Mexican Novelest Mario Bellatin Profiled in the New York Times

The New York times has a moderately sized profile of Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin. It is a little hard to say if I want to read his work, but it looks like he may becoming a little more known.

In one index of his growing international reputation, Mr. Bellatin recently signed a multibook deal with Gallimard, the prestigious French publisher, that calls for his next several works to be issued in France before they appear in Spanish in Latin America. As usual he has seized on that opportunity to make mischief: rather than publish his original manuscript here, he intends to have someone else render the French translation back into Spanish.

I will be curios to see if he creates his own language. As the quote below notes, so many writers are said to have created their own language and I find they very rarely do.

“I am enamored of and very much struck by his way of managing to condense narrative down to a very minimal form of expression, so that at his best, every word is sealed with more weight, suggestiveness, meaning and poetry,” Mr. Goldman said. “Everyone talks about inventing your own language, but he really does it. Every Mario Bellatin book is like a toy, dark, radiant and bristling, like a Marcel Duchamp construction in words.”

Some older critics in Mexico have little use for Mr. Bellatin’s transgressive style and seem flummoxed by his blurring of fiction and reality. “I try not to be involved in any literary group,” Mr. Bellatin said, noting that “my books are most warmly received not here in Mexico but abroad, in Argentina and France.”

Alberto Fuguet: from Film to Literature, the Hybrid Case of a Writer

La Jornada has an interview with the Chilean Author  Alberto Fuguet is a younger author who as a proponent of Mc Hondo has looked to turn away from the over saturated magical realism that came to define Latin American Literature. His book Shorts is available in English and is a mix of story telling methods, some leaning towards the cinematic and the interview makes it obvious that it is one of his focuses. He does have a new book out:

At the beginning of the year he published a new book in most of Latin America and Spain, a novel “mounted”by Fuguet, My Body Es a Cell, which is an autobiography of Andrés Caicedo, a Columbian cult writer whose book has continued to be the best selling book in Columbia.

A inicios del año, salió en la mayoría de los países de América Latina y España, la novela “montada” por Fuguet, Mi cuerpo es una celda, autobiografía de Andrés Caicedo, escritor colombiano de culto, cuyo libro se ha mantenido como el mejor vendido en ese país sudamericano

The interview covers several themes. First, he talks about hos he wished he could direct films instead of write, yet he isn’t interested in being a screen writer either. He has created a website for hosting independent videos. He has also made several short films.

Second, he talks about what he sees the role of the blog and the new media. It is refreshing for an author not to see it as just another means  of publicity, or a half way step to print.

I think that there are people in the virtual world who are very shy and unknown who write very personal things in their blogs; the people who are less shy use the virtual as a type of trampoline to eventually publish on paper. I am sure that there is a Kafka, a Pavesse, and people like that hidden on the web and that we are going to discover them latter. My idea of a blog is to help myself, to help others, as breaking the circle of books, in my case I see that my books come from the same planet.

Creo que lo que hay virtual es de gente muy tímida y muy desconocida, que escribe en sus blogs cosas muy personales; la gente que es menos tímida lo usa como una especie de trampolín para eventualmente llegar al papel. Estoy seguro de que hay un Kafka, un Pavesse, y hay gente así escondida en la red y que vamos a descubrirlo después. Mi idea del blog es apoyarme, apoyar a otros, como romper el círculo de los libros, en mi caso yo veo que mis libros vienen como del mismo planeta.

Finally, he talks about Rulfo and Bolaño.

Rulfo is super global writer, super preliminary, who seems very interesting to me. In general I have voices and companions that interest me. In the future perhaps one should find that not all of the world is Latin American. I am interested in everything hybrid, like chronicles; in Andrés Caicedo, the Argentine Fabián Casas, or what the small presses are doing.

I think that Blaño is a hybrid writer, but one that has the respect of intellectuals. He is very pop, has a much more mixed world…Rather than writing about a nostalgic Argentine exiled to Paris, he wrote about Mexicans or Spaniards. He dared to with other passports. He took on voices that were not his and transformed them.

Rulfo es un escritor súper global, súper liminar, me parece muy interesante. En general tengo voces y compañeros de ruta que me interesan. En el futuro habría que analizar que no todo el mundo es latinoamericano. Estoy interesado en todo lo híbrido, como crónicas; en Andrés Caicedo, en el argentino Fabián Casas, o en lo que se está haciendo en las editoriales pequeñas.

