suffering our ultimate blessing,
A merry feast prepared in our midst.

And so! Cut clean, grind down, squeeze tight!
Oppress, oppress! Bring down the downtrodden!
Save every scrap, throw not a bit of meat;
Plunder all things, leave nothing behind.
Their wretchedness is their wretchedness alone,
Their misery is our saving grace
From Bathala, good god of the forsaken.

January 28, 2008

- Translated from Filipino
From Tugmaang Matatabil (2008)

16 October 2010

Reading diary: September 2010


51. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico by Javier Marías, trans. Esther Allen

This is just a short story (57 pp.) but it's hard-hitting.

I wrote a bit about this book, including a profile of Marías, here: http://booktrek.blogspot.com/2010/09/visiones-de-marias.html

52. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda, trans. W. S. Merwin

Melted cheese. 

53. Norwegian Wood II by Murakami Haruki, trans. Alfred Birnbaum

The second volume is where the story soars to unexpected heights, and drowns in its bottomless abysses. I was prepared to hate this book through and through. However, in this second volume, my initial disappointment gave way to appreciation of Haruki's dramatic sense ... and sensibility.

I was prepared to hate it but I didn't. Even if the characters wear their hearts on their breast pockets, are too honest in their raw tender feelings, too sensitive, too suicidal. What a heartwrecker of a book. Now all I need do is see the movie.

(I tried to read the two translations (by Alfred Birnbaum & Jay Rubin) side by side. There are interesting divergences between the two translations (e.g., word choice: "Storm Trooper" in Rubin's version is "Kamikaze" in Birnbaum's.). But the two translations are quite comparable really that I feel like I'm just rereading the whole thing. I ended up just reading the whole of the Birnbaum translation. I don't think Rubin improved on it.)

54. The Speed of Light by Javier Cercas, trans. Anne McLean

Another false novel about a Vietnam war veteran and a writer who tries to tell his story. It is Cercas's follow up (sequel) to the successful Soldiers of Salamis. As with the previous book, this one is concerned about the haunting of memory and history, with the added burden of all-consuming fame and success. Cercas has repeated his formula, with mixed results. But it is always a pleasure to see him grapple with Sebaldian themes.

55. The Makioka Sisters by Tanizaki Junichirō, trans. Edward G. Seidensticker

A tale of four sisters, their search for happiness, and their vanishing world. The novel is steeped in Japanese culture. My field notes here: http://booktrek.blogspot.com/2010/09/makioka-sisters-tanizaki-junichiro.html

56. Antwerp by Roberto Bolaño, trans. Natasha Wimmer

A detective story told in fragments....Reading as crime solving....The only book that doesn't embarrass Bolaño....His least accessible fiction....Functions more as a sequence of prose poems...With an aimless itinerary....Fueled by its own momentum....For those who want to play the part of detectives....Let me know when you solve the riddle...

14 October 2010

Reading diary: August 2010

Do you reread?

Peter recently asked this question in his book blog Kyusireader. My answer: Yes. The first three books I read in August are in fact rereads.

I think some books are definitely worth a second, third, fourth look, and the book will repay each of those rereads with a finer look at the details, at the themes, at the confusion. A reread provides more opportunities for catching up on ... whatever. It either solidifies our first perceptions of the book or ... revises them. A First Reading from the Book of the Author is not the same as The Second Reading from the Book of the Writer.

Our field of experience expands with every book we read. We see correspondences and divergences of ideas in books read so far and life lived so far. Going back to the book I thought I already knew, I'm surprised to find another grain of truth that wasn't there before, another food for thought that didn't perish in the accumulation of life lessons. Maybe because we see more and more of the same and more and more of not-same things under the patina of older age.


