Collapse into You: Best Reads of 2014 December 22, 2014Posted by Richard Bolisay in Yearend.
In these pages are signs of life, its sight and sound and scent, burrowing, making their presence felt—sighs, winks, gasps, pulse, heartbeats, whistles, moans, grace, imbalance, stench—but life is impossible without death, without feeling its wrinkles, portents, exits, departures, and curtains, how life and death are one and the same, reflections of one another, doppelgängers eventually meeting at one point, and these books, read and reread in utter absorption, filled with fissures into which everything and nothing, one in the same, fall, revealing “the quiet sadness of space itself,” the void that keeps on giving, are shared with utmost persuasion.
30. A Russian Doll and Other Stories, Adolfo Bioy Casares, 1991, Translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, 1992
As I prepared bait and flies, I remembered a phrase that I often say to whoever wishes to hear me: for me there’s no greater paradise than an afternoon spent fishing.
29. Parang, Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, 2008
Kung maaari ibig niyang ipalibing
Anuman ang kaniyang labi
Sa alaala ng naiwan
Ibig niya roong mahimlay hindi
Upang sa naiwan siya tuwina
Makagambala bagkus upang ibigay
Sa naiwan ang kapayapaan
Na gaya ng sa isang libingan.
—”Ang Kapayapaan ng Isang Libingan”
28. The Viceroy of Ouidah, Bruce Chatwin, 1980
Stealing from a white man isn’t stealing.
27. Underground, Haruki Murakami, 1997/1998, Translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel, 2000
Reality is created out of confusion and contradiction, and if you exclude those elements, you’re no longer talking about reality. You might think that—by following language and a logic that appears consistent—you’re able to exclude that aspect of reality, but it will always be lying in wait for you, ready to take its revenge.
26. Human Voices, Penelope Fitzgerald, 1980
There’s two ways to be selfish. You can think too much about yourself, or you can think too little about others. You’re selfish both ways.
25. Into It, Lawrence Joseph, 2005
I want you to watch carefully
what I am saying now—are you
with me? An inch-long piece of steel,
part of the artillery shell’s
casing, sliced through the right eye
into his brain, severely damaging
the optic nerve of his left eye,
spraying bone splinters
into the brain, making him quick to lose
his temper, so acutely sensitive to pain
the skin on his face hurts
when wind blows against it . . .
—excerpt from “Rubaiyat”
24. In the Wilderness, Manuel Rivas, 1994, Translated by Jonathan Dunne, 2003
Memory is a mysterious lady. We do not choose our memories. They live their own life. They come and go. Sometimes they disappear for good. Other memories stick to us like lichen to a stone. They’re bits of life that never faded, that feed on the cold air, and increase slowly on the bark of time.
23. Moy Sand and Gravel, Paul Muldoon, 2002
When I put my finger to the hole they’ve cut for a dimmer switch
in a wall of plaster stiffened with horsehair
it seems I’ve scratched a two-hundred-year-old itch
with a pink and a pink and a pinkie-pick.
When I put my ear to the hole I’m suddenly aware
of spades and shovels turning up the gain
all the way from Raritan to the Delaware
with a clink and a clink and a clinky-click.
When I put my nose to the hole I smell the floodplain
of the canal after a hurricane
and the spots of green grass where thousands of Irish have lain
with a stink and a stink and a stinky-stick.
When I put my eye to the hole I see one holding horse dung to the rain
in the hope, indeed, indeed,
of washing out a few whole ears of grain
with a wink and a wink and a winkie-wick.
And when I do at last succeed
in putting my mouth to the horsehair-fringed niche
I can taste the small loaf of bread he baked from that whole seed
with a link and a link and a linky-lick.
22. Detective Story, Imre Kertesz, 1977, Translated by Tim Wilkinson, 2008
“You amaze me, Dad! You’re still living in hope, even now? But what do you want? What can you still want, after everything that has happened?”
Now there was a sound. A word that I didn’t understand. I had to double the volume to make out the whisper. And even though I am unable to share in it, now that my own future has become decidedly dubious, I’m coming round to an understanding of the rapture that Salinas distilled into this one word:
21. 84, Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff, 1970
The blessed man who sold me all my books died a few months ago. But Marks & Co is still there. If you happen to pass by 84 Charing Cross Road, kiss it for me? I owe it so much.
20. Three Exemplary Novels, Miguel de Unamuno, 1920, Translated by Angel Flores, 1987
One day, exasperated beyond all endurance, Julia attacked her husband, saying:
“You’re not a man, Alejandro, no; you’re not a man!”
“What’s that! I? And why not?”
“No, you’re not a man, you’re not!”
“Now I know that you don’t love me, that nothing that concerns me interests you, that to you I am not even the mother of your child and that you only married me out of vanity to boast of it, to exhibit me, to exalt yourself by my beauty, to. . .”
“Well, well, that’s more literature. Why am I not a man?”
“Now I know that you don’t love me.”
