Sunday, May 31, 2009

June's Poet of the Month: Pablo Neruda


(what a smile!)

Born Neftalí Ricardo Reyes Basoalto in southern Chile on July 12, 1904, Pablo Neruda led a life charged with poetic and political activity. In 1923, he published his first book, Crepusculario ("Twilight") under the pseudonym "Pablo Neruda" to avoid conflict with his family who disapproved of his craft.The following year, he found a publisher for Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desesperada ("Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair"). The book made Neruda a celebrity, who gave up his studies at the age of twenty to devote himself to his craft.

In 1927, Neruda began his long career as a diplomat in the Latin American tradition of honoring poets with diplomatic assignments. After serving as honorary consul in Burma, Neruda was named Chilean consul in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1933. While there, he began a friendship with the visiting Spanish poet Federico García Lorca.

The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 interrupted Neruda's poetic and political development. He chronicled the horrendous years which included the execution of García Lorca in España en el corazon (1937), published from the war front. Neruda's outspoken sympathy for the loyalist cause during the Spanish Civil War led to his recall from Madrid in 1937.

In 1952, the government withdrew the order to arrest leftist writers and political figures, and Neruda returned to Chile and married Matilde Urrutia, his third wife. For the next twenty-one years, he continued a career that integrated private and public concerns and became known as the people's poet. During this time, Neruda received numerous prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.

Diagnosed with cancer while serving a two-year term as ambassador to France, Neruda resigned his position thus ending his diplomatic career. On September 23, 1973, just twelve days after the defeat of Chile's democratic regime, the man widely regarded as the greatest Latin-American poet since Ruben Darío, died of leukemia in Santiago, Chile.

Click below to watch an excellent short inspired by Neruda's acclaimed poem "Puedo Escribir..." (I Can write...):

Ps. As always, don't forget to check-out our in-store display. :)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Marc Fitten's Indie 100

A few weeks ago I had a terrific conversation with novelist Marc Fitten, who in his travels around the country promoting his new novel Valeria's Last Stand, has decided to make an adventure of it and visit 100 independent bookstores along the way. Visit his blog for pictures and to read what he has to say not only about Porter Square Books but the other wonderful stores he's been to.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hidden in the Short List

The last two Man Booker award winners didn't excite me much. Although I'm sure White Tiger and The Gathering are good books, neither one of them piqued my interest. But in each of the last two years a wild, dangerous, wonderful book was hidden in the short list.

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

The narrator of this book is Jasper Dean, nephew of the revered Ned Kelly type outlaw figure Terry Dean, and son of hated national villain Martin Dean. The story mostly focuses on Jasper's relationship with Martin, a hyper-intellectual who has thought himself into a philosophical stasis. Marketed as an irreverent picaresque novel (and in a way is), A Fraction of the Whole hides some radical (and some might even say dangerous) ideas about the individual's relationship to society, or rather, society's proper place in the identity of the individual. Toltz pulls off a number of rare literary feats in this novel. All three Deans are fascinating, fully formed, and sympathetic. Jasper is a hilarious narrator, regardless of and in response to the madness that constantly surrounds him. And The Handbook of Crime is one of the best fictitious works I've ever encountered.

Darkmans by Niccola Barker

Set in contemporary Britain, the guiding spirit of Darkmans is John Scoggin, the infamous medieval court jester. If not for the fact that there is a dark presence warping and twisting everything, it could be a good old- fashioned father and son, clash of generations, working out emotions novel. Sometimes the spirit possesses the characters directly. Sometimes it possesses events. Sometimes it's just in the atmosphere. This force would be easy to hate if it wasn't so funny. The humor in Darkmans is malicious, but it is still always funny. Barker has also created some amazing characters; the medieval artifacts forger, the Samurai sword wielding forester, and the salad-fearing, dice-throwing Kurd. In a sense, the idea of history, like the presence of John Scoggin, is a character as well, permeating everything. Whether you're prepared to grapple with the most sinister elements of why we laugh, or not, Darkmans will be a book unlike anything you've ever read.

Monday, May 18, 2009

For the Graduate

I recently attended my son's college graduation and among the speakers we heard from was the Chancellor of the university. One of his directives/cautions to the graduates was to be aware of the phenomenon of black swans. The book of the same title, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, explores the tendency of people across the disciplinary spectrum to learn the specifics when they should be focused on generalities. Because we concentrate on the things we already know and fail to consider what we don't know, we miss opportunities to imagine, let alone realize, the "impossible". We are constantly surprised by the unpredictable and only after the fact do we try to explain these random occurrences. His message, it seems to me, is to think "outside of the box". Not a new one perhaps, but in his book Taleb offers us tricks and strategies for encountering our world in a new way. That's not a bad skill set to possess. The old techniques seem to have failed us on many fronts.

So, if the perfect graduation gift has eluded you, I recommend The Black Swan.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bookish Links

Sorry about the gap in posts in the last couple weeks. I'd like to share a couple bookish links with everyone.

One of my favorite book sites is LibraryThing, an online book cataloging and social networking site. You can catalog up to 250 books for free and after that a life time membership is only $25. One of the coolest things about the site is the "Suggester." With the suggester you enter a book you like in the search field and LibraryThing will compile their massive amount of data to show you what other books a person is most likely to own if they own that book. It's a great way to find book suggestions. LibraryThing also has a Local section that shows readings and information about book stores and other book venues in your area. And Porter Square Books uploads our inventory to LibraryThing, so you can see if we have the book you want.

Another cool site I heard about is called BiblioTravel. BiblioTravel is an online database of books organized around the locations the books are set in. It's a great tool for travelers looking to get a sense of a place through literature. The site is still fairly new, but as books are added it will become a great bookish resource.

And if you haven't been to IndieBound yet, I think it's time. They've even created an app for those of you with iPhones.

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