Leftist Thai Literature

Siburapha, the pen name of Kulap Saipradit

I read some short stories by Siburapha, who wrote Behind the Painting, and all three were dominated by ideas from left leaning, socioeconomic activism, something that I could only see in the novel in light of these stories (and even then, so much more faintly; the novel is, ultimately, about the loves of Thailand’s upper echelons).

In fact, I would say that the stories verge on being downright marxian (particularly one entitled, Lend a Hand, which featured an explicit dialogue about the relative value of labor vs capital).

Enjoyable, but like the novel, a little too much driven by ideas and a little too little driven by character (arguably, only Dostoyevsky ever wrote a truly successful philosophical novel, where a plot entirely driven by intellectual concerns still managed to be a deeply riveting narrative; I’ve always felt that The Brothers Karamazov is the most architectural novel ever written).

Reading Poetry Is Not Like Reading Prose

It’s books like this that make it both difficult and besides the point when people ask me how books I read in a year or a month or a week or whatever. I love this book. Every so often I pick it up and read through some of the poems. In fact, I just did it.

What I didn’t do is read systematically through it from cover to cover.

Instead, I read a few and was inspired to read a chapter from the second book of The Tale Genji, which I had started and then set down after finishing the first book. I did this because Murasaki is one of the featured poets.

I am also thinking of going back and finding some other books in my collection by Japanese women poets (names, Salad Anniversary and Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa).

Reading poetry is a different thing than reading novels or nonfiction. It’s a different kind of attention and is done at a different kind of pace.

Behind The Painting

After I bought this, my better half perked up. This book, she said, is a sort of classic. It’s one of those books that every Thai student is given to read in high school. She then quoted to me a translation of the final line, which is, apparently (and one other Thai person confirmed this to me), iconic.

I die with no one to love me, yet content that I have someone to love.

We were at a Cherry Blossom festival in San Francisco’s Japanese neighborhood (in LA, that neighborhood was called Little Tokyo, but I think in SF they called it Japantown) and I excused myself to check out Forest Books, a great little used bookstore, specializing in books about Asia and literature in translation. They had shelves devoted to Eastern European, Chinese, and Japanese literature. And they had a Southeast Asian shelf, so I figured I would see if they had anything from Thailand. Not knowing anything about it, I bought this.

It’s romantic, and I’m a sucker for that, even if it was a little slight.

Happy Independent Bookstore Day!

Kensington Row Bookshop

A few highly recommended local bookstores (with the exception of some university bookstores that are run by Barnes & Noble, there are no chain bookstores in DC) around the area that you might want to consider visiting in honor of Independent Bookstore Day. If you live in the area. If you don’t live in the area… well, use your phone. You can do all sorts of things with your phone these days. Google something. Or Yelp it. Don’t make this my problem.

Politics & Prose: Kind of the godfather of local indie bookstores. It’s got a really nice poetry section; second only to Bridgestreet Books, in that respect. Also, go downstairs and check out the discounted books – walk down and make a sharp left.

Bridge Street Books: I already mentioned the poetry section, which is both large and well-curated (with an eye towards promoting contemporary and conceptual poetry). It’s also really big on leftist/critical theory type stuff, filling it’s current affairs, lit crit, philosophy, and politics shelves with books in that vein. Curation, really, is the key to what makes this place great.

Kramerbooks: It’s not my favorite, in terms of the selection (not a small selection, necessarily, just not always my cup of tea), but… c’mon. This place is an institution. Gotta love it.

Busyboys & Poets: Up there with Kramerbooks and P&P in its locally iconic status. Lots of stuff on grassroots organizing, race, immigration, economics, etc. Not just liberal, but activist in nature. Technically, it’s run by Politics & Prose. For years, it was run by an awesome nonprofit called Teaching for Change and I didn’t realize that had changed until I looked up the website for the bookstore. Now I’m feeling kind of bummed out.

Capitol Hill Books: This is my neighborhood bookstore. Quintessential, piles of books in danger of collapsing on the perusers. Funky and friendly. But don’t piss off the owner.

East City Bookshop: A relatively new bookstore with some really comfy places. A little mainstream for my taste, but some excellent curation in its small poetry section.

Upshur Street Books: This place is out of the way for me, but it’s worked really hard to be both a neighborhood and citywide cultural touchstone. A focus on works by writers of color and great symbiosis with the bar next door, which regularly holds book/author themed happy hours.  Selection is small, though.

Second Story Books: It’s almost big enough to get lost in and has lots of really (and sometimes pricey-ish) old tomes, as well as offering legitimately rare, antiquarian books.

Kensington Row Bookshop: Not actually in the District, but in the cool little antique row area of Kensington, Maryland. Lots of events and a great focus on kids.

Poetry Month, 2017

Chosen, they say, because ‘April is the cruelest month.’

I have been remiss this year. Not that I really do that much to celebrate it. I’m actually an introverted kind of fellow. In my professional life, I can be as hail-fellow-well-met as the next flak, but in my personal life, I am something else. And poetry is part of my personal life. And I’ve been sick, I’ve been busy, I’ve been traveling, I’ve been dealing with urgent personal matters, and then I look up and April is almost over and National Poetry Month with it.

‘For this revolt of thine, methinks, is like another fall of man.’

If don’t celebrate National Poetry Month, what does that say?

I’ve read a good deal of poetry, though I haven’t finished any new collections. I brought a selection of books by the sometimes crazed nineteenth century English pastoral poet, John Clare, with me on a trip. I rediscovered my copy of the partly Kenneth Rexroth edited Women Poets of Japan (which  contains, I have heard, at least one poem by a fictional Japanese women who is actually Rexroth himself, which feels more problematic than it used to). I read the latest edition of Poetry (the magazine). I read a bit from that strange, Japanese collection, Cat Town.

Maybe this was month for turning inside one’s self. Which, while valid, is poor timing.

Reading Print

Last Sunday was my day to sit down and read the print publications that I subscribe to. Mostly because I was sick and couldn’t go outside because the allergies would have, in my weakened state, killed me (though it killed me inside to miss, for the second year in a row, after having attended for eight years in a row, Shakespeare’s Birthday Bash at the Folger Shakespeare Library).

I actually subscribe to a decent number of print publications. I get the Sunday Washington Post (this was a Living Social deal, which I mostly purchased to get online access to the paper), Foreign Affairs (which is a gift from my father), Poetry (I think I saw this deal on facebook – one year of Poetry for an absurdly low price), and Brooklyn Rail (a tabloid format monthly, mostly about art and culture in Brooklyn, which I got as part of the deal with Poetry). I’m also getting the New York Review of Books (which I got for $10; let me repeat that: $10!!!!), but that hasn’t started arriving yet.

The Sun Also Rises has a scene where the narrator/protagonist is deciding which of the two bullfighting newspapers to which he subscribes to read first. They would have the same news, he acknowledged, but one tended to have slightly better writing. Notably, he did not say that he wouldn’t read them both, in the end (and I tend to think that he would read them both).

My mother once gave me a short story to read. I think it was by Saki. One of the characters was English member of the upper class who had gone bankrupt and so joined the army, which got him posted to a tropical village (Saki was born in Burma, so I’m going to guess that’s where it was). Once a year, he took his leave and went back to London and hung out with the wealthy friends of his former life and, most importantly, for my current purposes, he would purchase a year’s worth of the ‘papers,’ which he would read back in (Burma?) at the rate of one a day, one year after their initial publication.

Both of which literary references are to say that I love the ritual of reading magazines and papers.