What is our takeaway from the ongoing APEC Summit, apart from the smooth traffic away from the conference venues and the unusual cleanliness and order? (Kasi may bisita, baka akala nila wala tayong modo.)
That the presumptive winner of the national leader beauty contest Justin Trudeau of Canada is not a shoo-in for the title. He faces competition from Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, who apart from being photogenic is the stuff of telenovelas.
Read The Telenovela Life of the Mexican President. Thanks to Ricky for the alert.
If there are other finalists, let us know.
It’s our biennial Taking a Whack at Proust day. Update: Screw you, terrorists, now we’re going to finish Proust.
Update: We’re up to Combray, chapter 2, past the madeleine stuff.
You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight. You are fucked.
John is the new Jon.
We’ve got the new translations in good-looking editions (lucky the three other volumes haven’t appeared or we’d be even more behind than we are already), the tea and the madeleines, now all we need is the stamina to climb all those words.
We often think it, but don’t say it.
How Could You Like That Book?
by Tim Parks in NYRB
I rarely spend much time wondering why others do not enjoy the books I like. Henry Green, an old favorite, almost a fetish, is never an easy read and never offers a plot that is immediate or direct. “There’s not much straight shootin,’” he admitted, in the one interview he gave. Elsa Morante is so lush and fantastical, so extravagantly rhetorical, she must seem way over the top to some. Thomas Bernhard offers one nightmare after another in cascades of challenging rhetoric; it’s natural to suspect he’s overdoing it. Christina Stead is so wayward, so gloriously tangled and disorganized, it’s inevitable that some readers will grow weary. And so on.
Perhaps it’s easy for me to understand why so many are not on board with these writers because I occasionally feel the same way myself. In fact it may be that the most seductive novelists are also the ones most willing to risk irritating you. Faulkner comes to mind, so often on the edge between brilliant and garrulous. Italy’s Carlo Emilio Gadda was another. Muriel Spark. Sometimes even Kafka. Resistance to these writers is never a surprise to me.
On the other hand, I do spend endless hours mulling over the mystery of what others like. Again and again the question arises: How can they?
I am not talking about genre fiction, where the pleasures are obvious enough. Reviewing duties over the last few years have had me reading Stieg Larsson, E.L. James, and a score of Georges Simenon’s Maigrets. Once you accept the premise that you are reading for entertainment, their plots and brightly-drawn dramatis personae quickly pull you in. However “adult” the material, one is reminded of the way one read as a child: to know what happens. You turn the pages quickly, even voraciously, and when something galls—the ugly exploitation of sexual violence in Larsson, the cartoon silliness of James, the monotonous presentation of Maigret as the dour, long-suffering winner—you simply skip and hurry on, because the story has you on its hook. You can see why people love these books, and above all love reading lots of them. They encourage addiction, the repetition of a comforting process: identification, anxiety/suspense, reassurance. Supposedly realistic, they actually take us far away from our own world and generally leave us feeling pleased that our lives are spared the sort of melodrama we love to read about.
But what are we to say of the likes of Haruki Murakami? Or Salman Rushdie? Or Jonathan Franzen?