Friday, 5 December 2014

My Birthday Books



My birthday was last Tuesday. Compared with last year, the books were less plentiful. I don’t understand why people think I need clothes and stuff. Still I received four new books that have me thrilled:


Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon: A few months ago I read Inherent Vice. The reasons were several: firstly I wanted to read Pynchon; secondly I wanted to know why he pinched the title from William Gaddis’ The Recognitions; lastly I wanted to enter the cinema to watch Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie with the book in my mind. It turns out I didn’t like the novel that much. It has lots of humour and a goofy personality and there’s something endearing about Doc Sportello, but it seemed like a second-rate detective novel anyone could write and not the work of one of America’s best living novelists. Compared with other American marvels I’ve read this year – Middle C, Pale Fire, Darconville’s Cat, Agape Agape, The Sot-Weed Factor – not to mention Robert Coover’s The Public Burning, which I’m currently 100 pages into, this was a very weak effort. But that’s alright. I have it from the experts that this is not one of his best. They recommended I read Gravity’s Rainbow or Mason & Dixon to appreciate the full breath of the guy’s talent. So it’s a good thing I got this for present. I really want to join the Pynchon bandwagon.


Wild Palms, by William Faulkner: This was even better, I guess. I’ve never actually read a Faulkner book in my life, can you believe that? And I’ve been fascinated by this novel for some time now, because Jorge Luis Borges translated it into Spanish in 1940, or his mom did, and he just got credit for it. Either way, I’m excited to finally have some Faulkner to read.


Parallel Stories, by Péter Nádas: Ah, the other Hungarian novelist. I read a novel by the more famous one, the one with all those film adaptations, and I really didn’t understand what was so amazing about it. All those long sentences and the doom and gloom and the dark humour – António Lobo Antunes was already doing all that of before him, and with more talent. So I hope his older countryman is more interesting. The novel is over 1000 pages; that’s pretty daunting, but I’ve been reading long novels all year so I’m eager for the challenge.


O Piolho Viajante, by António Manuel Policarpo da Silva: I know this sounds crazy, but I also got a Portuguese book written in actual Portuguese! My brother got me this one. It has a funny story since it’s an actual used book, a rare hardbound 1974 edition of a classic most people don’t even know exists. I first discovered it from a novelist and literary critic called João Palma-Ferreira (1931-1989), unjustly forgotten nowadays like many of the books he championed. A while ago I read a little book he wrote in 1977 called Do Pícaro na Literatura Portuguesa. Portugal, because of the Inquisition, the fiercest in Europe, never had a viable picaresque tradition: we even prohibited Cervantes! But here and there traces of the genre show up in out classic literature, well mostly in popular, some even anonymous, literature from the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries that no one reads or knows, and if they do have a sneering contempt towards it. Palma-Ferreira did not, and he studied, edited and loved these oddball treasures. Although its production started in the late 18th century, O Piolho Viajante continued throughout the next century as a series of loose fascicles that followed a lice – the title’s travelling lice – over the course of the many heads it lives in, allowing the writer to make a wide social satire. Anonymously published, immensely read and liked by the working class at the time, the collection is now attributed to António Silva although no one’s sure he wrote the damn thing. Oh and it’s nigh impossible to get it: I don’t think it was ever reprinted after my 1974 edition. It’s a pretty book with a preface, notes and glossary by Palma-Ferreira. A good thing my brother pays attentions to my manias.

21 comments:

  1. Only five years ago, I had read every known word published by Pynchon, some of it dang obscure, but somehow I have never had the will to read Inherent Vice. It just seemed so obviously inferior, so blatantly inferior. I am sure you'll do better elsewhere.

    The Wild Palms is an unusual place to start with Faulkner, but a good place. I had no idea about the Borges translation.

    Happy birthday!

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    1. Tom, thanks!

      What dang obscure Pynchon should I look out for?

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    2. Pynchon worked for a time for Boeing as a technical writer. The most obscure bit of Pynchon I have read is a short article he wrote for the December 1960 issue of Aerospace Safety magazine. It contains one sentence that is close to Pynchon-like.

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    3. That's pretty obscure! What's the sentence, by the way?

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    4. My photocopy of the article was not where I thought it was, so I'll have to half-remember. There is a line about runway signals for pilots: one for "Move forward," one for "Stop," one for "You just ran over the general's foot."

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    5. That's just like the puerile, facile humour from Inherent Vice. I'm still trying to figure out if I like that tone; he's, I don't know, too wacky at times. Or maybe I'm just going through a dour phase and can't enjoy ribaldry for what it is.

