The OF Blog: April 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

This may be one of the strangest book covers I own

I was going through my Portuguese-language bookshelves tonight and I happened to recall thinking that when I bought this used a few years ago that this Brazilian edition of Gabriel García Márquez's story collection Ojos de perro azul (Eyes of the Blue Dog) might just feature one of the weirdest, oddest covers that I own outside the infamous Ballantine Adult Fantasy anthology that featured a naked man riding a huge serpent.  There's just something glorious about the sombrero-wearing skeleton hoisting a dusty bottle, but it's the chicken in the corner, staring ahead, that adds that je ne sais quoi quality to the piece to make it something truly sublime.

Thought I'd share this with those who like weird cover art...and those who fancy chickens and/or drunken skeletons, I suppose.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Poetry is my drug of choice when I get overstimulated on life

I'm perhaps by nature slightly extroverted, needing social stimulation in order to feel "alive" and the experience of new situations often is quasi-intoxicating (I frequently babble and chatter like a drunken squirrel when I meet someone new who interests me).  But there are those times where the "feedback" can be too much, leaving me with a sense that others' emotional states, especially stress-related ones, are "reverbing" within me, leaving me with a quickened heart rate and more irritability than usual.

This has been the case in recent days, getting acclimated to waking up 5-6 hours earlier than before and working 9-14 hours for 7 days/week at two jobs through the end of May.  I like the new experiences, getting to know more students, but after a while of dealing with dozens of raw emotions from middle school students, I feel the need for a bit of quiet, for repose.

I frequently turn to poetry, not prose, for these situations.  And as luck would have it, I was reading some of Iranian writer Sohrab Sepehri's poetry (his posthumous collection, The Oasis of Now, was a runner-up for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award for Poetry) tonight when I came across these lines from "The Surah of Observation" (translated by Karim Ali and Mohammad Jafar Mahallati):

I said,

"He who sees the garden in the memory of wood
will forever feel the torment of love like a gentle breeze."

"He who makes friends with the birds flying in the sky
will have the calmest sleep on earth."

"He who plucks light from the branches of the tree of Time
can open every window with just a sigh."

And with those few lines, written decades ago, I feel as though there is something to consider here that relates directly to dealing with life's frustrations and desires.  It too is intoxicating, but more in a personal, spiritual sense.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Best Translated Book Award winners and runner-ups for Fiction and Poetry

The 2014 Best Translated Book Award winners for Fiction and Poetry were announced earlier today.  The Fiction winner, Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai's Seiobo There Below, was my favorite 2013 (translated) release read and I am very pleased to see that it won the award (the second in a row for Krasznahorkai).  The runner-ups were Rodrigo Rey Rosa's The African Shore (I just ordered the Spanish edition) and Minae Mizumura's A True Novel (Japanese; downloading the e-book now).  I'll try to write more on these laters.

The poetry winner was Elisa Biagini's The Guest in the Wood (I downloaded the Italian edition of part of this collection), with the runner-ups being Claude Royet-Journoud’s Four Elemental Bodies (translated from French) and Sohrab Sepehri's The Oasis of Now (translated from Persian; now downloading). 

Intriguing blurbs for each of these, so hopefully I'll find stories and poems worth reading in multiple idioms in the days and weeks to come.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Brief observation on some of the rhetoric lately tied to group politics

I haven't had time to do more than just read an article or two every couple of days this week on the recent Hugo nomination controversy, but I thought I'd make a few comments on some of the terms employed in those talks on various blogs and Twitter:

The more-apparent fissuring of SF fan groups into socio-political blocs that resemble more and more those present in Anglo-American political parties is not as much a recent affair as just the further crystalization of something that has been occurring for the past several years, if not a decade or more.  Ever since the web and later social media has made it easier to mass mobilize like-minded people, there has been quite an increase of friction and pushback between various constituencies.  What's been discussed over the past eight days is but the most recent echo of certain heated conversations (diatribes?) all across the socio-cultural spectrum over that time span.

Certain terms have come to the fore, such as the usage of "intersectionality" and "privilege" to denote differences between certain ethno-cultural groups.  I have no problem with the theoretical tools associated with the former to be applied in this case, but I suspect what part of the larger issue in these debates might revolve around the usage of the latter term.  In noting that there might be issues with the usage of "privilege," I am not denying that group and individual discrimination for a whole host of reasons occurs.  What I (slightly) object to is the underlying assumption behind some of those using privilege as a catch-all term that those who lack certain privileges are lacking in power.  Too frequently, the tenor of the conversations I've read in which "privilege" is used is that of an unstated claiming of an unilateral flow of power toward a consolidation point within an elite group (often, but not always associated with, straight WASP cis-males).  Yet even when claims for needs (and creations of) for "safe spaces" are openly made, there isn't the acknowledgement that the creation of these spaces also creates newer power dynamics.

I found myself thinking of Michel Foucault's attempts to formulate a theory of power in which power was not a centralized entity but instead a diffused element that flowed in multiple directions in which some who might wield greater power in certain situations will find themselves relatively powerless in others.  This hypothesis does not invalidate the consolidation of group power within certain institutions, but rather it allows for role reversals based on situations and acknowledges that humans may be more active agents in these power structures than other theories permit. 

As for how this applies to the issue mentioned above, what I've observed is that there are several power structures within this odd entity called SF fandom.  Some powerful groups come from those who are marginalized in the larger society, whether it is due to their ethnic origin, religion, language, sexual identity, or mental and/or physical differences from others.  Other groups orient themselves around the preservation of "traditional" organizational structures and they often come across as defensive precisely due to a sense of having their power threatened, if not stripped from them.  This isn't as much "privilege" (which implies that such power is not inherent to any group that wields it and can/should be taken away) as it is a battle of world-views in which certain symbols serve as a casus belli

What will be the end result?  Hegelian dialectics would posit that this clash of a thesis and antithesis should lead to a synthesis, but what synthesis can emerge when the rhetoric on multiple sides often devolves into absolutist terms?  It shall be interesting to see which elements in this microcosm of the "cultural wars" win out in the coming years.  In the interim, I fully expect to see a further polarization of SF readers into stridently-opposed groups that will each appropriate elements of class warfare dialogue to suit their needs.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Things recently purchased

It's now been a week since I started buying (e-)books again after giving that up for Lent.  Thought I'd list some of the books purchased (including several that were free).  The majority of these are e-books, with a couple of print editions as well:

José de Almada Negreiros, A Engomadeira (Portuguese; e-book)

Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, Le Roman de la Rose (French; poetry; e-book)

J.K. Huysmans, A Rebours (French; e-book)

J.K. Huysmans, Là-Bas (French; e-book)

Comte de Lautrémont, Le Chants de Maldoror (French; e-book)

Comte de Lautrémont, Poésies (French; poetry; e-book)

Paul Verlaine, Oeuvres de Paul Verlaine (French; poetry; e-book)

Ugo Riccarelli, Il dolore perfetto (Italian; e-book)

Giorgio Montefoschi, La casa del padre (Italian; e-book)

José Donoso, Historia personal del "Boom" (Spanish; e-book)

Teju Cole, Every Day is for the Thief (e-book)

Karen Russell, Sleep Donation (e-book)

J.R.R. Tolkien, Bilbo's Last Song (illustrated poetry e-book)

Rose Fox and Daniel José Older (eds.), Long Hidden:  Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History (anthology; e-book)

Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The Time Traveler's Almanac (anthology; e-book)

Marie NDiaye, Trois femmes puissantes (French)

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance

Stanislao Nievo, Le isole del paradiso (Italian)

Danilo Kiš, Rani jadi:  za decu i osetljive (Serbian)

Already finished five of these and hope to make more progress on the others in the coming weeks.  Any you are curious about?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Sometimes, I wonder at what publishers think would be enticing cover art for the likes of me

If this isn't a candidate for Good Show, Sir, then I don't know what would be....

