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If we do not say all words, however absurd, we will never say the essential words.

José Saramago

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Thursday, December 31st, 2009

🦋 Rollover

The first ten years beginning with the numeral "2" have gone by us! Tomorrow will open the first- ever Anno Domini with the initial digits "201".* I hope this year has treated you well and that the coming one will only be better. Happy New Year, Onwards, Excelsior!

* (This is carefully phrased in an attempt to be accurate but is in fact wrong.)

posted evening of December 31st, 2009: Respond

🦋 Reading List

And, well: here are the books I want to read in 2010. Many of these are left over from 2009's list... The deal is the same as before, I'll be adding to this list as the year goes along; if you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments.

(Actually the list is now books I plan to be reading in 2011. For the books that were on this list that I read in 2010 and removed from the list, see A Year of Reading.)

The List

Novels and stories

  • The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov
  • City of God by Paolo Lins
  • The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk, in Güneli Gün's translation.
  • 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
  • The Promised Land by Karel Shoeman
  • Die Blendung by Elias Canetti
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
  • Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace
  • The Fat Man and Infinity by António Lobo Antunes
  • A Wild Ride Through the Night by Walter Moers
  • The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar
  • Shining at the Bottom of the Sea by Stephen Marche
  • The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
  • Dusklands by J.M. Coetzee
  • Letter from an Unknown Woman by Stefan Zweig
  • Casi un Objeto by José Saramago
  • Sobre heroes y tumbas by Ernesto Sábato
  • Temple of the Iconoclasts by J.R. Wilcock
  • El desierto by Carlos Franz
  • Where Once Was Paradise by Carlos Franz
  • The Art of Resurrection by Hernán Rivera Letelier
  • Santa María de las flores negras by HRL
  • How it is by Beckett
  • The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale


  • Cultural Amnesia by Clive James
  • Borges in/and/on Film by J.L. Borges
  • Cuadernos de Lanzarote by José Saramago
  • The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
  • The Hunter Gracchus by Guy Davenport
  • Stranger Shores by J.M. Coetzee
  • Reality Hunger: a manifesto by David Shields
  • Space, Time, and Motion: A Philosophical Introduction by Wesley C. Salmon
  • From the Ashen Land of the Virgin by Raul Gálvez
  • Returning to Iran by Sima Nahan
  • Salt in the Sand: Memory, Violence, and the Nation by Lessie Jo Frazier
  • Desert Memories by Ariel Dorfman
  • Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness by various authors, ed. Marcel Kuijsten
  • The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Nørretranders
  • Of Two Minds: Poets who hear voices by Judith Weisman
  • Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson


  • Paradise Lost by Milton (or, well, probably not actually.)
  • Works and Days by Hesiod
  • Theogony by Hesiod
  • Martín Fierro by José Hernández
  • Altazor by Vicente Huidobro
  • Spring and All by William Carlos Williams

posted evening of December 31st, 2009: 8 responses
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🦋 A Year of Reading

Well: the theme this year has been the Spanish language, the literature of Iberia and of Latin America. I started out the year reading Borges oral and (the beginning of) Cien años de soledad, and translating the Spanish translation of Saramago's blog, and thinking it's kind of funny that my interest in Spanish should have ultimately been piqued by a Portuguese author. Over the year I've gotten much more comfortable with the language and am just finding it a whole lot of fun to be reading and understanding a language which is not English.

Maybe it's connected that I've gotten a whole lot more interested in poetry this year than I ever have been in the past, principally in Spanish-language poetry; at the beginning of the year I was reading Pablo Neruda and García Lorca, then I picked up Romantic Dogs, also I spent some time on Ferlinghetti; and just recently I've been spending time with some Spanish and South American poets whom I have not been writing about yet. Not quite sure what it is, but somehow the distance between me and the text imposed by the foreign language seems to make it easier to appreciate the sound of the poetry and to look for the imagery being communicated.

This is also the year Sylvia lost interest in having me read her bedtime stories -- early in the year we read The Subtle Knife and The Hobbit (which led to me reading Lord of the Rings on my own and reliving my juvenile frustration with it); after that she was done with the bedtime story ritual. Growing up!

My favorite books this year: Elizabeth Costello, Balthazar and Blimunda and The History of the Siege of Lisbon (which together gave me an entirely new picture of Saramago and which have me waiting on pins and needles for The Elephant's Journey), Museum of Innocence, and late entrant The Savage Detectives, which is making me want to read more Bolaño soon.

posted evening of December 31st, 2009: Respond
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🦋 Shanghai Love Motel

They have a new website and a new record! Buy it, listen to it, share it with your friends -- this is honest music.

posted afternoon of December 31st, 2009: Respond
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Saturday, December 26th, 2009

