What I’m reading… And thinking about and looking at…

Who Would Dare
by Roberto Bolaño
from The New York Review of Books

“After that, after I stole that book and read it, I went from being a prudent reader to being a voracious reader and from being a book thief to being a book hijacker. ”

“What I remember best about my visits to those bookstores are the eyes of the booksellers, which sometimes looked like the eyes of a hanged man and sometimes were veiled by a kind of film of sleep, which I now know was something else. I don’t remember ever seeing lonelier bookstores.”

“What book would you give to a condemned man? he asked me. I don’t know, I said. I don’t know either, said the bookseller, and I think it’s terrible. What books do desperate men read? What books do they like? How do you imagine the reading room of a condemned man? he asked. I have no idea, I said. You’re young, I’m not surprised, he said.”

I’ve read Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and the collection The Last Evenings on Earth but it’s been a while since I’ve picked up something of his. This short essay on books and thievery and the dim light of Mexico City nights made me remember why I love him so much. His writing is so simple and yet so poetic at the same time. It has a beauty to it that doesn’t seem forced or flowery but real. I always imagine if I ran into Bolaño on the streets that he would talk just like he writes–which probably isn’t true but maybe that’s the thing about good writers, they write so convincingly that you don’t care if it’s true or not. That truth doesn’t really matter anymore.

Anyway, something about Bolaño gets to me. I dunno, his words and his stories, his short descriptions and how he floods his writing with lists of the authors and poets that he’s devoured over the years–like they’re all a part of his history and his country’s history and all of our histories. It’s powerful stuff.

Postcards to My Peeps
by Carolyn Sewell’s
A fun flickr of postcards she created for her friends. Here are some favorites:

The Imperfectionists
by Tom Rachman

But I assure you of this: news will survive, and quality coverage will always earn a premium. Whatever you want to call it–news, text, content–someone has to report it, someone has to write it, someone has to edit it. And I intend for us to do it better, no matter the medium.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while now but was able to hold out for the paperback edition to come out. I must say, I’m glad I waited.

The book is a collection of stories about a world newspaper that’s based in Rome. Each story focuses on one member of the staff and then there is a series of short one to two page explanations in between each story about how the paper got started.

There are some stories that are really great. The first two are my favorites–one on the Paris correspondent and one on the obituary writer. The inside look at the newspaper business is fun to read about and I like the setting of a busy office and the details of copyboys and staff politics and the way business decisions affect what we report on. I like the commentary (like the passage above) on where newspapers are headed. But…

For me, nothing is very exceptional about this collection. Overall, the writing just isn’t as strong as I wanted it to be and certain paragraphs and sections of dialog sound almost immature–like something from a cheap paperback.

Unchanged: this is how she thinks of herself. Fresh as ever at forty-three, legs long and strong under the business slacks, tight midriff under tight waistcoat, lustrous chestnut hair with only a couple of strands gray. She takes unearned pride in her looks.

Really? Uck… I hate these types of paragraphs–where an author feels like he needs to give you a quick summary of a character before he dives into the main story  so he does it through clichéd descriptions of the character’s physical attributes. Sure, these descriptions have their place–in the first page of a romance or a male adventure novel for example–but to find such a passage in a book that I felt should have held itself to higher standards was disappointing.

I dunno, maybe I’m becoming more of a snob. I just felt like it was a good idea, and there was good content, but the execution could have been stronger and the book as a whole could have been a much stronger, more enjoyable, even powerful read if the prose were more… what’s the word?… mature? strong? better? Yes, that’s it more better. Ha.

But the collection is still worth reading and I’m not going to abandon it. I wouldn’t recommend it but it’s nice to have something light to get into (but not get into too much) before bed.

The Very Nervous Family
by Sabrina Orah Mark

She doesn’t like that phrase. Dead bolt. It reminds her of getting shot before you even have a chance to run.

Mrs. Horowitz gathers her very nervous son up in her arms, and gently explains that families who ice skate become the ice they slip on. The cracks they fall through. The frost that bites them.

I love this poem. There are some beautiful phrases but there’s also this great contradictory tone. Everything being said seems somewhat absurd–Afterall, they are a very nervous family. So things are exaggerated. Milk is not spilled in their house, or even dropped, it is killed.

All they ask is that they not starve, and now their only son is killing milk.

It’s such a ludicrous thing to say. And the parents come across as silly for thinking in such extreme terms. And yet, there’s something very real and disturbing about their fear that speaks to a reality that may not be in the poem itself, but lies just outside of it.

And oh, how I love that. I love it when poems do that.

The New York Trilogy
by Paul Auster

Stories happen only to those who are able to tell them, someone once said. In the same way, perhaps experiences present themselves only to those who are able to have them. This is a difficult point, and I can’t be sure of any of it.

What he did not know is that were he to find the patience to read the book in the spirit in which it asks to be read, his entire life would begin to change, and little by little he would come to a full understanding of his situation… But lost chances are as much a part of life as chances taken, and a story cannot dwell on what might have been.

To be inside that music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions: perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear.

Oh man, I loooooved this book. I could easily have written out every passage in here and relived the entire thing again.

You may have noticed that I like to quote things. I keep a reading journal of my favorite passages from the books I read. I find it helps me remember what I’ve read but it, I dunno, helps me internalize things more too.

Either way, sometimes this habit of mine makes me think of Holden’s lament in Catcher in the Rye and how he never understood why people read books and highlighted certain passages and not others. Didn’t the author write it all down for a reason? Isn’t it all important and not just some of it?

My favorite books make me feel this way. I used to write in my books (I stopped because it annoyed the people I lent them too) and just about every single line in my copy of The Waves is underlined or starred or has brackets around it…because it’s all so good. It’s all amazing.

And The New York Trilogy made me feel this way. Though it isn’t my new favorite book, it is my favorite book I’ve read recently. Auster is just so, so very good. And every line, every word, is so packed with meaning and it’s all put together so perfectly. (Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t have been so hard on Rachman up above since he’s what I read after finishing the Trilogy–a hard act for anyone to follow.)

But yes, I am completely devoted to Paul Auster now.

Stories: All-New Tales
edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio

And in talking, we realized that we had something in common: That all we cared about, really, were the stories. What we missed, what we wanted to read, were stories that made us care, stories that forced us to turn the page. And yes, we wanted good writing (why be satisfied with less?). But we wanted more than that. We wanted to read stories that used a lightning flash of magic as a way of showing us something we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it before. Truly, we wanted it all.

I picked up this collection a while ago and have just started breaking into it. And, okay, can I just say this?…

So. Much. Fun.

In fact, these stories are so much fun I think I’ll get back to them now.

Hopefully, I’ll have more to say later. It’s been a rainy week here in Santa Cruz. The power went out one night, and though I didn’t read by candlelight (which would have been much more romantic) curling up in bed with my headlamp, a glass of wine, a scared dog, and an overly-cuddly cat was just as much fun.

Rain is good for reading. So are lazy Saturday afternoons. I almost hope it doesn’t let up.

Ha, almost…

The question is the story itself…

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences. Whether it might have turned out differently, or whether it was all predetermined with the first word that came from the stranger’s mouth, is not the question. The question is the story itself, and whether or not it means something is not for the story to tell.

What an amazing first paragraph. I started Paul Auster’s, The New York Trilogy today and, once again, have been rendered completely useless by a good book.