Thursday, April 24, 2014

New poll up asking for more reader choices for future reviews

In the next few weeks, I'll finish reviewing the works (minus, alas, the squirrel erotica) on the previous poll inquiring about most-desired reviews that received at least 10 votes.  It's now time for a new poll and I thought that I would continue the theme of the last one, adding new(ish) titles to the list.  I also plan on continuing to review more of Gabriel García Márquez's longer fiction in the coming weeks, so there is that also to complete before I jumpstart the World War I centennial review series in late May/early June with a couple of histories before delving into various national literatures concerning that infamous war.  Hopefully, there will continue to be a steady stream of posts even despite the exhaustion I've been feeling every night this week.

For those who missed the last poll's results, here they are, with bolded titles representing stories already reviewed here and italics for that to come:

Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird
  13 (30%)
Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
  12 (27%)
Dominique Rolin, Letter to Lise
  1 (2%)
Okey Ndibe, Foreign Gods, Inc.
  12 (27%)
Various authors, Biblia Sacra Vulgata
  2 (4%)
Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
  14 (32%)
Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance
  14 (32%)
Marquis de Sade, The 120 Days of Sodom
  8 (18%)
E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common
  1 (2%)
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  13 (30%)
Why not a book of squirrel erotica? (if only...)
  14 (32%)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.  Macondo era entonces una aldea de veinte casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río de aguas diáfanas que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos.  El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo. (p. 81, Catedra edition)
Gabriel García Márquez's 1967 novel, Cien años de soledad (translated into English in 1970 by Gregory Rabassa as One Hundred Years of Solitude), is perhaps one of a handful of 20th century fictions that have had an impact far beyond that of the tens of millions worldwide that have read it over the past 47 years.  Its codification of Colombian (and by extension, Latin American) post-colonial history gave a voice to a region whose literature prior to the mid-20th century had largely been dismissed as provincial, as not worthy of the respect rendered to Western European and North American national literatures.  As the most famous of the "Boom Generation" novels, Cien años de soledad has been quoted by politicians across the globe and has served as an inspiration (and later a point of departure) for two generations of Latin American writers.

Yet the accolades can get in the way of a deeper appreciation for what García Márquez achieved here.  It is too tempting to fall in line with what others have said, often in a gushing, adoring fashion, about this novel.  It could be viewed as being predominantly about X, Y, and Z, without the reader stepping outside of those blurbs and reviews' interpretative schemae.  Useful as these models are for understanding what is transpiring within the novel, especially on the symbolic level, they can rob the reader of that pure joy of what considering what the import of each phrase or sentence might be, even if (especially if?) they are ignorant of much of the allusions, historical and literary alike, that García Márquez makes.  Sometimes it can be best for the reader to experience them like the early inhabitants of the fictional town of Macondo do in the passage quoted above, as if they were in a world that "was so recent that many things lacked names and in order to mention them you had to point at them with a finger. (translation my own)"  There is much to discover within the world of Macondo, the city of mirrors, that sometimes it behooves the reader to wander through its pages, piecing together, as six generations of Buendías attempt to do, the clues embedded within this rich text.

Cien años de soledad covers seven generations of the Buendía family, first introduced in García Márquez's earlier novels.  It is here in this novel, however, that nascent themes from those earlier novels mature and bear bittersweet fruit.  Ranging from the immediate post-colonial period of the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century, Macondo and its founding family incorporates much of Colombia's conflicted, troubled past.  In the cycle of the boisterous Arcadios and the brooding Aurelianos can be seen a symbolic tale of passion and greed, of pride and sorrow.  The language of the early chapters resembles in many fashions those tales found in the Book of Genesis in that the feats of the early generations seem outsized and otherworldly, creating a sense that what is transpiring is irreal and yet intimately and intricately tied to a very real past and present.

Yet these moments of levitating priests and resuscitated gypsies do not detract from the very real events encoded within them.  The section with the house colors foreshadows the rise of strong men and the marking of seventeen bastards with a permanent Ash Wednesday cross symbolizes the connections between belief and violence, between the desire to hold power and the urge to reform.  Time and time again, García Márquez revisits these elements, culminating in the four years, eleven months and two days of rains that follow the massacre of 3000 striking banana plantation workers and the village's subsequent forgetting of their collective fate.  These events echo those of Colombia's violent early 20th century, from the time of the War of a Thousand Days (1899-1902) to that of La violencia of 1948-1958.  A prior knowledge of Colombian history will enhance a reader's appreciation for García Márquez's embedding of these events within his Macondo tales, but it is hardly necessary for comprehension and enjoyment of this novel.

Cien años de soledad easily could have been a "political" novel, but its symbolic elements go far beyond references to the past and then-current events, moving more toward a deep, keen look at humanity and our roles as agents of order and change.  Each character represents certain qualities, from the egotistical early Buendías to the forlorn romantics who frequently find understanding but not solace from their frustrated desires.  The various modes of solitude have been addressed at length by others elsewhere, but it certainly lies at the core of this novel.  Each character experiences their own form of solitude, from that of loss of mental capacities, to the laborious making and unmaking of items (many of which tienen vida propria), to unrequited love to love that distances them from outsiders.  These presentations of solitude within the context of a novel in which passion is codified within magical events (like the profusion of butterflies or an afternoon assumption) is so well-realized in their intricacies that it is difficult to skim over even a single line without missing something beautiful and important.

For some, this richness of symbolic, powerful metaphors can be overwhelming, as there is so much packed within the margins of the novel.  Indeed, multiple re-readings may be required to squeeze more from the text.  But the effort is more than worth it, because García Márquez wrote a novel that is at the very least on par with that one of his primary influences, William Faulkner.  In re-reading Cien años de soledad, I found echos of Yoknapatawpha County and its denizens.   There is a kindred spirit between the Southern writer and the Latin American novelist that goes far beyond the literary techniques of stream of consciousness and the use of mythological elements to add depth to a core realist story.  There is a spirit of resilience, of seeing great devastation and despair and using those violent elements to construct tales that speak to their readers on the most intimate terms.  García Márquez's prose is so exquisite, his characterizations so organic and well-developed, that his only major "flaw" may be that he has created a story that defies deeper analysis, because the more one delves into the individual threads that constitute this narrative tapestry, the more one risks missing the wondrous forest for a few fascinating leaves.  Cien años de soledad was the first novel I read in Spanish when I learned the language a decade ago and this re-read only confirmed my positive impressions.  It is one of my all-time five favorite fictions and each re-read has only served to add to my appreciation for what García Márquez accomplished here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

So apparently some people are impressed with the size of Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance...

