a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2016

December

Charles Todd. Bess Crawford Mysteries. 7 vols. New York: William Morrow, 2009–2015. [121.d]*
Ending the year on a light note.
Eileen Power. Medieval People. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday Anchor, 1955 (1924). [120]
A solid (if outdated) work of popular history.
Rein Raud. The Brother. trans. Adam Cullen. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2016 (2008). [119]
Understated as Greek tragedy, one imagines it with a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.
Hilda Lawrence. Blood Upon the Snow. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954 (1946). [118]
Very much in the tradition of Anna Katharine Green or Mary Roberts Rinehart – not necessarily in a good way, and certainly not living up to their style.
Hélène Cixous and Catherine Clément. The Newly Born Woman. trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986 (1975). [117]
I’m not sure what I was expecting, but this conversation between a Marxist psychoanalyst and a self-indulgent memoirist was not it.
Emmanuelle Pagano. Trysting. trans. Jennifer Higgins & Sophie Lewis. San Francisco: Two Lines Press, 2016 (2013). [116]
Melancholy and meditative, this is one of the books I’ve most enjoyed from this year.
Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities. trans. William Weaver. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2013 (1974). [115.a]*
A charming, uneasy romp.
Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo. Where There’s Love, There’s Hate. trans. Suzanne Jill Levine & Jessica Ernst Powell. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2013 (1946). [114]*
A charming, uneasy romp.
Claudia Salazar Jiménez. Blood of the Dawn. trans. Elizabeth Bryer. Dallas, TX: Deep Vellum, 2016 (2013). [113]
Unsettling, disturbing, as very clearly intended.

November

Erving Goffman. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. London: Penguin, 1970 (1963). [112]
Although it had some good tidbits, it was ultimately disappointing – as it appears to be the application of the Presentation of Self… to the specific case of those suffering from some sort of social stigma.
Jean-François Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. trans. Brian Massumi & Geoff Bennington. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984 (1979). [111]
A performance for the universities. One rather imagines that a grant Lyotard submitted had been rejected, and this book was the result.
Barbara Tuchman. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Blackstone Audio, 2005 (1978). [110.a]*
A good exercise in following narrative history.
Marcel Aymé. The Man Who Walked through Walls. trans. Sophie Lewis. London: Pushkin, 2012 (1943). [109]*
Amusing and absurd short stories – light and whimsical.
Gordon Leff. Medieval Thought: St. Augustine to Ockham. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1962. [108]
Rather slow going.
Martin Heidegger. What is Called Thinking?. trans. Jesse Glenn Gray & Fred Dernburg Wieck. New York: HarperPerennial, 1976 (1964). [107]
See post.
Simone Weil. On the Abolition of All Political Parties. trans. Simon Leys. New York: NYRB Classics, 2014 (1950). [106]
I was feeling a bit peevish.
Stella Gibbons. Cold Comfort Farm. London: Penguin, 1996 (1932). [105]
I enjoy this book more each time I read it.
Austin Kleon. Steal Like an Artist. New York: Workman, 2012. [104.d]*
Dunno. Saw this was available in Overdrive from the local library and read it. It was a rainy afternoon.
César Aira. An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter. trans. Chris Andrews. New York: New Directions, 2006 (2000). [103]
An odd story.
Elizabeth Wilson. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987. [102]
The first two chapters were excellent, but it descended into waffle thereafter.
Kim Chernin. The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness. New York: HarperPerennial, 1994 (1981). [101]
A very angry book – overall justifiably, but perhaps not quite in the way presented. The loathing of large women is present throughout.