46. On the Natural History of Destruction by W. G. Sebald, trans. Anthea Bell -- reread

Literary criticism about the inability of German writers to write with authority about the air bombings in WWII Germany. Sebald is concerned about the interplay of memory and history, the role of writers in times of crisis, and their moral and ethical obligation to bear witness to destruction. I wrote some notes on sections of the book which can be accessed in the following links:

Air War and Literature 1 , 2
Against the Irreversible: 
The Remorse of the Heart

47. The Devil to Pay in the Backlands by João Guimarães Rosa, trans. James L. Taylor and Harriet de Onís -- reread

Considered by many to be the Great Brazilian Novel of the 20th century, The Devil to Pay in the Backlands, is a flawed and abridged translation that is still cinematic and powerful despite its apparent shortcomings. [A section of the book ("The Slaughter of the Ponies") demonstrates an aspect of Guimarães Rosa's singular style that may have been compromised by the compositional choices of its first translators, James L. Taylor and Harriet de Onís.]

The novel recounts the violent wars raging in the hinterlands of Brazil. It is narrated by Riobaldo, a jagunço or bandit, to a writer who was silent interlocutor throughout the book. Riobaldo confesses his story and his thoughts about them freely and in the process betrays his philosophical meditations on various existential and spiritual questions: the place of the individual in the world, the existence of the devil, the place of honor in a violent world, the forgiveness of sins, the costs of betrayal, the costs of love, the value of friendship, the art of war, the ways to grab power and leadership. One of my favorite quotes: "Life is a motley confusion. Write it in your notebook, sir: seven pages."

I highly recommend the blog A Missing Book for exclusive background information on the book, including the difficulties to translation presented by its writing style. At least two translators, Gregory Rabassa and Thomas Colchie, were reported to try their hand at the task of rendering a new English version but nothing came of the project. The latest news from A Missing Book - indeed the great news - is that Elizabeth Lowe and Earl E. Fitz have "committed" to undertake the impossible job of bringing forth a new translation of the masterpiece. God speed, translators!

48. Six Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman -- reread

A spirited introduction to physics. Some parts of it are now dated but it's still a recommended text for those who want to brush up on their Physics.


49. Numb by Sean Ferrell

A worthwhile first novel about a man who doesn't feel any pain. The catch is: Numb (that's the protagonist's adopted name) doesn't remember anything: who he is, why he's got this kind of extraordinary ability, what planet he comes from. His power is therefore painlessness, and his weakness is amnesia.

What do you do with a character who doesn't feel any pain? Why, of course you hurt him physically. Numb is prone to accidents, whether self-inflicted or the ones handed down by fate/destiny/higher power. I lost count of the number of times the title character was pierced, cut, stapled, hammered, nailed, assaulted, slapped, hit, kicked, etc. I lost a lot of blood while reading this book. It's a kind of anti-graphic novel, if ever there was one.

My review here: http://booktrek.blogspot.com/2010/09/numb-sean-ferrell.html

50. Grass on the Wayside by Natsume Sōseki, trans. Edwin McClellan

Michikusa (Grass on the Wayside) is the last book Sōseki completed a year before his death. It is considered his most autobiographical - the translator said this is his only autobiographical novel, but surely every novel has a hint of auto in it). Kokoro ("The Heart of Things"), Mon (The Gate), and Grass on the Wayside forms what can be called Sōseki's trilogy of loneliness. This last book is narrated in some one hundred very brief chapters, each one packed with reflections on family obligations, marriage woes, greed, discontentment, and poverty. It is a beautiful thoughtful book in spite of the protagonist being jerkface a whole lot of time.

I think I said this before: Sōseki is my favorite Japanese writer. His writing about the human condition is pithy.

A new translation of Grande Sertão: Veredas?

Felipe at A Missing Book has an exclusive interview with Earl E. Fitz on what is shaping up to be the next main event in Latin American letters: the translation of the extremely difficult and slippery epic Grande Sertão: Veredas by the Brazilian master João Guimarães Rosa. Here is Fitz on the place of Guimarães Rosa in literature:

With respect to literary history, our pantheon of Western literary giants should, without doubt, include Rosa in it. And it would have already done so had he been more accessible in good, reliable English translations. Perhaps he will yet be. If I were re-writing Western narrative history, I would include Rosa in the tradition of Proust, Mann, and Joyce, arguing that, at his best, as in [Grande Sertao: Veredas], Rosa brings together, into a single, marvelously philosophical and deeply poetic text, all of the different breakthroughs concerning artistic, literary, and intellectual invention that these other great writers have wrought.