To those who seem to think that Sanderson's Words of Radiance is huge, I scoff.  Here's a book that is roughly 1.5 times the size of it.  Yes, it's all about Jorge Luis Borges.  Now think about it:  I put a book of diary entries about Borges' comments by his close friend Adolfo Bioy Casares right next to a Brandon Sanderson novel.  Bet there won't be many such comparisons elsewhere.  You're welcome.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Premio Strega shortlist announced

This won't be of much interest to the majority of readers here, but since one of my current reading goals is to read each of the winning novels for the Italian-language Premio Strega, the recent April 11th announcement of the shortlist, with the winner to be announced June 11th, has made me curious about some of the titles here.  Perhaps I'll purchase more than one of them shortly (interesting the ratio of male to female writers in comparison to other major shortlists of the past couple of years):

1.    Non dirmi che hai paura (Feltrinelli) di Giuseppe Catozzella
       Presentato da Giovanna Botteri e Roberto Saviano

2.    Lisario o il piacere infinito delle donne (Mondadori) di Antonella Cilento
       Presentato da Nadia Fusini e Giuseppe Montesano

3.    Bella mia (Elliot) di Donatella Di Pietrantonio
       Presentato da Antonio Debenedetti e Maria Ida Gaeta

4.    unastoria (Coconino Press-Fandango) di Gipi
       Presentato da Nicola Lagioia e Sandro Veronesi

5.    Come fossi solo (Giunti) di Marco Magini
       Presentato da Maria Rosa Cutrufelli e Piero Gelli

6.    Nella casa di vetro (Gaffi) di Giuseppe Munforte
       Presentato da Arnaldo Colasanti e Massimo Raffaeli

7.    La vita in tempo di pace (Ponte alle Grazie) di Francesco Pecoraro
       Presentato da Giuseppe Antonelli e Gabriele Pedullà

8.    La terra del sacerdote (Neri Pozza) di Paolo Piccirillo
       Presentato da Valeria Parrella e Romana Petri

9.    Il desiderio di essere come tutti (Einaudi) di Francesco Piccolo
       Presentato da Paolo Sorrentino e Domenico Starnone

10.  Storia umana e inumana (Bompiani) di Giorgio Pressburger
       Presentato da Gianfranco De Bosio e Sergio Givone

11.  Ovunque, proteggici (nottetempo) di Elisa Ruotolo
       Presentato da Marcello Fois e Dacia Maraini

12.  Il padre infedele (Bompiani) di Antonio Scurati
       Presentato da Umberto Eco e Walter Siti

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A few things happening this week

Might have time later this week to post my review of Gabriel García Márquez's Cien años de soledad/One Hundred Years of Solitude.  I had begun re-reading it a couple of weeks ago, before Gabo's death, and I really would like to have a formal review/appreciation posted sooner rather than later.

Since there are many masochists who like to vote on my occasional blog polls, they will be pleased to know that I did order a copy of Brandon Sanderson's Words of Radiance Saturday and it'll be here on Monday.  I'll re-read the first book first, so it'll be a while, maybe 1-2 weeks, before I sit down to write the review.  Some people just want to see if I'll write something scathing, don't they?  But who knows, I might enjoy it like I did (for the most part) his Mistborn books, so there is that, I suppose.

I'm going to be super busy for the next two weeks because starting in the morning, I am teaching full-time at my teaching position and working weekends (for 14 hours each day) at my second job.  Just in time for state exams, which begin next week.  So yeah, there is that to take care of first, but since I'll be home awake for a few evening hours, I still might manage to squeeze in a variety of posts.

That's about it.  The squirrels are going to be mad at me if I don't try to get six hours of rest now.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The fissuring of "fandoms" and the 2014 Hugo Awards finalists

Earlier this afternoon, the 2014 Hugo Award finalists were announced via Twitter and livestreaming of the announcements from some SF convention or another.  As I followed the announcements on Twitter, it was interesting to seeing the alternations between squeeing (I think that is the word for the juvenile squeaky gasp) and groaning as the categories moved from the lesser-known fan-oriented categories to the fiction categories.  For the most part, I remained unmoved, even when I saw some good people get nominated for their works, because I sensed that the fiction categories would be, in the parlance of certain people in my social circle, a clusterfuck.  And indeed it was a clusterfuck beyond my wildest imagination, as the Best Novel category alone is the epitome of everything that I despise about popular-voted literary awards.

I am more familiar with several category finalists than in years past, so I will have more to say on the lesser categories than in years past.  I will be blunt:  the types of works/people nominated illustrate this perception that many people have had in recent years that SF and its so-called "fandom", never a monolithic entity whatever impression some people might have tried to give, is even more fissured and polarized now than even during contentious points (the 1930s and the red scare aftermath; Vietnam and the 1970s; third and fourth-wave feminism vs. MRAs) during the WorldCon's checkered past.  Some occasional readers, myself being but one, are often left feeling disengaged after the spats have repeated themselves for the nth time.  The stories nominated show signs of bloc voting along the lines of thematic and perhaps socio-political ideologies more than for any literary/storytelling merits that these stories might contain.  When I look at the works/authors that have been nominated that I have read or at least sampled in the past, I am dismayed by lack of scintillating prose or anything that would be more profound than something found in a Dan Brown or Terry Goodkind novel.

Some of this doubtless is due to my own particular tastes as a reader, but some of it falls squarely in the laps of those readers who choose these works.  While I am likely never going to be a voter for these awards, as a critic I do feel that those who do nominate and vote for these awards should take greater responsibility for what is nominated.  Then again, considering how fractious "SF fandom" is, perhaps it is more a matter of LCD works being selected more for their non-offensiveness than for their true challenging of the status quo.  It is disheartening to see certain "progressive" voices praise certain stories for their themes when those so-called "progressive" elements were addressed more forcefully in works published before I was born...before 1974.  When even the "revolutionary" stories are praised mostly for their long-overdue inclusion of "minority" characters/perspectives, when these perspectives were becoming more commonplace in stories written for non-SF/F audiences a generation or two ago, then there is something broken in a literary area where some pride themselves on being "forward-thinking."  The finalists for Best Novel are anything but "forward-looking" in their politics, in their themes, in their characterizations, or in their prose.  Much the same goes for the majority of the Novella and Novelette categories.

What can be done about this?  I perhaps am not the one best-suited to answer this, since I mostly observe from the periphery, reading what strikes my fancy, not esteeming those selected works more or less than what I read elsewhere.  Those who are the finalists for Fan Writer, Fanzine, and Fancast, most of whom are relatively new voices who are in their 20s and 30s, those are the ones who should be pressing harder for something different.  They should not be content to use their platforms just to praise works, but to criticize weaker elements even in the works that they enjoyed.  To them, which do excellent work, I would exhort them to not just "settle" for the "window dressing" of "progressive" elements within a stagnant story/theme, but to demand more, to note that those authors who are daring to do more should take greater chances, even at the risk of losing some readers or even publisher support.

