Tagged: Charles Baxter

Snow is Pure and Dead

“The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and the Poetical: Erasure” / Solmaz Sharif
I witnessed a reading by this poet in a cool living room. She went from a slam-style speed, common these days, to an incantatory slowness, one that transfixed. I hope this is something she or anybody can duplicate on the page. We talked about that… I can hear her voice in this poem. But there are no line breaks here, as I can tell. Some indentation… It brings up, for me, the question of politics and music. Often, “political” music has a religious sound to it. I’m thinking of Godspeed You, Black Emperor… Is it a leftover of the good old days when texts and art were only to be worshipped?

Webpage Setup 28:08:08

“Anatolia” / Anis Shivani
I feel very American saying this, but there were too many Turkish and Islamic law terms here. I have thought a lot about this in my own writing, and I think there could be more context and they would work. The title for the main character comes over. I think he is some kind of a low-level judge. But often sentences would have three such terms, each juxtaposed to the others, and leave me baffled as to what they meant. I know a little, since I’ve seen Islamic law terms in books I’ve cataloged in my day job. But I couldn’t go on here. Perhaps this is my own failure, but it was an extension–one that pushed me too far away this time–of the problem in “Gypsy.” There is a lot of exposition, a lot of big blocks of explanation, rather than a varied approach between scenes and narration. I and my reading partner put this aside, and I accept responsibility for having done so.


“The Swimmer” / John Cheever
I read this old classic to my reading partner, my better half (a better reader), who had never read it. Cheever shows you how well a sentence can run, like water in his case, and how far that can get the vehicle of a story. By the way, doesn’t water come up a lot in his work? If I were writing a paper…


“First Love and Other Sorrows” / Harold Brodkey
We loved reading this. It’s so gentle, which makes the sorrow move so much more easily over the story, and makes it easier to hear.

“Один язык” Михаила Шолохова
А, если было так понятно.

“When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” / Walt Whitman
I remembered that I used Whitman as a basis for my vows. The world of Whitman feels older, I think because it feels innocent, even though it’s not. It’s naive, but not in a bad way. Hope against hope maybe…

“Directions” / Fyodor Svarovsky (Alex Cigale translated on Facebook)
This was a good way to start the workday.


Катакомбы Валентина Катаева
Ещё читаю. Наивность у писателей может быть не самое плохое, если это не зашишает ужас, как в эссей об Uncle Tom’s Cabin Джеймса Балдвина. Дело в том, узнает ли читатель, что наивность и сентиментальность оправдан или нет, и если они сушествуют (и делает его слепым) в читатели самом.

Gramophone, Film, Typewriter / Friedrich Kittler
I’m more interested in this “desexualization of writing” than the disagreement between Kittler and McLuhan.

“Some Other, Better Otto” / Deborah Eisenberg
I enjoy the richness of this story, its many characters and ideas very cleanly woven.

“Love” / Grace Paley
This reminded me, despite some cognitive resistance to the idea, of Carver…

“Borges on Translation” / Suzanne Jill Levine

“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” / Jorge Luis Borges
Back to the classic…how silly this is, a revival of Cervantes’ humor, so rarely matched. “Fame is a form–perhaps the worst form–of incomprehension.” And there you go!

“The Hitchhiking Game” / Milan Kundera
Oh, what a great, vampy little story. I loved it. I haven’t read him in such a long time, and now I remember The Joke and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. About his perceived misogyny I have nothing to say.

“Love in Their Time” / William Trevor
A sad English story that made my reading partner cry. It seems to gather momentum and then releases right in that last scene. I love stories that end in the subway.


“The Life You Save May Be Your Own” / Flannery O’Connor
An old classic, something that came up from the bottom of my memory because of a line I myself wrote, taking place in the South and having to do with conservative religious values.

“The Moon in Its Flight” / Gilbert Sorrentino
At first tedious, this story then becomes a story of a minor mistake that leads to a couple not coming together. Was she just a ghost at the end or not? Did it actually happen? Does that really matter?

Dancing in Odessa / Ilya Kaminsky
What a pleasure to return to this, our signed copy. What a kind poet. I remember his reading, and I remember trying to speak to him in Russian and failing to understand. This, of course, has happened multiple times. But he was very gentle with me, which has happened much more rarely.
The “Author’s Prayer” has been especially inspirational.


