Monday, September 2, 2019

Lenz by Georg Büchner

In my earlier Danton review I already praised Georg Büchner’s masterful precocity. Deceased at 24, he still managed to write three and a half masterpieces: Dantons Tod, Leonce und Lena, Woyzeck and the unfinished Lenz. The works are considered landmarks in the history of German literature, early precursors of the Modern European roman. They were praised by Zweig, set to music by Alban Berg and burned on celluloid by no one less than Herzog.

I found an older copy of Lenz on the second-hand book market and without hesitation took it home for a quick read. And quick it was! Only 35 pages, but so fast-paced, so modern, so obsessively written that it leaves the reader panting: the story of Jacob Lenz (1751-1792), poet and theater-maker, one of the key representatives of the Sturm und Drang, slipping into insanity. 

Poor Jakob Lenz, delicate and small, the flipside of the Goethe persona, as good a writer as the famous “Wandrer” was, maybe even better, but lacking the stature, the charisma, the social intelligence and the romantic skills. When Lenz became insufferable and a danger to Goethe’s reputation and position, the Master got rid of him. Lenz was banned from the province after a mysterious incident, an unforgivable “foolishness” that happened on the 26 of November 1776.

Büchner’s novel make us follow the interdicted Lenz; his erratic wandering, his despair, his hopeless seeking of solace, his battling bouts of depression, his final tumble into a terrifying madness from which there is no return…

What a nightmare…

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Language as a net.

Iris Murdoch’s idea of language as a net cast over the mind, constraining our thoughts according to how its knots and threads land – wrinkled in some places, straight in others. Every language is a different throw of the net. Language sieves and strains reality but never imprisons it. There are always holes for the real world to escape.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Summer reading 2019

Summer holiday preparation...
What to read on this 14 day tour of the east of the Mekong Delta? I'll take only two books with me: "All the King's Men" by Robert Penn Warren and "Voices after Evelyn" by the great Rick Harsch.
I promised Rick a review; maybe I'll have some time to mold the drafts and reading notes into a semblance of a readable text. Now that I think about it, I might pack Dicken's "a tale of two cities" with my budgie-smugglers and butt-flossies. It's a long flight home.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

Legend has it that Marquez enjoyed Juan Rulfo’s book so much that on opening it for the first time, he read it twice without interruption. So did I, but simply for the reason that after the first reading I had no clue as to what it was all about. The second reading fortunately helped. As did the many blogs and webpages that offer a walkthru to the lazy reader. 

While the story, once you get it, is rather straightforward (as far as a Latin-American novel can ever be straightforward), the complexity is caused by a chopped - up and craftily rearranged narrative. A man has promised his dying mother to travel to Colima, her native village in the Mexican backcountry, and ask his and her due from Pedro Paramo, his natural father whom he has never seen.

Once there however, Colima, remembered as an agreeable agricultural community, appears to have turned into a dusty ghost town. And Pedro Paramo has been dead since many years. But the young man, who gets more and more uncomfortable in this abandoned pueblo, is not alone. Colima is haunted by numerous ghosts, who whisper and mumble snippets of the legend of Pedro Paramo to the worried traveler. Hence the complex structure of 68 parts, because the story does not develop chronologically but by the weird order of ghostly apparitions and narratives. 

The landowner - bully, Pedro Paramo, a Papa Karamazov kind of guy, turns out to be not only the reason of the downfall of Colima but also the malediction of its many ghosts. 

As for a recommendation, I can confirm that the novel Pedro Paramo is a bargain. The mere digestion of 140 or so pages of limpid prose, short and easy sections, surprising characters, an original setting and an introduction to Hacienda Horror, will give you bragging rights on having read one of the finest writers from Latin America. And this according to many sources. 

Susan Sontag even compared the quality of the storytelling in Pedro Paramo to Roth’s Radetzky March or von Kleist’s’ Kohlhaas . 

I wouldn’t go that far but you cannot be cheated on this one.

A great read.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

"never stopped reading since they were children"

Now let’s think of Wendy and Alex in a different way, as the sort of people I know to exist. You probably know them too. You might be a lot like them.
Wendy and Alex have never stopped reading since they were children. Reading books, watching films, looking at art—these are simply things they would never not do, whatever stage they are in their lives, however much money they do or don’t have. They know how to find out about what they might like and what they might not like, whether this information arrives in their mailbox or their inbox or through one of their feeds (which feature as many strangers discussing Marcel Proust or Clarice Lispector or the Norton Anthology of Poetry as they do media outlets). Neither Wendy nor Alex thinks much about the distinction between fiction and non-fiction, but they can tell good writing from dull writing. Good writing casts a spell, but spells can be hard to find. They know the names of critics and love the clang and clack and click of minds you hear in a well-wrought piece of criticism. They’re attracted to disputation and to esoteric books. They too never have enough time, but they’re not too concerned about wasting it. They like to figure things out for themselves.

From “Like This or Die”, The fate of the book review in the age of the algorithm by Christian Lorentzen

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Reading Oscar's 2018

I still live among books. My house and bedside are littered with half open books. Not a day passes without reading a dozen of pages. But something has changed. My purchasing of new books has virtually stopped. I do not find the time and envy anymore to write reviews. Most worrying of all, fiction can’t retain my attention as it did before. Of the 10 books of fiction I started this year, I have finished but two. The other 8 in the end did not manage to keep me interested.

