Instead of A Year in Reading, can I call this my Year of Books Half-Read? Lately I seem to find it impossible to spend more than half an hour at a time reading anything, and as a result I realize that I’ve succumbed to what I call the slug syndrome, as defined by the Mexican essayist and poet Gabriel Zaid. He writes: “Is anything more certain to make a book completely unintelligible than reading it slowly enough? It’s like examining a mural from two centimeters away…like a shortsighted slug.” (from So Many Books, a quick and enlightening read, translated — full disclosure — by me). And so I append a (short) list of books that really deserve better from their readers:
Jorge G. Castañeda’s Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War. This book originally came out in 1993, long before Castañeda’s tenure as Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs. It filled in all kinds of holes in my understanding of the Latin American left (especially the ways in which the Cuban revolution both inspired and doomed homegrown leftist movements around the region), and generally left me marveling at the dazzling range of leftist thought in Latin America. The book is densely packed with ideas and citations (great sources for further reading), but it’s also informed by interviews on the ground with an impressive array of revolutionaries, as well as with their chroniclers and critics. Should probably be read in its entirety (the first half, at least, is brilliant).
Javier Marías’ Los enamoramientos. Not out yet in English, so you have plenty of time to plan ahead and clear your schedule for this one — or just go ahead and read A Heart So White (there’s also the 1000+ page trilogy Your Face Tomorrow, a great choice for those who prefer to feel completely outmastered, as opposed to simply defeated). This is Marías’ first novel with a female protagonist, and it’s just as preoccupied by the circumlocutions of thought as Marías’ previous works. Characters defy literary convention by ceaselessly turning ideas over in their heads in a way that is at once strange and completely familiar. The book also has much to say about the dynamics of happy marriages, always satisfying terrain in Marías’ novels. Best of all for this reader is Marías’ relentless focus on the effects of the passage of time. This too shall pass: a comforting theme for those of us eager to do better next year. By the way, I do firmly intend to finish this one by Dec. 31.
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