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Saturday, September 01, 2012

Junot Diaz: Living By the Book

no copyright infringement intended

Junot Diaz about books: great books, books on his shelves, books that made him cry, books that made him laugh, and so on. It appeared in NY Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/books/review/junot-diaz-by-the-book.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hpw), on August 30. Here are quick notes I made while reading this stuff. The notes are fragments from the text, authored by Junot Diaz, obviously. I tried to add my own comments here and there. Sometimes jokingly, sometimes not. You should read the whole article, anyway (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/02/books/review/junot-diaz-by-the-book.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hpw).

  • Great Books
Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: a book of extraordinary intelligence, humanity and (formalistic) cunning; Boo’s four years reporting on a single Mumbai slum, following a small group of garbage recyclers, have produced something beyond groundbreaking.

Alejandro Zambra’s Bonsai: a subtle, eerie, ultimately wrenching account of failed young love in Chile among the kind of smartypant set who pillow-talk about the importance of Proust (Junot Diaz); Bonsai, the novella by Alejandro Zambra, is a lot like bonsai, the Japanese art, it is both tiny and exquisite; a scant 90 pages, Bonsai can be read in less than three hours, and while one could certainly question why both the book and the tree should be made so small, both are undeniably fascinating (http://quarterlyconversation.com/bonsai-by-alejandro-zambra). Here are some lines:
In the end she dies and he remains alone, although in truth he was alone some years before her death...
At one point, Chile was full of bonsais; I don’t know if I liked them, but they had rare beauty, this fragility. . . .
At first, the only thing I had in mind was the image of someone who had a bonsai, took care of it, wanted it to have a certain form, and understood that it was a true work of art because it could die.

My comment: The Soccer War of Ryszard Kapuściński. And of course, all other great books. I read once a great book about the hundred greatest books.

  • Books on His Shelves
Shikasta, by Doris Lessing: a strange anti-novel that purports to be the history of our world from the perspective of our sympathetic alien caretakers; Shikasta takes that sub-zeitgeist theory that God and his angels are actually alien visitors to its logical conclusion.

By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolaño: for anyone obsessed with the interplay between the personal and the historical, By Night in Chile is a master class in which Bolaño manages to distill the perverse brutal phantasmagorical history of an entire continent down to 150 seductive pages.

My comment: two books that I have just read - Puhdistus (Purge), by Sofi Oksanen, and Fuck the Cool. Spune-mi o Poveste, by Costi Rogozanu. The first is a family saga (or rather an anti-family saga) during Communism and Post-Communism, the second is a chronicle (or rather an anti-chronicle) of the middle class in contemporary Romania: both leave no illusions. And a book I read a couple of months ago, The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak: the way we keep alive the lessons of history and the lessons of our own past, while these lessons get more and more irrelevant.

  • Books That Made Him Cry
Eduardo Corral’s collection, Slow Lightning: Wise and immense. Here is a line: once a man offered me his heart and I said no; not because I didn’t love him; not because he was a beast or white — I couldn’t love him; do you understand? in bed while we slept, our bodies inches apart, the dark between our flesh a wick; it was burning down; and he couldn’t feel it.

My comment: As I get older, the danger is to cry anytime when telling a story to someone. So better to forget about.

  • Books That Made Him Laugh
K. J. Bishop's The Etched City: Junot Diaz is a sucker for lines like this one, he had numerous stories of recent adventure and suffering — specifically, his adventures and other people’s suffering, almost invariably connected — that he told with the air of an amiable ghoul.

My comment: often the remarks of Tom Friedman make me laugh, and I dream sometimes about getting the global view, and getting that the world is flat, and all the good stuff. The day before yesterday Tom Friedman was asked by Charlie Rose in his daily talk-show who was his favorite, Obama or Romney, and Friedman said something kind of, look do you remember the movie Invictus? That one with Morgan Freeman playing Mandela. Well, in that movie Mandela has a replica that a politician should surprise the society with something good and important that they don't expect. And, tell me Charlie, which of the American politicians has surprised you?

  • Books To Understand the Dominican-American Experience
Pedro Mir, his Countersong to Walt Whitman and Other Poems. Pure genius.

