04 October 2011

Third quarter reading, 2011

I finished 18 books from July to September, averaging 6 books a month. Here's the rundown, with a brief description and link to review, if any, of each book.


26. Poems New and Collected by Wisława Szymborska, translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

A forty-year harvest of poems, 164 in total, translated from the Polish language, this is the most substantial of Szymborska's poetry in English. It overlaps with the one hundred poems from the previous selection View With a Grain of Sand. A very fine translation, informed with the voice of a true witness to the cruelty and crimes of humanity. 

27. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald, translated by Anthea Bell (review)

One of my favorite reads this year.

28. The Fall by Albert Camus, translated by Justin O'Brien

While reading this, what came to my mind was the self-portrait David With the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio. Go figure.

29. Chess by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell

A world chess champion is aboard a ship sailing from New York to Buenos Aires. Chess aficionados try to engage him in a game at a high price (the arrogant champion will not play them unless they pay him a large fee). In the middle of the game that is as good as lost, a passenger whispered to them the move that will wrest advantage from the champion and at least force him to a draw. This passenger has not played chess for 20 years. Who is he? And more importantly, what is his story?

This novella is a political and psychological thriller about Nazism and the perverted nature of genius - what makes for an "expert" of something like a game of chess. Zweig's writing has captured the suspense of the game which is more than a battle between Black and White. It's also a play between sanity and madness.

30. Manual of Painting and Calligraphy by José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero (review)

The novel is narrated by H., a fifty-year old painter commissioned by S. for a portrait. It tells of H.'s difficulties in producing two simultaneous portraits of his client. In order to get around to this problem, or more like to escape from it, H. decided to produce another third portrait of S., but this time the image will be in words. Through sudden impulse or instinct, H. decided to turn into writing (the "calligraphy" in the title).

Saramago's fans, rejoice! This out-of-print book will be finally reissued May 2012 by Mariner Books.   

31. Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (review)

This is the valedictory volume in Javier Marías's spy novel whose prose style represents a calcification of poetic images, symbols, and a very very very very slow motion. We find Jacques Deza, newly separated from his wife in Spain and employed in London as a 'secret agent' under the tutelage of Bertram Tupra, an engimatic and strong character. What starts as a mental blood-battle of spy-wits in the first two volumes ends as a voluble treatise on actual physical bloody violence of recent and modern wars.

32. Toddler-Hunting and Other Stories by Kōno Taeko, translated by Lucy North and Lucy Lower (review)

The stories were originally written in the 1960s and concerned women and their unstable marital relationships. Kōno Taeko, the 85-year old grand dame of Japanese letters, was admired by Oe Kenzaburo and Endo Shusaku. Her genre of writing was classified as "transgressive fiction" owing to elements of sadomasochism and aberrant behaviors. The stories are characterized by odd details and psychological quirks.


33. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

I read this to complete the so-called "Big Three" among dystopian novels that also include We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. It didn't disappoint. It's a very well written and harrowing thought experiment.

The other reason I read it is that I will most likely be reading Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 which is published this month. According to Murakami, Orwell's influence on the book not only inspired its title but also its handling of alternate realities.

34. On Translation by Paul Ricoeur, translated by Eileen Brennan

A short (72 pages) book of essays on the philosophy of translation. In the first essay "Translation as challenge and source of happiness", the late French philosopher introduced the concept of translation as a work of remembering and a work of mourning (after Freud). It also introduced the very beautiful term 'linguistic hospitality' to describe the appreciation of translation through the acknowledgment of its limitations, the acknowledgement that there is no total (or perfect) translation: "Just as in the act of telling a story, we can translate differently, without hope of filling the gap between equivalence and total adequacy. Linguistic hospitality, then, where the pleasure of dwelling in the other’s language is balanced by the pleasure of receiving the foreign word at home, in one’s own welcoming house."

35. Between Parentheses by Roberto Bolaño, edited by Ignacio Echevarría, translated by Natasha Wimmer

A book of short essays on books and writers, mostly from Latin America. Bound to increase one's TBR.

36. First Love by Ivan Turgenev, translated by Constance Garnett (review)

Turgenev's story was a linear and controlled exploration of being in love at a young age. It offered a portrait of a transition from youth to adulthood: from the confusion and giddy puzzlement that accompanied the raw feelings of youth to a more luminous perception of reality as one gained more experience. The protagonist was a sixteen-year-old student, a young man of middle class background. The object of his affection was a young princess, older than him by a few years, who with her mother was his family's new house neighbor.

