Yet Another Year in Review

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Well, everyone else is doing it, so I feel like I must too. As always at this time of year, it feels like staying up-to-date is the hardest thing to do. As I look back over what I read over 2013, I find all these readings and rereadings from other centuries that make me feel the vaguest twinges of guilt that while I vaguely manage to read contemporarily in Anglo poetry, I try and fail with other literatures and genres. The list of books to read gets longer and the print dates get older.

It’s been a year of going back a decade to the German and Italian I studied at university (Boccaccio, Calvino, and Benjamin, Bachmann, Celan and Frisch) or the other books I was reading at the time (Hemingway). It’s been a year of reading into Luso and Brazilian literature (Pessoa, Lispector and Domeneck, others on other lists). There are wonderful poets like Nasser and Madzirov (from Jordan and Macedonia) who barely fit anywhere. And of course, there are the English-language writers, who make up most of the rest of the list—foremost among them Michael Symmons Roberts and Anne Carson, who wrote complex and engrossing poetry in 2013.

Here are the books I’ve most enjoyed reading or rereading over 2013:

  • Ingeborg Bachmann, Die gestundete Zeit / Mortgaged Time
  • Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstraße / One-Way Street
  • Emily Berry, Dear Boy
  • Elizabeth Bishop, Poems
  • Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron
  • Italo Calvino, Le cosmicomiche / Cosmicomics
  • Anne Carson, Red Doc>
  • Paul Celan, Ausgewählte Gedichte / Selected Poems
  • Julio Cortázar, Bestiario
  • Ricardo Domeneck, Sons: Arranjos: Garganta
  • Diego Doncel, Porno ficción
  • Max Frisch, Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän / Man in the Holocene
  • Federico García Lorca, Romance gitano / Gypsy Ballads
  • Jorie Graham, P L A C E
  • Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises
  • James Joyce, Ulysses
  • Clarice Lispector, A Paixão segundo G. H. / The Passion According to G. H.
  • Nikola Madzirov, Remants of Another Age
  • Helen Mort, Division Street
  • Paul Muldoon, Poems 1968-1998
  • Amjad Nasser, Shepherd of Solitude
  • Sharon Olds, Stag’s Leap
  • Fernando Pessoa, Poesia completa de Alberto Caeiro / Complete Poems of Alberto Caeiro
  • Sam Riviere, 81 Austerities
  • Michael Symmons Roberts, Drysalter
  • Wislawa Szymborska, Poems
  • William Wordsworth, The Prelude

Julio Cortázar’s All Fires the Fire

By Rob Packer

Cortázar's "Todos los fuegos el fuego"

Julio Cortázar’s reputation precedes him and the blurb for his collected short stories says no less than: “You must read Cortázar. Always. (Hay que leer Cortázar. Siempre.)” Now, this is the kind of praise you end up reading a lot of on book covers, but it’s hard not to agree with this hyperbole after reading any one of the stories in All Fires the Fire (Todos los fuegos el fuego). Each of these eight stories is pretty much perfect.

The premises of these stories sometimes seem so familiar; after all, who hasn’t been transfixed by a particularly beautiful island seen from a plane (‘La isla a mediodía’), or thought of hiding some shocking piece of news from a sick relative (‘La salud de los enfermos’)? What Cortázar does is to take the situation to its logical conclusion and beyond, as the family ties itself up in increasingly horrific and grotesque lies to hide the original untruth. It’s this combination of familiarity and the uncanny that makes these stories genuinely affecting.

My two favourite stories, though, are the two that bookend the collection: ‘Autopista del sur’ and ‘El otro cielo’. In the first, Cortázar describes a traffic jam on the autoroute into Paris that climaxes at almost apocalyptic proportions, while a recognizable society forms itself and the drivers’ identities are completely subsumed into their vehicles. In the last, ‘El otro cielo’ (reminiscent of Hopscotch (Rayuela), Cortázar’s most famous novel), the narrator mixes flâneur-like walks through a snowy Paris with escapism, nostalgia and Buenos Aires (no spoilers).

In English, Cortázar is often thought of as the writer of the story that inspired Antonioni’s 1966 film of Swinging London, Blow-Up—check the meagre selection of works available in English translation if you don’t believe me. For an author as complex, influential and enjoyable as Cortázar, this doesn’t even begin to do him justice and I’d recommend looking up anything of his you can find.

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