Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books for 2014

EDIT: Further purchases that I'm excited to read...

Michelle Orange - This is Running for Your Life (essays)

  • Bought this on a whim at the bookstore (yay, Pulpfiction Commercial Drive). I love essays, I like the cover, and the first essay is called The Uses of Nostalgia and Some Thoughts on Ethan Hawke's Face. I know nothing about the author. 

Adam Gopnik - The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food (culture)

  • Gopnik wrote one of my favourite books, Paris to the Moon, about raising a family in Paris. In this book he writes about food culture, another of my favourite reading topics. 

UPDATE: to add

Samuel Beckett - Waiting for Godot (play)

This is aspirational for now. I'm finishing up Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths, a wonderful collection of short fictions and essays (and, oddly, parables), and planning my next books as I look longingly at my book shelf.

As an aside, Nina and I have been toying with the idea of forming a book club. Standard stuff, read a book, talk about it with friends over wine and beer, etc. Might try to do something with this, might not.

The books, though. What do I want to read...

Ian Rankin - Standing in Another Man's Grave (detective/mystery)

  • A new Rebus book (when there weren't meant to be any more...). I grew up reading comfortable westerns, and this is about as close as I get to that. Frustratingly repetitive at times, but it's a long series and I'll be quite happy to burn through this.
Ian Rankin - The Impossible Dead (detective/mystery)

  • The series/character that Rankin moved on to after the (not-quite) final Rebus book. It's of a style, but Rankin updated the stereotypes somewhat, and he really is very good at his craft.

Joe McGinniss - The Miracle of Castel di Sangro (soccer history/memoir)
  • A story of small-town soccer in Italy as experienced by an American new to the sport. A bit of travel tourism, sports history, culture, etc.
Adam Gopnik - Winter (musings, or something)
  • I like to read the Massey Lectures every year. I've fallen off the wagon a bit of late, but Gopnik wrote one of my favourite books, Paris to the Moon, so I'm back, baby.
Lisa Moore - Alligator (fiction)
  • Small-town Newfoundland, and the author won an award recently. That's all I know. 
Salman Rushdie - Fury (fiction)
  • After reading his excellent memoir, Joseph Anton, I wanted to read more fiction by Rushdie, and I'll be damned if I'm going to try Midnight's Children for the third time...
Edmund White - The Flâneur (more musings)
  • I love the word flâneur - it might be the most romantic word I know. White lived in Paris, and here he writes about his days there, wandering about the city, etc. I imagine the book is pretentious but fun.
Miguel de Cervantes - Don Quixote
  • This is an ambitious move on my part. It's a bloody huge book. I'm looking for interested reading buddies to take this on with me. Borges has such high praise for this book, and since he's my latest authorial obsession...

There, that's a decent list. I'd like to add a few more soccer books in there (most notably Dennis Bergkamp's well-received autobiography Stillness and Speed - here, watch one of the most beautiful goals ever scored). I'm certainly not as prolific a reader as I once was, or anywhere close to my friend Derrick's speed-datingreading regime...


Oh go on, watch this other amazing goal by Bergkamp:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Vocabulary in Borges' Labyrinths

I decided this needed its own spot. Here are the words I'm looking up as I read Borges' Labyrinths. Most are words I've never heard or never known, though some I've known or looked up in the past but forget.

Nina thinks he's using words just to use words - I'm not sure if it's Borges or the translator. I appreciate his use of language, but I'm not sure why. In some instances I think she's right.

