Vila-Matas At Documenta 13

Article-HeaderDid Enrique Vila-Matas attend Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany? Was he an invited artist, albeit an unusual selection being a writer? Is his novel The Illogic of Kassel a fictionalized accounting of Vila-Matas experiences at Documenta 13 or is it a complete fiction? Is Documenta a McGuffin?

I did some quick research after finishing this novel and learned that most of the specifics related to Kassel and Documenta were true: characters, places, events. I was unable to verify the actual art exhibits but considering that there were almost two-hundred exhibits, I can accept that those Vila-Matas wrote about were real or at least variations on real exhibits.

But it strikes me that the reality or fictionalization of the author’s presumed experiences at Documenta 13 are irrelevant to the novel.

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Wind, Sand, and Stars

images.jpgI took college level French in the sixties. Having grown up twelve miles from the Mexican border, taking Spanish classes in Junior and Senior High School, and having an exchange student from South America living with me meant my Spanish was pretty good. At the University Spanish was not suggested for my major’s language requirement, so I shifted to French.

They speak of how knowing one Romance Language makes all the others easier. In some ways I expect that’s true. But no one warns you that learning similar languages can screw up your knowledge of both languages. To this day I inter-mix French words with Spanish words and sometimes throw in an English word when I’m really frustrated.

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Javier Marías

MaríasOrhan Pamuk says of Javier Marías that he “should get the Nobel Prize.” I definitely agree but I am a little soft on the recommendation seeing how I wasn’t too pleased when Pamuk won the award. Marías is a writer that should be in every serious reader’s library. Luckily most of his works have been translated into English and we don’t have to struggle through the Spanish (not that reading them in the original Spanish isn’t a great idea, just harder for some readers).

My current selection by Marías is Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me. Based on the title, what do you think the novel is about? Well, you can’t count on Marías to make things easy. How about a narrative that starts like this:

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Is this a chapter I see before me?

Okay. I admit that I had to do a little research to learn what a chapter book was. I checked out several places online and I believe the best definition I found was that it was juvenile book which consisted of several chapters, depending on the length and complexity of the text. I also noticed that there were eager book sellers that were publishing small, simple books with totally unnecessary chapter breaks: I think the idea was to make it so simple that a trained chipmunk could puff up its self-esteem reading the book.

But let’s assume that chapter books are real and valuable and not just a publisher or educator scam to convince proud parents that their offspring are truly excelling in the 3rd grade reading class.

So what was the first chapter book I read, or at least the first chapter book I remember? Unfortunately, I cannot answer that question. I was into Jules Verne, Daniel Defoe and Gidget before they invented chapter books. We were less fortunate I guess:  we only had two kinds of books:  books with pictures and books without pictures. Oh that’s not true. Living just 14 miles from the Mexican border I also remember books in English and books in Spanish. Some books had chapters, some had capítulos, some had lots of pictures, some were sparsely illustrated.

Back then (in the dark ages of Max Rafferty) we were encouraged not to read above the state recommended reading level. I remember bringing Macbeth into school for a book report and coming home with a stern note. I’d like to say that the first time I got in trouble at school was for reading Macbeth in the 3rd grade but there was that incident in 2nd grade that I was still living down. How did I know you weren’t suppose to say those words in mixed company. Like Ralphie, I know the taste of Lifebuoy soap.