Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Bolaño’

You think you have a messy desk? You have competition! Here are some famously messy ones.

Saturday, October 17th, 2020

Robert Silvers of New York Review of Books fame. Is he a master or a prisoner of this space? Love to spend an afternoon there.

It’s one week before I go on Zoom for Stanford’s 17th annual Company of Authors event at 1 p.m. next Saturday, October 24. My mission: to tell you about my newest book Conversations with René Girard: Prophet of Envy. (Get your free tickets for a reservation here.) Then you will see my messy, messy workspace behind me. The ziggurats of books and papers. The archive that has yet to find a home except in plastic bins spread out across the floor. The huge oak roll-top desk overflowing with rough drafts and pencils and a small clay owl. (A sneak preview at right.)

Home sweet home.

If you wonder why the Book Haven has been so quiet of late, it’s not because we’ve been tidying up. With multiple book deadlines of varying severity rolling over us, we’ve been working 24/7. But we thought we’d take a moment to complain about our bad habits.

I take comfort knowing that I am not alone. At least not in the era of the Google Search. I typed in “famous messy desks” and here’s a few that I found.

My favorite is above, the late, legendary Robert Silvers, one of the founding editors of the New York Review of Books. Though it’s not exactly messy – they are orderly piles, after all – just crowded. I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon there. in

Immediately below, Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget is sprawled in this truly messy space. Clearly, he’s not in California. A good 3.9 earthquake would bury him. But what a way to go!

Chilean poet, essayist, and short story writer Roberto Bolaño looks sad, but at ease, among his piles of unanswered correspondence and his old-style computer.

Genius theoretical physicist Alfred Einstein has vacated the premises entirely. In a very literal way. The photo was taken on the day he died in 1955. So He never had to clean it up. Looks homey, though.

Below that, Steve Jobs prowls around what looks like a home office. There are vials with eyedroppers on the shelves.

And finally, always, Mark Twain at ease in 1901. Mess be damned. Who would tell him otherwise?

Feel free to send me the own evidences of your disorganization. I might even publish them as a postscript. It will make me feel better somehow. Because I won’t get around to moving my piles of stuff anytime soon.


The astonishing productivity of Roberto Bolaño: he knew that the clock was running out fast

Friday, December 20th, 2019

Ann Kjellberg‘s The Book Post is sharing some of its subscriber material as a special Christmas present for all of us. Here’s an excerpt from one, by novelist Àlvaro Enrigue, on the astonishing productivity of Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) whose works are still being discovered, uncovered, with no end in sight.

It begins:

Not long after the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño died unexpectedly of kidney failure in 2003—an illness only he and his close relatives and friends knew about—his editor, the legendary Catalonian publisher Jorge Herralde, made public that the author had left in his custody five finished interlinked novels as a sort of life insurance for his child. Those novels became the monumental volume, published as 2666, that cemented his international recognition as the alpha writer of Latin America—even if this recognition arrived only as a literary afterlife. As the years went by, it emerged that those were not the only works he had left unpublished. Nine posthumous books later—some still missing from English—I wonder if we are any closer to seeing Roberto Bolaño’s computer drive run dry. Considering the literary quality of The Spirit of Science Fiction, now coming to American bookstores, it seems we are still far from the moment when Bolaño’s emails and grocery lists hit the market. …

The Mexican writer Juan Villoro, who was close friends with Bolaño, has written about the delirious and very late phone calls he received when they were both living in Catalonia: Bolaño would report, to Villoro’s disbelief, on having spent the night writing another novel. Bolaño knew that his clock was counting down faster than the others’, and he wrote with the same rush and desperation with which his characters experience their youth.

Read the rest here. The Book Post is a by-subscription book review service, bringing book reviews by distinguished and engaging writers direct to your inbox. As a subscriber you can read the full archive at And subscribe to the Book Post here. Meanwhile, some available offerings during the holiday season:

• Joy Williams on Meister Eckhart
• John Banville on Robert Macfarlane
• Marina Warner on Margaret Atwood
• Calvin Baker on David Blight
• April Bernard on Dreyer’s English
• Geoffrey O’Brien on Marvin Gaye
• Robert Cottrell on John McPhee
• Elaine Blair on Sally Rooney
• Padgett Powell on William Trevor
• Your humble editor on Susan Sontag



Roberto Bolaño on Neruda, Kafka, and the abyss

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

"A certain composure" (Photo: Creative Commons)

After reading my post on Pablo Neruda a few days ago, Daniel Medin sent me this insightful snippet from a Swiss journalist’s  interview of Chilean poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño, in the year before the writer’s death. Neruda is the least of it, really:

Which authors would you number among your precursors? Borges? Cortázar? Nicanor Parra? Neruda? Kafka? In Tres you write: “I dreamt that Earth was finished. And the only human being to contemplate the end was Franz Kafka. In heaven, the Titans were fighting to the death. From a wrought-iron seat in Central Park, Kafka was watching the world burn.”

I never liked Neruda. At any rate, I would never call him my one of precursors. Anyone who was capable of writing odes to Stalin while shutting his eyes to the Stalinist terror doesn’t deserve my respect. Borges, Cortázar, Sábato, Bioy Casares, Nicanor Parra: yes, I’m fond of them. Obviously I’ve read all of their books. I had some problems with Kafka, whom I consider the greatest writer of the twentieth century. It wasn’t that I hadn’t discovered his humor; there’s plenty of that in his books. Heaps. But his humor was so highly taut that I couldn’t bear it. That’s something that never happened to me with Musil or Döblin or Hesse. Not with Lichtenberg either, an author I read frequently who fortifies me without fail.

Musil, Döblin, Hesse wrote from the rim of the abyss. And that is commendable, since almost nobody wagers to write from there. But Kafka writes from out of the abyss itself. To be more precise: as he’s falling. When I finally understood that those had been the stakes, I began to read Kafka from a different perspective. Now I can read him with a certain composure and even laugh thereby. Though no one with a book by Kafka in his hands can remain composed for very long.

Postscript on 1/25:  Thanks to one of our readers, F.H., we have a link for the full interview.  It’s in German, here.