Why don't you put that book down and...


Just discovered, via a friend, a wonderful, new-to-me blog on books. And since I'm just back from the library, where I had the stacks pretty much to myself, let me list for my own future reference--I've taken to doing this in my agenda, whenever I think of it, so I can look back and say "I didn't know I'd read that." My Italian writer at the moment in my ongoing learn-to-at-least-read Italian project is La Coscienza de Zeno," --Zeno's Conscience /Consciousness--I'm assuming since in French that word could be taken either way, and I don't believe in looking up words until I'm really, really stuck. It's by Italo Svevo, who was a friend of Joyce's, if I recall. In the first long chapter he fails to stop smoking; in the second he married a woman after being turned down by all three of her sisters; and in the chapter I'm in the middle of (chapters are novella-length) he's juggling wife and mistress). 

I'm also binge-reading the extraordinary Penelope Fitzgerald and on the side some essays by Paul de Mann after reading a so-so but unputdownable biography of his life as a Nazi collaborator in his native Belgium and con-artist of various kinds in academia: Bard, Harvard, Yale. The essays are fascinating; easy to see why he was such a successful teacher of literature: he's passionate about books and writers.

But the best book I've read all year is probably Agota Kristof's The Big Notebook, along with its accompanying text The Illiterate, in Nina Bogin's translation, both recently published  by CB Editions (republished in the case of Notebook). Kristof was a Hungarian who fled to Western Europe and had to learn to write all over again in French--how she did this is the story of The Illiterate. The Big Notebook is her stripped-to-the-bare-wood tale of a pair of twin boys abandoned to the care of the grandmother, one tough cookie, during the War (Second) and how they survived. It's terrifying and funny, one of my preferred combinations.