The red notebook, by Paul Auster

50621The Red Notebook stories, pulled from Auster’s own life or from the lives of those close to him, are explorations of unexpected coincidences. A wrong number becomes the genesis for a famous novel; a hero appears at an inopportune moment; a lightning storm harries a group of campers; a daughter plunges from a terrifying height only to land improbably safely; a Paul Auster imposter materializes. Like a magic show, The Red Notebook demonstrates that “there is much to life that is special and serendipitous — if only we allow ourselves to perceive it this way” (The Washington Post) (from Goodreads)

I feel I’m repeating myself, but, again, this is a case of “This was my first time reading something by _______”. I guess that happens a lot when you just grab a book from a pile without giving it much thought…

The book is divided in various sections. The first one, The red notebook, is a series of anecdotes. As common subject, they are all stories of coincidences that happened to the author or were told to him by other people. He ends the last story saying “This really happened. Like everything else I have set down in this red notebook, it is a true story”, which immediately made me think “No way”. This first part was highly entertaining, though, as he writes about very mundane and little bits of everyday life and makes it absolutely compelling.

The next section compiles three prefaces he wrote, one for an anthology of French poets, one for a compilation of writings by Mallarmé and another for an edition of Philippe Petit’s writings. These three books were works in which he worked as, I guess, editor, in one case making the anthology of French poets, in the other two, translating Mallarmé and Petit. I really liked this section, although the one for the anthology became quite dense, at times, for an illiterate to poetry like myself, because he more or less made a summary of 100 years of French poets.

The next section reproduce three interviews he gave, in which he talks about his works, his writing process, etc. This would be very useful if I had read some of his work before. Anyway, still interesting. In one of these interviews I read something that made me rethink my first opinion about the coincidences chapter, which was nice (I still am a bit skeptical, though). At this point things begin to be a bit repetitive, because at times the interviews asked similar questions, so we read the same answers over and over again. At least, he’s consistent along the book.

Then comes a little article called A prayer for Salman Rushdie (or something like that) and then more anecdotes and coincidences, some of which were already mentioned in the interview section.

All in all, it was a nice book for me. I do like reading anecdotes, particularly when they’re so prettily written.

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Bellum Catilinae, by Sallustius Crispus

40388058In this book, Sallust (86-35/34 B.C.) recounts the dramatic events of 63 B.C., when a disgruntled and impoverished nobleman, L. Sergius Catilina, turned to armed revolution after two electoral defeats. Among his followers were a group of heavily indebted young aristocrats, the Roman poor, and a military force in the north of Italy. Sallust skillfully captures the drama of the times, including an early morning attempt to assassinate the consul Cicero and two emotionally charged speeches, by Julius Caesar and Cato the Younger, in a senatorial debate over the fate of the arrested conspirators. Sallust wrote while the Roman Republic was being transformed into an empire during the turbulent first century B.C. (from Goodreads)

My main interest of reading this was the fact that it was written over 2000 years ago, by someone who was alive during the events. To me that’s just mind-blowing. It’s so hard to relate to things that happened, let’s say, two or three decades before of our time, to have a mere grasp of what it was our own parents’ reality when they were growing up, that being able to read words from, for and about people that existed so long ago, is really hard for me to wrap my mind around it. I had a similar feeling the day I was standing in front (and then walking inside) of the Colosseum.

And to make things a bit more… weird?, the content was so relatable! The debates in the Senatum highly reminded me (quite obviously, and despite the differences) the ones that, for once in my lifetime, I’ve been, more or less, following in our Congress over the last few months. And the whole conspiracy plot is easily comparable to any current political drama in your prefered streaming service.

What I’m trying to express is, I guess, that despite the two milleniums that separates us from them, little has change in the human condition. I’m not trying to re-discover America here, it’s just that, for once, I’m aware.

Letters to Milena, by Franz Kafka

39719998In no other work does Kafka reveal himself as in the Letters to Milena, which begin essentially as a business correspondence but soon develop into a passionate “letter love.” Milena Jesenská was a gifted and charismatic woman of twenty-three. Kafka’s Czech translator, she was uniquely able to recognize his complex genius and his even more complex character. For the thirty-six-year-old Kafka, she was “a living fire, such as I have never seen.” It was to her that he revealed his most intimate self. It was to her that, after the end of the affair, he entrusted the safekeeping of his diaries. (from Goodreads)

In my crusade to be a better letter writer (?) and because I like reading other people’s letters and diaries (this more likely), I was eager to read this book, which came in a large batch of books given away by a friend of mine. Just to clarify, I haven’t read much of Kafka, other than The Metamorphosis and A report for an Academy, so I had no particular interest in his work and/or biography. I just like reading letters, ok? (why so defensive, though?)

There was an introduction, giving a little of context to this correspondence, and explaining that the letters were “edited” for privacy matters of other parties and whatnot (I believe that later editions of these letters (mine is from 1974) are unedited). You know how I feel about that. I can’t help but wonder What. Am I. Missing?

