The OF Blog: July 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fractured prismic recollections

Woke up with a pressure headache early this morning, after sleeping only five hours (and before that, only 2.5 hours over nearly 36 hours).  Began a re-read of William S. Burroughs' My Education:  A Book of Dreams.  Reading led to strange recollections:

Memories of the dry August of 1983 (less than an inch of rain), spending an hour or two a day out in the nearly 100° temperature taking water from a faucet and taking the dusty dirt of the driveway and mixing it into a fine mud in which I would cover my GI Joe figurines, watching them dry and crack, desperately trying to figure out how to have a perfect coat that would have no cracks in them.

Frustrated, or perhaps just bored, I would scoop up more of the extremely dry dirt and toss it up, just to see a floating dust cloud.  Wanted more and larger clouds, but only so much could be done with my hands, plastic cups, or anything else I could place the dirt in for throwing.  Hours each month spent in such activities, trying to create some sort of novelty with which I could be amused.

Recollections of watching a candle flame for several minutes at a time.  Time dilating, stretching out toward infinity and yet compressed into a singular moment that lasted indefinitely.  The wavering, flickering flame, the intense heat about 3-4 inches above the flame.  Setting paper at that height, seeing it slowly brown and threaten to burst into flame.  Sticking fingers into the pooling molten wax, embracing the brief pain and the exquisite pleasure of the cooling wax creating impressions of my fingerprints, tugging at my skin, drawing it up as it cooled, until the mold had to be broken and the process repeated again.  Experiments with taking quartz or pennies and dropping them in, wanting to see if an amber-like clarity could be achieved if the wax were "clear" instead of dyed red or blue.  It didn't ever get old until I got old.

Snatches of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" float through my mind.  "I see the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked," and I recall the drifters, wanderers, and vagabonds of my college days.  I envied them their inability to stay rooted to any place or ideal.  The thought of ruts terrify me even now.  I don't believe in escapism but instead in the escape of destructive change.  Recalled dreams of colors representing change and emotion, no words spoken, no images moving, but instead flashing patterns of colors shifting and twisting and transmogrifying thoughts into something insubstantial yet no less "real" than the tactile pressure of fingers on keys. 

There's some quasi-mystical about this.  Time's dissolution and the warping of perspective until thoughts themselves collapse into an anti-liturgy of senses that refuse to collapse into discernible patterns.  Words here begin to lose their associations, falling finally back on phoneme recognition and then even consciousness has to flee away from the concrete and toward such a total abstraction that even feelings do not suffice to convey meanings that have unmoored themselves from the unsatisfactory tyranny of structured life.

In re-reading Burroughs, these come flooding back to me, forcing me to recall what I had suppressed, yet now I feel some eagerness to (re)claim this anarchy of sensation, to develop something more pleasing than the activities of my youth, something that might sustain the creation of a new narrative to take the place of the crumbling world around me.  Yet dreams transform upon self-consciousness; the conscience denies us full access to the maelstrom of sensations that boil and churn within us.  And even still, we reach out to shape it, to mold it, to cast it into a suitable form that then can be digested.  Such consumptions are not devoutly to be wished, however.  Time flies, reason falters.  What is left is perhaps the essence of ecstasy and mysticism.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Lists related to the announcement of the Booker Prize longlist

Now that the Booker Prize longlist has been released (I've only read Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being), there has already been some discussion regarding this list.  Here are some lists that could cover what someone might have derived from researching the longlist:

Lists of women on the longlist

Lists of nationalities within the Commonwealth

Lists of elderly people

Lists of new writers

Lists of those writers in the midst of a mid-life crisis

Lists of those who recently gave birth

Lists of those who wear scarves for their publicity photos

Lists of those who have snubbed "genre"

Lists of those who talk about writing a "genre" story

Lists of those who cite an online The Guardian article as their basis of judging the Booker longlist

Lists of the bald or balding

Lists of the hirsute

Lists of those whose recent familial loss spurred their writing

Lists of those whose drug habits fueled their creative energies

Lists of  Oxbridge graduates

Lists of monarchist writers

Lists of republican writers

Lists of cat owners

Lists of dog owners

Lists of the morbidly obese

Lists of the anorexic

Lists of those writers who overcome great odds, like being born into a bourgeois family

Lists of those writers most likely to have a hungover now after learning that their book was selected for consideration

Lists that summarize other lists

Lists that have nothing at all to do with the individual writers and everything to do with real and imagined enemies

Lists that speculate on which writers are secret Squirrelists

Hopefully these summaries of hypothetical (and real) lists might place the Booker Prize longlist in some perspective.  Pardon me while I try to purge my mind of any thought of lists, rankings, and sundry associations.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shakespearian musings from a third of a lifetime (13 years) ago

I was scrolling through some old, old writings that I composed primarily for the amusement of myself and my best friend from college when I came across this piece from ~2000 where I riffed off of Hamlet.  It is not a serious piece, but perhaps it'll reveal a different mindset, as this was written before I moved to Florida, before I changed careers, before a lot of other sobering life events.  Sometimes, silliness should be celebrated, so here goes:

