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A delirious collection of short stories from the Latin American master of microfiction, César Aira–the author of at least eighty novels, most of them barely one hundred pages long–The Musical Brain & Other Stories comprises twenty tales about oddballs, freaks, and loonies. Aira, with his fuga hacia adelante or "flight forward" into the unknown, gives us imponderables to po A delirious collection of short stories from the Latin American master of microfiction, César Aira–the author of at least eighty novels, most of them barely one hundred pages long–The Musical Brain & Other Stories comprises twenty tales about oddballs, freaks, and loonies. Aira, with his fuga hacia adelante or "flight forward" into the unknown, gives us imponderables to ponder and bizarre and seemingly out-of-context plot lines, as well as thoughtful and passionate takes on everyday reality. The title story, first published in the New Yorker, is the creme de la creme of this exhilarating collection.


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A delirious collection of short stories from the Latin American master of microfiction, César Aira–the author of at least eighty novels, most of them barely one hundred pages long–The Musical Brain & Other Stories comprises twenty tales about oddballs, freaks, and loonies. Aira, with his fuga hacia adelante or "flight forward" into the unknown, gives us imponderables to po A delirious collection of short stories from the Latin American master of microfiction, César Aira–the author of at least eighty novels, most of them barely one hundred pages long–The Musical Brain & Other Stories comprises twenty tales about oddballs, freaks, and loonies. Aira, with his fuga hacia adelante or "flight forward" into the unknown, gives us imponderables to ponder and bizarre and seemingly out-of-context plot lines, as well as thoughtful and passionate takes on everyday reality. The title story, first published in the New Yorker, is the creme de la creme of this exhilarating collection.

30 review for The Musical Brain: And Other Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    This was very thoughtfully given to me on my birthday this year by a writer friend who considers it one of his favorites. So for me it was an open invitation to read these pieces as they are but also possibly as a way to understand HIM better, as a writer. As for Aira, I don't have a lot to say. I will confess that toward the end of the book, I was tempted to skim, as the tone of the pieces really began to drag for me. The endlessly discursive style and the mental meandering gets tiresome for th This was very thoughtfully given to me on my birthday this year by a writer friend who considers it one of his favorites. So for me it was an open invitation to read these pieces as they are but also possibly as a way to understand HIM better, as a writer. As for Aira, I don't have a lot to say. I will confess that toward the end of the book, I was tempted to skim, as the tone of the pieces really began to drag for me. The endlessly discursive style and the mental meandering gets tiresome for those of us seeking specificity and clarity. Part of this might have to do with translation -- not just translation of language, but translation of personality and culture? Totally worth it: "The Dog" story, perhaps one of the finest things I have ever read on the subject of guilt and conscience. Utterly and completely human.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mike Puma