Siento que Bolaño es un escritor bien híbrido, pero que logró tener respeto intelectual; es súper pop, tiene un mundo mucho más mestizo […] Más que escribir de un argentino exiliado nostálgico en París, él escribía sobre mexicanos o españoles, se atrevía escribir con otros pasaportes. Logró meterse en voces que no eran las suyas y las transformó.

Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito in Letras Libres

Letras Libres reviewed Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito recently and for those who like to read fiction as much for the style as the story it looks like an interesting book. If you read Spanish the review is worth a look.

The style of this novel is that of his stories and that is a good thing: we are before one of the stellar writers of our literature. Before anything, it is his self control. It is known that Morábito did not learn Spanish until he was 15, and it is noticeable: his relation with Spanish is adult-like, lacking the natural childishness fascination, marked with a distrust that obliges him to ponder every word. There is not, nor does it seem like there is, artificial nor capricious lyrics. If there is poetry, it is the poetry of Mondays: “Mondays/ they take apart the platforms/ and the bandstands, / they remove the nails / and the promises,/ reality returns / to its brutish state, / to poetry.” (from From Monday All the Year) There is a simplicity but not it is not simplistic, an economy but not a coldness. The sentences-he doesn’t stop to hide their elegance-are the remains of a fight we don’t see. Because there is a struggle:  Morábit’s struggle to purge the language.

El estilo de esta novela es el de sus cuentos, y eso es buena cosa: estamos ante uno de los prosistas estelares de nuestra literatura. Ante todo, su contención. Se sabe que Morábito no aprendió el idioma hasta los quince años, y se nota: su relación con el español es adulta, como desprovista de la natural fascinación infantil, como teñida de una desconfianza que lo obliga a ponderar cada palabra. No hay, no parece haber, artificio ni caprichos líricos. Si hay poesía, es la poesía de los lunes: “Los lunes/ se desmontan las tarimas/ y los estrados,/ se desclavan lo clavado/ y las promesas,/ la realidad vuelve/ a su estado bruto,/ a la poesía” (“De lunes todo el año”). Hay sencillez pero no simpleza, economía de me-
dios pero no frialdad. Las frases –no termina de ocultarlo su elegancia– son restos de una lucha que no observamos. Porque hay una lucha: la de Morábito purgando el idioma.

Emilio, los chistes y la muerte, By Fabio Morábito in Letras Libres

Jorge Volpi Wins the Debate-Casa de América Prize

El País reports that Jorge Volpi won the Debate-Casa de América prize for his work El insomnio de Bolívar. From the description it sounds very interesting, a little like News From the Empire. All I need to do now is find a copy.

The history of Latin America from its mythic past to an imagined future is what El insomnio de Bolívar touches. With this work the Mexican writer Jorge Volpi won the Debate-Casa de América prize yesterday. This book, acording to the jury, is “well documented, avoids an academic tone and contributes with humor, irony and great literary skill, to the understanding of the American continent.” The winning work was selected by the jury from among 42 works.

The writer was in the US when he received the news of the award. “I imagine an American future with enormous problems and challenges and with the dream that all of America, including the English speaking, will form something like the European Union.” Volpi has written an essay divided into four parts about the identity, democracy, narrative, and the future of Latin America. “The las part I have added some bits of fiction,” said the writer.

La historia de América Latina desde su pasado mítico hasta un futuro imaginado es lo que aborda El insomnio de Bolívar. Con esta obra, el escritor mexicano Jorge Volpi (México, 1968) se hizo ayer con el Premio Debate-Casa de América. Este libro, según el jurado, está “ampliamente documentado, escapa al tono académico y contribuye, con humor, ironía y gran oficio literario, a la comprensión del continente americano”. La obra ganadora fue seleccionada por el jurado entre un total de 42 trabajos presentados.

El escritor se encontraba en EE UU cuando recibió la noticia del premio. “Imagino un futuro de América con enormes problemas y desafíos y con el sueño de que toda América, incluida la anglosajona, formase algo parecido a la Unión Europea”. Volpi ha escrito un ensayo divido en cuatro partes en el que se acerca a la identidad, la democracia, la narrativa y el futuro de América Latina. “A la última parte le he podido añadir algunos tintes de ficción”, señaló el escritor.

When a Blogger Dies, What to Do with the Blog?

When a blogger dies what should you do with the blog, and more importantly do you owe the readers of the blog something, such as a time or a place to grieve like you would with friends and family?

