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 The Literature Thread 
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Beau wrote:
I'm a fan of leaving your mark on your books. I figure that's why I own them, to do something with them.

That said, and if you'll excuse a short rant, a lot of people - the "don't judge a book by its cover" brigade - totally ignore the physical qualities of a book, the typography, the binding, the design of the collection it belongs to, and so on and so forth. It's unfortunate, because all these things add meaning to the text. But if you agree to that then you also agree that texts aren't stable, that authors don't have total control about what their text does and how it's read, that the text you read might not be the one everyone has ever read or will read, that in publishing a text there are overlapping levels of authorship and that the person in charge of a collection can add meaning to a text by relating it to others, and so on and so forth. Obviously all hell breaks loose if you start to think about these kinds of things.


Not to mention translations.

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Sat May 28, 2016 4:47 am
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Two favourite recent purchases :heart:

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Sat May 28, 2016 6:19 am
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One of my recent favorite purchases was this:

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Not just because of the book, but also because its previous owner left a clipping of a 1979 review of the book from the Observer in it:

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Also:

charulata wrote:
coming up soon: aira's Dinner and some jim thompson..

Colonel Kurz wrote:
Just reading that has me contemplating ordering 3 or 4 Aira's...

Image
Loving that hologram neon lighting cover.

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Sat May 28, 2016 7:14 am
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I know so little of literature so I'm joining a book club, next up is Fathers and Sons

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Sun May 29, 2016 5:58 am
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The Last Baron wrote:
I know so little of literature so I'm joining a book club, next up is Fathers and Sons


Just read that last year. I don't think I posted about it in here, but I loved it.

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Sun May 29, 2016 7:04 am
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Today's purchase. First edition, too!

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Sat Jun 04, 2016 7:12 am
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My frighteningly expensive first edition of Upton Sinclair's Oil.

Also, maybe the classic American novel?

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Thu Jun 16, 2016 12:39 am
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In five years Jedi's house will be a museum.


Mon Jun 20, 2016 6:43 am
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And then one day his cats will scratch up all the priceless artifacts.

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Mon Jun 20, 2016 6:51 am
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Burning Your Boats | Angela Carter | 1995 | 462 pages

I bought this because Das suggested reading it when I enjoyed The Company of Wolves, and I'm so glad I did. Carter's stories have an acute intelligence fueled by very primal impulses. Some criticize her voice for its detachment, but that did not register for me at all. Her folktale revisions are thoughtful and deliberate, but her authorial voice speaks with passionate abandon: her prose style is baroque and risky, dancing between poetry and bathos, and her excesses are often reined in by her raw sense of humor.

This is her collected stories, and I'd say The Bloody Chamber is the best book, but all of them are valuable, and while her subject matter is pretty focused, her stories yield a lot of diversity. My favorites include "The Bloody Chamber", "The Tiger's Bride", "The Company of Wolves", "Peter and the Wolf", and "John Ford's Tis a Pity She's a Whore". That last one reimagines the Elizabethan incest tragedy Tis a Pity She's a Whore by John Ford as a Western adapted by the American John Ford, and it pairs stylistic bravura with a surprising sense of pathos.

Can't recommend this enough, especially to anyone interested in fairy tales, feminist revisionism, and decadent depictions of cruelty and sexuality.

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Tue Jul 05, 2016 1:48 pm
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Top 10 for the 2nd quarter of the year:

1. Orhan Pamuk – The New Life
2. Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God
3. Ralph Ellison - Invisible Man
4. Evelyn Waugh – Scoop
5. Julio Cortázar – Queremos tanto a Glenda (read in Dutch translation)
6. Orhan Pamuk – The White Castle
7. Jane Austen – Lady Susan
8. Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
9. Chester Himes - A Rage in Harlem (audio, read by Samuel L. Jackson)
10. Anne Curry – Henry V: From Playboy Prince to Warrior King

Especially looooooved the number one which is a new overall favorite. It hooked me from these opening lines:

"I read a book one day and my whole life was changed. Even on the first page I was so affected by the book's intensity I felt my body sever itself and pull away from the chair where I sat reading the book that before me on the table. But even though I felt my body dissociating, my entire being remained so concertedly at the table that the book worked its influence not only on my soul but on every aspect of my identity. It was such a powerful incluence that the light surging from the pages illumined my face; its incandescence dazzled my intellect but also endowed it with brilliant ludicity. This was the kind of light within which I could recast myself; I could lose my way in this light; I already sensed in the light the shadows of an existence I had yet to know and embrace. I sat at the table, turning the pages, my mind barely aware that I was reading, and my whole life was changing as I the new words on each new page. I felt so unprepared for everything that was to befall me, and so helpless, that after a while I moved my face away instinctively as if to protect myself from the power that surged from the pages. It was with dread that I became aware of the complete transformation of the world around me, and I was overtaken by a feeling of loneliness I had never before experienced - as if I had been stranded in a country where I knew neither the lay of the land nor the language and the customs."

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Tue Jul 12, 2016 7:02 pm
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I think Carter can be a bit coy and detached in her longer form work, but her short story stuff is absolutely aces.

Recent pick-ups:
The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll - Alvaro Mutis
Hard Rain Falling - Don Carpenter


Mon Jul 18, 2016 8:45 am
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Anyone else doing this?

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Mon Jul 18, 2016 2:57 pm
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What is that?

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Mon Jul 18, 2016 5:32 pm
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It's our version of Pokemon GO.


Mon Jul 18, 2016 9:48 pm
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Ha!

It's Goodreads. Aimed at 50 for the year but hit that last month; now going for the hundred!

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Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:07 am
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I'm at 9/20, most of it graphic novels, I need to find a good place to read that makes a good chai tea

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Tue Jul 19, 2016 1:19 am
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I... don't remember what I've even read this year. Started out strong, but my reading game's been weak lately.


Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:54 am
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I just buy 2-3 books a month and read those - I feel like there's no merit in continious reading if you aren't going to stop and really think about what you're reading, if that makes sense.


Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:24 pm
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That's the main reason I use Goodreads: to remember what I've been reading!

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Tue Jul 19, 2016 2:38 pm
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Das wrote:
I just buy 2-3 books a month and read those - I feel like there's no merit in continious reading if you aren't going to stop and really think about what you're reading, if that makes sense.


2 or 3 books a month used to be my pace. This year has been slow.

Of course, it's hard to gauge in my case, because college drowns me in photocopies that usually encompass half of a book or a third. How do you count those?


Tue Jul 19, 2016 9:48 pm
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Good question. How do 150 page magazines detailing the career and music of a band with old interviews and new record reviews count? :shifty:

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Wed Jul 20, 2016 6:37 am
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JediMoonShyne wrote:
Ha!

It's Goodreads. Aimed at 50 for the year but hit that last month; now going for the hundred!

I guess this of all things finally made me sign up...

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Wed Jul 20, 2016 7:34 pm
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Colonel Kurz wrote:
I guess this of all things finally made me sign up...

Now we are friends!

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Thu Jul 21, 2016 2:54 am
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This truly cements that.

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Thu Jul 21, 2016 7:52 am
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Thu Jul 28, 2016 12:35 pm
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Does anyone else like reading aloud a lot ? It's been a minor hobby of mine for a while to do this and record it. It's surprising how much richer a lot of works become, especially classical poetry:


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Fri Jul 29, 2016 5:36 pm
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jade_vine wrote:
Does anyone else like reading aloud a lot ? It's been a minor hobby of mine for a while to do this and record it. It's surprising how much richer a lot of works become, especially classical poetry:



I'm a huge fan of reading out loud, both for myself and for others, although I've never tried recording anything. I almost always read poetry aloud (Howl was one of the first I tried this with, which was a blast), but I'll often read vignettes, some short stories, and particularly lyrical passages from longer works aloud. There's a passage from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man that I've probably read aloud several hundred times.

My most ambitious endeavor to date was reading the entire Iliad, and not just aloud, but in a very performative, stentorian voice while pacing around my room. It was an exhausting, marathon effort, but it lends the experience a satisfaction and a power that reading silently totally lacks.

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Thu Aug 04, 2016 3:01 pm
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A Dreambook for our Time | Tadeusz Konwicki | 1969 | 282 pages

While perusing a used book store some years ago, I found an old hardcover book sans dust jacket that I picked up purely because the title intrigued me. I later discovered it was part of Penguin's Writers from the Other Europe series (which I adore), but at the time I knew nothing about it.

Having finally read the book, I still know almost nothing about it. The narration is curiously detached, but it's not the clinical detachment you expect. It's just aloof. Sometimes the action is vague, making it difficult to follow the story and the significance of certain scenes.

Yet as the novel goes on, it develops a rhythm. It's about a small ensemble of characters in a provincial town, most of whom conform tenaciously to type. They are building a railroad through the countryside, and their village will soon be flooded after the completion of a dam, but otherwise nothing much happens, and Konwicki employs some of the most striking repetition I've ever seen. He repeats observations (the sound of telegraph wires), daily incidents (vesper bells from the monastery, a jet leaving a contrail in the sky), character quirks (a former count who hates being called a count, a man with a twitching cheek), and entire scenes with only minor variations (half the village gathering to drink well into the night, trysts between the protagonist and a mysterious woman named Justine). Sometimes it's difficult to follow the motivations behind the characters' actions, but one gets the sense that it doesn't matter in the face of this ceaseless recurrence -- ceaseless, at least, until the end.

The only things that interrupt this rhythm are flashbacks to the protagonist's wartime memories fighting as a partisan in the forest. The ironic detachment gives way to a harsh yet poetic immediacy. It almost feels like a different book intruding into the narrative. During these intrusions, the prose reaches its apex, taking on a fierce clarity.

One of my favorite passages:

Tadeusz Konwicki wrote:
But before he could raise the weapon to his eye, you carried through your calm, measured attack and hurled the grenades into the open triangle of the attic. Then you and the sentry both waited a long while, staring with all your might at the tarry walls of the bath house.
Finally the roof split into two, emitting skyrockets of sparks and fleshy steam. Then the heated stones of the bath exploded and the door fell out into the snow and a naked man clutching his red belly tottered over it. Next another leaped out, and collapsed immediately in the snow, vomiting blood. After them crept a third, clutching a ripped artery with one hand. Only now did you notice that they were shouting, but it was not exactly shouting. The naked men howled as they set off at a run, but the white snow held them to the ground like glue, and they rolled unrestrainedly in the cold snow, and glaring blood stains corroded the surface voraciously.


I'd be eager to discuss Konwicki with anyone else who has read his work. The book had me floundering for meaning at times, but I left with a strong overall impression and a respect for his unusual and off-putting style. Konwicki made films as well, which it seems a few of y'all have seen (a search shows that Jedi and Maiden have watched some), so any insight on that front is welcome too!

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Thu Aug 04, 2016 3:41 pm
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Been reading a lot of short story collections recently: Balzac and De Maupassant and Zweig, but also Michener and others...

DEATH ON THE BEACH, by James M. Cain

His name was Diego, and he was bound for Playa Washington, a beach in Northern Mexico, partly for a Sunday’s outing, partly to drum up business for the “taxi” he was driving. He was a good-looking Mexican in his late twenties, a bit taller than average, and of the café con leche color, lightly flushed with cinnamon, that bespeaks the mestizo, or mixture of Spanish and Indian. He wore khaki shorts, sport shirt, two-toned shoes, and brown cloth hat with eyelets. He whistled Cielito Lindo and glanced occasionally at the tremendous afternoon sky, but his attention was on his gauges, especially the speedometer, for the road, through improved, was rough, and tended, at too fast a clip, to heat tires and explode them. His car was a sedan, and though he operated it for hire around Matamoras, a little city on the Rio Grande, there was nothing about it that was different from any family bus.

