January 2022 | Reading & Writing

The last time I recapped my reading notes and vouched for essays + books to read was in September 2021 – the effect of freelancing for 12 clients in 3 months… New year, new you, as they say. And as my days now go by writing-reading-walking, there will be of material to be rambling about.

#Book #Novel #Symbolism #5/5 | The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington

The latest addition to my collection of favorite books of all time, the surrealist novel by Leonora Carrington combines mysticism and symbolism with a fast-paced storyline.

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington

The protagonist, 92y-old Marian Letherby is sent by her family to an institution for elderly ladies, and in this secretively magical community, her real-life of adventures begins. Building on the mysticism of the moon and the triple goddess Hecate, Carrington reimagines the tale of the Holy Grail.

Like the picture of the abbess Rosalinda Alvarez della Cueva on the dining room walls, the book itself seems to give out mischievous winks to the reader, inviting them to let go of the pragmatic reality and be carried away into a fantasy world of bearded ladies, violet limousines, and six-winged seraphim.

“Strange how the bible always seems to end up in misery and cataclysm. I often wondered how their angry and vicious God became so popular. Humanity is very strange and I don’t pretend to understand anything, however why worship something that only sends you plagues and massacres? and why was Eve blamed for everything?”

#Book #Shortstories #4/5 | The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis

Lydia Davis’ writing – short stories and essays – paint a picture of a book-nerdy author, someone who, as they track down a new word’s etymological background, would feel an unsurpassable urge to share the wonderful finding with everyone living on the planet. And Davis’ short stories (as well as essays) are perfectly written, down to every single word in her texts having the right sound, form, and allusiveness to its other meanings, making her sentences luxurious underneath the apparent simplicity. This is all very cute.

But after getting through 1/5th of her hefty collections, the novelty wears out, and what’s left are impeccably written texts embellishing rather dull storylines. Davis’ stories are teeming with various writing techniques and surprising weavings of words and sentences. Her devotion to the written word however seems to have left her no time to live – to see, listen, love, travel, experiment, take risks, get hurt, and rise back to her feet.

More than The Collected Stories, I’d recommend Davis’ Essays I, a collection of musings on her work as a writer, translator, and a celebrated bookworm.

The best short story in The Collected Stories was Breaking it Down which was initially published in The Paris Review’s 1983 summer issue. Read it here. The opening paragraph of the story goes like this:

“He’s sitting there staring at a piece of paper in front of him. He’s trying to break it down. He says,

I’m breaking it all down. The ticket was $600 and then after that there was more for the hotel and food and so on, for just ten days. Say $80 a day, no, more like $100 a day. And we made love, say, once a day on the average. That’s $100 a shot. And each time it lasted maybe two or three hours so that would be anywhere from $33 to $50 an hour, which is expensive.”

#Book #Shortstories #5/5 | Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme

sixty stories donald barthelme

I came upon Barthelme’s name in an interview with Joan Didion who mentioned him as an influence. Barthelme himself has told in that he was a follower of Beckett, who in his turn a student to Joyce.

Indulgently postmodern, unashamedly weird, and brashly self-assured, the sixty (very)short stories are loaded with hidden meaning and tangled interior monologues. The freestyle riffing amounts to just the right level of challenge to get through, like an à point pasta arrabbiatta. Pardon the comparison.

One of my favorite stories was The Great Hug which can be listened to on YouTube in the author’s narration.

Other faves from the collection: A Shower of Gold, Me and Miss Mandible, Will You Tell Me?, Game, The Dolt, On Angels, Kierkegaard Unfair to Schlegel, The Sandman, The Zombie

#Book #Non-fiction #Butsomewhatfictious #5/5 | Angels and Saints by Eliot Weinberger

angels and saints weinberger

Among the angels that Weinberger lists in his book, after having introduced the reader to the Christian theology debate about the creation and nature of those creatures, are:

  • Azreal, who is forever writing in a huge book and forever erasing what he wrote: the names of the born and the names of the dead
  • Penemue, who taught mankind the corrupting art of writing
  • Tabris, the angel of free will

Whether exploring the bodily existence of angels (“Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, thought that angels are a mixture of aid and a conglomeration of elements. Aquinas, however, said that they [angels] are purely air condensed by the Divine power like clouds are, for instance; he also noted they are completely transparent.”) or figuring out the number of angels and devils with medieval theologians (“The followers of Luther estimated the number of devils at 2.5 billion then raised the figure to 10 trillion – roughly 100,000 devils for every Christian at the time of Reformation.”), Weinberger does it with snappy commentary, making the book an amusing read.

#Book #Prosepoem #greekmythology #5/5 | Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson

eros the bittersweet anne carson

From Sappho to Sokrates down to Plato and Aristotle, Anne Carson explores the concept of ‘eros’, wandering through its psychological paradoxes and linguistic implications. Moving between love, lack, desire, jealousy, and time, Carson weaves an intricate web of cultural interrelations and philosophical treatments.

The book-length essay is brimming with quotations, historical facts, and Carson’s own interpretations that – while undressing the mystery of the feeling called  ‘love’ – teach the reader to appreciate and attune to the feelings of want, desire, and change.

Some quotes n’ facts from the book:

The Greek word eros denotes ‘want,’ ‘lack,’ ‘desire for that which is missing.’ The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting.

The English word ‘symbol’ is the Greek word symbolon which means, in the ancient world, on half of a knucklebone carried as a token of identity to someone who has the other half. Together the two halves compose one meaning. A metaphor is a species of symbol. So is a lover.

The word Deute combines the particle with the adverb aute. The particle signifies vividly and dramatically that something is actually taking place at the moment (Deniston, 1954, 203, 219, 250). The adverb aute means ‘again, once again, over again’ (LSJ). The particle marks a lively perception in the present moment: ‘Look at that now!’ The adverb aute peers past the present moment to a pattern of repeated actions stretching behind it: ‘Not for the first time!’ places you in time and emphasizes that placement: now. Aute intercepts ‘now’ and binds it to a history of ‘thens.’

Other books read in Jan ’22:

  • Men in the Off Hours by Anne Carson, 4/5
  • Genius and Ink by Virginia Woolf, 3/5
  • Monday or Tuesday by Virginia Woolf, 3/5
  • A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

Featured image: Leonora Carrington – Are You Really Syrious?, 1953