Archives for posts with tag: Ghosts

This has been a tremendous year for me. This project has reset the equilibrium of my life, and I am amazed and grateful.

A thank-you is very much in order. I don’t often address you, reader, but here I am now, to extend my enormous gratitude. Thank you for being here; without you my work would have a very different meaning.

When I started this project in January, I had trouble settling into my voice. I thought that because Bookside Table was a blog I had to use cute, conversational conventions. You can see it in my first post for the project, on Roland Barthes’ Roland Barthes. You can see it in my original about page, where I recklessly absolved myself of the responsibility of criticism, telling you that “I’m not a reviewer: I’m a reader. I’m in this purely for love.” I think I’ve been a mostly phenomenological reader, looking to the book itself and evaluating my experience of the thing. Only rarely have I tried to ‘situate a work,’ and for the most part I haven’t explicitly said ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like this.’ But you can tell, probably, which were the ones I loved best.

My year in reading post, over at The Millions, makes clear the two books that ‘lit me up.’ The ones I was compelled to read twice.  But, to be fair, I also went back to sections or stories from The Odious Child, Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, The Mezzanine, and Ghosts. I’ve also opened The Obituary at random to revel in its enlightened weirdness, to feel my eyes trying to stitch together the violent, beautiful fragments. Re-reading is one of my greatest pleasures, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I dip back in now and then. There is no great intimacy built without familiarity, even if strange  limerance is its own reward.

I will tell you that sometimes this little hobby was troublesome, and there were a few rough patches. After I finished Nightwood I didn’t much feel like reading another book, more fiction. I wanted to let it simmer for a long time. It was a feeling like the strange sickness I had in 2009, after finishing Infinite Jest for the first time, when I couldn’t force myself to read fiction for a full ten months afterwards. Nightwood was like that, I felt ruined on books because here was something so dark and perfect in it’s power, so claustrophobic and complex that I needed to breath on it. I felt such a sense of readerly justice being miscarried that I couldn’t stew on it, that I had to keep going. I sat on it for a week, and read the next book, Memories of  my Melancholy Whores in a single sitting on the Sunday afternoon before the post went up. I wrote about it immediately after I put it down.  I figured it would be okay, because it’s ‘minor’ Marquez, and now the post on it makes me cringe. I was so ungenerous and clumsy. But the project contains itself, so it stays where it is.

While regret is too strong a word, at times I wish I had been a little less gentle, just a little harder on some of these books. I really wish I’d told you that only 65% of The Fortress of Solitude was worth much more than the paper it was printed on. I liked it a lot, that 65%, and it more than justifies the miss steps Lethem made there. Sometimes I think I was a little bit cowardly, a little too unsure. But I hope I never let you down.

I think that the major responsibility of a book reviewer, of any cultural critic, is to inspire hunger in other people. To stir up the public appetite for better and more nourishing things. I think I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do this, so I hedged my bets and tried to shirk that responsibility. Thankfully, I couldn’t always escape that harness.  Some of the feedback I’ve received through out the year, from reader (and occasionally author)  emails, new and not so new friends, and on twitter has been from people kind enough to encourage me to keep going, to tell me that my little corner of the internet makes them hungry for more and better books. I couldn’t be more grateful for this kind of connection. Reading these books has made me a little better than I am, but telling you about them has changed my whole life.

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I love Aira, and Ghosts, you might remember, blew my mind. I am so excited to see this short. I only hope they manage to somehow convey the otherworldly heat in the story.

Ghosts Book Cover, Woman Reading, Bedside Table

I have no idea what this book is. I think it’s a simple fable, but I also think maybe it’s a meditation on the role of literature in the age of mass media. Then again, I kind of think it’s just a beautiful story about a family. But it’s also a complexly clear perversion, a post modernization,  of a typical coming of age tale. And a work of architectural criticism. And a phenomenological study, a la To The Lighthouse, of what thinking actually feels like. César Aira’s Ghosts defies generic categorization.

There are no chapter breaks; you don’t come up for air. The story unfolds around a Chilean family living in a half finished apartment building in Buenos Aires, and the building’s skeleton is a frame for their experience as outsiders. They share the space with it’s own contracted  future, and naked and powdery ghosts that wander between the unfinished floors.

Elisa, the matriarch of the family and wife of the best man in the world, by her own estimation, has a problem with belief. Her fifteen year old daughter Patri is a serious dreamer, and though thoughts happen upon her like sweat in the intense and befuddling heat, her frivolous sensibilities prevail. They watch soap operas during siesta time.

And the language! I’ve never read anything like this ever before. Imagine Virginia Woolf and Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie and Jorge Louis Borges were getting high as kites in Argentina, and playing a literary game of exquisite corpse.  Chris Andrew’s translation of this work is amazing; there are some subtle internal rhythms, and lots of complicated word play and serious puns that feel authentic and beautiful.

So good. So so good. Haunting and sensual and playful. If you’re gonna read it, and I hope you will, do it at the dog-end of summer, when the heat is shimmering and hallucinatory, and there’s construction all around you.