Stumbling Back into Reality

Wow: two weeks, two extended trips, Internet-free life in a bubble, and good literature: nice way to wrap up the new year. The books I devoured during that time:

The Duel (Alexander Kuprin): Good story, solidly satisfying if you need your fix of star-crossed Russian love, young adult male hand-wringing, and army-based idiocy. Here’s the rub, though: stay away from the Melville House version (2011, translation by Josh Billings), as it probably represents the worst instance of copy editing I’ve ever seen in my life. For instance, the spelling of any character’s name often changes on the same page, and with Russian names, that’s a trend you really don’t want to deal with. Words often seem to have been omitted, and, in addition to mistakenly employing terms spelled similarly to the ones Billings probably meant to use (inter alia, “lobe” on p. 65 should have been “love;” “retched” is printed in place of “wretched,” on p. 296), apparently, no one even bothered to turn on the spell checker– because how otherwise are we to explain the presence of flubs (again, inter many other alia) such as “cutching” where “clutching” is the word we want on p. 83, or “dagnle” instead of “dangle” (139)? I stopped making a list of all these nutty examples in order to save my own sanity and suppress questions about why I always had a hard time finding freelance editing work, when yahoos such as the ones in charge of this volume had their products see the light of day.


There was also James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime. It was okay; I enjoyed the descriptions about the seasons, and really, most tales of wandering around France will have at least something redeeming about them. But in this case, the whole setting just felt like a way of covering soft-core porn with a veneer of profundity, or at least literary respectability. Salter’s style, here, at least, is clean and spare– but I’m guessing I won’t pick up another of his books, if Sport is representative of the rest of his canon.

Finally, I plowed through two collections of short stories by Rick Bass: The Watch, followed by In the Loyal Mountains. The former was his first collection to be published, and it was fine– so it was especially interesting and gratifying to plunge right into the latter, and to see how much and how well the guy had developed as a storyteller between the publication of the two books.

In addition to reading, I also got in a solid round of buying, and so I’m now well into my much-longed-for confrontation with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s second volume of his series, My Struggle, and am completely spellbound. To accompany that weighty undertaking, I’ve also got Clarice Lispector’s A via crucis do corpo (The Via Crucis of the Body) going; you just can’t go wrong with Lispector, and so far, I’ve been especially blown away by “O homem que apareceu” (in English, I’m guessing it’s translated as “The Man Who Appeared”), which feels wonderfully, amazingly similar to Carmen Martín Gaite’s El cuarto de atrás (The Back Room), one of my favorite books of all time. And I continue to move slowly, but, hence, all the more attentively, through the Borges collection. With a cold and snowy week ahead, then, I’ve got a solid stack of goodness to take with me under warm covers. A superb start to the new year!


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