Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Herding chats: assorted notes from all over

Reading is a solitary social activity. But that doesn't mean I don't get out a bit.

Maybe it's an ex-programmer glitch on my part, but I always have an Obi-Wan problem with the year N award for the best being for year N-1. Anyway, as I reported at WLF, last night the inaugural Best Translated Book Winners were announced at Melville House's bookstore in DUMBO. Chad Post opened the proceedings at 8PM, introducing Francisco Goldman, who, after prefactory remarks on the art of translation, announced the winners, first in poetry then in prose (I mean the winners not the presentation). Many worthy books to have to choose among, with Desnos, Castellanos Moya and Bolaño's 2666 among those honorably mentioned (see finalists in poetry and prose; the latter also lists the panelists, one of whom I'd the good fortune to know from Gotham Book days; of the panelists, only Scott Esposito was unable to attend). Attendence was large, the attendees largely in the biz in some aspect, but not unwelcoming to amateurs like myself; it was good to put faces to names, and to celebrate the attention that translations are receiving across a broad spectrum of interest. Nonetheless, thinking global it's imperative to act local: book-providers need more individual support as grants are curtailed by straitened finances (cf next graf). I also procured a copy of one of the finalists, Raymond Queneau's EyeSeas, as well as Heinrich Heine's Travel Pictures (as previously noted) and Gilbert Adair's The Death of the Author ... and thanks to ubuweb downloaded Helen R. Lane's translation of Claude Simon's Properties of Several Geometric and Non-Geometric Figures.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a different sort of wordsmith confab at the Paley Center in Midtown, co-hosted by the Financial Times' blog ftalphaville, on translating dire numbers into words, with an audience predominantly of journalists, bloggers, and relational publicists; it happened that I was alone among the attendees in having previously worked with both of the guest presenters (same department, different times), Rob Passarella (who used to blog but now tweets) and Rick Bookstaber, both of whom had well-informed takes in their respective areas of expertise (in Rick's case more financial than blogging risk, but his was more a descrial of the factoid culture than of the medium).

Back to literary matter(s): I dropped a note to the Nabokov listserv on Clancy Martin's LRB diary entry; I'd like to see Senderovich & Shvarts extend their cross-sectional approach [pdf] on shop-windows as commercial balagan in Nabokov's writings.

Recent reading starts with musical offerings:
Manuel Puig, Heartbreak Tango (Suzanne Jill Levine) Who leads the dance, and with whom? Made up of many monologues, interior to epistolatory to forensic, with the music and the movies in the background.
Dumitru Tsepenaug, Vain Art of the Fugue (Patrick Camiller): Incidental variations on a theme, not unlike but not at all like Queneau's Exercises in Style, like a fish needs a bicycle, narration by path integral:
"As you can see, madam, words are getting staler and staler—you can't do much with them at all." The lady smiled with embarrassment. "And the reason is that idiots have used them like so many wheelbarrows, you know what I mean? They've loaded them up with all kinds of idiotic confessions, with all these ideas, each more stupid than the last—and if not stupid, then certainly destructive—in short, with what people call messages.
cf The Believer, complete's-review, TQC; an interview.
Walter Abish, Minds Meet: Unexpectedly this fit in with the Tsepenaug I just read. Taken individually the stories are sort of not quite Don Barthelme, but combination raises the collection, perhaps, including epigraph, as 13 ways of looking at a blank sheet of paper. cf on Abish, revisited, 5 yrs ago at the NYer; the current issue has Menand revisiting Barthelme, alas reg $ubs only, but there is audio for everyone.
Virginia Woolf, Orlando: I didn't think she had it in him. OK, too glib, but it struck me as too flash, oversumptuous, less profound (esp in style and subtlety) than her other writings of this period. Letting out all the stops let something else out, but then approaches to gender issues were constrained by the times, had to be fantastic, and in turn everything is overdone (she knows she's overdoing and lets you know she does), authorial intrusions included, even what is left unsaid is unsaid loudly (tho often to great comedic effect). For all that, behind Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, and The Waves.