October

Susan Bordo. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004 (1993). [100]
A thought-provoking, but repetitive set of essays about women, society, and weight.
Cornelius Nepos. Vitae Cum Fragmentis. ed. P.K. Marshall. Leipzig: Teubner, 1991. [99]
Amusing short lives of famous figures, in very readable Latin.
Herbert Read. To Hell with Culture. London: Routledge, 2002 (1963). [98]
Utopian anarchist cultural criticism. Owes a deal to Ruskin. Crisp and possibly wrong-headed.
Nathalie Léger. Suite for Barbara Loden. trans. Natasha Lehrer & Cécile Menon. St. Louis: Dorothy Project, 2016 (2012). [97]
Another of these books about feminism and obsession and film and disaffection.
Pierre Bourdieu. Distinction. trans. Richard Nice. London: Routledge, 2010 (1979). [96]
Quite one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read this year. Thought-provoking. One wants to point towards it.
Sarah Blakewell. How to Live. New York: Other Press, 2011 (2010). [95]
Not quite enough to get me over my block with Montaigne, but amusing. The first half is very good indeed, but the last third especially is over-planned and underwritten.
Edith Sitwell. The Queens and the Hive. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966 (1962). [94]
It’s an odd book, but enjoyable.
George Gordon, Lord Byron. Don Juan in Complete Works. Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1933 (1905). [93]
See post.
Jonathan Culler. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2000 (1997). [92]
I feel like this took me much longer to read than it should have.
A.J.P. Taylor. Essays in English History. Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1976. [91]
An diverse collection of minor essays.
Gilles Deleuze. Proust And Signs. trans. Richard Howard. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014 (1964). [90.d]
Well that is certainly one way of looking at Proust.
Antoine Volodine. Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven. trans. J.T. Mahany. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2015 (1998). [89]
Clever. Perhaps over clever.
Walter Benjamin. Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1962 (1950). [88]
An elusive tone.

September

Owen Hatherley. The Ministry of Nostalgia. London: Verso, 2016. [87.d]
A rather doomy and testy look at austerity, nostalgia, and ‘austerity nostalgia’.
Marina Warner. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self. Oxford: OUP, 2002. [86]*
I have no idea why I checked this book out of the library. Although it has many interesting ideas, it presents them oddly, in such a rambling, scattered fashion that the ultimate point (besides the presentation of self as a clever person) escaped me.
Olivia Laing. The Lonely City. New York: Picador, 2016. [85.d]*
Thoughtful meditations on loneliness and creativity, for the creative nonfiction crowd.
Thich Nhat Hanh. How to Relax and How to Eat. Berkeley, CA: Parallax, 2015. [84.d]*
Sometimes one finds these things in the library’s ebook collection and one reads them.
Antal Szerb. The Pendragon Legend. trans. Len Rix. London: Pushkin, 2013. (1943, 2006). [83]
Charming and amusing.
Carrot Quinn. Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart: An Adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail. Self-published, 2015. [82.d]
Airport reading.
David Hume. Selected Essays. Oxford: OUP, 1993 (18th C). [81]
Astringent.
Rainer Maria Rilke. Briefe an einen jungen Dichter. Leipzig: Insel Verlag, 2012 (1929). [80]
Trying to remember my foreign languages. Was struck by the tone of this – rather more placating/ingratiating than I remembered.
Malcolm Gaskill. Witchcraft: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2010. [79]
Charming and fanboy-ish.
Sheila Rowbotham. Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974. [78]
As it sounds – though with rather more emphasis on the orgasm than one anticipates.
Dan Fox. Pretentiousness: Why It Matters. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 2016. [77]
Still not seeing why it matters.
B.R. Myers. A Reader’s Manifesto: An Attack on the Growing Pretentiousness in American Literary Prose. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2002. [76]
What I don’t understand is why nobody really talked about Myers’ real target: reviewers. They are the ones falling down on the job, not the middlebrow authors discussed. An irritable squib.
Janet Flanner. Paris Was Yesterday. London: Penguin, 1972 (1925–1939). [75]
Sharp and knowing. An interesting genre, the New Yorker letter – and these are very much of the type.
Charles Portis. True Grit. London: Bloomsbury, 2010 (1968). [74]
Quite enjoyable.
P.D. James. Talking about Detective Fiction. New York: Knopf, 2009. [73]
Curiously, better when James discusses books she enjoyed and which inspired her, rather than her own work.
Anna Świrszczyńska. Building the Barricade. trans. Piotr Florczyk. Portland: Tavern Books, 2016. [72]
Troubling.