After 22 miles from Matamoras the road ended, and he pulled off to a field, parking with other cars and leaving the road clear for the special buses that are a feature of fiestas in Mexico, and often run on rough-and-ready principles. To the boys who swarmed over him, he amiably passed out coppers, Mexican coins the size of half dollars, and to a character in snuffy cottons, who professed to be in charge, twenty-five cents American. Then, after locking up, he headed for the dunes which give this coast its special character. They are 8-10-12 feet high, of sand so bright it blazes under the sun and sends up shimmering refractions of light. The result is, the land is screened from the sea, the sea from the land, so Diego didn’t see the beach until he popped through a break in the dunes, and was in the middle of it. It was well worth the smile it brought to his face. It was a riot of color, from rugs, robes, rubber animals, and gaudy beach umbrellas; and thousands of people lolled, joked, flirted, and snoozed on it. Also, many swam, especially girls in infra-Bikini suits, with the eager zest for water that is the immemorial heritage of these people. When they went out too far, so far the porpoises offshore took an interest, the nearest Gendarme blew his whistle, calling them in. they came, but not meekly. Volubly they expressed their opinion, and volubly he answered them back. Lately, proper lifeguards have been provided for Playa Washington, with pulmotors and fancy equipment, but at this time the Gendarmes were the only supervision it had, and if they overworked their whistles, the danger, as we shall see, was real.

Diego brushed off some mariachi singers, and made his way through comestible vendors to the soft-drink stand, a tiny thatched thing on pilings, the only actual, nailed-together structure that Playa Washington had. He bought a Bimbo. As he stood swigging it from the bottle, his eye fell on a boy in red trunks who dashed through the crowd, yanking women by their shoulder straps, men by their pant-legs, boys by their ears, and girls by their hair, interspersing these pranks with challenges to wrestle. Through no more than four, such was his strength that several bigger boys got dumped on their backs in a minute or two. After each such triumph, he ran to a girl, who was seated at the foot of a dune and who seemed to be his mother. When she gave him admiration, he ran out to find more victims. “That boy,” said another customer at the stand, “is a pest. He needs treatment on his backside. He needs it tanned up good with a belt.”

“Oh,” said Diego, “he’s little.”

“So’s a goat. But I don’t like him.”

“He has his points. Sure.”

“Name me one. Name me a point.”

“Hey,” Diego called to the boy. “Hey, you.”

The boy, running over, chose a Jippo, and when Diego bought it for him, grabbed it, stuck out his tongue, and ran off. “Gil!” cried the girl on the dune. “You must thank the gentleman. Say gracias.”

“You win, she’s a point. O.K.”

The other customer surveyed her enviously as Diego strolled over lifting his hat, and she got up to smooth her skirt. She was tiny, with something doll-like about her figure, though it didn’t lack for voluptuousness. She was the color of dark red mahogany, and her features were delicate, showing little of the flat, massive moulding that goes with the Indian. Her eyes were a mischievous, flirty black, matching her hair, and her teeth, against the mulberry of her lips, looked blue. Her dress was pizen purple, but considering the form it covered, no dress could really look bad. Her shoes were red, as her bag was. At her throat were big red wooden beads. She was possibly 20 years old.

“Fine boy,” said Diego. “Quite a lad.”

“He must thank you,” she said. “—Gil!”

But Gil paid no attention, and Diego told her: “It’s nothing, let him be. … He’s yours?”

“But of course.”

“And his—Papa? You’re married?”

“… Not now.”

“Perhaps you’ll have a Jippo?”

“Please, for me, Orange Crush.”

He got her Orange Crush, and they sat on the dune together. She confessed she had seen him parked, in front of the cafe where she worked, in Matamoras. He expressed surprise he hadn’t seen her, as he was in the cafe quite often. She said she didn’t serve in the dining room, but worked in the kitchen. “I am only a poor galopina,” she added, but in a flirty, provocative way. He then told her his name, and she said hers was Maria.

“You live in Matamoras?” he asked her.

“In a little jacal, by the river.”

“You and your boy?”

“I and Gil. My little Hercules.”

They had considerable talk about Gil, his exuberance, his strength, his skill at swimming, acquired in the river, which he swam several times daily, “… across to Fort Brown and back.” It was clear that if Gil was a pest to others, to her he was wonderful. However, after Diego prodded with inquiries, she admitted that if Diego would buy the boy his supper, perhaps a snack from the vendors, she had neighbors who would keep an eye on him, so they could tuck him away in the jacal, and have the evening to themselves. He mentioned he might have passengers going up, but she said that was all right, “as I can ride front with you, and hold Gil in my lap.”

“Wouldn’t mind holding you in my lap.”

“Ah-ha-ha.”

With various such sallies from him, and suitable parries from her, the discussion took a while, during which Gil outdid himself, presently arousing a gang which meant to thump him, and running into her arms. Then he darted for the sea, waited for a wave to smash, waded in, and was out, swimming, before the next one rolled in. When the Gendarme screeched his whistle, he waved derisively and kept on. The Gendarme screeched again, and Maria ran out like a little hornet to tell him off. She said Gil swam better than anyone, and it was up to stupid Gendarmes to let him alone. The Gendarme said regardless of who he swam better than, she could get him in or she’d spend the night in the carcel. Diego called “Jippo, Jippo, Jippo,” and this had the desired effect. Gill came in on a comber, ducked past the Gendarme, and ran to the stand for his Jippo. Diego led Maria back to the dune.

Things might have eased off then, but Gil had the Gendarme to settle with. Tossing the bottle away, he ran over, stuck out his tongue, made a noise. The Gendarme paid no heed. He did it again, and still the Gendarme, who was big, handsome, and cold, didn’t look, simply standing there, his hand on his pistol butt, his eye roving the beach. Gil made one more pass, then plunged into the sea as before and swam out as before. However, he went much further this time, and Maria ran down, commanding the Gendarme to whistle. Couldn’t he see that the boy was out too far? What kind of policing was this, to let a child get into danger and then do nothing about it?

“It is a beautiful day,” said the Gendarme.

“But Gil, my little Gil!”

“He swims so well, who am I to interfere?”

