Monday, April 2, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - B is for Bolano and Buford

I enjoy books that make me feel like I might have a fever. Maybe enjoy isn't the right word but I do like books that live with me even when I'm not reading them. To the point where my clothes and skin seem to have their smell. Roberto Bolano's work and Bill Buford's seem to have that quality for me.

Savage Detectives was the first book I read by Roberto Bolano. I probably should also mention that I like books that would stun an ox if you threw them at one. I felt like I had a fever for days as I moved through his world of an underground literary movement. It's one of those books where you could read the outline of the plot and have no flavor of the world the book creates and thus why it's worth reading.

I try to think of myself as aware of the world beyond the borders of the US but the sad truth is I'm woefully unaware of most things south of the US. And even if you are aware of it, it's easy to categorize South American literature as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and "magical realism" (which Bolano abhorred). Bolano's writing reminds one that a culture's Nobel Prize winning author is only the tip of the iceberg of a much more complex and amazing literary tradition.

Bill Buford is kind of the direct opposite of Bolano. Where Bolano writes fiction, Buford writes nonfiction. Where Bolano is detached, Buford throws himself in wholeheartedly. Yet there's some quality of their writing styles that I think makes them a good pair for this.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany is he first book by Buford that I read. It blows any other narrative about "working a restaurant line" out of the water. What makes Buford's books good and well rather frightening is that as he researches he gets drawn into his topics in ways that frankly always makes me surprised that he's married.While I understand and even identify with the train of thought that can lead one down a rabbit hole, I'm not entirely certain I could live day to day with someone who was given a very good excuse to live that way for long periods of time.

Among the Thugs is my favorite of his two books. It examines soccer hooliganism, crowd psychology and violence. Yes, to the point where he went around with the soccer crowds.  What the in depth obsession ends up doing is painting a extremely detailed portrait for the reader of what it's like and Buford then lets the reader make their own conclusions. For Among the Thugs I came away with a much deeper understanding of crowd psychology and violence which left me rather unsettled in how easily I could apply to much more than soccer hooliganism.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it's not too late for you to sign up and let me see how you handle the letter Q.


  1. I felt that way about the Madeline L'Engle books when I first read them. For both "Wind in the Door" and "A Swiftly Tilting Planet," I can't remember if I actually was feverish the first time I read them or if it just seemed like it.

  2. I like the concept of books giving you a fever. I think The Hunger Games trilogy did that for me. Good luck on your quest to hike Vermont, Hoosier! I'm a Buckeye, right next door.