🦋 The real story and the told story

It's 1976 and the revolution has been defeated
but we've yet to find out.
We are 22, 23 years old.
Mario Santiago and I walk down a black and white street.
At the end of the street, in a neighborhood straight out of a fifties film, sits the house of Darío Galicia's parents.
It's the year 1976 and they've trepanned Darío Galicia's skull.
Another thing I spent a lot of mental energy on while reading The Savage Detectives, was on wondering how closely the events being narrated corresponded to actual events in the lives of Bolaño and his crowd. For example the poem "Visit to the Convalescent" from The Romantic Dogs narrates a visit Roberto and Mario Santiago make to the house of their friend, Darío Galicia, after he has surgery for an aneurysm. It reads like memoir, like something that really happened... In The Savage Detectives, Angélica Font tells the story of Ernesto San Epiphanio's convalescence and eventual death following his brain surgery at the end of 1977, by which time Arturo is in Barcelona and Ulises either in Europe or Israel, I'm not sure which, but in no position to visit Ernesto. So as I'm reading I'm wondering what changes have been made and what the reasoning is... Is Ernesto's character based on Darío? Or is Bolaño just using an event from Darío's life to tell a story that is much more about Angélica than about Ernesto, a relatively minor character? From poking around with Google it's clear that much of the broad framework of the story is true to life -- it would be interesting to learn where the story diverges from life.

posted afternoon of December 26th, 2009: Respond
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Friday, December 25th, 2009

🦋 The invisible interviewer

...So instead of writing that futile piece this week, I spent my time absorbed in reading The Savage Detectives. Lots to say about it! One thing I was wondering about pretty constantly was, who is the documentarian who is compiling the narratives that make up the middle portion of the book? It can't really be Belano or Lima for various reasons. It would be nice if it were García Madero, but that does not seem plausible either. (It is interesting to notice that García Madero is almost entirely absent from this middle section -- the only time his name is mentioned is by the Mexican professor who's publishing a book about the Visceral Realists, to say that he does not recognize the name. But who is he talking to?) One way to look at this middle section which does not require the presence of an archivist, is as a collection of short stories -- many of the narratives stand up on their own as short stories, and the linking, interweaving threads shared between them serve to draw the reader through the collection.

posted evening of December 25th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Roberto Bolaño

🦋 Not gonna happen

For a few months now I have had fixed in mind that I wanted to write a critical essay on Museum of Innocence with reference to Snow, examining (in a nutshell) Kemal's love for Füsun as a displacement of his desire to be authentically Turkish, a reaction to his feelings of alienation. But frankly I think writing this piece would take critical, sociological and psychological chops that I do not have -- every time I have started all I have come up with is a condemnation of Kemal for acting in bad faith -- which is not what I was aiming for. So, I'm going to move on from this, try and find something else to think about...

It is worth noting -- I didn't blog the end of the novel partly out of wanting to avoid spoilers, partly out of wanting to save material for the essay I was going to write -- that the last 50 pages of the book were just fantastically good reading. All through the book I felt conflicted about not liking Kemal, wondered if it was even worth reading with such a jerk for a narrator; but the end of the book took away any doubts I had been feeling about whether this is a great novel.

posted evening of December 25th, 2009: 2 responses
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🦋 Merry Christmas!

We spent a fun, warm week in Florida with Sybil and Barry and Harry, riding bikes and walking on the beach and watching birds. Hope your week was good and your Christmas day (if you observe the day) cheerful -- happy Day before Boxing Day!

posted evening of December 25th, 2009: 1 response
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Sunday, December 20th, 2009

🦋 Signing off (and soup!)

Off for the winter break -- I'll be visiting the Painter of Blue in a far warmer clime than my own, for a week. So no blog activity for a few days -- I'm trying to stay off the computer while down there and work on writing a piece about Museum of Innocence and Snow. I haven't been particularly active on weekdays anyway for a while, so there won't be that much difference; but this gives me an opportunity to share a soup recipe that I cooked for Ellen and myself tonight.

We've been in a pattern lately of cooking a large pot of soup on the weekends and then keeping it in the fridge for a couple of days and warming up leftovers for lunches and dinners... Clearly that is no good today, when we're going away. So here is a soup that serves two people without being too little or too much -- I'm pretty happy about having reckoned the quantities accurately. It is a lovely cold-weather soup, and vegetarian if you do not use chicken stock; adapted pretty freely from a larger recipe in Barbara Kafka's Soup: a Way of Life.

Pasta Fajul for 2

  • 1 small yellow onion diced
  • 2 ribs celery diced
  • ½ cup canned tomato purée
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste
  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 small carrots, cut into chunks
  • a handful of pasta -- penne or ziti is good, or whatever you like.
  • ¼ c. parsley chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped fine
In a medium skillet, sauté onion and celery for a few minutes with a sprinkle of salt. Add tomatoes and tomato paste; cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 min.

In a saucepan, bring stock, beans, carrots and tomato mixture to a slow boil. Mix in pasta and cook until noodles are soft, about 10 minutes. You need to stir it every minute or two, so the bottom does not scorch. Add parsley and garlic, cook a minute longer and serve.

See you after Christmas! I am planning out my reading list post for the end of 2009.

posted evening of December 20th, 2009: 3 responses
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🦋 Who's who? -- the Visceral Realists

I'm wondering how many of the characters in The Savage Detectives are real people from Bolaño's cohort in D.F. in the mid-70's. According to, Ulises Lima is based on Mexican poet Mario Santiago Papasquiaro*; clearly Arturo Belano is Bolaño himself. I am assuming García Madero is made-up, and that the Font family must be based at least loosely on real people. The rest of the Visceral Realists must be a mix of real poets and inventions...

* Oops, and Papasquiaro is itself a pen name, just as Ulises Lima is; the poet's actual name is José Alfredo Zendejas Pineda -- that Wiki page also lists a number of other poets who are presumably represented in The Savage Detectives.

posted morning of December 20th, 2009: Respond

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