Thursday, December 17, 2009

Valdes on the Bolaño Myth: Who Cares?

Marcela Valdes puts a great stomp on the so-called Bolaño myth:

"And the fact that American publishers have used Bolaño’s life story to sell his books? Is this really a mortal sin? The book industry is in such terrible shape these days that publishers are trying everything to sell books. Why is the deployment of an author’s life story so much worse than setting up a fan group on Facebook? The important thing is that Bolaño was not chosen for translation and promotion in the United States because of his life story but rather because of the quality of his work and the acclaim he had already received in Spain and Latin America."

Also of interest:

"So, as a journalist, my view is both more pragmatic and more cynical. I don’t think that Americans have a basic indifference to world literature. I think they have a basic indifference to literature, period. And that’s not so different from what I’ve witnessed among people in Chile, Mexico, or Spain. Serious readers -- the kind of people who prefer reading a book like 2666 to the kind of pabulum that’s generated to be consumed primarily on airplanes -- have always been few on the ground. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon. To the extent that it does, it may change precisely because publishers and critics get better at luring general audiences to the hard stuff through narrative and persuasion, in hopes that they’ll get addicted to the special highs that only great literature can provide. What encourages me most is when someone who fell in love with Bolaño’s books asks me, What should I read next?"

Read the interview in full here. It's pretty damn good, especially if you are as perplexed by all this as I. I, as you know, love Bolaño's work, and am a huge reader of Spanish-to-English literature, so the flood of translated Spanish language books that have come pouring in these last few years (mostly from New Directions, god bless them) is very exciting. Valdes speaks of a Sarah Pollack article that might disagree. Okay, maybe we are under read when it comes to other lanuages and cultures, but my argument against that would simply be: Aira, Bolaño, Castellanos Moya, Vila-Matas, Ruis, Boullosa, Bracho, just to name the more recent crop. Need I mention Vallejo, Cabrera Infante, Borges, Cortazar, Arenas, Piñera, Huidobro, Parra, Neruda, Bioy Caceres, or Puig?