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Posts Tagged ‘Mario Vargas Llosa’

Thurber Insults and Library Dreams

March 28, 2012 | by

A cultural news roundup.

  • Happy seventy-sixth, Mario Vargas Llosa!
  • Muggles get the Harry Potter treatment in Florida. “At Ollivanders, the wand shop, character actors put on a show. With a few dozen people crowded into a room, a bearded wizard proceeds to help a child select a wand. ‘Descendo!’ he cries. Boxes tumble down and the shelves fall apart on cue. It was the wrong wand. ‘Repairo!’ he cries. The shelves put themselves back together. The long-bearded gent eventually gives the girl an Ash wand, ‘an excellent wand for a charismatic, successful wizard.’”
  • You can even read the books!
  • At forty-two, historical novelist Rabee Jaber is the youngest winner of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
  • On the plus side, James Thurber wrote back to his fans. “One of the things that discourage us writers is the fact that 90 per cent of you children write wholly, or partly, illiterate letters, carelessly typed. You yourself write ‘clarr’ for ‘class’ and that’s a honey, Robert, since s is next to a, and r is on the line above.”
  • An ode to the thesaurus.
  • How about a little fancy-library porn? (This Johns Hopkins professor totally beats Lagerfeld in the library stakes.)
  • Book origami.
  • Henry James is the most-studied writer.
  • Did it really take this long to make an Art of War graphic novel?
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    Dispatch from Stockholm: The Ceremony

    December 15, 2010 | by

    Photograph courtesy of Scanpix Sweden.

    Mario Vargas Llosa enters his hotel after receiving the Nobel Prize. He’s left behind the post-prize official banquet, the pomp and ceremony of a dinner with the Swedish royal family and their 1,300 guests from all over the world. He’s tired but has the glow of an epic hero surveying his many accomplishments. A few friends and family are waiting at the Grand Hôtel, those who weren’t among the fourteen guests each Nobel Prize winner is entitled to invite to the dinner. Vargas Llosa walks through the hall, toward these familiar faces, and asks with real sincerity, “It came out nicely, didn’t it?”

    As he receives handshakes, applause, hugs, congratulations, praise, photos, and a burst of answers to his question, he takes a handkerchief from his pocket and blows his nose—he’s finally come home.

    He’s won a Nobel, but he’s the same—that appears to be the consensus among those who surround him. Vargas Llosa is hoarse, tired, and would like to change out of his tuxedo. So he spends no more than three minutes in the lobby, before saying good-bye to each of those who were waiting for him, as if it were all very ordinary. The winner of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature goes off to sleep to a round of applause. His friends and family stay awhile longer, to celebrate in his name.

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    Dispatch from Stockholm: Bad Fiction

    December 10, 2010 | by

    Mario Vargas Llosa photographed earlier this year.

    The world press surrounds him, chases him, wears him down. And by now, Mario Vargas Llosa has begun to feel the secondary effects of this immense happiness—a happiness for which even he has been unable to find an appropriate adjective. The celebration has been defined by an overwhelmingly busy schedule, the most emotional plaudits, the harsh Swedish winter, and the vertigo of being in the public eye minute by minute in the Twitter age. Vargas Llosa is mostly silent, careful not to strain his voice, and hopeful that the pain he’s felt in his leg for the past forty-eight hours will soon pass.

    This morning, I found him eating cereal for breakfast at Stockholm’s Grand Hôtel, and he told his daughter Morgana that the pain hadn’t yet gone away. The novelist had even asked the Nobel organizers to let him stop by a clinic on the way to the opening of an exhibit about his life and work at the Cervantes Institute. What had happened?

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    Dispatch from Stockholm

    December 8, 2010 | by

    Mario Vargas Llosa photographed earlier this year, after the Nobel Prize announcement. For most people, Vilela writes, winning the Nobel is like being canonized.