Too often at times like this, SF/F supporters extoll the virtues of their beloved genre(s) by implicitly or even explicitly trying to create false comparisons between this genre and other literary genres.  As a reader of many fictional categories, I tend to scoff at these people, because I look at what is nominated and I think to myself, "these works are as ephemeral as mayflies.  The next generation will hardly glance at them without shuddering."  Some believe that based on some of the nominees in the fan, Campbell, and shorter fiction works, that a newer generation of fans and writers is emerging.  Perhaps that is so.  But what is emerging?  Bland works?  Fictions that look backward too much without saying much that is new?  Stories that want more to be made into movies than those that take greater advantage of the literary medium?  Are these things that readers will want to revisit years from now?

So yes, another iteration of the Hugo Awards has been announced.  Some will find much to enjoy in them and a lot to dislike.  And others wistfully shall find themselves wishing that there was something more than a display of polarization over stories that leave the occasional SF reader feeling cold.  And with this somber comment, here are the finalists (and for full disclosure's sake, two 2012 articles of mine appear in one of the finalists for Best Related Work):

Best Novel (1595 nominating ballots)
  • Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie (Orbit US/Orbit UK) - My review
  • Neptune’s Brood, Charles Stross (Ace / Orbit UK)
  • Parasite, Mira Grant (Orbit US/Orbit UK)
  • Warbound, Book III of the Grimnoir Chronicles, Larry Correia (Baen Books)
  • The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books) - My reviews
Best Novella (847 nominating ballots)
  • The Butcher of Khardov, Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
  • “The Chaplain’s Legacy”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
  • “Equoid”, Charles Stross (, 09-2013)
  • Six-Gun Snow White, Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
  • “Wakulla Springs”, Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (, 10-2013)
Best Novelette (728 nominating ballots)
  • “Opera Vita Aeterna”, Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
  • “The Exchange Officers”, Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
  • “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, Mary Robinette Kowal (, 09-2013)
  • “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling”, Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
  • “The Waiting Stars”, Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
Best Short Story (865 nominating ballots)
  • “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love”, Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
  • “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (, 04-2013)
  • “Selkie Stories Are for Losers”, Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
  • “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere”, John Chu (, 02-2013)
Note: Category had only 4 nominees due to the minimum 5% requirement of Section 3.8.5 of the WSFS constitution.

Best Related Work (752 nominating ballots)
  • Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It, Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
  • Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary, Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London) - here's where my articles appear.
  • “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”, Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
  • Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction, Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image) - Need to finish reading it, but it's a book I'd highly recommend to others.
  • Writing Excuses Season 8, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson
Best Graphic Story (552 nominating ballots)
  • Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colors by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
  • “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who”, written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
  • The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
  • Saga, Volume 2, written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics )
  • “Time”, Randall Munroe (XKCD)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (995 nominating ballots)
  • Frozen,screenplay by Jennifer Lee, directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee (Walt Disney Studios)
  • Gravity, written by Alfonso Cuarón & Jonás Cuarón, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (Esperanto Filmoj; Heyday Films; Warner Bros.)
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, screenplay by Simon Beaufoy & Michael Arndt, directed by Francis Lawrence (Color Force; Lionsgate)
  • Iron Man 3, screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black, directed by Shane Black (Marvel Studios; DMG Entertainment; Paramount Pictures)
  • Pacific Rim, screenplay by Travis Beacham & Guillermo del Toro, directed by Guillermo del Toro (Legendary Pictures, Warner Bros., Disney Double Dare You)
Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (760 nominating ballots)
  • An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Day of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Nick Hurran (BBC Television)
  • Doctor Who: “The Name of the Doctor”, written by Steven Moffat, directed by Saul Metzstein (BBC Televison)
  • The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, written & directed by Peter Davison (BBC Television)
  • Game of Thrones: “The Rains of Castamere”, written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, directed by David Nutter (HBO Entertainment in association with Bighead, Littlehead; Television 360; Startling Television and Generator Productions)
  • Orphan Black: “Variations under Domestication” written by Will Pascoe, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions; Space/BBC America)
Note: Category has six nominees due to a tie for the final position.

Best Editor, Short Form (656 nominating ballots)
  • John Joseph Adams
  • Neil Clarke
  • Ellen Datlow
  • Jonathan Strahan
  • Sheila Williams
Best Editor, Long Form (632 nominating ballots)
  • Ginjer Buchanan
  • Sheila Gilbert
  • Liz Gorinsky
  • Lee Harris
  • Toni Weisskopf
Best Professional Artist (624 nominating ballots)
  • Galen Dara
  • Julie Dillon
  • Daniel Dos Santos
  • John Harris
  • John Picacio
  • Fiona Staples
Note: Category has six nominees due to a tie for the final position.
Best Semiprozine (411 nominating ballots)
  • Apex Magazine, edited by Lynne M. Thomas, Jason Sizemore, and Michael Damian Thomas
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by Scott H. Andrews
  • Interzone, edited by Andy Cox
  • Lightspeed Magazine, edited by John Joseph Adams, Rich Horton, and Stefan Rudnicki
  • Strange Horizons, edited by Niall Harrison, Brit Mandelo, An Owomoyela, Julia Rios, Sonya Taaffe, Abigail Nussbaum, Rebecca Cross, Anaea Lay, and Shane Gavin
Best Fanzine (478 nominating ballots) - #1, #2, and #5 are published by people whose opinions I do like reading, even when I disagree with them.
  • The Book Smugglers, edited by Ana Grilo and Thea James
  • A Dribble of Ink, edited by Aidan Moher
  • Elitist Book Reviews, edited by Steven Diamond
  • Journey Planet, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Lynda E. Rucker, Pete Young, Colin Harris, and Helen J.Montgomery
  • Pornokitsch, edited by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin
Best Fancast (396 nominating ballots) - Same I said above for #3 and #4, even though I rarely listen to podcasts.
  • The Coode Street Podcast, Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe
  • Galactic Suburbia Podcast, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch
  • SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester
  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show, Shaun Duke, Jen Zink, Julia Rios, Paul Weimer, David Annandale, Mike Underwood, and Stina Leicht
  • Tea and Jeopardy, Emma Newman
  • Verity! Deborah Stanish, Erika Ensign, Katrina Griffiths, L.M. Myles, Lynne M. Thomas, and Tansy Rayner Roberts
  • The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond
Note: Category has seven nominees due to a tie for the final position.

Best Fan Writer (521 nominating ballots) - Same again for #s 1-4
  • Liz Bourke
  • Kameron Hurley
  • Foz Meadows
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Mark Oshiro
Best Fan Artist (316 nominating ballots)
  • Brad W. Foster
  • Mandie Manzano
  • Spring Schoenhuth
  • Steve Stiles
  • Sarah Webb
The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (767 nominating ballots)
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines. (Not a Hugo Award, but administered along with the Hugo Awards.)