Maria now called to Gil but he paid no attention. Diego, joining her, repeated his previous ruse, calling “Jippo, Jippo, Jippo,” and anything else he could think of, but this time unsuccessfully. Gil simply swam on, until he was 200-300-400 yards out, and quite a few people, gathering back of the Gendarme, were beginning to take an interest. And then suddenly disaster struck. The porpoises cavorted over, obviously bent on a play, but Gil’s cry told of his terror. Then he wasn’t there, and a murmur went through the crowd. Maria started to scream. Diego put his arms around her and tried to calm her, but she broke away, and called “Gil” at the top of her lungs.

During this, which took just a few seconds, the Gendarme stared out to sea, then spoke to a boy. The boy ran down to where some girls had a raft in the sea, an inflated rubber thing they were paddling. After a shouted exchange, they wrestle it through the surf, hiked it to the boys’ shoulders, and as he ran to the Gendarme with it, followed with the paddles. The Gendarme hadn’t moved, and didn’t, during the choosing of volunteers, the relaunching of the raft, and its trip out through the swells. He stayed right where he was, his boot-heel marking the spot where Gil had gone out, so he could indicate, with wigwags, the spot where he had gone down. When the raft got there, a boy slipped over the side, but in a second or two came up, to be pulled in by a companion. Cupping his hands, he reported: The porpoises were all around, especially under the surface. One of them had bumped him, and he was sure they were fighting him off. He was afraid to go over again, and asked permission to call the search off. “Come in,” called the Gendarme. “We don’t endanger more lives for the sake of one which is lost.”

No voice was raised in protest, though many by now were watching. But as the raft started in, Maria ran at the surf, to be scooped up by the Gendarme. He held her, talked to her, threatened her. “Anyone know this girl?” he presently asked.

“I do, she’s a friend,” said Diego.

“Get her out of here,” said the Gendarme.

“I’ll do what I can.”

“Soon as I’m done with her, take her home. When the body washes in she’ll be notified. Keep her away from the water. Because if this goes on, and people have to risk their lives to save her, I’ll have to act. I won’t have any more of it.”

“My poor, poor little Gil,” sobbed Maria.

“You might have controlled him, Senora.”

“Who could control one so strong?”

“For lack of control he has drowned.”

“No! I will not believe it!”

“The cuerpo perhaps will convince you.”

Diego half carried her to the dune, whispered to her, patted her, and got her a little quieter. The Gendarme commandeered an escriban public, who came over, set up his table in front of Maria, and asked names, ages, place of residence, etc., for the official relato. It had a Doomsday sound, and upset her horribly, but at last he was done, the Gendarme signed, and he went. Maria, it appeared, could now go.

However, she didn’t, remaining where she was, a huddled heap of purple at the foot of the dune, Diego sitting beside her. The sun dropped low, and people lined up for busses. Men approached Diego to engage his car, preferring the expense to a wait, but he said he wasn’t libre. Twilight came, and quite suddenly, dark, bringing a chill to the air. It wasn’t this, however, that emptied the beach of its revelers, but the food situation, for the Playa had no facilities, and people have to eat. Soon no one was there but the soft-drink lady, the Gendarmes, taking a last look around, and the lonely pair on the dune. A vendor offered tamales, and when Diego waved him off, his boy tried to be helpful. Why wait? he wanted to know. The sharks, which come in at night, would eat the body anyhow, so what point was there in hanging around?

“Out!” screamed Maria. “No!”

“Such talk!” said the soft-drink lady. “And to a mother! About sharks!”

“It’s a well-know fact,” said the boy.

“It’s horrible!”

“Why? He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Baffled at such irrationality, he went with his father, and the soft-drink lady had a try. Maria made no response, only staring at the sea, which had changed from its day-time color, of deep indigo, to a nighttime black shot with streaks of iridescent blue, and topped at the surf by bright white feathers rushing in. the Gendarme appeared from up the beach, and clumped on down, his eyes shooting around, possibly looking for drunks buried in the sand. At last Diego took her hand. “Maria,” he said, “it is time. You do Gil no good. You only do yourself harm.”

“And you harm, is that it?”

“I don’t complain, but it is time.”

“Then, I’ll come.”

“You’re a good girl,” said the soft-drink lady.

“I’ll take you home,” said Diego.

“Whatever you say.”

“We’ll have dinner somewhere first.”

She got up, dusted the sand off her hips, got a comb from her bag and began running it through her hair.

As she stood, refastening her silver barette, a wail came from the sea. “… What was that?” she asked sharply. “Did you hear something?”

“No,” said the soft-drink lady.

“Perhaps a gull,” said Diego.

“At night, a gull?” said Maria.

The wail repeated, so no one could fail to hear it, or pretend it was only a bird. It quavered, and with an unmistakable insistence, as though intended for those on the beach.

“It is Gil!” screamed Maria. “He is there! He is calling me! . . . Gil! I’m coming! Gil!”

She dashed once more at the sea, and this time it was Diego who caught her, bringing her back by main force. The soft-drink lady talked to her, but uselessly. The Gendarme came from down the beach, took in the situation, and told Maria if she didn’t stop her nonsense, he was putting her in his car, taking her to Matamoras, and locking her up for disorderly conduct. But as he started to say it all over again, to impress it on her mind, the wail came again, so even he was jolted, and stood irresolute, not knowing what to make of it.

Maria was beside herself, and as the wail kept up, seeming to come closer all the time, it was all Diego could do to hold her. Finally, motioning the Gendarme to take charge, he walked to one side, sad down, and took off his two-toned shoes. Then, stuffing his stockings into them and laying his hat on top of them, he marched down to the surf. “What are you doing?” asked the Gendarme.

“What do you think?” said Diego.

“You’re crazy.”

“If this keeps up,” Diego told him “we’ll all be crazy and that girl will be dead. She’s going after that boy, and something’s got to be done. I don’t know who that is, but if you’ll kindly hand on to her, I mean to find out.”

“Suppose it’s not a who?”

“All right then, it’s a what.”

“You may find out more than you expect.”

