29 January 2012

Stoner (John Williams)

Stoner by John Williams (New York Review Books, 2006)

"Every man contains within himself the entire human condition," says David Shields (quoted by Tim Parks in a recent post in NYRblog). William Stoner, a professor of English literature, proved that statement. In the novel after his name and in which he lived like a true human being, novelist John Williams portrayed his character as entrenched in quiet and world-changing upheavals. World-changing because Stoner's experiences shaped him and changed him along the way, and a reader could sense the world of conflicts silently residing in a human heart.

Stoner came from a poor family. He was given a chance to study agronomy at the university to eventually help his parents with farm work. But the allure of another subject caught him unawares. He "fell in love" with the written word.

   It was as simple as that. He was aware that he nodded to Sloane and said something inconsequential. Then he was walking out of the office. His lips were tingling and his fingertips were numb; he walked as if he were asleep, yet he was intensely aware of his surroundings. He brushed against the polished wooden walls in the corridor, and he thought he could feel the warmth and age of wood; he went slowly down the stairs and wondered at the veined cold marble that seemed to slip a little beneath his feet. In the halls the voices of the students became distinct and individual out of the hushed murmur, and their faces were close and strange and familiar. He went out of Jesse Hall into the morning, and the grayness no longer seemed to oppress the campus; it led his eyes outward and upward into the sky, where he looked as if toward a possibility for which he had no name.

This epiphany—"a kind of conversion, an epiphany of knowing something through words that could not be put in words"—occurred to him right after his teacher Archer Sloane told him that he was destined to be a teacher of literature. The hypersensitively observed details (imagining the feel of "the warmth and age of wood", "the veined cold marble" seeming to "slip a little beneath his feet", the closeness and strangeness and familiary of students' faces, etc.) were signs and symptoms of "love". This love carried all its manifestations within it: the love of literature, the love of life, and the love of a woman.

Many years later, after enduring various circumstances that tried and tested his life, he will look back on this momentous realization and feel anew the same "tingle", the same profound force of feeling.

Suddenly it was as if she were in the next room, and he had only moments before left her; his hands tingled, as if they had touched her. And the sense of his loss, that he had for so long dammed within him, flooded out, engulfed him, and he let himself be carried outward, beyond the control of his will; he did not wish to save himself. Then he smiled fondly, as if at a memory; it occurred to him that he was nearly sixty years old and that he ought to be beyond the force of such passion, of such love.
   But he was not beyond it, he knew, and would never be. Beneath the numbness, the indifference, the removal, it was there, intense and steady; it had always been there. In his youth he had given it freely, without thought; he had given it to the knowledge that had been revealed to him—how many years ago?—by Archer Sloane; he had given it to Edith, in those first blind foolish days of his courtship and marriage; and he had given it to Katherine, as if it had never been given before. He had, in odd ways, given it to every moment of his life, and had perhaps given it most fully when he was unaware of his giving. It was a passion neither of the mind nor of the flesh; rather, it was a force that comprehended them both, as if they were but the matter of love, its specific substance. To a woman or to a poem, it said simply: Look! I am alive.

He was alive, and in the novel's pages he lived not a perfect life, but a perfect existence. We comprehended Stoner's lifetime of loving as it was dragged and weighed down by personal challenges a man in his position could face—an unhappy marriage, difficulties at work, problems with students and colleagues, teaching, infidelity, raising a child, and (even if they were waged in the far distance) world wars exacting tolls on the mind.

Stoner was a work of restraint. Its flashes of feelings and quiet devastation were wrought in the controlled and leisurely rhythms of a mindful prose. It was the kind of writing that evaluates and explores personal ideas even as the characters were drawn in situations of truths and consequences. The plot moved its characters as they carry kindling to the fire, until the fuel wood runs out and one is forced to observe the last flickers of a life.

The precision of the writing in Stoner reminded me of the stories of Peter Taylor (A Woman of Means, A Summons to Memphis, "Dean of Men"). Like Taylor, Williams dispensed insights and visions that allow his characters to recognize the predicaments they found themselves in and the general sense of futility surrounding them. And also like Taylor, Williams could capture in a single luminous sentence or in a short passage the whole of the novel's breadth and reach.

