unimaginable heights


The Savage Detectives

By Roberto Bolaño. Already read once by Jack. First time reading for Talita. Read while staying in Ashraf’s flat in Grainauerstr.

Jack: I remember getting really into trying to work out who the narrator was, and also looking for clues that Ulises and Arturo are really drug-dealers. It’s an amazing world to dip back into. I will be rereading this for the rest of my life, I’m sure.

Talita: Jack got me this as a Christmas present. I read it mostly over a snowy couple of weeks holed up in a perfectly-sized West Berlin flat, which we will always remember fondly thanks to its right angles, great location and spacious lounge. It was a wonderful time of my life. The book was great. I really value writing that can be this evocative without need for wanker descriptions – you know, something along the lines of “his cheekbones looked like a starving predator, his eyes a frightened prey hiding deep within his skull”. No, Savage Detectives will transport you with nothing but a few brief mentions of streetlights and late-night Chinese cafes. I respect that.


By Júlio Cortázar. Half-read in Portuguese by Talita a long time ago. First time reading for Jack. English version bought as a Christmas exchange. Read in parents’ house in Pagham (Jack) and in grandmother’s flat in Botafogo (Talita).

Jack: I think I wish I read it straight through instead of the inane ‘hopscotching’ that supposedly makes the book so innovative. Because the story isn’t bad. It reminds me of a film I saw at around the same time called ‘Innocent Sorcerers’. Dirty sheets, dusty flats with floorboards, young people talking high ideas in a bid to impress each other and/or themselves. Talita says his short stories are really good. I think I’ll read them at some point.

Talita: His short stories are really good. This book can be accurately described as indulgent but for most of it I didn’t think that was a bad thing. It’s something of a text collage, full of the sense of discovery present in all the best pre-schooler art. Also, only example I know of a book character called Talita. I enjoyed seeing my name in such a context. I thought both Talita and Maga were good female characters, although seen through the perspective of an idiotic protagonist. But the writer seemed more or less aware of his shortcomings, and unapologetic about them, two things I rate highly.

The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar

By Harvey Pekar. First time reading for both Jack and Talita. Christmas present from Talita to Jack. Read while living at Talita’s grandmother’s house in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro.

Jack: Talita introduced me to Harvey Pekar early on in our budding and he has remained a stalwart for us both. Probably one of my most favourite moments from 2017 was getting a McDonalds meal to takeaway and then eating it together while watching a compilation of all his Letterman interviews. Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.

Talita: I’ve known and loved Harvey Pekar since watching American Splendor when I was I think 13, but both my knowledge and love keep reaching new depths. The more I know him the more I love him. All of this anthology was great. At one point, I said to Jack it was like a self-help book and he agreed. Very good self-help. Pekar’s life and work will remain a source of inspiration to me; whatever peace he could find in his lifetime, I am searching for it, too, and we are both strident leftists.

The Sirens of Titan

By Kurt Vonnegut. First time reading for both Jack and Talita. Bought individually while apart over July-August. Read in grandmother’s flat in Botafogo (Talita) and parents’ house in Pagham (Jack).

Jack: I have fond memories of this book, especially the last ~50 pages. At some point, I’d definitely like to read another Vonnegut. He’s a mensch.

Talita: Vonnegut is one of my favourite writers, but I tend to prefer his less critically-acclaimed stuff, I don’t know why. Both Sirens of Titan and Cat’s Cradle were very good, but they just felt like books, while Slapstick and Timequake and even Bluebeard were able to send me in giddy mind-bending frenzies at least once every 10-25 pages. I miss those frenzies and hope for nothing more than to encounter them in literature once again, I hope they’re not one of those things you become too old for, like separating Skittles by colour.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

By Philip K. Dick. First time reading for both Jack and Talita. Jack had an old copy bought around 2015-16 in a three-book deal. Talita bought a copy online while in Botafogo. Read while living together in Copacabana. First time reading PKD for both.

Jack: Conceptually imaginative, stunted in many other ways. As Talita said: “Reading it is like watching someone else play a videogame.” Maybe I’d pick up Man in the High Castle at some point, but probably not.

Talita: I’d very much like to read some more Philip K. Dick, maybe Valis or A Scanner Darkly. There is a lot about him that intrigues me, but I must admit this was a pretty weird book, and I didn’t understand a lot of it. All of the characters were exactly like each other. Very weird.