“Yours” / Mary Robison
This story, short but with long, sweeping, devastating sentences, snatches you by the wrist and claims your attention, for a little bit.

“A Bad Thing” / David Gates

“First Love” / Isaak Babel
Reading Babel in English is always strange. I think that the Russian versions I’ve read were censored. There’s more of a voice here, not that I didn’t like what I read in Russian. But why censor such lines as those about being a boy throwing a tantrum? Was this unmanly?


“У батьки нашего Махно” Исаака Бабеля
Этот рассказ хорошо показывает что-то не только не хорошо, а плохо, а ужасно. Есть в Украине когда-нибудь хорошее народное движение? И как этот мальчик и невинный, и темно настоящий…

“Учение о тачанке” Исаака Бабеля
Ух, хороший, тёмненкий писатель, который так сосредоточиться на странных местах в жизни. Особенно понравилось сравнение южних и штетелских евреев. Опять, тёмный портрет Махна. Кстати, я читал оба рассказа по-русски в самом последном издание его работы, которое только что вышло. В Мэкдафном переводе, переводчик говорит, что исключения были из-за цензуры, а в русском говорят что некоторые были его постоянно редактирования, и не так как Мэкдаф говорит. Бог его знает, но я рад улучениям.

The Book of Daniel / E.L. Doctorow
I’m still hoping the violent scene in the car will be explained somehow. It’s hard to read somebody like that. But I like the style, so I keep going.


“A Gentleman Friend” / Anton Chekhov
This was recommended, I think I remember, in order to see how Chekhov’s more torturous stories are the ones that would seem to end happily, as does this one, unlike “The Kiss” which we read in my Russian Literature class. And it is torturous, like those writhing in tortuous, torturous pleasure in Gustave Doré prints of the Divine Comedy.

“The Salmon Spirit: an Ulchi Tale from Siberia” / Nadyezhda Duvan
Reminds me of the Russian children’s tales I read these days.

Inferno / Dante Alighieri
This is good inspiration…

Конармия Исаака Бабеля
Здесь меньше характеризации чем в одесских рассказах, по-моему. Но конец первой истории страшно для отцов дочерей.

“What Goes Around” / Olga Zilberbourg (B O D Y)

The Wonderful Writing Machine / Bruce Bliven, Jr.
Dedicated “To Naomi” (Horowitz, his wife). This guy was funny. Kittler (above) said he is the most entertaining and quirky writer about the typewriter.

“Fisherman of the Glass Battalion” / Ilya Ilf (translated by Steven Volynets)
Great little story here, which kind of reminds me of Конармия. I’m looking forward to more of these.


“In der Strafkolonie” / Franz Kafka
I read this in German, but I’d like to write in English. It was in a book which discusses the legal aspects of Kafka’s story. Right now I’m thinking, why doesn’t he know his sentence? What part does this ignorance of one’s judgment have? This is probably the worst manifestation of punishment, since the Verurteilte doesn’t even know why and, in this case, how, until he can feel his wounds. In the end, der Reisende threatens with the old rope. He doesn’t need a fancy machine.

“Tonka” / Robert Musil
This story aches with the tension of an intellectual, who nonetheless is fascinated by a woman, inscrutable to him. It could never go to her perspective, in this way, and I’ve heard the comparison with Lolita made. Women’s inscrutability could be code for misogyny.

“In the Shadow of Dante” / Joseph Brodsky
The discussion of rhyme here would have been especially interesting about a year ago when I was writing about the translated poetry of Aleksandr Kushner, a friend of Brodsky’s from Peter. I came to this by way of Ilya Kaminsky’s dedication “To Montale” in Dancing in Odessa.

Зависть Юрия Олеши
Как модно! Может быть из-за настоящего времени голоса рассказчика. Можно подумать о месте, как будто оно Одесса? Настоящее время нормально тогда? Мне кажется, даже сейчас оно странно. Это историческое настоящее?

Трава забвения Валентина Катаева
Хороший советский писатель, который справедлив, по-моему, о других, как Бунине, с которым не был согласен насчет политики. О Бунине нельзя было говорить при Маяковском, и о Маяковском при Бунине.

“Less than One” / Joseph Brodsky
I read this long ago, but it was good to return, since you always find something new. A challenge: how Russian experience bounces off the English language, no matter how will composed.

