August 17, 2015 by Reader's Connection
The Book of Sand is a collection of stories by Jorge Luis Borges. It was published in 1975, and is currently available from the library in Collected Fictions (1998), in which Borges’s stories have been translated by Andrew Hurley.
The first story in The Book of Sand is called “The Other.” The narrator, whose name is Jorge Luis Borges, is sitting on a bench by the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1969. A young man joins him on the bench, and–lo and behold–he is Jorge Luis Borges when younger. The young man believes he is sitting by the Rhône River in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1918, and won’t believe the older man’s claim that he is who he says he is. The younger Borges surmises (sensibly enough) that he, the young man, is simply dreaming about this older Borges.
At one point, the young man says,
“If you have been me, how can you explain the fact that you’ve forgotten that you once encountered an elderly gentleman who in 1918 told you that he, too, was Borges?”
I hadn’t thought of that difficulty. I answered with conviction.
“Perhaps the incident was so odd that I made an effort to forget it.”
The older Borges offers the reader another explanation, at story’s end, of why he can’t remember this incident from his youth; but much as I love The Book of Sand, we have to leave it behind for a moment.
Flash forward to the year 2012. The film Looper is released. In this film, time travel has become possible, but it’s illegal. A crime syndicate uses it for people whom it wants bumped off. These victims are sent thirty years into the past, where they are murdered by special assassins called “loopers.” (As it happens, all four of the library’s DVD copies of the movie have been sent into the past, to be destroyed by special vandals called “goofers,” but our fearless Selector Jessica Lawrence has said that she’ll order more.)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a looper named Joe, and one day his older self, played by Bruce Willis, shows up to be murdered. That sort of thing happens in this line of work.
You can click on the left for a film clip. It gets a little violent at the end, but I’m including it here because the younger Joe* asks the older Joe much the same question that the younger Borges asks the older Borges in “The Other,” and the older Joe is just as evasive as the older Borges.
I think these moments of evasion are equally funny–in each case, the reader/viewer is being teased–and Looper should have been great; but writer-director Rian Johnson forgot the first rule of time-travel movies:
1. The audience should have to think for one full second–if possible, for two or three seconds–before it realizes that what it’s watching doesn’t make sense. And if the audience wants to push that realization aside, they should be allowed to do it.
While watching that one scene, viewers can smile and push the realization aside, but Johnson condescends to his material. He announces in the DVD commentary that all time-travel movies are “balderdash,” and he rubs the moviegoer’s nose in sequences as gory as they are flagrantly impossible. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
I read many of his earlier stories, back when they were the rage, but didn’t read later stories as they came along. For this, I should be sent back through time and dunked in Pogue’s Run, before anyone tried to clean it up.
One story, “There Are More Things,” is dedicated to the memory of H. P. Lovecraft, and for good reason. It’s creepy. If I say that many of Borges’s stories could be called Lovecraftian, I don’t mean that he’s a full-time horror writer. I mean that Lovecraft** made use of “non-Euclidian geometry.” That is, that is, angles and spaces work differently, to frightening effect. And in Borges, characters and possibilities and ways of seeing things are forever coming at me from odd angles.
I had forgotten how much I loved the guy.
And I wish Looper had been done with a lighter touch–with more real assurance and less pumped-up bravado. Maybe if Borges had been brought through time to write the screenplay.
* * *
Borges was over 65 years old when he wrote the stories in The Book of Sand. So the book helps to fulfill one of the requirements for Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge.
My other book by an over-65 author is John Barth’s Every Third Thought. I haven’t blogged about that one, because I didn’t enjoy it much; but the reviews that you can link to from our catalog are pretty favorable, and since I’m singing the praises of Borges, here, and blogged about an Italo Calvino book back in June, let’s close this post with a relevant word from Every Third Thought.
The narrator and his wife visit Sweden while vacationing, and while in Stockholm they give . . .
. . . the figurative finger to its Swedish Academy for never having awarded their Nobel Prize in Literature to such now-late worthies as Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino–each of whom would have done at least as much honor to the prize as it to them–while often bestowing it instead upon writers whom even we lit-lovers may scarcely have heard of, and many of whom, to put it mildly, must lose a lot in translation . . .
*If Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn’t look like himself in that first film clip, it’s because they lavishly (and I think unsuccessfully) made him up to look like a younger Bruce Willis.