To be or not to be, that is a silly question, 
since you have to be before you can not be. 
Who cares if it is nobler in the mind to suffer 
the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
because they still hurt (sticks and stones may 
break my bones...).  If you do decide to take 
arms, that will leave many people without their 
upper limbs. And why would you take their arms 
to a sea of troubles and by opposing (what, 
BTW, are you opposing?) end them.  Isn't this a 
waste of arms.  To die, to sleep, no 
more...what kind of nonsense is this?  Of 
course if you die, you don't sleep anymore, 
since that is what live people do.  Besides, 
how can any sleep end heartache and a thousand 
natural shocks that flesh is heir to?  Pretty 
damn impossible for a few hours of nap time to 
me...And why in hell is that a consummation 
devoutly to be wished?  I like sleep as much as 
most people, but really it is overrated...Then 
Bill gets freaky and tries to get jiggy withit. 
"To die, to sleep; to sleep, perchance to 
dream.  Ay, there's the rub, for in that sleep 
of death what dreams may come, when we have 
shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us 
pause."  Damn right it must give us pause to 
ponder this crap.  When I dream, I most 
definitively am not thinking about mortal coils 
(whatever those damn things might be...) and no 
dream is going to shuffle me off anywhere 
anytime soon...And how in hell does all of 
Bill's blather led to the respect that makes 
calamity of so long life.  Bill's mind is a 
terrible thing to waste.  I think he needs to 
take a chill pill, as the next paranoiac passage 
indicates:  "For who would bear the whips and 
scorns of time (is time a sadist here?), th' 
oppressor's wrong (bitter man), the proud man's 
contumely (a proud man's what?!?!?!?), the 
pangs of despised love (guess Bill hasn't been 
getting any for a while...), the law's delay 
(while I might feel your pain here, stop your 
bitching...)the insolence of office (absolute 
power [not vodka] corrupts absolutely...), and 
the spurns that patient merit of th' unworthy 
takes, when he himself might his quietus make 
(to put it bluntly) with a bare bodkin (getting 
violent on your ass...)?"  Seems like Bill 
needs some therapy, pronto.  It gets worse: 
"Who would fardels (fardels, is that a type of 
flatulence?) bear, to grunt and sweat (like pigs 
in heat???) under a weary life (I suppose it 
would get boring after a while...), but that 
the dread of something after death (the 
afterlife, maybe?), the undiscovered country 
(Los Angeles) from whose bourn (bourn??? to 
whom was he/she bourn?) no traveler returns 
(guess that passageway is a wee bit too small), 
puzzles the will (some people just don't get 
it, do they?), and makes us rather bear those 
ills we have (I'm disease-free, thank you very 
much...) than fly (why not walk) to others that 
we know not of?"  Sick bastard isn't he. 
However, Bill saves the best (or worst) for 
last:  "Thus conscience makes cowards of us all 
(speak for yourself, you pansy, have at 
you!!!); and thus the native hue of resolution 
(600 x 400?) is sicklied o'er (with a computer 
virus of death, maybe?) with the pale cast of 
thought (I always thought that my thoughts were 
vibrant, since I used color-safe Cheer...), and 
enterprises (rent-a-car or the space ship) of 
great pitch (90 mph) and moment with this 
regard their currents turn awry (what direction 
is awry in?) and lose the name of action 
(action, Jackson, satisfaction, can't get no 
satisfaction...)"  Thus Bill's soliloquy makes 
my bowels weak with tepid commentary on the 
human condition.  For the clueless, this has 
been my de-re-construction of Hamlet's speech 
in Act 3, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Hamlet. 
Thank you and drive through.

P.S. This was a satirical parody.  No 
Shakespearean actors or actresses were harmed 
in the writing of this bit.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sometimes I think I read too much

Sometimes I find myself thinking too much about things read, things experienced or devised by others.  Sometimes I think that I talk too much and listen too little, experiencing little for myself.  Sometimes I think it might be for the best if I were to throw everything overboard and begin anew, with little detritus to be in the way of experiencing new things, in new ways, for myself.

Sometimes I just want to leave...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"The question of whether suicide helps man or not"

Currently reading (and sometimes thumbing through passages) the just-released English translation of 19th century Italian poet/writer Giacomo Leopardi's epic Zibaldone, a notebook of jotted-down thoughts and short essays and other assorted hodge-podges of thought.  Here is a lengthy quote taken from manuscript pages 2549-2552, which deals with suffering.  Here is the first part:

The question of whether suicide helps man or not (which is what knowing if it is reasonable or not, and can be chosen or not, comes down to) can be reduced to these simple terms.  Which of the two is better, suffering or not suffering?  As for pleasure, it is certain, [2550] immutable, and eternal that man in any condition of ife, even if he is happy according to the common definition, cannot feel it, since, as I have shown elsewhere [–>Z 532-35, 646-50], pleasure is always future, never present.  And just as, consequently, each man can be physically certain of never feeling any pleasure in his life, so, too, each can be certain of not spending a day without suffering, and the majority of men can be certain of not spending a day without suffering, and the majority of men can be certain of not spending a day without many serious sufferings, and some of not spending one without long-lasting and extremely serious sufferings (these are the so-called unhappy:  poor, incurably ill, etc. etc.).  Now I ask again, which is better, suffering or not suffering.  Certainly enjoyment, and maybe also enjoyment and suffering, would be better than simply not suffering (since nature and self-love propel us and carry us so strongly toward enjoyment that enjoyment and suffering is more pleasant than not being and not suffering, and, by not being, being unable to enjoy), but since enjoyment is impossible for man, it remains necessarily and naturally [2551] excluded from the whole question.  And we conclude that since not suffering is more helpful to man than suffering, and since he cannot live without suffering, it is mathematically true and certain that absolute not being is more beneficial and more fitting to man than being.  And that being is, precisely, harmful to man.   And therefore anyone who lives (if you take away religion) lives because of a pure formal error of calculation:  I mean the calculation of utility.  An error multiplied as many times as there are instants in our life, in each of which we prefer living to not living.  And we prefer it in fact no less than in intention, in desire, and in the mind's more or less deliberate, more or less tacit and implicit discourse.  An effect of self-love, deceived as in many other bad choices that it makes by thinking of them from the point of view of good, and the greatest good that is proper to it in those [2552] circumstances.

– Quoted from p. 1069 of the Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino translation of Zibaldone  
I am going to have to think on this some while before providing my thoughts (plus I should note that Leopardi continues for another book page on this topic; this is a preface of sorts), but I think this quote should underscore why Leopardi's Zibaldone (just only now being translated in full into English) is an important work even in the early 21st century, nearly two centuries after the author's early death.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A few thoughts on "free speech" in relation to social protests and boycotts

As a former civics/US government teacher, it pains me to see arguments such as this recent one on the Westeros message board.   More and more I encounter arguments that when someone calls for social protest, often in the form of not purchasing something tied to the perceived offender, that these calls are somehow "chilling to free speech."  I read through and while almost invariably such complaints about "censorship" devolve into a justification for that particular person behaving in a fashion that s/he wants, I think there is something larger here that should be considered the next time (almost always there is a "next time") such an argument is made.

Accepting the premise that "speech" involves certain actions in addition to printed and verbal words, one has to consider the range that "free speech" allows.  Leaving aside the Supreme Court-specified exceptions ("fighting words," libel/slander, treasonous speech, certain statements/actions by those under age), the notion of "free speech" is not something inalienable in its application, but rather an agreement that opportunities must be provided (within above-listed bounds) for the "speech" to occur.  This viewpoint takes into consideration that one individual or group's "speech" may be in conflict with another's.

Not all world-views are made equal.  The Flat Earth belief, for example, has been thoroughly discredited (not least by Magellan's fleet sailing around the globe), yet there are still those who advocate such a view.  They have the opportunity to start their own blogs, to talk about it on UseNet, chat on the phone with like-minded fellows, or buy TV ad space to proclaim such views.  Nevermind that 99% of the world's population would look at them with bewilderment; they can express their views and try to persuade others, but the overwhelming numbers of those who oppose those views make their opinions not worth debating in a public forum. 