August

Han Kang. The Vegetarian. trans. Deborah Smith. New York: Hogarth, 2015 (2007). [71]
An odd book.
Henri Pirenne. The History of Europe. 2 vols. trans. Bernard Miall. Garden City, NJ: Anchor Doubleday, 1956. [70]
An enjoyable survey, and quite impressive given the lack of reference material available to the author during its composition.
Bernard Mandeville. The Fable of the Bees. 2 vols. ed. F.B. Kaye. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924. [69]
A bit of a slog, but interesting to see the development of Mandeville’s ability to form a coherent argument.
Edmund Leach. Claude Lévi-Strauss. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970. [68]
Quite critical – and sensible.
Lucy Bellwood. Baggywrinkles. Self-published, 2016. [67]
Nice to see the development of both writing & drawing skills.
Rebecca Solnit. Hope in the Dark. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016 (2005). [66]
Full of hope.
Jessica Anderson. Tirra Lirra by the River. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2014 (1978). [65]
It seems such a long time since I have read a book not ‘for my own good’ that has done me so much good as this one has.
Monica Dickens. One Pair of Feet. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960 (1942). [64]
While it has many of the same flaws as her earlier book, One Pair of Hands, in this volume the narrator has the redeeming quality of seeming genuinely to lament her own lack of aptitude at her (temporarily) chosen profession.
Ece Temelkuran. Deep Mountain: Across the Turkish-Armenian Divide. trans. Kenneth Dakan. London: Verso, 2010 (2008). [63]
One of the better books about Armenia.
David Young, trans. Moon Woke Me Up Nine Times: Selected Haiku of Bashō. New York: Knopf, 2013. [62]*
Quite what I wanted one afternoon.
Gert Jonke. The System of Vienna. trans. Vincent Kling. Champaign, IL: Dalkey Archive, 2009 (1999). [61]*
For some reason I thought this book had been written by a woman, but the chapter about a pissoir disabused me of that notion.

July

Vicki Baum. It Was All Quite Different. New York: Funk & Wagnells, 1964. [60]*
Charming, although the digressions became less diverting as the book wore on.
Honoré de Balzac. Treatise on Elegant Living. trans. Napoleon Jeffries. Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2010 (1830). [59]*
Slight, amusing.

June

Adam Smith. The Theory of Moral Sentiments. ed. Knud Haakonssen. Cambridge: CUP, 2011 (1759). [58]
Rather enjoyed this.
Piero Chiara. The Disappearance of Signora Giulia. trans. Jill Foulston. London: Pushkin Vertigo, 2015 (1970). [57]
Amusing Italian police procedural. Reminded me rather of Eric Ambler‘s Cause for Alarm, but a bit sillier. One needs the overarching moral menace – mere individual evil is no longer sufficient.
Oleg Kashin. Fardwor, Russia!. trans. Will Evans. Brooklyn: Restless Books, 2016 (2010, 2012). [56]
Amusing, and a bit horrifying, reminded me a bit of the Soviet Shurik movies.
T.H. White. The Age of Scandal. Oxford: OUP, 1986 (1950). [55]
With the exception of the rabidly Tory rant at the start, a rather charming and amusing book.

