Blog • Diciembre 2010

Las Lecturas de 2010: John B. Washington

Diciembre 28, 2010
Por Hermano Cerdo

John B. Washington es gringo y vive en Tucson. Escribe una novela sobre la inmigración en la frontera México-EU y espera pronto regresar al DF.

I bought J.M Servin’s DF Confidencial: crónicas de delincuentes, vagos y demás gente sin futuro at the Rosario Castellanos bookstore in La Colonia Roma (Colonia Condesa, en realidad. N. de la R.) shortly after the book was released, in the rainy days of late July. From the bookstore (where I also bought a pocketsize collection of John Reed’s stories Hija de la revolucion, translated into Spanish by Francisco Lona) I bought a few tacos al pastor at a streetcorner from a man who was selling the food out of his trunk, then sat in Parque México for a few hours to read. On my way home later that afternoon I was on the Metrobús, heading South on Insurgentes, reading Servin’s essay on “Periodismo Policiaco Retro”, when I saw a man, about my age or maybe slightly older, board the bus with a long satchel hanging across his shoulders and a red book tucked into his armpit. I thought right away that it might be the same book that I was reading, and a moment later, when he stabilized himself with a shoulder against a pole, and untucked the book from its armpit, I saw that it was.

“Perdón”, I said, almost touching him on the arm, “Estamos leyendo el mismo libro”.

It was the time of day just before the afternoon rush hour, and, though all the seats were taken, we were the only two passengers standing. Because of this arrangement, the man and I, it seemed to me, were as if on stage—all of the other passengers, if not distracted by the Metrobús television playing, with a single looped laugh track, old skits of candid camera in which a John Cleese look-a-like tried on various pairs of high-heel pumps in a shoe store, would be able hear and watch our entire conversation. The man with the book was thrilled to find another reader of Servin. He  introduced himself as Berto, and then started talking right away about La Nota Roja, mentioning other authors and publications I’d never heard of, and entering quickly into a digression about the state of journalism in Mexico. We were only a few minutes into this elaborate conversation (to which, though I was interested, I added very little) when, at Nápoles, a stop before where I was to disembark at Colonia del Valle, I told him that this was where I got off, shook the man’s hand, told him to enjoy the essays, gave him an energetic smile of departure and complicity (in Servin), and stepped off the bus. I started walking towards the platform’s exit as if I were in a hurry, as if my destination could barely wait for me, until the bus pulled away and I was out of view of Berto. I stopped, then, free of him. The next Metrobús was already pulling up. I boarded. An easy and successful maneuver I had performed, I thought, to dispose of an overbearing (though friendly) stranger when I didn’t feel like talking, or being talked to. When I didn’t feel like further exposing my own ignorance and foreignness.

As I only had to ride a single stop to Colonia del Valle, and as the bus didn’t get stuck at a stoplight, I arrived only a minute or so later. There was a crowd of people, as there often is at the del Valle stop, waiting to take the Metro north. I exited the bus, pushing and ducking through the anonymous crowd. I waited for a signal, crossed to the pedestrian corner of Insurgentes and Luz Saviñón, where, in front of one of the crowded taco stands, just as he was turning around after having placed his order, I came face to face with Berto, who looked at me knowingly, and, I’m certain, disappointingly. Neither of us spoke. I walked by him without even a nod.

Among other books I loved this year, the unquotable Wittgenstein’s Nephew by Thomas Bernhard. Also (along with Samuel Beckett’s critical study Proust, which he supposedly renounced later in life) Lydia Davis’s new translation of Proust’s Swann’s Way (Two sentences that I imagine must have been as much of a thrill for Davis to translate as they were for me to read: “And drying my tears, I promised them that when I was grown up I would not let my life be like the senseless lives of other men and that even in Paris, on spring days, instead of paying calls and listening to silly talk, I would go out into the countryside to see the first hawthorns.” Or: “Sometimes in the afternoon sky the moon would pass white as a cloud, furtive, lusterless, like an actress who does not have to perform yet and who, from the audience, in street clothes, watches the other actors for a moment, making herself inconspicuous, not wanting anyone to pay attention to her.”)

C.D. Wright’s ecstatic book of poems Deepstep Come Shining

Dan Beachy-Quick’s A Whaler’s Dictionary, which is a lovely companion book (of philosophical whaling definitions and meditations) to Melville’s Moby-Dick.

Also this year I began a relationship, which I expect to be long lasting, with Javier Marías, reading Margaret Jull Costa’s translation to English of Corazón tan blanco (Marias writes, “listening is the most dangerous act”) and, in his original Spanish, his collection of short stories Cuando fui mortal.

My two highest recommendations, besides Corazón tan blanco are Nabokov’s Pnin and Faulkner’s The Hamlet.

A quote from Pnin:

During the eight years Pnin had taught at Waindell College he had changed his lodgings—for one reason or another, mainly sonic—about every semester. The accumulation of consecutive rooms in his memory now resembled those displays of grouped elbow chairs on show, and beds, and lamps, and inglenooks which, ignoring all space-time distinctions, commingle in the soft light of a furniture store beyond which it snows, and the dusk deepens, and nobody really loves anybody.

And a quote from The Hamlet:

He was known through all that country. He had no kin, no ties, and he antedated everyone; nobody knew how old he was—a tall thin man in a filthy frock coat and no shirt beneath it and a long, perfectly white beard reaching below his waist, who lived in a mud-daubed hut in the river bottom five or six miles from any road. He made and sold nostrums and charms, and it was said of him that he ate not only frogs and snakes but bugs as well—anything that he could catch. There was nothing in his hut but his pallet bed, a few cooking vessels, a tremendous bible and a faded daguerreotype of a young man in a Confederate uniform which was believed to be his son. ‘Wait,’ he said. ‘There air anger in the yearth. Ye must make that ere un quit a-bruisin hit.’

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