    In lieu of a review.Frequently, when reading Aira, you come across passages which suggest the route, by which, he’ll proceed with the story—not a foreshadowing of the plot, rather a hint of the device, by which, he’ll get there. For me, it’s part of what makes reading him so much fun, e.g.: Folklore and literature are so full of stories about greedy fools who are punished for their haste, that it makes you think those offers are all too good to be true. There are no records or reliable precedent In lieu of a review.Frequently, when reading Aira, you come across passages which suggest the route, by which, he’ll proceed with the story—not a foreshadowing of the plot, rather a hint of the device, by which, he’ll get there. For me, it’s part of what makes reading him so much fun, e.g.: Folklore and literature are so full of stories about greedy fools who are punished for their haste, that it makes you think those offers are all too good to be true. There are no records or reliable precedents on which to base a decision, because this sort of thing happens only in stories or jokes, so no one has ever really thought about it seriously; and in the stories there’s always a trick, otherwise it would be no fun and there would be no story. At some point, we’ve all secretly imagined this happening. I had it all worked out, but only for the ‘three wishes’ scenario. The choice the genie had given me was so unexpected, and one of the oppositions was so definitive, that I had to weigh them up, at least. or By the thirties, after all, Picasso had been recognized as the pre-eminent painter of asymmetrical women: complicating the reading of an image by introducing a linguistic detour was just another means of distortion, and in order to underline the importance that he attached to this procedure, he had chosen to apply it to a queen.orThere’s also a more practical reason, which relates to comprehensibility: even the most insignificant details are important for the complete explanation of mechanisms that might, at first glance, seem absurd. One has to work through the list of senseless oddities so as not to miss the one that has the magic power to make sense of everything.Other random quotes which appealed to me, some of which suffer from lack of context:The game of realism, by its very nature, neutralized everything.**********The hypothesis underlying this study is that human beings act in strict accordance with an instinctive program, which governs all of our actions, however unpredictable or freely chosen they may seem, and that our “cultural” free will is consequently no more than a kindly illusion with which we dupe ourselves, as much a part of our innate heritage as the rest.**********And the metaphoric forms of flight—new jobs, resolutions, self-hypnosis—were, predictably, even less effective: when the literal doesn’t work, metaphors are worse than useless.**********If we had known what surrealism was, we would have cried: Surrealism is so beautiful! It changes everything! Then we went back to the normal game like someone going back to sleep, back to efficiency and representation.***********The successiveness of this narration is an unavoidable defect***********If I were a character in a play, the lack of real privacy would make me feel wary, anxious, and suspicious. One way or another I’d sense the quiet, attentive presence of the public.***********As to keeping the secret and not betraying the trust that had been placed in me, I could set my mind at rest because labeling something as art dispels all suspicion of reality forever.**********Only time could have provided confirmation of what was happening, but it was the action of time, precisely, that obliterated the traces, or scrambled them, tying them into a knot. It wasn’t impossible. Every impossibility has a basis in the possible. After all, one of the men had always had normal-size feet, and the other, normal-size hands. […]The brain, which is always looking for ways to save energy, cancels or dulls the perceptions that are most frequently repeated in everyday life, skipping over them, taking them for granted, the better to concentrate on what’s new, which might be important for survival, whereas familiar features of the environment have been ruled out as potential threatsThe misplaced fact that had always governed my relationship with the two men prevented me from fixing my gaze, in an obvious way at least, on the enormous hands and feet, but I was also inhibited by the very common reluctance (which, in my case, was particularly strong, almost a taboo) to look in detail at anything monstrous, deformed or horrible, for fear it might become an obsession, or prove to be unforgettable (when everything beautiful is forgotten). Perhaps this is a remnant of ancestral superstitions. Attention skirts around whatever might “leave an impression.” To shut my eyes would have been impolite, as well as impractical. Which left me with only one option, peripheral vision. 4.something stars, rounded to 5. Few, if any, total misses in the collection; in general, each story (especially toward the end) just seemed to get better than the one that preceded it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Vit Babenco

    César Aira’s influences are rather apparent: Marcel Schwob, Raymond Roussel and, of course, Jorge Luis Borges but he is more on the side of satire so in his hands symbolism, surrealism and magical realism turn into the weapon of ridicule. The little girl’s rapid consumption of novelties was accepted as something natural, even exciting. This is how it should always be, some people were thinking, philosophically: getting and losing, enjoying and letting go. Everything passes, and that’s why César Aira’s influences are rather apparent: Marcel Schwob, Raymond Roussel and, of course, Jorge Luis Borges but he is more on the side of satire so in his hands symbolism, surrealism and magical realism turn into the weapon of ridicule. The little girl’s rapid consumption of novelties was accepted as something natural, even exciting. This is how it should always be, some people were thinking, philosophically: getting and losing, enjoying and letting go. Everything passes, and that’s why we’re here. Eternity and its more or less convincing simulacra are not a part of life. In the Café is my favourite tale in the collection – it’s a great parable of art and gnoseology. The title story The Musical Brain is almost the Kafkian fable of a cryptic metamorphosis but it is a murderous mockery. Acts of Charity is an excellent philosophically satiric allegory of wealth and poverty. The rich are always seduced by altruism and philanthropy and tempted to be charitable and help the poor… But they successfully fight the temptation and in the end win. The way they see it, the poor deserve the conditions they live in, because they’re lazy or don’t even want to improve themselves; whatever you give them will only prolong their poverty. They’ve never known anything else, and they’re satisfied with what they know. In merely practical terms, without having to go into moral, historical, or sociological considerations, it’s obvious that poverty, especially in its extreme forms, is a phase that societies have to go through, and can’t simply be eliminated. Why even try? The poor live happily with their lacks, and don’t even see them as such. Therefore the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul Secor

