Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


arrhythmia of the waves arriving
syncopate pebbles and shards of shell
rattle as waters withdraw
the shore a shifting near horizon

instantaneous constellations
scintillate sunlight scatters
across the fibrillate surface concealing
the pulse of the currents beneath


The Bookshelf of Good Intentions (slight return)

Ten years or so ago I made a little list that I've got through for the most part in the meantime. Of course it's not static, despite some items' persistence (like Eliot's Daniel Deronda or the remainder of The Canterbury Tales), and some things lead to others (eg Genji to Heike and Ise [and 100 Poets]), while others arrive with a thud (such as John E Woods' Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream). But it is not my purpose to update much less chronicle; rather, it's to mark a confluence that has allowed me to put a dent in the list.

Long absent from my list was Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz, for lack of a translation not mired in period furnishings. Luckily for me, translator Bill Johnston felt similarly, and did something about it, and so too did Archipelago Books, for whom he'd also done Magdalena Tulli, Wiesław Myśliwski, Witold Gombrowicz & Tadeusz Różewicz (and, elsewhere, Andrzej Stasiuk and Tomasz Różycki) (all of which I'd read, many of which garnered prizes; I regret not being able to read Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, available only as audiobook). Johnston brings out how Mickiewicz subverts the epic form with elegiac comedy, sharing something of the sensitivities of Byron's Don Juan (as he remarked in a presentation at Poet's House in NYC last month). So this was the briefest of residencies on the BoGI, but prompted a further displacement ...

... since I figured, as long as I'm doing foundational national literature from the second quarter of the 19th century, what about Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed? Looking back 2 centuries rather than 2 decades (as Mickiewicz did), it also looked forward to unifying the Italian language (if not the Risorgimento, however alert to then contemporary echoes). Now, this ordinarily ain't my cuppa, à la Scott and all, but the first quarter to third displayed a mastery before threads started to fray, and Bruce Penman's translation made even the slogging bits tolerable.

Continuing with the impetus of the 1830ish theme, I've queued up my long-deferred Pushkin project (see top link), Nabokov's detailing of Eugene Onegin, along with the Little Tragedies (hey another Don Juan subref! yes that had its moment on the BoGI too). Moreso than Manzoni or Mickiewicz (a friend of his), Pushkin remains a presence in the national literature, particularly due to its penchant for incorporating its precursors (eg Dovlatov, Bitov). Not quite yet, other things to attend to, but as New Year's resolutions go, I think this one will be seen through.



forever lasts to the end of time
while eternity is timeless, still
present even after time's run out


2018 best of

Whew, wanted to get this wrapped up by Christmas, tis the seasoning of the year (attention conservation notice: I has a taste) ... for the first time since 2012 I fell short of 100 books read, other things on my mind. That's life, I s'pose. But I made the most of my reading.

This year's big project was The Journey to the West in 4 (revised) volumes (Anthony C. Yu) [Chicago], incited by remaindering at bookculture (as was The Story of the Stone, many years back). Hit the sweet spots of interest in syncretism and cultural transmission: yes Monkey steals the show, but the blend of Zen Tao Kung & alchemy sets the stage; began to wear in V3, have to say that one reason I persevered was that the Tang Monk's journey is the reader's as well, with all its trials and tribs, and another of the main characters, the Idiot, is constantly looking to bail out ... of course this may be an anachronistic way of taking it, but it certainly wasn't to achieve merit.

In poetry. I've finally filled enough gaps to feel fairly well-grounded: this year, with selected by Thom Gunn, Yvor Winters, Mark Strand, Charles Olson, Anthony Hecht, A.R. Ammons, and W.S. Graham (the bookends the best) (also by poets better known as translators: Alastair Reid [meh], Michael Hofmann [solid], Richard Howard [Harold Bloom: "Robert Browning's authentic heir"; mixed blessing, that, at least early on], Dick Davis [rent formalwear]); in translation, Doris Kareva, Adam Zagajewski, Eleni Vakalo, and from waybackthen, Li Shangyin and One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each, all very good; and among more current poets, Tracy K. Smith and Layli Long Soldier, the latter of which enticed me in to a couple of Native American poetry anthologies, including that recently edited by Heid E. Erdrich (a form of collection I normally avoid), as another part of catching up on the "N.A. Renaissance" (of which I'd only read Louise Erdrich previously) in preparation for Tommy Orange's There There, best U.S. debut of the year (and Wu He's Remains of Life fits in here somewhere as internationally indigenous).