A friend, elswinger, and avid blogger died a month ago after a series of long illnesses. It was sudden and surprising, but not unexpected. Since he had no family many things fell to me, such as notifying friends he had passed, planing the memorial, and cleaning up his apartment. He had discussed all his last wishes with me over the years and had committed some to paper.

When he died, though, one of my first thoughts was what about the blog? He had told me he had readers and had made a few friends through his blog. Would they like to know? Moreover, in his blog he explained in graphic detail all the medical problems that had affected him over the years. It seemed that his readers or anyone who stumbled on the blog in the future might want to know what happened with his illnesses.

Ultimately, I felt there was a duty to let his readers know. Although they could be anywhere in the world, if they were interested enough to read they would like to know what had happened. It also seemed liked an unspoken last request, the coda to a hard life that would have a weight, though fleeting, more important than a headstone, which he was not going to have.

As soon as I published the death notice I received several queries from readers and from The Stranger, where he had been an avid commentator. From the outpouring of responses it was obvious that the readers did want some sort of closure. His blog was well written, but also had a narrative sense (as every life does) that would have left readers wondering what happened.

I don’t know who will be reading the blog five years from now, but it is obvious that a blog that is about an individual needs to be closed when a writer dies. In the same way that friends and family want a memorial, readers need a virtual memorial, or, at least, a way to close their reading.

For the survivors and heirs of a blogger, you do have an obligation to say something, even if it is Rest In Peace. And if your blog means that much to you, you should tell someone what you want to have happen in case of the unthinkable. Your readers will appreciate it.

Gabriel García Márquez to Continue Writing

I don’t know if this is a real surprize, but El Pais is reporting that Garcia Marquez is going to continue to write.

Noting is certain, but the only certianity is that I don’t do anything else except write.

“No sólo no es cierto, sino que lo único cierto es que no hago otra cosa que escribir”

And coutering those who think he hasn’t published much lately:

My job is not to publish, but to write. I will know when the cakes I am cooking are ready to eat.

“Mi oficio no es publicar, sino escribir. Yo sabré cuándo estén a punto de boca los pasteles que estoy horneando”

Flannery O’Connor Discussed on Leonard Lopate and NYRB

A new biography of Flannery O’Connor has led to a lengthy review of the book and an appraisal of her work by Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Review of Books, and an interview on the Leonard Lopate Show with the author of the book. Both are quite interesting for anyone who has enjoyed her works.

From Oates’ intro:

Short stories, for all the dazzling diversity of the genre, are of two general types: those that yield their meanings subtly, quietly, and are as nuanced and delicate and without melodrama as the unfolding of miniature blossoms in Japanese chrysanthemum tea, and those that explode in the reader’s face. Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) came of age in a time when subtlety and “atmosphere” in short stories were fashionable—as in the finely wrought, understated stories of such classic predecessors as Anton Chekhov, Henry James, and James Joyce, and such American contemporaries as Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty, Peter Taylor, and Jean Stafford.

But O’Connor’s plainspoken, blunt, comic-cartoonish, and flagrantly melodramatic short stories were anything but fashionable. The novelty of her “acidly comic tales with moral and religious messages”—as Brad Gooch puts it in his new life of O’Connor—lay in their frontal assault upon the reader’s sensibility: these were not refined New Yorker stories of the era in which nothing happens except inside characters’ minds, but stories in which something happens of irreversible magnitude, often death by violent means.

20th Century Mexican Authors

There is a great site dedicated to 20th century Mexican Literature called simply enough 20th Century Mexican Literature. Maintained by a professor at Wake Forest University it has a gigantic biography of Mexican Authors. It also contains a blog with somewhat regular updates about Mexican culture. Definitely worth a look. (Primarily in Spanish)

Historic Raymond Chandler in the LA Times

The Daily Mirror, the LA Times blog about LA and LA Times history, has been running a great series on Raymond Chandler on the  50th anniversary of his death. There are some great bits they have found.

  1. A lost kinesocope of the Long Good-Bye with Dick Powell. I’d love to see that one.
  2. An interview with Chandler and James M Cain where the reporter says Chandler doesn’t drink. I doubt that one.
  3. An article on the stars who played Marlowe.
  4. Review of Farewell My Lovely in the Times.
  5. Review of the Big Sleep.
  6. A 1987 look at the geography in his stories. Only really good if you know LA, which I do.