In the Americas, one of the still unexplained anomalies is why the original English translation of [Grande Sertao: Veredas], The Devil to Pay in the Backlands (trans. by de Onis and Taylor) did not strike more fire, with the critical establishment and with the general reading public in the United States, when Knopf brought it out in 1963, just as the now famous “Boom” period was gathering force. Regardless of how one feels about the translation itself, the fact that Rosa and [Grande Sertao: Veredas] are all but totally missing from discussions even now in the North American academy about “Latin American” literature is, to my way of thinking, simply astonishing. And unacceptable. To have this great Brazilian masterpiece absent from discussions of literature in the New World is a glaring omission of the most damaging sort, and it needs to be rectified....


Just recently, my old graduate school cohort and long time friend, Professor Elizabeth Lowe, the Director of the Translation Program at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and I have committed to doing a new English translation of The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. We’ve collaborated on other translation projects, including [Clarice Lispector]’s Agua Viva (The Stream of Life) and her posthumous novel, Um Sopro de Vida (A Breath of Life), and we feel we could offer a useful new English version of this great novel, one that would help gain for it the recognition it so richly deserves. Just as other great texts, like Don Quixote, need to be periodically re-translated so that they can speak to yet another generation of readers, so, too, we feel does Rosa’s epical masterpiece need to be updated and re-introduced to the English speaking world.

I can't help posting a lengthy excerpt. You can read the entire exchange here.

13 October 2010

"Tinatakasan Ako ng Ritmo at Tugma" (Axel Pinpin)

Rhythm and Rhyme Are Abandoning Me

Poet that I am, I can’t fish out a metaphor,
my love poems are devoid of lust and
spice, versification's uninspired,              
modernism is stale,
beside ice-cold tropes.
How can I rehabilitate the farm                     
devastated by flood? What gold-glint  
will sprinkle the grain                                
when the nickelled price of rice    
is reduced to dirt rust               
in the usurer’s granary? 

Because shortage is black
and because starvation is black,
black will never ever turn to gold.              

As the wise men          
and national artists
and critics advised –
compose, compose and compose with care,
every word must bring a certain magic to it.
Structure the hate
into a whistling song,
gently tell a tale.

And so –
the gleam of leech fat               
is golden in the field                  
moist and glassy when kissed by dawn –                
in the dam                      
neatly stacked up                   
the bloated bodies –                
of farmers slain!                       

July 21, 2008

After reading “I Know I’m Not Sufficiently Obscure” by Ray Durem

Translated from Filipino
From Tugmaang Matatabil (Southern Voices Printing Press, 2008)

11 October 2010

(How to recognize a work of art)

How to recognize a work of art? How to separate it, even if just for a moment, from its critical apparatus, its exegetes, its tireless plagiarizers, its belittlers, its final lonely fate? Easy. Let it be translated. Let its translator be far from brilliant. Rip pages from it at random. Leave it lying in an attic. If after all of this a kid comes along and reads it, and after reading it makes it his own, and is faithful to it (or unfaithful, whichever) and reinterprets it and accompanies it on its voyage to the edge, and both are enriched and the kid adds an ounce of value to its original value, then we have something before us, a machine or a book, capable of speaking to all human beings: not a plowed field but a mountain, not the image of a dark forest but the dark forest, not a flock of birds but the Nightingale.

 – Roberto Bolaño, "Translation Is a Testing Ground" 
trans. Natasha Wimmer, ed. Ignacio Echevarría
New Directions, 2011

NYRB = Now You're Reading Books

The NYRB Reading Week is hosted by Mrs. B from The Literary Stew & Honey from Coffeespoons.

