a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2014

December

Kerry Greenwood. Phryne Fisher Mysteries, 20 vols. Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen, 2006–2014 (1989–2013). [115.d]
Amusing – a needed distraction; subscription ebook services are perfect for this sort of reading.
Hubert & Kerascoët. Beauty. trans. Joe Johnson. New York: NBM, 2014. [114]
Rather creepy.
Bryan Lee O’Malley. Lost at Sea. Portland: Oni, 2014 (2005). [113]
Cute coming of age story.
Teffi. Subtly Worded. trans. Anne Marie Jackson et al. London: Pushkin Press, 2014 (1910–1952). [112]
A charming collection of short stories that sit in a happy triangle between Saki, O. Henry, and Edna Ferber – except Russian.
Marghanita Laski. Jane Austen. London: Thames & Hudson, 1997 (1969, 1975). [111]
Although the written portion of this biography was about as one could expect for so slight a volume, the images – which were probably supposed to be one of the primary attractions – were so ill-chosen and so haphazardly placed as to detract from the effect of the whole.
Jeremy Bentham. The Panopticon Writings. London: Verso, 1995 (1787). [110]
There are so many different ways of putting one’s house or life in order….
Marie Kondo. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. trans. Cathy Hirano. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 2014 (2011). [109.d]
Whimsical and silly, with all the usual platitudes in an amusing package. Definitely a calling-card book rather than a proper book, but it appears to serve its purpose.
Georgette Heyer. Complete Regency Romances. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2007–2012 (1921–1972). [108.d]
Around thirty novels more or less, but went through them like candy so it’s hard to take them seriously. Interesting to see an author develop over time and lose interest in the art of structuring a book while showing an increasing tendency to silliness. What was appealing about them? I’m not quite sure, since nearly each time I started one I rolled my eyes and had to work hard to continue, but it always got to the point where it was easier to finish them than to abandon them, so there’s that. Her mysteries are, on the whole, more satisfactory as novels, but all serve to beguile an idle hour and an enfeebled brain.

November

Elizabeth Taylor. Palladian. London: Virago, 1985 (1946). [107]
Sharp. Clinical. Jabs at literary fiction in the manner of Northanger Abbey at the gothic.
P. G. Wodehouse. Lord Emsorth and Others. New York: Everyman, 2002 (1937). [106]
Droll.
Mary Beard. It’s a Don’s Life. London: Profile, 2009. [105.d]
I’d never really gotten into Prof. Beard’s blog, but found this selection on Oyster – it amused.
Neil Gaimain. American Gods. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. [104.d]
A coarsely chopped mashup of Terry Pratchett and Robert B. Parker; could have used a dash more James Branch Cabell. Can see why this is generally appealing, though.
Neil Gaimain. Anansi Boys. New York: HarperCollins, 2005. [103.d]
Meh.
Neil Gaimain. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: HarperCollins, 2013. [102]
A slight book. Not sure if it’s supposed to work through all the Scientology flap or not, but it definitely felt like a less well-defined story world than one expects from Gaiman.
Neil Gaimain. Stardust. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. [101.d]
Also cute. Owes quite a bit to Hope Mirrlees and Diana Wynne-Jones.
Neil Gaimain. Neverwhere. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. [100.d]
Cute.
Northrop Frye. Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985 (1967). [99]
A thoughtful reading of Shakespeare’s tragedies; doesn’t bring in irrelevant detail or unnecessary defensiveness. Rather wish more academic writing in the humanities could be like this.
Ivan Vladislavić. The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories. New York: Seagull, 2012. [98]
An interesting look at creativity and the creative process.
Elsa Triolet. A Fine of Two Hundred Francs. trans. unknown. London: Penguin, 1986 (1945). [97]
Tough and wrenching.

October

Grace Paley. Later the Same Day. New York: Penguin, 1985. [96]
Amusing short stories. Snippets of life.
Ursula K. LeGuin. The Lathe of Heaven. New York: Diversion Books, 2014 (1971). [95.d]
A much better, and more thought-provoking, novel than I had been expecting. Not sure why.
Miranda July. It Chooses You. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2012. [94.d]
A much slighter book than I was expecting.
Mary Shelley. Mathilda. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2006 (1820, 1959). [93.d]
Read it on Oyster, which was interesting.
Italo Svevo. The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl. trans. L. Collison-Morley. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2010 (1929, 1930). [92]
Darker than I remember it being, more war-tinged.
William Dean Howells. A Sleep and a Forgetting. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2009 (1907). [91]
Rather more Jamesian than I expected; also, it could have done with some hyphenation.

