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Maggie Nelson, Argonauts

After Bluets (see above), I read through her three conventional poetry collections -- Shiner, The Latest Winter, and Something Bright, Then Holes. All excellent. Argonauts is something else; like Bluets, it evades conventional genre, although I guess it's a memoir. The memoir intertwines the stories of her spouse's journey between female and male, and Nelson's own pregnancy and childbirth. The memoir is wrapped in thoughtful meditations on gender fluidity, identity, the body, and Irigaray, Zizek et al make appearances, but the theory never stifles the narrative. And the language is beautiful. Great book: looks like I have four more by her still to read.

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Just finished Ask the Dust by John Fante, a slim novel which didn't live up to the extravagant praise I've heard from Bukowski fans. Henry Miller and Hubert Selby did this kind of thing much better.

I'm currently reading Middlesex, has anyone else read it? I remember it being discussed elsewhere and people were criticizing the fact that it won the pulitzer prize. Maybe not Pulitzer Prize worthy

Several of the pieces in Paris to the Moon appeared earlier as Gopnik's monthly Letters from Paris to The New Yorker. His use of adjectives to describe the weather, the neighborhood, etc impressed me

Julian Barnes, The Man in the Red Coat

Enrique Vila-Matas, Montano's Malady

   "   "   , A Brief History of Portable Literature

   "  "   , Bartleby & Co

Non-fiction by Barnes, three novels by Vila-Matas, although all four books present a parade of well-known and obscure historical characters from the last 150 years of European art and letters.

Barnes tells the story of a brilliant gynaecologist, Dr Pozzi, who also has brilliant social and private lives. Cue Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Proust, and all the gang. Entertaining, and in the last pages finally displaying a serious purpose. My only caveat is that if names like Jean Lorrain, Leon Daudet, Barbey D'Aurevilly and Count de Montesquiou are unfamiliar, it might get tedious.

I can't imagine why Vila-Matas was off my radar until I read the Art of Fiction interview in the current Paris Review. I thought I had looked at all notable modern Barcelona-born writers (in English translation, anyway). And this guy has Robert Musil as a character in his novels. Turns out that's the tip of the iceberg. Musil, Kafka, Joyce, Duchamp, Picabia all make their appearances, and many more. I find it very enjoyable, but again: if you don't particularly care about Cendrars, Larbaud, Walser, and various Oulipo-ites, it might get tedious. This is literature about literature.

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I continue to be bowled over by the astonishing Maggie Nelson. I have just read the two books about the unsolved murder of her 22 year-old aunt Jane, four years before Nelson was born. The first, a verse collection of such power it reminds of Reznikoff, is a sort of expurgation of the shadow the murder cast over her family and childhood, complete with poetized excerpts from Jane's Journals (Jane: A Murder).

Nelson hoped to achieve closure, but around the time that book was published the family was notified that -- decades later -- someone had been charged with the murder. Nelson wrote The Red Parts: Autobiography of a Trial, a poetic prose work in which the past comes back to haunt.

The only bad news is that soon I will have read all the books she's published. But there should be many more to come.

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23 hours ago, Tubbs said:

Whatcha think? Started slow (and I found the writing weird) but improved, a lot. 

I'm enjoying it although I think it could have done with some additional editing. I feel like there's a bit of repetition. I loved his description of how to prepare chicken in a pig's bladder.

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Julien Gracq, The Opposing Shore. Quietly weird.

Danez Smith, Homie (poems - recommended).

Kaj Munk, Five Plays. Includes "The Word" on which the amazing Dreyer film was based.

Fred Moten, Black and Blur.

The Moten is an odd mixture: an essay collection, it starts with some long, willfully dense theoretical pieces, drawing on Kant and Adorno and Freud and Derrida, as well as countless contemporary academics (and if you don't know who they are or what they said, Moten signalling them doesn't really help). It then turns into a string of fairly short reviews of art, music and performance. Not sure what to make of it: it's the kind of thing I'm supposed to like.

