Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dystopian Vision

I strongly recommend reading Jose Saramago's harrowing novel Blindness, about which I won't say much on account of believing that novels make better reading when you drop into them without any semblance of a spoiler. But clear yourself out some consecutive hours for it (the book wicked up my entire Sunday, I do not remember the last time I read a book in a single day, There is perhaps a trace of Saramago's comma usage in that effect, One's eyes continue to follow the text, lighting only briefly on the few stopping-points there are, One may be pulled along for hours in this fashion, It is a riveting and effective style even to one who copy-edits for a living, given a measure of open-mindedness, You will perhaps eventually understand what I mean) and don't expect to be made happier by it.

I will say that Saramago (with an assist from the translator, Giovanni Pontiero) has an amazing capacity for investing his characters' various despairing or degrading trials with a kind of humanity, almost through sheer force of prose; it's an unlovely and uncompromising and by no means ever-present kind of strength that underlies the book, and as you read you sense Saramago's hands, potter-like, shaping it in his characters to, I think, an unusual degree. I usually like a narrative voice that dissolves into the scenery, but Saramago is more compelling than that. They made a movie version of this a couple of years ago, but I can't imagine it gets anywhere close. (You could, on the other hand, watch Children of Men on DVD, which shares certain themes and plot elements and is similarly scouring, although I'm probably only saying that since I haven't read that original novel, which is by P.D. James, I just learned, and, OK, on my reading list as of right now.)

The book came to me as a birthday gift from Sarah, admirably unafraid to make a gift out of bleak literature, or at least in Moomin-counterpoise. One of the valuable secondary effects of a newish relationship is absorbing a new set of recommended reading. I'd return more in kind if not for the impenetrable shield of academic ethnographies thrown up by a certain local university's anthropology department.
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While I'm on the topic of books, loosely, public thanks go now to Nate for the Mark Bittman vegetarian cookbook he sent me for our birthday. I haven't tried a whole lot out of it yet, but even the improvement it has allowed my past two tofu stir-fries is of incalculable value. Also, unlike the


Blogger nate said...

Unlike the what, I am full of suspense, I like your description of Saramago's book, by the way, I have not heard of him, but I like the effect of that comma usage, Perhaps I will try to use it more often, when I write things down myself.

I'm glad you like the Bittman cookbook. Kyle owns a copy of his non-meatless "How to Cook Everything" and we've been drawing on it quite a bit (along with a few of his recipes on the NY Times website) in our own cooking. (Which we mostly do together; that is my favorite secondary effect of our no longer newish relationship.)

5/01/2009 1:45 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Sorry, I was going to make a joke about the recipes not constantly calling for chicken stock like the Joy of Cooking, but my radio show ended and I had to get off the studio computer. I apologize for any

5/01/2009 9:16 AM  

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