Thursday, 14 March 2013

On Not Reading Julio Cortázar

Cortázar keeps nagging me to read him. Not in person, of course, because he's dead, and not because I don't know any famous authors, although I don't. I know a few people who've had books published, but none of them are famous, except, perhaps, in tiny circles, which makes their books cult objects, perhaps.

Yes we all know the common Supposed To Read But Too Difficult list inhabited by Joyce, at the top. And others, whose books may not be difficult, but they are very long. Big books have their uses, mind, as I wrote here. Tolstoy's War and Peace...Melville's Moby-Dick...Cervantes' Don Quixote...actually, I have read the last two, that's how clever I am, and determined to appreciate the absolute classics. I loved both, but no longer read books that are thicker than a couple of centimetres. I can gauge the size at a glance running my eyes across the spines on shelves, of course. When I first made this vow I carried a ruler with me and was very strict. Perhaps some classics were missed because they contained ten pages too many, but there you go. Trouble is, some publishers cheat by insisting on a small point size thus cramming in far more words than I want to read. This irks me, as you can imagine. It's the right size, I buy it, start reading and wonder why I'm only on page 14 three weeks later.

Julio Cortázar, yes, the bastard. I first bought his collection, Blow-Up And Other Stories, a few years back, having learnt that his story was the source of Antonioni's film, which is also, coincidentally, called Blow-Up. That's where the problem began. I didn't read 'Blow-Up', or any other stories in the collection. I kept meaning to, of course, but never did. Then, about a year later, I bought Hopscotch, only because it was very cheap. With two Cortázar books on the shelf, surely I'd start one of them! No. Instead, just recently, I found 62: A Model Kit, well, it was only £1.49 in mint condition. All Cortázar books in second-hand shops are in mint condition because no-one actually reads them! Ulysses, on the other hand, I often see and it's usually worn out to some degree. This is because it's been owned by students, I suppose, whilst others may have thumbed it well, and bent the spine, probably out of spite, before throwing it against the wall and out of the window.

The New York Times Book Review said Blow-Up And Other Stories displays 'a first-class literary imagination at work.'  Aptly, it is only my first-class imagination which keeps me buying Cortázar since I imagine he's an excellent writer, and I imagine I really could enjoy his books. That's the problem.

Well here's a funny thing. The very first lines of 62: A Model Kit are:
   'Why did I go into the Polidor restaurant? Why, since I'm asking that kind of question, did I buy a book I probably wouldn't read?'
   Ha-ha! It's as if he plays a joke with us poor wannabe readers, knowing full well that many of us will not read the whole book. Meanwhile his novels remain, as he also writes on the first page, 'lost forever in the bookcase'. In the same paragraph, he hits the nail on the head by saying 'the enigma was in buying them'.


  1. I read the first line of your second para and my initial thought, just for a split second there, was, "Joyce who...?"


    At least you have hope. For some of us there's none.

  2. My copy of Hopscotch has been sitting unread on one shelf or another since the nineties. I also had Blow Up, but never read it either and it ended up back in the thrift store where I first bought it years earlier.


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