    There's a story entitled "Cecil Taylor" in this collection. I don't have heroes these days but, if I did, Cecil Taylor would surely be near the top of the list. So it was a certainty that I was going to pick up this book. The "Cecil Taylor" story is a very good one. I don't know how much of the story is based in fact and how much is myth. Over time, fact and myth can merge and become one. I'm just happy that the story is real. There are at least two other stories in The Music Brain : and Other Sto There's a story entitled "Cecil Taylor" in this collection. I don't have heroes these days but, if I did, Cecil Taylor would surely be near the top of the list. So it was a certainty that I was going to pick up this book. The "Cecil Taylor" story is a very good one. I don't know how much of the story is based in fact and how much is myth. Over time, fact and myth can merge and become one. I'm just happy that the story is real. There are at least two other stories in The Music Brain : and Other Stories that I know will remain with me over time: "The Dog", a haunting, searing tale of guilt, conscience, and memory; and "Poverty": "Maybe that's why you resent me, but it's the source of all your originality, and given your maladaptation, without originality, you're nothing." I've never been truly poor and I hope that I never will be, but Poverty's argument seemed to be a convincing one for the narrator of the story, though there may well be some twisted irony involved there. Some of the other stories in this collection turn in on themselves in ways that didn't grab me, and made for sluggish reading, but I'll remember the three stories mentioned above and that's enough for me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Northpapers

    Aira deals in the higher geometries of narrative. Sometimes, his stories fold in on their own devices, examining their own technique and structure in startling ways. Because of Aira's warm sense of irony (he frequently enters his own stories as an unreliable narrator and evasive philosopher), he's able to do so without the particularly cold, reflexive feel of much avant-garde contemporary writing. In fact, in one of his interviews, he rejects "avant-garde" as a military term, and says that his ai Aira deals in the higher geometries of narrative. Sometimes, his stories fold in on their own devices, examining their own technique and structure in startling ways. Because of Aira's warm sense of irony (he frequently enters his own stories as an unreliable narrator and evasive philosopher), he's able to do so without the particularly cold, reflexive feel of much avant-garde contemporary writing. In fact, in one of his interviews, he rejects "avant-garde" as a military term, and says that his aim is not to deconstruct. He loves it all. By appearing often in his own work, he injects a sense of humanity and tenderness into complex, almost mathematical forms. For me, the result is a sense of wonder and continuing curiosity. I particularly liked "A Brick Wall," "The Cart," and "The Spy" for their sense of nostalgia and for how they always stayed a little out of reach before yielding their secrets. I read all three of these stories several times, and was amply rewarded for the work.

  6. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    there is always so much to love in the works of césar aira. he may well be one of the most unpredictable fiction writers in contemporary literature, with each novella or story more bizarre or unexpected than the last. he's well known, of course, for not revising his works as he writes them, favoring instead a "flight forward" approach. the musical brain and other stories collects twenty of aira's stories, spanning nearly twenty years of his writing. while some of the stories are brief affairs, a there is always so much to love in the works of césar aira. he may well be one of the most unpredictable fiction writers in contemporary literature, with each novella or story more bizarre or unexpected than the last. he's well known, of course, for not revising his works as he writes them, favoring instead a "flight forward" approach. the musical brain and other stories collects twenty of aira's stories, spanning nearly twenty years of his writing. while some of the stories are brief affairs, a few are more novella-like in length. largely absent from this collection, however, are the stylistic, thematic, and genre shifts that have characterized his previously translated novellas. nonetheless, the musical brain, for anyone who has had the distinct pleasure of reading aira in the past, contains nearly all of the admirable qualities we've come to anticipate and appreciate. of the disparate stories making up aira's first short story collection to appear in english translation, some of the more notable ones include "the dog," "a thousand drops," "the all that plows through the nothing," "the cart," "poverty," "no witnesses," "the two men," "acts of charity," and "cecil taylor." this is how it should always be, some people were thinking, philosophically: getting and losing, enjoying and letting go. everything passes, and that's why we're here. eternity and its more or less convincing simulacra are not a part of life. *translated from the spanish by chris andrews (bolaño, et al.) **special mention should be made of the musical brain's lenticular book cover (designed by rodrigo corral and zak tebbal); an absolutely gorgeous, unforgettable, and entirely fitting way to jacket aira's singular stories.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Roger Brunyate

