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Posts Tagged ‘Javier Marias’

Obstacle Course

January 16, 2015 | by

The perils of growing up surrounded by books.


Illustration: Mark Fearing

This month marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of The Threepenny Review. They’re celebrating with Table Talk from the Threepenny Review, a new book collecting a hundred essays from their Table Talk column—a casual, intellectually curious series first launched by Leonard Michaels in 1990, with subjects ranging from Emily Dickinson and rats to prominent holes in Kansas. This piece, by Javier Marías, appeared in their Winter 2011 issue.

Like all the other apartments I’ve ever lived in, the apartment in which I spent my childhood was full of books. However, the word full doesn’t really come near the truth; neither do the words crammed or crowded, because not only was every wall covered with shelves (each of which was packed with volumes from every imaginable century), but the books also sometimes served as rugs, tables, sofas, chairs, and even, almost, beds. I don’t mean that there was no furniture in the apartment and that we sat on piles of books or ate from other still taller piles—with a consequent disquieting sensation of constant instability—but that the rugs, tables, sofas, seats, and even beds were often buried beneath vast tomes: for example, the complete and very abundant works of the late-Renaissance philosopher Francisco Suárez. I remember those in particular because, on one occasion, I had to wrestle for hours with the philosophers Suárez and Condillac in order to make a large enough space on the floor to play with my toy soldiers. Bear in mind that my size at the time (I was seven or eight) didn’t really equip me for the easy removal of those large seventeenth- or eighteenth-century volumes obstructing my innocent games.

In fact, for myself and my three brothers, the house was one long obstacle course, almost two hundred yards long, the obstacles always taking the form of books. That is why, from an early age, I became used to negotiating the words of the great philosophers and writers, with the inevitable result that I have a deep-rooted lack of respect for anyone who writes, myself included. It still surprises me when I see how other people (especially politicians and commentators) kowtow to writers or else fight to appear in photos accompanied by some scribe or other, or when the state rushes to give succor to ailing, ruined poets, privileging them with a treatment that only heaps humiliation on equally ruined or ailing street cleaners, businessmen, waiters, lawyers, and cobblers. My scant respect for the trade to which I belong (from the most ancient of academicians to the most youthful of libelists) derives from a childhood home in which, as I have said, I grew used to mistreating and misusing almost all the seminal texts from the history of culture. Having too much respect for the kind of individuals who partially soured my childhood and invaded the territory occupied by my thrilling games of bottle-top soccer would seem to me masochistic in the extreme. Read More »


The Oldest Book in English, and Other News

July 18, 2014 | by

history of troy

The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye, the oldest printed book in English.

  • Javier Marías can think of seven reasons not to write novels, and only one reason to write them. (Fortunately, the one is pretty good.)
  • A 540-year-old book—the first to be printed in English—has sold at auction for more than a million pounds. “The Recuyell of the Histories of Troye is a version of a French book written around 1463 … The story is an epic romance which portrays the heroes of Greek mythology as chivalric figures.”
  • “I do own a pair of unusual books that I treasure … they are collections of poems, written by Howard Moss, poetry editor of The New Yorker from 1948 to 1987. They originally belonged to the poet May Swenson (1913–1989), who has been a favorite of mine since I stumbled on her “Half Sun, Half Sleep” in high school … Each is heavily underlined, in both pencil and ink—an emphatic, and ugly, green ink, seemingly more suited for some censorious schoolmistress than for Swenson, a nicely calibrated nature poet. Still, I take great pleasure in her scarring underscorings and in her occasional approving check mark or cryptic annotation.”
  • The Supreme Court has refused to hear an “emergency petition” from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s heirs, who are seeking “indefinite copyright protection” for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
  • In which the novelist Scott Cheshire, an ex–Jehovah’s Witness, visits the Watchtower headquarters in Brooklyn: “I felt like throwing up, so I headed for the men’s room to pull myself together, pressed my face against the cold metal towel dispenser, and fainted.”


Summer Reading; Formatting Horrors

April 13, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

I’m a second-semester senior in high school and currently find myself with a lot of empty time. I also have an open summer ahead with plenty of time to read books. Do you have any novel recommendations for someone about to enter college?

Our friends at n+1 devoted an entire pamphlet to the question, more or less: What We Should Have Known. Our advice is more equivocal: the main thing is to have a whole bunch of books so you can switch if you get bored.

With that caveat, and in no special order: To the Lighthouse, Sons and Lovers, Howard’s End, Invisible Man, Brideshead Revisited, Girl in Landscape, Pnin, Rebecca, The Crying of Lot 49, The Broom of the System, Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Portnoy’s Complaint, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Transit of Venus, The Death of the Heart, The Tetherballs of Bougainville, Home Land, Cane, As I Lay Dying, The Sun Also Rises, Confessions of a Mask, The Savage Detectives, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Marius the Epicurean, First Love, First Love and Other Sorrows, and Moby-Dick.

I recently read Lolita and have since been obsessed with Nabokov. What are other Russian novels, or to broaden the list, European novels that you would recommend?

Have you read others novels by Nabokov? My favorite is Pnin (see above). The tricky thing about your question is that no European writes like him—or if they do, it’s in a language I can’t read. The most Nabokovian writer I know is John Updike, but he’s American. Try the Rabbit books. You might also like Javier Marías: start with A Heart So White. And if what you really want is European, magisterial, and ironic, there’s Lydia Davis’s new translation of Madame Bovary. Nabokov almost certainly wouldn’t approve of the translation—he never approved—but I think he would disapprove less than of the others. Read More »


A Doyle Man

September 21, 2011 | by

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle, was the first grown-up book I ever read—and it changed my life. Back in the late 1950s, my fifth-grade class belonged to an elementary school book club. Each month our teacher would pass out a four-page newsletter describing several dozen paperbacks available for purchase. I remember buying Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red and a thriller called Treasure at First Base, as well as Geoffrey Household’s Mystery of the Spanish Cave. Lying on my bed at home, I lingered for hours over these newsprint catalogues, carefully making my final selections.

I had to. Each month my mother would allow me to purchase no more than four of the twenty-five- and thirty-five-cent paperbacks. Not even constant wheedling and abject supplication could shake her resolve. “What do you think we are, made of money? What’s wrong with the library?” Read More »