Saturday, March 29, 2003

Hi, Rod.

As you probably know, Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) was (and is) the greatest Argentina writer ever, and arguably one of the best 20th Century writers regardless language or nationality.

He was blind (he developed an hereditary condition which lead him to a kind of blurry vision as though amidst a heavy fog) and loved literature and books, which he had different people read to him. He became the president of the National Library in Buenos Aires until Perón ousted him for political reasons in the mid ?50s.

His first language was the English, as his grandfather was an ex-pat from across the pond and English was the language his family spoke at home. His father retired early due to his own vision problems and moved to Switzerland when Borges was 14. Borges attended a secondary school there (where he learned both French and German). After graduating, he moved to Spain where he met the crème of the Spanish poetic Ultraist movement. Back in Buenos Aires, he started his incredible work of poems, essays and short stories (he never wrote a novel or a play).

An excerpt for starters (was he speaking of himself?):

"A librarian wearing dark glasses asked him: 'What are you looking for?' Hladik answered: 'I am looking for God.' The librarian said to him: 'God is in one of the letters on one of the pages of one of the four hundred thousand volumes of the Clementine. My fathers and the fathers of my fathers have searched for this letter; I have grown blind seeking it.'

He seemed he had read it all. At least all that was (and still is) worth reading -and in its original language. He mastered Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Latin, Greek and Anglo Saxon (he was for several years the only authority on Anglo Saxon in Argentina).

I would like to recommend that you read whatever you can find by Borges, but the fact is that there is a difference between reading Borges in Spanish and in English, although his was very much a British mindset and was highly influenced by the English literature and philosophy. So, make the brave attempt and try and read him in Spanish. Anyway, I have a volume of short stories by Borges in English in the garage; when it turns up (you know), I?ll pass it on to you. Truly speaking, if you only study Spanish in order to read Borges, it will be very worthwhile.

Here?s an essay by Borges about the Cult of the Books, one of the only things I can have in common with this peerless genius. As far as I know, it has been translated into English and included in a collection of non-fiction works by Borges. I reckon it could be rather hard for you to read the essay that follows, but ask Isa, grab a dictionary, or just give me a shout.

For the past few days I have gone back to reading 'God's Funeral' by A. N. Wilson. Despite the somewhat gloomy title this is not a depressing book. He is accurately describing the process of many scholars feeling doubts over religion. The writing style is quite exciting and engrossing. He really gets into the head of his characters and has some genuinely interesting ideas. It would be the perfect textbook for my old A Level syllabus in church history since 1850.

Despite his obvious 'anti-religious' stance he is not over triumphant about the fact. At times he describes the 'honest doubts' of Tennyson as more palatable as the dry atheism of George Elliot and her friends.

Despite describing religion as a 'wild goose chase' Wilson still decides to write a book about it and I think his interest has a slight tinge of respect.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

I found my copy of 'Winner takes nothing' by Ernest Hemingway, a book of his short stories and I am really enjoying his stories. I don't know if I have changed or if Hemingway has changed but Hemingway used to turn me into a monster, I became a macho 'soldier boy' when I used to read Hemingway but these stories are actually quite touching, I can even sense a very faint strand of compassion. It might be something to do with rage, I can't sense the rage that some of his other stories have. I really found the rage quite unpleasant but even though some of these stories are brutal, they are still 'not-put-downable'!

Sunday, March 23, 2003

One of the things I do sometimes is to make up recommendations. Therefore to my friend Mike who I haven't talked to in 20 years I wanted to recommend 'First Light' by Charles Baxter. Sometimes I get intuitions about celebrities and over the past few days I have had the strange idea that Robbie Williams should read Ernest Heminways' 'For whom the bell tolls'. As much as I can see the limitations and negative aspects of Hemingways macho spirit would aid his rock n roll lifestyle and he wouldn't have to write 'I hope I die before I get old' and maybe teach him to be a rebel!
This is a test because blogger have been down all morning

Thursday, March 20, 2003

I went back to read Mikhal Sholokovs 'Quiet flows the don' because I haven't found a book to replace Eva Luna and once again I am amazed at this writer, how he can shock the reader and take his breath away. Everytime I read this book it haunts me and one of the reasons I read it so casually is that every time I read it I feel humbled / shocked / amazed.
"Like nocturnal birds of prey blinded by the hunter's torch, dark schemes hatched in secret will come to nothing once they are dragged out into the light."