**I haven’t actually read many stories by H. P. Lovecraft. Or any. I’m a chicken. I’ll work on that.
9 new libraries in Indianapolis, all of them quite unusual. Here’s an interview about them, and an invitation to the grand opening.
August 14, 2015 by Reader's Connection
There’s a new library going up at the Mary Rigg Neighborhood Center. It’s going to look like this.
The one at White River State Park will look like this.
There will be one at Eskenazi Health . . .
. . . two at the Indianapolis Museum of Art . . .
. . . one at the City Market .
. . . one at Horizon House . . .
. . . one at the southeast corner of the Cultural Trail . . .
. . . and one on Monument Circle.
Are you confused? Do these libraries not look like libraries?
Click on that last picture, of the library/artwork called Monument on Monument Circle, to hear an interview with Mindy Taylor Ross (of Art Strategies, LLC) about these 9 works of art that actually function as lending libraries.
The books at these installations aren’t regular Indianapolis Public Library books. The library is donating them, but they’re part of something called The Public Collection. You’ll be able to borrow them on the “good old honor system” as Mindy says; and you can donate books–though if you’d like to make a large donation, you should contact us, the Indy Public Library.
At noon on Thursday, August 27th, the official opening of these Public Collection installations will be be celebrated on Monument Circle. Come see a new artwork, and maybe borrow a book, or donate one.
I had a lot of fun, a few years back, photographing the installation of Tom Torluemke’s mural at Central Library; and I’m delighted to see that he designed one of the Public Collection libraries (Cool Books, Food for Thought at the art museum). But really, I’m intrigued by all of them.
August 12, 2015 by Reader's Connection
In the autumn of 2015 there will be three concerts.
1211 East 7th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
Friday, September 25 at 8:00 p.m.
Individual tickets may be purchased online from IU Auditorium website, as well as through Ticketmaster.com, or at the IU Auditorium box office which is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
John Hiatt & Lyle Lovett
Old National Centre
502 North New Jersey St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Tuesday, October 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets can be ordered through Live Nation or Ticketmaster (which takes you to Live Nation, but there may be some reason to go this way) or at the Old National Centre box office, which is open Monday – Thursday 11am-6pm and Friday 10am-6pm, and which can be reached at 1-800-745-3000.
Old National Centre
502 North New Jersey St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Friday, November 13 at 8:00 p.m.
Tickets can be ordered through Live Nation or Ticketmaster or at the Old National Centre box office, which is open Monday – Thursday 11am-6pm and Friday 10am-6pm, and which can be reached at 1-800-745-3000.
August 10, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Librarian Sherry Utterback makes her fifth stop on Read Around Central–her tour of the names engraved at Central Library.
Let me get this out at the start: I do not like Sir Francis Bacon’s writing! Really and truly, I tried. First, I listened to part his essay “Of Truth” on the downloadable audiobook Favourite Essays, which is an anthology of essays by different authors, read by Neville Jason. When I woke up (just kidding), after listening to a few minutes, I was making no sense of the essay, so I went up and pulled The Essays or Counsels, Civil and Moral, of Francis Ld. Verulam, Viscount St. Albans (Francis Bacon), new edition by The Peter Pauper Press, and started to read “Of Truth.” A paragraph later, I turned to “Of Friendship,” then “Of Gardens,” followed quickly by “Of Adversity, Of Love, Of Boldness…”
In short, I did not finish one essay! The writing seemed to me very convoluted, as in you start at the beginning of the sentence, about the middle you lose track of what Bacon is talking about, so you go back to the beginning, read on, lose track, go back, and repeat. Maybe my tiny little mind can’t grasp the ideas being expressed by this great thinker and writer I concluded, so I moved on to his poetry. He only wrote six, so how hard can this be? Well, to me, Sir Francis’ poetry is as ponderous as his essays. In desperation, I found The Quotation Page, and finally found that I like something he wrote! Maybe the quotations are short enough to keep my attention. At least I appreciate the ideas that I think he is trying to convey.
Who was Sir Francis Bacon, and what did he write that earned him a place engraved in limestone? He was a very accomplished man, philosopher, poet, essayist, biographer, playwright, lawyer and statesman. He was born into a well-connected London family on January 22, 1561. He was educated at Trinity College, and eventually began to pursue the study of law. His education was suspended by the unexpected death of his father, and since Francis was the second son, his inheritance was “meager”. In 1581, he got a position in the House of Commons for Cornwall, thereby beginning his political career. Through this endeavor and his eventual marriage to an heiress, Bacon’s finances improved significantly. He continued to advance in politics, eventually gaining the office of Lord Chancellor, the second highest position in the Great Officers of State, the British cabinet. He also continued his scientific work, embracing the school that depended upon proving theories by experimentation, rather than building upon the ideas of past scientists. Francis Bacon died on April 9, 1626 from bronchitis which he contracted after he conducted an experiment on the effects of cold on the preservation of meat by stuffing a chicken with snow.
