Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Beginning of October reads

So, I hit the hundred book mark for 2014 early this year, late last month, and what I've been reading since was largely gleaned from indiepresses at the Brooklyn Book Festival, picked up largely on spec, which makes for some unevenness but more than compensated by its rewards. About halfway through, as is October (meanwhile, Archipelago Books hit the hundred book mark, published over its ten year existence, and I'll be celebrating both booklandmarks with them tomorrow night at the gala) ...

Stig Dagerman, Sleet: selected stories (Stephen Hartman) [Godine]: the child struggles to maintain innocence, defenseless against older children, just so-so; I keep trying but I'm still just not taking to Scandinavian Lit ...
Mina Loy, Insel [Melville House]: something to put side by side with Breton's Nadja (with some of the same flaws), and an inquisition of Surrealism, and more prose-by-poet (yet another hook for me) but a bit disappointing, but I'll be following up.
Gonçalo M. Tavares, Jerusalem (Anna Kushner) [Dalkey]: confluence of the marginal ... I wondered to what extent it played off early Lobo Antunes' psychologizing; I liked it better than [MAO]
James Kelman, if it is your life: stories [Other]: varied, some misses but when he hits he hits hard.
Frankétienne, Ready to Burst (Kaiama L. Glover) [Archipelago]: Spiralist story expertly translated [MAO] [John Taylor {whose translations of French poetry I must pick up}]
Peter Weiss, Leavetaking (Christopher Levenson) [Melville House]: semiautobiographical bildungsroman, concise without sacrificing range; I'm still hoping that the rest of The Aesthetics of Resistance will be englished. [MAO]
Eliot Weinberger, An Elemental Thing [NDP {thx4 the tote!}]: mythic essay(s) from all over the map ... I'm reading his Paz translations, this seemed to fit, but so too "The Vortex" after Frankétienne (neither of which make mention of Nabokov's ascendant spiral).


End of September reads

Robert Walser, Microscripts (Susan Bernofsky) [New Directions]: The more I read the better he gets (maybe because I started with The Assistant). With him you don't know where you'll be three sentences from now.
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Running Away (Matthew B. Smith) [dalkey]: I'm still on the fence with him, he reminds me a bit of Aira, except nothing happens. [MAO]
Georges Perec, I Remember (Philip Terry, David Bellos) [Godine]: I gave up being a completist of the englished works with How to Ask Your Boss for a Raise, but this seems essential to getting at where Perec is coming from. [MAO]
Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington [NDP]: I've seen this described as less astringent than her other work, which is saying something. Prior to this I'd only read Loitering with Intent, long ago (and with enjoyment but without follow-up); now I've got Memento Mori queued up, and an eye out for a coupla others, prompted in part by a fellow denizen of The Woods.
Tadeusz Konwicki, A Minor Apocalypse (Richard Lourie) [dalkey]: Immolation is the sincerest form of satire. Overly broad, though not without its moments (though some of them dated); I preferred The Polish Complex.
Milena Michiko Flašar, I Called Him Necktie (Sheila Dickie) [New Vessel]: A catalogue of the margins: hikikomori meets discarded salaryman, tautly told from former's perspective. [MAO]
Miljenko Jergović, Sarajevo Marlboro (Stela Tomassević) [archipelago]: Bosnian conflicts. Among the first published by Archipelago, and now in its fourth printing, and deservedly so. Don't know why it took me so long.
Christian Bök, Crystallography [Coach House]: Poetics refracted therethrough: “a pataphysical encyclopaedia that misreads the language of poetics through the conceits of geology.” Some gems, and works overall, but I'm an easy mark for this sort of thing.


August into September reads

I circumstantially spent the end of August offline, and otherwise with limited reading time, so when better to tackle another tome long reposing on the Bookshelf of Good Intentions? this time, the Penguin Classics edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur (Janet Cowen ed). I expected it to be interesting as a sourcebook for the Arthur legends and such, but hadn't sussed it was a compendium of prior sources, and a flattening of their styles. After a promising start it became a slog, cartoonish, bringing to mind Edna St. Vincent Millay's riposte (whether about History or Life): "It's not one damned thing after another. It's the same damned thing over and over." I took a break Labor Day weekend after Book X to pursue other readings, and was glad of the change in tenor, as Malory got to the Grail legend, even if afterwards that uptick faded in the recounting of the dissolution of the Round Table; I suppose that reflects the underlying source material.

