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Summer Reading Club: The Master and Margarita

Who wants to read Mikhail Bulgakov’s legendary satire The Master and Margarita? Once again, the Summer Reading Club (we always already have matching satin jackets) is taking on a tome or two. Read the Burgin-O’Connor translation along on this schedule:

Sunday, June 14th, chs. I-IV, pp. 1-45
Sunday the 21th, V-XVI, pp.45-153
Sunday the 28th, big push, XVII-XXVI, pp.154-280
then the last fifty pages, either for Sunday the 5th of July or maybe we get ‘er done before the 4th of July, a natural piece of punctuation for the summer

Open thread below.

June 17, 2020 Posted by | books | | 10 Comments

When I Grow Up I Want to Be an Old Woman

(I certainly hope you recognize the allusion:  I can’t actually find Michelle Shocked’s original version of it on YouTube, just a whole bunch of mediocre covers of it.)

This novel’s like Don Quixote:  when you’re young you read it one way and you focus on Humberto Peñaloza and Iris Mateluna and Boy, but when you’re old and decrepit and you haven’t left your sad, sad rented house in Ohio since Friday afternoon except to go out on the porch to pay the pizza delivery guy (twice in six days!), well, you read it a different way and you focus on Mudito and Peta Ponce and Inés.  Which isn’t to say that the novel hasn’t been heading in this direction all along.  And anyone who says otherwise –and sooner or later, you yourself will say otherwise– is a liar.

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August 9, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 1 Comment

Noble Monsters

I’ve only got twenty minutes before this coffeehouse closes, so let me be super quick: Yup, this sure is a masterpiece.  I had remembered the extensive set piece in La Rinconada after Boy’s birth, in which the estate turned into a place without a sense of the normal and abnormal, so that Boy’s deformities would not engender any sense of inferiority:  I had forgotten

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August 2, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 2 Comments

The Flamethrowers, a reader response

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I met HJ a little more than eleven years ago, and I mentioned the first weekend we spent together that there was a decent chance when we went out in public that I’d run into people I know. It had already happened once at dinner—a woman I’d met in City Hall was seated at the table next to us—and of course a few hours after I mentioned it, it happened again. A guy named Sam, out with his kids and his parents, no one you know. I live in the second largest city in America, so it was not the safest bet, but I stick to a few neighborhoods, so it wasn’t the biggest gamble either. A few weeks later we were at Ikea—bold move for a fledgling romance—and we’d purchased her a cabinet much larger than her Corolla could handle. I looked around the waiting area and there was my friend Darby (Big Josh knows her) and her husband. They let us put the cabinet in their station wagon, and we offered them a bottle of Irish whiskey when they dropped it off. “I couldn’t,” said Darby. “Not so fast,” said her husband.

A little less than eleven years ago, we went to Italy for my sister’s thirtieth birthday, lodging at a former convent that had been turned into a home for wayward heirloom botanicals, gathered from across the land. Rare pear trees and the like. HJ and I split off after a spell and went to Venice just the two of us. I noticed in Venice that I had developed a nervous habit. I was perpetually looking around for people I knew. There were so many people there, and it seemed likely to me, unconsciously, that I was about to run into someone I knew. But of course, I was far out of my handful of neighborhoods. So I just gave myself a neck ache.

A few nights in, we found a small restaurant near the university neighborhood. We were about to leave when I learned they didn’t take credit cards. HJ stayed back while I found an ATM. We left twenty minutes later than we meant to, but at that exact moment, and not twenty minutes earlier, I heard a very familiar voice coming through the tiny dark street. The voice approached and I called out, “Abe?” It was indeed our, your and my, mutual friend Abe. What a surprise, in the way that something your neck has been expecting can objectively be a surprise. We walked over to a university bar and had Spritzes and he introduced us to the girl from the Guggenheim he was walking here and there, and showed me an art project he’d been working on. He walked all over Venice carrying a GPS device in a recording mode, then he printed out the recorded paths and thus created his own personal map of Venice. We hung out the next day, too, riding around in the sardine cans, looking at the buildings from the canals.

The last time I spoke to our friend Abe, he was living in Dubai, and I’m not sure how he knew to contact me but I put him in touch with a friend’s sister who was in Africa working on energy. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his intentions, but the kind of person who likes to see people he knows also likes to introduce people, and who am I to say that my friend who does energy in Africa shouldn’t meet my friend who wants to do energy business in Africa?  All sorts of schemes make the world go round.

July 27, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | Comments Off on The Flamethrowers, a reader response

Yumyum! Gothic Late Modernism

I am having so much fun re-reading The Obscene Bird of Night that I can’t believe it’s been 28 years since I read it the first time.  To be sure, the formal fireworks can sometimes seem like a ruse to distract us from second-guessing what’s at stake in the story, but at other times these same formal and verbal tricks seem to give us exactly the insights we need to understand what is at stake in this story of Mudito/ Humberto Peñaloza, the extended family and servants of the Azcoitía family, and the decrepit and haunted House where most of them live.