May

Teffi. Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi. trans. Robert Chandler, et al. New York: NYRB Classics, 2016. [54]*
A delightful and charming little book – one that seems to call for affectionate diminutives. Wish that the headlining narratives (Tolstoy & Rasputin) hadn’t been the same as those included in Subtly Worded, but that’s a minor quibble.
J. Jean Hecht. The Domestic Servant Class in Eighteenth-Century England. London: Routledge, 1956. [53]*
As it sounds.
Erving Goffman. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980 (1959). [52]
An interesting look at how behavior and the presentation of self, drawing from a decent range of examples. The implicit appeal to the reader’s common sense is masterfully done.
Patrick Modiano. Suspended Sentences. trans. Mark Polizzotti. New Haven: Yale/Margellos, 2014 (1991). [51]
Fine novellas about outsiders who catch glimpses of a larger plot but cannot fully understand what they are seeing or experiencing, though I still prefer Simenon.
Mary Midgley. Science and Poetry. London: Routledge, 2006 (2002). [50]
It is not a bad book, nor do I disagree in any substantial way with many of the ideas it presents, but I found myself frequently confused and frustrated by the ambiguity of its intended audience. Either Midgley is preaching to the choir, in which case she could restructure and expanded on those (frequent) points she explicitly chooses not to discuss, or she is preaching to an empty room, in which case a higher level of rhetoric (and/or sophistry) would be required to snare the dubious.
Simone Weil. Gravity and Grace. trans. Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr. London: Routledge, 2002 (1952, 1947). [49]*
A mystical, self-contradictory, protean book: I’ve rarely been so aware of how different a book may be to different readers. Walt Whitman and Simone Weil seem quite close here, both approaching the same end, Whitman through gluttony and Weil through fasting.
Dominique Maroger, ed. The Memoirs of Catherine the Great. trans. Moura Budberg, New York: Collier, 1961. [48]
Confusing and charming, like their author.
Galway Kinnell. The Past. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. [47]
Which I read inattentively, but which I nonetheless read because I opened it and could not help reading.
Alberto Moravia. Bitter Honey. trans. Bernard Wall, et al. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1961 (1954, 1927–1952). [46]
I skimmed this one rather inattentively, but am including it here lest I forget I had anything to do with it; rather over-sexed, and not improved thereby.
E.M. Delafield. Diary of a Provincial Lady. London: Persephone, 2014 (1930). [45]*
A charming enough book, but not quite what I had hoped for. Very much enjoyed the mention of the books the narrator read.
Mary McCarthy. Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963. [44]
One of the best memoirs I’ve read recently. I didn’t particularly care for McCarthy as an author before this.
Monica Dickens. One Pair of Hands. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974 (1961, 1939). [43]
Amusing, but a little disheartening, as slumming usually seems to be.

April

Ruth Limmer, ed. Journey Around My Room: The Autobiography of Louise Bogan. New York: Penguin, 1980. [42]
Interesting use of fragments.
Patrick Modiano. Missing Person. trans. Daniel Weissbort. Boston: David R. Godine, 2014 (1980, 1978). [41]
I’d rather read Simenon.
Georges Simenon. Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets. trans. Tony White. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963 (1931). [40]
Has rather a post-WWII feel about it, the decrepitude physical and moral.
Béla Zombory-Moldován. The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914. trans. Peter Zombory-Moldovan. New York: NYRB Classics, 2014. [39]
Charming.
Marie NDiaye. Self-Portrait in Green. trans. Jordan Stump. San Francisco: Two Lines, 2014 (2005). [38]
Unnerving.
Grace Paley. The Little Disturbances of Man. New York: Penguin, 1985 (1959). [37]
Delightful.
João Gilberto Noll. Quiet Creature on the Corner. trans. Adam Morris. San Francisco: Two Lines, 2016 (1991). [36]
I’m afraid I was rather out of sympathy with it.
Michael Harrington. The Other America. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968 (1962). [35]
Still relevant, disappointingly.
Simone Weil. The Need for Roots. trans. Arthur Wills. London: Routledge, 2002 (1949). [34]
A troubling book.
John Mavrogordato, ed. Digenes Akrites. Oxford: OUP, 1959. [33]
A dull poem, but good introduction and notes.
Angus Davidson. Edward Lear. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950 (1938). [32]
A charming short biography, quite amusing, with plentiful quotations from Lear’s letters.
H.D. Trilogy. New York: New Directions, 1998. [32]
So good, and so odd.
Ruth Madievsky. Emergency Brake. Portland: Tavern Books, 2015. [31]
Rather brutal and clinical.
Blaise Cendrars. Films Without Images. trans. Mark Spitzer. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2012 (1954–1956). [30]
Rather reminded me of Ken Russell’s film The Devils.