    The Tenth Fold Several of the twenty stories in this collection mention the fact that you cannot fold a sheet of paper in half more than nine times. The fact is not really essential to any of the stories in which it occurs, except that it sets up the legend of the tenth fold, that speculative but impossible extension to everyday logic to which only God and the mind of César Aira have access. Those who have read Aira before will not look to him for a story in the normal narrative sense. He will sta The Tenth Fold Several of the twenty stories in this collection mention the fact that you cannot fold a sheet of paper in half more than nine times. The fact is not really essential to any of the stories in which it occurs, except that it sets up the legend of the tenth fold, that speculative but impossible extension to everyday logic to which only God and the mind of César Aira have access. Those who have read Aira before will not look to him for a story in the normal narrative sense. He will start with a premise, a childhood memory or something quite simple and everyday. Before long, he will either be philosophizing on its implications or striking off in some totally unexpected direction. The "Musical Brain" of the title story, some kind of music-playing device, is only one of a number of oddities in a story that involves a restaurant where people pay with used books, a comedy theater, a circus, a love triangle between three midgets, and a flying mutant. The title of the opening story, "The Brick Wall," refers to the movie The Village of the Damned, one of the thousand or more Aira reckons he saw as a child, yet by a deliberate feat of misdirection he abandons that tack altogether and tells a story based on quite another movie, North by Northwest, before that too is abandoned and the story ends. The spirit of Borges hovers over many of these tales, yet it is a Borges with a lighthearted sense of humor. Aira's attempts to bring out a literary "Athena Magazine" in his youth becomes an intricate series of minute calculations balancing the page count of the first issue against the publication's further prospects. The competition between the middle-aged patrons in "In the Café" to fold origami animals out of napkins to delight a four-year-old girl escalates until they are making intricate model universes, each of which the girl soon destroys in her childish glee. In "A Thousand Drops," the Mona Lisa dissolves into minute particles of paint which wander the universe, creating minor miracles or cosmic catastrophes wherever they touch down. In yet another story, two women friends who chat with each other incessantly while working out in the gym are seen as oracles for all the crises in the world. It is bizarre stuff and curiously fascinating, but too rich to read all in a day or two. So I have paused at the halfway point, and will return later. But not without identifying my personal favorite, "God's Tea Party," in which God traditionally celebrates His birthday by throwing a party for the apes. By the end of it, by contrasting the grandeur of God with the tiniest imaginable subatomic particle, Aira has covered much the same ground as Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time , but in a marvelously entertaining way. Alas, not all the stories are as much fun or as meaningful, but Aira's particular brand of convoluted philosophy can be glimpsed throughout. Here, for example, is his explanation of the bad behavior of the apes at the tea table: The problem of the bad behavior might be due to the fact that God doesn't preside. Or rather, He does and He doesn't. As we know, God is omnipresent, which turns out to be very handy for carrying out His functions, but it has the drawback of preventing Him from being visibly present in a particular place, for example sitting at the head of the table, keeping things under control. His absence (if His omnipresence can be counted as an absence) could be regarded as a discourtesy that legitimates all the subsequent discourtesies of his guests: a host who fails to turn up to his own party thereby authorizes his guests to behave as they like.The excellent translation is by Chris Andrews.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    Of course Cesar Aira has over 90 books, his stories have such manic energy and a sneaky speed that somehow defies his brain-trapped stories. This collection gets its title from an enigmatic object in a real firework of a story that comes 1/3 of the way into this small book (and sadly marks the end of its great moments); however, considering the collection's consistent narrator is ostensibly Aira himself, bubbling over with stories that seem to take musical phrasing as more of a narrative form th Of course Cesar Aira has over 90 books, his stories have such manic energy and a sneaky speed that somehow defies his brain-trapped stories. This collection gets its title from an enigmatic object in a real firework of a story that comes 1/3 of the way into this small book (and sadly marks the end of its great moments); however, considering the collection's consistent narrator is ostensibly Aira himself, bubbling over with stories that seem to take musical phrasing as more of a narrative form than more traditional literary arcs, the title best doubles as a comment on the writer himself. Only the final story (one that seemed strangely disconnected from the rest of the set with its biographical bent) seems to deal directly with music, but Aira's style has that technical approach to slapdash jazziness (and a slapdash jazz approach to the technical) that ties it to great contemporary music forms. It's problems are identical too: caught inside itself, the music (and Aira's writing) seems to lose track with the dazzling surreal moments in life it was capturing so well only to lean on questions about the medium itself for inspiration. This is abrasively true in stories like "The All That Plows Through the Nothing" and "The Criminal and the Cartoonist" that seem to purposefully dismantle themselves away from life and into the world of Literature with a capital L to frustrating effect. Aira seems so full of ideas and a willingness to run with them, but stories like "Acts of Charity" and "The Ovenbird" seem intent on driving a single point home for pages that it is easy to forget the wonderful moments in other sections where dozens of points dance together on a single page. The stories making up the first third of the book (all of which tend to be more recent than later offerings) are so full of wonderful and childlike imaginations filtered through a literary mind that you feel you can follow Aira anywhere, the problem is when that "anywhere" leads to the rest of this collection.