Fortunately the rest of my reading has more than made up for any disappointment (Michael A. Orthofer's reviews linked as available):
Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Tyrant Banderas (Peter Bush) [nyrb]: the bridge from Europe to Latin America for developing its own tyrant-lit (of which Roa Bastos' I, The Supreme reigns supreme). [MAO]
Richard Flanagan, Gould's Book of Fish [Grove]: the first three-quarters as good as or better than they say, but overwrought (and overmeta) at the finish. [MAO]
António Lobo Antunes, The Return of the Caravels (Gregory Rabassa) [Grove]: over a year ago I'd been disappointed by The Land at the End of the World (Margaret Jull Costa), which I found misanthropomorphic at its best, acid-etched jade, but uneven ... I can see where it's hard to keep it up over the full course of the story (the opener brilliant and another peak midway thru) but I don't see how the variation correlates. But I have Miguel to thank for prompting my return to him so soon, and to be rewarded as his was. Profoundly disorienting, and that's before considering my sketchy schematic sense of Portuguese history (and the literature, no more than Lusiad summary): despite or because of the mixed chronology, the first-third person shifting, the tortuous syntax, it works. Knowledge of Hell now at hand, and Fado Alexandrino in prospect ...
Péter Esterházy, The Book of Hrabal (Judith Sollosy) [Northwestern U]: well, it's Hrabal's centennary; but also of interest in Hungarian-Czech relations. [MAO]
Ernesto Sábato, The Tunnel (Margaret Sayers Peden) [Penguin]: I see its reputation as "existential" as something of a red herring, yes it makes gestures in that direction but it is at heart a schizophrenic love affair, both subject and object (that is, Maria as well, or as unwell, or nearly). It makes more gestures in Borges' direction (particularly with a precis approximation of "Death and the Compass"), and I also find it curious that it was apparently originally published in the same 1948 issue of Sur as "Emma Zunz" (Miguel mentions that Sábato may have had Bioy Casares have a prior look). (And then too, gestures towards illness as metaphor in the arts, and its symptomatic over-analysis ...) [MAO]
Éric Chevillard, The Author and Me (Jordan Stump) [Dalkey]: going over the top of even his own over-the-topitude; borne with a cauliflower. Early release, but not for good behavior [review board hasn't met].
Roberto Bolaño, A Little Lumpen Novelita (Natasha Wimmer) [New Directions]: the first new englished Bolaño prose I've been eager for since 2010 (I waited for The Third Reich & Between Parentheses to be remaindered; lower expectations fulfilled); slender but strong portrait, flirting with criminality (tho a tad peeved that of 109pp only 70 or so writ upon). [MAO]


August reads (so far)

The fiction has been excellent, as has the weather ...