Williams had a way with descriptions. His writing was never dry, even while detailing the quirks of minor characters, the words were always game for descriptive reinvention.

Rutherford was a slight thin gray man with round shoulders; his eyes and brows dropped at the outer corners, so that his expression was always one of gentle hopelessness. Though he had known Stoner for many years, he never remembered his name.


He was a thin young man, intense and pale, with slightly protuberant blue eyes; he spoke with a deliberate slowness, with a voice that seemed always to tremble before a forced restraint.

"Gentle hopelessness", "forced restraint"—priceless expressions, especially given their droll context. These fine descriptions accumulated in the novel, accompanying momentous discoveries and transformations of self. Discoveries that, to stretch the original idea, reflected the human condition and would equal the discovery of the world or of the transformative role of individuals in it.

The book was particularly lovely for its elliptical and allusive nature. Its themes circled around, returning to look at ideas in another way. For example, Shakespeare's "Sonnet 73"—reproduced in full in the book when Stoner's teacher, Sloane, recited it—carried a resonance throughout the novel.—

In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourisht by.
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

These lines were echoed when Stoner visited the burial grounds of his parents, keeping in mind that they devoted their years to tilling the land for a living: "Now they were in the earth to which they had given their lives; and slowly, year by year, the earth would take them. Slowly the damp and rot would ... consume the last vestiges of their substances. And they would become a meaningless part of that stubborn earth to which they had long ago given themselves."

A key incident in the novel concerned a cripple student named Walker(!) who attended Stoner's lectures and with whom he had some problems in class and during an oral examination. The scenes with Walker were some of the most powerful in the book. Stoner was opposed to accepting Walker as graduate student as the latter represented for him the kind of duplicity and pretension that must not be allowed to prosper in a university.

"He said—something about the University being an asylum, a refuge from the world, for the dispossessed, the crippled. But he didn't mean Walker. Dave would have thought of Walker as—as the world. And we can't let him in. For if we do, we become like the world, just as unreal, just as . . . The only hope we have is to keep him out."

This idealistic belief that the schoolroom is a place to be shielded from the "unreal" in the world contained Stoner's academic ethic. In a brilliant rejoinder to the notion of the individual as world, Stoner admitted to his lover (when he was forced to break up the affair after being found out by university officials) that they were not exempt from this category: "So we are of the world, after all; we should have known that. We did know it, I believe; but we had to withdraw a little, pretend a little ..."

Every person contains within him the entire human condition because he is a world unto himself. This person conducts wars inside of him every time he made consequential decisions that affect his future and the future of those who depend on him. Stoner, whose life was given up to literature, is the imperfect, fallible world. The richness of his experiences enabled him (and the reader) to perceive his life as undeniably, inescapably, of this world.

28 January 2012

The Savage Detectives

Mexico, 1975. We are reading the diary entries of one Juan García Madero, 17 years old, law student, budding poet, and frequent attendee to poetry workshops. García Madero's narrative is conversational, self-conscious, sympathetic, almost unreliable, and frequently courting the cliché.
What happened next is hazy (although I have a good memory): I remember Álamo laughing along with the four or five other members of the workshop. I think they may have been making fun of me.


What happened next was a blur, but at the risk of sounding corny, I'd say there was something miraculous about it. Two visceral realist poets walked in and Álamo reluctantly introduced them, although he only knew one of them personally; the other one he knew by reputation, or maybe he just knew his name or had heard someone mention him, but he introduced us to him anyway.
The voice is honest, sincere, even if full of assumptions and self-confessed forgetfulness ("what happened next is hazy", "what happened next was a blur", "If I'm remembering right (though I wouldn't stake my life on it)", "Maybe she mentioned it, although I may have just made it up."). In fact, it was not only García Madero who could not be relied on 100% in his reminiscences here. The characters in the novel constantly alluded to their sketchy recollections of the past, their half-remembrances and hazy memories.

