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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

transitions and translations

I started to read Their Eyes Were Watching God in September, and after I finished it, I borrowed Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov from a friend. After reading this, I decided that since I am normally a translation-phobe, that I would focus October on reading only translations. So except for TEWWG, a translation month it was, just in time for my transition into life in the City of Brotherly Love...

books read: OCTOBER

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I read this in highschool, but I knew that I needed to reread it after reading an essay by Zadie Smith, in her new non-fiction book that will be out this month. Smith talked about how enormously influential the book was on her as a teenager, how it had an affect on her not only as a young black woman in England, but also as a human being. Hurston's book is a must read as both a teenager and again as an adult. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

This book is one of those funny books that you aren't quite sure is supposed to be as funny as it is. Nabokov employs a technique of minimalist story-telling in order to allow you as the reader into his main character's head entirely. This is free and direct discourse at its most chilling, most humorous and most telling of the human condition. A recommended quick read.

King, Queen, Knave by Vladimir Nabokov

This was one of Nabokov's earlier work, and reading it after Invitation was like reading one of Kerouac's first novels after reading Visions of Cody. The plot and prose are clear-cut, the story moves like a textbook story should move, and yet you can tell that the author has charisma that is not found in most of your typical works of fiction. This is a classic story with a classic twist, and the way it is written makes one want to read more by Nabokov. His introductions, also, in both this book and the one I read prior to it, are superbly informative for people like me who don't like to read translations. He discusses who translated it, some of the challenges and/or changes encountered in the translation, when the translation was done in comparison to when the book was written, etc. I found both introductions to the Nabokov novels I read intensely rewarding.

Stories & Texts for Nothing by Samuel Beckett

Beckett translated everything himself in this book. I enjoyed the stories in the beginning more than the Texts for Nothing that followed. They were more difficult to follow and seemed too easily to blend together. It seemed like fast reading, but then I felt like I kept losing track of the story-- then I wasn't sure if there even was supposed to be a clear cut story. His run-on sentences also abstracted me from what was going on a lot of time. I was glad to finish this book, but that's not to say I didn't enjoy it. I enjoyed it in pieces. The stories, like I said, and many quotable passages in the Texts for Nothing. For example, from Text for Nothing #4: "There's my life, why not, it is one, if you like, if you must, I don't say no, this evening. There has to be one, it seems, once there is speech, no need of a story, a story is not compulsory, just a life, that's the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough."

Nadja by Andre Breton

This novel was recommended to me by various people, customers and fellow employees, when I worked at the Strand. I looked for it on the fiction shelves occasionally, and we never had it. Usually when books are hard to get ahold of, there is a good reason for it. This book was worth the wait it took me to acquire it. It was not necessarily one of my favorite books, but the history of the surrealist movement seems masked and hiding throughout the pages. I enjoyed the story of this man and woman from start to finish, and all of the scrapbook like images contained throughout.

I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabel

Hrabel was another one of those grab-him-right-off-the-shelves-if-not-the-cart kind of writers. I, in fact, know three people, all former or current Strand employees, who would come into work or to visit and both covet and hide copies of his books (to the annoyance of the others who would come in... to do the same thing... it got messy... tempers flared... hiding places were relocated, etc.) ANYWAY. One of these nice young gentleman already owned a copy of this book, and handed it to me and told me to buy it. "It's only $5.00... $2.50 for you." SO, I did. This book was well worth the read. It is fantastical and hilarious. My roomate, Drew, told me that they made it into a film, and I wonder if the film can maintain the hyperbolistic yet oh so human feel that the book has. Perhaps I shall find out.

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So, I started to read Plato's Republic, but that got shelved after Book Two as more of a long term, come-back-to-it-after-long-intervals sort of read. I have been making my way thru a non-fiction book about hip hop that I am enjoying a lot and immersing myself in. We'll see what else makes it onto my "books read" list in November...


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