19. Journey into the Past, Stefan Zweig, 1976, Translated by Anthea Bell, 2009
Time is helpless, he thought to himself, helpless in the face of our feelings. Nine years have passed, and not a note in her voice is different, not a nerve in my body hears her in any other way. Nothing is lost, nothing is past and over, her presence is as much of a tender delight now as it was then.
18. District and Circle, Seamus Heaney, 2006
We were killing pigs when the Americans arrived.
A Tuesday morning, sunlight and gutter-blood
Outside the slaughterhouse. From the main road
They would have heard the squealing,
Then heard it stop and had a view of us
In our gloves and aprons coming down the hill.
Two lines of them, guns on their shoulders, marching.
Armoured cars and tanks and open jeeps.
Sunburnt hands and arms. Unknown, unnamed,
Hosting for Normandy.
Not that we knew then
Where they were headed, standing there like youngsters
As they tossed us gum and tubes of coloured sweets.
17. Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico, Javier Marías, 1996, Translated by Esther Allen, 1999
Or perhaps it’s simpler than that, perhaps it’s just that there is never a way of erasing what’s been said, true or false, once it’s been said: accusations and inventions, slanders and stories and fabrications, disavowal is not enough, it doesn’t erase but adds; once an event has been recounted there will be a thousand contradictory and impossible versions long, long before the event is annihilated: denials and discrepancies coexist with what they refute or deny, they accumulate, add up, they never cancel anything out but only end up sanctioning it for as long as people go on talking, the only way to erase is to say nothing, and go on saying nothing for a very long time.
16. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, 1915, Translated by Susan Bernofsky, 2014
“It has to go,” Gregor’s sister cried out, “that’s the only way, Father. You just have to try to let go of the notion that this thing is Gregor. The real disaster is that we believed this for so long. But how could it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, it would have realized a long time ago that it is just isn’t possible for human beings to live beside such a creature, and it would have gone away on its own. We still would have been lacking a brother but we would have been able to go on living and honoring his memory. But now we have this beast tormenting us; it drives away our lodgers and apparently intends to take over the entire apartment and have us sleep in the gutter. Just look, Father,” she suddenly shrieked, “he’s starting again!”
15. The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Roddy Doyle, 1996
That’s the thing about my memories. I can’t pick and choose them. I can’t pretend. There were no good times. I can never settle into a nice memory, lie back, and smile. They’re all polluted, all ruined. Nothing to look back at that isn’t painful or sick.
14. 03, Jean-Christophe Valtat, 2005, Translated by Mitzi Angel, 2010
I didn’t like what that word—childhood—conjured up, or rather, I didn’t like the way most people use it: that presumption of innocence and starry-eyed wonder. The only good thing about childhood is that no one really remembers it, or rather, that’s the only thing about it to like: this forgetting. What else could possibly lie beneath that blissful oblivion but shame: a dark knowledge of that terrible badge of weakness, that inescapable servitude (bearable only thanks to the slow revelation that we could inflict cruelty and evil on the weaker kids), a sickening awareness that just about everything there is to understand was beyond us, made even worse by the lies and inaccuracies that adults feel entitled to spread around, deliberately, or because they don’t know any better, about themselves or about the nature of reality?
13. Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood, 1939
Overheard in a café: a young nazi is sitting with his girl; they are discussing the future of the Party. The Nazi is drunk.
“Oh, I know we shall win, all right,” he exclaims impatiently, “but that’s not enough!” He thumps the table with his fist: “Blood must flow!”
The girl strokes his arm reassuringly. She is trying to get him to come home. “But, of course, it’s going to flow, darling,” she coos soothingly, “the Leader’s promised that in our programme.”
12. Hindi man lang nakita, Mesándel Virtusio Arguelles, 2005
Itinuro sa kaniya ang kahulugan ng salita ayon sa diwa nito
sa loob ng pangungusap.
Nang hindi na magkasiya sa natamong kaalaman, at dahil
pangahas, ipinasiya niyang pumasok sa loob ng
Malaya siyang naging paslit na nakipaglaro sa mga salita o
naging munting bantas na naupo sa dulo o nagpahinga sa
gitna ng pagpapahayag.
Higit niyang nadama ang sikip o luwag ng linya at natutuhan
niyang manahimik sa mga pagitan at ligid ng mga parirala’t
sugnay upang maunawaan kahit ang walang kahulugan.
Inibig niya nang lubos ang pangungusap hanggang sa araw
na ito’y ilimbag, at kasama ng iba pang pangungusap,
nanahan siya sa piling ng aklat.
—”Sa Loob ng Pangungusap”
11. In Praise of the Stepmother, Mario Vargas Llosa, 1988, Translated by Helen Lane, 1990
Don Rigoberto gave a satisfied smile. Shitting, defecating, excreting: synonyms for sexual pleasure? he thought. Of course. Why not? Provided it was done slowly, savoring the task, without the least hurry, taking one’s time, imparting to the muscles of the colon a gentle, sustained quivering. It was a matter not of pushing but of guiding, of accompanying, of graciously escorting the gliding of the offerings toward the exit.