José Saramago, Raised from the Ground (Margaret Jull Costa) [Mariner/HMH]: Higher hopes justified, though this initial exposition in his signature style didn't displace any of my favorites, though that style is perhaps even more appropriate to this storyline.
Umberto Eco, Inventing the Enemy (Richard Dixon) [HMH]: one of the more disappointing collections of his essays (his preface opens "The title of this collection ought to have been the subtitle, Occasional Writings" and it's too like occasional poetry, not of the same caliber as the good stuff). Not that it doesn't have its moments, but they were fewer, and some of it felt warmed over (overdoing excess in Hugo and Dumas, the lists more listless ...), but one of the better essays, "Why the Island Is Never Found" segued nicely into ...
Peter Matthiessen, Far Tortuga [Vintage]: I was actually put on to Matthiessen by the NYTSM profile that just preceded his obit, and this particular title as the best-regarded if not best-known; but also by John Latta's last notebook entry. (And this and the books that follow below were hard to come by this side of the pond, all came by way of UK.) But on to Spenser Island ...
Arno Schmidt, The School for Atheists: A Novella=Comedy in 6 Acts (John E. Woods) [Green Integer]: Schmidt slows down your reading, the later the slower, so this one moreso: I'll let MAO explain. (And taking this on is just warm-up for Bottom's Dream ...) I will mention that among the namechecked authors (Cooper, Bulwer, and of course Shakespeare) is Verne, segueing again ...
Adam Roberts, Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea (Illus Mahendra Singh) [Gollancz]: Ingenious homage to Jules Verne, and to the illustrated novel. Roberts has long been playing with various sci-fi tropes (bit out of date, that link, he's been busy) but also had a special interest in Verne; I wonder whether this will be translated into French.
Italo Calvino, The Complete Cosmicomics (William Weaver, Tim Parks, Martin McLaughlin) [Penguin]: by and large a reread but from long long ago, not dated even though the science it riffs on is, and this time round I came to appreciate another element beneath it, esp the Qfwfq tales, prodding me to dislodge Italian Folktales from the Bookshelf of Good Intentions. A couple of iblogatory links to particular stories: "Mitosis" is summed up by Joy Division, and I sumbled upon this before "Meteorite" ...


July reads

A bit early, so as to coincide with my ninth bloggiversary (and I still haven't figured out what I'm doing here).

Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson [NDP]: I prefer hers to Helen Vendler's (whose selected poems and commentaries, close readings opening into variants, possible sourcings, philologies, construction etc, which I found [in Apr'13] informative and frustrating even exasperating but I needed focus and argument; still, a slog [Vendler in '96 Paris Review: "I don’t think I’ll ever write about Alexander Pope, and I don’t think I’ll ever write about Emily Dickinson [...] They are not on my wavelength as much as some other authors, and life is short. [...] I’m much more drawn to authors that I feel close to by temperament. I feel close to Stevens by temperament. I feel close to Keats and to Herbert by temperament. They are indolent and meditative writers. I don’t mean indolent in personal character, but they like to roam freely in their thinking about a topic, so that Herbert will come back and back to affliction and Keats will come back and back to the sensuous life. Emily Dickinson cuts things off very short, and that always seems to me rather shocking. She ends poems too soon for me." Spoke too soon. Well before Poets Thinking. Anyway, no, it's not Glenn Gould playing Mozart.]), Howe gets there firstest with the mostest, but both augmented my own (cf). I wonder at how poorly Dickinson was received even by the New Critics (who should have known better), how well read she was, and how T.W. Higginson was instrumental and crucial to her. Not that there isn't room for quibble, but Howe guides the reading rather than imposing it. (And I'm glad I read The Midnight first, for added context.)

Edouard Levé, Autoportrait (Lorin Stein) [dalkey]: High artlessness I didn't take to as MAO did (nor do I think I'll take to the more recently translated Works [excerpt], but he rightly complains how little attention he gets [I account for some of the hits]) (and in related attention economy news, he [and Scott Esposito, who also rejected my input] take exception to Tim Parks, though nobody mentions the difference between international and anglophone sales). It does whet my appetite for Perec's I Remember though [1Sep].

Bohumil Hrabal, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age (Michael Henry Heim) [nyrb]: Pure palavering, his first novel in this voice, nonstop, but less (or mostly) of interest than (or because of) what followed. (Currently reading Saramago's Raised from the Ground on the same pretext though with higher hopes [thx Miguel!])

César Vallejo, The Complete Poems (Clayton Eshleman) [U California]: "Trilce" is amazing, as is its translation; "Human Poems" varied and surprising, but what brackets these, "The Black Heralds" feels dated and "Take This Cup From Me" too polemic to be poetic.

Andrei Bitov, Pushkin House (Susan Brownsberger) [dalkey]: Yet another romp through Russian literature, this time from a late Soviet perspective. Think I'll hold off a bit on his latest, The Symmetry Teacher (and as for the Nabokov deep dive into Pushkin, well ...)

