Rambles in Eirinn by William Bulfin: Many thanks to Anto of Loserdom zine for sending me this book. (For the latest issue of Loserdom send $5 to Anto, 3 Crestfield, Youghal, Co. Cork, Ireland.) Originally published in 1902 as a series of newspaper articles, Rambles is the author’s account of travelling around Ireland by bicycle. It’s full of vivid descriptions of the landscape, the history (“those blood-stained centuries”), the people, important landmarks (“the accursed history of our subjection”), legends, folklore, and, of course, the weather:
“At first, perhaps, you dread the rain. You regard it as a calamity. The mud on the road is too much for your tyres, and your limited experience, and you have some unpleasant falls. You are spilled into the ditch or over the handle bars, or thrown on your back a helpless case. You would exchange places with the dirtiest tramp you have ever met on a fair day (…). But after two or three months you become weather-proof. You get used to the softness of the weather. You acquire such skill in “riding for a fall,” that even if you do come down it is only on your feet.”
The book was written pre-Easter Rising and pre-Irish independence, and Bulfin was a nationalist with strong opinions regarding the British administration of the country. Yet he manages to balance his rants and his anti-colonial tirades with a sense of humor and a sense of joy. Rambles is well worth a look. It made me want to reread another great Irish cycling book, Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy, which details the author’s solo trip from Ireland to India in the 1960s. Her description of fending off a pack of wolves with a pistol in former Yugoslavia is worth the price of admission alone.
Amor por un Puñado de Pelos (original title: Love With a Few Hairs) by Mohamed Mrabet and Paul Bowles: A simple love story steeped in superstition and witchcraft in 1950s Tangier, Morocco. This was the first collaboration between author and composer Paul Bowles (of The Sheltering Sky fame) and painter and storyteller Mohamed Mrabet. Mrabet dictated his oral stories to Bowles who then translated them into English. Lots of suspense, lots of debauchery, lots of reading between the lines… Good stuff.
Safe Area GORAZDE: The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-1995 by Joe Sacco: “Many towns got pasted in the Balkan wars of the early and mid-90’s. Dubrovnik and Sarajevo endured their maulings in the living rooms of all those with a T.V. set. But Gorazde had been cut off from cameras. Its suffering was the sole property of those who had experienced it.”
This graphic novel is about the author’s experiences working as a reporter during the Bosnian War. The rise of Serbian nationalism, the brutality of war, and a heavy dose of black humor… Haunting stuff.
I picked up Safe Area at a great, great, great secondhand bookstore in Cascais, Portugal. The place is called Déjà Lu. My Portuguese is weak at best, but if I understood the store’s mission statement correctly, Déjà Lu is a volunteer-run non-profit which donates its proceeds to APPT21, an organization that works with people with Down syndrome. The bookstore is located above a restaurant inside a 15th century fortress overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The sea air drifting in through the open windows… the smell of garlic and cilantro seeping up through the floorboards… the friendly, helpful staff… the amazing selection of books at insanely low prices… The only thing missing were purring kitties sleeping among the unbelievably well-organized shelves.
Stoner by John Williams: “In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.” Every page is like this. It’s a friggin’ masterpiece.
Now go read a book. See ya next time.