Turgenev created tension in two fronts. First, although members of Russian nobility, the new neighbors were actually on the verge of poverty. Their tenuous hold on their upper class status was endangered by their large debt owed to some influential persons. Second, the beautiful young princess was not entirely a bashful one. She was as carefree as can be and she was surrounded by a lot of suitors who were slaves to her every wish. Into their midst was flung the young protagonist - awkward, dejected, and in love. Soon, the young princess was sending a covert message to the group of young men (our student, a poet, a doctor, a handsome count, and a hussar) around her. She had found someone: a lover who was her match. She, her heart, was already taken. But who among them could it be?

37. Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Never expected this to be such a funny and engaging short story. I read it, online, to prepare for reading Enrique Vila-Matas's Bartleby & Co.

38. The Duel by Joseph Conrad

Very suprising to know that the author of Heart of Darkness and Nostromo can be very funny. A highly recommended novella.

39. Maybato, Iloilo, Taft Avenue, Baguio, Puerto by John Iremil E. Teodoro

A collection of poems in Filipino language. This, Teodoro's second collection, charts a poet's peripatetic life around the Philippines. My favorite section is the "Puerto" poems, where I'm currently based. It's also the same beautiful place that is the subject of Iremil's first poetry book.


40. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Murakami Haruki, translated by Philip Gabriel 

A useful book for those interested in taking up running. It may just be the book to inspire you. But ultimately it's a minor memoir bogged down by clumsy writing. If you're not a Murakami completist you can skip this with a clear conscience.

41. Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters 

In straightforward free verse, the dead people of Spoon River speak from beyond the grave. The ghosts, injured when still alive, can not rest in peace. Some are haunted by their former lives. Full of irony, bitter memories, vindictiveness, melancholy, poetic musings, and comic touches, the stories of the dead are oddly full of life.

42. The Seamstress and the Wind by César Aira, translated by Rosalie Knecht (review)

This short novel is perhaps not the best place to start with the Argentinean micro-novelist César Aira. But there's probably no best place to start with Aira, you just start reading him. It's about a writer writing in a Parisian café, a 'kidnapped' child, his seamstress mother who ran after him, his father who ran after her, a flying wedding gown sewn by the seamstress, a pregnant teacher who ran after her flying wedding gown, a truck driver, a 'Paleomobile' made from the body of a dead armadillo, a powerful talking wind, and a monster who came out of nowhere. In short, the plot is mayhem. 

43. Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

I'm still reeling from the unexpected ending of this novel. Marías's style is just as suspenseful and addictive as his other books. It is in some ways a companion book to his short story Bad Nature, whose narrator appears as a minor character in this novel.


  1. Some great books there :)

    Sebald and Zweig are two authors that have been on the edge of my radar for some time now, and (as I am very much a Murakami completist) I'm sure I'll be running with the great man at some point, no matter how weak the book is...

  2. Hi Rise! We're happy to let you know that we've included In Lieu of a Field Guide in the list of Pinoy book blogs at Read Philippines.com. We'd love to have you join our fast-growing community of Pinoy readers!

  3. Have read Sebald,s unrecounted & have another on my tbr as is Zweig's beware of pity, although I want to read Chess as well, have read the Murakami & although it's not the best thing he's written I did think it offered some insight into the man

  4. Tony, Sebald and Zweig are really worth a try. I'm not finished with them myself.
    I think I'm still 5 books short of completing Murakami. I have to say though, the book really made me take up running again.

    Read Philippines, I'll go check it out. Thanks.

    Gary, yeah, he is certainly candid in that book. You shouldn't miss Chess. It's a short gem.

  5. Lots of interesting choices there, Rise. I'm determined to hunt down that Ricoeur book (I'm flummoxed that my university library doesn't have it - it has nearly everything). I also plan to hunt down "The Duel." I read a Heidelberg tun's worth of Conrad about 15 years ago, but missed that one. And having read "Tomorrow in the Battle" at approximately the same time as you, I can affirm that the ending just keeps resonating.

  6. great going and some lovely titles there ,I loved what I talk about when I talk about ... it opened japan a little more for me ,all the best stu

  7. Scott, hope you do find copies. I suppose you will look out for the original French of Ricoeur? I just finished my second read of Bad Nature and it was better received in light of Tomorrow in the Battle.

    Stu, good to know it worked well for you. I just find it not at par with his other books. Underground, for example, is a substantial work of nonfiction.