Thursday, December 31, 2009

Reading Resolutions for 2010

Looking ahead to the new year, I think it's worth drafting an agenda—specific books that I want to (or just really should) read, gaps that I want to address, and a larger project to guide the year's reading.

Last year, I set as my purpose focusing on women authors and authors of color. Or, in my more combative terms, no white American men. The only breaks in this agenda were D. A. Powell's Chronic and David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, both of which I had compelling reasons for which to create exceptions (Powell was giving a reading in my city, and the whole Infinite Summer thing happened). Otherwise, I think I made some headway on addressing the gaps in my reading which provided the impetus for this program: I read a fair number of classics that I had skipped over before for whatever reason (Beloved, The Left Hand of Darkness, A Passage to India, A Bend in the River, Midnight's Children, A Good Man Is Hard to Find, The Color Purple, Death Comes for the Archbishop, The House on Mango Street, The Trial, The Woman Warrior, Giovanni's Room, Passing, The Awakening, Austerlitz, Blindness, Persuasion, The Golden Notebook, Three Lives) and gave myself some depth by reading some authors that aren't quite so household names (but should be): Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, Gayl Jones, Alejo Carpentier, Tayeb Salih, Djuna Barnes, Sam Selvon, Nadine Gordimer, Tillie Olsen, Stanislaw Lem, César Aira, and others.

This year, I want to prioritize diversity along genre and national lines. Last July, I read Samuel Delany's Babel-17 and found it alright, but nothing extraordinary, and nothing that would pull me into a broader exploration of science fiction. I asked you all for some suggestions about what authors and books to read to draw me in so, and I will try to use that list more this year. In the crime genre, I'm looking forward to an introduction via George Pelecanos and Richard Price. I feel that one genre I have neglected writing about on the blog is experimental short fiction, and as such, I'm hoping both to fill in that gap and also to get in some practice on close reading, which I've also rather strangely neglected of late. Expect a spy thriller or two as well, and maybe some mysteries or detective novels.

I'm also hoping to write about drama more this year. It's something I haven't given much attention to on this blog, and I'd like to try to develop some effective habits of writing about it—probably just as literature, though, and not as performance. Unfortunately, I cannot simply command performances of the playwrights I'm interested in. I will, however, try to see a few plays (New Haven has a wonderful theater scene) and give that a try as well.

I am also strongly committed this year to tackling some of the global heavyweights I've missed: Mahfouz, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, Danticat, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Paz, Kobo Abe, Munif, Grass. I'd also like to use the New Directions back catalog to discover some writers that I am familiar with only by name.

In a project with a little more definition, I would like to read at least one novel from each Latin American country this year. I've already done some preliminary research on possible authors, and I think one of the interesting aspects of this project will be the process of finding an author from each country; while México, Argentina, Brasil, Chile, and Cuba each have a wealth of authors to choose from, Ecuador, Honduras, Bolivia, and Panamá are much thinner. If there is some real difficulty for one, I may end up reading a novel in the original Spanish, but this would take much longer and, well, there's a fair number of countries to cover.

Particularly in light of some of the debates about the "Bolaño myth" and the future of Latin American literature, I'm hoping that such a project will give me a better understanding of the context for criticisms of the spottiness of U.S. readings of the continent. Obviously, one novel per country is a small (and ultimately unrepresentative) selection, but I do imagine that I'll at the very least be better informed about a few authors and the ways they imagine their environment. And, hopefully, this project can serve as a way of organizing discussion of Latin American literature, nation by nation. I'm looking forward to your thoughts and suggestions.

I hope you all have a wonderful year.


Matt said...

Wonderful post on your reading resolutions for 2010. My primary resolution is to dive in to the work of William T Vollmann. At this point im wholly unfamiliar with his work, but he is frequently lumped in with many authors whose work I respect and enjoy. Im curious to know if youve read any Vollmann, and what your thoughs are. Im going to start with Europe Central and go from there. Wonderful blog and Happy New Year! Look forward to enjoying your thoughs throughout the year.

The Silent Partner said...

As an enthusiastic reader of Latin American/Spanish-language literature, your post got me thinking... I don't think I could recommend (read: even know of) a single author from Panama, for example. But I thought I'd make some other suggestions:

Mexico: If you haven't read him yet, check out Juan Rulfo. I liked his story collection "The Burning Plain" best (and can vouch for the translation), but his novel "Pedro Paramo" is his best known work. Also, Salvador Elizondo's "Farabeuf" has supposedly been translated into English, but I think it's nearly impossible to find. It would be worth the search, though.

Guatemala: I haven't yet read Asturias, but Augusto Monterroso and Rodrigo Rey Rosa are both amazing. Monterroso's stories are short enough to read his "Complete Works and Other Stories" plus something else, I think.