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Madera

    César Aira's The Musical Brain is a commanding performance, finding the fabulist once again blurring the imagined boundaries between genres, between so-called reality and so-called fantasy, music, biography, mathematics, science, among the subjects and forms, respectively, upended. The following quote from "Cecil Taylor," the collection's last story, serves as a possible guide to Aira's singular approach to narrative throughout this collection, and his writing as a whole: "And what counts in lite César Aira's The Musical Brain is a commanding performance, finding the fabulist once again blurring the imagined boundaries between genres, between so-called reality and so-called fantasy, music, biography, mathematics, science, among the subjects and forms, respectively, upended. The following quote from "Cecil Taylor," the collection's last story, serves as a possible guide to Aira's singular approach to narrative throughout this collection, and his writing as a whole: "And what counts in literature is detail, atmosphere, and the right balance between the two. The exact detail, which makes things visible, and an evocative, overall atmosphere, without which the details would be a disjointed inventory. Atmosphere allows the author to work with forces freed of function, and with movements in a space that is independent of location, a space that finally abolishes the difference between writer and the written...the great manifold tunnel in broad daylight..."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Curtainthief

    Aira's writing inspires both envy and annoyance. The former being the more excruciating. Part of his brilliance is in getting carried away, but he doesn't always carry the reader with him. His powers are nonetheless undeniable. Aira is at his most obnoxious in the penultimate story, but the final one, about the early failures of my favorite jazz musician, Cecil Taylor, cemented my emotional bond with his work. I simultaneously look forward to and dread getting into the novellas.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    The part of my soul that endlessly delights in Calvino was well-nourished by this collection of screwy, fantastic short stories. I read it while driving to and from work over the course of a month, and it never failed to make me at least a little giddy. Favorites included God's Tea Party (in which sub-atomic particles crash a recurring event held for the apes); A Thousand Drops (in which all the paint drops comprising the Mona Lisa decide to leave the painting and go on myriad wild adventures); The part of my soul that endlessly delights in Calvino was well-nourished by this collection of screwy, fantastic short stories. I read it while driving to and from work over the course of a month, and it never failed to make me at least a little giddy. Favorites included God's Tea Party (in which sub-atomic particles crash a recurring event held for the apes); A Thousand Drops (in which all the paint drops comprising the Mona Lisa decide to leave the painting and go on myriad wild adventures); In The Cafe (in which diners amuse a little girl by folding improbable creations from napkins); The All That Plows Through The Nothing (in which a writer sees the back of a ghost); The Ovenbird (in which a bird looks at humans with the assumption that instinct alone guides human action); Acts of Charity (in which a priest builds a magnificent residence to pave the way for his successor priest to be able to devote 100% of his time to the poor surrounding said residence). Mr. Aira's imagination is a fearsome and wonderful thing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    if there were any book justice in this screwy world, you would never have heard of nora roberts-patterson, but would worship cesar aira and the 80-plus-novel-god that he is. and don't ever get in a death-fight with poverty. if she loses, you lose.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bläckätare