10 October 2010

Reading diary: July 2010

One of the reading challenges I happily signed up for this year is The Fourth Japanese Literature Challenge, hosted by Dolce Bellezza. My interest in Japanese writing is peaking this year. I only ever started reading Japanese writers in earnest last year. Since then, I've steadily read and collected a lot of Japanese books that occupy a large space in my shelf and will occupy my leisure time in the coming days. The only genre in fiction that can compete with this long-term reading of mine is writing from Latin America.

JULY 2010

39. A Universal History of Infamy by Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni

A catalog of bad persons and their wrongdoings. Entertaining and funny, and sometimes scary. There are many novels inside this encyclopedia novel. The tradition of writing down personal histories in compressed form (vignettes), popularized here by Borges, clearly extends to contemporary writers. Cases in point: Nazi Literature in the Americas and Written Lives. I detect a representation of multifaceted evil and/or quirkiness in small doses.

40. Some Prefer Nettles by Tanizaki Junichirō, trans. Edward G. Seidensticker

From my review: Kaname and Misako, husband and wife, couldn't bear their relationship anymore. They decided to separate. Misako fell in love with another man; and Kaname, feeling no attachment to his wife, condoned it. Both agreed they need to divorce each other. . . . Tanizaki's novel would have been ordinary soap opera material had it not been for his masterly use of details. His depiction of insular world of puppet plays, of geishas and mistresses, and of the contrasting refinements in the cities of Tokyo and Osaka, [places] the story into a cultural context and in a dramatic light that sublimates all the tension and conflict into a dizzying calmness. The characters are so precise in their barbaric gentleness. They move with the grace of the bourgeoisie, but their inner identity crises are just as crude as modern humanity's.

41. Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

The puzzle fragments of this novel, like the famed Hundred Islands in Pangasinan, form an island chain of experiences and consciousness. The sequence is filtered through several narrative ecosystems: immigrant experiences, colonialism, cultural diffusion, literary questionings, historical deficits, and failures of identity. At the center of Ilustrado are two writers struggling with their own demons.

It was a pleasure to read this novel from its strong prologue to the multiplicity of excerpts and "excerpts within excerpts." Miguel Syjuco reinvigorated Filipino writing with experimental possibilities. The ending forces one to question the power granted to storytellers. Syjuco's manipulative skills are impressive. I hope his follow up book will not be a long time coming.

42. Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

It's amusing to read the slew of negative reviews in Amazon. It's hardly surprising though, given the subject matter of the book and its revolutionary approach to the interpretation of history. Prof. Diamond presents his case well that I think some of the debated quotes in the reviews were taken out of context, or were taken as absolutes. I can imagine why some arguments are controversial. They're not always politically correct and often run against conventional knowledge. Prof. Diamond is talking about the origin of "races," why some are more affluent than others and why some are not destined to prosper. His central argument is quite basic: environment, not race, is the main determinant of success of societies. Very humane and obvious but still debatable. What is impressive is the wealth of evidence presented and the manner in which they are analyzed. The environmental approach to history can run the risk of the "comprehensive syndrome," i.e., too detailed and sweeping and long, that it sometimes reads like a chore. I read it on and off for almost a year. It was like attending a course in ecology. On the strength of this book, I'd likely attend more lectures by Prof. Diamond through his other books.

43. Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas, trans. Anne McLean

False novels - that favored blend of fact and fiction and self-reference - are easily becoming a popular genre in Latin American writing. Along with authors I've been reading a lot (César Aira, Javier Marías, Roberto Bolaño), Javier Cercas is one of its best practitioners. Soldiers of Salamis is a cleverly structured treatise on memory and narrative direction. Its experimental elements hark back to the whimsical device of the playful author of the Quixote.

