Essential Reading: December 2015
It’s finally the last month of the year. I haven’t finished reading most of the books that I decided on reading last month because, as per usual, I was waylaid by not only other books but other hobbies. For instance, last month I was given two video games, Fallout 4 and Star Wars: Battlefront, that took the time that I should have been spending on reading. Still, despite my delinquent reading, I’ve managed to finish my 2015 Goodreads Challenge of sixty books and I’ve managed to feat by reading thinner works of literature. I’ve only read two of the books from my November reading list and I am currently in the middle of another one. However, that won’t stop me from making another list of books that I plan to read this December.
Anyway, before I go to my next reading list that I will not fulfill, here are the books that I read last month:
- Shards: Fragments of Verses by Lorenzo Chiera (3/5)
- Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson (4/5)
- City of Clowns by Daniel Alarcon and Sheila Alvarado (4/5)
- Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (3/5)
- A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke (5/5)
Lorenzo Chiera’s Shards is the only known collection of poetry from this obscure 14th century poet and the whole collection mostly works as a window into the erotic fixations of one man from a particular time but, beyond the humor and the erotic savagery, there is very little. On the other hand, Anne Carson’s novel in verse is dense with meaning and allegory that it felt that the narrative sometimes takes a backseat which is not a bad thing in of itself but I just didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. Alarcon’s City of Clowns, a graphic novel illustrated by Sheila Alvarado from Alarcon’s short story of the same name, was a perfect introduction to his work which showcased his home city of Lima by magnifying a particular aspect of it: the street clowns who performed in street corners and buses for loose change. Hawke’s Rules of a Knight didn’t stick to me but only because a book about virtue is not really for me as I have already obtained the cynicism of an adult but I can see its value especially to children, the intended demographic of this volume. The literary highlight of November was Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, an exploration of the life and times of Handke’s mother prompted by her suicide. I call it a highlight despite its grim premise only because of Handke’s handling of the subject matter which was neither reverential or dismissive because the book put primacy in the exploration of Handke’s mother and her life’s trajectory before her suicide.
For the last month of the year, I turn towards Latin America and its rich literary tradition (but I also have to finish Patricia Highsmith’s Price of Salt):
- With My Dog-Eyes by Hilda Hilst – Hilst, unknown to me since I saw her book at a bookstore, is hailed as one of the greatest Brazilian writers of her era and is often compared favorably to Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser who says: “Like her friend and admirer Clarice Lispector, Hilda Hilst was a passionate explorer of the sacred and the profane, the pure and the obscene.”
- The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares – A science fiction novella about an escaped fugitive hiding in a deserted island, The Invention of Morel is said to be the book that catapulted Casares into literary fame. Many Latin American writers including Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz, Julio Cortazar, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez have expressed admiration for Casares’ novella.
- Thus Were Their Faces by Silvina Ocampo – Silvina Ocampo is hailed as one of Latin America’s masters of short fiction and Thus Were Their Faces collects some of her greatest stories taken from her separately published collections into one volume.
- Cronopios and Famas by Julio Cortazar – Cortazar is very high on my list of writers whom I’ve been wanting to read and this would serve as an introduction to his works before I eventually read Hopscotch.
- Contemporary Latin American Short Stories edited by Pat McNees – This is the combination of some of the things in Literature that I love: Latin American literature and short stories. This volume is filled with short fiction from writers whom I’ve admired like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Clarice Lispector, and Mario Vargas Llosa.
Plus, if I have the time, I can cap off my year with a book of academic essays edited by John King, On Modern Latin American Fiction. That’s about it for my December reading.