I figured I’d occasionally sound off on some of the books I’ve been reading lately, share some of the stuff that’s been inspiring me. I just wrapped up a long Roberto Bolaño fueled Latin literature binge, so I figure I’ll start there. Really excellent reads, all of these.
Between Parentheses - Roberto Bolaño
Over the past few years Roberto Bolaño has slowly taken over as being one of my favorite authors of all time. His books are an intense experience—both literary and visceral, and irrevocably wash you away in wave after wave his encyclopedic knowledge of literature, particularly Latin American and Spanish writing. One of the things I look forward to in addition to the crazy stories he spins is a huge list of books I make while reading. I remember when I read Savage Detectives years ago I came out with over 100 novels, poems, and other literature that I had to check out. After one of his books I usually go on a library binge for weeks and months absorbing as much the list as I can find.
"Between Parentheses" is a collection of Bolaño’s lectures, essays, and interviews that is a pretty great read in and of itself, but I also came out of the collection with a pretty nice haul. Here are a couple I’ve been running through the past month, some I’ve read before, but most were brand new, exciting, and helped build a better context and appreciation of Latin American literature:
Sermons and Homilies of the Christ of Elqui - Nicanor Parra
I’m told Nicanor Parra is Chile’s foremost poet, sort of the antithesis of Pablo Neruda. This long poem is supposed to parody a real life Chilean who wandered the countryside in the ’30s and ’40s, preaching contradictory teachings to everyone he crossed paths with. Sardonic and witty, reminds me of Mark Twain’s “Eve’s Diary”.
The Tunnel - Ernesto Sábato
A short novel about an obsession painter reminiscing on the events that lead up to him murdering his lover. The singularly compulsive focus of the narrator sucks you in, kind of like Dostoevsky’s “Notes From The Underground” or Knut Hamsen’s “Hunger”.
Hell Has No Limits - José Donoso
I got about a third through this book before I realized it seemed familiar because I read it about six or sevens years ago. It was probably my first Donoso book before I jumped into his excellent “The Obscene Bird Of Night”. It’s a dark tale about a small town and transgender flamenco dancer both equally betrayed. One of the really intriguing parts of this books is how Donoso plays with gender pronouns, turning them on their head.
Temple Of The Iconoclasts - J. Rodolfo Wilcock
Wilcock is really intriguing because he grew up in Buenos Aires, and wrote a bunch of works in Castillian, but then decided at one point he was essentially done writing in Spanish, moved to Rome, and went on to write all of his other works in Italian.
Temple Of The Iconoclasts is a wild ride of short fictional pieces describing a bunch of whimsical pseudo-scientific discoveries made by obscure eccentrics. It’s pretty entertaining at it’s best, and can suck you in pretty quickly. There’s one piece in the middle that I’m still trying to process that was pretty overtly racist, but aside from that there’s some pretty imaginative things going on in this book.
Mad Toy - Roberto Arlt
This one is more or less a short coming of age story in 1920’s Buenos Aires. I love the picture it paints of the city at that time. I’ve never been, but it sounds a lot like the New York City of around roughly the same time. The writing reminds me of a slightly more complex proto-John Fante. Looking forward to reading more from him.