On Brodsky’s “1-Jan-65″

ImageFor the past 13 years, as the days of December have dwindled and I have prepared for the coming of a new January first, I have found myself turning to one of my favorite occasional poems. Published in the New York Review of Books at the beginning of 2000, Joseph Brodsky’s “1-Jan-65” has become, for me, an annual read. I have quite a few poems I revisit each year, but none have captured my attention as much as this one.

To read the rest of this piece, head over to the Poetry Foundation by clicking here.

On Keith Ridgway’s “Hawthorn & Child”

ImageOne could easily call Keith Ridgeway’s new book Hawthorn & Child a story collection, but one could also just as easily call it a novel. The fact that its publisher, New Directions, claims it’s a novel in the back cover copy resolves nothing.

What precisely has Ridgway done with this book? We get the beginnings of an answer from the third-person narrator in the story “Rothko Eggs.” While telling us what the main character likes and dislikes about art, he also sheds some light on the nature of Ridgway’s accomplishment. The narrator tells us…

To read the rest of this piece, head over to The Quarterly Conversation by clicking here.

On Terry Eagleton

ImageIf we take the old saying “youth is wasted on the young,” and trade the word youth for college it would be just as true, if not truer. Asking eighteen and nineteen year olds to take what the world of knowledge has to offer and treat it with the reverence it deserves seems a bit foolish. No wonder then that the bookstores are crammed with “guides,” both idiot’s and otherwise, to any number of subjects for those who, a bit older and a bit more mature, want to dig into something deeply and are looking for a place to begin. One of the most understandably popular of these is the “how-to read” genre. Many people, later in life, decide they want to get more out of reading than what Dean Koontz and Danielle Steele have to offer. Luckily for them, there are plenty of books to help. Unluckily, these books have many problems.

To read the rest of this piece, head over to 3:AM Magazine by clicking here.

On William H. Gass’s “Middle C”

ImageAs a young man, William Gass made, what he called, a rather “odd decision.” One day while in college, he sat at his desk and forced himself “with the greatest deliberation” to write in a different script. He told an interviewer in 1976 (when he was 52) that he had wanted to change the physical nature of the words, “which even then were all of [him he] cared to have admired.” He went on for years after, writing everything, “marginal notes, reminders, messages — in a hand that was very Germanic and stiff.” If he were to “eventually write anything which has any enduring merit,” he claims it will be because of this change, because, as he has it…

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On César Aira

ImageIn his novel, The Literary Conference, the Argentinian author César Aira, via a narrator also named César Aira, cautions us against any interpretation of his work, saying, “The rest of the world has no inkling of the mental whirlwinds swirling under my impassive facade, except, perhaps, through the amplification of that impassivity, or through certain digressions I engage in and abandon without warning.”

Too true, Mr. Aira, too true.

A series of digressions and abandonments are perhaps the best way to describe the end result of Aira’sfuga hacia adelante (in English, flight forward), the technique Aira uses to write his novels and the starting point of almost every essay written…

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On Elena Passarello’s “Let Me Clear My Throat”

ImageWhat do readers mean when they say “This book changed my life”? I have said this phrase a few times, and each time, more often than not, I meant it as hyperbole, as another way of saying this book gave me a profound emotional and intellectual experience unlike any book had before. I say it as an advertisement, as if to give those I am pushing the book onto an incentive to read it. But if I focus, strip away the hyperbolic, and think truthfully about the concept of a book changing my life, I have a problem of running into one of my stubborn beliefs. I am a person with little interest in intentions; I believe my life is composed of a series of actions, each one shaping me into who I am constantly becoming. Therefore, every book I read changes my life, or creates my life, if you will, whether it be a masterpiece by one of the greats or an airport mass-market I pick up to take my mind off the threat of future turbulence. There is the life where I do not read…

To read the rest of this piece, head over to 3:AM Magazine by clicking here.

On Hilda Hilst’s “The Obscene Madame D”

ImageBy now, it’s safe to say that the only women who benefited directly from the Latin American literary boom of the 60s and 70s were the wives of those writers who found themselves suddenly popular across the globe. It also might be safe to say that Latin American countries, following the suit of most others (U.S. included), has been unkind to their writers of the female gender — ironic really, given how many of its writers count their madres and abuelasstorytelling as major influences on their writing. (Gabriel Garcia Marquez attributes the deadpan style he brought to his magic realism to that of his grandmother who raised him on stories told in a way that Marquez called “brick-faced.”) If we take a quick look at…

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