Arts Literary

Hopscotch on Hopscotch


Our final books column tackles its namesake novel

Where is the first installment of this column? It was published three editors ago, in the summer of 2006. I can't find it anywhere, neither on paper nor in the ether. The notepad on which I started it and the computer on which I finished it have vanished, retired to some other place. I wanted to find that first Hopscotch and review my original statement of purpose (something about books), because this is the last installment of Hopscotch and I'm eager to know to what degree I managed not to fail.

Why a last Hopscotch? Let's just say what everybody knows already: Vue Weekly is a lion, but publishing is tougher than ever, budgets are squeezed and space is at a premium; freelancing is running a marathon in which you never see the finish line, the sky is always about to burst into thunderstorms and, somehow, you never get any exercise (except, perhaps, of the mind or spirit or whatever, which is some consolation). If you've read this column, even just once in a blue moon, even just because there was nothing else to read while the barista struggles with your foam or the doctor's got 14 patients ahead of you, even just because columnists irritate you and you wanted to get riled up about something for three minutes: thank you. If you've read this column and it's actually prompted you to read something, something in particular … OK, if it's made you want to read anything: perhaps this brief enterprise has been of use.

“It was about that time I realized that searching was my symbol, the emblem of those who go out at night with nothing in mind, the motives of a destroyer of compasses.”

I'm a slow reader. I wish I could have married more of these columns to current events (OK, here's my last shot: want some literary insight into uprisings in the Middle East? Read Kapuscinski's Shah of Shahs, especially that final section, “The Dead Flame”). But from the start this column was designed to remain liberated from the dictates of trends. (It's all coming back to me now.) I remember something Alberto Manguel said to an audience at an autumn writer's festival (autumn being that time of year when everyone is supposed to remember to read): “Books do not have seasons. Books are not melons.” Among a critic's callings is to assess a work and, if the work merits it, propose or renew the work's claims to posterity (something a writer should avoid thinking about at all costs). This is one of the reasons why there have been so many “old” books featured in this column. Who reads nothing but the latest books? Why would anyone want to follow such a program? Art and literature are here to remind us that the past and the present intermingle always. I wanted this column to take the form of a reader's whims, to dart between the latest and the lasting, and, at the risk of making whimsy, however studious, sound heroic, this insistence on writing about whatever seems worth reading was my modest act of defiance against the nearly ubiquitous model of book criticism as a wing (or, as it were, ghetto) of marketing. I'm happy to help out publishers and booksellers. But this was meant for readers.

“Everything can be killed except nostalgia for the kingdom, we carry it in the color of our eyes, in every love affair, in everything that deeply torments and unties and tricks.”

The above quotations are from Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch (Pantheon, $19), that great experimental novel of the 1960s about feeling lost in Paris in the 1950s, about hamburgers and Harold Lloyd, about desire and disappearance, faces and objects, exile and return, a novel that suggests at least two ways of reading it, that has me flipping back and forth, back and forth, without a sense of how far I've gotten in, and which, delightfully, never really seems to end. It's vast and challenging, but it also has rich characters, tremendous, desperate sex, feats of language, jazz, lots of real, dogged heart, and it's something, if I may suggest, that you should really consider reading. V

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