Ursprache: A proto- or root language, from ur- and the German sprache.
apotheosis: The highest point in the development of something; culmination.
proconsul: A governor of a province in ancient Rome.
palimpsest: A writing material that has had the original writing erased in order to use it again.
propitious: Giving or indicating a good chance of success; favorable.
numina: Deities
lustra: 5-year periods
vade mecum: A handbook carried for constant use.
deleble: Delible, able to be erased; I think it went untranslated from Spanish, as it's an obsolete spelling.
ab aeterno: From time immemorial. 
Basilides: An early Gnostic religious teacher in Egypt.
dithyramb: A wild choral hymn of ancient Greece, or any passionate writing.
perspicuous: Clearly expressed and easily understood.
apodictic: Clearly established or beyond dispute.
Tetragrammaton: The Hebrew name of God transliterated in four letters as YHWH or JHVH and articulated as Yahweh or Jehovah.
Pentateuch: The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).
cosmorama: An exhibition of perspective pictures of different places in the world, usually world landmarks.
crapulous: Of or relating to the drinking of alcohol or drunkenness.
oriel: A projection from the wall of a building, typically supported from the ground or by corbels.
vespers: A service of evening prayer in churches.
essaying: Trying or attempting.
condign: Appropriate or fitting/deserved.
conventicle: A secret or unlawful religious meeting.
cosmogonic: Story of the origin of the world.
perdurable: Permanent, imperishable.
exiguous: Meager, small.
nitid: Bright, lustrous.
astragals: A small semicircular molding around the top or bottom of a column.
pullulate: Breed or spread so as to become extremely common.
hypogea: Underground chambers.
vituperated: Used harsh language towards.
impugn: Criticize as false.
solecism: A grammatical mistake; a breach of good manners; a piece of incorrect behaviour.
theriaca: Medical concoction; panacea. (In this case an antidote to venom of The Serpent.)
fulminate: Express vehement protest.
adduce: Cite as evidence.
guerdon: A reward or recompense.
fustigate: Criticize severely; hit with a cudgel.
veronal: A barbital-based sleeping aid.
misanthropy: Dislike or hatred of mankind.
stylobate: The base of a colonnade.
teleology: The doctrine of design and purpose in the material world.
philology: The study of texts and their meaning.
apostrophe: A digression addressing someone not present.
pathetic (see note 1): Arousing pity, esp. through vulnerability or sadness; relating to the emotions.
exigent: Demanding, pressing.
appurtenance: Accessories; subordinate things.
subtilize: Elevate; sharpen.
lozenge (see note 2): A diamond or square shape.
sheave: A pulley.
concatenation: A group of things linked together (like a chain).
permute (see note 3): Submit to a process of alteration.
exegetical: Critical explanation or interpretation of a text, esp. of scripture.
propension: Propensity (archaic).
lapidary: Engraved on or suitable for engraving on stone and therefore elegant and concise.
educe: Bring out or develop (something latent or potential); infer (something) from data.


1. Borges (or the translator) uses pathetic quite often, and at times not really in a derisory fashion. As with apostrophe, I wondered if there wasn't a different meaning that we don't generally use.

2. This meaning is archaic - the shift to mean candy started in the 16th century, when it meant a square cake.

3. I'm not sure this is a correct translation, and yes, I know how presumptuous that is.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Themes in Borges' Labyrinths

For now this will just be a repository of thematic sentences or phrases from the stories in Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths, which I am quickly falling in love with.

The God's Script
The presence of god in everything, the religious experience, finding salvation, etc. There's a lot going on in this that I'm missing.

The Waiting
A haunting tale about waiting for fate, about dreaming reality. This story makes me sad.

The Zahir
A story of losing oneself inadvertently in obsession.

Averroes' Search
A meditation on meaning and knowledge.

Deutsches Requiem
A powerful exploration of the mindset of a committed Nazi.

The House of Asterion
The story of the Minotaur told from the perspective of the Minotaur. Led me to read about Grendel.

Emma Zunz
Enjoyable - a revenge killing that examines fate and retribution.

Story of the Warrior and the Captive
More on duality.

The Theologians
"Aurelian spoke with God and... He was so little interested in religious differences that He mistook him for [his chief rival]."

The Immortal 
"Death (or its allusion) makes men precious and pathetic."
"... shortly, I shall be all men, I shall be dead."

The Sect of the Phoenix
The secret one.

Three Versions of Judas
Was Judas the ultimate follower of Jesus? Was his sacrifice necessary, and should it therefore be celebrated?