For other fiction writers in English this year, there were a few standouts:
Gerald Murnane, Border Districts [FSG]: still Bernhard on 'ludes [MAOrthofer; previously]
Gabriel Josipovici, The Cemetery in Barnes [Carcanet]: counterpointing Monteverdi's L'Orfeo with Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, with Joachim du Bellay's Regrets providing a third voice, there's something fugal about it, yet another art developing in the transition from Renaissance to Baroque (curious as to why a few of the details regarding Barnes Cemetery [link in following] were twiddled) [Mitchelmore]
Eley Williams, Attrib. and other stories [Influx]: varied difficulties with and around words [TLS, TWR interview]

Of foriegn authors new to me though not BTBA-eligible this year:
Daša Drndić, Belladonna (Celia Hawkesworth) [NDP]: as impressive as expected, wide-ranging yet focused; alludes back to prior work (Trieste, Leica Format, also englished, though I won't be backtracking to them) without undue dependence thereon [MAO] and TLS fair use: "This novel—the first of a trilogy featuring Ban—resembles topography, as if inviting the reader up on the top of a mountain to survey a geography as mutable and varied as that of the Balkans themselves. These lands, that have so regularly changed nationality and provoked persecution, are also the groundsoil of Drndic's previous ten novels. Celia Hawkesworth's translation indelibly transcribes perhaps one of the strangest and strongest books on ageing and rage, and the need to bear constant witness." And Doppelgänger (S,D, Curtis & Celia Hawkesworth) [Istros], an asymmetric pairing of tales darkly humorous or vice versa [MAO]. Looking forward to EEG [MAO].
Filip David, The House of Remembering and Forgetting (Christina Pribicevich Zorić) [Peter Owen]: Shoah survivor identity crises, the problem of evil & Jewish mysticism, nother must-read [LARB]
Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury (Eliza Marciniak) [Transit]: late communist rural Polish upbringing, surprisingly engaging debut (and hey poet's prose!) [WLT]

As for the BTBA-eligible, I've read nearly a score, and of what I've read consider Olga Tokarczuk's Flights (Jennifer Croft) [Riverhead] to have the inside track, with Vladimir Sharov's The Rehearsals (Oliver Ready) [Dedalus] (and so it is written, microcosmically [MAO, LARB]) right alongside, while MAO favors Carlos Rojas' The Valley of the Fallen (Edith Grossman) [Yale/Margellos], and Dag Solstad's T Singer (Tiina Nunnaly) [New Directions]. In recent years the judging has diverged from either of our esteemations, though still on worthy works (cf their ruminations): I expect that due consideration will be given to Hanne Ørstavik's Love (Martin Aitken) [archipelago] mother and son unparallelled stream of consiousness [MAO] and Ondjaki's Transparent City (Stephen Henighan) [biblioasis], Luanda seen through [JoburgRB], as well as others I've not (yet) read. But my preferences tend towards more inventive works, not for everybody:
Maria Gabriela Llansol, The Geography of Rebels Trilogy (Audrey Young) [Deep Vellum]: more like the topology of mystics, mostly, achronoillogical (and many referents unfamiliar [to me anyways, thx wiki et al]), infused with a unique poetics ... no neither Pessoan nor Lispectorate but similarly sui generis [TMN]
Wolfgang Hilbig, The Tidings of the Trees (Isabel Fargo Cole) [Two Lines]: a notch up from The Old Rendering Plant which is sayn sumpin [FullStop, Asymptote]
Brice Matthieussent, Revenge of the Translator (Emma Ramadan) [Deep Vellum]: pomover-the-top author-translator-character contention replete with red herrings in sauce [LARB]
Willem Frederik Hermans, An Untouched House (David Colmer) [archipelago]: WWII insensibility [MAO]
Alicia Kopf, Brother in Ice (Mara Faye Lethem) [& Other Stories]: exploration of the poles, art, writing, family, self [TWR]
Dino Buzzati, Catastrophe and other stories (Judith Landry) [Ecco]: the sense of unease shared with The Tartar Steppe the more remarkable for being accomplished in such short scope [3AM]
Matei Calinescu, The Life and Opinions of Zacharias Lichter (Adriana Calinescu and Breon Mitchell) [nyrb]: sui generis must-read [MAO]

The above by no means exhausts what I found worthwhile but I'll leave it at that, as I've left a more complete rendering at The Fictional Woods (in a slightly less convenient format since migration to a new platforum, c'est la vie). Merry Christmas!



