Reading round the perimeters


Two recent Latin-American encounters, with two writers who at first sight, could not be more different. The first concerns the reading habits of Julio Cortázar, via pasteldenaranja:

Cortázar was not a bibliophile, as his widow tells in this funny anecdote. While they were reading a novel in a train: “He read a page, he tore it out and then he gave it to me. I threw them away as I read them. The other passengers could not believe it. They were outraged.”

Anti-bibliophile or not, he was a pretty voracious reader, as a passage from Around the Day in Eighty Worlds reveals:

Since there are very few books in Saignon, [the village in the Luberon where he and his wife lived] beyond the eighty or a hundred that we read over the summer, and the ones we buy at the Dumont bookstore when we go down to Apt on market days…

Even by a conservative estimate, I make that at least a book a day…A selection from the 4,000 volumes or so accumulated at Saignon is now being exhibited at the Centro Cultural Fundación Círculo de Lectores in Barcelona.

julio cortazar
Then, a nice quote from Juan Carlos Onetti, who features in Cortázar’s library, at airform archives:

…as he smoked a cigarette in the sun it occurred to him that in every city, in every house, in himself even, there existed a perimeter, a spot where people could seek refuge as they struggled to survive the events life imposed on them. an exclusion zone, a place of blindness, of small, slow insects, of redoubts, of sudden, never properly understood, never well-timed, moments of reversal.

– from El astillero (1961), translated as The Shipyard.

Onetti, one of Uruguay’s leading 20th century novelists, is a new name to me. There is an extensive website dedicated to this “Padrino oculto e inquietante de la literatura latinoamericana” at, which despite requiring me to execise my polyglottal muscles beyond their capacity (being mainly in Spanish, though you can switch it to be in German), is a model of how these things should be organised, with a wealth of documentation and imagery – including first edition covers, like this one:El astillero

See also here:

El astillero (1961), … focuse(s) on the life of Larsen (alias The Bodysnatcher) , an ex-owner of a whorehouse, who works in a rusting shipyard. He plans to marry the daughter of its owner, but the shipyard becomes a symbolic landscape of his own ruin: “Erect, exaggeratedly strutting, he avoided pieces of hanging iron with shapes and names which rested imprisoned on a confusion of wires and penetrated into the shade, into the distant cold, into the reticence of the shed. He reviewed the desks, the threads of rain, the nets of dust and spider webs, the reddish-black machines which continued simulating dignity.”

There’s a page for The Shipyard at Serpent’s Tail, the book’s UK publishers.


One Response to “Reading round the perimeters”

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