Monday, December 30, 2013

Five For Fourteen

I am really looking forward to a new year of books! Here is a list of five books I'm especially excited to read in 2014...

5. The Baker Who Pretended to be King of Portugal by Ruth MacKay
I purchased this book in hardcover during this past semester and have looked longingly at its beautiful cover ever since. In the whir and swirl of the semester, I didn't have time to devote to pleasure reading, but now that I do, I'm happily and hungrily delving into this treat.

Ruth MacKay is a phenomenal historical writer. Last year I stumbled across her book Lazy Improvident People: Myth and Reality in the Writing of Spanish History and was delighted by her highly readable account of Spanish early modern work culture. She explored the perception of Spanish work/labor culture from both within Spain and among other European countries by consulting economic records and essays on the nature of work from the day.

In this book, she tells the story of a foiled attempt to convince the Portuguese people that their deceased--and heirless--monarch had returned from the grave to continue governing Portugal as a sovereign land. In the late 1500s, Sebastian "O Desejado" ("the Desired One") took the throne in his adolescence; he was "desired" because he was the last in a line of legitimate pretenders to the throne and stymied the consolidation of power under the Spanish crown, allowing Portugal to remain independent. But the 15-year-old king marched himself, and the majority of the country's young male nobles, into an unnecessary re-conquering battle in northern Africa, where he and almost all his companions met their end.

The throne of Portugal was vacated, with no legitimate successor, and thus was born sebastianismo, the belief that Sebastian was simply hiding or sleeping and would come back to Portugal's shores one misty morning to take up his crown once more... Though this was utterly untrue, the belief took a strong hold, especially because Portugal was forced to be governed by the Spanish crown thereafter for a period of about 60 years. BUT ANYWAY... This book details one of the most successful attempts to give the sebastianistas exactly what they were seeking: the returned king.

From the book's inside flap: "In one of the most famous of European impostors, Gabriel de Espinosa, an ex-soldier and baker by trade ... appeared in a Spanish convent town passing himself off as the lost monarch. The principals, along with a large cast of nuns, monks, and servants, were confined and questioned for nearly a year as a crew of judges tried to unravel the story, but the culprits when to their deaths with many questions left unanswered." SO EXCITED!

4. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare by Stephen Greenblatt
Here is a literary criticism classic that I have shamefully not yet read. But it is not just shame that inspires me to read this volume-- it is also genuine interest in the central idea of the text.

Put simply: what is identity and how was it created during the Renaissance? Greenbalt's exploration of this topic was responsible for revolutionizing the way early modern texts and their authors were researched (see: new historicism).

From the book's back-cover: "[this book] is a study of sixteenth-century life and literature that spawned a new era of scholarly inquiry. Greenblatt examines that structure of selfhood as evidenced in major literary figures of the English Renaissance--More, Tyndale, Wyatt, Marlowe and Shakespeare--and finds that in the early modern period new questions surrounding the nature of identity heavily influenced the literature of the era."

Wild guess here: this book will be a challenging but rewarding read.

3. Brazil Imagined: 1500 to the present by Darlene J. Sadlier
A panoramic look at diverse modes of cultural production in Brazil throughout the centuries? YES, PLEASE.

In this book, Darlene Sadlier writes about a range of artistic production (such as literature, visual art, architecture, media, historiography, letters) in order to trace major themes in individual (and epochal) identity formation. Beginning with the arrival of Portuguese settlers in the year 1500, Sadlier marks the evolution of the imagined Brazil--from both within and without its borders.

From the back-cover: "Topics include the oscillating themes of Edenic and cannibal encounters, Dutch representations of Brazil, regal constructs, the literary imaginary, Modernist utopias, "good neighbor" protocols, and filmmakers' revolutionary and dystopian images of Brazil."

I'm expecting to get a lot of new reading material out of this one!

2. Obras do diabinho da mão furada attributed to Antônio José da Silva, "the Jew"
The title of this fictional work from the 1700s can be roughly translated as "The Little Pierced-Handed Devil." So far, I know very little about the work, but I've begun to learn about its author (I started on the introduction last night!)

Apparently, Antônio José da Silva "the Jew" was born in 1705 in Brazil. His family had converted to christianity before leaving Portugal--but they were extradited by the Holy Office to be tried as heretics and "Judaizers." His family was convicted and fined, which left them with too few resources to return to Brazil.

They settled in Lisbon, where Antônio studied law and began publishing plays and other writings. These writings were seething critiques of lisboeta society--and of christianity--of the early 18th century. At the age of 34, Antônio José da Silva was again brought before inquisitors, tried because of his writings, and sentenced to death by hanging and the public burning of his corpse.

This story is said to draw extensively from local folklore, combining Portuguese mythical creatures with the general narrative arc of the "Faust" stories (immortalized definitively in Goethe's tragic play). I haven't found an English translation of the book, so I promise to report back and let you know all the details!

1. Grande sertão: veredas by Guimarães Rosa
In the early 60s, this book was translated into English under the title The Devil to Pay in the Backlands. And it breaks my heart to report that it has since gone out of print, meaning that if you'd like a copy, you should be prepared to spend around $300. Ouch. Well, crack out that library card, because I am certain that any trouble you go through to get this book between your hot little hands will be worth it...

As I understand it, the central story is narrated by its main character, Riobaldo, a bandit traveling through the Brazilian backlands. To an (unknown?) listener, Riobaldo relates his strange and at times terrifying encounters in the desert. The Devil, it seems almost needless to say, will play a main role in this novel.

It is another classic that I am ashamed to admit I haven't read yet... but my shame is greatly overcome by my excitement to begin reading this immortal story. {Also, update: just found this blog dedicated solely to this novel!}

Oh, and by the way- check out these amazing photographs of the author, Guimarães Rosa...How ahead of his time was he?! A true pioneer of public cat obsession, in the pre-Internet era!

What are you most looking forward to reading in 2014? What authors do you think we should look out for? What's on your nightstand right now??

Until next time-- keep rustling!

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