Translated by Natasha Wimmer, these diary notes began and closed The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, which appeared in translation in 2007. In 1998, five years before his death and six years before the posthumous publication of his other masterpiece 2666, Bolaño published Los detectives salvajes to great critical acclaim from Spanish readers. It earned for him the coveted Premio Herralde de Novela and Premio Rómulo Gallegos. The novel was a hit due to its totalizing scope and brave narrative techniques. Its themes were deeply personal and yet communal—life on the run, the passage of time, the reliance on memory, the faultiness of memory, poetry as a way of life, the search for meaning, the lack of meaning, madness, boredom, the uses of boredom, the uses (and misuses) of art, friendship, literature and books, the politics of existence, death.

     We talked about poetry. No one has read any of my poems, and yet they all treat me like one of them. The camaraderie is immediate and incredible. 

The two poets who crashed Álamo's poetry workshop, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, were patterned after the author Bolaño and his best friend Mario Santiago. They herded a group of young poets in Mexico City and formed a poetry movement called visceral realism, which was also based on Bolaño and Santiago's founded poetry movement called the Movimiento Infrarrealista de Poesia. Their group "wreaked havoc" in the '70s by crashing and disrupting poetry readings of established writers like Octavio Paz, exporting fear in the literary elite. They were, of course, not taken seriously by the establishment.

Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima took it upon themselves to track a female poet named Cesárea Tinajero, a predecessor of a similar poetry movement in the 1920s. Somehow, in the middle of the first part of the novel, García Madero and Lima and Belano became involved with Lupe, a young prostitute under the charge of a nasty gangster-pimp. As a result they had to escape the pimp and Mexico City in a white Ford Impala.

There's an inner seduction to the whole ride, the reader made privy to adventure, naiveté, nonsense, emptiness, senselessness, or a combination of these. The memorable events before and after the holiday celebrations of '75-76 acquired a surreal quality. Hysteria and humor mingled together; the high seriousness of the novel punctuated by the low. As begun and imagined by García Madero, neophyte poet and sex initiate, and as extended into various splinters of voices that populate the midsection of the book, the parade of stories resembled a long drawn out joke and yet the feelings engendered were authentic, deployed in spontaneous bouts of drunken speeches.

"The Savage Detectives", the second chapter, interrupted the first part to give way to the testimonies of a horde of writers, poets, and drifters—representatives from Bolaño's "lost" generation of literati and lowlifes. The interviewees were members, ex-members, non-members of visceral realism, speaking to mostly unknown interlocutor or interlocutors. Their stories tried to shed light on Lima and Belano's pathetic and peripatetic lives before and after their escape from Mexico City. Listening to these different streams of voices was like listening to jazz, raw and improvised. What emerged, partly, was a satire of the literary and intellectual life of poets and writers in Mexico, in the tumultuous and earth-shaking decades from 70s to mid-90s.


The structure of the novel invites detective work. The Rashomon-style confessions in the second chapter will strike some as an unsettling and infuriating technique. After the first chapter ended in a sort of cliffhanger of a chase, it was as if a precipice suddenly opened up in front of the reader. An abyss that, by the looks of it, would take a fair amount of time to cross. It was an explosion of voices that took control from and unsettled the calmness and controlled edge of the linear narrative and that dumped the reader into a desert with tiny oasis. These voices are singing nonstop, describing the social, political, public, and private aspects of living in the margins of literature and society.

One of longest digressions devised in fiction, this section would take some time of getting used to. A receptive reader will have to submit and open himself to the artifice of structure that the author has adopted. What happened in between the multiplicities of singing was unclear. But somehow, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, the multitude of voices converged into a modern jazz opera. In the course of their telling, the characters ceased to be individuated voices and became one sustained song, a song singing across times and places, singing of their generation, their dreams, and lost causes.