In his writing, Bacon was very diverse, as noted above. In spite of all that he wrote under his own name, what attracts much attention is the theory that Francis Bacon authored the works of William Shakespeare. I looked over a description of the “Baconian Theory of Shakespeare Authorship” and it goes like this: Bacon was a politician who had climbed high in his career. Among his writings, he had authored several plays that he wanted to see performed without having his (real) name attached to them. What’s a titled gentleman to do? After all, you can’t sully your reputation by writing for the theater (egad and forsooth)! So Sir Francis chose an actor named William Shakespeare to be his front for authoring the plays, and everybody lived happily ever after.
As hard as I tried, I never could fall into step with Sir Francis, so I will take my bacon on a sandwich with lettuce and tomato.
August 6, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Marina Keegan, the author of The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories, was killed in an auto accident when she was 22 years old. Her early death is mentioned several times in the paperback blurbs, and I wondered, as I opened the book, whether I’d be overly kind about her writing.
I needn’t have worried. Keegan would have grown into a world-class author, but she was wonderful in her youth; and her youth is part of the fun when you read her. Anne Fadiman, one of Keegan’s teachers at Yale, writes in the introduction:
Many of my students sound forty years old. They are articulate but derivative, their own voices muffled by their desire to skip over their current age and experience, which they fear trivial, and land on some version of polished adulthood without passing Go. Marina was twenty-one and sounded twenty-one; a brainy twenty-one, a twenty-one who knew her way around the English language, a twenty-one who understood that there are few better subjects than being young and uncertain and starry-eyed and frustrated and hopeful.
Keegan’s youth shines in the wonderfully entitled essay “Putting the ‘Fun’ Back in Eschatology,” wherein she expresses the hope that humans can rove out into other solar systems before our sun fizzles out.
Humans alone could be winning the race against our giant gas time bomb and running with the universal Olympic torch. What an honor. What a responsibility. What a gift we have been given to be born in an atmosphere with oxygen and carbon dioxide and millions of years and phenotypes cheering us on with recycles of energy.
The thing is, I think we can make it. I think we can shove ourselves into spaceships before things get too cold.
I only hope we don’t ____ things up before that. Because millions of years is a long time and I don’t want to let the universe down.
Her early death doesn’t haunt the book for me. It just jumps out at me now and then. She suffered from celiac disease before so many foodstuffs on supermarket shelves were labelled non-gluten, and her essay about the disease–and her mother’s extraordinary care of her–is called “Against the Grain.” It starts like this:
On my deathbed, I will instruct the nurse to bring me the following: a box of Oreos, a bag of Goldfish, a McDonald’s hamburger, an assortment of Dunkin’ Donuts, a chicken pot pie, a Hot Pocket, a large pepperoni pizza, a French crepe, and an ice-cold beer. In my final moments, I will consume this food slowly and and delicately as I fade into oblivion. I’ll start with the donuts, lemon-glazed and Boston Kreme, biting at each collapsible calorie as my relatives sigh and sign condolence cards. Next, I’ll sample the pizza and beer, happily slurping both as the doctors sew me up and take sad notes. “Oh,” they’ll say in deep baritones, “I think it’s too late. I think it’s the end.”
I laughed out loud when I read that, and then I remembered and thought, Oh, Christ.
As for the fiction: I can honestly say, with almost no grading curve employed, that I enjoyed every story. Some are stories of college life, of being home from college, but then they roam. One is made up of e-mails from the Green Zone in Iraq, and another is set on a doomed submarine. The one-two punch at the end of “The Ingenue” is so bizarre. (He did that? But she still did that?) And the next time someone puts together an anthology of Christmas fiction written by unbelievers but nonetheless inspiring, “Hail, Full of Grace” will be included.
I wish Marina Keegan were here to help me write an uncorny finish for this review. I keep wanting to repeat that earlier bit: She would have gotten better, but she was already splendid. When teacher Anne Fadiman asked her students to compose a list of things to work on as writers, Keegan’s list included “THERE CAN ALWAYS BE A BETTER THING!” No kidding.