Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra (translated by Megan McDowell)

I have been a bit a quiet on here recently when it comes to posting things on here. I only write about what I like and anything I dislike I don’t want to give the time of day on something like this. I have read a couple of books recently that I could not get through so I just gave upon them. My heart goes out to the many students and literary critics who are out there and have no choice but to write about and review books that they would otherwise just stop reading. Fortunately with my blog I do what I want.

Despite not being able to go through a couple of books I struggled with, I have been reading a number of essays and articles of the Chilean writer and critic Alejandro Zambra translated and edited by Megan McDowell who herself writes a forward on how she came across Zambra. This collection of essays is essentially Zambra’s meditations on books, writers, reading and translating. As you would expect it is written from a South American perspective, Zambra writes about other South American writers from my favourite in Clarice Lispector to Roberto Bolano and there are also other names I recognised such as Borges. Zambra also introduces us to a number of new writers I have never come across before. One of them being Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar a book which I would like to look at eventually.

Zambra writes about how the way we consume books is changing with respect to digital media and libraries. One article I found interesting was Erasing the Reader. In this one Zambra writes about being annoyed by someone who put notes in a second hand book that he has been reading and disagrees with the notes and thoughts that have been written. Zambra writes of course from a Chilean perspective and from a different culture to our own, I was interested by the fact that there was a time in Chile where whole books used to be photocopied and people would have such editions because it was cheaper than the expensive books. Zambra also writes about having to read and write about books he does not like which is a worry I try to avoid. I also liked one article I could relate to in that Zambra would always carry a book with him wherever he would go. The only issue I have had with some of the books and writers he talk about is that some but not all do seem to be appear hard to find at least in the English language.

One book he sings the praises of I understand can me a little hard to get hold of sadly.

I found Zambra’s writings to be fascinating in that we read from another perspective that is not necessarily Anglo-American. I fear sometimes that we make the mistake at least in an almost entirely monolingual English world of not being wholly aware of other thoughts and ideas until somebody eventually translates them and I am glad that somebody does so and makes us aware of them (this partly why I have been trying to learn other languages myself even if only at a basic level). To know how people around the world are think and write is incredibly important and Zambra does this beautifully.

[Fitzcarraldo Editions 2018, Kindle edition]