Ideas, and "speech" springs from them, are not immune from competition.  Ideas have to be challenged in order to be transmitted to more people and some notions come into vogue before fading into obscurity due to changing social climes.  It is not "censorship" when one group of people challenge the bases of another group's ideologies.  As long as the other group has the opportunity to disseminate their ideas, then it is not a "suppression" of "speech."  But often one ideology will gain the ascendency over another and their views will dominate the discourse.  Sometimes this occurs without governmental interference and sometimes it does not, but in the case of the former, this is but merely the triumph in a social forum of one set of views over another.  One example of this could be the ongoing American debate about "gay marriage" or "marriage equality" (the choice of moniker to frame the debate serves to crystallize sides).  Each side used door-to-door campaigning, advertisements, and public referendums in their battles to see their views expressed.

Sometimes, these battles extend into economic matters, as adherents to one view do not want to see some of their capital expended to support antithetical world-views.  I remember a couple of years ago when the founder of Chick-fil-a expressed publicly his conservative views regarding what constituted marriage.  There were calls for boycotts of the fast food chain and many decided to cast their opposition to his views in a symbolic and yet very real (in economic terms) fashion by not spending their money in his stores.  Yet there was also a counter-protest in support of the owner/stores and on an agreed-upon day, record lines were seen for people buying fast food there.  Each side had an opportunity to express their "speech" without any "suppression" of the dissenting view.  This is the thing that is too often overlooked in boycott/free speech "suppression" issues:  there is always an opportunity for those who oppose certain social protests/boycotts to do a counter-organizing to establish a public show of support for the idea under protest.

In regards to the specific matter being debated in the link, I think Orson Scott Card's social views to be reprehensible.  I have never read any of his novels (only a couple of shorter fiction pieces back in the 1990s; not enough to persuade me to read more) and I have no desire to see the cinema version of Ender's Game.  I am OK with the calls for boycotts because those are an expression of "speech" with which I can identify and while I would look askance if there was a counter-protest of people organizing to get more people to see the movie precisely because of Card's public support of anti-GLBT organizations, I wouldn't want for that hypothetical counter-protest to be stifled.  Instead, I would argue vehemently against such a group and try by presentation of ideas to persuade others that the views that I possess are the better.  That is not a "suppression" of "speech" but instead a triumph of one ideology over another (at least until a viable counter-argument can be presented).  It is a notion as deeply rooted in the "free market" of competition as it is in the Hegelian thesis-antithesis=synthesis theory of socio-political interaction.  If only some would keep this in mind when they argue about "free speech" in the future...

What the Birthday Squirrel bought for me in 2013

Another year has passed and as a whole new set of young squirrels ready themselves to leave their mothers' dreys to venture into the wider world, I become yet a bit older.  Today is my 39th and it finds me dealing with several issues that I think will be resolved favorably in the weeks and months to come.  But I have only 12 months to meet a couple of goals that I've had for years, so it'll be an interesting year.  But here are two books bought/ordered for this occasion that have already arrived:

Bought the Easton Press edition of Longfellow's poetry on Sunday with money my family sets aside for me to choose gifts (they rarely try to figure out what I want, leaving it up instead to myself) and on Tuesday, the English translation of 19th century Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone (the name translates roughly as "Hodge-Podge" and it contains the poet/philosopher's thoughts on a wide range of issues) arrived in the mail.  Even despite a heavy discount (38%) on Amazon, it was still nearly $50.

The Leopardi is the largest single-volume print book in terms of page count that I've ever owned.  It is printed, however, on what I like to think of as "bible paper," or tissue-thin pages.  Below are pictures of it in comparison to the thickest book I own, Adolfo Bioy Casares' diary entries related to Borges, entitled Borges:

I don't have small hands (I wear XL gloves and those are almost too tight around the midpoint of the hands), but notice how big this book is in comparison.  It's around 3.5-4 inches in thickness.  By comparison, the Leopardi (which I did not take a picture holding) is around 2-2.5 inches in thickness.

The Borges book has pages of typical hardcover thickness.  Pictured above is the last page, 1663.  It is a very big book, but it appears even more so because special paper was not used to make it less thick.

But here is the last page of Zibaldone.  2502 pages (not counting roughly 80 pages of intro that bear roman numerals).  The thinner paper makes it easier to hold, yet so far there is no sense of the pages being less difficult to read (a similar paper quality can be found inside the Library of America editions of American writings).

Should take me a few weeks of leisurely reading to complete these two books that the squirrels have seen fit for me to now possess.  Now to get ready to deal with the less enjoyable aspects of turning a year older...including working later due to having already exhausted vacation days last week.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I just finished the longest (e-)book I've ever read

Back in early April, I thought I would try to improve my French by reading some of Voltaire's works, so I went to the iBookstore and found that his Oeuvres Complètes was available for something like $3.  I bought it, thinking that at most it would be a little over 1000 pages.  Little did I know that on my iPad's screen with a small font that it would be 15,209 pages (on my iPhone 5, it was an even gaudier 40,377 pages).

I thought that I would make a reading goal of finishing it before my birthday this month, so that I would have plenty of time to read it at my leisure, but then a series of things occurred that led to me putting it off.  By July 1, I was only something like 4500 e-pages into it and that I would have to read nearly 1000 pages/day-night in order to finish it.  Yes, I can read very fast in English, but my reading in other languages varies according to comprehension.  At first, I was reading French at around 100 e-pages/hour, but as I progressed, not stopping to look up individual words but instead getting their jist from those that I did understand, I found myself reading faster and faster and understanding more and more.  I tore through the histories in a couple of days, marveling at how relatively underrated they are in context of the historiography of the 17th-18th centuries.  While I wouldn't say that I am now reading fluent in French, my comprehension certainly has improved greatly.

So by tonight, I only had a couple hundred pages left to read and those were all correspondence letters that had been preserved, so they were a bit easier due to the less formal structure of the sentences.  At 10:01 PM CDT, I reached page 15,209 and thought about shouting "Victory is mine!," but I instead settled for this comment on Twitter in response to being praised for reaching my goal:

Yes, my reading squirrels are exhausted now.  But I did it with 49 hours and 58 minutes to spare.  Sadly, I will not finish St. Thomas of Aquinas' Summa Theologiae in time, but those 7000+ pages (in translation, since I've yet to find a complete Latin e-text) will be finished before year's end.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I attended the July 10 Neil Gaiman book signing in Nashville

Back in April, I learned that Neil Gaiman was undertaking what he was calling his last book signing tour.  Out of idle curiosity, I checked the tour dates, expecting to see only Northeastern, Pacific Coast, and a smattering of Midwest stops with the Southern states excluded.  After all, this tends to be the norm when it comes to book signings, as for some reason those who arrange such things seem to think that Southern cities seem to be less desirable locales to visits.  It is something that has baffled me for years now, not just because I am a Nashville-area native but because it is strange that the nation's third-largest publishing city (more than just music or religious tracts) is overlooked so much outside of the annual Southern Festival of Books, which do draw several famous authors (including Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz in 2012).  But lo and behold, I was half-shocked to see that Nashville (along with Lexington, KY) were listed as tour stops!  A few minutes later, I was putting down $40 ($30 book/ticket, taxes, and a small donation to Humanities Tennessee) for a ticket to the July 10 signing. 