  • Wesley Chu
  • Max Gladstone*
  • Ramez Naam*
  • Sofia Samatar* - I've enjoyed her works; haven't read the others yet.
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Friday, April 18, 2014

R.I.P. Gabriel García Márquez

Yesterday brought the sad news of the passing of Gabriel García Márquez at the age of 87.  It was not unexpected, as his brother said in 2012 that Gabo had senile dementia, but it is still a loss tinged when memories, far from all of which were melancholic, of the wonderful stories he had created over a span of nearly sixty years.

As is often the case when a famous writer dies, readers of his/her work try to summarize the impact that the author's writings have had on them.  For myself, it was the desire to read Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) in its original idiom that led me to learn how to read Spanish fluently ten years ago.  A week ago, I had started re-reading Cien años de soledad for a review here in the coming week or two.  I would read maybe a chapter or two a night, often after my tasks at my night job were complete and I was awaiting the arrival of the late-night shift, and think on the vivid imagery, recalling the laborious yet fruitful effort of writing down unfamiliar words and looking them up ten years ago, learning dozens of words a week, reading perhaps a scant five pages a day, until I finished reading it in April 2004, around the time of my Confirmation.

It is odd, ten years later, to learn of the author's death before another Easter celebration.  I had just finished reading two nights before the death of José Arcadio Buendía about midway through OHYS and I remembered this passage after learning of Gabo's death:

Cuando estaba solo, José Arcadio Buendía se consolaba con el sueño de los cuartos infinitos.  Soñaba que se levantaba de la cama, abría la puerta y pasaba a otro cuarto igual, con la misma cama de cabecera de hierro forjado, el mismo sillón de mimbre y el mismo cuadrito de la Virgen de los Remedios en la pared del fondo.  De ese cuarto pasaba a otro exactamente igual, cuya puerta abría para pasar a otro exactamente igual, y luego a otro exactamente igual, hasta el infinito.  Le gustaba irse de cuarto en cuarto, como en una galería de espejos paralelos, hasta que Prudencio Aguilar le tocaba el hombro.  Entonces regresaba de cuarto en cuarto, despertando hacia atrás, recorriendo el camino inverso, y encontraba a Prudencio Aguilar en el cuarto de la realidad.  Pero una noche, dos semanas después de que lo llevaron a la cama, Prudencio Aguilar le tocó el hombro en un cuarto intermedio, y él se quedó allí para siempre, creyendo que era el cuarto real.  A la mañana siguiente Úrsula le llevaba el desayuno cuando vio acercarse un hombre por el corredor.  Era pequeño y macizo, con un traje de paño negro y un sombrero también negro, enorme, hundido hasta los ojos taciturnos.  «Dios mío», pensó Úrsula.  «Hubiera jurado que era Melquíades.»  Era Cataure, el hermano de Visitación, que había abandonado la casa huyendo de la peste del insomnio, y de quien nunca se volvió a tener noticia.  Visitación le preguntó por qué había vuelto, y él le contestó en su lengua solemne:

– He venido al sepelio del rey.

Entonces entraron al cuarto de José Arcadio Buendía, lo sacudieron con todas sus fuerzas, le gritaron al oído, le pusieron un espejo frente a las fosas nasales, pero no pudieron despertarlo.  Poco después, cuando el carpintero le tomaba las medidas para el ataúd, vieron a través de la ventana que estaba cayendo una llovizna de minúsculas flores amarillas.  Cayeron toda la noche sobre el pueblo en una tormenta silenciosa, y cubrieron los techos y atascaron las puertas, y sofocaron a los animales que durmieron a la intemperie.  Tantas flores cayeron del cielo, que las calles amanecieron tapizadas de una colcha compacta, y tuvieron que despejarlas con palas y rastrillos para que pudiera pasar el entierro. (pp. 241-242, Catedra edition)

On this Holy Friday, as many of us, like the wandering Cataure, come in spirit to the funeral of the King, it is fitting that we make note of the passing of a lesser, literary king, one whose recasting of Colombian (and by extension, Latin American) history in the form of a flyspeck village whose miracles, such as the rain of yellow flowers narrated above, served to heighten both the realness and irreality of the 20th century.  The world is now not so recent, not so new, that we lack names for everything, but sometimes we still just have to point to those rare things that defy our poor attempts to describe them.  Gabriel García Márquez is one of those and all these words above try to do is to provide a reason for me to just point to his works and signal, "read these, for there is much of us in them."  If that is not enough to persuade, then perhaps nothing will be fitting enough.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

2014 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize shortlist announced

This was announced a few days ago, but here are the finalists for the 2014 IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize, selected by voters from libraries from across the globe for works originally released in English in 2012 (bolded titles are ones that I have read, in two cases in the original Spanish):

  1. The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, (Dutch) translated by David Colmer. Published by Harvill Secker. 
  2. Questions of Travel by Michelle De Kretser (Sri Lankan / Australian) Published by Allen & Unwin.
  3. Absolution by Patrick Flanery (American) (First novel) Published by Atlantic Books.
  4. A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Norwegian) Translated by Don Bartlett. Published by Harvill Secker.
  5. Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye (French) Translated by John Fletcher. Published by MacLehose / Quercus and by Alfred A. Knopf.
  6. Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman (Argentinian) Translated from the original Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia. Published by Pushkin Press and by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. (2009 Premio Alfaguara winner)
  7. The Light of Amsterdam by David Park (Northern Irish) Published by Bloomsbury.
  8. The Spinning Heart  by Donal Ryan (Irish) (First novel) Published by Doubleday Ireland / Lilliput Press.
  9. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Malaysian) Published by Myrmidon. (2012 Man Asian Prize winner; 2012 Man Booker Prize finalist)
  10. The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vásquez (Colombian) Translated from the original Spanish by Anne McLean. Published by Bloomsbury. (2011 Premio Alfaguara winner)
While I am uncertain whether or not I'll read/review the other seven finalists before the winner is announced in June, I almost certainly will have written reviews of the Neuman and Vásquez by that time, as each are previous Premio Alfaguara winners that I have yet to review.  I can say that the three that I've read to date are very strong books, so this bodes very well for the other seven on the list.

I'm going to make one more awards shortlist post this week, then hopefully the majority of my daily posts will be reviews, translation pieces, or commentaries on particular subjects.  Lots more time in the evenings for these after Friday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

2014 Best Translated Book Awards for Fiction finalists announced

Yesterday, the Best Translated Book Awards finalists for fiction were announced.  There were ten finalists this year.  Bolded titles represent works that I've read:

Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, translated from the French by Lulu Norman (Morocco; Tin House)

Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu, translated from the Romanian by Sean Cotter (Romania; Archipelago Books)

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy; Europa Editions)

Tirza by Arnon Grunberg, translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett (Netherlands; Open Letter Books)

My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway; Archipelago Books)

Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary; New Directions)

A True Novel by Minae Mizumura, translated from the Japanese by Juliet Winters (Japan; Other Press)

The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Jeffrey Gray (Guatemala; Yale University Press)

Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq, translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies (Lebanon; New York University Press)

The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff, translated from the Dutch by Paul Vincent (Netherlands; Pushkin Press)

Winner will be announced April 28.  Seems I have a lot to explore here.  Will post the poetry finalists tomorrow, as I'm a bit tired now and need some rest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Donna Tartt wins 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