“At least, we’ll know.”

He faced the sea, closed his eyes in prayer, and went in. He took a comber sidewise, then straightened out and started to swim. He confessed later to a horrible fear, as it seemed to him the wail was from the other world and suggested death. He reached the spot where it seemed to come from, then was started to hear it behind him. With a sense of being cut off, he pulled his feet up, reversed direction, and started back. Then, in horror, he saw a fin and remembered the sharks. He panicked, digging for shore. Then red trucks flashed at his eyes, and Gil rose in front of him. He rose clear out of the sea, moaning as Diego insisted later, and landed plop in his arms. In utter terror by now, afraid to hold on, for fear the shark would close in, ashamed to let go, he did nothing but thresh with his feet and beat around with one free arm. But the roll of the waves was with him, and in a few moments he made it, Gill still on his shoulder. As he staggered out on the sand, Maria grabbed the boy, the soft-drink woman gabbed her, and the Gendarme grabbed Diego, thumping him on the back for his bravery, and blowing his whistle for help.

Exhausted, Diego collapsed, but revived and yelled to them all: “Work on him—give him artificial respiration! He’s alive! He spoke to me! He spoke and leaped out of the sea!”

“He’s dead,” said the soft-drink lady.

“He’s cold, so cold,” said Maria.

“Thus the tale,” said my friend, the pilot at the Brazos Santiago station, a few miles north of Playa Washington, “as I heard it around Matamoras.”

“I admit it’s spooky,” I said, “and as a feat of derring-do, quite romantic. Only trouble is, I don’t believe it.”

“I do,” he said. “That’s the difference.”

“Captain, you surprise me.”

“Maybe, but I think it’s true.”

“Shark and all?”

“Wasn’t a shark, but sharks figure in it.”

“What was it, then?”

“Porpoise.”

“And the wail, what about that?”

“That was a porpoise too.”

“Bringing the boy in to Mamma?”

“That’s just about it.”

He said, looking at the thing from the point of view of the porpoises, they were probably delighted when Gil swam out where they were, as “they love to play and love little boys. That statue they put in the picture, of a boy riding a dolphin, was not far-fetched. It has happened in the aquariums, as those things aren’t fish. They’re animals. And when Gil began to sink, their idea was, get him up to the surface again, get him breathing. So they handled him just like one of their own pups. They began bumping him up to the surface, and when the boy on the raft said they were fighting him off, he probably was telling the truth. But of course it didn’t work, and then night came on and changed the whole picture.”

“In what way, Captain?”

“The sharks.”

“Then they do come in at night?”

“Or, like most fish, they begin to bite at night.”

“So they’re more dangerous.”

“As anyone who knows them will tell you.”

“And what then?

“The porpoises began bringing him in.”

“Bumping him with their noses?”

“Exactly that.”

“To Maria?”

“I wouldn’t put it past them.”

He said the interest animals take in people is more than is commonly realized. “And in the case of porpoises,” he went on, “they talk. I’ve heard them many a time, standing watch on deck, as they swim along with the ship, especially at night. But I’m telling you, I don’t know as we sit here if they talk to themselves, each other, or me. Maybe they’re just breathing, but maybe it’s something more, and they were calling Maria that night, bringing her little boy in, saving him from the sharks. They can handle a shark—they bump him too, and hard, right in the gills, and as they bump they bite, tearing his gill feathers out. But they can’t handle all sharks all night. So they did what they could in their way. But she interested me more than they did.”

“Maria? In what way, Captain?”

“As the eternal soldadera.”

“The soldier’s girl?”

“A muchacha who must have a hero.”

“First little Gil—?”

“And then big Diego. Kind of nice.”

He told me the rest of the story, how the Gendarme, with the cuerpo recovered all the difficult questions settled, outdid himself to make things easy for her. He paced the way, in the patrol car, up to Matamoras, while she followed with Diego holding the little cold body to her warm one. He routed the undertaker out, made all the arrangements for the inquest next day, the services, and burial. He had everything fixed up in a few minutes, so when she walked out, the band was just ending its concert, in the Plaza de Hidalgo, for the same people as had been at the beach, now all dressed up for the evening.

As she sat on a bench with Diego, she felt his clothes, which were wet, clucking with concern. But he motioned toward the band. It was playing Estrellita, and suddenly she started to weep. “For you,” he said, taking her hand and drawing it through his arm. “The play to your Little Star.”

“Yes, my little Gil.”

“If I had only gone sooner!” Diego exclaimed.

“You did your best. You are now …”

She caught herself, then half defiantly, as he waited, went on: “… my Big Star. My brave one.”

“You want me, then?”

“Diego, I do …”

“And so,” said the pilot, “she lost someone, and gained someone. They’re married now, and as I hear, quite happy. Neither of them, probably, have any idea of the true explanation of what happened, but neither of them are wrong as to the amount of bravery involved. Because, my friend, would you have answered that call, in that sea, on that night? I wouldn’t, but he did.”

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Wed Aug 10, 2016 6:53 pm
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Colonel Kurz wrote:
I'm curious for how the slow spiralling out of control will be conveyed. Somehow I feel the movie will be less funny than the book, because some things just tend to hit harder visually and less ironic.
Beau wrote:
Yeah, matching the tone's gonna be tough. There's a recurring layer of absurdity covering everything in the novel and I'm worried that the movie will dilute that layer with generous helpings of dystopian seriousness. This isn't Blade Runner. It's more like DeLillo's White Noise.

That said, the imagery I saw in the trailer, whether or not it matches the book's tone, is nevertheless powerful stuff. It made me want to read the source text, after all.

Now that I've seen the movie, I wonder what you guys thought. It needs to be seen a second time, I think, since there's so much going on, so quickly. (And I read the book!) I wasn't as disappointed as I expected to be that the "slow spiralling" was sacrificed. It's cleverly written (and scored), especially considering all the internal monologues and backstory they had to work with. Thought Laing's prank/guilt was an interesting addition, making him an active participant in the social unrest and giving his bizarre behavior some motivation. Except, wasn't the lack motivation the point? Yeah, still haven't made up my mind, haha.