The events leading up to the signing were rather mundane.  Drove into town, parked about 15 minutes before the doors were to open, walked two blocks to War Memorial Auditorium, picked up my reserved copy (my second; I had bought another on release day back in June), and glanced at the very long line (it wrapped around the building, going about a block around and then doubled back to the steps leading up to the main entrance/book pick-up/sales section) and decided that I would rather sit in the shade on the other side of the stairs and wait for the line to clear before I would line up and get a seat in the back/balcony.  After twenty-five minutes of the line moving relatively quick, the end finally was in sight and I lined up.  A bit better than those first die-hards who apparently lined up around 9 AM to get premium seating.

By the time I was seated, it was a little past 5:30 PM.  Below is a panoramic pic I took with my iPhone of the crowd (about 4/5 full at that time).  Not that bad of a seat, even though it was far enough away that people on the stage were a bit too blurry for a clear pic to be taken.  Should note that the seating capacity was said at one point to be ~1700 and by the time that Gaiman came on stage around 6:20 PM, virtually all of the seats (with a rare exception being the one to my right - I had an aisle seat) being full.

Panoramic view of the balcony crowd and the stage.

Gaiman spoke for about 75 minutes.  There were a few things that occurred here that he said he had never done on any of his previous stops.  The first was the choice of passage read.  As he was getting ready to choose a passage, a distinct clap of thunder could be heard outside.  He said he had promised himself that if he ever heard thunder when readying for the passage reading that he would forgo reading from the first three chapters and instead read from a passage around the midway point of the book that used thunder and lightning to underscore the scary qualities of the event at hand.  Having read the passage beforehand, it was a delight to listen to Gaiman narrate it, as his voice is particularly suited to the narrative.

After reading for roughly 30 minutes or so, Gaiman answered several questions that audience members had submitted prior to the reading.  Some of them were rather funny (such as his answering of a question regarding why sex features so prominently in his adult novels), but a few, such as the one dealing with his father, were rather touching.  But the best question was the final one, when he was asked what musician would he dine with here in Nashville if he had the chance.  While many around me were murmuring that he would probably answer that with his wife, Amanda Palmer, Gaiman surprised the crowd by noting that the musician he had in mind was on hand tonight.  The curtains to the audience left of the stage opened and none other than famed banjo player Bela Fleck came out to accompany Gaiman on a reading he decided to do for the first time here, from a children's story that he has recently written.  Below is a blurry pic of the two on stage:

Bela Fleck performing while Gaiman reads from an upcoming children's work.
After the reading/performance (Fleck's banjo playing made the narration even better), there was a break for about 15-20 minutes before the staff began calling people down to the signing line.  Instead of going by sections like most would have expected, section/row numbers/letters were called.  This led to some bemused audience members cheering or booing when their rows were called.  During the 90 minute wait between the start of the signing and my row being called (I would say between those who left before the signing began and those who had gone before that roughly 1/2 of the auditorium had been cleared), the staff arranged for a local cover band/human beat box group (I couldn't catch their full name, but it was something "Symphony") that had recently appeared on one of those Idol/America's Got Talent-type shows to perform a series of covers ranging from Otis Redding to Dexy's Midnight Runners.  Not bad waiting-time entertainment, although I would have loved to have heard more of Fleck's excellent banjo picking. 

Around 9:30 PM, my row (everyone else in it had left after the reading, though) was called and I went downstairs and waited in line for another 20 minutes until I reached Gaiman's table.  During that time, I was informed that while Gaiman would sign all of the The Ocean at the End of the Lane books and one other, only one of those books could be personalized.  Since I had planned on one of the books being an early birthday gift for someone dear to me, I contented myself with getting Gaiman's signature on my contributor's copy of The Weird.

Gaiman's signature inside my contributor's copy of The Weird.
When Gaiman saw the book, he remarked that it was the first time (maybe only on this tour?) that anyone had asked him to sign this anthology.  Since time was brief, I replied that I thought I'd get more authors from it to sign it whenever possible (Jeff VanderMeer was the first).  A few other pleasantries were exchanged about the book and then I was on my way out into the cooler night (heat index was around 100°F at 5 PM) and on my way home.  Enjoyed the entire presentation greatly, with only the vague regret that I couldn't have chatted longer with Gaiman, as he was very affable even though it was obvious that he was tired from the weeks of travel.  First single-author book signing I've been to since I attended the George R.R. Martin one in Nashville back in November 2005 and hopefully there will be more authors who will visit Nashville in the near future outside of the Southern Festival of Books (before any in the area mention it, I am now aware of Salon 615 and may attend some of those events in the near future once my evenings are free again).

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

She smiled then.  "You were Lettie's friend?  From the top of the lane?"

"You gave me milk.  It was warm, from the cows."  And then I realized how many years had gone by, and I said, "No, you didn't do that, that must have been your mother who gave me the milk.  I'm sorry."  As we age, we become our parents; live long enough and we see faces repeat in time.  I remembered Mrs. Hempstock, Lettie's mother, as a stout woman.  This woman was stick-thin, and she looked delicate.  She looked like her mother, like the woman I had known as Old Mrs. Hempstock.

Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see my father's face, not my own, and I remember the way he would smile at himself, in mirrors, before he went out.  "Looking good," he'd say to his reflection, approvingly.  "Looking good." (p. 6)

Nostalgia, or at least the remembrance of times past (and lost), tugs harder and harder upon our heartstrings as we age and memories pile upon memories to create layers of past recollections for us to mine when the mood strikes.  There is a distorting effect, however, that frequently occurs when we look wistfully into that dark glass of remembered moments.  Nostalgia certainly has powered several excellent works of fiction, even though the author takes pains to alter the recalled past to create new, vivid associations.  Several of Ray Bradbury's fictions, in particular Dandelion Wine, utilize nostalgic sentiment to great effect.  But sometimes one writer's nostalgia can be a reader's stumbling block.  One recent example of this is Jo Walton's Among Others, whose wistful look at a bookish dreamer's stormy adolescence in the 1970s felt at times to be too insular to be appealing to readers who did not tie a love for science fiction (literature and cinema alike) so closely to their adolescences. 

