¡Gracias Susi!

Salamander dream

Salamander dream. Hope Larson

Termina el periodo de colaboración con la biblioteca de Maria Jesús Ramos, alumna del Grado en Información y Documentación de la Universidad Carlos III. Esperamos que la experiencia le haya sido provechosa y le deseamos lo mejor para su próximos nuevos proyectos.

Le hemos pedido que nos cuente cuáles son sus libros favoritos de la colección y esta es su selección:

Muerte súbita / Álvaro Enrique.

Mouse guard: autumn 1152 / David Petersen.

Salamander dream / Hope Larson.

A friend for dragon / Dav Pilkey.

The fantastic flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore / William Joyce.

Y decirte alguna estupidez, por ejemplo, te quiero / Martín Casariego Córdoba.

¡Mucha suerte y muchas gracias por tu dedicación!

April Reading Circle Story: Saul Bellow’s “Something to Remember Me By”

This piece, entitled “Something to Remember Me By,” was written by Saul Bellow near the end of his life, and first published in his Collected Short Stories in 2001, only four years before his death. We are reading it as it is reprinted in Electric Literature’s “Recommended Reading” section (which I highly recommend in turn.) The story is recommended by Mary Gaitskill, whose voice should still be ringing in your ears.

Gaitskill’s side note is illuminating, and well worth your time. She interprets this story as the continuation of a conflict that permeates much of the author’s work as a whole: the tension between seeing and knowing, and the challenge of reconciling that tension through the act of living. For Bellow that act often takes as its setting the rough-and-tumble reality of early 20th century Chicago, a city that, in this story and in others, is the stunningly visceral and mystifyingly opaque representation of the modern industrialized world.

One angle of approach to this story that I would like to explore in our discussion next week concerns the nature of that world, and the narrator’s function, both real and imaginary, within it. Those terms, real and imaginary, are problematic in the context of the story; however, I think they open up a seam in this piece that could help us get a grip on what Bellow is up to. Keep in mind, the narrator is a writer, chronicling for his reader (his son) the adventures of one day in the life of his younger self, whom he pointedly describes in turn as a reader, an interpreter, a searcher for signs in the banal and chaotic wasteland of mechanized modernity that is Depression-era Chicago, 1933. A few questions, then, to guide us as we attempt to find meaning in the confusion of this work: Why was it written? What is its purpose? What is its power?

This is, as Gaitskill points out, a coming of age story, and a relatively conventional one at that, at least at first glance. However, I would argue that part of Bellow’s genius lies in the subtle distortions he introduces into our ability to recognize and distinguish ordinary and extraordinary events and objects. Like all coming of age stories, “Something to Remember Me By” is dominated by sex and death. But what to make of a jar of strong mustard stationed near to a girl’s corpse? How can we assimilate the overwhelming corporeal reality of sex, when it is showcased and manipulated with total indifference in a doctor’s office? What makes this story a bildungsroman unique to Bellow is the way quotidian objects blend into and transform these most profound of human secrets, forming a new, hidden order of knowledge which young Louie is drawn to wrestle with and decode. But how? And why? These are questions that echo back at our narrator as he attempts to sift through his experience years after the fact, for reasons that are perhaps unclear even to him. Such questions resonate with us, too.

These are just a few things that jumped out to me, and that I’d like to touch on next week. I hope you enjoy this story by one of (North) America’s greatest writers. See you next Tuesday.

Andrew Bennett.

“You Remember the Planes,” by Paul Auster

The reading that I have selected for the month of February, “You Remember the Planes,” is rather different from the ones we have seen in past sessions – different in that it is not a “short story” in the traditional sense. And yet it certainly has something that resembles a narrative. Some of those traditional literary critics (who adhere to the ‘traditional sense’ I mention above) would undoubtedly consume pages upon pages in an attempt to classify and define it according to certain ‘genres’ whose nuanced definitions are constantly under revision anyway. What seems to be clear in our case is that the author of this piece, Paul Auster, has produced a short literary-essay-memoir for the literary magazine Granta and its readers, but whatever name we give to this particular type of writing is ultimately not very important. The answer to this question of genre is not what I think we should be looking for here. Rather, I think it would be an interesting idea to look at it as if mirrored in what it is not: a piece of short fiction, similar to those we have discussed in recent months. What do we see?

As you read, I encourage you to reflect on the following points:

  • “Planes” certainly shares a number of qualities with the ‘short story’ as we know it. What are they? What qualities does it not share?
  • The narrative voice particularly intriguing. What effect does the use of a second-person ‘you’ have on the workings of the text, and in turn, what effect does the text have on the reader?
  • Although there is no resolution to the conflict, the text finally acquires some sense of coherence and conclusion at the very end, with Auster’s flowery, Joyce-like revelation. Memory, however, has no such conclusion. Why would an author, particularly in a text such as this one, want to structure a memory like fiction? Is it an effective maneuver?
  • I always ask my students to reflect on that cluster-question “What is the author trying to transmit, how, and to whom?” rather than plunge into a discussion of biography – a moot point in the case of the autobiographical text in question. What do you know about Granta? This is also a great moment to reflect on the general theme of this year’s Reading Circle.

I look forward to seeing you all on Tuesday and hearing your thoughts. Till then, happy reading.