Guatemalan War Photo Exibition

La Plaza reports that an exhibition Jonathan Moller’s photos are on view at the Mathers Museum of World Cultures in Bloomington, Ind.

These are some great photos and are worth a look. Quite troubling, but a good reminder of the problems Guatemala has had. They also remind me of the time I was at Lake Atitlán and came into a town where there was black bows over many of the homes. They were for all the people who had been masacured by the army a week before.

Brief Daniel Sada Interview at El Universal

A brief interview with Daniel Sada appeared in El Universal. It doesn’t get into too much but there are a couple quick quotes worth noting.

In a novel “the characters are the most important, more than the language or the plot” […]

Sada took apart the argument of those who define him as a writer who mainly focuses on the language and that some have called baroque, and affirmed that en the best novels of all time, the characters were the most important.

En una novela “los personajes son lo más importante, más que el lenguaje y que la historia” […]

Sada desmontó los argumentos de quienes le definen como un escritor especialmente centrado en el lenguaje y al que algunos han llegado a calificar de barroco, al afirmar que, en las mejores novelas de todos los tiempos, lo más importante son los personajes.

Having started to read some of his writing (mainly a short story from Letras Libres), it is obvious that he is a great stylist, but he tends to keep his style short and compressed, focusing more on the details, rather than long clause heavy digressions.

He also wanted to note that he isn’t just a northern writer, which if you read Christopher Domínguez Michael’s review in Letras Libres, as I did, you may have that impression.

He also wanted remove what he defined as “the nickname of northern writer” that he always wanted to get rid of it because it guarantees that it limits him a lot and because, en his opinion, “there are many norths.”

También ha querido desvincularse de lo que definió como “el mote de escritor norteño” que siempre se quiso quitar porque asegura que le limita mucho y porque, en su opinión, “hay muchos nortes”.

Zoetrope Featuring the Latin American Issue

Zoetrope’s latest issue focuses on Latin American fiction. It sounds interesting, a kind of post boom manifesto, which if you don’t follow Latin American Literature, it sometimes seems if it is still 1969 and Gabo is just publishing 100 Years. Perhaps that is unfair, but short story collections often show this weakness. (hat tip to MOLESKINE LITERARIO)

The research for this edition of Zoetrope: All-Story began with an anthology called El futuro no es nuestro (The Future Is Not Ours), edited by Diego Trelles Paz and just published in Argentina by Eterna Cadencia. That collection includes twenty writers from more than a dozen countries but does not pretend to be anything more than a snapshot of a Latin American moment. It is not comprehensive—for a region this large and diverse, how could it be?—just as this edition of All-Story isn’t. Still, we have attempted to show some of the talent that exists among this new generation; and it’s no coincidence that the writers here are all under forty years old, therefore born after the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Kindle 2 and Usability – Not There Yet

Jakob Nielsen at UseIt.com has devoted his last two newsletters to reviewing the usability of the Kindle. In the first he talked about the user experience and in the second how one should write for the Kindle. I have seen many articles that talk about the Kindle in terms of free speech issues and the publishing trade, but not too many that talk about how easy it is to use, which is really going to sell the thing.

Nielsen’s take is mixed.

Amazon’s new e-book reader offers print-level readability and shines for reading fiction, but it has awkward interaction design and poor support for non-linear content.

He generally likes it for reading fiction, but finds it clumbsy for non fiction or grahically heavy text.

Kindle works poorly for non-fiction books that have many illustrations or that require users to frequently refer back and forth between sections. Even if Kindle had a color screen, heavily illustrated books would still be better in print because moving around in Kindle is awkward. My own books fall into this category, so even though I’d like to sell more books, I can’t really recommend that you buy them for Kindle. My latest book is available in Kindle format, so you can download a free chapter and try for yourself (and then buy it in print 🙂

His biggest complaint is the way you move around the screen.

Interacting through the Kindle 5-way feels much like many mid-level smartphone user interfaces, though the 5-way is worse than a BlackBerry mini-trackball.

Furthermore, Kindle is slow. Every time you enter a command, it ponders the situation before acting. Even turning the page takes slightly longer than it should, and all other actions are definitely sluggish.

In short: Awkward pointing + slow reaction = a bad user experience that discourages people from exploring and attempting different tasks.

Ultimately it seems that personal privacy issues aside, the Kindle still needs some work and until the book metaphor is done away with, the e-books may be problematic.

The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle’s user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you’d want to start on a section’s first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks.

His articles are definately worth a look.