Maurice Scève. Emblems of Desire: Selections from the Délie (Richard Sieburth) [archipelago]
Louise Labé, Love Sonnets & Elegies (Richard Sieburth) [nyrb]
16thc Lyonnaise reponse to and transmission of Italian Renaissance (which I got to hear Sieburth read from and comment upon) and which prompted a revisit of John Ashbery's "Fragment" (from Rivers and Mountains).

Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses [Viking]: Long a resident of my Bookshelf of Good Intentions. His Pynchon is showing, moreso than in what else of his I've read (Midnight's Children, The Moor's Last Sigh, Haroun and the Sea of Stories), and which I've generally preferred; Shame is the next (and perhaps only other) thing of his I must read.

William H. Gass, Life Sentences [Knopf]: A mixed bag, willing to stretch the essay form ... and On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry [Godine], a bit off-color.

W.G. Sebald, A Place in the Country (Jo Catling) [Penguin]: Yes his trademark style, but in these essays it loses something of what makes the novels so compelling, but what? obliquity? can't put my finger on it.

César Aira, Conversations (Katherine Silver) [NDP] Critical discourse talking the talk on a tightrope with the cameras rolling (on the floor, laughing).


The Top 10 (or 25 or so) Progressive Rock Albums

It strikes me that I've been remiss in expostulating upon some of my other interests on this here blog, with music being perhaps the most notable omission. Not that I'm any sort of musician: yeah I composed a party piece for piano, the detritus of lessons in my youth, the most lasting of which was, you've heard of white noise? I've got white rhythm. And my tastes are somewhat, ahem, eclectic, with preferences for baroque chamber, combo jazz, and psychedelic rock and its spawn.

Prog seems something of a catch-all, unified only by its decade. I'm going to narrow the field by excluding what tilts more toward art rock or experimental rock or fusion (themselves not particularly well defined categories), so much though I enjoy and esteem Zappa, Beefheart, or Berlin stuff (Bowie included) (just f'rinstance), I shan't consider them here. As to criteria for selection, perhaps only my baroque sensibility can explain, but probably no better than the selection itself:

10. Queen, Queen: Lost in what they later became, Queen started out as a prog band, and their debut was solid (unlike the pallid follow-up, Queen II), before finding their audience and formula with Sheer Heart Attack (my first concert was that tour, sandwiched between Mahogany Rush and Kansas [who you will note are not on my list]). Good enough to bump such stalwarts as ELP, Rush, et al out of the top ten.

9. Spirit, The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus: The band's only fully realized album, but oh my what a splendid dawning.

8. Dixie Dregs, What If: The first band on this list with multiple albums worth consideration, but this is the one where they hit their stride, and it stands out from the others, the title cut particularly. Got to see them live and tight in the Student Union at College Park, Md.

7. Jethro Tull, Aqualung: A more difficult choice, between this and Thick as a Brick, one of the few concept albums to live up to the concept (and conceived because Aqualung was misconceptually marketed as a concept album; the very idea!) (oh and the original cover), but I'll take the diversity on display here (and in Living in the Past for the most part). Saw them from the nosebleed seats on stadium tour, in which they played favorites up through Passion Play, itself oft-cited but a falling off, but not such a plummet as the subsequent albums.

6. Genesis, Selling England by the Pound: Another hard choice, from among more contenders (Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and even Trick of the Tail though a tad too slick, but no, no others), but I seem to be in line with the consensus here.

5. Yes, Fragile: As with the Tull above, narrowly edging out Close to the Edge, and for the same reason (and, as above, head and shoulders above the others). My first vinyl LP purchase.

4. Robert Fripp, Exposure: Now things get complicated. King Crimson has several albums up for grabbing, from the seminal In the Court of the Crimson King, through Lark's Tongue in Aspic and Red, to Discipline (which I got to see live in a small theatre setting in DC). What sets this one apart? Well, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno for one, or two. (I'm excluding his prior collaboration with Eno in (no pussyfooting) and Evening Star on proto-ambient grounds; see below for other cases). And with Fripp, how far he's willing to push it is the virtue (not that he's ever slack), and here he's pushing in many directions at once, without losing force. OK, so I have mentioned this one previously, but in another context.