September

Jenny Davidson. Reading Style: A Life in Sentences. New York: Columbia UP, 2014. [90]
An odd book. Without sufficient ballast of learning or personality.
Leigh Hunt. The Autobiography. Oxford: OUP, 1928 (1960). [89]
Even-handed and surprisingly sensible.
James M. Cain. Serenade. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1943. [88]
Perhaps the first book for which I’ve noticeably felt moral (rather than critical) repulsion.
Muriel Spark. The Only Problem. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984. [87]
A rather silly novel about English people who are unable to communicate with each other – in a style almost as flat and brutal as Ivy Compton-Burnett.
Norman Page. The Language of Jane Austen. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1972. [86]
Surprisingly approachable and interesting look at Jane Austen’s style; introductory, but useful despite that fact.
James M. Lang. Cheating Lessons: Learning from Academic Dishonesty. Cambridge: HUP, 2013.
A rather optimistic overview of the state of cheating in American universities.
Jane Austen. Persuasion. Oxford: OUP, 1965. [84]
More gentle humor than I remembered.
Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: OUP, 1965. [83]
Sprightly.
Jane Austen. Mansfield Park. Oxford: OUP, 1965. [82]
Refreshing.
Scholastique Mukasonga. Our Lade of the Nile. trans. Melanie Mauthner. Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2014 (2012). [81]
Creepy and vivid.
Mollie Panter-Downes. One Fine Day. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986 (1946). [80]
An odd hazy sort of book, muddled with people.

August

Frankétienne. Ready to Burst. trans. Kaiama L. Glover. Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2014 (2004). [79]
Post-colonial poverty, discontent, and dis-ease. Puts me in mind of Tabucchi, except with less food.
Molly Keane (M. J. Farrell). Time After Time. New York: Dutton, 1983. [78]
And always the little twist of the knife, just so.
M. J. Farrell. Queen Lear. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988. [77]
Thoroughly unsympathetic – an artful accomplishment, but not an enjoyable one.
Mukoma Wa Ngugi. Nairobi Heat. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2010. [76]
Not helping with the insomnia.
Molly Keane (M. J. Farrell). Good Behaviour. London: Virago, 2011 (1981). [75]
A brutal book, of a well-defined and very bitter sort. Literary fiction of the biting rather than the precious sort. Quite horrible – but in a good way.
M. J. Farrell. Conversation Piece. London: Virago, 1991 (1932). [74]
Fox hunting.
Jakob Arjouni. Kismet. trans. Anthea Bell. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2010 (2001). [73]
Thoroughly enjoyable.
M. J. Farrell. Mad Puppetstown. Virago Modern Classics. Harmondworth: Penguin, 1986 (1931). [72]
It needed the previous book on this list to teach me how Farrell’s novels are to be read, but once that had been sorted, it was quite enjoyable.
M. J. Farrell. The Rising Tide. Virago Modern Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985 (1937). [71]
Sort of a much lighter Irish Buddenbrooks for ladies.
Jack Trevor Story. Live Now, Pay Later. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963. [70]
Deeply silly look at lower-middle-class debt in mid-twentieth-century Britain.
Jane Gardam. The Man in the Wooden Hat. New York: Europa Editions, 2009. [69]
Much more effective than Old Filth; more drama to it, less spite.
Thomas Love Peacock. Crotchet Castle. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981 (1969, 1831). [68]
Har.
Keith Houston. Shady Characters. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013. [67]
A typographical excursion.
Margery Allingham. The Fear Sign. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000 (1933). [66]
In looking back over my reading, it seems strange that I hadn’t read this one; on reading it, it all felt very familiar, but I couldn’t actually recall the details, so I suppose I hadn’t read it.
Djuna Barnes. Nightwood. London: Faber & Faber, 1963 (1936). [65]
Not at all what I thought it would be. Not what I hoped.
Mukoma Wa Ngugi. Black Star Nairobi. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2013. [64]
Received it in the mail and immediately sat down to read a bit of it – looked up five hours later when I had finished it.
Laurent Seksik. The Last Days. trans. André Naffis-Sahely. London: Pushkin Press, 2013 (2010). [63]
An account of Stefan Zweig’s last days. An oddly structured novel, which might have been better if it had actually crammed everything into the last days instead of the last six months, especially as used flashbacks anyway. Cannot tell if the confusion and incoherence was a stylistic choice or not.