This comes from a speech made by King Sihanouk in response to discovering the plans of a coup made by the CIA in Cambodia. Very grand and fascinating, one of the reasons I like Pelican books. Just imagine this being said in response to the Iraq situation or imagine those pharisees plotting the capture of Jesus and his trial at night.
I finished 'Eva Luna' today and despite some reservations in the end it was a wonderful book, sheer bliss and I loved it. I don't want to spoil the story but it really has some wonderful twists that you only discover at the end.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I finished 'Eva Luna' today and despite some reservations in the end it was a wonderful book, sheer bliss and I loved it. I don't want to spoil the story but it really has some wonderful twists that you only discover at the end.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

I have been reading some more 'Eva Luna' today. It is a book about story telling and meeting strange and wonderful people. It encourages me to write stories and to just feel good about being a storyteller. I am quite enjoying it I must admit, some of her adventures are a bit too extreme but I suppose thats just all part of the fun.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I heard today on the news that Ingrid Betancourt is 'alive but in low spirits'. I bet she is after one year in captivity. I would recommend that you read my review of 'News of a kidnapping' to anyone new (it was one of my first). I thought they would have learnt that it doesn't work by now.

If she is in similar conditions then she is living in fear of the guards in constant fear of her life, depending on her relationship with the guards she may only be able to visit the toilet once a day. She does have a companion but I think it must be a very depressing and difficult situation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Last night I read 'The Reunion' by Richard Ford. His writing is very clear and so openly brash. He captures one of those moments when you meet someone you don't want to see and yet something drives you to talk to them. Like you want to get that dread out of your system. It is incredibly cruel and yet exactly what happens.

Emmett Grogan is explaining at the moment in the 'sixties reader' what went wrong with the hippies. I feel for him very strongly. There is an angry extract from his biography explaining how the hippy movement was taken over by 'alternative' marketing and totally exploited so that after Altamont there was a huge backlash to the right and they ended up with Reagan.

Monday, March 10, 2003

He he he

and then I put in a link to

Extra terrestrial encounters

I wonder what will happen!
The spirit of tea

I have also worked out that those clever people at blogger advertise a link according to any books you link! Therefore what happens if I give a link about tea!
Today I was reading about Emmet Grogan and the diggers and a fascinating reading in San Francisco where they had to split between two bars.
The more I read and think through the sixties reader the more fascinating it becomes. It certainly is a fascinating read and I am intrigued in particular by an essay on smoking dope with Thomas Pynchon. Pynchon is a recluse, no one even knows what he looks like and yet he got in touch with a writer friend and they had a night out together and then he never saw him again.

I am also enthusiastic about the reflective / meditative properties of this blog and I would like to extend it. I'm thinking about maybe inviting other people to blog with me or maybe a network of individual blogs. I definitely feel this form has potential.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

I've started to think about Magical Realism because I wanted to find out what it really means. I like the definition that it applies surrealism to life in the form of literature. You can see this quite clearly in 'News of a kidnapping' when the two enemies are forced to meet and become friends to get what they want.

In the 60s reader there is a comment by Baldwin on the prospects of the Black Nationalists achieving a separate muslim nation in USA ' although, in an age so fantastical, I would hesitate to say precisely what a fantasy is." It is interesting that he uses the word fantasy when you could equally use the word surreal. When it comes to struggling and the oppressed surreal is a common theme. How much more surreal could you get than saying the killing of 3 black children in a bomb was the crucial changing point in the civil rights movement and the final 'push' in helping the blacks to achieve social justice. It may seem cruel to say it but tragedies often have a surreal twist and for example the white supremists who planted the bomb in Birmingham 1963 didn't think they would be instrumental in gaining social change. They would probably feel 'offended' to think such a thing!

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

'The Portable Sixties Reader' arrived yesterday and I couldn't help but buy it. It is brilliant, I love it. I am also enjoying the luxurious American feel of books because you can lay it on the table and it opens without having to break the spine.
My word for today is gharbzadegi which means 'west-toxication'. What a great name for a rock band, imagine they come on stage

"We are Gharbzadegi, we are poison!"

It comes from Karen Armstrong's 'The Battle for God' a history of fundamentalism and is proving to be fascinating, although I only read a little bit every three months.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

You have to get my comments on fiction quick because now I'm back to an obscure Pelican on humanism!

'One essay in 'Objections to Humanism' by Kingsley Martin has really inspired me. It is called 'Is humanism Utopian?' and it is a breath of fresh air. First this quotation which has become my new motto:

?Mankind?s future is infinitely more dependent on our knowledge of the human mind than on our success in travelling to outer space and reaching the distant stars.?

And then another quote, that should be written today but for some reason the media is obsessed with animal pleasures. Unfortunately I think this quote from the 1960s is more relevant today than when it was published:

"Men are more nationalistic, violent and stupid than they thought they were. We control the earth and the air, but not the tiger, the ape, and the donkey inside ourselves."

Also this week I feel drawn towards books on terrorism because I still don't think that America understands the full horror of terrorism like we do in N. Ireland. Until they do they will continue to believe that they can stop it by brute force. This book by Walter Lacqueur appears to be one of the best:

The new terrorism