Odds & ends

Scott confirms that I tuned in to the right wavelength in the previous post.

Speaking of ephemeral archives, it appears that the NYTimes BookForum has permanently rendered its service temporarily unavailable, even read-only, even barring linkfixes per alumni chatroom. Having been on Usenet's rec.arts.books pre-Sempitember and still being able to follow threads from wayback then, I just don't get it, or should I say they don't. (But with BookWorld being folded into the WashPost, the NYT Book Review is just about the only one left stand-alone.) Meanwhile, NYTBF alumnae, those I know of who have moved on to actively blogging, in traditional reverse chronological order:
Fragmentary Evidence: Oakland ramblings
Snarke: Pugetopulent poetics
Spinozablue: Art & Lit from all over
Jabel: stratified LAer atop the cape and upstate
Diario del hablante lirico: Chilean imagings
Rodney Welch: critical view (books, music, film) from Columbia SC

Moving on, my local used bookmonger is closing his doors for good (and for ill); I've relieved him of 40+ titles at half off this past month (including those asterisked below). So, on to January reader's report, shamelessly lifted from my WLF posts:
Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone linked to longish commentary at WLF in post before last.
Kenneth Rexroth, Love and the Turning Year: One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese, personal interpretations, split evenly between the Six Dynasties and T'ang and Sung, with brief biographical notes on the 60 poets represented. But beyond the usual problems of translation, typography can never adequately reflect calligraphy.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night* was just as good as expected, the intricate psychological observations pared down to the most elegant expression, even though the supporting structure fell apart as the main character did.
Joseph Roth, The Emperor's Tomb (John Hoare) disappointed, despite a similar acuteness, perhaps because it was confined to one character's viewpoint.
Claude Simon, The Georgics (Beryl & John Fletcher) A high degree of difficulty, interleaving or should I say interweaving stories, the didactic point being that history teaches us that we can learn nothing from history (the point being made nonchronologically). The minor cavil is that the homage to Orwell (yes that's as ironic as the title's allusion to Virgil) is not really integral to the tapestry (but it's not superfluous, nor tacked on). I haven't yet been disappointed by Simon, having first stumbled on The Trolley (aka The Tramway) a copula years ago and The Flanders Road last year; now I'm on the look-out for Acacia. cf Reading Claude Simon.
Cristina Peri Rossi, The Ship of Fools (Psiche Hughes) re-engendering the world, strong in concept and excellent in parts but uneven; YMMV.
Tim Krabbé, The Rider (Sam Garrett) should be read in one sitting; see complete's-review.
Victor Pelevin, The Helmet of Horror (Andrew Bromfield) a chatroom should not mean, but be. (complete's-review)
Kurt Tucholsky, Castle Gripsholm (Michael Hofmann) too Thin-Mannish
Nikolai Leskov, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk* (Robert Chandler) just too thin (Hesperus annoys at full price, even half off and half again is still a bit much for a short story)
Carlos Fuentes, The Old Gringo (Margaret Sayers Peden) flawed execution, overdone.
Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey* not heavy going, but first class fare
Graham Greene, Travels with My Aunt* ibid
Shiva Naipaul, An Unfinished Journey* more transporting (now I really must move on to Heinrich Heine's Travel Pictures)
Shusaku Endo, Deep River* (Van C. Gessel), syncretic sermonizing, overlitanized, partially redeemed by plot and character sketch but demonstrating Endo's worst tendencies.
Knut Hamsun, Hunger* (Robert Bly), manic depression's a frustrating mess; I.B. Singer's intro too high in register, it's not Dostoevsky but Gogol who's relevant, very interesting but short of timelessness.
A.S. Byatt, The Matisse Stories*, three shorts, the middle half overtelegraphed though well-executed, the bracketing ones excellent.