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Enrique Vila-Matas, Mac's Problem

Peter Salmon, An Event, Perhaps: A Biography of Jacques Derrida

The new Derrida biography, and the second one to my knowledge written in English. The problem is with the subtitle.  An Event, Perhaps: An Introduction to the Life and Work of Jacques Derrida would have been my preference.

Because this isn't a detailed biography -- for that, you go to the 700 pager by Benoit Peeters. It's a very basic introduction to Derrida's thought, structured around the story of his life. Since the author (apparently) is writing for people who aren't familiar with Derrida's work, he lays the foundations by explicating the thinkers Derrida is writing about. And so we get 101s on Husserl,  Heidegger, Saussure, Levi-Strauss, etc, etc.

This leaves little room for Derrida. Page 153 out of 276, and we've finished discussing his second book, published in 1967.

This is a complete waste of time for anyone who is familiar with Derrida's work, except for the discussions of some of the controversies in which he became engaged, like the Paul de Man business.


ETA: To be fair, it's accurate and well written, it's just not what you'd expect from the billing.

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Ellery Queen, The Four of Hearts

Danez Smith, Don't Call Us Dead  (poems - recommended)

Charlotte Mew, Selected Poetry and Prose (new collection from Faber)

Enrique Vila-Matas, The Illogic of Kassel (maybe the funniest Vila-Matas yet -- I only have one more to go: fewer literary in-jokes but hilarious remarks on avant-garde art.)

T.J. Clark, Picasso and Truth (Clark is great when he's talking about paintings, but he could have omitted the badly digested bits of Wittgenstein.)

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Ellery Queen, The Dragon's Teeth

Tim Robinson, Connemara: Listening to the Wind

Ann Quin, Berg

Cheryl Misak, Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Powers

What a pity about the Misak book, the first full-length biography of the brilliant mathematician, philosopher and economist who died aged 27, and likely to remain the definitive biography, and it's a dreadful production. There are passages of mediocre writing, silly guesswork, repetition, missing words.There are sentences which just can't be understood, and I don't mean because they deal with technical topics. For example, we're told at one point that Ramsey had "settled with" the Tripos exam. What on earth does that mean?

But the worst part, the notes. No footnotes. Instead, a kind of endnotes, an unbroken list of parts of the quotations or citations one wants to look up. I just couldn't find the first few I looked for until I realized that the excerpts in the endnotes -- bizarrely -- are based on the last rather than the first words of the quote.

And even when you find something, it's wrong. I looked up a quotation, and was told it was from page 118 of NP. I looked up NP in the list of abbreviations ("Notes on Probability"), then found it in the Bibliography where it turned out to be a paper Ramsey had delivered at one of those discussion groups. That paper would not, I guarantee, have been 118 pages in length. The citation must be to one of the two volumes in which the paper was collected, and I can guess which one, but I shouldn't have to guess.

The lame, incompetent publisher responsible for this mess? The Oxford University Press.

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Enrique Vila-Matas, Because She Never Asked

Ann Quin, Three

Ellery Queen, Calamity Town

Sophie Calle, True Stories

J.H. Prynne, Blue Slides at Rest (poems)

B.F. Martin, Roger Martin du Gard and Maumort

Sophie Calle appeared as a character in the Vila-Matas at the top of the list, but she's a real author and artist, and when I returned the Vila-Matas to the library, I by chance spotted the book by Calle. Strange serendipity.

The Martin du Gard book is another example of something completely misrepresented, more likely by the publisher than the author (see Salmon on Derrida above). Colonel de Maumort was Martin du Gard's last novel, so this looks like a book about that novel. No: it's a full biography of Martin du Gard -- the only one in English I know of -- and very useful it is. Maumort is dealt with only in the last chapter, which simply restates the plot -- useless to anyone who, like me, has read the book and was expecting some kind of analysis.

It did make me want to re-read Maumort.

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