July

Barbara Pym. An Academic Question. New York: Dutton, 1986. [62]
Posthumously spliced together, it feels a bit of a hodge-podge; in the tradition of Lucky Jim, but also in the vein mined by Byatt in Possession. Amusing, but not amazing.
Jane Bowles. Two Serious Ladies. New York: Ecco, 2014 (1943). [61]
An odd book; the style rather flat, and the whole taking unpleasant delight in abusing its main characters. Bouvard and Pécuchet of American ladies? Dunno, but distinctly unlikeable.
Jeff Gomez. Print is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age. London: Palgrave, 2008. [60]
See post.

June

Antonio Tabucchi. The Flying Creatures of Fra Angelico. trans. Tim Parks. Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2013 (1987, 1991). [59]
Disjointed, fluttery pieces of writing. Assemblage.
Quim Monzó. Guadalajara. trans. Peter Bush. Rochester: Open Letter Books, 2011 (1996). [58]
Short book of short stories, with whimsical twists – clever.
Amy Sonnie & James Tracy. Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2011. [57]
Not quite the definitive history of the topic, but certainly a step in the right direction.
Ror Wolf. Two or Three Years Later: Forty-Nine Digressions. trans. Jen Marquart. Rochester, NY: Open Letter Books, 2013 (2008). [56]
Recommended by the folks at the Open Letter booth at AWP when I said I liked The Cyclist Conspiracy. An odd rather than a whimsical book, amusing without being funny. Or just the wrong time for me to read it, which is more likely.
Héctor Abad. Recipes for Sad Women. trans. Anne McLean. London: Pushkin Press, 2012 (1996). [55]
An odd, amusing, and highly readable book. Not sure what I mean when I say it is readable, save that little effort was required to find time to read it.
Barbara Pym. Quartet in Autumn. New York: Plume, 1992 (1977). [54.2]
And of course I had read it before; seemed rather bleaker this time, if possible.
Mikhail Bulgakov. A Dead Man’s Memoir (A Theatrical Novel). trans. Andrew Bromfield. New York: Penguin, 2007 (1965). [53]
A rather strange book.
Barbara Pym. A Glass of Blessings. Kingston, RI: Moyer Bell, 2008 (1958). [52]
Ambivalent; sits squarely between Iris Murdoch and Nancy Mitford, which is to say that it rather falls between two stools.
Gore Vidal. Death Likes It Hot. New York: Vintage Crime, 2011 (1954). [51]
Deeply silly.
Lars Iyer. Dogma. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2011. [50]
A bit flabbier than Spurious.
Georges Simenon. The President. trans. Daphne Woodward. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2011 (1958). [49]
Apathy and political intrigue.
Michael Heald. Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension. Portland: Perfect Day, 2012. [48]
A reasonable collection of essays, very much of its time and situation.
Antonio Tabucchi. The Woman of Porto Pim. trans. Tim Parks. Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2013 (1983, 1991). [47]
Quite a tender little book; reminded me of Melville’s The Encantadas, though I suppose there is nothing binding the two together save the sea.
Lars Iyer. Spurious. Brooklyn: Meville House, 2011. [46]
Dull until it twisted around itself and became interesting.

May

Tony Judt. Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century. New York: Penguin, 2008 (1994–2006). [45]
A solid and rather gloomy collection of essays, reviews mostly.
Peter F. Neumeyer, ed. Floating Worlds: The Letters of Edward Gorey & Peter F. Neumeyer. San Francisco: Pomegranate, 2011. [44]
An interesting look at collaboration and creativity in the publishing of children’s books. The letters seem awfully personal, though – almost an invasion of privacy.
Karen Wilkin, ed. Ascending Peculiarity: Edward Gorey on Edward Gorey. New York: Harcourt, 2001. [43.2 (2001.104)]
I apparently read this before and rather remember disliking it; going through it again, I fail to see what was so objectionable. A fair enough collection of interviews.
F. N. Doubleday. The Memoirs of a Publisher. Garden City: Doubleday, 1972. [42]
An unexpectedly amusing memoir, in sore need of an editor.
Jay Ponteri. Wedlocked. Portland: Hawthorne Books, 2013. [41]
An odd book – confessional, strange to see in public.
Jamie Iredell. I Was a Fat Drunk Catholic School Insomniac. Portland: Future Tense, 2013. [40.d]
Not at all what I was expecting – and that’s a good thing.

