Puerta del Sol: Books

"Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53, seeks...

November 30, 2006


...short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite." It's not Valentine's Day just yet, but when it comes, you could buy someone this, which I read about in this article. Something similar here. No Spanish content in this post, but a good joke is good in any language. From her perspective, we have "Woman, 32, needful of the finer things in life, seeks stinking rich bloke, 80 to 100".


Diccionario esencial

November 20, 2006

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The DRAE has just published a dictionary which I'll be purchasing, and which is probably worth having if you're an advanced student of Spanish. The idea was to purge it of antiquated terms so that we're left with something bang up-to-date, and indeed the dictionary does include, for the first time, the word internet (the RAE is not renowned for its rapid response times to changing realities). Other new entries among the 4,000 included (there are 54,000 entries altogether) include digitalización and bulímico. Every new edition of a dictionary published by the Real Academia comes with its share of scandal, however, and this one is no exception: even though same-sex marriage is now legal in Spain, matrimonio is defined as "unión de un hombre y una mujer". This is because, to paraphrase the president of the RAE, most people still do not think of marriage as same-sex marriage. The dictionary also features an appendix which attacks the unnecessary adoption of foreign terms where Spanish ones will do quite nicely. Such is the case with sponsor (patrocinador) and password (contraseña). But when there is no simple replacement, then the Diccionario recommends the adaption of the word to Spanish orthography, so that bypass becomes baipás, scooter becomes escúter, and piercing (as in pierced ear, etc.) becomes pirsin. What ugly words those last three are.


Hazme un beso

July 2, 2006


Lively interview in today's El País with novelist Javier Marías (there's a good article about him here from The New Yorker). Last week, Marías, who is often photographed touching his chin, was elected to the Real Academia, and the interview suggests that, like his fellow academicians, he despairs for the future of the Spanish language. "Lo más grave ha ocurrido en los últimos 20 años, y poco puede hacer la Academia; es que se ha perdido lo que yo llamaría la instalación en la lengua. Tengo la sensación de que las palabras y la lengua no son algo que las personas tienen asido [fully grasp]. Son algo que está flotando como un magma en torno a los hablantes. No hay una posesión verdadera. Antes se hablaba mejor o peor, con un léxico más o menos rico, pero la gente se expresaba con una cierta elocuencia siendo rico o pobre, instruido o analfabeto. Hoy mismo, en una entrevista para la radio, hablando del Real Madrid, equipo que me gusta y que está fatal, el periodista me ha dicho "no quiero restañarte [stanch you] en la herida", cuando lo que quería decir era que "no quería ahondar en mi herida". Esto es frecuentísimo. Se están perdiendo los verbos específicos. Otro ejemplo: hay quien dice hazme un beso [do me a kiss] en lugar de dame un beso [give me a kiss]. O hizo un crimen horrible [he did a horrible crime], en lugar de cometió un crimen horrible. Se recurre al verbo hacer para casi todo. Se ha perdido el uso de palabras tan cómodas y fáciles de usar como "cuyo". ¿Qué pasa con esta sopa boba en la que la gente parece flotar?" We use ever fewer specific verbs: dar is used all the time instead. Marías sees policitians as largely responsible: "En Madrid la gente habla como perros y los primeros son los políticos. Lo que dicen los políticos sale en los medios de comunicación todos los días, lo merezcan o no. Y aunque un político no sea una autoridad lingüística, sí tiene autoridad. La gente cree que si habla con la pomposidad o frases vacuas de los políticos va a ser más importante." People believe that if they speak pompously or with the empty phrases of politicians, it will make them more important. Sadly, they're probably right, since it is from the mouths of the powerful that the emptiest phrases generally issue.


Reading in Bed

May 3, 2006

This may be the greatest invention since this. I shall buy a copy of this for Laura when she's old enough. Now all we need are DVD's that screen sideways, and Western civilization need progress no further. (via kottke.org).


Books in Translation

June 28, 2005

"We keep on wanting to look out to sea, because the sea is as unforgettable as it is unmemorable."

"If you speak Spanish or French or Italian or German, or any of a dozen other languages," says John Carey in today's Guardian, "and walk into your local bookstore, you will ... find what is being imagined in China, what stories are being told in Korea, how the novel is being reinvented in Spain and the Scandinavian countries. But if you live in England you will find no such abundance." This is sadly true, and undermining the narrow-mindedness of conventional publishers and booksellers is partly what the Internet's for. I've mentioned them before, but I'd recommend a look around Babelguides and World Literature Today if you feel you're not getting enough foreign lit.



June 25, 2005


"Shadows never grow old. That Romanesque church casts the same youthful shadow as when the church was first completed."

