Review agenda

I just got my 1st Kindle — a gift from my beloved accomplice, an anticipatory reward for getting my novel published. And for starters (I'm still learning to use the thing) I've loaded it with Jonathan Franzen, Freedom and Marcy Dermansky, Bad Marie, which I intend to read and remark upon here. But first I have to get through the pile of other, old-fashioned printed books I'm committed to review. So here then is the rough schedule of what to expect in coming weeks, in order of schedule (I'm not a speed reader, and I like to take time to write these things, so I'm not promising any deadlines):
  1. Euclides Da Cunha, Backlands : the Canudos Campaign, trad. Elizabeth Lowe (New York: Penguin Books, 2010).  I've finished reading this big (476 pp.), complex and immensely famous work of Brazilian history, anthropology and geography (not to mention phrenology, a theme for da Cunha), but I'm not yet ready to give you my thoughts on it because I first want to finish another immensely famous and important book, 
  2. Mario Vargas Llosa, La guerra del fin del mundo (Madrid Spain: Punto de Lectura, 2008). English translation by Helen R. Lane, The War of the End of the World. This is a big (921 pp.), ambitious novel based on these same events, the resistance to the death of thousands of extremely poor, backlands fanatics to the then-new Brazilian republic and its army, 1895-97. I plan to post the review of this book on the Spanish-language blog, but for Literature & Society I want to reflect on these two books together, what they tell us about Brazil and what they can teach us from these two very different approachs (da Cunha's and Vargas Llosa's) to telling a similar story. Maybe next week I'll have this thought through to share with you.
  3. Karen Kerschen, Violeta Parra: By the Whim of the Wind (Albuquerque: ABQ Press, 2010).  For a  change of pace, though not of continent. I'm eager to read this bio of Chile's famous composer, performer and artist (and part of a family of famous artists) whose most famous song, "Gracias a la vida",  became a kind of theme for those of us defending Chile in its long, dark night of Pinochetism. Probably in about 2 weeks (no promises, though — things happen, and I'm going to be very busy promoting my own new novel, so it could take longer).
Then I can turn to other works, like the two books I just downloaded onto the Kindle and Tony Judt's big Post-War. I may learn to love the Kindle, but even if I don't — real printed books are still more comfortable — it's awfully handy for somebody like me living in Spain who wants to acquire books from the States quickly and cheaply.

My one complaint so far: The Amazon library I log onto is very weak on books in languages other than English. I'll go back to the instruction book (loaded onto the Kindle) to find out how I can download books from other suppliers, such as Spanish publishers.


    Scribd archives and new reader

    Scribd is getting smarter. The new HTML5 platform, replacing Flash, now lets you read and move around in archived docs just the same way you read and move around on any page in your browser.

    But they have started charging for downloads of archived material ($5 a day or $9 a month for unlimited downloads). Reading is still free on everything posted as a "public" document, which is almost everything. I can understand their need to generate a little revenue, but since they've given me the option, I've exempted all my docs from the archive. This means (if I've understood them correctly) that any of you can download for free my "Mermaids and Other Fetishes" (1,118 reads so far —far more than it ever got in its original print publication in Translation Perspectives) or "Liberty and People" (on Simón Bolívar's political thought) or any of the other fiction ("Hunting the Thylacine" is kind of fun) or op-eds I've placed there.

    All this stuff is on my Scribd shelf. I plan to put more there soon. Take a look, and let me know if you've published things there that'll be of interest.


    Guest posts

    This used to be a quiet little blog, not too crowded and with only the broadest agenda: anything conceivably related to literature or society and their interaction. And up to now, almost always written by me. I was glad for Douglas C. Smyth's contribution on Venezuela, Will Chávez become a dictator?, posted in January 2007, but otherwise the only contributions by readers have been in the comments.

    Now I want to invite more guest posts. A variety of voices on this blog should make it more interesting, and should make for more frequent postings.

    If you would like to see some work of yours (text or image or both) published here on Literature & Society, just send me an email query (email address on profile page) with the subject "guest post" and your idea. I'll be most interested in literary reviews or a reasoned essay on any of the issues discussed here, especially the topics I've labeled as "consciousness". I'm no longer looking especially for Latin American or Spanish topics as I was in 2007, though I'm certainly not excluding them. I'll try to respond quickly.

    Thanks to Kelly Diels and Dave Doolin for their Pro Blogger blog on guest posts.


    Defining this blog

    You've probably noted changes in the "About me" box to the right. My aim is to make my intentions clear to you and also to me; it's so easy to get distracted these days by whatever fascinating new thing comes up on the 'net that it takes effort to maintain focus.

    One major editorial shift is that I'm no longer committing myself to that weekly essay on Spain. I didn't sense any great demand for it from my readers (though Dirk, as usual, made intelligent comments), so I'll shift my reflections on Spain to the other, Spanish-language blog, Lecturas y lectores. It was mainly for myself, as a way to try to understand some of the puzzling phenomena in the country where I now live. I'll leave a note here whenever something on the Spanish blog may be of interest to readers here, such as reviews of fiction.

    Another thing. Somehow I've got onto a list of potential reviewers of new books, and publicists keep sending me proposals to interview authors on all kinds of things. Naturally the publicists have never actually looked at this blog to see what I do cover, so I get everything from astrology to diet to reconciliations of science with God to searches for undersea treasure. Not what I do. If you want me to critique serious fiction or something related to the topics I've listed in "About me," please do write. Otherwise don't be surprised to receive no answer. I've got other things to do.

    Words that Change the World

    Thanks to my son Joaquín for sending this marvelous "Radio Lab" audiofile (WNYC and NPR production) on language and how it works.

    Words that Change the World

    From the story of a deaf Mayan who only as an adult learned that there were words, through experiments showing how language allows us to connect discrete concepts of space, to Shakespeare's inventions from the throngs of words that clamored for entry into his brain. Listen, if you love and are perplexed by language. Columbia U.'s James Shapiro now has me reading "The Rape of Lucrece" — as a lesson in language and writing, besides all the emotions it directly talks about. He also has made me want to read his next-to-latest book, A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare.

    For more stuff on language, click on — what else? — "language" in the labels beneath this post.


    A Gift for the Sultan

    Finally, after years of reflection, investigation, writing, rewriting, and mind-wandering, my most ambitious work of fiction to date is about to appear! Launch early next month (October 2010).

    A GIFT FOR THE SULTAN is a historical novel about the great conflict between Orthodox Christian Constantinople and the mostly Muslim Ottoman horde in 1402, a siege that the city narrowly survived (51 years before the Ottoman conquest).

    It is also a sociological novel, where I try to take the reader into the minds of a whole range of actors, including the emperor and the sultan but also Turkish warriors, Frankish and English mercenaries, slave women, and a young Christian princess being sent to the sultan as part of the "gift" of surrender.

    I first got the idea on a visit to Istanbul in 1997. What took me so long was, first, learning everything I could about Byzantium in this period and about the Turks, Serbs, Armenians and others who were involved, and secondly, getting the words right and constructing a complex narrative that made sense.

    It will be available from Amazon and other sellers, very soon. If you would like an advance copy for review, I can send you the pdf.

    (Now available)