Mario Villalobos


When I read The Sympathizer a few weeks ago, I had no idea Viet Thanh Nguyen had written the sequel, let alone that it was to be released in March. So I felt great pleasure in reading this interview with him and this review of The Committed by Junot Diaz.

A masterpiece.

Philip Roth, in his introduction to Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog:

The character of Moses Herzog, that labyrinth of contradiction and self-division—the wild man and the earnest person with a “Biblical sense of personal experience” and an innocence as phenomenal as his sophistication, intense yet passive, reflective yet impulsive, sane yet insane, emotional, complicated, an expert on pain vibrant with feeling and yet disarmingly simple, a clown in his vengeance and rage, a fool in whom hatred breeds comedy, a sage and knowing scholar in a treacherous world, yet still adrift in the great pool of childhood love, trust, and excitement in things (and hopelessly attached to this condition), an aging lover of enormous vanity and narcissism with a lovingly harsh attitude toward himself, whirling in the wash cycle of a rather generous self-awareness while at the same time aesthetically attracted to anyone vivid, overpoweringly drawn to bullies and bosses, to theatrical know-it-alls, lured by their seeming certainty and by the raw authority of their unambiguity, feeding on their intensity until he’s all but crushed by it—this Herzog is Bellow’s grandest creation, American literature’s Leopold Bloom, except with a difference: in Ulysses, the encyclopedic mind of the author is transmuted into the linguistic flesh of the novel, and Joyce never cedes to Bloom his own great erudition, intellect, and breadth of rhetoric, whereas in Herzog Bellow endows his hero with all of that, not only with a state of mind and a cast of mind but with a mind that is a mind.

Try saying all 244 words five times fast.

Viet Thanh Nguyen on page 267 of The Sympathizer:

You know how to tell if someone’s really dead? Press your finger on his eyeball. If he’s alive, he’ll move. If he’s dead, he won’t.

When I was an EMT, a paramedic told me of another way to tell if someone’s playing dead: rub the knuckles of your first two fingers hard against their chest. No one can pretend after that.

On February 13, 2015, I finished transcribing The Great Gatsby by hand. This was one of the most tedious yet rewarding things I’ve ever done.


Toward the end of 2019, I finished transcribing A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway by hand in my notebook. This was the second book I transcribed by hand, the first being The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I learned a lot by doing this.

How to Be Idle: A Loafer’s Manifesto was a frustrating book to read. Not because it wasn’t good—it was very good—but because, like How to Do Nothing and The Wander Society, and even Walden and Thoreau’s Journal, it shows me a world I wish I could be a part of but can’t quite attain. Like many, I need a job to earn money; I need money to pay off my debts and my bills; I need to pay these off so I can… live? Like I wrote about last month, one of my big goals this year is to pay off my debt. Once I do, I’ll have an extra $1,000 or so a month that doesn’t have a job in my budget. I hate that this extra money makes me happy, but it does. I wish I could spend my days listening to the sounds of nature and daydreaming, but I’m not quite there yet. I don’t know if I ever will or if I even want to, but I love reading books that show me that it’s a possibility, that maybe just thinking about this escape is enough to get me through the day.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson should be required reading for everyone on the planet. The book is endlessly quotable, but this one jibes with my current life philosophy:

Even the longest lived of our species spends but a blink of time in the span of human history. How dare anyone cause harm to another soul, curtail their life or life’s potential, when our lives are so short to begin with?

Highly highly recommended.

Finished Normal People by Sally Rooney, and I’m really not one for reviews, but my god, what a well-written and unbelievably beautiful book. It’s one of those rare books that filled me with so much inspiration with each page I read. Highly recommended.

Like McCarthy, Rooney doesn’t use quotation marks for dialogue. I like that. Simplify the English language to just periods, commas, and question marks, and maybe an exclamation point here and there.

Page 2 of 3