Friday, 31 January 2014

Reading Pile Voting Results

The mention of Trakl made Amalfitano think, as he went through the motions of teaching a class, about a drugstore near where he lived in Barcelona, a place he used to go when he needed medicine for Rosa. One of the employees was a young blogger in his free time, barely out of his teens, extremely thin and with big glasses, who would sit up at night reading a book when the pharmacy was open twenty-four hours. One night, while the kid was scanning the shelves, Amalfitano asked him what obscure new fiction books he liked and what book he was reading, just to make conversation. Without turning, the pharmacist answered that he liked books like Pale Fire, The Divine Comedy, The New Science, The Prince. And then he said that he was reading Bolaño’s 2666. Leaving aside the fact that The New Science and The Price were non-fiction, not fiction books, there was something revelatory about the taste of this bookish young blogger, who in another life might have been Trakl or who in this life might still be writing poems as desperate as those of his distant Austrian counterpart, and who clearly and inarguably preferred famous works to unknown ones. He chose Pale Fire over O Sétimo Juramento, he chose The Divine Comedy over Vindima, he chose The New Science over Todas as Palavras, and The Prince over A Gloriosa Família or Muana Puo. What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish bloggers are afraid to take on the obscure, chthonic, foreign works, books that blaze paths from the unknown. They choose the well-established exercises of the familiar masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the known masters reiterate, so they have no interest in distant combat, when the unknown masters struggle against that incognito, that incognito that terrifies us all, that incognito that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.
- Roberto Bolaño, 2666

As everybody knows, this month people were free to pick ten books from my reading pile for me to read. The idea was that I’d tally the votes and form a reading list out of them. The voting booth closed yesterday and I've tallied up the votes. First of all, I wish to thank everyone who voted: Alex, Dwight, Brian Joseph, Tom, seraillon, toutjour, and stastats.

Now for the books: fourteen books got 2 or more votes. Five were a lock because of the number of votes:

Virgil: Bucolics, Georgics, Aeneid 4
Giambattista Vico: The New Science 3
Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian 3
Saint Augustine: Confessions 3
W.B. Yeats: The Collected Poems 3

I chose the other five in the order the votes were cast, that is, the first five to get two votes got in:

Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire 2
Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey 2
Dante Alighieri: The Divine Comedy 2
Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince 2
Umberto Eco: Inventing the Enemy 2

I certainly did not expect to start the year reading a mix of Saint Augustine, Giambattista Vico and Virgil, but a promise is a promise. But there are beautiful patterns and contrasts here: Virgil and Dante, that makes so much sense; and Machiavelli and Eco on politics; and a prim novelist like Austen and a violent writer like McCarthy. Four non-fiction writers, three poets and three novelists. It's a very interesting list.

Each book will be written about here. Reading begins in February.


  1. Now that's the version of 2666 that I want to read.

    Quite a list, though I feel it's like one of those Highlights magazine puzzles in which you have to identify the one thing that's not like the other things.

  2. Hey, wait a minute, I feel insulted somehow. Although maybe it's Scott & Dwight who should be insulted, not me. For me, that was spot on.

    There really are some deeply interesting paths to follow in those books.

  3. I've only read Blood Meridian, but will be following your takes on the others as well.

    LOL at the Part About the Pharmacist Blogger and the Struggle Against the Incognito.

  4. Your original list was so good that you could have not helped but to come up with a final list.

    I am really looking forward to your upcoming commentaries.

  5. I'm glad everyone likes the list, well, you voted for it!

    But I've started reading Vico already and let me give you my first commentary: it's one long boring book! Oh dear, what did I get myself into?