#tobyreads: Esoteric Classics and Political Ruminations — Challenging Work From Bioy Casares to Fitzgerald

Adolfo Bioy Casares

A lot of what I’ve read this week has been for pieces to run here or elsewhere, or books that won’t be out for a while. So you’re getting something of a mixed bag: a couple of works by renowned writers; one collection of documents pertaining to a particularly current concern; and one more esoteric piece of prose.

To begin: a pair of works from Melville House’s “Art of the Novella” series. I’d recently re-read Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, and ended up picking up his Benito Cereno out of curiosity. It’s a tough work to summarize, in part because much of it depends on the twists of the plot — some of which may be more obvious to a modern reader than others. But it’s also interesting because — at least from my perspective — part of it involves one of the characters attempting to shoehorn a horrific situation into a more traditional narrative, and thus becoming much less sympathetic as a result. I also checked out F. Scott Fitzgerald’s May Day — a short work in which a number of lives collide, with often-tragic results, at the end of the First World War. Its prose is lively, and its characters — many of whom seem to be doomed in a number of ways — are memorable.

In advance of the new translation of his collaboration with Silvina Ocampo, I made my way through Adolfo Bioy Casares’s A Russian Doll and Other Stories. Several of these works have the qualities of fables: mad scientists and sinister undersea creatures factor in to a few, though there are also some allusions to storytelling as a whole: many of them are framed as narratives told by one character to another, for instance. I enjoyed them, though of the works by Bioy Casares that I’ve read to date, I’ve found myself more fond of his novels The Invention of Morel and Asleep in the Sun.  

I closed out the week by reading Pussy Riot! A Punk Prayer For Freedom. It’s a collection of documents, most of them relating to the trial last year of three of the group’s members; additionally, artists from Karen Finley to Barbara Browning to Eileen Myles (who wrote fantastically about political unrest in Russia in The Importance of Being Iceland) contribute short pieces about Pussy Riot. It’s both a vital collection of writing and a reminder that the issues raised in this trial are still very much an ongoing concern. Highly recommended.

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