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Fri Aug 26, 2016 3:34 am
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I haven't seen it, nor any of Wheatley's work, so this is silly, but I'm a Ballard fan and the reservations here and elsewhere only exacerbate my frustration at Vincenzo Natali's version coming to naught, especially after his truly excellent work on Hannibal, in which he practically redefines "slow spiralling" for television. I mean, great that he got American Gods but he needs another feature...


Mon Sep 05, 2016 8:54 am
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If On a Winter's Night a Traveler | Italo Calvino | 1979 | 260 pages

This book is a prism that reflects itself endlessly inward and endlessly outward. At times, it gives the illusion of containing everything; it's a book about possibility, after all. The most prominent themes are reading, writing, and their reciprocity -- and Calvino does his best to exhaust those themes by exploring every possible permutation of thought -- but he also touches upon critical theory, contemporary literature, love, desire, world politics, publishing, existential philosophy, linguistics, the fundamentals of thought, and the nature of truth. His tone, while always playful, oscillates between the lyrical and the satirical. Its formal structure is so precise you can almost visualize the geometry of it, and in the end, its parallel lines converge, as in a vanishing point.

Reading it felt especially pertinent now, since I'm currently reading The Arabian Nights (which it both resembles and alludes to) and just wrote a short piece about the physicality of books.

One of the most charming and intelligent books I've had the pleasure of reading recently.

Italo Calvino wrote:
What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.

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Mon Sep 05, 2016 3:09 pm
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Winesburg, Ohio | Sherwood Anderson | 1919 | 247 pages

While I read some Anderson stories in high school English (including "Paper Pills", from this book), I've wanted to read more of his work due to his association with the bohemian art community that cropped up in the French Quarter in the 1920s. He hosted salons at his apartment in the Upper Pontalba building in Jackson Square, bringing together folks like Gertrude Stein, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, Carl Sandburg, Caroline Durieux, and William Spratling. (Faulkner and Spratling collaborated on a small-publication satirical pamphlet called "Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles", an ambitious inside joke.)

Anyway, I'm glad I did. The stories contained in here, which weave loosely into a general portrait of the town's inhabitants, are full of loneliness, alienation, sexual frustration, and all the repressed agony of life and possibility passing you by -- barriers that are occasionally broken down by moments of piercing emotional clarity. The subject matter sometimes veers toward sentimentality, but Anderson handles his sentiment deftly, either undermining it with irony or fueling it with painful sincerity. The work as a whole recalls other great works about the hidden emotional lives of people in small towns, like Spoon River Anthology, Our Town, and Under Milk Wood, and the following excerpt sounds like something out of Wisconsin Death Trip:

Quote:
People from the part of Northern Ohio in which Winesburg lies will remember old Windpeter by his unusual and tragic death. He got drunk one evening in town and started to drive home to Unionville along the railroad tracks. Henry Brattenburg, the butcher, who lived out that way, stopped him at the edge of the town and told him he was sure to meet the down train but Windpeter slashed at him with his whip and drove on. When the train struck and killed him and his two horses a farmer and his wife who were driving home along a nearby road saw the accident. They said that old Windpeter stood up on the seat of his wagon, raving and swearing at the onrushing locomotive, and that he fairly screamed with delight when the team, maddened by his incessant slashing at them, rushed straight ahead to certain death. Boys like young George Willard and Seth Richmond will remember the incident quite vividly because, although everyone in our town said that the old man would go straight to hell and that the community was better off without him, they had a secret conviction that he knew what he was doing and admired his foolish courage. Most boys have seasons of wishing they could die gloriously instead of just being grocery clerks and going on with their humdrum lives.

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Wed Oct 12, 2016 1:39 pm
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Whoa, this book.

Quote:
He had brought with him a dime novel, one of the Chums of Chance series, The Chums of Chance at the Ends of the Earth, and for a while each night he sat in the firelight and read to himself but soon found he was reading out loud to his father's corpse, like a bedtime story, something to ease Webb’s passage into the dreamland of this death.

Reef had had the book for years. He'd come across it, already dog-eared, scribbled in, torn and stained from a number of sources, including blood, while languishing in the county lockup at Socorro, New Mexico, on a charge of running a game of chance without a license. The cover showed an athletic young man (it seemed to be the fearless Lindsay Noseworth) hanging off a ballast line of an ascending airship of futuristic design, trading shots with a bestially rendered gang of Eskimos below. Reef began to read, and soon, whatever "soon" meant, became aware that he was reading in the dark, lights-out having occurred sometime, near as he could tell, between the North Cape and Franz-Josef Land. As soon as he noticed the absence of light, of course, he could no longer see to read and, reluctantly, having marked his place, turned in for the night without considering any of this too odd. For the next couple of days he enjoyed a sort of dual existence, both in Socorro and at the Pole. Cellmates came and went, the Sheriff looked in from time to time, perplexed.

At odd moments, now, he found himself looking at the sky, as if trying to locate somewhere in it the great airship. As if those boys might be agents of a kind of extrahuman justice, who could shepherd Webb through whatever waited for him, even pass on to Reef wise advice, though he might not always be able to make sense of it. And sometimes in the sky, when the light was funny enough, he thought he saw something familiar. Never lasting more than a couple of watch ticks, but persistent. "It's them, Pa," he nodded back over his shoulder. "They're watching us, all right. And tonight I'll read you some more of that story. You'll see."

Riding out of Cortez in the morning, he checked the high end of the sleeping Ute and saw cloud on the peak. "Be rainin later in the day, Pa."

"Is that Reef” Where am I? Reef, I don’t know where the hell I am—"

"Steady Pa. We're outside of Cortez, headin up to Telluride, be there pretty soon—"

"No, That's not where this is. Everthin is unhitched. Nothin stays the same. Somethin has happened to my eyes. . . ."

"It's O.K."

"Hell it is."

