I recently reread Robert Bolaño’s novel “The Savage Detectives.”
I first read it in 2008. I had just moved to Oregon after completing my MFA, two years in NYC that were a combination of awe and awful. To be a young poet anywhere is to be confused and enchanted – and able to use words like “confused” and “enchanted” in regards to oneself without the slightest blush (blogging allows me to hide any possible blushing).
I was elated to find in Bolaño’s world a gang of poets that were as breathlessly falling apart as I felt. Six years later, and the book hasn’t lost its charm. Bolaño’s writing is overwhelming: he goes from inundating you with insider literary namedropping with the air of gossip and conspiracy to creating astounding metaphors that drive home the depths of human despair.
Or something like that.
The aligned below is a secondhand account about the reading habits of Ulises, one of the main characters of the novel whose adventures throughout the book prove him worthy of his namesake.
Making the Ink Run
aligned from Roberto Bolaño’s novel “The Savage Detectives”
He was a strange person. He wrote in the margins
of books. I’m glad I never lent him any
of mine. Why? Because I don’t like people
to write in my books. You won’t believe this but he
used to shower with a book. I swear.
He read in the shower. How do I know? Easy.
Almost all his books were wet. At first I thought
it was the rain. Ulises was a big walker.
He hardly ever took the metro. He walked
back and forth across Paris and when it rained
he got soaked because he never stopped to wait
for it to clear up. So his books, at least
the ones he read most often, were always a little
warped, sort of stiff, and I thought it was
from the rain. But one day I noticed that he went
into the bathroom with a dry book and when
he came out the book was wet. That day my curiosity
got the better of me. I went up to him
and pulled the book away from him. Not only
was the cover wet, some of the pages were too,
and so were the notes in the margins, some maybe
even written under the spray, the water
making the ink run, and then I said,
for God’s sake, I can’t believe it, you read
in the shower! have you gone crazy? and he said he
couldn’t help it but at least he only read
poetry (and I didn’t understand
why he said he only read poetry,
not at the time, but now I do: he meant
that he only read two or three pages, not
a whole book), and then I started to laugh,
I threw myself on the sofa, writhing in laughter,
and he started to laugh too, both of us laughed
for I don’t know how long.