AND, also, my edition wasn’t translated from the original language, but from a previous English translation. I’m sure both translators did their best job etc etc, but I always get suspicious of accuracy in second hand translations. Sorry about that, translators, I can’t help it. (I have the same feelings when I watch a movie/tv show in a language I don’t manage. I know for a fact how shitty subtitles could be when I’m watching something spoken in English, but I can’t double check when I’m watching something in, like, German or Dutch or Japanese or whatever)

Should one have an opinion about other people’s letters? This was not an epistolary novel, which, one hopes, was written with a literary intention, but and individual correspondence, which could help to understand more about his psyche and his view of the world, and could, perhaps, be of more interest to those who study his life and work.

If anything, this book left me more intrigued about Milena that about Kafka, mostly because we never get to read Milena’s answers. The amount of letters sent, almost daily, for a not so long period of time, make me, on one hand, jealous of the post service between Austria and Czechoslovakia at that time. On the other hand, left me worried about Kafka’s (unhealthy?) obsession with Milena. I do wonder if she replied as often and in such an intense manner as he did.

Medieval people, by Eileen Powell

35840584Medieval People is an account of the lives of six individuals who lived during the Middle Ages: a Frankish peasant; Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler; Madame Eglentyne, prioress of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales; a middle-class Parisian housewife; two English merchants, one engaged in the wool trade and the other an Essex clothier. The author has illustrated various aspects of social life of the era by drawing on such sources as account books, diaries, letters, records, and wills. (from Goodreads)

I’m pretty sure I said this before, but just in case: I’m a sucker for the middle ages. For reasons unknown. Or, maybe, for reasons I’m too lazy to try to explain in a language that’s not my own. Let’s move on.

The original text is from the 1920s, and it a very pleasant and amiable reading. It takes several characters from history or literature to build a “prototype” and explains through that character a generalization of their trade, social class and lifestyle, building an entire story from (sometimes scattered) data taken from the aforementioned sources.

I read chapters from this book as early as my first year of college, second semester (oh, so young!). Since that very particular semester, and thanks to this and other texts from that same class, I felt deeply for it and the middle ages and I have been in a very happy ten year long relationship with it (?). So I was very happy to find this book last year in a second-hand bookstore, and finally read it in its entirety.

La nueva izquierda argentina : 1960-1980, by Claudia Hilb and Daniel Lutzky

39350020Title translation (approx.): Argentina’s new left: 1960-1980

Like Terán’s book, this one is also about the “new left”, but instead of making a study specifically of the intellectual background, it centers in the political and social context that formed a  generation to enroll in clandestine guerrillas during the 70s.

It analyzes the methods of these organizations, their idea of a future society and their relation with peronism, considering that this radicalized youth grew up, unlike their parents, in a period of conscription of the peronist party. They yearned for Perón’s comeback and, once it happened, he didn’t step up to their expectations and they didn’t comply to his.

In case you didn’t guess, yes, another book for my graduation project. I’ve been reading several books about it, but these were the ones I read in their entirety (for now). Next week, back to the regular schedule.

Nuestros años sesentas: La formación de la nueva izquierda intelectual argentina, 1956-1966, by Oscar Terán

30752723Title translation (approx.): Our sixties: the formation of Argentina’s new intellectual left, 1956-1966

This book is also included in my must-read for my graduation project from hell (I want this to be over).

This work studies the changes in the intellectual field, from the end of Perón’s second presidency to Onganías’s coup d’etat to president Illia. This period of feeble elected governs interleaved with military dictatorships saw the apparition of a “new left” in our country, distanced from the “traditional” left (socialism and communism) and in dialogue with the “third” position represented by peronism, in a time of persecution of any peronist manifestation, in the conflictive international context of the Cold War and the Cuban revolution.

This book analyzes the intellectual production of the period, contrasting and comparing the work of several intellectuals, journalists, politics, philosophers, etc., in a time when an “armed revolution” was more a thought that a possibility in our country,

Del Di Tella a “Tucumán Arde”: Vanguardia artística y política en el 68 argentino, by Ana Longoni and Mariano Mestman

1681796Title translation (approx.): From Di Tella to “Tucumán is Burning”: Artistic and political avant-garde in Argentina’s 68

As I’m working on my graduation project, to hopefully end with this torture (of knowing that I have to finish it and, yet, avoid it forever) once and for all, I had to read this book, which basically is 50% of what I chose to work on.

This book follows the works of group of avant-garde artists from the cities of Buenos Aires and Rosario, their relations with the art field and its institutions, how the tumultuous national and international context affected their works and a prosecution of actions that had them as protagonists during the year 1968, which concluded after a collective work, Tucumán arde, with all of them quitting their artistic careers, some for several years, some for good. The book does also an understanding of how this last work was interpreted by the art historiography as the time went by and it includes an annex with interviews with the protagonists.

While reading it one gets too caught up in the succession of events that they somehow seem to be way more relevant that they actually were. These artists were submerged in a context were revolution seemed imminent at the turn of the corner and wanted to be an active part of it. They wanted Tucumán arde to be a wake up call for the people, to make them realize the perverse politics of Ongania’s dictatorship. Needless to say, the impact they made was far from being massive, which is disheartening if one ever believed that art could change things.