    It's only a collection of short stories, but is Aira becoming my other favorite Argentine author? He's written 80+ books... more than enough to find out :-)

  14. 4 out of 5

    maria

    Some of the stories in this collection, which includes twenty stories spanning twenty years, are the best things I've ever read by César Aira. "In the Café" takes a banal story of little kid who is entertained by folded napkins—and repeats it to absurdity. "God's Tea Party" recalls Calvino with its screwy take on particle physics. It also brings to mind David Foster Wallace, with its anthropological riff on theology. Several stories foreground the social concerns of Latin America. "The Dog" is a Some of the stories in this collection, which includes twenty stories spanning twenty years, are the best things I've ever read by César Aira. "In the Café" takes a banal story of little kid who is entertained by folded napkins—and repeats it to absurdity. "God's Tea Party" recalls Calvino with its screwy take on particle physics. It also brings to mind David Foster Wallace, with its anthropological riff on theology. Several stories foreground the social concerns of Latin America. "The Dog" is a Kafkaesque tale of a man who is hounded by his guilt for an unspecified wrong. "The Topiary Bears of Parque Arauco" contrasts the glossy appeal of consumerism with the squalor of the slums. "Acts of Charity", written in 2010, seems inspired by Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andy Mascola

    A collection of short stories. I’d read two novellas by Aira a few years back and liked them enough to give this book a try. Not nearly as good as I’d hoped. Most stories felt unnecessarily long. Only a few decent tales. Overall, just ok‬ay.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bill Magee

    This is the fifth book I've read by César Aira, and it is now perfectly clear to me that I will never be sure if I like him.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Brent Legault

    Aira's style is so precise and so camouflaged that it seems to be lacking style altogether. That is his triumph, and occasionally, his downfall. But mostly his triumph.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Like a Latin-American Calvino. Great stuff!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    The Musical Brain, a beautifully done cloth bound edition with a shiny laminated cover is by notable Latin American author Cesar Aria (translated by Chris Andrews). These 20 original unique short stories rich in observational detail and at times, mathematical formulas illustrate the brilliant mind and intellect of the author. In the first story, "A Brick Wall" a youth recalls his time spent at the cinema and great love for movie classics especially Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. There are many stori The Musical Brain, a beautifully done cloth bound edition with a shiny laminated cover is by notable Latin American author Cesar Aria (translated by Chris Andrews). These 20 original unique short stories rich in observational detail and at times, mathematical formulas illustrate the brilliant mind and intellect of the author. In the first story, "A Brick Wall" a youth recalls his time spent at the cinema and great love for movie classics especially Alfred Hitchcock thrillers. There are many stories about writing and literary themes: "Athena Magazine" features the story of a magazine editor that becomes fixated on the appearance (including mathematical design and format) rather than original goal of bringing poetry, love (stories) and revolutionary ideas to readers. Another writer focus is on the autobiographical elements in the work of "Picasso" ( also the story title) for his inspirational notebook writing. "The Dog" is one of the shortest stories about a man that becomes terribly annoyed and fixated on a barking dog in his neighborhood. In "The Musical Brain" a young girl recalls her 1950's childhood visit with her family members to the circus in Pringles. It is unclear why this may have been the highlight of the story collection. The girl became fearful after seeing some of the circus acts, suggesting a surreal theme. Speaking of surreal themes, the shortest most enjoyable story was "No Witnesses" though there was foul play involved the story had a simplistic quality and wasn't over written or analyzed. "The Two Men" is a longer story, where a student of social work attempted to assist two men who lived in isolation. Unable to photograph these men, the worry is about how he will portray them for his assignment. The last story, "Cecil Taylor" begins with the observations of a weary prostitute, before it switches over to a bluesman who supports himself with menial labor jobs while trying to find work as a musician. The book includes pages of rave reviews from notable publications and authors. The literary themes and literature references in the stories may be of particular interest for readers, the story details were typically extensive. The appeal was rapidly lost when the narratives often went off on various tangents. Despite rereading several stories and passages, the story themes, ideas, and meanings were often lost in overwhelming observations, or it wasn't clear what the author was attempting to say. This may have been due to the translation (though it seemed alright), or cultural differences. ~ Many thanks and much appreciation to New Directions Books for the ARC for the purpose of review.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    I like Aira’s novels more than his stories, but the title story and “Cecil Taylor” were both great.