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Sun Nov 06, 2016 12:37 am
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Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer | Steven Millhauser | 1996 | 293 pages

A story that seems, at first, conventional: a young boy in old New York City follows his dreams and goes from working in his father's modest cigar shop to building his own restaurants and hotels. Like something out of Dreiser or Wharton. But from the start it sets itself apart with subtle peculiarities, and this undercurrent steadily builds steam until it erupts at the end into a conceit so modern and bold that, even though Millhauser has foreshadowed its approach, it still has the capacity to delight and startle us.

Dressler, as the narrator, seems in perpetual awe of the world around him, an appreciation attuned to even the finest details. The subtitle calls him "an American Dreamer", and while this alludes to his ambition, he is also a dreamer in a more poetic sense, and in this way he feels like a vessel for the author, as if Millhauser had situated himself in the New York of the late 1800s specifically to marvel at it, to absorb the singularity of the city at the advent of its 20th century boom. He revels in period details, and many, many passages are dedicated to savoring those details: the intricate interiors of hotel lobbies, the awnings of shops on his childhood street, the interplay of light and shadow under the El. At these times the narrative fades into the background and the book feels like a poetic catalog of time and place -- like an esoteric historian trying to preserve all the tiny, incidental details of life. Remarkably, these passages never feel dull, but often possess more vigor than its (initially) routine rags-to-riches story.

It’s also fascinating to see Millhauser’s preoccupations -- with almost-impossible buildings and an almost-magical sense of the world -- manifest in a realistic, period setting. It takes the high-flying fancy of his short stories like "The Barnum Museum" and posits it at the turn of the century, where life was very real but where anything seemed possible. It merges those contrary impulses beautifully.

These preoccupations become more explicit near the end, as the novel builds momentum and makes a gradual yet daring shift from period piece about an ambitious but dreamy young man to full-throttled immersion in his dream-world. He takes the explosive growth and innovation of fin de siècle New York City to its logical extreme. That Millhauser makes this transition natural (if not exactly plausible) speaks to his deft use of pacing and to the more subdued fantasies of the first half. From the Dressler to the New Dressler to the Grand Cosmo, we come closer and closer to Millhauser’s Barnum Museum: the place that represents pure dream, pure desire, pure possibility; the building of inexhaustible variations, of unfettered imagination; the Grand Attempt, like Ulysses or The Magellan Cycle, that in its hubris strives to contain everything, to be a simulacrum of the entire world. It calls to mind, in its boldness and thematic complexity, the yearning wistful tone of The Moviegoer, the infinite regress in the stories of Borges and Calvino, the success and solitude of Citizen Kane, the all-inclusive performance in Synecdoche, New York.

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Wed Dec 21, 2016 8:11 am
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Macrology wrote:
It calls to mind, in its boldness and thematic complexity, the yearning wistful tone of The Moviegoer, the infinite regress in the stories of Borges and Calvino, the success and solitude of Citizen Kane, the all-inclusive performance in Synecdoche, New York.
Mac, you always know exactly how to sell me things. Percy, Borges, Synecdoche? Yep, I ordered this from my library just now.

Also, Beau, if you're lurking, I read American Pastoral (which you sold me here). Loved how the structure imbued it with suspense, while taking it's time with context, and ending with the pivotal moment he describes as 'outside of time." Sort of like a less frustrating Infinite Jest, if that makes sense. Anyway, it's masterful.

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Wed Dec 21, 2016 3:38 pm
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Things I read in 2016:

The Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein
On Certainty, Wittgenstein (Loved his language games, but the other stuff more-or-less defeated me.)
Hotel du Lac, Brookner
The Plot Against America, Roth
American Pastoral, Roth (Didn't think much of my first Roth, so it's a good thing I read the second!)
At Swim-Two-Birds, O’Brien
The Third Policeman, O’Brien (First one is just so perfect. The games in the second got a little tiresome.)
The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye, Lethem
How We Became Insipid, Lethem
High-Rise, Ballard (Liked the movie, but this was better.)
The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov
The Quick and the Dead, Williams (Everyone needs to read Joy Williams. She's amazing!)
The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon
Vineland, Pynchon
Against the Day, Pynchon (Saved the best for last!)

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Wed Dec 21, 2016 10:30 pm
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American Pastoral is outrageously good. (In fact I may have also read it this year. Possibly late last year. I keep a reading log in chronological order but I don't date anything.)

And your list reminds me of the fact that I really need to read Flann O'Brien, Pynchon, and The Master and Margarita.

A cross-section of my 2016 reading (it's been a good year, as far as that goes):

The Invention of Morel, Casares
House of the Sleeping Beauties, Kawabata
Giovanni's Room, Baldwin
Life on the Mississippi, Twain
Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories, Carter
The Assistant, Malamud
A Dreambook for our Time, Konwicki
The Barnum Museum, Millhauser
Summer Blonde, Tomine
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, Calvino
Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Jackson
We, the Drowned, Jensen
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Dick

While it's not one of the books I wrote about in this thread, We Have Always Lived in the Castle was one of the best reads of the year. Its tone and pace are pitch perfect, and the dark heart of the story is sweetened with the myriad details of Merricat's enchanting illusions.

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Thu Dec 22, 2016 7:34 am
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Macrology wrote:
While it's not one of the books I wrote about in this thread, We Have Always Lived in the Castle was one of the best reads of the year. Its tone and pace are pitch perfect, and the dark heart of the story is sweetened with the myriad details of Merricat's enchanting illusions.
Ooh, another one ordered. :)

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Thu Dec 22, 2016 12:57 pm
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Today's Everyman haul:

Image

Image

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Fri Dec 23, 2016 7:32 am
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In Love | Alfred Hayes | 1953 | 130 pages

I'm convinced that everything the New York Review of Books publishes is solid gold.

This book is essentially an extended monologue, a man describing in detail a failed love affair with devastating acuity, interweaving layers of heartache and self-deception and miscommunication and even existential despair with subtle finesse and an air of noirish cynicism. Despite its languorous, meandering narration, the book is trim and tightly drawn. Nothing feels superfluous. Reading the book is like hearing, in the space of one breath, all the anguish and remorse in a brokenhearted sigh.