Twilight of the Superheroes / Deborah Eisenberg
There is something refreshing about how Eisenberg always makes one guess at context. It defamiliarizes with the very straightforward American realist style.

“We Are All Already Gone” / LaTanya McQueen (New South)
I wonder where the “we” went in this haunting story, rough on a parent.

The Home Place / Wright Morris
There is something very strange about Wright Morris, to which I think Charles Baxter is the best heir. What is it? How does this character’s father not know he was raised on a farm? Or is it old age in a Midwestern middle-class grandpa, who hasn’t taken time to reflect much on things and doesn’t remember his own son’s upbringing? If I’m right, this is very sad…to me.

Fall Ends and Beginnings

“Любовь” Юрия Олеши
Когда я начал встречаться с женой, она дала мне копию этого рассказа на английском. Я начал читать, но решил, что хочу на русском. 8 лет спустя и вот! Красавец – он.

Love in the Time of Cholera / Gabriel García Márquez
This is a hard one to put down. The love obsession of Florentino matches other experiences of obsession I’ve had in my life.
Time turns in on itself, doubles back, does flips between perspectives. We can learn so much from this writer. Also, the sympathy for the wife, sniffing her husband’s clothes, scented by his lover. He wasn’t a macho man, one who would deny the truth with utterly male violence. Instead, he admits he cheated. Maybe she didn’t want the truth. It’s so damn well done.
Now I finally understand the romance of the riverboat, the perpetual back-and-forth, the ongoing, neverending journey, which not even death ends. Time is not a pressure for Márquez. It’s a way of getting to the ends of things, of returning, and of setting out again.

There Is No Long Distance Now / Naomi Shihab Nye
I’ve been reading against my insomnia. So far, it reminds me of Jessamyn Ward. There’s a tricky innocence to Shihab Nye’s work that keeps me wondering about the experience behind it.

“Стадион в Одессе” Юрия Олеши
Я не знал, что Олеша был такой патриот, ну здесь что-то есть. Есть вопрос, честно ли он пишет. Ну, интересно, всё равно, об истории Одессы, о Ланжероне, и т. д.

Words Will Break Cement: the Passion of Pussy Riot / Masha Gessen
Whatever you think of their music, there’s something different about this protest avant-garde primitivist art group. Masha Gessen seems to be hip to it. Notice the title’s allusion to a holy mission.

Kaleidoscopic Odessa / Tanya Richardson
This is a great mix of academic and more personal study of this beloved city. I especially like the whole chapter dedicated to the Literature Museum and its founding. It was almost as subversive as that museum out in the far east, where forbidden works were and still are displayed.

“Identity, Power, and a Prayer to Our Lady of Repatriation: On Translating and Writing Poetry” / Khaled Mattawa
Wow, what a great essay. I’m looking forward to more from this series on translation. I especially like how these ideas about translation are making it more primary than American letters has tended to.

“Islands” / Aleksandar Hemon
I love the cicadas “revving” and the cat’s “irreversible hatred.” These seem to generally allude to the division of Yugoslavia into islands, such a significant part of Hemon’s life. But, regardless of the content, even though I spent time on that tiny island in the middle of the lake of Mljet, a place just as haunted as this story depicts, a place very much outside of everything, even with that connection, what is striking here is the physical descriptions, how they suggest the mystery of writing. It seems so simple, the language is so rich. But, of course, nothing is so simple.

“Seymour, an Introduction” / J.D. Salinger
Nothing I’ve read more blurs the distinction between a fictional character and a real-life (or real-live?) one. Salinger makes it not really matter. Same as Márquez, he creates a vacuum around his own voice, and it’s difficult to read with any distractions, difficult not to become sucked in, difficult to be objective when near his words.

