A Year in Reading: Natasha Wimmer

December 19, 2011 | 1 book mentioned 3 2 min read

Instead of A Year in Reading, can I call this my Year of Books Half-Read? Lately I seem to find it impossible to spend more than half an hour at a time reading anything, and as a result I realize that I’ve succumbed to what I call the slug syndrome, as defined by the Mexican essayist and poet Gabriel Zaid. He writes: “Is anything more certain to make a book completely unintelligible than reading it slowly enough? It’s like examining a mural from two centimeters away…like a shortsighted slug.” (from So Many Books, a quick and enlightening read, translated — full disclosure — by me). And so I append a (short) list of books that really deserve better from their readers:

coverJorge G. Castañeda’s Utopia Unarmed: The Latin American Left After the Cold War. This book originally came out in 1993, long before Castañeda’s tenure as Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs. It filled in all kinds of holes in my understanding of the Latin American left (especially the ways in which the Cuban revolution both inspired and doomed homegrown leftist movements around the region), and generally left me marveling at the dazzling range of leftist thought in Latin America. The book is densely packed with ideas and citations (great sources for further reading), but it’s also informed by interviews on the ground with an impressive array of revolutionaries, as well as with their chroniclers and critics. Should probably be read in its entirety (the first half, at least, is brilliant).

coverJavier Marías’ Los enamoramientos. Not out yet in English, so you have plenty of time to plan ahead and clear your schedule for this one — or just go ahead and read A Heart So White (there’s also the 1000+ page trilogy Your Face Tomorrow, a great choice for those who prefer to feel completely outmastered, as opposed to simply defeated). This is Marías’ first novel with a female protagonist, and it’s just as preoccupied by the circumlocutions of thought as Marías’ previous works. Characters defy literary convention by ceaselessly turning ideas over in their heads in a way that is at once strange and completely familiar. The book also has much to say about the dynamics of happy marriages, always satisfying terrain in Marías’ novels. Best of all for this reader is Marías’ relentless focus on the effects of the passage of time. This too shall pass: a comforting theme for those of us eager to do better next year. By the way, I do firmly intend to finish this one by Dec. 31.

More from A Year in Reading 2011

Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

The good stuff: The Millions’ Notable articles

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's English-language translations include Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, 2666, and The Third Reich, as well as works by Mario Vargas Llosa, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, and others.


  1. Thank you Natasha! Not only for the wonderful recommendations (I love Javier Marias) but for your brilliant and wonderful translations! I’m obsessed with Spanish and Latin American literature and through you I’ve been able to discover some of my favorite writers/novels. An unparalleled gift. Bolano, of course, is a given. I’ve only read ‘Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me’ and book one of “Your Face Tomorrow’. I’ll have to collect my reserves and move on.

    Also, and I’m sure yoy’ve probably read it, but “The Advetures and Misadventures of Maqroll” by Alvaro Mutis is one of the most underated Spanish works, I think, ever. I’ve tried numerous times to push it on friends. Taken as a whole, the novellas interconnect and make it a superb book as a whole.

    Anyway, thanks again for your work. Translators should be given so much more credit for their work (not that you do it for that).

  2. It lifts my spirits tremendously to know that the translator of “2666” has the same problem I do finishing a book — or maybe this is not actually a problem, but a sign that we are more discerning readers, maybe? :-) Great piece, and I’m definitely going to check out Gabriel Zaid’s “So Many Books.”

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