The 2014 Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday.  Below are the winners in the Fiction, Drama, and Poetry categories, followed by the Fiction finalists:

FICTION - "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
DRAMA - "The Flick" by Annie Baker
HISTORY - "The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832" by Alan Taylor (W.W. Norton)
BIOGRAPHY - "Margaret Fuller: A New American Life" by Megan Marshall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
POETRY - "3 Sections" by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf Press)
GENERAL NONFICTION - "Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation" by Dan Fagin (Bantam Books)
MUSIC - "Become Ocean" by John Luther Adams (Taiga Press/Theodore Front Musical Literature)

Here are the Fiction finalists:

Philipp Meyer, The Son

Bob Shacochis, The Woman Who Lost Her Soul

I've read both the Tartt and Meyer and each were high on my list of Top 25 2013 releases.  Both are well-deserving of this honor and perhaps in the near future I'll get around to reviewing The Goldfinch (it is also a finalist for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Rough translation of the Aeneid, Book II, lines 13-30

Now to tackle a bit more of the opening to Book II, picking up with the introduction of the infamous Trojan horse.  Again, this is a first draft and not an editing of old translation notes, as was the case for Book I:

Fracti bello fatisque repulsi
ductores Danaum tot iam labentibus annis
instar montis equum divina Palladis arte
aedificant, sectaque intexunt abiete costas;
votum pro reditu simulant; ea fama vagatur.
huc delecta virum sortiti corpora furtim
includunt caeco lateri penitusque cavernas
ingentis uterumque armato milite complent. 

Broken by war and repelled by the fates after many seasons slipped by, the Danaan leaders through the artifice of divine Pallas constructed a horse as big as a mountain, cutting pines to weave its ribs; they feigned a votive offering for a return home; this rumor was spread around.  They chose by lot men to furtively inclose in the dark flank and within the vast hollow belly they filled with armed soldiers.
A bit rough toward the end; likely needs to have the repetitions broken somewhat to make it smoother in English.
Est in conspectu Tenedos, notissima fama
insula, dives opum Priami dum regna manebant,
nunc tantum sinus et statio male fida carinis:
huc se provecti deserto in litore condunt. 

Nos abiisse rati et vento petiisse Mycenas.
Ergo omnis longo soluit se Teucria luctu;
panduntur portae, iuvat ire et Dorica castra
desertosque videre locos litusque relictum:
hic Dolopum manus, hic saevus tendebat Achilles;
classibus hic locus, hic acie certare solebant.

 There is within view Tenedos, a well-known island, rich in power while Priam remained in power, now so great a bay and anchorage is treacherous:  here the Greeks establish themselves on the deserted shore.  We thought they had departed and were before the wind sailing to Mycenae.  Therefore the Teucerian city was freed of her long sorrow:  the gates are opened, we delight in going from the city to the deserted Doric camp and to see the abandoned shore:  here the Thessalians stayed, here fierce Achilles; here the ships were drawn up, here the accustomed battle lines were drawn.
Although a bit too literal in places, I believe the substance of the passage is transferred adequately here.  Vergil uses triple replication of certain phrases (here, it is hīc) frequently to achieve a certain effect and while in a later edit, especially if it were to cast this into a English-style poem, such phrasings would be altered or lost, here it stands as a marker for the effect achieved by reading this passage in Latin.

More on the Trojans' reactions to seeing the Trojan Horse in the coming days or weeks.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A partial glance at my book cart/wishlist

At the end of this week, Lent ends and my Lenten sacrifice of buying or trading no books ends.  This didn't mean that I didn't add titles to my Amazon cart for purchase in the weeks following Easter, so for those few who are curious about which works have struck my fancy, here are the book-related contents of my Amazon cart, plus a few others that I likely will order/buy elsewhere:

Danilo Kiš, Basta, pepeo; Rani jadi : za decu i osetljive 

Claudia Rankine, Don't Let Me Be Lonely:  An American Lyric 

Frederic Morton, Thunder at Twilight:  Vienna 1913/1914 

Milorad Pavić, Hazarski Rečnik 

Max Brooks, The Harlem Hellfighters 

Daša Drndić, Sonnenschein/Trieste 

José de Almada Negreiros, Nombre de Guerra 

Karen Russell, Sleep Donation (e-book)

Brandon Sanderson, Words of Radiance 
Teju Cole, Every Day is for the Thief

David James Poissant, The Heaven of Animals

Dinaw Mengestu, All Our Names

David Grossman, Falling out of Time
Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The Time Traveler's Almanac

Emma Donoghue, Frog Music

Hilda Hilst, With My Dog Eyes 

It'll probably be a couple of months before I buy them all (having to be more careful with my money this summer, when I'm earning only one paycheck while I take a college course in order to renew my teaching license for another five years), but these should be high priorities for both reading and reviewing in the next few months.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

And here is a lovely poem by Jaroslav Seifert that I enjoyed reading today

This is from the collection The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert and is taken from the publisher's website.  This is a fragment of the poem "Transformations," with the translation by Edward Osers:

A lad changed to a shrub in spring,
the shrub into a shepherd boy,
A fine hair to a lyre string,
snow into snow on hair piled high.

And words turn into question signs,
wisdom and fame to old-age lines,
and strings revert to finest hair,
the boy's transformed into a poet
the poet is transformed once more,
becomes the shrub by which he slept
when he loved beauty till he wept.

Whoever falls in love with beauty
will love it to his dying day,
stagger toward it aimlessly,
beauty has feet of charm and grace
in sandals delicate as lace.

 Here Seifert utilizes the metaphor of the shrub in spring (and later an old stick) to discuss the changes from callow youth to something perhaps a bit more mature but certainly not in a pejorative fashion.  As I'm turning 40 later this year, I found myself particularly drawn to the third stanza (the final two are not quoted here and can be read by clicking on the link above) and the discussion of beauty within this concept of the aging boy/poet.

Having finished The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert this afternoon, I cannot help but think he is one of the best 20th century poets, even in translation, and that his 1984 Nobel was well-deserved.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist announced

Although I had posted the longlist some time ago, I forgot to check back for the shortlist announcement until I happened to see it discussed on Eve's Alexandria.  I've read half of the six finalists and based on those three, I think this might be a very solid, perhaps slightly predictable, group.  Bolded titles are the ones I've already read:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch

Winner will be announced June 4th.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

It is Squirrel Week over at the Washington Post

Staff writer John Kelly has been doing this for a few years now, so for those of you who are bemused by my occasional (frequent?) references to (rabid, reading) squirrels can see quite a few lovely pictures of nature's fiercest literary creatures at this link.

