Category: Reading





The Africa Cup of Nations continues today in South Africa with runner-up match between between Ghana and Mali to decide who will take third place.  The final tomorrow will be played between Nigeria and Burkina Faso.  I’ve been following the tournament closely since it began two weeks ago.  To supplement my viewing I’ve been reading a couple of books about soccer in Africa.

Africa United by Steve Bloomfield is a summary tour of the continent with ten chapters introducing thirteen of Africa’s national teams.  Bloomfield’s book was published a few years ago, just before the 2010 World Cup finals hosted by South Africa.  A few things have changed since the publication of the book, but it’s still current enough that it doesn’t feel dated.

Bloomfield writes more about the recent history of these African nations than he does about their soccer teams.  Soccer is the entry point for Bloomfield’s treatment of the social, racial, economic, and political upheaval in these countries.  And it turns out that soccer is an ideal unifying thread for Bloomfield’s narrative since soccer and each country’s national team is a central part of public and social life.  Politicians and dictators associate themselves with successful soccer teams in order to bask in reflected glory.  But when those same teams lose matches, those who value power above all else unjustly seek to punish and degrade failure.

The other book I’m reading is called More Than Just a Game.  The subtitle explains, “Soccer vs. Apartheid”.  The authors are Chuck Korr and Marvin Close.  The narrative reads like it’s a pitch for a film and is full of tired narrative shorthand phrases.  Even if the literary quality isn’t so high, I’m intrigued by the story and the level of organization that the political prisoners on Robben Island committed themselves to when they decided to play soccer during their free period on Saturday.  The prison league structure had a constitution complete with governing boards, each club had its own written constitution and laws of operation.  There was a referee union and courts of arbitration.  The impression I get is that the jailed South African blacks were intent on demonstrating that they could govern just as well as the whites.  Better perhaps since they would be adverse to mete out cruelty so casually as the white prison guards.  Soccer, for the prisoners, became a training ground for self-governance and self-determination.

South Africa lost their quarterfinal match against Mali.  Because South Africa is the host nation and my reading list, I was sympathetic to South Africa and hoped that they would progress to the final match.  But it was difficult to begrudge Mali the win.  Mali could use some happy news at the moment.  A win over Ghana might give them a moment of joy and something to celebrate.

My Struggle

Since reading Karl Ove Knausgård’s novel last May, I’ve been checking compulsively for news of when Don Bartlett will complete the translation into English from the original Norwegian the remaining volumes.  This week I learned that Archipelago will be publishing Book Two of My Struggle next May (2013).  And in my surfing for information about Knausgård I’ve found a few more articles online, reviews, including one on The Millions titled “Searching for the Meaning of Life” by David Masciotra (16 July 2012).

Masciotra calls, in his first sentence, My Struggle a memoir, a term which Knausgård has disavowed.  True the book is drawn from Knausgård’s experience, but he has used the tools of a novelist to construct a story that goes beyond the artistic license of the memoir.

Also, Masciotra says that Knausgård has retired from writing, a statement I’m suspicious of given that Knausgård addressed this point in his public reading at the Lillian Vernon Writers Center on the third of May, a reading and discussion I attended with my friend Rasan.  What I recall Knausgård saying was that he is no longer an author, or at least the narrator of My Struggle is no longer an author, suggesting a distinction between authors and writers.  Knausgård himself, as was implied, might carry on writing hefty tomes for the foreseeable future.  Although there is something appealing in this idea of the great refusal, the conviction to put down the pen and not write another word.  It’s possible that Knausgård has the strength to join the legion of great literary Bartlebys.  On the other hand, after writing a 3,600 page book in the space of three or four years, he just might need the rest.

Another way of thinking about the author / writer distinction is that Knausgård, by speed writing and minimally editing and possibly not even rereading whole sections of his book after a day of feverishly pecking away at the keyboard, was operating in the mode of a writer, a typist taking dictation from his (sub?)conscious.  If he were to act as an author, the process of bringing My Struggle into existence would have been a more deliberate one and probably would have resulted in a more distilled product, a mere 1000 pages, say.  I suspect that the narrator of My Struggle reaches the end of his labors and realizes that he has not acted as an author.  Unfortunately, I can’t test my idea against the text of Book Six since (at this rate) I probably won’t see the English translation until 2017.

Second Thoughts

As a form the novel is too elastic to be “under threat” especially by those self-consciously pushing at the boundaries thereof.  We could just call it writing.  What is writing for?

I had to take a walk, to be in the sun, to feel the crisp fall air on my skin after reading the preface (is it a preface, or a beginning? a disclaimer?) to This Book is Fucking Stupid by Christopher Nosnibor.  Why do people substitute asterisks for the vowels in words like fucking?  Does it help?  What would it help?  Maybe I shouldn’t write about Mr Nosnibor (is that his real name?)… about Mr Nosnibor’s book since it’s possible I am just pretending.  Another day in the office…

The book is self-reviewing.  The preface(?) is ironic?

The books I like to read are a “… mish-mash of documentary and memoir along with social commentary and whatever else comes to hand, all in convoluted plots about writing the book you’re reading…”  What does that say about me?  Are the books I write “… devoid of plot or characterization…”?  Probably.  But aren’t there plenty of other books out there just bursting with plot and characterization?  Why am I writing a series of rhetorical questions?  Perhaps I was a French philosopher in a former life.

Why didn’t I misspend my youth?  If one misspends their middle age, is it necessarily a crisis, or could it be experimental and edgy?  Or just sad.  I’m not trying to be anything for you.  I have never starved.

Off the Beaten Path

Following on from Alison Flood’s post on the Guardian books blog last week, Dan Holloway tells us where to start if we’re looking for something (completely?) different to read.  So over lunch (bowl of ribs and broccoli in one hand, mouse in the other) I clicked my way through to some of the nodes in the alternative literary network.  I have made no great discoveries yet.  I’ve not found a new Enrique Vila-Matas writing in English.  But perhaps this clicking and reading will lead to something.  Although I fear I will become like Riba, a literary hikikomori.

Reader Seeking…

… engaging relationship with novels that may have been missed by traditional publishers.

This morning I read Alison Flood’s post on the Guardian Books Blog “Self-published novels: where to start?”  And perused some of the comments.  The term self-published novel has limited usefulness, especially if you generally read books that are published by not-for-profit publishers.  The bulk of what I read is by authors whose publishers are not commercial entities.  The novels printed by these “art house” publishers are subsidized by grants and donations of people who think that such books are important and deserve to be disseminated.

Recently, while reading Enrique Vila-Matas’ Dublinesque I wondered why there were not more English-language novelists writing books like this.  Then I wondered if it was indeed true that there were comparatively few writers penning novels in English that would attract readers of Vila-Matas.  Or was it just my ignorance of what is available by English-language writers that creates the impression of scarcity in this category of literature?

Given that there were “almost 250,000 books self-published last year,” I feel confident that at least a handful of them might be novels I’d like to read.  But like Alison Flood, I’m not sure how to find these rare offerings.  And unlike the examples given in Flood’s post, the books I would be interested in are (most assuredly) not among the top sellers on any Amazon list.