    When Mario Vargas Llosa got the call, his first thought was that it was an emergency of some kind. It was around five in the morning in New York, the same hour as in Lima, where most of his family lives—which is why he was alarmed. He’d risen a few moments earlier and, at that hour when the city sleeps, was sitting down to read. It was part of his routine while he was teaching at Princeton for a semester. His wife, Patricia, handed him the phone, and a voice said it was the Swedish Academy. Vargas Llosa first thought it might be a joke, like the one the heartless friends of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia had pulled on him: They awarded him the Nobel in jest, with a call just like this one. And Moravia celebrated, as if he’d actually won. Vargas Llosa hesitated. The voice assured him he had actually won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Literature, and then the call ended. Those were strange moments—a controlled euphoria, a surprising well of emotion, skepticism. The phone rang again, and the same voice announced that the news would be made official in fourteen minutes, that he should be prepared.

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    Mario Vargas Llosa: A Portrait in Miniature

    December 6, 2010 | by

    Photograph by Shannon Stapleton.

    It had rained earlier, and the streets of Manhattan were slick. The traffic lights shone off the pavement, and in the front seat Mario Vargas Llosa discussed the delicate Ivoirian political situation with a taxi driver from Abidjan. I sat in the back seat with Mario’s wife, Patricia, struggling to carry on a polite back-and-forth with her, while simultaneously listening to the discussion going on up front. Patricia and I discussed Mario’s upcoming travel schedule. I mentioned I’d once heard him speak in Madrid, and she nodded, a little bored by me. In truth, I was a little bored by me, too. Perhaps she could intuit that I would’ve preferred to join Mario. It must have been obvious enough. Thick plastic partitions separate the front from the back of New York City taxicabs, and the effect was like watching Mario on an old fuzzy television set, the volume low. I could hear his muffled voice, but only make out a few words: questions about this warring faction or that one, the fragility of the negotiated peace, the coming elections. I wanted to interject—I’ve also been to Ivory Coast!—and this was technically true: I once spent a night in the Abidjan bus station, protected by a knife-wielding tough named Michel, who insisted on locking us inside for own safety—but there was no room for me or my story in this conversation, and so I said nothing. My French is crudely utilitarian, fine for reading a newspaper, say, but not for enjoying a novel by Flaubert, and I’m too embarrassed by my accent to fall into casual conversation with a West African taxi driver; I could only get the sense of the dialogue between Mario and the man from Abidjan, the spirit of it—enough to feel that in the course of a short uptown ride, they’d become almost intimate. We passed 72nd Street, and they shared a joke. Who told it: Mario or the driver? Behind thick plastic, both laughed heartily. Block after rain-soaked block, I sat in silence, straining to hear.

    This week, Vargas Llosa will accept the Nobel Prize for Literature in Stockholm. Join us as Sergio Vilela trails Vargas Llosa through the Swedish city, writing in with dispatches translated by Alarcón.

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    Award-Winning Novels; Fighting Procrastination

    November 5, 2010 | by

    I was having this argument with my friend recently about award-winning novels. I find them stodgy and inaccessible. She thinks I’m not applying myself to the pages long enough to get it. In defense, I invoked a literary heavyweight—Martin Amis. He was quoted a few weeks ago as saying, “There was a great fashion in the last century, and it’s still with us, of the unenjoyable novel. And these are the novels which win prizes, because the committee thinks, ‘Well it’s not at all enjoyable, and it isn’t funny, therefore it must be very serious.’” She tried to tell me that Amis has sour grapes from his Booker Prize near-miss in the early nineties. We need someone to settle this. —Paul Hawkins

    It may have been sour grapes, but don’t you think Amis is right? The worst is when the judges of literary prizes try to legislate from the bench—flexing their “muscle” by giving a prize to some book that nobody’s ever heard of, or passing over a popular favorite because it’s “too obvious” or “doesn’t need it.” As I wrote the other week, when it comes to literary merit (or sex appeal) there is no such thing as too obvious. And most unfun novels are not much good. My heart sinks when I see a list of unknowns as finalists for a prize I care about. It is usually a case of committee work or telling people what they ought to like (and already know they don’t).Then there are wonderful exceptions, like Tinkers, a fine novel rescued from obscurity by the Pulitzer Prize. Or—a very different case—the most recent recipient of the Nobel, Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer who has been accused of many things, but never of being hard to read.

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