Thursday, June 07, 2007

Reading List

All of a sudden, I'm awash with books. For as long as I was working full time in advertising, it was hard for me to concentrate on a book. I was hardly reading. Now that my time belongs to me, I read more. I think the culprit is Swann's Way by Marcel Proust. It took me so long to finish that book that when I was done I wanted to rush out and start something different asap. Merci, Marcel.
So this is what I have on my stack these days, dear readers, and feel free to recommend or opine on any glaring omissions or lapses of judgement to your taste.

The Essential Kabbalah. Nothing to do with red thread bracelets, Esther-Madonna or mystical bottled water, this slim volume is a distillation of some of the key passages in the actual sources of Kabbalistic books (mostly all composed around the 12th Century in France and Germany). The writing is mysterious, but there are useful notes and the meditative, philosophical musings, make total sense (and work wonders before going to bed). I don't bring this book into the bathroom.

Amuleto by Roberto Bolaño. Bolaño is hots right now, and with good reason. I saw the English translation of this slim volume (always into slim volumes, me). My method worked. I opened the book, read the first sentence, it totally grabbed me and I asked Little Enchiladita (who was coming to town) to bring me the original in Spanish from DF. It is a beautiful novel about an actual character I remember from my days as a university student in Mexico City. A woman, whose real name was Alcira, an illegal Uruguayan alien who survived the Army's taking of the National University campus in 1968 by staying for ten days in the bathroom of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, as we call the Humanities in Mexico. If you saw the bathrooms, you'd be impressed by her heroic feat of resistance. I remember Alcira (in the novel her name is Aurora) hanging around the campus, an old, loony lady without teeth, a poetic, raving mad, lefty dreamer from the sixties. By the time I was there, in 1981, the university's authorities let her wander around, vociferate in the hallways, sometimes interrupt classes. She was a living myth and she was untouchable. As someone generously describes her in the book, a female version of Don Quixote. Bolaño's book is a loving recollection of her and her times. As is usual with him, he doesn't go for the obvious, the telling of the ordeal. He goes into her mind, her feverish recollections, her memory and her visions and you can tell that his love of poetry sustains not only his language, but how he tells the story, in a gorgeous, unforced stream of consciousness. I can't think of any other novelist who gets the Mexico City bohemian culture, its crazy, violent nights, as wisely and sharply as Bolaño. Perhaps because he is an outsider, he is extraordinarily clear-eyed. He is brutal but sympathetic. A great writer. I want to read his big novel about the Savage Detectives but in the original Spanish.

Very Good, Jeeves! by P.G. Wodehouse. Very funny, but a little at a time goes a long way.

• The Virgin's Guide to Mexico City by my friend Eric Martin. So far, I really like Eric's powers of observation and his sense of humor. And I recognize certain characters and situations, from when we coincided in Mexico City, which is neat-o.

Awaiting consumption (please chime in if you've read any of these)

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill
Falling Man by Don DeLillo
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe (necessary Summer trashy reading, ok?)
Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (for my impending trip to Paris)
The Spider's Web by Joseph Roth (a fantastic German-Jewish writer. Love him)
We Wish To Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Phillip Gourevitch. It's taken me years to muster the courage to read this book about Rwanda.

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