Thursday, September 26, 2013

#610. The Cephalopod Coffeehouse September 2013

I'm only a day early for this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse meeting!  All thanks still go to founder, who sometimes refers to himself as A Squid.

As has been my routine, here's a preliminary list of the books I read in the month (now slightly less impressive!):

  • Fated by S.G. Browne
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Ficitional Universe by Charles Yu
  • Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolano
  • The Skating Rink by Roberto Bolano
  • The Insufferable Gaucho by Roberto Bolano
I'm currently reading The Savage Detectives by...Roberto Bolano.

I've already done a post on HL2SU.  Fated was pretty good, too (although it ends on the most interesting note of the whole piece, like a segue to a Christopher Moore book).  And then I reached Roberto Bolano.

Roberto Bolano is my favorite writer.  He died ten years ago, but you'd hardly know it from his English language publishing schedule.  I first learned about him from the wildly anticipated release of 2666, which was kind of like the Harry Potter of the literary set in 2009.  The massive tome, split into five volumes, is everything conceivable and good about fiction, what I like to consider the ultimate book.  Reading it was the first best way to fall in love with Bolano, which anyone really should have, and in the best of all possible worlds his name would now be as famous as any of the other classics writers you can think of.  At the moment he's not any kind of ready presence in a bookstore, however, at least not here in the States (and my survey is as extensive as it can be), and that's as big a crime as what lies at the heart of 2666.

Anyway, after the massive (and richly deserved) hoopla, it became necessary to release the rest of Bolano's works in English, a project that has only recently, after near a dozen releases, reached its climax.  I haven't managed to collect all of them, but of the ones I have I've finally gotten around to reading them.  That is to say, savoring them.

Most of his books are short works, under two hundred pages.  I'd previously enjoyed By Night in Chile, which affirmed my devotion to Bolano.  Monsieur Pain did likewise, as did The Skating Rink.  The Insufferable Gaucho is a collection of still shorter works, including some essays (and for those interested *cough* Pat Dilloway *cough* in those he sounds a lot like Kurt Vonnegut), and is probably a release better suited to devotists.

Bolano had a rich voice, and he immersed himself deeply in his characters, who tended to be melancholic literary types exploring mysteries without resolution.  It was always the journey that was the point, as his subjects took readers on a guided tour of their lives as they saw them.  Like many writers, Bolano tended toward sensational, often sensual individuals, though ones who lived on the margins, or who interpreted themselves as living on the margins, of society.  The Skating Rink in particular is extraordinary as it explores three different people whose rotating viewpoints pivoting on a murder in the eponymous location, each at different social levels.  Like a lot of his stories, it reads like a prototype 2666, but is also distinctly its own story.

One of the great benefits of reading Bolano is his focus on Latin America as well as locations in Europe, notably Spain and France.  Bolano himself was Chilean, but he traveled extensively.  When I think of ways my life could have gone differently, this is how I imagine the ideal to be.  In Bolano's view, the literary life was still very much the romantic life, with circles of friends the way it was, say, in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris.  This was something I knew in college, but I had no idea how to sustain that.  Maybe it's something only the young experience?

Before 2666, there was The Savage Detectives, Bolano's second longest work and what originally brought him international acclaim even among English readers.  Having only read the first sixth so far, I can't speak too much about it, but it rings true with everything I've said in this post, and is recognizable as classic Bolano.

To read Bolano is to truly enjoy reading.  Along with a select few, he's the ideal of all writers for me, and the standard by which I compare all writers, why it can sometimes be difficult for me to appreciate not merely other styles but different levels of skill.  To me, you're either this good or aspire to be, and if you don't, I have no idea why you're writing.  Is this elitism?  Perhaps.  The love of writing should look this good.  And the amazing thing is, Bolano considered himself first and foremost to be a poet (and he was good at that, too, as evidenced in The Romantic Dogs).  Perhaps good writers must be good poets, too.  They must be in love with language.

I will be savoring The Savage Detectives for as long as I can, thank you.


Pat Dilloway said...

My list is bigger.

Maurice Mitchell said...

It's amazing how many brilliant foreign language writers fall below the radar Tony of average readers.

Tony Laplume said...

Pat, no doubt. But can you measure yours with a knife?

Maurice, it's a crime. But then, I don't think we do nearly as much to advertise books here as we do other entertainment media.

The Armchair Squid said...

My wife recently read 2666 and enjoyed it very much.

I think you're absolutely right that a good writer must be in love with language.

Tony Laplume said...

Ooh, happy to hear that she read and enjoyed it!

Mark Noce said...

Insufferable that's a good title:)

Nicki Elson said...

Can you imagine how beautiful the words must be in his native language? I love your passion for his writing - you've convinced me to add The Savage Detective to my (ever growing because I'm such a damn slow reader) to-read list. The premise is intriguing.

Denise Covey said...

Hey ho Tony. Cool that you reviewed your favourite author Roberto Bolano. He does sound great. I haven't read any of his, but I must.

Thank you for signing up for the WEP blogfest and for pasting the HAUNTING badge in your sidebar. It should be a great 'fest.


Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

Roberto Bolano? I'll make note of his name.
Thx for the tip.

Trisha F said...

I was looking for the English version of 2666 on GR, but couldn't see it there. He sounds like a great writer.

The Armchair Squid said...

I'm hoping my wife will join us this month, actually. I sort of designed it with her in mind so it'd be kind of nice if she'd at least give it a try...

Tony Laplume said...

Mark, I know, Insufferable Gaucho is a great title!

Nicki, I had no idea what to expect from Savage Detectives, but it's been a great pleasure reading so far.

Denise, not a problem!

Huntress, you won't regret it!

Trisha, just one of the mysteries of GR.

Squid, perhaps by the end of the year!

The Armchair Squid said...

She's finished Pickwick Papers, her latest blogging/reading project, and also reached her reading goal for the year. Time for something new, I'd say.

Tony Laplume said...

Well then, something new. Like us!


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