Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Cabrera Infante dead at 75

The Guardian reports that Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the greatest Cuban novelist of his generation, has died at 75.

"In 1967, he published Tres Tristes Tigres (Three Sad Tigers), one of the classics of the "boom" in the Latin American novel. Its playful tongue-twisting title sets the tone for this completely original, elliptic and difficult novel, "a celebration of Havana nights", as he put it. Cabrera reinvented a magical 1950s city, packed with music, sex, dancing, sweat and conversation. His master was James Joyce (J'aime Joys, as he said in one of his wonderful polyglot puns), and Three Sad Tigers has multiple narrators, scant plot and a middle section like something out of Finnegans Wake.

Cabrera's wit, imagination and brilliant language hold together the book, which culminates in a long conversation that ties up most of the threads. Its themes are those that recur throughout his writing: sheer joy in physical pleasures and in the human contact of jokes and anecdotes. Cabrera believes in seducing and entrancing his readers. Most critics resort to music to express the book's quality: bursts of solo sax, vibrant duets and long, melancholic interludes." from today's Guardian obit."

Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair

This weekend, Friday through Sunday, you can find me at the Greenwich Village Antiquarian Book Fair, a long-running benefit for p.s.3 here in NYC. It's a pleasant fair, with a bit of the feel of book fairs from times gone by. There's a list of some of the items I'll be bring to the fair at my bookselling website. If you're in the area I hope to meet you.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

lives of writers and my own

Once again there's been too much time between entries. But I've been to Fayetteville, AR and the Turks and Caicos in between so I'll pretend I have an excuse. The work in Arkansas was the second and final phase in a cataloging job for the appraisal of a major literary archive. The work is quiet but focussed, and it's always interesting to see how immersion in the daily creations of writers, artists and other thinkers can impact my own ideas about a well-lived life. One thing that struck me while working was the need of this writer for both extreme isolation and, simulataeously, for true companionship. I found my self longing for my little place in Maine, no tv, a competently equiped kitchen and my library. At the same time I admired the deep literary friendships expressed in his correspondence, the ability to communicate in relative honesty about writing, struggles, politics and of course, sex and sustenance.

The isolation is relative, although I find myself leaning more and more toward a severe form of isolation which may involve moats. A few acres will likely do just fine. On the literary companionship front, all of my efforts to develop literary correspondences with my hard reading friends generally never get off the ground or quickly stall for the usual reasons: lack of time, other diversions, conflicting schedules. Another thing I've noticed is that none of us has the same, or even a remotely similar, reading list. Samantha and I both read fiction and food history books, but it's rare that we have both read the same titles. Dennis the poet and I both spend many hours reading verse, but it may be only one book out of ten or more that we both digest. Is this a modern condition? Or is it just an illusion that in previous eras there was a good chance that reading was a more commonly shared experience?

Thursday, February 10, 2005

more Mondovino vs. Robert Parker

In a wonderful essay in the London Review of Books, Steven Shapin charts the history of discriminating taste, from Sancho Panza, through David Hume and Brillat-Savarin to the current state of wine connoiseurship. He sees pitfalls in the adherence of much of the world to Robert Parker's 100 point system for rating wines, and more danger in the world's desire to supply wines which rank highly in the system. Should the nose of one man (Robert Parker) have so much power? Enter Jonathan Nossiter, whose three hour documentary, Mondovino, takes on globalization within the wine industry, and makes a serious case for the true local craft of winemaking, once the province of men (and women) in love with their own few acres of dirt, sky, and vines.
mcmurtry to shutter bookedup because archer city is boring

"I like to go out at night," he said. "I like to sit in a nice room and look at beautiful women. I don't want to just sit on my back porch drinking scotch, and there isn't much more to do in Archer City."

Well, bookselling has never particularly been a portal to the proximity of beautiful women, and many of us take solace in the attractive bar and waitstaff of bars and restaurants nearby our shops, homes and bookfair locations. Our sour, disappointed faces, distorted by another day spent at another slow bookfair can suddenly brighten as dinner plans materialize. Thoughts of tasty food and a tastier coat check girl can eliminate thoughts of sore feet and stupid questions from "customers". I can fully appreciate McMurtry's need for some scenery.
pain, lobsters, and David Foster Wallace

Norwegian scientists have now definitively (we can hope) demonstrated that lobsters, and other invertebrates, feel no pain. This puts the crimp in DFW's review of the Maine Lobster Festival, which appeared in the August issue of Gourmet. Thanks to The Elegant Variation for the heads up on the Guardian article.