Glimpses of Other Realities

Wish her safe at home, Stephen Benatar, NYRB Classics, 280 pp.
The door, Magda Szabo, NYRB Classics, 288 pp.
A Legacy, Sybille Bedford, NYRB Classics, 384 pp.
Onward and upward in the garden, Katherine White, NYRB Classics, 392 pp.

NYRB Classics bookclub selection, first trimester 2015.

It is undeniable that one of the greatest pleasures (and puzzles) one can have reading literature is to be able to peak into different lives. Even since the first novels, the reader has been asked to change his point of view. If we want to make the reading experience as rewarding as possible, it may seem that this new point of view should be very different from our life.  However, the balance is delicate, since it cannot be completely alien. There still should be something related to us in order to keep us interested.   Continue reading Glimpses of Other Realities

To criticize from above

It may have been because I arrived later than last time or because one of the speakers of the day was going to be Noam Chomsky, but when I entered the library, the auditorium was already packed with young people with “hipster-ish” attire.  I do not cross hipster’s paths frequently and that is why I am looking for a reason why we converged there this time.  I was not there to hear Chomsky talk.  I made my mind about him some time ago.  He is a very intelligent scholar, with impressive feats in his linguistics research.  However, he also has a tendency to make public comments about things he really does not know much about.  That was what I gloomily expected from the night, immerse between his fanboys.

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The pursue of an enlightened isolation

On my way from New Jersey to midtown Manhattan I might have heard at least four or five different languages.  Having lived all my life (up to three months ago) on monolingual societies, it can be a little unnerving to overhear a conversation without being able to understand all the words spoken.  This feeling can be bad enough if the language is totally different, such as the Japanese or Korean I am sure I heard, since it is difficult even to differentiate the sounds that form the language.  On the contrary, with Italian, which is much closer to my native Spanish, the sounds we hear are almost the same and the syntactical constructions are similar.  Yet the meaning of the sentence is elusive, and so, hearing without understanding can be more unsettling.

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Rebuilding the Squirrel’s blog

Writing a blog can be an arduous task, one in which I have not been particularly efficient or diligent lately.  Crónica Ardilla (the squirrel’s blog) started slowly and humbly.  The idea was to keep myself writing, mainly about books, but not just about them.  After a while, I started producing consistently a review for every book that I read, publishing between two and four posts per month.  It was not easy, but the results were usually rewarding, and I was writing extensively.  However, after a while, I stopped, unable to move on.

It sounds as if it was a good working process which I aborted because I am a slacker.  That may be part of the truth; however, there is another side to this story.  After more than a year of writing reviews, I was getting tired of writing the same single review once and again.  The books themselves were fairly different; and so, the content was different too.  But the structure of each post was very similar.  After doing this for a while, there are just so many quick ideas one can get around a new book.  I dreaded to be repeating myself (or to be falling into a confort zone).  It felt more as I was doing homework instead of undertaking the freeing personal activity it had been initially.

Also, I read much faster than I am able to write.  At least, if I want to write well.  So if I wanted to keep posting about all the books I was reading I would have used all my free time on reading and writing.  In principle there would be no problem with that, but in reality there are several other projects in the pipeline: essays to write, research to complete, video games to play and, much more important than all those, time to spend with friends and family.

However, the need to write, and so the need for the blog, is still there.  Because of that, the intention now is to keep adding new entries while modifying its scope.  The aim is to produce fewer posts, hopefully better written; to discuss several related books; and, from time to time, if there is really too much to say about a single book, to produce a review at length.  I will continue the bilingual experiment, trying to post both versions simultaneously.  There will be a natural imbalance here:  the blog in Spanish will have the natural, organic timeline in which the posts were written, while the blog in English will have the new posts mixed with the translations of the old ones (these will be flagged).

And, who knows, maybe now I will finally be able to fill the other initial purpose of the blog and start writing about some other themes, not (exclusively) related to books, reading and writing.  As usual in this editorial posts, thanks for reading!