The Secret Miracle
A Jewish author killed by firing squad composes his opus in his head while frozen in time for a year as the bullets hang in mid-air.

Death and the Compass
The French detective/Kabbalah one.

Theme of the Traitor and the Hero

The Library of Babel
Endless possibilities - what meaning can we find?


Funes the Memorious
"To think is to forget differences..."

The Shape of the Sword
"Whatever one man does, it is as if all men did it... I am all other men, any man is all men."

The Circular Ruins
"With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he too was a mere appearance, dreamt by another."

Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote
"Thinking, analyzing, inventing are not anomalous acts; they are the normal respiration of the intelligence."

The Lottery of Babylon
"Babylon is nothing else than an infinite game of chance."

The Garden of Forking Paths
"This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time."

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
"A scattered dynasty of solitary men has changed the face of the world."

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Reading Borges' Labyrinths

UPDATE - Argh, I appear to have lost some of this. Not worried about the vocab, as I've now published it elsewhere. But I had added two other thoughts that I can't recall now. Bah.

I'm going to post the random thoughts I have as I read Jorge Luis Borges' Labyrinths.


1. Quote on the back from David Foster Wallace, saying Borges is the link between modernism and post-modernism. Two stories in and I think I have a sense of what he means.

2. David Mitchell is either a big fan or remarkably informed by others that are. Reading The Garden of the Forking Paths felt like I was reading something by him.

EDIT: Oh look, he totally is. This is one of his top ten books, and he specifically references that story here.

3. I feel like I am missing so much. There are references to so many things that I don't know and don't really have the time to research. I looked up one reference to a Roman leader, and loved it.

4. The last time I had to use a dictionary this much was for Nabokov. Ursprache, apotheosis, etc.*

5. Was Borges an existentialist? Does everyone who reads The Lottery of Babylon think this? In essence, there is a "Company" that people think controls their lives via randomized life decisions. But as there is no proof that this Company exists, "Babylon is nothing else than an infinite game of chance."

6. I'd like to come away from each story with a coherent thought or theme or idea. So far I'm not sure this is possible.

7. I love the playfulness in his writing. Here he is contrasting the original Don Quixote with a modern exact replication of it:
The contrast in style is also vivid. The archaic style of Menard - quite foreign, after all - suffers from a certain affectation. Not so that of his forerunner who handles with ease the current Spanish of his time.
8, 9. (Notes 8 and 9 are lost to time. See above.)

10. I don't understand all or aspects of: Death and the Compass and The Sect of the Phoenix. I enjoyed both of them, but the meanings or themes are not entirely clear. The first is a bit of a hardboiled crime writing, following a detective trying to solve murders that appear to be based on the Kabbalah and featuring references to Zeno's paradoxes.

The second is apparently a riddle for which the answer is sex. Thanks, Wikipedia. Seems a bit tawdry and dull, to be honest.

11. Deutsches Requiem is a powerful story, one I'm interested in exploring further. That likely means just reading this piece for now, though I'd like to read about Schopenhauer. (Yes, that's a bit ambitious.)

(Check this space for more insightful insights soon!)


* Dictionary so far

Ursprache: A proto- or root language, from ur- and the German sprache.
apotheosis: The highest point in the development of something; culmination.
proconsul: A governor of a province in ancient Rome.
palimpsest: A writing material that has had the original writing erased in order to use it again.
propitious: Giving or indicating a good chance of success; favorable.

Monday, December 16, 2013

You can shave when you want to

This afternoon I bought this safety razor.

I have been pretty fed up with the costs of Mach 3 cartridges for years and constantly buying and throwing away packaging and old cartridges, and after browsing at Revolucion a few weeks ago, I was ready to take the plunge. A quick stop at their store in Yaletown on the way home...

$39 later, I was the proud new owner of a Parker safety razor, a box of five razor blades, and some tips on how to shave.

Here are the results of my first shave:

I was a little nervous at first, but in the end it was pretty smooth, pretty easy, and only rarely did I feel like I might nick myself. Looking forward to years of low cost and minimal waste smooth shaves.