The world is full of books and they are all set somewhere; let’s explore some of the places where our favourite book characters walked, fought, fell in love or made a fool of themselves.
I started to look at photos of the soaring church towers of Spain the other day, thinking of turning them into a photo post, but by a series of those associations that you afterwards can never explain, I ended up with my tattered and bath-soaked copy of Graham Greene’s best novel in my hand instead.
(You’ll have to wait for the church towers.)
The Power and the Glory
I don’t think I’ve taken it off the shelf once in the past twenty-five years or so, and yet I can remember vividly every word of it. Well, almost.
‘Your’ classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.
(Italo Calvino: Why Read the Classics?)
It’s called The Power and the Glory, and the title is a clear reference to the last line of the Lord’s Prayer. An interesting title because you can read it in more than one way: the spiritual power of the church versus the earthly power of the government, the power of faith and of political convictions, the glory of martyrdom…
Okay, so your work sucks and you only live for the holidays, right? Or maybe your work is the best thing ever, but even so you do go on holidays sometimes – right? So you need a book to read that’s just the right length for a short-haul flight.
(I’ll let you know my recommendations for long-haul when I’ve managed to get further than three hours’ flight.)
En un lugar de la Mancha…
When I picked up El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Cervantes last week and opened it on the first page (okay, in my edition that would be page 113), and read,
En un lugar de la Mancha,
de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo…
In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind, there lived not long since one of those gentlemen…
…I felt the heady effect of a sudden shift in time and space: all at once I was somewhere in La Mancha, under a harsh sun, confronting whitewashed windmills.
(Cervantes once looked at these.)
—¿Qué gigantes?—dijo Sancho Panza.
—Aquellos que allí ves —respondió su amo— de los brazos largos, que los suelen tener algunos de casi dos leguas.
—Mire vuestra merced —respondió Sancho— que aquellos que allí se parecen no son gigantes, sino molinos de viento…
“What giants?” said Sancho Panza.
“Those thou seest there,” answered his master, “with the long arms, and some have them nearly two leagues long.”
“Look, your worship,” said Sancho; “what we see there are not giants but windmills…
It is not often that you pick up a book – no matter how old, how famous – and you’re transported with such urgency before you even finished reading the first half sentence. But the unassuming En un lugar de la Mancha… must be the most well-known and memorable first line in Spanish-language literature – ever.
Somehow it doesn’t quite work the same way in other languages.
While reading a history of the Latin language recently, I came across one of the fables of Aesop – translated into English from Nahuatl. In case you’ve never heard of Nahuatl, it was the language of the Aztec empire and in consequence the lingua franca of Central-America up to the 16th century; it is still spoken in parts of Mexico.
The book in question is Ad infinitum: A Biography of Latin by Nicholas Ostler and I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public although if you do happen to be interested in historical linguistics and especially in Latin, it’s fine; all the more enjoyable if you can actually know Latin of course (sadly I don’t).
But what has a Nahuatl version of the fables of Aesop – who after all was Greek – got to do with the history of Latin?
Two years ago I read No One Writes to the Colonel (El coronel no tiene quien le escriba) by Gabriel García Márquez on the train en route for a day’s hiking. (It was just the right length.) Yesterday it was the first genuinely nice day of the year, so we went hiking; and I re-read No One Writes to the Colonel on the train.
I mean the first time round I thought it was brilliant and my Spanish is two years better now.
(The day’s hiking wasn’t bad either.)
There’s only one problem with No One Writes to the Colonel: I feel completely discouraged from picking up any of García Márquez’s other books ever again: there’s no way he could have surpassed this one.
In fact, I know he didn’t think he ever did.
You might also like: ⇒ Gabriel García Márquez, Minus Magical Realism
In a city under siege, the bodies of gruesomely murdered young women begin to appear. And at every spot where the police finds a corpse, a bomb has fallen. Is there a connection?
This is the (brutally simplified) premise of The Siege, a historical novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. A novel set in Cádiz during the French siege in 1811 and 1812, in the era of the Napoleonic Wars, two years during what the Spanish call the War of Independence.
En una ciudad bajo sitio aparecen cadáveres de jovencitas asesinadas en una manera horripilante. Y en cada lugar en que el policía encuentra un cadáver, ha caído una bomba. ¿Hay alguna conexión?
Eso es la premisa (simplificada de manera brutal) de El Asedio, una novela história por Arturo Pérez-Reverte. Una novela ambientada en Cádiz durante el asedio francés en los años 1811 y 1812, la era de la Guerra de la Independencia.
There’s an Argentinian cartoon from the late 1960s-early 70s, about a little girl called Mafalda, whose exclamation, ¡Paren el mundo, que me quiero bajar! (Stop the world, I want to get off!) became an internationally known phrase. As we all have moments in which we want to get off (I did, yesterday afternoon), perhaps it might be a good idea if you keep The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at hand?
As the title suggests, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the only – electronic – book you’ll ever need if you should actually succeed in getting off by hitching a ride on a passing UFO. It will also provide you with light relief while you’re waiting by the roadside, as it were, with your thumb stuck in empty air as those heartless aliens are driving by without stopping.