This being my second reading of the novel, I appreciated the novel's literary abandon that first endeared me to it four years ago. I varied my reading this time, skipping the second chapter and jumping ahead to the third chapter, the continuation of poet García Madero's diary. The intervening years of reading had added to my appreciation of the book, having acquainted myself to the works of Bolaño in translation. In the interim I've also read a couple of books by classic and contemporary writers (Borges, Jarry, Cervantes, Kafka, Rulfo, Marías, etc.) that Bolaño admitted as his influences, the writers he placed in his personal canon. Encountering them in his essays and interviews, several of the writers that were name-dropped like flies in the novel no longer sounded like Greek philosophers to me. Still, references to reclusive writers, like the "French" novelist J.M.G. Arcimboldi, could bring a certain amused reaction. Rereading the novel as a precursor to 2666 and his other books also brought into sharp relief the themes that Bolaño was mining in his writings. In a testimony by one Abel Romero in Café L’Alsatien, Paris, September 1989, Romero recounted a conversation  he had with Belano on September 11, 1983 (the dates in the book tell an interesting story):

Belano, I [Romero] said, the heart of the matter is knowing whether evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it's purposeful, we can fight it, it's hard to defeat, but we have a chance, like two boxers in the same weight class, more or less. If it's random, on the other hand, we're fucked, and we'll just have to hope that God, if He exists, has mercy on us.

The echoes and cross-currents with Bolaño's other fiction and nonfiction are worth a look. The Savage Detectives rewards avid readers of his other books with hints of meaningful correspondences. There were mention of the lines, for example, from a French poet that said "the flesh was sad" and that the poet had read all the books and slept with all the women. A female bodybuilder asked Belano what the poet meant by that. An answer was given in the novel but a closer reading of the lines by Mallarmé was found in Bolaño's essay "Literature + Illness = Illness".

Part of the enjoyment of reading The Savage Detectives was derived from its satire and comedy. It skewered the inflated egos of Spanish writers and intellectuals in the academia or otherwise. It also paid homage to actual personalities. The character of Iñaki Echevarne, the critic Belano had a duel with, was a nod to Ignacio Echeverría who was Bolaño's friend and editor and whom he designated as his literary executor. The novel was not above a practical joke. Like Kafka's unfinished novels, it was a joke ("The poem is a joke, they said, it's easy to see, Amadeo, look"). It was also like an elaborate game.

He explained that there were similarities between his last book [The Skating Rink? The Third Reich?] and his new book [The Savage Detectives?] that fell into the realm of games that were impossible to decipher [Antwerp?].... All I could ask was: what kind of similarities? Games, Guillem, he said. Games. The fucking Nude Descending a Staircase, your fucking fake Picabias, games. 

In "About The Savage Detectives", one of the essays in Between Parentheses, also translated by Wimmer, Bolaño wrote that "there are as many ways to read my novel as there are voices in it. It can be read as a deathbed lament. It can also be read as a game." Whether as a joke, as a game, as a deathbed lament (like By Night in Chile), or as a cubist painting, the novel was determined to compose a tilting portrait of moments across the temporal axis. The chosen artistic medium would take care of the message. In an interview, Bolaño expressed his aesthetics of the supremacy of form and structure over the story.

[Plot is] not so important—the form, the structure, always belong to you, and without form or structure there’s no book, or at least in most cases that’s what happens. Let’s say the story and the plot arise by chance, that they belong to the realm of chance, that is, chaos, disorder, or to a realm that’s in constant turmoil (some call it apocalyptic). Form, on the other hand, is a choice made through intelligence, cunning and silence, all the weapons used by Ulysses in his battle against death. Form seeks an artifice; the story seeks a precipice. Or to use a metaphor from the Chilean countryside (a bad one, as you’ll see): It’s not that I don’t like precipices, but I prefer to see them from a bridge.

"A realm that's in constant turmoil". "Battle against death". "Precipice". These are the tropes that defined his creativity, his mad lit, his pellucid ravings, his literature of the abyss. But despite this apparent quarrel with plot, the novel was convulsed with the edge and energy of its prose.

     In a brief moment of lucidity, I was sure that we'd all gone crazy. But then that moment of lucidity was displaced by a supersecond of superlucidity (if I can put it that way), in which I realized that this scene was the logical outcome of our ridiculous lives. It wasn't a punishment but a new wrinkle. It gave us a glimpse of ourselves in our common humanity. It wasn't proof of our idle guilt but a sign of our miraculous and pointless innocence. But that's not it. That's not it. We were still and they were in motion and the sand on the beach was moving, not because of the wind but because of what they were doing and what we were doing, which was nothing, which was watching, and all of that together was the wrinkle, the moment of lucidity. Then, nothing. My memory has always been mediocre ...