David Auerbach's latest writing comes in hardback from Pantheon. Bitwise: A Life in Code is a GenX memoir of the formative influence of programming, leading to ruminations that the interoperability of computers and "real" "life" sets a formative context for us all through quantifiable taxonomies.

This is looser than his journalism, but no less incisive. Per the NYTimes, "what’s really distinctive about this book is his ability to dissect Joyce and Wittgenstein as easily as C++ code." I'm a bit too close to assess this further, in that we share a range of interests (including strong support for Archipelago Books) and similar histories (though I'm a Boomer, and more applied maths than systems), and we've blogcommented each other on matters literary since 2007. So I'll let Mr. Waggish speak for himself: Q&A, excerpts: LitHub, Boston Review, Medium


ripple in still water

Stochastic Bookmark becomes a teenager today, which makes it a nonagenarian in blog years. Posting frequency has waned, though I'm still reliable on BTBA and year-end reading-in-review; the last time I marked a bloggiversary was three years back (end-scroll for a partial index into worthwhile prior posts in this otherwise untagged agglomeration).

This time round, I'll only flag (or is that flog?) one older post, about the family business on Mackinac Island, as it has passed on to the third generation (my niece, her husband, their son now prepping for the fourth), and Mackinac truly is a special place, worth revisiting. (NB: August fully booked by now but I prefer the off-season anyway; 2019 bookings open in 2019.)

Another thing to flag or flog or blog: The date is set (27 Sept) for Archipelago Book's Fall Fête, which I unfortunately missed last year, but have every intention to attend this. (Karl Ove Knausgaard will be book-touring around this time for the release of the final volume of My Struggle, just so's you know.)

And last, and least, the biennial installment of throwaway lines:

I accidentally loaded Tinder on my Kindle and it burst into old flames.

The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, but it likes it.

When the second and third persons switched places, they were cast adrift.

The is is what it ought to be, but the ought is fraught with meaning.

Art is made in the space between is and ought, or should be.

Just because it's a positive-sum game doesn't mean there aren't losers.

Is the difference between a leap of logic and a leap of faith the same as the difference between the long jump and the high jump?

When the St Louis Cardinals play the Baltimore Ordinals, the former may own the score, but the latter owns the innings and the bases.

(previous iterations: 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016)

(oh, the post title? another bloggiversary post characterized as an added ripple to "an eddy in the backwaters of the internets" ...)


moot point

so little to say
and so adept at saying so



what to make of it? the poet don't know
only his role as only begetter
bits of himself dislodged somehow
ending up on otherwise blank sheets
left to the reader to reassemble


BTBA 2018

First off, congratulations to publishers Open Letter and Ugly Duckling for joining Phoneme as two-time BTBA winners (cf shortlist and [prior] winner stats and Chad Post's commentary). The author and translator may split the cash, but recognition gives the publisher a boost (not so much in sales as in other ways, e.g. institutional support for non-profits).

So on the fiction side, Rodrigo Fresán's The Invented Part (trans Will Vanderhyden) took top honors, with Mathias Énard's Compass (Charlotte Mandell) close on its heels, and Wu He's Remains of Life (Michael Berry) a surprise contender. Yes I had misgivings about the first two, but I suppose sheer conceptual fun outweighed other considerations.

On the poetry side, Eleni Vakalo's Before Lyricism (Karen Emmerich) was the one for choice. The judges' comment:
“Before Lyricism is a captivating collection of poetry as well as an awe-inspiring feat of translation. Eleni Vakalo makes her readers hear and see the images written on the page; the book creates its own world around you as you read. Vakalo pushes the Greek language to its limits, stretching its syntax and playing up its room for ambiguity. Karen Emmerich spent over a decade translating these poems and finding ways for English, normally so resistant to ambiguity, to open up and allow for a similar, unsettling abstraction. The end result is nothing short of miraculous and an absolute pleasure to read in English translation.”
Before Lyricism collects a half-dozen of Vakalo's early poetry books; Emmerich's accomplishment is in respecting and preserving the syntactical ambiguities and tenuous connections despite lacking resources available in the original modern Greek, down to the deployment of phrases on the page (as her afterword delineates). Stand-outs are "Diary of Age" and "The Meaning of the Blind", but all have their moments and overall coherence.