Friday, April 10, 2015

book 'em, steve-o

I am in reading heaven.  And that heaven is my house.

For the past five weeks, my time has been my own.  That means that I can actually read with only a few interruptions.

This house is a great sanctuary.  When I arrange my reading space (at the table on the upper terrace, on the lounge chair in the courtyard, or in the seductive water of the pool), I do not need to respond to any outside sources.

Not the telephone.  Not the front door.  Not the computer.

I had almost forgotten what it was like to have that type of freedom.  Traveling offers some spurts of reading time.  But nothing like what I have had recently.

When I get involved in other pursuits, I tend to fall behind on the newspaper and magazines that show up regularly on my Kindle, laptop, and telephone.  Because I had trouble finding time to read them, I gave up reading books.

No more.  I have whipped through several recently.  This week I am reading David McCullough's Greater Journey: Americans in Paris -- a history of nineteenth century France played through the eyes of the Americans who visited and lived in Paris in the 1800s.

It is not his strongest book.  And it is not the McCullough book I wanted to read.  I had heard he had written a biography of the Wright Brothers.  He has.  But it will not be released until 5 May -- when I am on my trip in the Orient.

That was the second potential book purchase that disappointed me last week.  The Economist provided an excellent review of Jorge Castañeda's recent autobiography: Amarres Perros.  Before I completed the review, I opened my Kindle to download a copy for my trip.

And, once again, my failure to invest time in learning Spanish has returned to haunt me.  The book has not yet been translated to English.

I could slog through it with my rudimentary Spanish vocabulary augmented by my high school Latin.  Or I could do the smart thing and start applying myself to learn the language I will need to know if I am to become a Mexican citizen.  (Of course, an English version will be available by then.  But I still need to learn Spanish.)

Instead, I have downloaded three other Castañeda books: Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants; Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara; and Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War.  Even with a 14-hour flight in front of me and an even longer return sea voyage, I doubt I will get through the list.  But, at least, I will have plenty to read.

I have appreciated Castañeda's guidance about Mexico -- even though some of his prose can be a bit contorted.  Certainly, I have shared this Gordian knot of prose with you previously:

During the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Juan Villoro, one of the most distinguished members of a new generation of novelists (he was forty-eight in 2010, whereas the deservedly acknowledged dean of all living Mexican writers, Carlos Fuentes, turned 82 in May 2010 and published his first novel more than a half century ago), as well as one of its most articulate sportswriters, reported an oft-cited factoid about Mexican athletic performance.
But I do not read his work for the prose.  For that, I have Scott Turow.  For me, Castañeda forms a template through which I can understand parts of Mexico I may have missed.  And I miss a lot.

So, within two weeks, I will board my flight in Mexico City, along with my stack of Castañeda, and be off to Shanghai.

But, before I leave, I will finish up McCullough's tale of artists, writers, and expatriates in Paris.  It appears, even when I stay home, I am traveling.

orge Castañeda
orge Castañeda

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