10. Building a House and Other Poems, Sid Gomez Hildawa, 2006
Hinge your life on something
as steadfast as a jamb
but know which way to swing.
(Those who swing both ways
belong between the dining hall
and the kitchen.) Hold your breath
when you are locked, inhale deeply
with every knock that isn’t answered
with “come in.” Be still
when there is no reply from the innkeeper
of all things. Your name is Portal
so with your body keep out sickness
and greed, and builders who do not know
how to hammer a house with quiet words.
Let sorrow pass, and youth, and the goldest giraffe
who bends low to nibble from a lady’s hand.
That all may enter who have traveled worlds
to be astonished, weary now of boulevards
that look out to the sea but never wave,
finally stepping in, leaving shoes outside
and shaking hands with all they meet inside, all
who have come before them, all who must dwell.
—”How to be a Door”
9. The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector, 1977, Translated by Benjamin Moser, 2011
All the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so. I don’t know why, but I do know that the universe never began.
8. Drone, Allan Popa, 2013
On this side of waiting you recognize
his fist when you hear it: his breath
against the door.
You let him in without a word.
You know where to find his wounds.
The doors, the windows
you leave open. Nothing to fear.
Throughout the night you stay with him,
his face in half-light, half-remembered.
Before morning he disappears
without looking back. Without leaving
a stain. The water in the basin is clear.
You wash your hands.
You search for him
in every man you make love to
with a violence you’ve never known.
You bear his memory
until the day you give birth to him.
—”For the Martyr”
7. Who Killed Palomino Molero? Mario Vargas Llosa, 1986. Translated by Alfred Mac Adam, 1987
My little Chubby belongs to a superior race of women: those who don’t wear panties. Think of all the advantages of having a woman who goes through life without panties.
6. The Train to Lo Wu, Jess Row, 2005
I’ve come to see my life as a radiating circle of improbabilities that grow from each other, like ripples in water around a dropped stone. That I became a high school English teacher, that I work in another country, that I live in Hong Kong. That a city can be a mirage, hovering above the ground: skyscrapers built on mountainsides, islands swallowed in fog for days. That a language can have no tenses or articles, with seven different ways of saying the same syllable. That my best student stares at the blackboard only when I erase it.
5. When I Whistle, Shusaku Endo, 1974, Translated by Van C. Gessel, 1979
Far into the distance, the sea had been filled in like a desert. Two cement mixers were driving along the desolate stretch of of reclaimed land. Beyond that there was nothing. Where was the spot where Flatfish, tossed about bu the waves, had pursued Aiko and her friends that day? Where was the beach that Aiko and her friends had raced along, shrieking with laughter? The sea was gone now. The white beach was gone. But it was not just here. Beautiful things, things from the treasured past were now disappearing all over Japan.
4. Mortality, Christopher Hitchens, 2012
I love the imagery of struggle. I sometimes wish I were suffering in a good cause, or risking my life for the good of others, instead of just being a gravely endangered patient. Allow me to inform you, though, that when you sit in a room with a set of other finalists, and kindly people bring a huge transparent bag of poison and plug it into your arm, and you either read or don’t read a book while the venom sack gradually empties itself into your system, the image of the ardent solider is the very last one that will occur to you. You feel swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water.
3. A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood, 1964
You could know what I’m about. You could. But you can’t be bothered to. Look – you’re the only boy I ever met on that campus I really believe could. That’s what makes it so tragically futile. Instead of trying to know, you commit the inexcusable triviality of saying he’s a dirty old man, and turning this evening, which might be the most precious and unforgettable of your young life, into a flirtation! You don’t like that word, do you? But it’s the word. It’s the enormous tragedy of everything nowadays. Flirtation. Flirtation instead of fucking, if you’ll pardon my coarseness. All any of you ever do is flirt, and wear your blankets off one shoulder, and complain about motels. And miss the one thing that might really – and, Kenneth, I do not say this casually – transform your entire life —
2. Regarding Space, Sid Gomez Hildawa, 2005
I hear yellow and gold
crackle and crunch
like potato chips
as my bicycle rolls over
leaves, discarded dry
on the cold pavement
under a line of trees.
What pageantry I have
seen of autumn
is all beneath me now;
I am green and high
above it all, riding on two
wheels spinning fast
and turning corners
quick. The sound my
passing makes reminds
me of the swelling
ground that beckons
even blue stars to itself,
and that I pedal another
cycle of seasons under which
wheel I am just a leaf. Green,
yellow, sometimes red,
I am growing old.
—”Riding Autumn (Japan, 1997)”
1. The Emigrants, W. G. Sebald, 1992, Translated by Michael Hulse, 1996
Memory, he added in a postscript, often strikes me as a kind of a dumbness. It makes one’s head heavy and giddy, as if one were not looking back down the receding perspectives of time but rather down from a great height, from one of those towers whose tops are lost to view in the clouds.