"Deep down in wells, the discs of the moon are dreaming".

"When we sit on the edge of the bed, we are convicts reflecting on our sentence".

I've just bought a fabulous book called Greguerías: The Wit and Wisdom of Ramón Gómez de la Serna (selected, introduced and translated by Philip Ward). I've mentioned Ramón, as he is known, on the blog before. One of the great writers on Madrid, and the author of perhaps the definitive history of the Puerta del Sol, this "Picasso of literature" also invented the greguería, which is something like an adage, a one-liner, a pun, a joke, all rolled into one and with something added. Every PdS blog post for the foreseeable future will come prefaced by one of these mini-masterpieces. (We'll start off with the three above.) They're not all politically correct: he lived in his times. But they are better than that: they are true.

The book is published by the Oleander Press, and on the backleaf of the 1982 edition I have, other Oleander books are advertised, including Enlightenment Through the Art of Basketball by Hirohide Ogawa, Libyan Mammals by Ernst Hufnagl and Darts: 50 Ways to Play the Game by Jabez Gotobed. That's 49 more ways than I was aware of. Long live the Oleander Press.


Javier Mitchum

May 11, 2005

This is an image of Robert Mitchum, who actually looks nothing like Javier Marías.

"Perched on a sofa, surrounded by books, paintings, drawings and tin soldiers, Marías has the aura of a classic movie star (Cary Grant or Robert Mitchum), especially with a cigarette dangling perpetually in his left hand." Now there's practically nothing right with that piece of prose, taken from an Observer interview with Javier Marías. A more general piece on the same author from Saturday's Guardian is far better. Both are written around his new book, Your Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear, which will no doubt enhance the fine Spanish scribe's already unenhanceable reputation.


Puerta del Sol

March 3, 2005

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Francisco Aragón has written a bilingual collection of poetry with a fabulous title and some fabulous poems. "Madrid in July" begins "The whirling breath/of dryers left open", which is about right. The "whirling" is what makes the difference there. It's full of nice observations like this. But he also tackles the big themes with elegance - "Klein on Mourning" was one I particularly enjoyed. It's a nice book to have, and I'd say a particularly nice book for everyone who's bilingual or would like to be.


Holy Smoke

February 22, 2005

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"El español," he wrote, "es demasiado importante para dejarlo en manos de los españoles." Cuban novelist and long-time exile in London Guillermo Cabrera Infante has died in Charing Cross Hospital. Here he is enjoying one of his beloved cigars in 1989 with Fernando de Szyszlo, Octavio Paz, Damián Bayón and Mario Vargas Llosa. This is the one he'll best be remembered by.



February 20, 2005

...for this extended absence. I'm working on the next issue of PdS. Normal service will be resumed over the next few days.

Speaking of which, I've been reading Adam Feinstein's biography of Pablo Neruda, Pablo Neruda: a Passion for Life. It's good stuff. Feinstein tells again the tale of what happened when Pinochet's soldiers turned up at Neruda's house soon after Pinochet's coup in Chile in 1973:

“A bus loaded with helmeted soldiers had arrived at Isla Negra late at night and ordered everyone out of the house. Neruda was in bed upstairs. From his bedroom window, he could see the soldiers, holding lanterns, examining the trees and plants in the garden. It must have been the most miserable experience to see the military, whom he loathed, invading what he thought of as the closest place to pradaise on earth (…) The commander of the unit asked for Neruda. They told him where he was and he went up cautiously, his weapon in his hand. Then something extraordinary occurred. The young soldier suddenly found himself face to face with Neruda, and this disconcerted him. Neruda looked at him and said: ‘Look around – there’s only one thing of danger for you here – poetry.’ The soldier removed his helmet, respectfully, muttered ‘Forgive me, Señor Neruda,’ and withdrew, taking his soldiers with him. They had not broken anything in the house.”

The stuff of legend. But there's also this, about Neruda's first wife:

"Despite the fact that Maruca had become very weak towards the end of her pregnancy, Neruda continued to party as wildly as ever".

And this:

"While Maruca spent hours lovingly and dutifully singing lullabies in Dutch to her sick baby daughter, Neruda was secretly meeting his new love, Delia del Carril..."

Their child later died. What a great guy (though he did do some great things). Like millions of others, I've always enjoyed Neruda's love poetry, but I'm not sure I can respect it any more after reading this. I was talking last week to a wise friend who tells me that you have to be somewhat selfish if you are going to achieve your personal ambitions. Well, it sounds like Neruda had learned that lesson early on, as he set about turning his life into the epic story it eventually became.