Most impressive is Hayes's writing. A largely forgotten figure, he wrote mostly for film and television, including The Twilight Zone, Bicycle Thieves, and Rossellini's Paisan. But his prose here is of an entirely different tone, a sensibility both delicate and hardened to suffering, and Hayes blends those contrary qualities with the conviction of someone who has felt how alike they are.

Quoting is a dangerous game, because virtually every passage of this book is quotable, but here's one taken almost at random:

Alfred Hayes wrote:
She looked out the window of the cab then at the falling and spinning snowflakes, and the dark store fronts, securely bolted against the night, and she said (it was the only phrase I, too, remembered, there were so many other things I had forgotten but the little truncated phrase I remembered) isn't it beautiful sometimes, and I asked her what was beautiful sometimes, and she said: The snow, and everything.
So that there must have been, for her, a momentary pang of something lovely, something that the hush of whiteness and the somnolent heat of the cab gave her. Perhaps it was the anticipation, that moment sustained by the drive home, when one is in a taxi with a stranger who is about to be transfigured into a lover, and there is an interval, as in music, when the chord of desire has been struck, and the chord of the fulfillment of desire hasn't; when everything remains suspended and anticipatory, and the snow falls through the air of a city whose ugliness is temporarily obscured, and the cab itself seems to exist inside a magical circle of quiet heat and togetherness and motion; and, I suppose, for that moment, it is beautiful: the snow, and everything.

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Thu Dec 29, 2016 5:44 am
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NYRB is a goldmine of good books, to be honest. I got In The Cafe of Lost Youth from their import for christmas this year, and I'm yet to buy a bad book from that list.


Thu Dec 29, 2016 7:48 am
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Das wrote:
NYRB is a goldmine of good books, to be honest. I got In The Cafe of Lost Youth from their import for christmas this year, and I'm yet to buy a bad book from that list.


That's another one of the books I bought! I picked up five at a used book store recently, including those two and The Letter Killers Club, Stoner, and Zama.

I almost bought more but I had to practice some sense of moderation.

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Thu Dec 29, 2016 8:23 am
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Wait, Zama's out in English?

Just in time for the Martel adaptation. What a book!


Thu Dec 29, 2016 9:25 am
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Just read Pnin and loved it. I prefer it to Lolita, the only other Nabokov I've read (aside from some stories).

I recall Maiden and char and some others discussing it a while back. I love the tone of the narrator, especially the subtle oscillations between mockery and compassion (and the overall tone shifting from the former to the latter as the narrative progresses). And that final chapter, which doesn't make the narrator "unreliable" per se -- in the usual sense, which implies deliberate deception -- but certainly undermines his authority. I also don't mind the episodic structure, which suits the style of the book and reinforces its picaresque qualities.

The book is also a wonderfully unassuming demonstration of comedy as a means of evoking empathy. When it's funny, it's very funny, yet Pnin's comic attributes sometimes sublimate into pathos. Like his clumsiness when he's washing the dishes, which leads to the most beautiful scene in the book and a banal miracle made no less miraculous by its banality.

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Thu Feb 09, 2017 6:19 am
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Macrology wrote:
The book is also a wonderfully unassuming demonstration of comedy as a means of evoking empathy. When it's funny, it's very funny, yet Pnin's comic attributes sometimes sublimate into pathos. Like his clumsiness when he's washing the dishes, which leads to the most beautiful scene in the book and a banal miracle made no less miraculous by its banality.
Love Pnin! And, yes – the comedy is the means, not a distraction. (Very Kaurismäki-like, don't you think?) So easy to see things here as condescension or parody. As one article puts it, "in many ways his novels are traps for inattentive readers." Some really great thoughts on the novel at that link!

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Thu Feb 09, 2017 8:47 am
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Oh, and while you're here, I read and enjoyed Martin Dressler and the Shirley Jackson you recommended above. Millhauser is a quite a talent, isn't he? I need to check out his other stuff!!

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Thu Feb 09, 2017 8:54 am
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The Kaurismäki comparison is apt. I'd add some other filmmakers to that list as well. Buster Keaton. Don Hertzfeldt. Ernest Lubitsch. Maybe Pierre Etaix. LOTS of Czechs: Jiri Menzel, Ivan Passer, Milos Forman. (Any others comes to mind?)

Thanks for sharing that article, it's wonderfully thorough. I like how much attention it pays to the recurring motif of squirrels, although it fails to mention that the name of Pnin's Jewish sweetheart, Mira Belochkin, puns with the Russian diminutive for squirrel, belochka. A lovely and subdued evocation of her enduring impact on his life.

I'm glad you enjoyed Martin Dressler and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. The narrator in Jackson's novel is just so pitch-perfect: perhaps the most seductively whimsical rendition of violent mental illness I've seen in literature, yet handled with such a deft touch that it always feels convincing and earned.

The only other Millhauser I've read is his short story collection The Barnum Museum, which is a mixed bag but mostly good, with at least two or three exceptional stories: "The Barnum Museum", "The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad", and "Eisenheim the Illusionist".

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n. 1. Long and tedious talk without much substance; superfluity of words.


Thu Feb 09, 2017 6:36 pm
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Macrology wrote:
I like how much attention it pays to the recurring motif of squirrels, although it fails to mention that the name of Pnin's Jewish sweetheart, Mira Belochkin, puns with the Russian diminutive for squirrel, belochka. A lovely and subdued evocation of her enduring impact on his life.
Wow, nice catch! And I read that whole novel without noticing the squirrels. :-/

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Wonder Woman ▪ The Running Man ▪ Mohabbatein ▪ Veer-Zaara ▪ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ▪ Pierrot le fou ▪ Highway ▪ Leningrad Cowboys Go America ▪ Band Baaja Baaraat ▪ Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi ▪ Jab We Met

Voyage | Female Gaze | MACBETH | Sokurov | Fassbinder | Greenaway | Denis | Book Shelf


Mon Feb 13, 2017 11:17 am
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