  21. 5 out of 5

    John

    Well let's see. I frequently say that for every reader there is a Cesar Aira book, at least one, that is almost perfect. The book tends to be different for each reader. I'll say The Musical Brain was not mine. That's my judicious statement. There were a few stories with enough whimsy that I felt something of the transformation that his best work creates. But, in the end most of the characters in The Musical Brain are named Cesar Aira and really this mundaneness paired with digression after digres Well let's see. I frequently say that for every reader there is a Cesar Aira book, at least one, that is almost perfect. The book tends to be different for each reader. I'll say The Musical Brain was not mine. That's my judicious statement. There were a few stories with enough whimsy that I felt something of the transformation that his best work creates. But, in the end most of the characters in The Musical Brain are named Cesar Aira and really this mundaneness paired with digression after digression, hurts the overall product. Overall, we drift in and out of some grey area between forms: the essay and the short story. In Spanish Aira's short pieces are termed relatos, which historically would mean they focus less on narrative arc when compared to the cuento form. There's truth to be had there, but it didn't stop me from drifting off to sleep in places. But then there's "Cecil Taylor," a twisted TED talk about the infinities of failure. And that's about the only thing keeping The Musical Brain out of the two star gutter. Because that piece is as scintillant as broken glass glowing in a pile of puke.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    .the best of Aira so far Englished (not read them all but most), something in every story catches and stops you, continuously felt echoes of Kafka, Calvino (borges seems an obvious precursor), Poe but cast anew and as a meta-artist there is probably no one more enjoyable and full of play than Aira...also in shorter pieces his prose (translated by Chris Andrews here) sentence by sentence seems more than just a vehicle for his ideas....it's as if instead of writing and his other 'novels' where the .the best of Aira so far Englished (not read them all but most), something in every story catches and stops you, continuously felt echoes of Kafka, Calvino (borges seems an obvious precursor), Poe but cast anew and as a meta-artist there is probably no one more enjoyable and full of play than Aira...also in shorter pieces his prose (translated by Chris Andrews here) sentence by sentence seems more than just a vehicle for his ideas....it's as if instead of writing and his other 'novels' where there is a patch that seems only to serve as transition and seems to be written quickly and just to move along, he is not afforded that here....and nobody is writing short stories like this...and various!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate Elizabeth

    I'm sorry, y'all. WHAT AM I MISSING? Everyone and their mother adores this book. I find it distracting, frenetic, confusing, impossible to follow. Aira begins on one topic then spirals into philosophical discussions that made my eyes glaze over. I don't understand the point, or maybe I just don't have the patience for it. I disliked it so much I didn't finish it, which I never do. I had a whole debate with myself about whether it would be better to skim the remaining 130 pages just to say I "fin I'm sorry, y'all. WHAT AM I MISSING? Everyone and their mother adores this book. I find it distracting, frenetic, confusing, impossible to follow. Aira begins on one topic then spirals into philosophical discussions that made my eyes glaze over. I don't understand the point, or maybe I just don't have the patience for it. I disliked it so much I didn't finish it, which I never do. I had a whole debate with myself about whether it would be better to skim the remaining 130 pages just to say I "finished" it, or to move on to another in my stack of library books and hopefully find something I actually enjoy. The promise of pleasure won out. Sorry, Aira fans. I don't know what I'm not getting, but I'm definitely not getting it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jafar