February 8, 2005

... is the first of its kind - a comprehensive review of the latest in Spanish-language publishing - written in English." That's what it says about itself. Looks interesting.

The DNA of Literature

January 13, 2005

For readers everywhere: the Paris Review is making its classic interviews with the 20th century's greatest (mostly English language) writers available online, in PDF. This kind of thing is what the Internet's for. (Via Metafilter.)

Meanwhile, today is Marco's 2nd birthday, and I'm wondering why nobody's bought him this. (It's worth having a listen while you're there.)


"The Escape Artist" Breaks Free

January 11, 2005

Ten years after publication, my novel, thanks to Bookcrossing, is given a small new lease of life. Strange and pleasant to see its name again, after all this time. (Note to Self: Must write another one.)


Pedro Páramo

January 8, 2005

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DQ is not the only Spanish-language obra maestra celebrating an anniversary this year. Juan Rulfo's (that's him above) Mexican classic, as magnificent, lean and haunting as DQ himself, turns 50 in March; Rulfo died 19 years ago yesterday. The English edition has a foreword by the late Susan Sontag.


DQ Overload?

December 22, 2004

Coming soon to a city near you: DQ.



December 6, 2004

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Looking for a Spanish-themed Xmas present for yourself or others? This might not be a bad idea. I haven't read it myself (yet), but it seems to have received pretty well unanimously positive reviews in several languages. The Daily Telegraph puts it like this, which saves me having to:

"Barcelona in 1949 is a desolate place. But in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library of obscure and neglected volumes, a 10-year-old boy discovers a work that possesses his imagination. Daniel embarks on a gothic quest to find out what happened to the egomaniacal author of "The Shadow of the Wind" - presumed to have died in a duel - and finds that a faceless figure is hunting down and burning every remaining copy of the book. The Shadow of the Wind is a labyrinthine literary thriller filled with romance and hypertextual derring-do, translated from the Spanish by Robert Graves's daughter, Lucia. It is already a huge success in Germany and in Spain, where it has been on the bestseller list for two years."

Nice to see "derring-do" being brought back into circulation. It sounds better than The Da Vinci Code, at any rate. As indeed does this, which I remember mentioning a long while back on PdS Blog and which has now been translated. 

buvedeh nomhapbi


October 21, 2004

Further to yesterday's post, it seems that the publisher of García Márquez's new novel has been having problems with sending out e-mails - for advertising, whatever -which contain the title of the book. The title contains the word putas, and server filters programmed to delete nasty e-mails are consigning the mails straight to oblivion. Presumably sending the novel's first sentence (see yesterday) would have pretty much the same effect. (Via pjorge.)



October 20, 2004

Well, ten years on, the new García Márquez novel is out (there's a fragment from it here) and very fine I'm sure it is too, with its first sentence definitely following the writing school rule that your first sentence should grab your reader's attention: "El año de mis noventa años quise regalarme una noche de amor loco con una adolescente virgen". Not everyone could get away with that. El País, as they always do whenever GGM does anything, have gone beserk and dedicated two pages to the event. But the finest literature in today's El País is to be found in the letters section of the Madrid supplement.

"My brother has died like a Tibetan in the Himalayas, only in Madrid. But it's not exactly like that. I'll try to explain. After having almost certainly taken an overdose, he must have fallen asleep at some point along the highway running between Fuencarral and El Pardo, near the town of Pitis. He died, and his body stayed there, exposed to the elements, for four months and ten days, until a gipsy woman alerted the police that there was a human being who appeared to be dead lying there..."

There follows an explanation of how the man was finally identified only by a tattoo on his left arm, a complaint about how poorly the case was handled by the police, and then this rather beautiful elegy:

"My brother was 34 years old, and a long-term consumer of heroin and cocaine. He was also a fantastic chess player, a professional masseur, a fan of high-risk sports who made trips out to the mountains whenever he could. Throughout his life, he had deep friendships and sublime love relationships; he sang and danced wonderfully, and he was an exquisite person, apart from being profoundly mistaken."

García Márquez would be proud. Nice move on the part of the letters editor, I'd say, treating us to that.

More literature/fun: Apparently, nobody had "sex" before 1929.



Granny Made Me an Anarchist

August 23, 2004

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A Scots transvestite? A cracking yarn, if slightly bonkers, from today's Guardian. It looks as though this book will be one to get hold of.


Simmering, simmering, simmering

August 7, 2004

Next semester, I have to give a course on American Literature to 30 17 year-old Mexicans. This wonderful piece of writing is what I shall give them on the first day (and the best thing about it is that it's short). I shall be looking out for Mark Edmundson's book, too.