This passage is awkward, parenthetical, tentative, roughly hewn. And in a matter-of-fact gloss, memory was deemed mediocre; once again the story cheated with its acknowledged unreliability. And yet, despite the wrinkle, the passage is beautiful. It is propelled by a certain mystery, a certain kind of truth, poetry.

As the declamations of voices neared completion, the duration of their singing became longer and longer. The old familiar voices of the members, sponsors of the visceral realists, and other participants slowly gave way to new voices. The old ones were being muted, their owners dying or dead or forgotten. All except for the Amadeo Salvatierra's tenacious tipsy voice was constantly there to remind us of the mission of the visceral realists to find Cesárea Tinajero, constantly calling out from one of the earliest days of 1976.

The flash fiction pieces that bounce against each other in the beginning were now crowded out. The first long dramatic voice given early in the second part, the one by Auxilio Lacouture, the mother of Mexican poetry (probably the most powerful witness in the book), prefigured the cluster of lengthier testimonies. The immediate voices were still refracting each other, folding the novel's space-time continuum, and rounding up this anthology of dreams. Behind the scenes where the voices of the poets languished, a silent murderous protagonist (time) has also given her own deposition.

Les beaux livres sont écrits dans une sorte de langue étrangère, said Proust. Beautiful books are written in a kind of foreign language. In translation The Savage Detectives is a work of foreign beauty as its natural rhythms and its defiant otherness were quite distinctive in Wimmer's transposition of it into English. The colloquial, conversational, formal, visceral, and other high-strung and low-strung registers of English that the book exhibited may not totally correspond to the intractable types of Spanish inhabited by the original. But despite the obvious loss of the Spanish idioms and accents, that loss was turned into a beautiful noise. Into the music of a brave and beautiful despair.

With thanks to Richard for inviting me to co-host The Savage Detectives Group Read and to Jenny Volvovski for use of her book design as group read badge.


27 January 2012

Insomnia (Kristine Ong Muslim)

Insomnia by Kristine Ong Muslim
(Medulla Publishing, 2012)

Try Again

Sleep is an eel coiled
around itself. Tail

crammed inside the mouth.
Tongue inside the hole

in its tail. And judging by
its lack of teeth,

it will not last
the night.

Terse beauty. That just about sums up this poetry collection for me. As with Night Fish, Kristine Ong Muslim's whimsical voice is profoundly wedded to her arresting images. She is a poet who sees miracles in the mundane and whose way with language is unobstructed. The lines often start in a conversational tone, drawing the reader in to every conceivable possibility.

Sleep is an eel coiled / around itself.... The first couplet of "Try Again" is a laconic statement of the state of insomnia, pining for the onset of sluggish nightmare. It is one of the most trenchant variations of Ouroboros. Sleep as an eel, from tail to mouth, tongue in hole, toothlessness. The unobstructed passageway assures the sleeping form that sleep, closure, termination, is a process of infinite regress. The metaphor metamorphoses into itself.
Nothing like the malice of objects: the dank mouths of a sponge, the bent posture of a desk lamp, the sickness of a rickety chair. On the shelf are those books of eyelids, how the cracks between their pages let the light slip in all the wrong places.
[from "The Eater of Saturday Nights"]

Reading Kristine Ong Muslim's insomniac poems is like watching a low-volume late-night zombie movie. The quiet scenes first unfold in a clarity of unnamed terror. Suddenly her ordinary images take the shape of violence.

A legless ballerina performs her last pirouette. We would have applauded if only we have hands.
[from "No Possibility of Waking Up"]

The lines deliver the punch that is felt hard in the gut. “You wonder whether you are the landscape or the one taking in the scenery. You wonder why the shadows of curved things remain straight.”, she wrote at one point in "The Eater of Saturday Nights".

Whereas Night Fish was concerned with an alternate future reality, in Insomnia the reality is grounded in the secrets of suburbia that spill from an open can of worms. The poems here stare the reader hard in the face until he is inured to the final image. The worms squirm and take root in the mind.

