Four Books

I am reading four books at the moment.

Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations with an introduction by Marcela Valdes.

The House of the Spirits, the debut novel of Isabel Allende which I am rereading for the second time.

American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis. I am rereading this for the third time.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. This one I am rereading for the fourth time.

It used to be I had just a morning book and a night book. And then sometimes I had a study book – nonfiction – to work into the milieu, making three. This week I find I am alternating among the four.

Pattern Recognition for the fourth time because my sister finally said she would start it and I want to be able to have a fresh copy of it in my mind so to be able to discuss it with her. This wouldn’t be necessary if William Gibson wrote simpler prose or if his stories weren’t always so multi-threaded. He is such a great writer that he doesn’t try to make good writing look easy. On the contrary, he makes the reader see great writing for what it really is; magic. And to write thus is to achieve a type of immortality.

American Psycho for the third time because I find myself once again with a serious appetite for satire and also for the simple fact that the author writes quite possibly the best dialogue of anyone out there today.

I found the Bolaño interviews serendipitously. I was over halfway through his The Savage Detectives when I finally had to take a break – it’s really quite long – and to try to get a bit of info on the writer. To maybe understand from some other perspective on why so many people consider him so damned good. The only thing I can say about his work to date is I am finding it excruciatingly long. There are so many words, so many scenes, and so many indistinguishable characters. I can’t figure out if everything adds up to some greater value or if the covers of the book are simply too damn far apart.

His grand opus, 2666 I think is over half again as long. Now while I might have a copy of it, I don’t see myself reading it anytime soon. Okay, some say that this last book of his was pure genius. Okay, maybe. But even so his fellow Latin American novelists didn’t do him a favor at the time when they ‘hailed him as the most important figure of his generation’. I am wont to recall he killed himself by delaying a liver transplant to finish the damn thing. Nothing is that damned good. Only a supremely crazy obsessive bastard would schedule his writing before a liver transplant.

[And really, a thousand pages? It’s got to be Gibson good for me anymore to enthusiastically tackle something that big. I’ve tried three or four times to read Pynchon’s, Gravity’s Rainbow but can never get past the first banana scene.]

While I have some distance to go before I am a big fan of his literature, I am finding the Bolaño interviews a great read. The man it turns out, was a reader’s reader so much that he considered himself first and foremost a reader, then a writer. And I could tell from the interview(s) he loved talking literature. And he loved talking about writers.

Up until reading his first interview, I had no idea there were so many other great Latin American writers. He was asked what was his relationship with writers from the Latin America Boom and he mentioned: Argentine writer Ernesto Sábato (b. 1911) who was a driving force in the Argentine surrealist scene (and much of his work is available in English).

And Uruguayan novelist and short story writer Juan Carlos Onetti (1909-1984). His novella The Pit (1939) was one of the first works of modern Spanish- language literature.

And he talked briefly about Mexico’s Juan Rulfo (1917-1986) who after publishing the short story collection The Burning Plain (1953) and the novel Pedro Páramo (1955) stopped publishing narrative fiction despite the enormous critical success of his books.

You have to admire a writer who not just reads his tradition but writes from that tradition and respects that tradition.

Lastly, I am rereading Isabel Allende’s debut novel because the subject of spirits in Latin American literature recently came into consciousness with the reading of Juan Rulfo’s splendidly sublime otherworldly masterpiece, Pedro Páramo. And it was only a few days later while searching for the literary root of magical realism that I happened to remember this novel I had read with some enjoyment thirty years earlier.

PS – The only other Isabel Allende book I can recall reading was her Aphrodite: A  Memoir of the Senses where she was only moderately successful in marrying the subject of food to sex. It was a pretty book if I remember with lots of colorful drawings and pictures but it failed to adequately deliver on the premise. Maybe she wasn’t saucy enough? Hmm. [The only great writer out there I think was ever truly up to the task of writing about food and sex would be the late, Jim Harrison. All of his novels are full of both but I would especially recommend his personal chronicle of debauchery, The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand.]




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