Nicaragua: A tougher one... Rubén Darío is highly regarded, and Sergio Ramírez is the major contemporary writer.

El Salvador: The only one that comes to mind is Horacio Castellanos Moya, but it's a good choice!

Cuba: There are a ton of choices, but Virgilio Piñera has to be one of the most underrated Latin American authors around. He was a friend of Gombrowicz, though their writing doesn't have a whole lot in common. Check out "Rene's Flesh"... Also, Alejo Carpentier!

Colombia: Apart from García Márquez... There's Fernando Vallejo. I haven't ready any of his stuff that's been translated into English, but the one I did read was bitter and hilarious. There's also Andrés Caicedo, who I don't particularly like, but I lot of people seem to.

Venezuela: Maybe Rómulo Gallegos? I can't think of any contemporary writers that have been translated.

Ecuador: I would recommend Pablo Palacio, but I don't think he's been translated yet. If you're going to make an exception and read something in Spanish, let it be him. Jorge Icaza's "Huasipungo" is highly regarded as one of the first socially-conscious Latin American novels.

Peru: You mentioned Vargas Llosa, and he's an incredible writer, so that's a good place to start. "Conversation in the Cathedral" is pretty widely regarded as his best work, and I'd agree with that. "The Green House" is also very good. Other great Peruvian writers past and present overshadowed by VL include Manuel Scorza ("Drum Roll for Rancas"); José María Arguedas ("Deep Rivers," "The Fox from Up Above and the Fox from Down Below"); Martín Adán ("The Cardboard House"), etc.

Bolivia: I haven't read him, but I think about the only choice you'll have in translation is Edmundo Paz Soldán. He gets consistently good reviews in the Spanish-language press, for what that's worth, and his novel "Turing's Delirium" would also count towards your genre fiction resolution (Bolivian cyber-punk?!).

The Silent Partner said...

Paraguay: Another tough one... Augusto Roa Bastos is the only name I can even think of.

Uruguay: Onetti is the most highly-regarded, but I'm not a fan. I would say check out Horacio Quiroga's "The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories"... Jungle gothic! Or Felisberto Hernandez, another one-of-a-kind Uruguayan. Try his "Piano Stories" if you can find it.

Brazil: More choices! I've read mostly stories, and of those, I would recommend Clarice Lispector's. Also, Dalton Trevisan, who was translated by Gregory Rabassa back in the '70s, I think. I read one of Rubem Fonseca's latest story collections, but wasn't all that impressed. Some other names on my to-read list: Mario de Andrade, Graciliano Ramos, Joao Guimaraes Rosa.

Chile: José Donoso's "The Obscene Bird of Night," without a doubt.

Argentina has to have the most great authors per capita out of almost any country in the world... Aside from Borges, there is Bioy Casares' "The Invention of Morel." I would also especially recommend César Aira or perhaps the translation of Macedonio Fernández's "The Museum of Eterna's Novel" that Open Letter is bringing out this year.

I look forward to hearing other recommendations and following the blog throughout the coming year!

Andrew Seal said...

Silent Partner: Wow--thank you for all the suggestions, particularly for some of the obscure ones--or rather, the ones that are obscure to me!

And Matt, Vollmann is someone I keep putting off starting on--he just looks so damn daunting, in part, I think, because it's difficult to know where to start--I hope you find Europe Central a good entry point!

To everyone generally,
Here's a few Latin American authors I dug up that I don't know much about and would appreciate some advice:

Chile: Silent Partner is swaying me toward Donoso, but is anyone a fan of Diamela Eltit?

Brasil: Dalkey Archive's Ivan Angelo looks pretty great

Honduras: Roberto Quesada? He's had a few novels translated by Houston's Arte Público Press; Honduras is one of the tricky nations

El Salvador: Manlio Argueta's novels sound like they'd be right up my alley--anyone familiar with his work?

Tom said...

Vollmann is one of those writers that most well-read people have not read for some reason; many have not even heard his name. I've read 9 of his books and think that The Rainbow Stories is a good place to start. There are many different Vollmann's though: novelist of a Henry Miller persuasion, journalist, historical novelist and other oddities. When he reads in San Francisco at The Booksmith in the upper haight, he often goes across the street for drinks and invites everyone. I've chatted with him 3 times and he's congenial, answering whatever questions you may have.

I love the project of reading a novel from every country. I started this project awhile back:
It takes quite awhile.

Stephen Mitchelmore said...

I'm going to limit my reading to books written by orange polar bears who wear octagonal hats every Tuesday but NOT between the hours of two and three.