Neil Gaiman's latest book (and his first to be marketed to adults in eight years), The Ocean at the End of the Lane, has to tread that very fine line between something that is deeply personal and yet inclusive of likely reader reactions and a work that ends up being schmaltzy inferior piece.  There certainly is some grounds for worry, as The Ocean at the End of the Lane certainly mirrors many of his works in prose style, characterization, and themes, to the point where there could be a case made for his latest novel being yet one more story in a line that resemble each other in tone and presentation.  The first-person narrator here possesses a kinship with the protagonists of Neverwhere, American Gods, and Coraline in his mixture of callowness and a tendency to wander into things that are none of his business.  But despite these strong similarities with aspects of Gaiman's older writings, The Ocean at the End of the Lane possesses its own charms.

Unlike the above-mentioned earlier novels, The Ocean at the End of the Lane feels stripped-down, with its emotional core laid bare for the reader to interpret as she may.  Although there are certainly fairy-tale (and nightmarish) moments, the novel's strongest and most moving moments are those that feel most autobiographical.  I recall reading somewhere where a critic observed that Gaiman's fictions often revolve in some form or fashion around (absent) fathers and certainly the narrator's troubled relationship with his father would fit into this perceived thematic pattern.  Told mostly in flashback from the viewpoint of a lonely, bookish seven year-old boy, moments such as the one quoted from early in the book (set in the literary "present") are amplified because the reader can see signs of the narrator growing and changing when the narrative shifts between the fictional "past" of the late 1960s and "present."  These shifts are made more effective because Gaiman here eschews narrating his tale in an ornate fashion.  Gone are the elaborate narrative sleight-of-hands.  In its stead are short, staccato bursts of description that vividly describe the narrator's character with a minimalism that suits the tale. 

This narrative minimalism serves two purposes.  First, it creates a work in which the reader can not only envision a setting similar to the author's actual childhood, but it also has enough "space" within it to allow for a more "universal" reading of "yes, I can remember aspects of my own childhood being similar to this."  Second, by depending heavily upon brief recollections and dialogue, the narrative moves quickly and yet somehow it possesses a languid quality that allows for the sense of things somehow happening quickly and simultaneously in a slow-moving dream.  This is a difficult feat to accomplish and Gaiman for the most part does this with aplomb.  This mastery of a dilating narrative that expands beyond its seeming "natural" bounds helps the story overcome a few structural weaknesses, particularly those related to the antagonists that appear late in the novel.  Although frightening, there is a slight dissonance between this final conflict and the overall flow of remembrances and reappraisals of familial and quasi-romantic relationships.  Part of this might be due to the relatively sketchiness of the "magical" elements compared to the more mundane but better-realized personal relationships outlined in the novel.

Yet despite this rather noticeable flaw, the story perhaps is Gaiman's strongest at the novel level.  It is intimate without feeling treacly or artificial.  The descriptions of past life and their implications for the literary "present" more often than not hit their marks squarely and they serve to create a narrative that feels personal, vital, and most importantly, something that possesses a universalism that should appeal to most readers.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane may contain several elements in common with many of Gaiman's other fictional works, but it realizes those themes and elements more fully than his other works, making it perhaps one of his two or three strongest prose works of the past fifteen years.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Exercise in translation: Roberto Arlt's "El jorobadito," part II

Now a bit more of my ongoing draft translation of Roberto Arlt's "El jorobadito" ("The Little Hunchback").  Part I is here.  Edited part in bold below:

Se ha echado sobre mí la policía, los jueces y los periódicos.  Y ésta es la hora en que aún me pregunto (considerando los rigores de la justicia) si Rigoletto no estaba llamado a ser un capitán de hombres, un genio, o un filántrop.  De otra forma no se explican las crueldades de la ley para vengar los fueros de un insigne piojoso, al cual, para pagarle de su insolencia, resultaran insuficientes todos los puntapiés que pudieran suministrarle en el trasero, una brigada de personas bien nacidas.

No se me oculta que sucesos peores ocurren sobre el planeta, pero ésta no es una razón para que yo deje de mirar con angustia las leprosas paredes del calabozo donde estoy alojado a espera de un destino peor.

Pero estaba escrito que de un deforme debían provenirme tantas dificultades.

Recuerdo (y esto a vía de información para los aficionados a la teosofía y la metafísica) que desde mi tierna infancia me llamaron la atención los contrahechos.  Los odiaba al tiempo que me atraían, como detesto y me llama la profundidad abierta bajo la balconada de un noveno piso, a cuyo barandal me he aproximado más de una vez con el corazón temblando de cautela y delicioso pavor.  Y así, como frente al vacío no puedo sustraerme al terror de imaginarme cayendo en el aire con el estómago contraído en la asfixia del desmoramiento, en presencia de un deforme no puedo escapar al nauseoso pensamiento de imaginarme corcovado, grotesco, espantoso, abandonado de todos, hospedado en una perrera, perseguido por traíllas de chicos feroces que me clavarían agujas en la giba... 
 Es terrible..., sin contar que todos los contrahechos son seres perversos, endemoniados, protervos..., de manera que al estrangularlo a Rigoletto me creo con derecho a afirmar que le hice un inmenso favor a la sociedad, pues he librado a todos los corazones sensibles como el mío de un espectáculo pavoroso y repugnante. Sin añadir que el jorobadito era un hombre cruel. Tan cruel que yo me veía obligado a decirle todos los días:
     –Mirá, Rigoletto, no seas perverso. Prefiero cualquier cosa a verte pegándole con un látigo a una inocente cerda. ¿Qué te ha hecho la marrana? Nada. ¿No es cierto que no te ha hecho nada?...
    –¿Qué se le importa?
    –No te ha hecho nada, y vos contumaz, obstinado, cruel, desfogas tus furores en la pobre bestia...
    –Como me embrome mucho la voy a rociar de petróleo a la chancha y luego le prendo fuego.
    Después de pronunciar estas palabras, el jorobadito descargaba latigazos en el crinudo lomo de la bestia, rechinando los dientes como un demonio de teatro. Y yo le decía:
    –Te voy a retorcer el pescuezo, Rigoletto. Escuchá mis paternales advertencias, Rigoletto. Te conviene...

The diverse and exaggerated rumors spread as the result of the behavior that I observed in the company of Rigoletto, the hunchback, in Mrs. X's house, in time turned many people against me.