Unfinished Fiction

And quiet flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokov ( Unfinished )
Half finished. Russian taiga exotism by the bucketfull but nowhere enough tension to keep me reading 

The fight for sergeant Grisja by Stephan Zweig ( Unfinished )
Some poor writing deceived me quite early in the book

A l’aveugle by Claudio Magris ( Unfinished )
Confusing. Must try again, Rick loves it

The famous bear invasion in Sicily by Dino Buzzati ( Unfinished )
I’ll try again when I have grand -children

Europe Central by William T Vollmann ( Unfinished )
Often interesting, clear authorial intentions but why soooooo long ?

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle ( Unfinished )
Has aged badly

The sea, the sea by iris Murdoch ( Unfinished )
Finished for three quarters but had a bore out

The Walk by Robert Walser ( Unfinished )
it is about walking

Winner of the unfinished fiction : Europe Central

Finished Fiction

Voices after Evelyn by Rick Harsch

Top of the world by Hans Ruesch

Both books have kept my attention till the last sentence. Ruesch’s narration of a crime and a manhunt on the ice in Greenland is both funny and entertaining.

Rick’s book is as intriguing as the Evelyn case. Still owe you a review

Winner of the finished fiction : Voices after Evelyn

Best Poetry

Love song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot

Best reread

The Leopard by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa 

Brillant book. No problem to finish this one. A world bygone.

Non Fiction : No problems either to finish these books

My past and thoughts : Childhood, Youth and Exile by A.I. Gertsen 
Very nice recounting of the life of the rich in Russia in the early 19th century.
These are the stories that inspired Pushkin, Gogol and others to write their masterpieces
Lovely book

The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World
Scrotum tightening. Terrible reading for enlightened people.
There are lessons to learn here. Civilzation has to be guarded and defended ...every day.

The Oracle: The lost secrets and hidden message of Ancient Delphi by William J Broad
Good book ! My guide when I returned to Delphi and the Corcyrian cave.

A guide to the good life : The ancient Art of stoic joy by William B. Irvine
Forget Zen and Budhism. The Western world has his own solutions to survive existential angst
A hands-on guide.

Who we are and how we got there : the ancient DNA revolution and the new science of the human past ( Unfinished because very difficult )
Mind blowing. The science that will explain exactly who you are and where you came from. Maybe not what you want to hear

The Ink trade : Selected Journalism 1961-1993 by Anthony Burgess
The writings of Ol’ Burgess are so yummy that I even managed to write a review. 
The only one this year ! ( Except for Rick’s Trieste book )

A history of Opera :The last four hundred years by Caroline Abbate
Opera is as fascinating as literature. A book to dip in after every aria.

Winner : The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

the Ink Trade by Anthony Burgess

Reviewing the reviews of Anthony Burgess

For those whose idea of sheer bliss is reading literary reviews in their favourite newspaper on a rainy Sunday afternoon, (maybe followed by an invigorating nap curled up on the sofa), this book helps you to conjure exactly that pleasant feeling again and again.

The Ink trade is a collection of sixty excellent literary reviews published between 1961 and 1993 in numerous journals and papers. Reviews of those very novels that excited us in the last decades of the previous millennia and on top of that written by Anthony Burgess, pen-man “par excellence”, a peer reviewer so to say, for he was both writer and a prolific reviewer at the same time. His reviews are understandably different than those by academics like Davenport, Kenner or Kermode.

Burgess is the man who is famous for his “..clockwork Orange", infamous for the opening line in his "Earthly Powers” and enormous for his entertaining biographical dyptique "Little Wilson ..." and "You’ve had your time". He is a brillant writer, clever, witty and with a sharpened quill.

I've always had a special affection for Burgess. With his “Here Comes Everybody” and his "shorter and edited Finnagans Wake”, it was he who “explained” Joyce and Eliot to me, at a young age where neither my secondary school teachers nor my reading experience could have helped me.

Reading reviews of books already read, reminds us of the joy we experienced when reading them for the first time, when we were 30 or so years younger. But it is titillating to compare our own weak riminiscences with Burgess take on the same book. He discusses Burroughs’ Naked Lunch for instance, Desolation Angels by Kerouac, Lowry’s Volcano, Nabokov’s nymphe, Hemingway’s cojones and Eco’s rose. There is also ( Noblesse oblige ) a lot on Eliot’s Waste land and Joyce’s Dublinaria.

In some cases Burgess reminds us of books we might have passed by, forgotten or totally misssed. In my case Evelyn Waugh for instance, whose titles I hurriedly jotted down, a bit ashamed I must confess.

The format of the review makes this collection an easy reading, freeing time for the thinking and the enjoying. For enjoying is what it is all about. Burgess famously was a brillant word craftsman. Working like a goldsmith he embelishes his text with exquisite handpicked words, looping filigreed sentences and shiny marvels of expressions.

Some people take antidepressants to chase anxiety away. I read a Burgess review and have sweet dreams.