For those of you wanting something more substantive, such as reviews of recent and/or classic works, there might be a few written later tonight or this weekend, as I'm going to have a bit more time to write such things coming up shortly.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

2014 IFFP shortlist announced

Missed this the other day, but I see that Tony Malone has done an excellent recap of the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist, with reviews of four of the six finalists, as well as an alt-shortlist that he and other members of the "Shadow Panel" did based on their readings of the longlisted titles.  Be sure to read those reviews, as there are a few works that I want to read once I resume buying books in a couple of weeks.  Here are the shortlisted titles, with bolded titles for the ones I've already read:

Hiromi Kawakami, Strange Weather in Tokyo (published in the US as The Briefcase; Asian Prize finalist in 2013)

Hassan Blasim, The Iraqi Christ

Karl Ove Knausgård, A Man in Love

Birget Vanderbeke, The Mussel Feast

Yoko Ogawa, Revenge

Hubert Mingarelli, A Meal in Winter

The winner will be announced May 22.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Hard to believe it's been twenty years...

As you are
As you were
As I want you to be
As a friend
As a friend
As an old enemy
Take your time
Hurry up
The choice is yours
Don't be late
Take a rest
As a friend
As an old memoria 
Supposedly there are events that people of a certain age or generation will never forget where they were when they occurred.  For my grandparents, it was December 7, 1941.  For my parents, it was November 22, 1963.  For my generation, there is January 28, 1986 and 1:18.  And for many others in their late thirties and early forties, there is April 8, 1994.

I was a sophomore at the University of Tennessee and it was a little past 2:00 PM EDT.  I was hanging out with two friends of mine in their dorm room when another friend came in, seemingly shocked and agitated.  He said, "Turn it to MTV, Cobain's dead!"


"Suicide, apparently."

So we turned it to MTV, to see the This Week in Rock crew talking about the discovery of Nirvana guitarist/lead singer Kurt Cobain's body in his house after he had been missing for three days.  Dead of a shotgun blast to the head.  For the next few days, MTV continuously played Nirvana videos, especially their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance.  It was so numbing then, as Cobain was, if not the musical voice for my generation, a voice that spoke to those of us frustrated with the world crumbling about us, a world that often felt fake and vapid.

Certainly Nirvana's music (although with other Seattle-area bands of the early 1990s) was very influential.  When I first heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit," it was around the end of high school or perhaps during my first weeks at UTK.  I remember the ebb and flow, from the mumbled quiet to the near-screeching loudness of both Cobain's guitar and voice.  This was something different, something that was defiant and yet so vulnerable.

Yet "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was never my favorite track from Nevermind.  It was "Come As You Are," which contains lines such as "Take your time/Hurry up/The choice is yours" or "Come/Dowsed in Mud/Soaked in bleach/As I want you to be," that really appealed to me.  It was akin to a youth anthem, yet in many ways was an anti-anthem for doomed youth.  Even now, over twenty years since I first heard it, I get this sense of drowning in a tidal wave of emotion, of wanting to just let go and dare to feel, if only for a moment.  Not many songs bring this out of me, but this one always had.

Then there are the tracks from In Utero, which are as much of a middle finger to commercialism and market expectations as one can find.  The rhythms are melodiously discordant, if that makes any sense.  Certainly the lyrics are raw, taking no quarter.  Yet there are still moments of wounded tenderness, like the beginning to "Heart-Shaped Box":

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I've been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I've been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black
And yet, ultimately, despite the signs of self-destructive behavior (I recall a Rolling Stone interview from late 1993 in which Cobain talks of his heroin use to deal with a stomach ailment and thinking that he sounded desperate for a more permanent release even then), it was a shock to hear of his suicide.  For a while, it was difficult to listen to music or to watch MTV.  It may not have been the day that the music died, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me.  I think today will be devoted to listening to some of my favorite tracks, remembering, if less intensely, the emotions I felt twenty years ago.

Monday, April 07, 2014

If your story were a novel, what genre(s) would it be?

Later this week, two important events in my life will have their 20th and 10th anniversaries.  Thinking on this a few days ago, I found myself wondering what sorts of stories could a writer devise slightly fictionalized elements of my life.  Would it be a coming of age sort of story?  Perhaps a moment of epiphany?  Maybe a descent into darkness and a slow rise back out of it, coupled with periodic relapses?  Could there be elements of farce or satire, especially if my professional life (lives?) were narrated?

And from there, I started to wonder about others and their tales.  What if my dad had a story published based on what he witnessed in the Army during Vietnam, even if he served in the backlines as a clerk?  Or maybe the triumphs and tragedies of certain close friends of mine, including those who are no longer alive?  Would others recast their lives and personal principles as a morality play or an epic fantasy?

What would you try to do if a fictionalized account of your life were to somehow be written, perhaps by another?  Would your life be an exciting one, or one that contains layers upon layers of depth to it?  Curious to see what others would say.  As for myself, I could see several types of stories:  a satire based on my experiences as a teacher certainly would be a tempting one to write, as there aren't all that many good stories out there based on recent teaching experiences.  Or maybe a poetry collection capturing the range of emotions, from the elation of struggling students "getting it" to the horrified numbness that comes when you learn that a series of students over a few years have died in various, often gruesome fashions (the worst being a former student and her infant daughter trapped inside a car as it became engulfed by flames).  Perhaps each major incident in our own lives would require different voices, different genres to express them adequately in fiction.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Manuel Vicent, Pascua y naranjas

Some stories depend more upon style than action for readers to be engrossed by them.  In reading Manuel Vicent's Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Pascua y Naranjas, it is one of those novels where it is much easier to discuss the prose than the characters or plot.  Yet having read it twice in two months, I cannot help but feel satisfied by the reading without being able to pinpoint what exactly it is that satisfies me.

Pascua y Naranjas is set in a Spanish village sometime in the early-to-mid 20th century during Holy Week celebrations.  It is a dialogue-heavy story that follows the musings and adventures of a group of youths whose discourses on matters ranging from jokes to religious matters.  Their dialogue is so smooth and natural that it is easy to get lost in the rhythms of their speech.  Vicent does an excellent job developing the connections between the characters, yet it is hard to differentiate between individual members of the group.

The book is divided by days, going from Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday, with a brief epilogue for Holy Friday.  Over the course of these five days, certain events that appear at first to be innocuous take on a more sinister character, yet it is difficult to perceive exactly where the jokes and irreverent commentary shades over into something darker and more violent.  Vicent's efforts in polishing the prose, particularly the dialogues, to an elegant finish makes for an enjoyable read at the sentence or phrase level, but the plot suffers as a result.  There is action but it is subsumed by the prose to such an extent that it is difficult to discern when certain important events have occurred until later in the novel.

For many readers, this emphasis of style over action will dampen their enjoyment of novels like Pascua y naranjas.  For others, however, who find as much delight in the capture of a certain pathos in the expressions of contemporary youth, it may prove to be the sort of novel to provide an amusing diversion for a sunny afternoon.  Compared to other Premio Alfaguara winners, including Vicent's own Son de Mar, Pascua y naranjas is a bit slighter in tone and while it is very well-written, its narrative might not engage readers as much as most other winners.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A quarter of the year gone by, some reflections on my 2014 reading goals (and a few new ones)

I'm not someone who typically embraces strictures, even positive ones.  I tend to chafe under such guidelines, not only as a means of trying to escape what I have set out to do, but also because I find there to be other things that occur to me later that are perhaps just as important, if only for a moment.  But I do try my best to meet those goals that seem most like bets against myself.  Reading goals certainly qualify as such.  Can I manage to read X amount of something by the year's end?  What if I struggle to find the words when writing a promised review?  What if I run out of things to say or books to read on Topic X?