There is a hint of feminism in the collection. Women are represented as limbless objects—"whoever looks into the window and sees the girl-torso looking through it will never notice her lack of limbs, the absence of life, the impossibility of the house housing the girl by the window" ("Impossible House")—living a loveless marriage, the objects of pornography, the victims of hate/crime, or the subjects of an autopsy in a cold morgue.

The perspectives of the wife or husband on the dissolution of marriage, the portrait of a recent divorce, deep cracks in relationships, these are explored through a pile of cutting irony.

Nobody became a widow here; some-
one just turned out to be a frozen head
of a bee after abandoning its stinger
somewhere. One could not hold the dark
long enough to fix it in place. It was like
flicking a feather caught on the maple syrup.
[from "That Portrait of the Missing Socks"]

From the bee voluntarily losing its sting (like giving up its life force, its drive, its appetite) to the feather on a maple syrup (a wonderful image of desperation and futility), the mixed metaphors create an enjambment of sense-impressions. They nudge toward a diagnosis of a suffocating relationship that is slowly and then suddenly entering a quicksand.

Insomnia exposes "the bedrooms we only see in our minds" (as in "Preface to a Pornographer's Dirty Book") through lines that stun and mystify. Muslim's themes cut through the surface of ordinary, sleepy life and stitch new threads of alertness to existence.

My thanks to the author for a copy of her book.

18 January 2012

Blood and sound

José Carlos Somoza's The Athenian Murders is turning out to be a detective novel of wit. A whodunit forged in pale fire. Caustic humor in the same mold as Borges and the Eternal Orang-utans by Luis Fernando Verissimo.

I picked it up yesterday after finishing The Savage Detectives, that book of monologues of hyper poets in a mock-up detective novel. I knew for some time that Bolaño has read and praised the work of Somoza. I'm a third into the book and it's becoming clear to me why this recommendation is a good one.

Somoza, born in 1959 in Cuba, is a writer from Spain. He is a psychiatrist by profession before becoming a full-time writer. The Athenian Murders, translated from Spanish by Sonia Soto, is his first novel to come out in English. The book was originally published as La caverna de las ideas (Alfaguara, 2000). The title should translate as "The Cave of Ideas", which, considering the milieu of the novel, is an apt title. The novel is set in ancient Greece, in the time of Plato and his school, the Academy. Plato's allegory of the cave is a philosophical sound that issues from it, bouncing and reverberating in its pages.

It's quite possible the English publisher wanted to market Somoza as a crime writer. (His second translated novel, The Art of Murder, was originally called Clara y la penumbra!) Nothing wrong with that except that it murders, in a manner of speaking, the self-referential elements of the story whenever the title itself was mentioned in the text, via footnotes. Yes, there are footnotes, it's that kind of book. The notes are provided by the fictional translator of the actual text (his supposed translation) that we are reading. As given by an extract from one of his more than a page long footnotes:

   The Athenian Murders, the novel I had just begun translating, was an eidetic text. She stared at me for a moment, holding one of the cherries on the nearby plate by its stalk.
   'A what?' she asked.
   'Eidesis,' I explained, 'is a literary technique invented by the Ancient Greeks to transmit secret messages or keys in their works. It consists in repeating, in any text, metaphors or words that, when identified by a perceptive reader, make up an idea or image that's independent of the original text. Arginisus of Corinth, for example, used eidesis to hide a detailed description of a young woman he loved in a long poem apparently about wild flowers....
   'How interesting,' smiled Helena, bored. 'And would you care to tell me what's hidden in your anonymous The Athenian Murders? [14]

Substitute The Cave of Ideas to the title in the above and one realizes it's more faithful to this 'eidetic' novel of ideas. Here is a striking passage from the "translated" text itself:

   There was a scream. Then another. For a moment, absurdly, Heracles thought they came from Itys' mouth, which was shut; as if she had roared internally, and her thin body were shuddering and resonating with this sound produced in her throat.
   But then the scream, deafening, entered the room; clad in black, it pushed the slaves away; crawled from one side of the room to the other, then collapsed in a corner, writhing, as if seized by a holy madness. At last it dissolved into an endless lamentation. [10-11]

I marked this up because I remember a similar passage of a sound's motion in The Savage Detectives.