However, my peculiarities did not incur greater misfortunes until I perfected them by strangling Rigoletto.

Wringing the hunchback's neck has been for me a most ruinous and reckless act for my interests, one that threatens the existence of a benefactor of humanity.

The police, judges and newspapers have fallen on me.  And at this hour I still ask myself (considering the rigors of justice) if Rigoletto was not called to be a captain of men, a genius, or a philanthropist. Nothing else explains the cruelties of the law in taking revenge on the arrogance of a good-for-nothing, which, in order to pay for his insolence, it is insufficient for a brigade of well-born people to administer all the kicks they can to the rear.

I am not unaware that worse events occur on the planet, but this is no reason for me to stop watching anxiously the leprous walls of the dungeon where I am housed awaiting a worse fate.
But it was written that from a deformed man many difficulties would arise for me.

 I remember (and this bit of information for fans of theosophy and metaphysics) that from my tender infancy hunchbacks grabbed my attention. I hated them yet was attracted to them, as I detest and yet it calls to me the open depth under the balcony of a ninth floor, to which railing I have approached more than once with trembling heart of caution and delicious dread. And so, like in front of a vacuum I can not escape the terror of imagining myself falling in the air with my stomach contracted in asphyxia from crumbling, in the presence of a deformed man I can not escape the nauseous thought of imagining myself hunchbacked, grotesque, frightening, abandoned by all, housed in a kennel, pestered by the leashes of ferocious boys that stick needles in the hump...

It's terrible ... not to mention that all hunchbacks are evil beings, possessed, wicked ... so that by choking Rigoletto I think I have the right to say that I did a huge favor to society, for I have liberated  all sensitive hearts like mine from an awful and disgusting spectacle. Without adding that the hunchback was a cruel man. So cruel that I was obliged to tell him every day:

 "Look, Rigoletto, do not be perverse. I prefer anything to seeing you with a whip hitting an innocent pig. What has the sow done? Nothing. Is not it true that it has not done anything? ..."
"Why do you care?"
"She has not done anything, and you stubborn, obstinate, cruel man, you vent your fury on the poor beast..."

"Since she has annoyed me for a long while I am going to sprinkle gas on the sow and then set her on fire."
After saying these words, the hunchback discharged lashes on the beast's long-maned back, grinding his teeth like a theatrical demon. And I said:

"'I'm going to wring your neck, Rigoletto. Listen to my paternal warnings, Rigoletto. It suits you..."

The previous draft translation (including the bolded revision) is in a different font from the new section.  I likely will tinker with the wording here some to smooth it out, make it sound more fluid in English, but hopefully this second part will lead to some wanting to read future translated passages.  I will try to work on 2-4 pages a week, with hopes of finishing it by the end of the month.  Feel free to suggest alternatives for revision.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

So Joyce Carol Oates' latest comments on religion (Islam in particular) sparked a Twitter firestorm

Soon after she joined Twitter several months ago, I began following author Joyce Carol Oates' Twitter feed.  It is frequently a wry, occasionally sardonic affair, replete with comments on societal treatment of women and observations on religion in general.  I don't often agree with her opinions, but at least I tolerated them as being representative of a certain subset of American (and Western and to an extent global) attitudes regarding certain cultural institutions such as religious faith and practice.

So it was with little surprise that I saw that on July 5 that she had written a series of tweets that were critical of religious practice, specifically that of Islam.  (For the entire set and a sampling of other authors reacting to them, click on this link to the Galleycat roundup).  Just before heading into work, I had a brief Twitter exchange (see here) on the issue, but I thought I would elaborate here (Twitter being notoriously inefficient for communicating subtle, nuanced thoughts) on some of my thoughts related to Oates' comments.

First, as I said in my initial Twitter response, I am not surprised by her comments.  I understand that her Friday comments fit within a larger skepticism of "religion" in general, but considering the words used both then and earlier by her, it is difficult not to come (as so many others who responded did) to the conclusion that Islam in particular bears the brunt of her criticism.  Yes, I saw the comment regarding "militant"="religions," but the specific comments (excluding the one made in response to a query) were directed toward that particular faith.  Viewed within the context of the past 12 years (or maybe 34, if one wants to go back to the Iranian Revolution), however, there has been quite the conflation between a particular political strand that utilizes Islam as a unifying symbol to justify an aggressive, violent post-colonist resistance to the spread of "Western" (the term itself is relative, yet implying a hegemonic value system related to relative geography) cultural values and the religion itself.  Yet I would argue that there is something even deeper transpiring here, one that more readily explains why so many that are not Muslims reacted so strongly to Oates' comments.

The last half-century or so has seen a precipitous decline in the quality of cultural debates.  Loathe as many on almost all points of the various political spectra are to admit it, there has been a flattening out of rhetorical terms.  Fading fast are those who view a debate as a point of synthesis, where competing viewpoints might find, if not common ground, at least points around which an evolution of thought might occur.  In its place has come the benighted notion that one has to "win" or else risk "losing" the debate.  There can be no give or take, no reaching out in a quest to understanding other viewpoints.  Instead, one has to "fight" what is perceived to be pernicious falsehood or insidious evil, to use terms from a particular past that fit a congruent mindset.   People or opinions that do not fit readily into a quotable, digestible segment are dismissed or shoehorned into categories that ill-suit their nuanced natures.  Oates in her comments certainly is guilty of this when she writes:

Yes. There is a Christian Crusade culture. All religions are "militant." Secular law needed to restrain them.

Pardon me while I guffaw discreetly.  OK, done.  I am going to give Oates a slight benefit of the doubt and presume that in a face-to-face discussion that she would not make such sweeping generalizations without at least admitting to copious exceptions.  "Religion" is perhaps a less sordid "obscenity":  one cannot define it precisely, but one is convinced that he or she will know it when s/he sees it.  There is such a wide variety of individual religious practices within even the smallest of the major religions (leaving aside for now the thousands of religions that are not as prominent) that tossing about labels such as "religious" people or claiming blithely that all religions are "militant" (in which ways?  Proselyting?  Using faith as a cover for political/economic avarice?  The production of Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood music videos?) does little to advance any opinion other than that of someone who is convinced of the superiority of his/her viewpoint.

But it isn't "easy" or "sexy" to acknowledge that "religion" cannot be a catch-all term when it comes to discussing terrible events such as sexual harassment or rape.  I will grant that Oates does have a point in noting that one cannot exculpate religious faith/practices when it comes to the justifications given for the unequal treatment of women, non-dominant ethnic groups, those of different sexual orientations, etc.  Yet equally so one should not use "religion" as a blanket word to cover all sorts of social maladies.  Just as those of various religious practices have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to utilizing their beliefs (religious and secular alike) to effect positive personal/social/cultural change (I'm guessing the more "positive" social movements influenced by certain individuals' beliefs might be overlooked in the name of focusing on the deleterious actions undertaken by others in the name of their own beliefs/non-beliefs), so too do those who have a profound skepticism regarding the validity of particular beliefs (this applies equally to theists, agnostics, and atheists) have an obligation to be wary of their own opinions becoming not just a contravention of others' beliefs but their own sort of opinion structure that stifles the understanding of others.

The problem I suspect that many had with Oates is not that she criticized the use of a particular faith's tenets to justify violence toward Egyptian women but that she went further and created a sort of "us vs. them" mentality in which those who are adherents to any religious faith/practice are not as decent/enlightened/insert descriptor of your choice as those who are skeptical of any and all faiths.  It is a world-view that too readily opens the way to a vast cultural myopia in which understanding of others (the fount from which the crimes of abuse and oppression of all stripes can be redressed) cannot be perceived due to the inability on the part of the individuals possessing this attitude that there is no ground upon which to evolve their own stances.  It is a shame to see that Oates seems to have succumbed to this rigidity in opinion and that it has infected her world-view in regards to quite a number of issues.  But this regret on my part is not borne from a belief that my views on life, spirituality, faith, practice, etc. are superior, but rather from a sense of regret that too frequently there is such a deep distrust of opinions regarding other cultures and religious practices that people would rather be silent or condemn without consideration views that differ from their own.

Friday, July 05, 2013

A squirrely salute to the day

Parents bought me this squirrel finger puppet during their recent trip out west.  Yes, I had to put the squirrel on that finger in order to take a good picture of it (looks quite vicious, doesn't it?).  And yes, Johnny Cash's famous "salute" would have looked even better if he had had a squirrel puppet on that finger.  After all, squirrels do make everything better...

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

An exercise in translation: the beginning to Roberto Arlt's "The Little Hunchback" ("El jorobadito" in Spanish)

Los diversos y exagerados rumores desparramados con motivo de la conducta que observé en compañía de Rigoletto, el jorobadito, en la casa de la señora X, apartó en su tiempo a mucha gente de mi lado.

Sin embargo, mis singularidades no me acarrearon mayores desventuras, de no perfeccionarlas estrangulando a Rigoletto.

Retorcerle el pescuezo al jorobadito ha sido de mi parte un acto más ruinoso e imprudente para mis intereses, que atentar contra la existencia de un benefactor de la humanidad.

The diverse and exaggerated rumors spread as the result of the behavior that I observed in the company of Rigoletto, the hunchback, in Mrs. X's house, in time turned many people against me.

However, my peculiarities did not incur greater misfortunes from not perfecting the strangulation of Rigoletto.

Wringing the hunchback's neck has been for me a most ruinous and reckless act for my interests, one that threatens the existence of a benefactor of humanity.

It's been over a year since I last really engaged in a literary translation and I thought that I might spend some of the next few months leisurely translating and revising that translation of Argentine author Roberto Arlt's "El jorobadito."  From what I understand, Arlt's fiction entered global public domain in January (he died in 1942), so this (I hope) is nothing that would violate a copyright (if it is, I can practice with older, pre-1923 texts, I suppose).  

The above excerpt is (obviously) a first draft, one that might undergo several revisions if I were to ever seek publication of a full translation of the story (as far as I know, there hasn't been a published English translation of this story or of most of Arlt's fiction, a shame).  What do you think?  Were these three short paragraphs enough to capture your attention, to make you curious about the full story (which is roughly 15 printed pages in my paperback edition)?

Someone recently suggested that I consider doing a podcast

The things that arise during late night Twitter chat...

But it did lead me to think about it for a moment.  If I did have the proper equipment (whatever that might be) and the time/energy to do so, what sort of content could I possibly put into a 15, 20, 30, or even 60 minute weekly podcast?  I purposely don't cover just one literary genre, so there certainly wouldn't be a "theme" for such a thing, unless I called it something like "The Southern Squirrel Revival Show" and featured a regular segment called "Your Moment of Squirrel Zen."  Wouldn't reading aloud thoughts on books read be a slightly more frustrating version of an oral book report, minus the transcript for people to read?  Or would there be an expectation for "news," which other people might translate as "gossip concerning the filthy hygiene of Canadians"? 

What would constitute an interesting podcast that wouldn't have a theme (minus the above-mentioned squirrel possibility)?  What elements make these things popular in the first place?  Just curious, as I have little desire to start one anytime soon.

Sinan Antoon, The Corpse Washer

I can almost hear death saying:  "I am what I am and haven't changed at all.  I am but a postman."

If death is a postman, then I receive his letters every day.  I am the one who opens carefully the bloodied and torn envelopes.  I am the one who washes them, who removes the stamps of death and dries and perfumes them, mumbling what I don't entirely believe in.  Then I wrap them carefully in white so they may reach their final reader – the grave.

But the letters are piling up, Father!  Tenfold more than what you used to see in the span of a week now pass before me in a day or two.  If you were alive, Father, would you say that that is fate and God's will?  I wish you were here so I could leave Mother with you and escape without feeling guilty.  You were heavily armed with faith, and that made your heart a castle.  My heart, by contrast, is an abandoned house whose windows are shattered and doors unhinged.  Ghosts play inside it, and the winds wail. (p. 3)

The ten years since the US-led invasion have been torturous ones for Iraqi citizens, both those living inside the country and those who had left as emigres years before.  IEDs, sectarian violence, shortages of items that most Westerners take for granted – this is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pains and travails endured.  How does one put voice to such grief and anguish, especially considering that one long-desired event, the execution of Saddam Hussein, was more than balanced out with atrocities committed by Americans or other parties who had a keen interest in destabilizing post-war Iraq?

Yet Sinan Antoon in his recently-translated book The Corpse Washer manages to make a herculean effort to do just that.  In just 185 pages, he eloquently addresses the myriad conflicts and frustrated dreams of Iraqis through the point-of-view of a Shi'ite corpse washer,  Jawad.  Moving back and forth in time, from the 1980s to the late 2000s, Jawad's life, first as the semi-rebellious younger son of a corpse washing father and then as a "failed" artist who returns grudgingly to the ancient and humble practice of his forefathers, mirrors closely the lives of many Iraqis who saw their dreams arrested in the tumult of the Iraq-Iran War of 1980-1988 and its numerous disastrous sequels. 