3. Gentle Giant, In a Glass House: Yet another difficult decision, with Free Hand in the same league (cf Rick Moody or John Covach), and Octopus (and Interview and The Power and the Glory) in the running, all with different virtues but all virtuous and virtuosous [sic]. I had to pick this one up as an import because the distributors didn't think it'd play in America, so I had to pick this one.

2. Pink Floyd, Meddle: Yes, I know, Dark Side of the Moon and all, but still, no contest, certainly not with anything that followed that (and I liked that, very much). Of course even their debut album was proto-proggy (still have to track down tribute band Polka Floyd's rendition of Interstellar Overdrive on accordian), but this is the one where it all came together. (I also have a soft spot for Ummagumma even though the band later disowned it to the man.)

1. Phil Manzanera, Diamond Head: After all these years, in fact through them all, my favorite, the best of what prog has to offer. I'll let him tell you all about it. It shares some material with the best live prog album, 801 Live (so too does Eno: Here Come the Warm Jets would be my selection from among his preambient solo efforts), and some personnel with Roxy Music (again spoilt for choice, anything up to Stranded).

As always, YMMV, but if you're not familiar with some of the above (and in agreement on others), take 'em out for a spin.


End of June reads

More unevenness (and slower going) in the latter part of the month:

Stig Sæterbakken, Through the Night (Seán Kinsella) [dalkey] family ties unravelling, similar to Grunberg's Tirza though less blatant, though I had similar problems with it, as well as my not connecting with Nordic lit generally (sagas and their progeny excepted), which is itself similar to my not connecting with upper-middlebrow suburban lit (like Updike), as if Scandinavia were itself a big continental suburb ...
Harry Mathews, The Case of the Persevering Maltese [dalkey] essays of varying interest (to me, his personal perspective on Oulipo & Co. the most interesting).
Ricardo Piglia, Artificial Respiration (Daniel Balderston) [Duke] disappearances backgrounding in historical context (including intellectual & cultural [& the Europe hangover], which he teaches, here too thanks to translator's end-notes), taut and compelling: my book o'the month.
Brigid Brophy, In Transit [dalkey] riffey pomo gendrebender, first person singularity and duality.
Julien Gracq, Balcony in the Forest (Richard Howard) [Columbia] strategic withdrawal in the phoney war (I preferred The Opposing Shore, though not by much).
Renata Adler, Pitch Dark [nyrb] more tightly woven than Speedboat and I think suffers for it, though redeemed somewhat in last third.

A-and, even more throwaway lines (queries and theories, lifted from lit-chat):

Is a square meal an entree with four sides?
If language is the medium of thought, what's the angle of refraction?
Where does the time go, and are we there yet?
Now that the weather's broken, who's going to fix it?
... so I was like literally? you mean figuratively and he was like no I was using literally figuratively and so I was like literally? and he was like exactly! and I was like no, more like approximately and he was like literally? ...
To achieve serenity, skip the dip in serendipity.
Striving for wisdom may be vanity and a striving after wind, but whether vain or no, at least it's my own striving, and no one else's smells as sweet. And besides, the Preacher was an old fart.
It's common knowledge that our individual delusions are a rational and effective way of dealing with our mass delusions.
The curé is worse than the diocese.
if you think gaming the system is the system, the system's gaming you.
Inside every fat man are two thin men trying to get fed.
Those advising you to reinvent yourself are the ones holding the patents.
I tried to gaze long into an abyss but it turned out to be only a mirror.


Beginning of June reads

Finished with The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 (Glyn Maxwell ed) [FSG], for now, finding his post-Nobel efforts less consistent, perhaps taking license to extend himself or his readers with The Bounty but it feels as if he's trying too hard, before a return to form with Tiepolo's Hound (and The Prodigal a slighter falling off, and White Egrets slight return). Moving on to The Complete Poems of César Vallejo (Clayton Eshleman) [UCal], (still filling substantial gaps in the canonical) ...