    This is the first book that I've read by this Argentinean writer. He reminded me of Borges and Italo Calvino. In fact, he reminded me too much of Borges and Calvino. At times I thought he was copying their styles. That said, a few of the stories in this collection are brilliant. I'm sure there's a distinction between creative playfulness and frivolity. I can't say exactly what, but I know which is which when I see it. Aira and I probably don't agree on this. There are stories where he was trying This is the first book that I've read by this Argentinean writer. He reminded me of Borges and Italo Calvino. In fact, he reminded me too much of Borges and Calvino. At times I thought he was copying their styles. That said, a few of the stories in this collection are brilliant. I'm sure there's a distinction between creative playfulness and frivolity. I can't say exactly what, but I know which is which when I see it. Aira and I probably don't agree on this. There are stories where he was trying hard to be playful, but they just turned out to be silly.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Shani Jayant

    wow. I love this. riyl: dfw, borges, calvino, barthelme.. but he is something totally new. not a story here I didn't think was amazing. The Dog may be the most haunting short story I've read in a long time. beautiful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Hynes

    A collection of witty parables, Aira skirts the line of the fantastic well enough that you're often left wondering if perhaps shopping carts can have an inclination towards malevolence.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Claudio

    In short, it's disappointing that it wasn't a "never-ending" Cesar Aira collection of short stories. Brilliant!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    Intriguingly, Aira's flight-forward style doesn't so much gel (for me) in the short form. There are some excellent stories here, to be sure -- "The Cart" is particularly hilarious in my mind for its absurd final line, but there are many good ones in this robust collection -- but often they feel, well, a bit light. Much as I love Aira's work, I find that I'm well-served by breaks between his fictions and this collection only proves that point. There's a novella-length tale in here that easily cou Intriguingly, Aira's flight-forward style doesn't so much gel (for me) in the short form. There are some excellent stories here, to be sure -- "The Cart" is particularly hilarious in my mind for its absurd final line, but there are many good ones in this robust collection -- but often they feel, well, a bit light. Much as I love Aira's work, I find that I'm well-served by breaks between his fictions and this collection only proves that point. There's a novella-length tale in here that easily could've been published as a standalone book and I wonder if I'd've enjoyed it more if that'd been the case. For the completists, I'd say -- but also, honestly, not crucial reading even for them.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    If you are fan of short stories read this book. “Daydreams are always about concepts, not examples. I wouldn’t want anything I’ve written to be taken as an example.” (235) The Infinite Of the twenty stories collected here, 19 are pure magical linguistic treasures and the one lesser story, Athena Magazine, had only dissatisfied me primarily because it was overly focused on a repetition of the geometric possibilities to create a literary magazine of double or quadruple issues that failed to capture If you are fan of short stories read this book. “Daydreams are always about concepts, not examples. I wouldn’t want anything I’ve written to be taken as an example.” (235) The Infinite Of the twenty stories collected here, 19 are pure magical linguistic treasures and the one lesser story, Athena Magazine, had only dissatisfied me primarily because it was overly focused on a repetition of the geometric possibilities to create a literary magazine of double or quadruple issues that failed to capture my interest. Although that one story had failed for me, following along the thought process of numerical significance it is important to recognize that 19 of 20 stories is an impressive 95% success rate that illuminates this collection as a treasure trove of pleasurable reading.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Downward

    Aira seems to never even consider plot, or characters, or anything that makes up what you'd normally think of as a story. On occasion there are emotional peaks, but some stories dont even bother with that. The Musical Brain is a coldly cerebral thought experiment, one that in each story, grabs hold of an everyday thought and chases it to an incredibly bizarre conclusion, using paradox and irony as devices to bring us to some kind of intellectual truth about --- about what I'm not sure. Sometimes Aira seems to never even consider plot, or characters, or anything that makes up what you'd normally think of as a story. On occasion there are emotional peaks, but some stories dont even bother with that. The Musical Brain is a coldly cerebral thought experiment, one that in each story, grabs hold of an everyday thought and chases it to an incredibly bizarre conclusion, using paradox and irony as devices to bring us to some kind of intellectual truth about --- about what I'm not sure. Sometimes it seems to be about the beauty of information, sometimes it seems to be about the absurdity of poverty, charity, friendship, the past, old age. His spectrum is broad and the thoughts and experiments here are worthwhile.

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