44. Norwegian Wood I by Murakami Haruki, trans. Alfred Birnbaum

The "red book" is the first of two small volumes of Norwegian Wood published by Kodansha. Norwergian Wood is one of the most popular and widely read books of Murakami, in Japan or elsewhere. The story tells of a pair of young lovers trying to deal with their painful past. My first impressions border between boredom and irritation. I didn't find much to admire in the slow unfolding (plodding) of the plot. The writing style, at least in this first-half, is pedestrian and dry. It made me think that perhaps I prefer the sci-fi side of Murakami. By the second volume, the story starts to pick up momentum with some interesting characters popping in. In fact, the second volume completely redeemed the story for me. But I'm jumping ahead.

45. Death in Midsummer by Mishima Yukio, trans. Edward G. Seidensticker, Ivan Morris, Donald Keene, and Geoffrey W. Sargent

It's a compilation meant to showcase the full range of Mishima's themes. Not a greatest hits collection of stories, but the handful of precious jewels makes it a worthwhile read. Three or four stories deserve the highest rating. One story called "Patriotism" particularly makes one squirm with a graphic tale of suicide. It's one of the best books I've read this year. Mishima defies my expectations. He is a real find.

09 October 2010

Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám of Naishapur (Edward FitzGerald)

In Chapter VIII of The Rings of Saturn (trans. Michael Hulse), W. G. Sebald touched upon the life of Edward FitzGerald, one of the many literary portraits that populate his books and lend them an encyclopedic quality. FitzGerald dabbled in many writing projects but only ever completed one:

The only task FitzGerald finished and published in his lifetime was his marvellous rendering of the Rubaiyat of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, with whom he felt a curiously close affinity across a distance of eight centuries. FitzGerald described the endless hours he spent translating this poem of two hundred and twenty-four lines as a colloquy with the dead man and an attempt to bring to us tidings of him. The English verses he devised for the purpose, which radiate with a pure, seemingly unselfconscious beauty, feign an anonymity that disdains even the least claim to authorship, and draws us, word by word, to an invisible point where the mediaeval orient and the fading occident can come [together in] a way never allowed them by the calamitous course of history. For in and out, above, about, below,/'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-Show,/ Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun, / Round which the Phantom Figures come and go. The Rubaiyat was published in 1859, and it was also in that year that William Browne, who probably meant more to FitzGerald than anyone else on earth, died a painful death from serious injuries sustained in a hunting accident....

That last sentence is Sebald's characteristic way of delivering unannounced, like "Phantom Figures," shifts in his narratives.

In my edition of Rubáiyát (Castle Books, illustrated, undated) , the preface mentions that FitzGerald's translation was a "paraphrase" of the 12th century poem. The first published translation contained a total of 75 rubáiyát (plural of rubái). A rubái is a self-contained quatrain, an epigram on its own and a popular form of Persian poetry. FitzGerald's version is not literal but rather a liberal rendering into verse of only a selection of Omar Khayyám's rubáiyát. About half of FitzGerald's 75 quatrains are faithfully rendered. The rest are formed as combinations of other rubáiyát, by Omar Khayyám's or by other poets.

The English text brought Omar Khayyám into the attention of many scholars. The poem in English is now considered a masterpiece in its own right. Its loose interpretation of the spirit of oriental poetry was seen as an artful appropriation of the original. The first readers of the 1859 Rubáiyát were struck by its accessibility and beauty. Even today, reading it could generate excitement for the reader. Its rhythms and content bring one to an understanding of poetry that is timeless in its fleeting passages, to emotional states both evanescent and lasting, borrowed for the duration of reading until the words "Tamám Shud" (The Very End).

The following are some of my favorite rubáiyát, mostly from the second half of the sequence, numbered as they occur in the book. The titles are mine.

                      46. Brief candle

For in and out, above, about, below,
'Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
    Play'd in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

                      51. Finality

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

                      52. Futility

And that inverted Bowl we call The Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop't we live and die,
    Lift not thy hands to 'It' for help—for It
Rolls impotently on as Thou or I.

                      53. Circularity

With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man's knead,
And then of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
    Yea, the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

                      60. Free will

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
    And suddenly one more impatient cried—
'Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?'

                      65. Hope

Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
'My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
    But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!'

