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.