The new issue of Quarterly Conversation is now online, and, as can be expected, filled with great stuff.
One of the lead pieces is Scott Esposito’s article about the similarities in the writings of Adolfo Bioy Casares and Franz Kafka:
In his Prologue [to The Invention of Morel, Borges calls on writers of the 20th century to prove that “if [the literature of] this century has any ascendancy over the preceding ones it lies in the quality of its plots.” Kafka and Bioy are two writers who responded to, and perhaps proved, Borges’s declaration. For all the differences in their lives, contexts, and ways of meeting Borges’s challenge, their fictions exhibit remarkable convergences. So clear are the similarities that one might follow William H. Gass, who once declared “that Schopenhauer has read Borges and reflects him, just as Borges reflects both Bioy and Borges.” If Schopenhauer can read Borges, then Kafka has clearly read Bioy, and the two reflect each other like two mirrors, except what’s multiplied in their midst isn’t a person but a world: our very own, skewed as images caught between mirrors tend to be, but seemingly contained in both at once and, as the reproductions trail off to infinity, slightly but clearly bending in the same direction.
There are also a number of reviews of interesting titles, including pieces on All One Horse by Breyten Breytenbach, on Boxwood by Camilo Jose Cela, and The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig, which has a great opening paragraph:
Reading The Post-Office Girl is like trying to hit a slow-breaking curveball. You know the break is coming—you can intuit that the seemingly conventional story is going to drop on you in some way—but it hangs high for so long that by the time it does break, you’ve already swung blindly, thinking you knew how to read the book.
There are also reviews of Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya—one of my favorite books of 2008, which Scott Bryan Wilson also praises:
ike a lot of the great Central American novelists, Moya started out with aspirations of becoming a poet, and though Senselessness is full of really miserable, gruesome stuff, it’s exactly the ugliness, as well as Moya’s sense of language, compassion, and his healthy dose of pessimism), that make Senselessness a phenomenal read and an incredibly important work.
And finally, there’s an interesting review of Basrayatha: Portrait of a City by Muhammad Khudayyir:
Muhammad Khudayyir’s Basrayatha has no need for maps. Although the book is tagged as a travel memoir, it has little to offer the would-be (if-it-were-possible) tourist to Iraq. The narrative doesn’t pause to orient the reader—to remove our blindfolds and point us in a particular direction—and most of its landmarks are erased and rebuilt, renamed, and then erased and rebuilt again. The book’s only visual guides are not maps but slightly blurred, century-old photographs. These uncaptioned photos, like the images of a W. G. Sebald novel, obscure as much as they illuminate.
But just as Khudayyir does not present us with the pseudo-clarity of a CNN report, neither does he bring us a fuzzy, pre-invasion paradise. Basrayatha is nearer kin to Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Sebald’s Rings of Saturn. Khudayyir takes us into a story-reflecting-a-city, a series of memories and mirrors that point us toward what the book’s narrator calls “actual, defective reality.” This is not because Khudayyir has fled the land of his birth and must construct things, board by board, from faded recollections. He names himself a permanent citizen of Basra, and says that he has rarely left the city in forty-some years, his age when the book was published in Arabic in 1996.
Overall, a great issue.
The July issue of Boldtype is now available online and the focus is “Summer Reads.” In addition to a nice review of Sasa Stanisic’s How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, there’s a great write-up by Scott Esposito of Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel.
What do you do when you’ve read Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions so many times that you feel a bit like Funes the Memorious? Or when you’ve thoroughly digested the Argentinean master’s Selected Non-Fictions and even bought his poetry volume? For strung-out Borges aficionados, the perfect answer is Adolfo Bioy Casares, Borges’ literary collaborator and close friend. Bioy Casares knew Borges well enough to write a 1,600-page volume on their friendship and, despite a 15-year age gap, was considered an intellectual peer.
The masterpiece among Bioy Casares’ short, intense novels is The Invention of Morel, a book that won raves from Borges (who placed it alongside Franz Kafka’s The Trial), was called “perfect” by Octavio Paz, and inspired one of French cinema’s most infamous movies, Last Year at Marienbad (1961). Though it was first published in 1940, the book’s continuing relevance was recently proven when it was featured on Lost — a cameo many viewers perceive as a key to that TV show’s plot.
