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by Roberto Bolano
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What you need to read, what you might want to, and what you can pass over without losing sleep.
With astounding single-mindedness (or monomania, if you prefer), Knausgaard has pursued a writing project that both consumes him and sequesters him from life. He’s Ahab, only he’s gone and caught the whale.
Salinger never published another word, though in a rare interview in 1974 he revealed that while he had retired from publishing, he had not stopped writing. "There is a marvelous peace in not publishing," Salinger said. "It's peaceful. Still. I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."
The fragmentation, self-plagiarism, and lack of narrative development all indicate a manuscript that was very much unfinished, and is only interesting as a completist curiosity, something akin to the financial-driven posthumous discographies of Jimi Hendrix or Tupac Shakur.
With the close of the post-Bolaño decade, it seems that the tide of the author’s original works is finally ebbing. New Directions' latest release, much to my delight and that of other genre boundary-watchers, is The Secret of Evil, a thin collection of fictions that occasionally read as essays. Or is it the other way around?
Fiction that aspires to be something more than an entertainment commodity must, I think, ultimately be concerned with its own longevity, with the conversation it holds between itself and whatever has preceded it.
"I have a sort of dark past as a technology journalist and I’ve always been interested in communication systems, both as technological artifacts and as the building blocks of social life. In my book I’ve become very interested in the ways that we’re enmeshed in these systems."
My favorite pieces were those which brilliantly dissected the various sulks, funks, and paranoias of being a writer who moans about doing writerly things - not least among them writing itself.
Shout it from the rooftops, people! Helen DeWitt is back!
...and some other observations of doubtful critical merit.
Proust's madeleine would have made more sense to me had Proust, upon discovering the power of the cookie, obtained a huge box and eaten them while reading all seven Chronicles of Narnia.
How to write about a one-sentence novel? How to write about the dead? The challenges aren't as different as you'd think.
I will say this, it was not my best year for reading. It was a year where I read a lot of really good books but almost no great books.
With a new title appearing practically every quarter, where should a Bolañophile turn first?
How short can a story be and still be a complete story, as opposed to, say, a fragment of something that probably should have been longer?
A mini-boom in big books would seem to complicate our assumptions about the Incredible Shrinking Attention Span.
Sometimes I wish I were that man in the Twilight Zone episode who finds himself in the ruins of a public library, with lots of food and all the time in the world to read all the books he wants.
If I were an addict, I would get high and while high, presumably, worry about where I was to get my next fix. Reading is not all that different, I think. As a reader, I am always looking over the binding thinking about the next read, in some instances, longing for it. Some books, like some highs, are better than others. But even with not-so-good books, I will come back to the drug, seeking the next high.
Traditionally Spanish publishers stuff their books with introductions and notes. You have to skip the fifty pages of critical essays to read the twelve pages of poems. Although I don't think this novel needs all of that, an answer key, a cheat sheet, what in Argentina they call a machete, might do.
Recently it struck me that the list of books I’ve started and not finished has grown quite formidable. I ask myself what this “means,” if it reflects some kind of moral devolution.
I often find that the book I have read is somehow not as exciting as the book I had imagined reading.
I was stunned by the fearlessness of the author, the sheer total awesomeness of the writing and by the weight of the volume. It’s a big book. Like seven or eight pounds.
If a Bolaño backlash materializes, it will mark a revolt not against his books, but against a particular narrative being spun about them. With a tendentious but seductive account of the experience The Savage Detectives offers U.S. readers, "Bolaño Inc." provides the perfect cover story for those who can't be bothered to do the reading.
It's probably its hospitality to debate that makes the "Best Of" list so popular in the first place. One can agree - yes! great list! - or dissent - Where is x? Why no y? - or inveigh against list-making itself, but in any case, the list holds up a mirror to one's own preoccupations. As with any mirror, it is fearsomely hard to look away.
Using Google to create a passable translation of the blog posts of a Spanish or German blogger is one thing, using it to translate a work of literature is quite another.
Our distinguished panel selected 20 incredible books as their Best of the Millennium (So Far). What were our readers' favorites from the decade now coming to a close?
To help acclimate newcomers to this odd and essential author; to continue mapping the Bolañoverse, as Malcolm Cowley mapped Yoknapatawpha; and to impose some order on the flood of Bolaño releases, The Millions offers a syllabus.
My life is running away from me, and I can’t keep up. I’m starting to wonder if humanity is divided between those who thrive on speed and those who are pummeled by it.