The right to a miserable life

Unnatural Selection, Mara Hvistendahl, PublicAffairs, 333 pp.

Pulitzer Prize 2012 Finalist –  Non fiction.

The first time I heard about the “missing girls” problem that arises in some Asian countries and other developing nations was in the translation of Amartya Sen’s famous 1990 The New York Review of Books article.  To explain it in a crude and rushed way, there are many more males than females in some countries, millions more.  In the article, Sen claims female infanticide and cultural tendencies of woman mistreatment are the causes for the imbalance.  A few years later, in a special report by The Economist (I think it should have been 2008) I read for the first time about selective abortions as the probable cause, which the magazine named by the neologism gendercide.

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Books on my mailbox

My face for the world to see, Alfred Hayes, NYRB Classics, 152 pp.

The Human Comedy – Selected Stories, Honoré de Balzac (preface by Peter Brooks), NYRB Classics, 464 pp.

On Being Blue, William H. Gass, NYRB Classics, 112 pp.

New York Review Books Bookclub selection January-February 2014.

As if I did not had anything else to do, this year*  I decided to subscribe myself to the New York Review Books bookclub (the editing house associated to The New York Review of Books).  The main reason to suscribe was, of course, to have a continuous source of good books.  However, there is a complementary motive.  One of the aspects of school that I miss the most is to have to read books that I would hardly had chosen otherwise.  I have to admit that, in both terms, the subscription has been a success.

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The Lost Prize

Swamplandia!, Karen Russell, Vintage, 400 pp.

Train Dreams, Dennis Johnson, Picador, 116 pp.

Fiction Pulitzer Prize 2012 Finalists

In 2012, there were three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize on the fiction category: Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!, Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams, and The Pale King, the posthumous novel by the late David Foster Wallace.  When the jury announced the winners for all categories, the fiction prize was declared void.  The immediate question is: why? Is it really the case that none of the three books deserved the prize?

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A Ghost Story

The Pale King, David Foster Wallace, Back Bay Books, 592 pp.

Pulitzer Prize Fiction 2012 – Finalist
David Foster Wallace - The Pale KingWhile reading David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King I could not stop thinking that he is already dead.  The first of the reasons for thinking this, and the most immediate too, is that this posthumous novel is incomplete.  It is impossible to know how much we have of what he really had planned to write or even if the novel structure was completed.  We also ignore what direction the plot would eventually take.  It is complicated to be conscious while reading the book that the conclusion will be unknown, and that the plot in it will literally go nowhere.

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The Privilege of a point of view

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, Picador, 640 pp.

Winner – Booker Prize 2009

Is it posible to write anything original at all?  Everyone who has written or, at least, tried to write either a short story or a personal tale knows how difficult it can be.  And even when apparently succeeding, there is always someone who can find sources, influences or plain plagiarism (who knows, these have even won awards in hispanic literature) based on any text.

Some authors’ work is usually considered a primary source of inspiration for every aspiring writer: Homer, Shakespeare, Dante, Joyce, Poe, Rulfo…  but even they are not completely original.  It is possible to track the origin of the ideas that eventually coalesced into their work. So we can make an extreme question, how could we tell a story that everyone who could be interested in it already knows very well, to the last detail?

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Life as Fiction

Life of Pi, Yann Martel, Mariner, 326 pp.

Booker Prize 2002 Winner, personal selection.

How plausible would it be the story of a man that survives alone at sea, on a lifeboat, with a Bengal tiger?  Not too much, to speak with the truth.  Even without the tiger, how much could we believe the story of a youth who survived without survival training or navigation knowledge of any kind?  I think that one of the first things one would ask is how many days he spent on sea.  I am definitely no expert, but more than a month would surely surprise me.  Let us suppose now that we find him ashore (on the mexican Pacific ocean coast, furthermore) more than two hundred days after his shipwreck.  If we were confronted with both stories I guess that, at least for caution’s sake, it would be good to look for the tiger.

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