March

Ivan Turgenev. First Love. trans. Isaiah Berlin. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978 (1860). [29]
See post.
Catherine Clément. The Weary Sons of Freud. trans. Nicole Ball. Brooklyn: Verso, 2015 (1978, 1987). [28]
‘This book is an act of mourning’ (91).
Edmund Crispin. The Moving Toyshop. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1958 (1946). [28]
More amusing than I had anticipated.
Tash Aw. The Face: Strangers on a Pier. Brooklyn: Restless Books, 2016. [27]
Perhaps I read it too soon after the Abani installment in the series, but this one didn’t resonate quite as much.
Sarah Manguso. The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend. New York: Picador, 2012. [26]
About making sense of suicide, of mourning; not quite the book I want to read at the moment.
Sarah Manguso. The Two Kinds of Decay. New York: Picador, 2008. [25]
The trouble with illness memoirs is that the ending is seldom satisfactory – either the patient dies, which is disheartening, or the patient survives, which means s/he has to get on with the business of living. This makes the elision of the act of living in the process of healing (or surviving) awkward. Indeed, this type of omission makes most memoirs unsatisfactory, as they hide or circumscribe or omit significant lines of life, without which the text as a whole (of that life) cannot make any sufficient kind of sense. I suppose the point of the memoir is not to make sense, but to tell a story, which is a different thing entirely.
Rebecca Solnit. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York: Penguin, 2005. [24]
To pair with Bluets and (probably) On Being Blue. Fine when about things I knew nothing about, but less interesting if I knew even a little – which was not the case with The Faraway Nearby.
Danielle Dutton. Margaret the First. New York: Catapult, 2016. [23]
Well enough.
Sarah Manguso. Ongoingness: The End of a Diary. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf, 2014. [22]
Pleasantly aphoristic.
Chris Abani. The Face: Cartography of the Void. Brooklyn: Restless Books, 2016 (2013). [21]
Thoughtful.
Richard Zenith, ed. The Selected Prose of Fernando Pessoa. New York: New Directions, 2001. [20.d]
An odd collection.

February

Alfred Douglas. The Tarot. New York: Penguin, 1972. [19]
Systems of chance.
Bee Ridgway. The River of No Return. New York: Dutton, 2013. [18.d]
Amusing – though I will admit to reading it solely because of the faddish cover.
P.N. Elrod. The Hanged Man. New York: Tor, 2015. [17.d]
Sometimes one finds oneself reading a book and one has no idea why.
Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre. New York: Harper & Row, 1895 (1847). [16]
See post.
Jo McDougall. The Undiscovered Room. Portland: Tavern Books, 2015. [15]
Always with the odd and tender terrifying twists.
Barbara Comyns. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy (a publishing project), 2010 (1954). [14]
Charmed, I’m sure.
Elizabeth Lopeman. Trans Europe Express. Portland: Propellor Books, 2014. [13]
Like Judith Hermann.
Anna Lee Huber. Lady Darby Mysteries. 4 vols. New York: Berkley Crime, 2012–2015. [12.d]
Silly.
Renee Gladman. Event Factory. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy (a publishing project), 2010. [11]
See post.
Clara Reeve. The Old English Baron: A Gothic Story. Project Gutenberg, 2009 (1777). [10.d]
An odd and amusing little book, the first novel by a woman in The Bookman’s 1898 list of best novels. See post.
Edith Södergran. We Women. trans. Samuel Charters. Portland: Tavern Books, 2015 (1977). [9]
I started reading this over the holidays, but my reading was interrupted. Took the time to finish it at the beginning of February, when it was needed.

January

Mikhail Shishkin. Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories. trans. Marian Schwartz, et al. Houston: Deep Vellum, 2015 (2007–2015). [8]
So. Good.
Michelle de Kretser. Springtime. New York: Catapult, 2016 (2015). [7]
An odd book.
Carola Dunn. Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries. 16 vols. New York: Kensington, 1994–2015. [6]
A diversion. Lost steam and didn’t finish six of the more recent volumes.
Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips. The Fade Out. 2 vols. Berkeley, CA: Image, 2014–2015. [5]*
Amusing.
Jessa Crispin. The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Ex-Pats and Ex-Countries. Chicago: UCP, 2015. [4]
Enjoyed the book, but troubled by it – too many dead men, too many living men casting long shadows.
Marguerite Duras. Yann Andréa Steiner. trans. Mark Polizzotti. New York: Archipelago, 2006 (1992). [3]
See post.
Muriel Spark. Bang-Bang You’re Dead. London: Granada, 1982 (1960). [2]
Quite astringent.
Natalia Ginzburg. The Little Virtues. trans. Dick Davis. Manchester: Carcanet, 1985 (1962). [1]*
See post.

(last revised: 1 January 2017)

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