He whispered that he loved me, that he would never be able to forget me. Then he got up (twenty seconds after he'd spoken, at most) and slapped my face. The sound echoed through the house. We were on the first floor, but I heard the sound of his hand (when his palm left my cheek) rise up the stairs and enter each of the rooms on the second floor, dropping down through the climbing vines and rolling like glass marbles in the yard. When I could react, I made a fist with my right hand and hit him in the face. He hardly moved. [194]

I was wondering about the resemblance between them. And then I came upon this passage from García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude:

A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.

Blood and scream, the sound of slap. What to make of their trajectories?

08 January 2012

A partial 2012 reading list

I read an average of 64 books a year. My TBR - unread physical books - stand at around 200 books. That means I can go on reading from my shelf alone for three straight years. Still, it's a conservative estimate. It doesn't factor in books earmarked for rereading. And books to be bought, swapped, borrowed, or downloaded. It should be easy to select 64 titles from the pile. However, I have a whimsical bent when it comes to choosing what to read. I'm putting up below a list of half my projected reading for the year. The rest I will fish out from the large ocean of literary goodness. Except for the books I committed to reading, the list is tentative, is more of a what-came-to-mind-right-now list. And in no discernible order.

1. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño - for the group read hosted by Richard and me, slated for the end of this month; rereading it in hopscotch fashion
2. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami - for a readalong in one of my groups in LibraryThing; partially read
3. Deep River by Shusaku Endo - another for my group in LibraryThing, in fact we're focusing on five Japanese writers this year (Endo, Kobo Abe, Ryū Murakami, Yukio Mishima, and Natsume Sōseki); partially read
4. Almost Transparent Blue by Ryū Murakami - these Japanese titles also anticipate the 6th edition to Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge
5. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace With the Sea by Yukio Mishima
6. I Am a Cat by Natsume Sōseki
7. Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse - a group read for Caroline's Literature and War Readalong (July)
8. Varamo by César Aira
9. Maoh: Juvenile Remix by Kotaro Isaka and Megumi Osuga - a manga series I became addicted to last year, I finished up to volume 3, and there are 10 volumes in all
10. The Wild Goose by Mori Ōgai - I read this in a previous translation; a possible book I'm reading with nicole for the bibliographing Reading Challenge
11. The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
12. Wolf Among Wolves by Hans Fallada
13. Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides da Cunha - partially read
14. Bartleby & Co. by Enrique Vila-Matas - in the list of best Spanish-language novels of the past 25 years
15. State of War by Ninotchka Rosca - recently bought; partially read
16. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa - a group read selection by Tom for his ongoing Wuthering Expectations Portuguese Literature Challenge; the schedule is end of March
17. Gathering Evidence and My Prizes by Thomas Bernhard - reread, in the case of the five-volume memoirs Gathering Evidence; elated to acquire this two-in-one edition of autobiography and speeches of a favorite writer; I still can't forgive myself when I listed my first copy - a Vintage paperback with Bernhard's photo on the cover - in Bookmooch (I must have been short on points and very desperate back then); Tao Lin mooched it off me
18. All the Lights by Clemens Meyer
19. Po-on (aka Dusk) by F. Sionil José - the first novel in the five-volume Rosales saga
20. The Way by Swann's by Marcel Proust - the Lydia Davis translation; my edition had this unusual title
21. Mandarins by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
22. The Unfortunates by B.S. Johnson - in the list of puzzle novels
23. Snow by Orhan Pamuk
24. When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro - partially read
25. Stoner by John Williams
26. Maganda Pa ang Daigdig by Lazaro Francisco
27. Moravagine by Blaise Cendrars - partially read
28. The Athenian Murders by José Carlos Somoza - in the translators in fiction reading list; a group read selection of my translation group in Goodreads; our reading schedule is end of February
29. Six Not-So-Easy Pieces by Richard P. Feynman - partially read
30. Ariel by Sylvia Plath
31. Trilce by César Vallejo
32. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
33. Voyage Along the Horizon by Javier Marías
34. Desert by J.M.G. Arcimboldi Le Clézio