April

Jacob Arjouni. Brother Kemal. trans. Anthea Bell. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2013 (2012). [39.d]
Amusing.
Leslie Jamison. The Empathy Exams. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2014.[38]
A fair collection of essays. Didn’t realize that its author wrote the piece over at The Believer about the Barkley Marathons; don’t know if that speaks for or against the collection.
Lidia Yuknavitch. The Chronology of Water: A Memoir. Portland: Hawthorne Books, 2010. [37]
Powerful and flawed and human.
Rachel Cantor. A Highly Unlikely Scenario. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2014. [36.d]
Whimsical and amusing, but without sufficient ballast.
Marlen Haushofer. The Wall. trans. Shaun Whiteside. Berkeley: Cleis, 2012 (1968, 1990). [35]
A peculiar book; not sure what to make of it, or even if one wants to make anything of it at all.
Robin Sloan. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. New York: FSG, 2012. [34]
Hits on anxieties about the intersection between book and computer culture in a feel-good, why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along kind of way. Cute.
Nazim Hikmet. Life’s Good, Brother. trans. Mutlu Konuk Blasing. New York: Persea, 2013 (2001, 1964). [33]
A peculiar book – never quite settles on a point of view or intention. Melancholy and missed opportunity.
Jakob Arjouni. Happy Birthday, Turk! trans. Anselm Hollo. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2011 (1985). [32.d]
Best crime novel I’ve read since I ran out of Raymond Chandler.

March

Michael Swanwick. Hope-in-the-mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees. Upper Montclair, NJ: Temporary Culture, 2009 (2003). [31]
It took a great deal of effort and time to finally track down a copy of this book, but I did manage to get it through ILL and it was a solid enough biographical essay. Pretty much the first significant attempt at a biography of Mirrlees, though of outshone by Sandeep Parmar’s biographical note in the Carcanet edition of Mirrlees’ Collected Poems.
Diana Athill. Stet: An Editor’s Life. London: Granta, 2000. [30]
A pleasant enough little memoir; just about as it sounds – spanning quite a lengthy career.
Catherine Louisa Pirkis. The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1986 (1896). [29]
The title really says it all.
Georges Simenon. Dirty Snow. trans. Marc Romano & Louise Varèse. New York: NYRB Classics, 2003 (1948). [28]
Almost as bleak and depressing as Army of Shadows – and almost as good.
Janette Jenkins. Firefly. New York: Europa, 2013. [27]
A book about Noël Coward. Actually, I’m not quite sure what the point of this book is or who its target audience is. Plot: Coward old and cranky on Jamaica with flashbacks to fame and sexiness. Aimed at aging boomers, I suppose, and as good a dull mess as a dull mess can be; even the blurbs were just polite ways of saying: ‘I suppose it must be good, but I didn’t really care for it.’
Emi Gennis, ed. Unknown Origins & Untimely Ends. Montclair, NJ: Hic & Hoc, 2013. [26]
Doing some research on comics anthologies, and this one was amusing. It’s pretty much exactly what the title would lead you to believe. The difficulty of course is that with so many different styles, some are more suited to the printing quality than others.
George Sand. Horace. trans. Zack Rogow. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1995 (1841). [25]
A book about the wrong character; far be it from me to offer a publisher’s criticism, but the novel would have been more interesting/dramatic/meaningful if it had focused on the ‘President of the Bousingots’ rather than the puling Horace. Of course it is entirely within the realm of possibility that Sand is making fun of the reader by giving them a story about a conventional hero (attractive and bland) that is rather dull while suggesting the interesting things that go on around them, but that still doesn’t make it an enjoyable exercise. Going on about it at such length does, however, suggest that one enjoyed it rather more than one would like to admit.