My commentI would love to read a countersong. Just kidding: but really, I would be interested  at least to browse the book of Pedro Mir.

  • Books About Immigrant Experience in America
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior is not exactly a novel, but few books out there can rival its powerful vision of what it means to live simultaneously in two worlds.

My comment: the best story about immigrant experience in America is an Italian one - I had been told that the roads were paved with gold in America, so I came and I found out that the roads were not paved with gold, that they were not paved at all, and that I was expected to pave them.

  • Graphic Novels
Jason Shiga’s Empire State: A Love Story (or Not): Oakland boy loses best female friend to N.Y.C. and takes a cross-country bus trip to try to transform friendship into love; a bicoastal heartbreaker, beautifully rendered and deeply moving.

My comment: I leave this to my friend Keith; he is young and addicted to this kind of stuff.

  • You’re Organizing a Dinner Party of Writers and Can Invite Three Authors, Dead or Alive. Who’s Coming?
José Martí, because he lived so many lives and because he was such a fantastic writer and because, damn it, he was José Martí (he also lived in the N.Y.C. area, so that will help the conversation). Octavia Butler because she’s my personal hero, helped give the African Diaspora a future (albeit a future nearly as dark as our past) and because I’d love to see her again. And Arundhati Roy because I’m still crushing on her mind and on The God of Small Things.

My comment: Ryszard Kapuściński, because he sometimes forgets that he is a journalist to become a genial author, Jill Rapaport, who wrote I am the Queen of Spain, and her B-day is on September 3, and Dimitrie Cantemir, maybe the greatest Romanian man of culture. Probably they wouldn't fit each other, which for a dinner is paramount. Then, Kapuściński with Sven Hedin and Marco Polo; or Jill with Ferlinghetti and Whitman; or Cantemir with Erasmus and Eliade; or Marco Polo with Schliemann and the King-Prester John; or, better, Kapuściński with Hemingway and with Anthony Loyd, or, what about that? Whitman with Verhaeren and Majakovsky, or... I'm not short in ideas.

  • Best Short Story Writers
The short story writers are people who like to suffer or perhaps people tempted by perfectibility, Junot Diaz says. For that is the short story’s great lure — that you can write a perfect one. With novels it’s quite the opposite — the lure of the novel is that you can never write a perfect one. Roberto Bolaño is his No. 1; read Last Evenings on Earth and tremble.

My comment: just ordered the book.

  • Three Books To Take On a Desert Island
For a book lover this type of triage is never a record of what was brought along but a record of what was left behind.

My comment: when I left Northern Virginia, I sent by mail all my books and movies (DVD copies). I kept three books and two movies, that traveled with me. I just didn't want to be far from them, even for a couple of weeks. The Freemantle illustrated edition of the Psalms (such a bibliophile beauty that even the harshest atheist would start to believe); Sfanta Liturghie si Apocalipsa talcuite prin Cuvintele de pe Cruce,(The Holy Mass and Apocalypsis rendered throught the Words on the Cross), a Romanian book of theology authored by Father Boris Raduleanu (a fantastic comment on the Liturgy in the Old and New Testament - it is a pity that it's not translated in English); Craii de Curtea Veche (The Old Court Libertine Pairs, Los Depravados Principes de la Vieja Corte), by Mateiu Caragiale (I think it is impossible to be translated, as it's a refined Romanian language of the 19th century that's no more in use even in Romania; and impossible to explain its bounding spell; by the way, even the title cannot be translated accurately, as the word Crai has a subtle ambiguity in the context, carrying homeopathic nuances of disdain and admiration). And the movies: Late Spring by Ozu, and Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray.

  • What Do You Plan To Read Next?
Our Kind of People, by Uzodinma Iweala, and Mountains of the Moon, by I. J. Kay. Says Junot Diaz, I loved Iweala’s first book, so I’m eager for this nonfiction follow-up, and I’ve heard strong things about Kay’s debut.

My comment: Die Welt von Gestern, by Stefan Zweig, and Micro, by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston. Then the books of Casian Balabasciuc. Give me time to talk about.

(Junot Diaz)

(Roberto Bolaño)

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