But my reading has been interspersed prosaically with other authors I've never before encountered, all worthwhile to varying degrees, many of whom I intend to encounter again:

Dimitri Verhulst, The Misfortunates (David Colmer) [Thomas Dunne/St Martin's] dusting off familial nostalgie de la boue, unconventionally (and Colmer collected another translation prize ...)
Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Monsieur (John Lambert) [dalkey] the effect of affectlessness (people, really) (I also have Running Away at hand).
Svetislav Basara, Chinese Letter (Ana Lucic) [dalkey] existential riffing with a killer ending, other moments too, but somewhat scattered (and more scattered scattering to come with The Cyclist Conspiracy).
Marek Hlasko, Killing the Second Dog (Tomasz Mircowicz) [New Vessel] con-job noir but beyond genre, actors speak louder than writers.
Hilda Hilst, With My Dog-Eyes (Adam Morris) [Melville House] assent into madness (I'm a sucker for poetry & mathematics); more madness to come with The Obscene Madame D (LARB review) (cf Crassus Agonicus via 3%).
Leonid Tsypkin, Summer in Baden-Baden (Roger & Angela Keys) [NDP] the puzzle of Dostoevsky, his fervors, and championing of the downtrodden except the Jews, who in Soviet times esteemed him despite or because (I suspect it colored Nabokov's judgment) and his place among other authors (seemingly unavoidable in Russian Lit; I've got Bitov's Pushkin House lined up next in this category, another delaying tactic on Onegin) (TQC review; Tsypkin's only other work, The Bridge over the Neroch and other stories, just became available from NDP , but it looks as though it's more a warm-up).
Andrej Blatnik, You Do Understand (Tamara M. Soban) [dalkey] short story short (3am review) (Yes I must check out Lydia Davis).
Marie Chaix, The Summer of the Elder Tree (Harry Mathews) [dalkey] love and separation, the ongoing story, with interruptions, and recommencements.

Also, got out to see Italian Futurism at the Guggenheim and Entartete Kunst at Neue Galerie ... wouldn't have bothered with the latter but for the former, or the former but for the venue (which I last visited for Kandinsky 5 years back), but the combination was irresistible (and will be there til 1Sep).

add: finally, WSJblog Q&A with my favorite publisher.


End of May reads

Slowing it down over the last couple of weeks, I devoted a good half to a reread of Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy, prodded by a group read instigated over to that lit forum. It had been more than 30 years since I had last (and first) picked it up, and, while smitten by the narrative bag o'tricks, I hadn't returned to it other than obliquely (through the movie and A Sentimental Journey [which well surpasses the Shandean traversal of France, to my mind the least of the volumes], both a few years back). Back then, the only source text with which I was familiar was Locke (and bits of Pope and Swift [and Shakespeare]); this time I returned with most of the referents under my belt (including Cervantes, Rabelais, Montaigne, some of Burton's Anatomy), but, for the most part, there they stayed, as what is best in the narrative does not depend upon its sources but on their contextual re-use, how fit into Sterne's seemingly ramshackle construction. At least for me, but it may well be that I had assimilated and internalized the fun to be had with systematics way back then at my first reading; the second go-round didn't seem to add much, and of that mostly at the margin.

So far as rereading goes, there are very few such on my Bookshelf of Good Intentions. New translations are the most likely to make it there (as did Elsworth's Bely's Petersburg and Burgin & O'Connor's Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, as will Calvino's Complete Cosmicomics when available here this fall). Of course I've reread many of my favorites (but not everything that's come out in the meantime); what remains on the BoGI at the moment are Foucault's Pendulum and Moby-Dick.

Other reading:
as mentioned, Olga Tokarczuk's House of Day, House of Night, the place of conscience and the conscience of place, in post-war Silesia (and as with Sterne, a fitting bracketing of a month that began with Hrabal);
Les Murray, New Selected Poems, yes good but I don't think of Nobel quality, too parochial;
and currently in the midst of The Poetry of Derek Walcott: 1948-2013, powerful stuff.