February

W.H. Auden. Tell Me the Truth About Love. London: faber & faber, 1991. [24]
See post.
Georgette Heyer. Why Shoot a Butler. Sourcebooks, 2009. (1933). [23.d]
Nonsensical.
Georgette Heyer. The Unfinished Clue. Sourcebooks, 2009 (1934). [22.d]
Amusing, but a bit silly.
Georgette Heyer. A Blunt Instrument. New York: Garland, 1976 (1938). [21]
An aptly titled book.
Margery Allingham. No Love Lost. London: Penguin, 1978 (1954). [20]
Two odd stories about the return of a presumably lost love, with rather arbitrary crimes associated.
Georges Simenon. The Train. trans. Robert Baldick. Brooklyn, NY: Melville House, 2011 (1958). [19]
A rather dreary and unhappy WWII story.
Georges Simenon. A Maigret Trio. trans. Daphne Woodward/Robert Eglesfield. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1973 (1956, 1960, 1961). [18]
Another three novellas.
Georges Simenon. Maigret Has Scruples/Maigret and the Reluctant Witness. trans. Robert Eglesfield/Daphne Woodward. New York: Ace Double, 1958/1959. [17]
Like the dos-à-dos binding on the Ace Doubles – also liked the two novellas.
Georges Simenon. The Friend of Madame Maigret. trans. Helen Sebba. London: Penguin, 2007 (1950). [16]
Maigret acting grumpy not because he was grumpy but because he knew his audience (his wife, or two junior members of the police force) wanted/expected him to be was quite the best part.
Eric Ambler. Cause For Alarm. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1942. [15]
A very slight thriller about a British machinery firm exporting goods to fascist Italy and a Soviet spy fomenting ill-will in the Berlin-Rome Axis. Not quite hard-boiled enough for my taste.
Margery Allingham. Black Plumes. New York: Felony & Mayhem, 2009 (1940). [14]
Reminded me rather more of the Ginger Griffin than any of Allingham’s other books; that partly due to the colonial aspect – first time I’ve ever really felt it to be a distorting issue for a book. This either means that the book is not particularly good or that I am becoming a better reader: take your pick.

January

Margery Allingham. Mr Campion and Others. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954 (1939). [13]
Enjoyable to see that the Campion character works in a short story as well as a short novel.
Dashiell Hammett. Crime Stories and Other Writings. ed. Steven Marcus. New York: Library of America, 2001. [12]
A really great collection of stories.
William Stafford. Winterward. ed. Paul Merchant. Portland: Tavern Books, 2013. [11]
The poems and introduction from William Stafford’s doctoral dissertation, never before published as a collection. See post.
C. Daly King. The Curious Mr. Tarrant: 8 Detective Stories. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1977 (1935). [10]
Until the final story, which descends into unnecessary mysticism, quite an amusing series of puzzle stories; why the main character thinks Booth Tarkington is the brightest light of American letters is rather beyond me.
T.H. White. Darkness at Pemberley. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1978 (1932). [9]
Preternaturally wicked super-villain!
R.T. Campbell (Ruthven Todd). Bodies in a Bookshop. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1984 (1946). [8]
A mid-series book, which always makes reading a little difficult, because the author quite sensibly assumes that the reader remembers the basic details of the characters he introduced in book 1. Otherwise, charming.
Philip MacDonald. The Rasp. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1979 (1924). [7]
Again, the clever-a— detective, but with an Anthony Hope-ish spin.
Max Murray. The Voice of the Corpse. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1985 (1948). [6]
A country novel, quite charming – except for the murder, of course.
Edmund Crispin. Beware of the Trains. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986 (1953). [5]
An amusing collection of puzzle stories.
Giovanni Verga. Life in the Country. trans. J.G. Nichols. London: Hesperus, 2003 (1880). [4]
A charming collection of short stories; put me in mind of Christ Stopped at Eboli, but less surreal.
Frances Towers. Tea with Mr. Rochester. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1952 (1948). [3]
Quite the most enjoyable reading experience I’ve had in a while; just the right collection of stories at just the right moment in time.
Samuel Beckett. Fizzles. New York: Grove, 1976. [2]
Taut and mouldering.
Kevin Sampsell. This is Between Us. Portland, OR: Tin House, 2013. [1]
First person narrator addressing his girlfriend in the second person. A book of that sort of whimsy.

(last revised: 31 December 2014)

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