Short Saturday: Borges and Nabokov

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is held by Truman Capote and Haruki Murakami. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination.

podcastcoverFICTIONMark David has recommended The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts to me for a while. In fact he has written a post on it last month. But only last week after he shouted at strongly encouraged me to try one when I talked about Borges’s The Library of Babel,  did I manage to listen to two of them.

In each episode, a contemporary writer reads a short work by a classic writer. There’s a bit of talk and discussion before and after the reading of the story. I loved the discussion parts of the podcasts, but I’m not sure if I got much out of the two stories being read. I’ve mentioned before how I’m a poor listener, and it doesn’t help when the story is not very listen-able. (We have word for readable! How about listenable?)

Without further ado, the two I picked were:

The Gospel According to Mark by Jorge Luis Borges, read by Paul Theroux

I’m not sure if I got it. I repeated the ending about 5 times and each time it made me go “huh?”. But I continued on and luckily Paul explained more about what’s going on in the story. Originally published in 1970, it is about a young man who visits a friend’s holiday house in Argentina. He meets a family of illiterate workers to whom he reads some books, but the only one they’re interested in the most is an old Bible. He reads the gospel of Mark which contains the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He granted to the world. When he was found to lay with the daughter of the family, well…

Paul Theroux actually read to Borges when he was alive (and blind). And that’s awesome because Paul is a fantastic reader. I’d never heard of him before this. Apparently he has written many novels and travelogues. After quick wiki-ing, I found that he won James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981 for The Mosquito Coast (join win with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children) and Whitbread Prize for Best Novel  in 1978 for Picture Palace. Have you read any of his books before?

My Russian Education by Vladimir Nabokov, read by Orhan Pamuk

I feel kinda bad to say this, but most of the words read by Pamuk went over my head, because I had problem with his accent. Therefore I’m unable to rate this in any way. But I’m sure I will (re)read the story in text format in the future, because it’s Nabokov’s autobiography, though published as fiction. The story is based on how his father was shot dead. It was originally published in 1948 by the New Yorker and it is one chapter out of 12 that was later published in 1951 as a book titled Speak, Memory (My Russian Education is Chapter 9 in the book).

I loved to listen to how Pamuk loved Nabokov. I always love the whole writers speaking very highly of other writers. It’s very adorable. I read Lolita by Nabokov in 2008 and I really admired how Nabokov used English language. Sure, I didn’t understand a lot of the passages, but that’s beside the point… because I admired the ones that I did understand! :)

Did you read any short story this week?

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18 thoughts on “Short Saturday: Borges and Nabokov”

  1. Your choices of short stories are always so different from mine, it’s interesting. I’ve not read either of the authors you’re discussing today, but I’m hoping to try Nabokov very soon, since Lolita is sitting on my shelf right now, and I have every intention of reading it before returning it to the library.

    And it’s also interesting that I finally decided to try out audiobooks because you had your first try not too long ago, and I’m loving the experience so far. =)

    PS: I really should read those two short stories you’ve given 5 stars to. Maybe next week..

    1. Michelle–Our different choices make it more interesting! Oh I’d definitely recommend Lolita, because it’s just a very smart piece of literature. And I’m glad you tried audiobooks! I’m still going through The Dog Who Came in from the Cold (the second of Corduroy Mansions series), but I think my next one would be Child 44.

  2. Lol! Sorry, I promise not to “shout” at you again :)

    Don’t you worry my friend, I didn’t understand everything about Borges’ story either. I just concentrated on the sound of it, which as you already said had been rendered beautifully by Paul Thoreux. So like you I really want to read Borges’ stories in print. How I wish I could find books from authors like that but it seems there just aren’t any here in our country :(

    About Pamuk, his discussions of Nabokov is quite insightful isn’t it? I must admit that for many of these readings I actually enjoy the discussions better than the story itself. But I really did love this story and even Pamuk’s reading. It must surprise you but I actually thought Pamuk’s accent sounded charming, hehe. It gave me the impression of an old scholar. But of course you’re right that it’s a little more difficult discern (like when he said ‘hyperborreal gloom’, I had to replay that over and over). Either way, the whole episode is a favorite of mine :) Have you read any book by Pamuk? I’m REALLY interested in his book Museum of Innocence.

    My next fiction podcast recommendations:
    – Last Night by James Salter
    – Reunion by John Cheever
    – The Colonel Says I Love You by Sergei Dovlatov (my most favorite)
    .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Review: Beg, Borrow, Steal] =-.

    1. I haven’t read Pamuk before, but I’m also very interested in his Museum of Innocence. The creepy premise appeals to me lol.

      I saw there’s Lorrie Moore story in the podcasts so I’m thinking that one, and I noted your recommendations. Thanks!

    1. Suko– Salinger’s story was just timely. I didn’t know he wrote short stories too. Did you read the Murakami piece I linked to last week? Hope you enjoyed it!

      Did you abandon Interpreter of Maladies? I remember you mentioned it last week.

  3. By the way, Mee, you mentioned about the killing of Nabokov’s father. That is one of the most powerful scenes in the story, don’t you think? I mean here was Nabokov, telling us after a long suspense that everything turned out fine and that the duel didn’t take place and their home was again peaceful and his dad was all well, and then just like that, on the next sentence the time just fast forwards and we learn that his father did die by a bullet a few years later. It’s like a shock. I think Nabokov likes to use this device, cause I noticed he also used it in Lolita.
    .-= [Mark David´s last blog: Review: Beg, Borrow, Steal] =-.

    1. Eerr.. yea I can’t comment much on the story, because I didn’t catch most of it. I got the gist of it from Pamuk’s afterwords. But I listened to it only once. It would be great if I could get the text-format, and read it while listening to Pamuk reading!

  4. @Mee, Funny that you asked. I just started the first page of Ishiguro’s Nocturnes. It’s stll eary days to know whether I’ll like it or not.

    :) Just wonder when I’ll have time to read Lolita. Although I have one “Reading Lolita in Tehran” on my pile though.

      1. I heard that it’s much better to read Lolita before reading Reading Lolita in Tehran (well, of course!). The latter and Nocturnes have been on my radar for a while, but I’m not sure when I’m gonna pick them up.

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