Ben Loory's Reviews > How I Became a Nun

How I Became a Nun by César Aira
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Nov 20, 2011

it was ok

heard about aira through an article in the los angeles review of books talking about writers who write straight through without rewriting... i mean without EVER rewriting... like, as an actual decided technique... sounds insane to me, but apparently people do this? javier marias, jesse ball (i think?), and this guy, aira... the article cited aira as working very very slowly, only producing a page or so a day... which, okay, sounds like maybe you could do it... in any case, seemed interesting to me, so i picked this one up... and all i can say is, well, yeah... seems like it was written straight through without rewriting.

he does have a way with a sentence, though.

not really sure what to make of this.
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Thorson I think Louis L'amour did that, too. In his case it resulted in repeated phrases and sections that were somewhat redundant. I know, regardless, it's not a technique I'd personally feel confident in. I have to edit a bazillion times to be remotely happy with it.


message 2: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben Loory i'm okay with repeated phrases and sections (or at least, i like it when homer does it :)... this was more like, how's about if the story wanders over here for a while, and then over here, and then just abruptly ends like this?? how would that be???


message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben Loory very strange


message 4: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Thorson I'm guessing it wasn't done with an outlin


message 5: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben Loory maybe he needed an outline for his outline


message 6: by Adam (new)

Adam Yeah, I didn't finish this one. But An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and Ghosts are both very good.


message 7: by Ben (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ben Loory i have episode in the life and have been reading it, like it a whole lot more... reminds me of w.g. sebald... doesn't even seem like the same author as this...


Jimmy Seems like all his books get very mixed reactions except "Episode"... everyone loves that one.


message 9: by Adam (new)

Adam Episode is my favorite. Ghosts is great, but the ending + subtext is creepy... disturbing.


Elizabeth Pyjov I think rewriting is a better idea, or at least more courteous to the reader ;)


Jimmy For Aira, writing is like an experiment... it is not about the reader, it's about discovery through process. I find this refreshing. There is a giddy sense of not-knowing. It's certainly not for everyone. Some readers like to know that they are in safe hands even before they start. Aira tells you you might not be in safe hands, but you might end up literally anywhere, anytime. I don't like all his books, sometimes I find him too silly for me, but I highly respect his method.


message 12: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Thorson That's the issue I have with some literary pieces. They're set up by their own innate context so that they become almost impervious to any criticism. If it weren't about the reader at some level, the pieces would be tucked away in a drawer.


Jimmy Hmm. I don't think it's impervious to criticism. You can still criticize it for its shortcomings, same as any book. I think the only difference is that the book might be more enjoyable for readers who have a higher tolerance for the convention-breaking and unexpected. When I said it's not about the reader, I just meant the writing process... I think in the end it still has to be pleasurable to SOMEONE... so when it's in the hands of the reader, the reader can feel free to interpret/criticise it any way they please. Maybe I'm not making any sense?


message 14: by Jenn (new)

Jenn Thorson You're making sense, and I appreciate you sharing your perspective. I'm just wrapping my brain around the concept, as a writer, of not editing and then sending it into the world-- and what my expectations would be for it, if I did so.


Jimmy I think he does edit within the day... For example, from what I understand, day 1 he would write a page... he can edit that page during that day... but once he moves on, he cannot edit day 1's page on day 2, etc. So no looking back in terms of "what went on in the past"... sort of like in real life, where what you've done cannot be changed.

I think there is an energy and a forward motion that comes from this process that you cannot manufacture otherwise (traditional outlining and plotting). So the pleasure of reading it may be enhanced by this other aspect that isn't something you can pinpoint, like say plot or characters. I'm actually amazed at how coherent his works are, given his method.

Also, I think a lot of the inconsistencies (the boy/girl/author narrator) are there on purpose, and not as mistakes because of lack of editing. I think Aira has a tendency to play with what you think you know, what you expect, and to create spaces of ambiguity in those spaces. Aira likes to ask "what if" a whole hell of a lot.


message 16: by Slowrabbit (new)

Slowrabbit from what i understand, Louise Erdrich wrote her last novel, Shadow Tag in a similar manner and I heard David Vann talk about writing Caribou Island with very quickly with minimal editing and rewriting. and while i found both those novels a bit disappointing for various reasons, i still appreciate the method.
just as often, i run across things that feel overworked, tinkered and tweaked so much that they begin to feel precious and sterile. a bit undercooked, sometimes, is ok with me.


Elizabeth Pyjov Jimmy, those are very interesting points !


Jimmy Thanks Elizabeth! What are your thoughts on this author? Also: happy thanksgiving to all :)


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