Interview with Geoff Dyer (Paris Review, Art of Nonfiction No. 6)
After setting “Seymour” down, I picked up this interview, which goes into the same kind of territory, having to do with this blur between fiction and reality, or in Dyer’s case, nonfiction. So, perhaps that’s how it should be approached. This is a constant difficulty, how much of one’s self to put in a piece of fiction, how much of others, how much to make up, how much to research, how much to include that has no relevance whatsoever. It doesn’t work on a logical level. But at least Dyer is hilarious, “Having read military history I knew how catastrophic was early success.” (Perhaps this isn’t an exact quote, but that kind of goes with the point…)

“Ходите в свете пока есть свет” Льва Толстого
Я рад, что эта повесть не такая, как “Крейцеровая соната.” По крайней мере сначала. Разница в том, что эта больше похожа на притчу, чем на историю, рассказ, роман. Драматических моментов мало. Есть только разговоры и повороты сюжета, восновном. Может быть, что повесть слишком моральный, как жена думает?
Досадно, что нечего больше здесь. Я ожидал что-то новое, что этот старичок бы был появляться христианом, который хотел пытать веру Юлия. Такой досад похож на тот, который я имел после “Крейцеровой сонаты”. Может быть лучшая работа лучших писателей нечайно напсианно.

The Optimist’s Daughter / Eudora Welty
The bathos of the death scene is so figured. Welty is a writer of voices, mainly Southern ones, who fill in the space in a baroque way. Then there’s the bathos of the funeral scene, and that image of the birds lifting off. The voices of the various Southern petite bourgeoisie characters overwhelm Laurel’s. It’s a model for how Welty lets them fill her writing. But then an image such as the birds lifting off in the cemetery reminds you of who you want to listen to.
Then the chapter on her mother, Becky. It’s a feminist text dedicated to fathers of girls. But the “optimist” part of his personality came later, and it was not a good thing, as we might think. The ending makes a reader sure of this. The past is solidified, but we can still have a relationship to memory, and that relationship changes as we do.

“Slow and Steady” by Frank Fucile (Kenyon Review)
This has an interesting technique with the changing of paragraphs. The story slowly dissipates into its objects.

“The Minotaur” / Jan Grue, translated by Becky Crook (Asymptote)
Is the killing in this story that of the Dutch cartoonist? I still can’t figure out why Utrecht. Such a moody and good little story.

There’s Something I Want You To Do / Charles Baxter
My interview with him.

King Matt the First / Janusz Korczak
So far I’m enjoying the dynamic of this story. I read it with my daughter sitting in my lap, so that she can see the book too. Мы тоже читаем на русском, а тогда маме надо править моё произношение.
I love Korczak’s ability to show the naivete of the child, even though it still drives the story, because it’s an understandable naivete.
Somewhere in the middle, I get the feeling that this story is just going as randomly as the mind of a child might. But that’s all right, that’s how it should be. We shouldn’t expect so much sense out of life.

Евгений Онегин Александра Пушкина
Это так весело читать Онегина на русском. То, что хорошо в нём есть видная тёмная сторона естественности человека. Так как он, этот рассказщик, который сочувствует с его Онегином, говорит про женщин наверно значит, что Онегин, может быть и Пушкин, так называемый по-английски ass man. Простите грубость.
Четверостишия LV-LX, глава первая, говорят наоборот, что поэт не Онегин, что он типо меньше Онегина, как каждый рассказщик, наверно, должен быть меньше его персонажей.
Какая прелесть читать Онегина на русском!

Reading List Winter 2014

Драма на охоте Антона Чехова

The Childhood of Jesus / J.M. Coetzee

The Medea / Euripides

“The Aluminum Piece” / Michael Baptist

poetry / Paul Hlava

«Знакомый мужчина» Антона Чехова

The Expedition to the Baobab Tree (excerpt) / translated by J.M. Coetzee

Hamlet / William Shakespeare

“A Good Problem to Have” / B.J. Novak

Middlesex / Jeffrey Eugenides

“I Am Not Your Mother” / Alice Mattison

A Prayer Notebook / Flannery O’Connor

“Josefine der Sängerin, oder das Volk der Mäuser” / Franz Kafka

Uncle Vanya / Anton Chekhov

Дядя Ваня Антона Чехова

“I’m the Meat, You’re the Knife” / Paul Theroux

“Interview with Edward P. Jones” Paris Review

“Bless Everybody” / Steven Schwartz

“Victory Lap” / George Saunders

Герой нашего времени Михаила Лермонтова

“Февраль” Захара Прилепина

“Sonya’s Last Speech, or, Double-Voicing: An Essay in Sixteen Sections” / Charles Baxter

“Господин из Сан-Франциско” Ивана Бунина

The Threepenny Opera / Bertolt Brecht