      Still, speaking of puerile humor, once again thanks for sending me The Public Burning. It's hilarious! Half the book is spent inside Nixon's deranged mind; the other half is narrated by a third-person but ironically hyper-patriotic narrator who distorts all facts in order to serve a farcical communist world conspiracy. It's amazing! It's so full of energy! I don't understand why Coover is not better known.

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  2. You've still to read Gravity's Rainbow? I'm genuinely envious, because it's never like the first time. I will need to reread Mason & Dixon because the first time I was ploghing through it a lot of the archaic language and arcane references went over my head; those were pre-2.0 days, you see. Nadas' novel is notorious for having something like a 100 page description of coitus; still have it on my shelves unread. Overall, great presents!

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    1. Thanks!

      100 pages of coitus? That's either ridiculous or epic!

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  3. Happy Birthday, Miguel!

    I remember being frustrated by Mason & Dixon after only a couple of pages and abandoning the book entirely. I probably read it at a bad time.

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    1. Rise, thanks!

      Maybe it just wasn't a book for you; there are so many books I'd like to like and don't, for some reason. But I hope to fare better with M&D.

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  4. A very happy belated birthday, Miguel. Mine's coming up, and I know just how you feel about not understanding why people think you need other stuff besides books.

    "What do you want for your birthday?"

    "Books."

    "But you already have some."

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    1. That exchange, while it made me cackle with glee, is all too painfully familiar, Scott!

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    2. Scott, thanks!

      Yeah, people tell me I already have too many books, which is physically, numerically and spatially true. But so what? The Himalayas has a lot of height, but climbers would probably like for it have a bit more, right?

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  5. Miguel, parabéns, feliz aniversário! Nice party pack there. Although I've never really been all that interested in giving Pynchon a try for some reason (well, maybe Gravity's Rainbow someday), I look forward to seeing what you make of his book and the others. Also, please let me know if you'd like to read that Nádas chunkster together in 2015 sometime; I couldn't get anybody to read it with me this year, and it kept falling further and further back in the queue as a result. In any event, happy reading to you.

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    1. Richard, thank you!

      Yeah, in 2015 we can do a readalong. After Coover's behemoth I'm taking a break and sticking to smaller books until January. I'm taking next year to tackle really long books: Nádas and also Joseph McElroy's notorious Women and Men.

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    2. Notorious indeed. Reading it was one of the most masochistic experiences in my life. I'm curios what you'll make of it. There are some people who even say they liked it. I don't know. Maybe they're the same people who enjoyed The Making of Americans and Miss Macintosh, My Darling.

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    3. Ah ah, I think that person is called William H Gass!

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  6. Congratulations Miguel! I've given Pychon a try but it was disappointing to me, such massive novels with wonderful premises - drawing a mathematical and astronomic observations based line at the edge of known civilization(!) - but that are just sort of empty in the end somehow, although hilarious at times. The one I liked the most was The crying of lot 49, his shortest novel. I've been reading Catch-22 for a very long time now, and it seems the only quality I find the novel is its humor and it doesn't engages me that much. I've also read Faulkner's Wild Palms and found it somewhat hard to read because I tried it in English. Had to read both novels separately and they seemed, somehow outdated. For Christmas I would like you to read Mo Yan's Big Big Breasts and Wide Hips and read your review about it.

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    1. Thank you.

      I'm giving Pynchon another chance; I confess the puerile humour bothers me, if it's all there is; and in Inherent Vice it pretty much was.

      I never read Mo Yan, I'll try him one day. In the meantime I've read O Remorso de Baltasar Serapião You're a fan, right?

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    2. Yes, I've enjoyed the baltasar serapião's regret-fulness very much, liked its story and the way it was told, although it was my only valter hugo mãe book so far. What brought me to it was Saramago's opinion of it being a literary tsunami - when I read it I decided to read all recipients of Saramago prize, I've read Gonçalo Tavares's Jerusalem, didn't enjoy it so much and when I read Peixoto's Nenhum Olhar abandoned that idea because I became somewhat fed up with the cult of suffering, pain, melancholy and death in these books. Anyways looking forward to read your review of serapião (: P.S.: Faulkner's Wild Palms caught my attention because the story Old Man is one of Lídia Jorge favorite.

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    3. My VHM review may take a few months, I'm overwhelmed with work and I'm even blogging less and less these days.

      So you're not crazy over GMT either? That's good to know, everyone thinks he's the Next Big Thing, but after 2 books I've decided never to waste my time on him again. As for Peixoto, I have a book at home and will read it with caution.

      I didn't know about Lídia Jorge liking that Faulkner novel. Thanks for telling me.

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