The Corpse Washer works on several levels.  It describes in sometimes painfully realistic fashion Jawad's sense of being trapped in a situation that is not of his own doing and yet one that has made him the person who he is.  We see his exiled uncle return, learn of his older brother's fate, and witness two doomed loves of his.  By themselves, these would make for a good literary fiction, but Antoon also works in parallels with the social situation in Iraq.  There are short yet heart-achingly poignant moments such as the story of a Sunni relating the story of an unnamed Shi'ite who he had briefly befriended before a car bombing.  In these tales, often tragic and yet possessing a sense of dignity in the midst of grief, Jawad is the nexus through which a flood of symbolic and concrete meanings and events are filtered.

It is hard to identify any obvious flaws in the story.  Antoon adroitly moves back and forth in narrative time in his sketching of Jawad's character and how he has come to be an exemplar of contemporary Iraqi society.  There is grief, yes, but also warm embraces and shared silences that connect the characters.  The prose alternates between poetic descriptions such as the one quoted above to sharp dialogue that feels raw and visceral in its directness in addressing the joys and sufferings of Jawad's family and friends.  The end result is a gripping, moving story that simultaneous works as a well-drawn portrait of a conflicted dreamer and as a metaphor for post-invasion Iraq.  Antoon's ability to avoid maudlin scenes or heavy-handed allegories is a testimony to his skill as a writer and through the first half of 2013, The Corpse Washer was the finest 2013 US release that I have read.  Very highly recommended.

Monday, July 01, 2013

And this is part of the reason why I don't want to read or be associated right now with "genre"

I said a couple of weeks ago that I was tired of certain things that I was reading and I wanted a break.  I alluded to this sordid affair, but I thought at the time that I'd just step back and let those who are much more involved in it to hack it out.  So I read my Twitter feed less and read a variety of books or played an inoffensive racing game on my iPad instead of keeping up to date with matters.

Then I bothered to check my Facebook timeline just now and I saw all the ugliness screen-captured for people's edification:  Speculative Friction.  It is a complete airing of dirty laundry and it just confirms for me why there are certain people whose fictions I've never liked or were never interested in reading.

And with this out of the way, back to reading.  Thinking of alternating between Philipp Meyer's The Son and Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things.

May-June 2013 Reads

Been a bit of a slacker these past couple of months, both in updating this blog and in listing my monthly reads, so here are the May and June 2013 books read.


133  Ildefonso Falcones, La reina descalza (Spanish; good)

134  James Kelman, Mo Said She Was Quirky (good)

135  Zoran Živković, Nađi Me (Serbian; review in the near future)

136  Zoran Živković, Find Me (review forthcoming)

137  Nathalie Sarraute, Tropismes (French; very good)

138  F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (already reviewed; re-read)

139  Juan Carlos Onetti, Cuando entonces (Spanish; very good)

140  Sjón, The Whispering Muse (very good)

141  Tommy Wieringa, Little Caesar (IMPAC Award finalist, but I liked this one the least out of the ten)

142  Javier Marías, Los enamoramientos (Spanish; re-read; excellent)

143  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night (already reviewed)

144  Amparo Dávila, Cuentos reunidos (Spanish; collection; very good)

145  Mike Allen (ed.), Clockwork Phoenix 1 (anthology; very good)

146  Mike Allen (ed.), Clockwork Phoenix 2 (re-read; anthology; excellent)

147  Mike Allen (ed.), Clockwork Phoenix 3 (anthology; very good)

148  Mike Allen (ed.), Clockwork Phoenix 4 (anthology; very good)

149  Bradford Morrow (ed.), Conjunctions 60:  In Absentia (anthology; very good)

150  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (review in near future)

151  Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Jinni (excellent; listed it in my mid-year notable list)

152  W.S. Merwin, Collected Poems 1952-1993 (Library of America edition; very good)

153  Sofia Samatar, A Stranger in Olondria (uneven in places, but mostly very good)

154  John Williams, Stoner (very good)

155  Karen Joy Fowler, We are all Completely Beside Ourselves (might write a review later, but just in case I don't, it too is one of my mid-year list inclusions)


156  Sjón, From the Mouth of the Whale (re-read; already reviewed)

157  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (re-read; already reviewed)

158  Brooks D. Simpson (ed.), The Civil War:  The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It (non-fiction; excellent; Library of America edition)

159  Marguerite Duras, Four Novels (ranges from very good to excellent)

160  William L. Shea and Terrence J. Winschel, Vicksburg is the Key:  The Struggle for the Mississippi River (non-fiction; very good)

161  Voltaire, Romans de Voltaire (French; almost all the novels were very good, a few excellent)

162  Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (review in near future)

163  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fall of Arthur (already reviewed)

164  Jean-Marie Blas de Robles, Là où les tigres sont chez aux (French; review of this and the English translation should be in the near future)

165  Sinan Antoon, The Corpse Washer (outstanding; review in near future)

166  José Ovejero, La invención del amor (2013 Premio Alfaguara winner; made my mid-year list; excellent)

167  Luigi Pirandello, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (Italian; very good)

168 Leonardo Sciascia, Il mare colore del vino (Italian; re-read; very good)

169  Manuel Abreu Adorno, Llegaron los hippies/And the Hippies Came (bilingual Spanish-English edition; excellent; might review in future)

170  J.M.G. Le Clézio, Désert (French; very good)

171  J.M.G. Le Clézio, Desert (very good)

172  José Donoso, El lugar sin límites (Spanish; good)

173  Gloria Fuertes, Obras incompletas (Spanish; poetry; very good)

174  Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, The Answer/La respuesta (bilingual; non-fiction; very good)

175  Tahar Ben Jelloun, Corruption (very good)

176  Rosario Ferré, Las puertas del placer (Spanish; non-fiction; re-read; very good)

177  Laura Restrepo, Demasiados héroes (Spanish; re-read; good)

178  Steven Erikson, This River Awakens (likely review in near future)

179  Milorad Pavić, Sedam smrtnih grehova (Serbian; re-read; very good)

180  Milorad Pavić, Siete pecados capitales (Spanish; re-read; very good)

181  [redacted] (enjoyed it quite a bit, but book hasn't yet been published in galley form)

So, with six months passed, I have made this amount of progress on my year goals:

181/366 books read (exactly 1 book/day pace so far; right on target)

64/181 books (co-)written by women (goal is at least 1/3; 35% so far, so slightly above pace)

Foreign language:  57/100 (above pace by 7)

Spanish:  27/50 (above pace by 2)

Hopefully, July will be a better reading month, as I seem to have found a bit more energy for reading the past week or so.  Won't make promises regarding activity here, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few more posts than there were in June.  As usual, feel free to ask questions regarding listed books or comment on the ones you've already read yourself.
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