Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


How I Read Certain of My Books

New Year's Readings, so far (so good and getting better - see addendum):

Peter Dale, One Another interleaves man & woman in sonnet sequence. A few work well, but the overarching scheme loses power, or traction; I was attracted to it by another sonnet sequence by another (or perhaps not the same; how many equinonymous serial sonneteers can there be?) Peter Dale, a translation recasting of Shakespeare in mock Elizabethan mode and of Belli into Strine (i.e. Aussie slang), a la Belli, posted long ago to the NYT bookforum and no longer online (but worthy of print).

Witold Gombrowicz, Pornografia disappointed, as noted previously.

Julio Cortázar, Cronopios and Famas: Some inspired nonsense; I wanted more!

The Poetic Edda, Lee Hollander trans., earliest record of Nordic myth, fragmentary but shiny; I'd been reminded lately that not only Borges but Nabokov points thereto.

Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise provided ample thought-fodder on Modern fashions and their postmodern analogues, along with a record of his own development(-stunting). Still relevant decades later.

Josef Skvorecky, The Engineer of Human Souls, and Bohumir Hrabal, I Served the King of England, treat of the same period in Czech history from differing perspectives (including different takes on Lidice's last male survivor reporting to Gestapo/SS HQ), the former from exile and among exiles, the latter exiled internally. Though style and mode of composition also differ, the core perspective remains Czech, humor tinged with melancholy (or is it the other way round?), and leaves little to choose between two very good novels.

Hrabal's serviam led me to take a flyer on two other servant narratives, Robert Pinget's The Inquisitory (which stands and waits on the TBR shelf) and Anna Maria Ortese's The Iguana, which languished for two decades before being rediscovered in Italy, and another two decades before I happened upon it -- in some respects it reads like Roussel rewriting The Tempest -- no sooner had I finished it than I lent it (along with Manganelli, also via McPherson Press) to my next-door neighbor in return for his loan of Roussel's How I Wrote Certain of My Books, current reading fortuitously timed with the American release of a new impression of New Impressions of Africa (and with a visit to the Surrealist chess exhibition at the Noguchi Museum, which curiously contextualizes the permanent exhibition there).

Addendum 27.1.06

The trajectory of January reading continues upward.

The title essay of Roussel's How I Wrote Certain of my Books comprises only 25pp (with another 15pp or so of notes); most of the rest excerpts other available writings (as well as Zo's illustrations for New Impressions of Africa), but the final section, Documents to Serve as an Outline, is by itself worth the price of admission. Contrary to his own estimation, Roussel's prose improved over time, though the sample of writing for the stage, The Dust of Suns, shows him no more suited to that medium than, say, Henry James. Odd that he should be so much more proficient at describing spectacle than showing it (except insofar as his instructions to Zo make for a text in their own right, perhaps anticipating the graphic novel?).

But Hemon's Nowhere Man is January's stand-out reading. I've heard too many new authors compared to Nabokov not to heavily discount the hype, but here the comparison in justified. It's not merely a felicity of style, making every word count in each sentence or paragraph (evident as well in the stories of A Question of Bruno, where the prot-agonist Josef Pronek is first introduced); it's a tight but deft weave throughout the novel (much harder to sustain at this length), as well as the able incorporation of Nabokovian allusive and meta-narrative techniques, lightly applied, to a less remarkable émigré setting than Nabokov dealt with, and thus all the more remarkable in making the ordinary extraordinary (reversing the trope that war imposes: another version of Pronek quotes Semezdin Mehmedinović's Sarajevo Blues: "When a shell falls, books act like a net, trapping the shrapnel within them."). Nowhere Man succeeds in both widening and narrowing its scope as it progresses; it probably exhausts what can be done with Pronek as character (there are a few extra bits [pdf] Hemon left out, I think appropriately [funny that Nan Talese is 'in the news' regarding another protean character, may he frey in rehab]). Hemon also leaves out the intramural religious conflicts that I expect to better understand on reading Andrić to finish out the month.


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