The Between Parentheses Reading List

between-parentheses

New Directions will publish Roberto Bolano’s collected nonfiction, Between Parentheses, in May. I’ve got a review of the book coming up, and as I read the book for the review, one of the most striking and enjoyable aspects of it was the sheer number of other writers Bolano exhorts you to read. You could get an entire education in Spanish-language literature just by reading the writers he recommends.

So in that spirit, here are 19 books or authors Bolano recommends in Between Parentheses, complete with rave-style quote drawn from the essays in Between Parentheses.

Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz
“The key work in the Gombrowiczian oeuvre . . . one of the key novels of this century.”

Cuentos de Bloomsbury by Ana María Navales
“She’s bold enough to write in the first person, even when that first person is the voice of Virginia Woolf, and the result is first-rate and often unsettling.”

Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great by Nicanor Parra
“As far as I’m concerned, Parra has long been the best living poet in the Spanish language.”

The Literary Conference by César Aira
“To begin with, it must be said that Aira has written one of the five best stories I can remember. It’s called ‘Cecil Taylor’ and it’s collected in an anthology of Argentine literature edited by Juan Forn. Aira is also the author of four memorable novels: How I Became A Nun, telling the story of his childhood; Ema, la cautiva [Emma the Captive], describing the luxury of the Indians of the pampa; El congreso de la literatura [The Literary Conference], recounting an attempt to clone Carlos Fuentes; and El llanto [The Weeping], retailing a kind of epiphany or insomnia.”

Hannibal by Thomas Harris
“He’s a craftsman, but every once in a while it’s nice to read someone who can tackle something long without boring us to death before we get to page fifty.”

The Good Cripple by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
“Miguel Ángel Asturias, Augusto Monterroso, and now Rodrigo Rey Rosa, three giant writers from a small, unhappy country.”

The Missing Piece by Antoine Bello
“In the tradition of Georges Perec . . . Antoine Bello’s novel is narrated from different points of view and through the lens of various genres, among them the epistolary novel, the detective novel, the satire, the adventure novel, the ethnographic novel, the populist novel, the symbolist novel, and the naturalist novel, not to exclude chapters in which the storytelling is based on mathematics, logic, or religion.”

Enoch Soames by Max Beerbohm (and it’s free for the Kindle!), (and collected in this NYRB Classic)
“Personally, if I had to choose the fifteen best stories I’ve read in my life, ‘Enoch Soames’ would be among them, and not in last place.”

Jonathan Swift
“And then there are those classics whose main virtue, whose elegance and validity, is symbolized by the time bomb: a bomb that not only hurtles perilously through its age but is capable of flinging itself into the future. It’s to this latter category that Jonathan Swift belongs.”

Homage to the American Indians by Ernesto Cardenal
“Superior in many ways to Neruda’s Canto General and a new, if flawed, response to Whitman.

El asco by Horacio Castellanos Moya
“So far I’ve read four of his books. The first was El asco, maybe the best of all, or at least the darkest.”

Bartleby & Co by Enrique Vila-Matas
“The answer, the only answer that occurs to me just now, is that it’s something else, something that might be a blend of all the preceding options, and we might have before us a 21st- century novel, by which I mean a hybrid novel, a gathering together of the best of fiction and journalism and history and memoir.”

Soldiers of Salamis by Javier Cercas
“The third part centers on the unknown Republican soldier who saved Sánchez Mazas’s life, and here there appears a new character, someone by the name of Bolaño, who is a writer and Chilean and lives in Blanes, but who isn’t me, in the same way that the narrator Cercas isn’t Cercas, although both characters are possible and even probable. . . . With this novel, published to critical acclaim and appearing in French and Italian translations a few days before it even landed in Spanish bookstores, Javier Cercas joins the small group at the leading edge of Spanish fiction.”

Braque: Illustrated Notebooks
“Some of his aperçus, like Duchamp’s or Satie’s, are infinitely superior to those of many writers of his day, even some writers whose main occupation was to think and reflect: ‘Every age limits its own aspirations. This is what gives rise, not without complicity, to the illusion of progress.'”

Ubik by Philip K. Dick
“Dick is the one who, in Ubik, comes closest to capturing the human consciousness or fragments of consciousness in the context of their setting; the correspondence between what he tells and the structure of what’s told is more brilliant than similar experiments conducted by Pynchon or DeLillo.”

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
“It could be said that the landscape of Blood Meridian is a landscape out of de Sade, a thirsty and indifferent landscape ruled by strange laws involving pain and anesthesia, laws by which time often manifests itself.”

Alan Pauls
“You’re one of the best living Latin American writers and there are very few of us who know it and can appreciate it.”

The Cubs by Mario Vargas Llosa

“From these four novels (if their authors had written nothing else, which isn’t the case, one could create a literature. Of the four, The Cubs is probably the most caustic, the most fiendishly paced, and the one in which the voices–the multiplicity of forms of speech–are most alive.”

The Museum of Eterna’s Novel by Macedonio Fernandez
“Everything says we should read him, but Macedonio doesn’t sell, so forget him.

And one notable dis . . .

“Norberto Fuentes, the author of Condenados de Condado [The Condemned of Condado], in a number of ways a memorable book, has sold his soul to the devil.”


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I don’t know if saying that the author of The Autobiography of Fidel Castro Norberto Fuentes has “sold his soul to the devil” is a notable dis. If it had been Carlos Fuentes. Besides, I have the feeling Bolano wasn’t shy about giving out scathing opinions on people/books.

Well, the Norberto Fuentes of Bolano’s time was not the Norberto Fuentes who wrote The Autobiography of Fidel Castro. He was Castro’s buddy before he became his critic, so it stands to reason that Bolano would reject Fuentes for his politics.

I’ve been meaning to read Ferdydurke. It’s always on the front table of my local indie. great list … as if I need more books on my shelf!

What about Juan Rodolfo Wilcock’s The Temple of Iconoclasts?
Mentioned in the second chapter of part 3, under the heading “Wilcock”.

“every once in a while it’s nice to read someone who can tackle something long without boring us to death before we get to page fifty.”

Words Bolano should take to heart.

what a terrifically helpful thing to do. i was listening to Between Parenthesis on audiobook, wondering how i was going to check out so many authors that i couldnt even spell…and then i found this page. many thanks.

obviously, people who listen to audiobooks dont spell good.

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