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July 25, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 6 Comments

Pushing back the schedule/ I so know Donoso

  1.  At the request of Mr. Kamensky, we’re pushing back our reading schedule a bit more than a half-week.  (I have a commitment on Sunday August 19th so I can’t push it back a full week.)  The new reading/comment target dates are:

Thursday July 26:  Chs. 1-7 ( –> p.93)

Thursday August 2:  Chs. 8-16 ( –> 217)

Thursday August 9:  Chs. 17-23 ( –> 329)

Thursday August 16:  finish

My apologies to Mr. Malbin, who will certainly be running ahead of us for the first deadline.

2.  Do you need to know anything about José Donoso (1924-1996) or about mid-twentieth-century Chile (or Latin America) in order to appreciate The Obscene Bird of Night?  Probably not, but here’s some stuff anyway:

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July 18, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 1 Comment

José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night (1970): Reading Schedule

We’re spending four weeks on this book but it is written in three parts.  Such bad planning on Donoso’s part!  Especially because in my experience you want to start a book slowly.  So my recommended reading schedule is:
Sunday July 22:  Chs. 1-7 ( –> p.93)
Sunday July 29:  Chs. 8-16 ( –> 217)
Sunday August 5:  Chs. 17-23 ( –> 329)
Sunday August 12:  finish
As I said, this runs roughshod over the book’s natural units (1-9, 10-18, 19-30), but c’est la vie.
As I also said, part of the pleasure of these summer reading sessions for me is that I can get in touch with books I’ve read or should have read that are “unteachable” on the undergraduate level –I can’t ever see my way to assigning a 430pp delirious-surreal baroque satire of the Chilean ruling classes in 1970 to any of my Spanish classes, and it’s too big to fit into any of my Surrealism-in-translation courses too. (It’s also not exactly what I would call Surrealist:  Baroque, carnivalesque, grotesque, but it doesn’t have the Surrealist metaphysics or faux-Freudianisms or the philosophizing that’s so characteristic of the Surrealist novel with Breton or Aragon or even, say, Angela Carter or China Mièville when they’re in that mood.)  But I know stuff about Donoso, especially Donoso in the ’50s-’70s, so I may mouth off a bit more professionally than I did about Kushner.  And part of my BloodGradGuilt is that this was one of two books I read as a grad student in translation, so I at least will be working off my debt to La Sociedad by reading it concomitantly in Spanish and English.  The Spanish original is now only available in Kindle –I thought I owned my own copy but couldn’t find it on my ever-messy shelves on Sunday– but that might be an advantage:  I’m about to make a decision on which edition of Rabelais I’ll be assigning to the students on the size of the font in the Penguin edition.

July 17, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 1 Comment

Flamethrowers III: Watching It Burn

I don’t think of myself as a contrarian critic, but as soon as I read Andreas and Joshua’s agreeing with my generally negative take on the middle of Kushner’s novel, I started liking the book better, including the structural flaws that anyone could point to, and I only got tetchy at the very end, or in some sense after the very end.  Arguably this is because in the last four chapters Reno is portrayed as being on (what I deem to be) the Right Side of History, and of art history; or rather, as the time-line of the novel gets a bit gnarled, Reno finally gets to be on the same side of history that Kushner herself seems to be on.

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July 15, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 3 Comments

Flamethrowers II: Just like the ’60s, Only with Less Hope

This post is late, almost two-and-a-half days late.  If you inferred from that that I have been sick, a copy of Kushner on the bed table while I lay trying to get more than four hours of sleep with a heavy perpetual cough, you would have been right, for the first few days.  But I got better, and yet I still couldn’t make reading the book a priority.  So my apologies, as the person who chose this book, because I am more and more realizing that this book is not “for me.” (I think some of you felt that way last time around with The Flame Alphabet.) Some of my comments and topics for discussion will probably seem dutiful, though not I hope perfunctory, and I hope to keep from being a party poop if you’re enjoying it more than I am. Continue reading

July 10, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 13 Comments

Kushner, The Flamethrowers I: Topics of Interest?

Now that I’ve finished reading chs. 1-7 of Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, I can hope to start asking questions about it, up to and including the most global questions –why do we still read fiction in 2018?, why do we read fiction at all?, why does anybody read anything?– down through the more specific questions of why this book?, what kind of book is it?, how does it address us?, what are its goals?.  When you pick a book to read not entirely at random but only by reputation, as we did three years ago with Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet and Tom McCarthy’s C, we risk that the answers to these questions might disappoint. Continue reading

July 1, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 9 Comments