senselessness I recently read a strange and disturbing little book. I tend to be attracted to strange and disturbing books, little or othersized. This one, however, I’m not entirely sure about. It’s called Senselessness, and it’s written by Horacio Castellanos Moya. How could I resist a 142-page novella with glowing blurbs from Roberto Bolaño (author of the widely acclaimed 2666) and Russell Banks, the former evoking Buster Keaton and the latter referencing Franz Kafka? Here’s the synopsis from the flyleaf (yes, this paperback edition has an actual flyleaf! It’s akin to finding a triangular vent window on a new car!):

An alcoholic, atheist, sex-obsessed writer finds himself employed by the Catholic Church (an institution he loathes) to edit the testimonies of the survivors of slaughtered Indian villages. The writer’s job is to tidy up the 1,100 page report: “that was what my work was all about, cleaning up and giving a manicure to the Catholic hands that were piously getting ready to squeeze the balls of the military tiger.” Mesmerized by the eerie poetry of the Indians’ phrases, the increasingly agitated and frightened writer is endangered twice over: by the spell exerted over his somewhat tenuous sanity by the strangely beautiful heart-rending voices, and by real danger. The Church is hunting the military, but the military is still in charge of the country, and our booze-soaked writer is soon among the hunted – or is he paranoid? Or is he paranoid and one of the hunted?

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To me, one of the nicest sensations in the world is reading a book in which the action takes place during the same time of the year that you are actually reading it. When the author describes crisp autumn air laced with russets and ochres and you can confluentially reinforce it by looking outside the window, c’est magnifique! Quel brilliant!

This morning I’ve been thinking about books. Library books in particular. I like books, love them. I own many, some of which I’ve even read. But still I can’t resist a good bookstore or a nice library.

Despite the many books at home that I haven’t yet but am eternally keen to read, I find that I’m constantly borrowing books from the library. New York City, where I work, has a great library system: many titles, excellent on-line interface, and a superb inter-branch lending program. I exploit the latter extensively, reserving books, CDs, DVDs, etc. and having them sent to my local branch. Sometimes there’s a waiting list for popular titles and the wait may be months, but if there’s a copy not spoken for it usually arrives within a few days, a week at most.

There is, however, a price to paid: one is often reminded that this is a communal operation. These are not the lovingly-cared for, gently read volumes of my home library, where the paperbacks’ spines have no cracks and the hardcovers’ corners are not dented. Oh no. These are the books that are thrown into the seething masses of humanity, at best like stage divers at a rave, at worst like chum for great whites. Now, it’s true that not all of the library’s patrons are selfish and inconsiderate of the group enterprise aspect, but there are enough of that sort to make a significant impact, and the books bear the battle scars as proof. Here’s my list of the major types: (more…)

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