Over a year ago I read an article by Mario Vargas Llosa, who was at the time engaged in re-reading War and Peace by Tolstoy. It was so damnably well-written that not only it made me re-read War and Peace myself but it also made me to read Mario Vargas Llosa.
El año pasado leí un artículo por Mario Vargas Llosa (enlace al final del post), quien en aquel momento se dedicaba a releer la Guerra y paz de Tolstói. Y estaba tan condenadamente bien escrito, que no sólo me causó volver a leer Guerra y paz, sino también me animó leer el proprio Mario Vargas Llosa.
Last year I borrowed the title of this well-known spaghetti western of my childhood for an end-of-year post, choosing a book for each category. I don’t see why I shouldn’t cast a look back at this year’s reading and do so again… (And I hope you appreciate that I’m sparing you an embedding of Ennio Morricone’s theme tune to play in the background while you’re reading this!)
Philosophical Books (and the Death Sentence)
Okay, so there are books and there are philosophical books and when you hear the adjective philosophical in this context, you slam the book shut and run a mile or more, without so much as looking back – and by god, I don’t blame you. Twice I had to study philosophy at university and twice it bored me to tears.
Read this in English (written in two parts) ⇒ Sketches of Spain: Castile ⇒ Sketches of Spain: Granada
Hay libros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque todo se ha dicho ya. Y hay otros de los que no hay nada que escribir porque lo único que puedes hacer es citarlos. Impresiones y paisajes por Federico García Lorca es uno de esos últimos.
La noche tiene brillantez mágica de sonidos desde este torreón. Si hay luna, es un marco vago de sensualidad abismática lo que invade los acordes. Si no hay luna…, es una melodía fantástica y única lo que canta el río…, pero la modulación original y sentida en que el color revela las expresiones musicales más perdidas y esfumadas, es el crepúsculo… Ya se ha estado preparando el ambiente desde que la tarde media. Las sombras han ido cubriendo la hoguera alhambrina… La vega está aplanada y silenciosa. El sol se oculta y del monte nacen cascadas infinitas de colores musicales que se precipitan aterciopeladamente sobre la ciudad y la sierra y se funde el color musical con las ondas sonoras… Todo suena a melodía, a tristeza antigua, a llanto.
Three quarters through War and Peace (for the fourth time; I’m blaming Mario Vargas Llosa), I’m in need of some light entertainment. You know the kind I mean: the sort of book in which you can just keep moving your eye along the line, keep turning the pages and never once be bothered by a single thought arising. A chewing gum for the mind.
So I dug out an outrageous space opera by Stephen Ames Berry.
Two Versions of the Old Man and the Sea
My teenage daughter borrowed my copy of The Old Man and the Sea and read it one afternoon. I had been about the same age when I first read it, thirty years ago. “You’ll either love it or it will bore you to tears,” I warned. “It’s that kind of book.”
“I’ve finished it,” she said later at dinner, looking a bit sheepish.
“You didn’t like it.” It wasn’t hard to divine. She knows that it’s one of my favourite books. “You didn’t click.”
“No,” she said. “It’s just about an old man who went fishing. It’s boring.”
Packing for a late season holiday? Or stuck in the office yearning for the sun-drenched Greek islands? Whichever it is, here are nine books you should consider:
One of the bloggers I read writes a Twitter round-up for a proper website. I usually ignore it – I mean it’s a Twitter round-up, for god’s sake! – but the other day I decided to take a look. This had three immediate effects on me:
- I had a fit of hysterical laughter – are these tweets for real?!
- I congratulated myself for never having signed up for a Twitter account – I always knew no-one possibly can have anything worthwhile to say in 160 characters, especially on a daily basis.
- I got inspired.
Acabo de leer El club Dumas de Pérez-Reverte: un juego precioso de literatura y libros en forma de una novela de misterio. Y me quedo sonriente.
I’ve just finished reading The Club Dumas by Pérez-Reverte: a delightful game of literature and books in the form of a mystery novel. And I’m still smiling.
Let the Scene Write Itself
I was at work – and I was angry. Somebody else c**ked up hugely, I was left to cope with the fallout and it was just all getting too much.
We all have days like that of course. Some people get so angry on such days that they end sticking the kitchen knife into the person responsible for their misery. (If you ever feel this way inclined, you’d better avoid taking a job in a kitchen – you’ll do much better in life.) I do stop short of knifing incompetent idiots at work but I was very angry so to take my mind of it I went to fetch a glass of water and sneaked a look at the next Everyday Inspiration prompt on my phone. It was, “Let the Scene Write Itself”.
How opportune when I’ve just read a book titled A Day of Anger.
Life is short and bookshelves are long… and it’s too easy to get suckered into a book, keep turning the pages, start philosophising or daydreaming and forget to live. So here’s five books you should avoid like the plague if you don’t want to become a book addict:
Imagine living somewhere where everything is free – except the words.
I’ll be quiet for a while and let you think about it.