Saturday, December 21, 2019

Reading Oscars 2019

The year is once again steaming towards Christmas and New Year eve, so it is time for a short moment of reflection and appraisal of our readings during the last twelve months. Let’s immediately call Rick on stage to hand him the prize for the:

Best book written by a self-exiled and banned (real and virtual) author 2019 

The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas by Rick Harsch!!!

Rick’s inconveniences remind us that you can still be banned and socially punished in the 21th century for writing a poem. He is a true heir of Jonathan Swift and a faint but very real warning of the world described in Shalamov’s stories. 

(pumping a fist in the air) Free Rick!

Looking at my reading list, I can separate the books I finished and the books I left half-read. Let us look at the unfinished first:

Promising books but unfinished at this moment

Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov 
Forget about Bear Grylls. The ultimate survival guide is written by Poet and Gulag survivor Varlam Shalamov who relates in his stories what you need to do and not do to survive a forced-labor camp in the arctic region for more than a decade. Modern survival manuals miss the most important chapter: How to cope with the horrors inflicted by your fellow men?

Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner
I am a huge fan of both gentlemen and I thought that reading their correspondence would add to the pleasure. It did, but only in an inconclusive manner.

The game by Alessandro Baricco
The Italian philosopher Barrico is trying to explain his public what the ICT is doing to us. He is searching for patterns and explanations in our changing relation with the virtual world. To do that he uses a metaphor that complicates things even more. Never really clear in his explanations our friend Barrico

Last witnesses by Svetlana Alexijevitsj 
Hundreds of chapters of Russian adults remembering how as kids they experienced the loss of their parents and the horror of war. It is again and again the stories like the one my father (who lost his dad in the war) and my father in law ( who lost his mother in the war ) told me. How much can one take?

Curiosités esthétiques by Baudelaire Charles 
Art reviews written by that cursed poet Charles Baudelaire. The title says it all. An esthetic curiosity.

Les Demoiselles de Concarneau by Georges Simenon
I should have finished this one. Well written, awful crime, poignant atmosphere. Maybe it was because it was the third Simenon in a row that I failed to finish it.

La Méditerranée by Fernand Braudel 
Strongly recommended by Rick. The history of the Mediterranean explained by what happened in the mountains and the plains surrounding it. A book demanding full attention. Something I can rarely give nowadays. 

The Outlaw Ocean: Crime and Survival in the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina
Wanted to read that one, but it just happened that this book is at the bottom of the stack. 

L'Afrique Fantome by Michel Leiris 
Written by a famous sociologist when sociology was not famous yet. Africans and their ghosts. What can you say?

Trois tristes tigres by Guillermo Cabrera Infante 
Good one! Funny and well written, really like it. But again, the pages demand an attention I cannot summon for longer periods.

Gabriela, girofle et cannelle : by Jorge Amado
Not started, no idea what it is about.

The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia
All the books above have been shoved aside by this one. The three first chapters are brilliant and super interesting. If I’ll manage to keep on gobbling the words and hanging to its phrases, this is the book I likely will finish first.

The three nominees are:

Most likely to be finished soon

Trois tristes tigres by Guillermo Cabrera Infante 
Les Demoiselles de Concarneau by Georges Simenon
The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia


The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans by David Abulafia

Now let’s turn to the next category, the finished books, which is of course already an important sign of appreciation: 

The Finished books


The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan 
Surprisingly good book written by a 19th century Countess, novelist, journalist, literary critic, poet, playwright, translator, editor and professor. She looks like your preferred Grandma but she is in fact the Spanish Mother of Naturalism and belief me, she narrates the things like they bloody well are. She didn’t make any friends with this book. Not with the Spanish Aristocracy, nor with the clerics, nor with the politicians. A recommendation! 

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo
Another great book. A visit to a Mexican Ghost town inhabited by rambling skeletons. Loved it. I even managed to write a short review about it. That means something nowadays.

Scoop: A Novel About Journalists by Evelyn Waugh
Funny, British. A journalistic excursion into Africa during a “Coup d’état”. 
Maybe the story is not even that exaggerated. Which makes it less funny than initially thought.

All the King's by Robert Penn Warren
Great book this one! The narration of a political henchman who loses his soul in the everyday business of Politics. Very well written, with looping describing sentences “à la Gogol” that go nowhere. Loved it, finished it in one go.

Lenz by Georg Büchner
Very short description of a man slipping into insanity. One of the first novels on such a topic.

The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas by Rick Harsch
A milestone! 700 pages of undiluted Rick Harsch, full of Americana and Anti-Americana. 
A prose protest song from the wildest living word – artist alive. A joyful heir of Joyce.
Knowing Him, makes it even more fun. Fcuking Keno!

La Veuve Couderc  and La maison du canal by G. Simenon
A nice discovery this year: my compatriot Georges Simenon. The House by the Canal is an interesting story but the writing is awful. It is of course one of the first of the many hundreds Simenon will write. The Widow Couderc is much better and the writer brilliantly describes a situation which is about to burst. Great writeri

The three nominees are

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas by Rick Harsch
The House of Ulloa by Emilia Pardo Bazan 

Winner (Rick has got already his prize): All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren


The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
Can’t really remember what this book was about. A famous writer loving his library? Yes, that will do as a description.

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski
This book was recommended by a young women I met 2 years ago. “This book describes my Youth” she said. After reading Bukowski sobering narrative of growing up in solitude, with an abusive father, a weak mother and serious social issues, I hope she meant it figuratively. 
I am afraid she didn’t.

Faber & Faber: The Untold Story of a Great Publishing House by Toby Faber
Interesting self-adulation of a famous publishing house. Interesting because printing and selling books involves big risks and needs good business sense. Not for Romantics.

Homage to QWERTYUIOP by Anthony Burgess
Love Burgess. This is British wit as we love it. Intelligent, sharp, cultured. 

Les routages en course et en croisière by Jean-Yves Bernot
Computer aided navigation, Meteorology and Yacht race strategy by one of the most famous “routeurs” of sailing records. Love the books by Bernot for their sheer intelligence. The “Homo Ludens” at his best.


Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski