Review #65: Leaving the Atocha Station

Leaving the Atocha Station

by

Ben LERNER

186 pages

Publication: Aug 23, 2011 by Coffee House Press

ARC received for free from Coffee House Press

First, I would like to thank  Tricia at Coffee House Press, for noticing my book blog and proposing to send me for free one book of my choice among their Fall Catalogue to review! Isn’t it thrilling when you get a book you did not even have to request or beg for?

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

I may not have tried this book if I had not received it from the publisher, but I actually enjoyed it.  I was interested in the treatment of several themes in it: being a foreigner, and an artist myself, this novel could not leave me insensitive. It is about the coming of age of a young  American poet, as he spends his fellowship year in Spain. How is he going to spend his time? What about his relationships with others, with other poets, with women, in a country he can hardly understand the language, and maybe most of all with himself?
Just as in the young bipolar hero struggling with alcohol and drugs addictions, there are so many levels of consciousness in this book.

His dealing with language is quite fascinating, as he reconstructs all possible options of reality to counteract the fact that Spanish grammar and vocabulary are beyond his comprehension. I liked also the way he created poems by playing between homophones between two languages. Lerner is himself the author of three books of poetry, and I would like to try one of his, to see if that technique is also behind his own poetical work. The ending of the book may even suggest that poetry in translation could reach higher levels of evocation that poetry in one’s own language. I have myself practiced poetry in my native language and in English, and I do believe there is something to that.

This work invites you to reflect as well on the relation between art (poetry, painting, music), virtual worlds, and reality. Are they three very separated fields? How do they interact? How do you flow from one to the other, without being desperately lost, as in the powerful scene where Adam spends a whole day roaming in the city, trying to get back to his hotel.

Reality appears also as “history in the making”, as one character says, as they witness the train bombings that occurred in Atocha station, Madrid, on March 11, 2004, with all the political background.

If this time for his fellowship does not seem to be at first sight used very efficiently, doesn’t it open actually unto a new dimension for Adam, as he discovers more himself, and has to face the question of his authenticity or his fraud?

This book is presented by the publisher as “hilarious”. I never perceived it as hilarious, but as rather tragic, unless you consider the widespread confusion of young people looking for landmarks through alcohol, drugs and medications, and being so confused about many things, including their own feelings, as hilarious. I don’t.  And that makes this modern portrait of seeking even more so genuine and worth reading.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. Instead of following the dictates of his fellowship, Adam’s “research” becomes a meditation on the possibility of the genuine in the arts and beyond: are his relationships with the people he meets in Spain as fraudulent as he fears his poems are? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader’s projections? A witness to the 2004 Madrid train bombings and their aftermath, does he participate in historic events or merely watch them pass him by?

In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a portrait of the artist as a young man in an age of Google searches, pharmaceuticals, and spectacle. [Coffee House Press]

EXCERPT

“My research had taught me that the tissue of contradictions that was my personality was itself, at best, a poem, where “poem” is understood as referring to a failure of language to be equal to the possibilities it figures; only then could my fraudulence be a project and not merely a pathology; only then could my distance from myself be redescribed as critical, aesthetic, as opposed to a side effect of what experts might call my substance problem, felicitous phrase, the origins of which lay not in my desire to evade reality, but in my desire to have a chemical excuse for reality’s unavailability.” p.166 [NB: this is quoted from the ARC, so could be slightly different in the final copy]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. Lerner has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the Northern California Book Award, a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and the recipient of a 2010-2011 Howard Foundation Fellowship. In 2011 he became the first American to win the Preis der Stadt Münster für Internationale Poesie. He teaches in the writing program at Brooklyn College. Leaving the Atocha Station is his first novel. [Coffee House Press] – click on his name to access an interesting interview.

A long interview of the author was published a week ago. You can read it here.

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

“An extraordinary novel about the intersections of art and reality in contemporary life.” –John Ashbery

“Ben Lerner incisively explores the way our own obsessive critical thinking can make us feel that our role in the world is falsified, unreal, and inauthentic, even as, without knowing it, we’re slowly growing into our future skin. Leaving the Atocha Station is a deft and meticulous reading of the development of an artist.” —Brian Evenson

HAVE YOU READ ANY POEM BY BEN LERNER?

DO YOU FEEL LIKE READING THIS BOOK?
WHY? WHY NOT?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

June 2011 Wrap-up

June was a very good month for books, for really good books.

Stats

  • I read 8 books, with a total of 1988 pages, that is 66.26 pages/day. Not too bad compare to my previous months.
  • I listened to 2 audiobooks, with a total of 35:24 hours, that is 1:17 hour/day, which is my best this year!

6 books were fiction, and 4  were non-fiction, I am happy for this balance. I always try to have both kinds going on at the same time.

The fiction titles read this past month were:

My favorite fiction book this month was:
tough choice

Fiction titles listened to:

My favorite fiction audiobook:
I can’t do choose, both were so excellent!

And the non-fiction titles read :

My favorite non-fiction
now without hesitation:

Blog wise, June was my most exciting month ever, with several events:

Audiobook Week, hosted by Jen @ Devourer of Books. She posted a question every day, and I managed to participate every day.
She organized some giveaways and I won my first audiobooks:
The Greater Journey by McCullough (Simon & Schuster) and One Summer, by Baldacci (Hachette Audio).
Through Jen, I got to discover the Audiobook Community, which I joined, as well as the Audiobook Jukebox, where I link my audiobook reviews – 2 great places to discover more audiobooks!

-Devourer of Books, you guessed it, she’s one of my favorite book bloggers, organizes also this summer some Cool Down With Agatha Christie Readalongs. I got a free book, Endless Night (HarperCollins), to participate in the Readalong on June 27. It was fun, answering questions and comparing with other bloggers  who had read the same book, though I would have liked more participants. It is not too late to participate, there are 2 more coming, one in late July, one in August, click on the link to sign up.

-One day, I also received a message from Coffee House Press, proposing to send me a book of my choice in their Fall catalogue for review! And I didn’t even know about that publisher! I chose Leaving the Attocha Station, by Ben Lerner. I will post it late August or early September.

-And Amy @ Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours just asked me if I would like to post a review along the tour on Road from the West: Book I of the Chronicles of Tancred, by Rosanne Lortz. This will happen here on Oct 13.

-I also discovered there was a Friday meme very close to my “Good Books for your week-end.” It is called Friday Finds. So now I link my Friday post to this meme.

-Jen also introduced another good meme, called Sound Bites, where you can link your audiobook reviews of the week.

– I finally took time to enter in Goodreads all the books I read since 2001 at least. I have more and more Goodreads friends, and I enjoy discovering what they think about this or that book.

What about my Reading Challenges?

Thanks to Cutting for Stone, I completed my 3rd Reading Challenge for 2011:

What’s in a name –     COMPLETED!
6 books
Hosted by http://whatsinaname4.blogspot.com/
– Number: The Crying Of Lot 49, by T. Pynchon
– Movement: The Spy Who came in from the cold, by J. Le Carré
– Life Stage: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey, by W. Mosley
– Gem: Cutting For Stone, by A. Verghese
– Size: The Great Railway Bazaar, by P. Theroux
– Evil: Strong As Death, by S. Newman

I have reached the Fascinated level for this one and will work on  next level:

2011 Audio Book Challenge
Fascinated: 6 Audio books.
Hosted by http://teresasreadingcorner.blogspot.com/p/2011-audio-book-challenge.html
1. The Canterbury Tales , by Chaucer +
2. The Invisible Man, by HG Wells +
3. The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, by Helen Grant +
4. Atlantic, by Simon Winchester +
5. Cutting For Stone, by A. Verghese +
6. Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett +

I have read already 17 titles counting for My Dewey Decimal Challenge. The highest level is Master level: 4, so I guess I already reached it 4 times
Hosted by http://www.theintrovertedreader.com/2011/01/my-dewey-decimal-challenge.html

And I already reached 14 titles for the 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge. 7-9 books from different categories  being the Future Jeopardy Champion, I have reached it twice already, and we still have 6 months ahead of us!
Hosted by http://brokeandbookish.blogspot.com/2011/01/2011-non-fiction-challenge.html

I joined 2 other Reading Challenges this month:

Japanese Literature Challenge
Read one book from June 1, 2011 until January 30, 2012. If you want to read more than one, wonderful. Hosted by Dolce Bellezza.
I have not read anything yet for that, but I plan to read a few Murakami, and can’t wait for his 1Q84 planned to come out next October.
I would love to read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa for this challenge.

I also plan to do this one:
Art of the Novella Reading Challenge
Fascinated — Read 3 novellas, during the month of August 2011
Hosted by MelvilleHouse Publishing. So far I only read in June The Dead, by James Joyce, and I have about already forgotten what it was about, so I am not sure I’ll pursue this experience. We’ll see.

I’m feeling really tempted by the Europa Challenge…

And now to the 2nd half of the year, I really hope to reach my 100 books this year.

HOW WAS YOUR JUNE READING MONTH?
LOTS OF GOODIES AS WELL?