                      72. Transience

Alas, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented Manuscript should close!
    The Nightingale that in the Branches sang,
Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

                      73. Regret

Ah Love! could Thou and I with Faith conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
    Would not we shatter it to bits—and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!

08 October 2010

Conversation about a cathedral: Or, what would Roberto think?

Of course, the well-read and opinionated Bolaño has certain opinions of Vargas Llosa. When asked about what comes to his mind when he hears the name of García Márquez, he replied: "A man who's enchanted by the fact that he's known so many presidents and archbishops." And Vargas Llosa: "The same, but more polished."

Among the celebrated Boom writers (García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Cortázar), Cortázar is apparently the one he most admired. As for Carlos Fuentes, he also had some things to say. He thought that Octavio Paz is "more universal" than Fuentes, that Paz is a "more interesting" writer of prose (in his essays) than Fuentes, and if he had to sit between them, he'd rather "sit closer to Octavio Paz than to Fuentes."

Bolaño's writing is seen as a break from the magical realist mode of the Boom writers and their imitators. His fiction is a sort of reaction to the previous generation's realism. However, it doesn't mean that he entirely objected to the literary outputs of the rest of the Boom writers. Possibly, he didn't like their politics or he just didn't like them as persons. But still he was an avid reader of their books. In a 1999 interview with two writers of a Chilean magazine (one of his published interviews in English), he shared his positive assessment of the (now) two Nobel winners.

Soto & Bravo: Perhaps the emblematic figures of the [Boom] movement were too adored, an injustice for quieter figures like Monterroso and Onetti, who are vindicated more and more. They’ve stayed relevant with the passage of time.

Bolaño: I don’t believe so. The literature of Vargas Llosa or García Márquez is gigantic.

Soto & Bravo: A cathedral.

Bolaño: More than a cathedral. I do not think time will harm them. The work of Vargas Llosa, for example, is immense. It has thousands of entry points and thousands of exit points. So does the literature of García Márquez. They’re both public figures. They’re not just literary figures. Vargas Llosa was a candidate for president. García Márquez is a political heavyweight and very influential in Latin America. This distorts things a bit, but it shouldn’t make us lose sight of the position they have in the hierarchy. They are superiors, superior to the people who came after and, to be sure, to the writers of my generation….

I suppose, though I’m not entirely sure, he didn’t answer in an ironic tone.

01 October 2010

October 2010 is ...

Nobel Prize for Literature Month.

A new laureate will be announced and many will scratch their heads wondering why this writer was chosen. A handful of this writer's devoted fans will jump for joy. A speech will be delivered by this writer before the end of the year. And the world will continue to turn on its axis.

Meanwhile I plan to finish the following books ...

  • Don Quixote - for the "Windmills for the Mind" whirlwind reading, hosted by Stu at Winstonsdad's Blog. It's supposed to end on September, but you know how it is with thickness.
  • The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt - the Fall Read of Conversational Reading is now on its second week.
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe - the Classic Group Read of one of my groups in Shelfari.
  • Dance Dance Dance by Murakami Haruki - the 6th book in my ongoing "Murakami Q Reading Plan," in which I read the Japanese novelist's first 9 books in chronological order of their Japanese publication
  • The Jaguar by João Guimarães Rosa - I've read the first three stories and so far the selection, translated by David Treece, are no less than brilliant. They show off, in dazzling prose, some recognized Rosean virtues such as neologism, stream of consciousness, and wordplay. I hope (pray) Prof. Treece takes on the dream project of bringing a new version of Grande Sertão: Veredas and the first publication in English of the novellas in Corpo de Baile. These two works, both originally published in 1956, are said to constitute the essential corpus of Guimarães Rosa, arguably the epitome of Latin American writing of the past century.

... and start another book by César Aira, a book from NYRB, and a collection of poems (by Akhmatova or Vallejo or Szymborska).

I humbly accept the prize of reading for pleasure, whether or not J. M. Coetzee finally snags the Nobel.