I’m not sure how public this is yet, but New York Review Books (also the publisher of The Invention of Morel and Asleep in the Sun) is planning on publishing Bioy Casares’s diary about Borges as translated by the wonderful Esther Allen. This is going to be a major, major book, although it probably won’t be out for years . . .
And I’d like to reiterate that any and all Lost fans out there really should read this book. Not because it reveals any secrets about the show (although there are some eerie similarities), but because anyone who likes Lost will undoubtedly like this book.
So, the highly-anticipated fourth season of Lost premieres tomorrow night, picking up where last season and its mind-blowing flash forward left off. And I for one can’t wait. (Especially for episode 4 . . . feel free to scroll to the bottom if you want to know why.)
I unabashedly love Lost, and over the past few years have encountered a ton of other literary people who feel the same way. Ranging from Amy Stolls at the National Endowment for the Arts to Nicole Rudick at Bookforum to Margarita Shalina at St. Mark’s, among many, many others. We shoot e-mails off the morning after each episode, speculating, pontificating, wishing the week would go by faster . . . It’s been said before (and more eloquently), but there’s something special about this show—it’s not the kind of program you watch and enjoy, it’s the kind of show you obsess over for days.
In my opinion, one of the reasons for this is the high literary content of the show. Not only does it unfold like an epic Victorian novel (with the winks, nudges, ambiguity, and paranoia of the most postmodern of works) with layer upon layer ripe for the analysis, but the writers incorporate literature and philosophy in ways that encourage dedicated viewers to read and learn about other works of art—works that end up adding significantly to the Lost viewing experience. (Like knowing who Mikhail Bakunin is, or John Locke, or Rousseau, or . . .)
Lost is one of the few shows on TV that operates within a much wider artistic context. It’s not completely self-contained in its one-hour bits, instead via the internet games (like the Lost Experience) and literary references (like The Third Policeman, Laughter in the Dark, Our Mutual Friend, The Turn of the Screw and many more) it is something so much more.
The books aspect is what really fascinates me, for obvious reasons. When a book appears on Lost—be it as part of the Others’ book club, being read by Sawyer, or on a bookshelf in the Swan—there’s a sort of cult validation of the book in question and a burning need (for me at least) to immediately read this book. These books are deliberately chosen, not to give away “secrets” or to “explain WTF is going on,” but to set a tone and to give the reader/viewer something else to contemplate.
In other words, I’m a fan of the show.
But seriously, books are important to Lost writers. In fact, Gregg Nations—writer and script coordinator—is going to be on a panel with me at BookExpo America in June talking about how Lost has created a readership for various books, etc.
More importantly—I know that was a really long-winded intro to my little secret—there are two fantastic books that are going to be in the fourth episode of the season (entitled “Eggtown” and airing February 21st): Philip K. Dick’s Valis and Adolfo Bioy Casares’s The Invention of Morel.
Not going to go into why I know this, but I do want to say that I’ve long held the belief that Morel (published by the wonderful New York Review Books) was the perfect book for Lost fans, and hopefully this will help expand its readership. (Same goes for Valis, which is also amazing, but since PKD has a bigger fan base, I’ll skip that for this post.)
If you’re not familiar with The Invention of Morel you really should pick up a copy. Borges was a fan of this nasty little book, and it was the inspiration for Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year in Marienbad. I don’t want to give away much, but it’s the story of a man on an island who is seeing some strange things . . . It even begins with the perfect Lost-like line: “Today, on this island, a miracle happened: summer came ahead of time” and includes mad scientists, different temporal dimensions . . .
I promise, fan of Lost or not, I can’t imagine anyone picking this up and not falling in love with this perfectly crafted book.
Oh, and watch Lost tomorrow. It’s on ABC.
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .
Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s La Superba is appropriately titled after the Italian city of Genoa, where, after escaping the pressures of fame in his own country, the semi-autobiographical narrator finds himself cataloguing the experiences of its mesmerizing inhabitants with the intention. . .
It took reading 44 pages of Intervenir/Intervene before I began to get a sense of what Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sánchez were up to. Recurring throughout these 44 pages—throughout the entire book—are shovels, shovel smacks to the face, lobelias—aha!. . .
As presaged by its title, contradiction is the theme of Peter Stamm’s novel, All Days Are Night. Gillian, a well-known television personality, remains unknowable to herself. And Hubert, a frustrated artist and Gillian’s lover, creates art through the process of. . .