These thoughts are coming now as I stare at a few books that I should have reviewed weeks, if not 2-3 months, ago:  Manuel Vicent, Pascua y naranjas and Carlos Droguett, Todas esas muertes (Premio Alfaguara winner); a few histories and novels on World War I for my WWI blog; various women writers I want to read to make sure my reading, tilted askew by other projects, isn't too heavily male; the various Italian, Portuguese, and French-language works I want to read in order to meet that 50x4 goal (the Spanish-language portion is already near 50% of that mark); and reviewing each of the 2014 releases that I highlighted in a January post, approaching 30 titles.  All this around working two jobs and prepping to take a college course this summer in order to renew my teaching license.

It's a lot on my plate, yet for the most part, I feel like I'm "getting things done."  Hope to finish at least one more Premio Alfaguara review this weekend, perhaps two, in order to reach 50% of that goal.  Then I'll read some French and Italian-language novels on WWI to further my progress in those two areas.  Perhaps in a couple of weekends, I'll review more 2014 releases that I've already read, so that there will be a lot of reviews to refer to later when trying to decide which 2014 releases were the best come December.  Maybe I'll write that Leonora Carrington review shortly.  Or perhaps a few more by women authors who've intrigued me lately.  Come to think of it, perhaps the purpose of having certain goals is not to restrict oneself to a narrow area but instead to force one to open his/her eyes to the wide-ranging beauties there are out there, both in the literary world and the larger one encompassing it.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Karen Joy Fowler wins the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Somehow missed the shortlist announcement, but it is very cool to see that Karen Joy Fowler won this year's PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her novel, We Are Completely Beside Ourselves, which was one of my favorite 2013 books.  I've read one of the other shortlisted titles and likely will read the others at some point in the future.

The other finalists:

Daniel Alarcón, At Night We Walk in Circles
Percival Everett, Percival Everett by Virgil RussellJoan Silber, Fools 
Valerie Trueblood, Search Party: Stories of Rescue

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Rough translation of the Aeneid, Book II, Lines 1-13

After posting my 1994 translation notes of Vergil's Aeneid, Book I (minus some breaks that I translated this year to cover the gaps of 5-10 lines here and there), over the first three months, now I'm going to begin posting shorter (mostly paragaph-sized breaks) translations that I will do for the first time of Book II, as outside of one key flashback passage that I had to translate for an exam, I didn't have to translate any of Books II or III (or for that matter, V, VII-XII) for my Intermediate Latin class twenty years ago.  Should be interesting to see how this goes (I'll be comparing what I write to published translations to make sure I'm not too far off the mark, but it certainly will be my word choices and will likely be more literal than the prose or poetry translations available).  So here goes, with Aeneas beginning to narrate the seven years' of misfortunes that his band of Trojan warriors have suffered, beginning with the Trojan Horse:

Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant
inde toro pater Aeneas sic orsus ab alto:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum
eruerint Danai, quaeque ipse miserrima vidi
et quorum pars magna fui. quis talia fando
Myrmidonum Dolopumve aut duri miles Ulixi
temperet a lacrimis? et iam nox umida caelo
praecipitat suadentque cadentia sidera somnos.
sed si tantus amor casus cognoscere nostros
et breviter Troiae supremum audire laborem,
quamquam animus meminisse horret luctuque refugit,

They all fell silent and eager they continued to hold so as Father Aeneas from his couch on high thus began:  "Unspeakable, O Queen, you order me to renew grief, by telling of how the Greeks overthrew the power of Troy, that lamentable kingdom, the heart-breaking events which I myself saw and in which I played a great part.  Who could tell such a story, Myrmidon, Dolopian, or harsh soldier of Ulysses, without crying?  And now the dewy night falls from the heavens and the setting stars urge sleep.  But if you have such a desire to know of our disasters and briefly hear of Troy's final agony, although my soul shudders to recall and recoils in sorrow, I shall begin.
In a few days, or more likely a week or so, I will begin translating the lines that deal with the discovery of the Trojan Horse on the beach and the fate of Laocoōn and his sons.  Hopefully this first, rough draft gives at least some idea of the sorrowful story that Aeneas is about to tell.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

March 2014 Reads

March was a slightly better reading month than February, as I completed 23 books despite going almost a week at a time without reading anything.  There were 5 re-reads this month, two of which has already been reviewed and another 1-2 may be reviewed in the near future.  Six books read in March were also reviewed and more may follow.  There were three short fiction collections and four graphic novels read.  One focused on the centrality of squirrels as a metaphor for human existence...or something like that.  Now for the monthly list:

40  Haruki Murakami, Los años de peregrinación del chico sin color (Spanish translation; review later this year after the English translation has been released)

41  Alina Diaconú, ¿Qué nos pasa, Nicolás? (re-read; Spanish; short fiction collection; very good)

42  David Soares and Pedro Serpa, Palmas para o Esquilo (Portuguese; graphic novel; already reviewed)

43  Ben Hatke, Zita the Spacegirl (graphic novel; might write an article on the trilogy later)

44  Dominique Rolin, Lettre à Lise (French; very good)

45  Maurizio Maggiani, Il viaggiatore notturno (Italian; Premio Strega winner, good)

46  Claudio Magris, Danubio (Italian; excellent)

47  Ben Hatke, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (graphic novel; see above comment)

48  Ben Hatke, The Return of Zita the Spacegirl (graphic novel; see above)

49  Jesse Ball, Silence Once Begun (review in very near future)

50  Ben Marcus, Leaving the Sea (short fiction collection; review in near future)

51  Ondjaki, Os Transparentes (Portuguese; Prémio José Saramago winner; very good)

52  Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird (already reviewed)

53  Andrés Neuman, Hablar solos (Spanish; very good)

54  Kyle Minor, Praying Drunk (short fiction collection; already reviewed)

55  Stella Benson, Living Alone (re-read; good)

56  José Saramago, História do cerco de Lisboa (Portuguese; excellent)

57  Okey Ndibe, Foreign Gods, Inc. (already reviewed)

58  Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (re-read; non-fiction; already reviewed)

59  Graciela Montes and Ema Wolf, El turno del escriba (re-read; Spanish; Premio Alfaguara winner; already reviewed)

60  Colette, Chéri (French; very good)

61  Greg King and Sue Woolmans, The Assassination of the Archduke (non-fiction; review forthcoming)

62  Leonora Carrington, The Hearing Trumpet (re-read; possible review in near future)

Updated Yearly Goals:

Spanish:  20/50 (ahead of pace by 7; 4 read in March)

Portuguese:  7/50 (behind pace by 6; 3 read in March)

French:  7/50 (behind pace by 6; 2 read in March)

Italian:  9/50 (behind pace by 4; 2 read in March)

Women writers:  21/62 (33.9%; behind 35% goal by 1 book)

Premio Alfaguara winners reviewed:  10/24 (soon to be 25, after the 2014 winner is published by June; 8 reviewed in 2014 alone)
Add to Technorati Favorites