a reader

an eudæmonistreading



Kurt Vonnegut, jr. Cat’s Cradle. New York: Dell, 1963. [151]
Strange and silly story about what people do to get what they think they want.
Walter Benjamin. Illuminations. trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1968 (1929–1939). [150]
Essays primarily on literature and vanished ways of living.
Yann Martel. Life of Pi. New York: Harcourt, 2001. [149]
Tangled narrative, with twists.
T.C. Boyle. Talk Talk. New York: Penguin, 2006. [148]
Identity theft and different kinds of deafness.
DBC Pierre. Vernon God Little. New York: Harcourt, 2003/ [147]
Huh. Talk about your unreliable-narrator-type novel.
G.K. Chesterton. The Man Who Was Thursday. New York: Dodd, Mead, & co., 1908. [146]
Somewhere between Graham Greene and The Green Child.
Mary Roach. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. New York: Norton, 2005. [145]
Amusing, but without clear conclusion, appropriately.
Russell Banks. The Sweet Hereafter. New York: Harper, 1991. [144]
Interesting use of multiple narrators, but got a bit tangled.
T. Coraghessan Boyle. Without a Hero. New York: Viking, 1994. [143]
More amusing short stories that were not necessarily more amusing than the other ones.
James Hamilton-Paterson. Cooking with Fernet Branca. New York: Europa, 2005. [142]
The characters’ differentiation by style was good, but the story as a whole was an odd jumble, not quite quick enough to be farce.
Peter Balakian. Black Dog of Fate. New York: Broadway, 1997. [141]
Mixed Americana and attempt to understand ‘the unfortunate events of 1915’.
Michael Chabon, ed. McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales. New York: Vintage, 2002. [140]
Some good stories. Particularly liked the Elmore Leonard and the Karen Joy Fowler, though I am sure others will stick in my head as well.
Chuck Palahniuk. Survivor. New York: Anchor, 1999. [139]
Last surviving member of a white slaving cult talks to black box recorder.
Michael Ondaatje. Running in the Family. New York: Vintage, 1982. [138]
Memories of a drunken father in Sri Lanka.
T. Coraghessan Boyle. If the River Was Whiskey. New York: Penguin, 1989. [137.2]
Amusing short stories.


John Coyne, ed. Living on the Edge: Fiction by Peace Corps Writers. Willimantic, CT: Curbstone, 1999. [136]
As it sounds. Some good stories, some dull stories.
Dorothy Parker. Here Lies: Collected Stories. New York: Macmillan, 1939. [135]
An amusing collection of little stories, with too little variation in tone to be entirely enjoyable, but nonetheless lively.
Cormac McCarthy. Cities of the Plain. New York: Vintage, 1998. [134]
More of the same; liked the echoes from the Odyssey and the bits about dreams.
Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West. New York: Vintage, 1985. [133]
An odd and violent book, like a spaghetti western, except less fun.
Susanna Clarke. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. New York: Tor, 2006. [132]
Sometimes the tone just doesn’t carry.


Razmik Panossian. The Armenians: From Kings and Priests to Merchants and Commissars. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. [131]
Revision of the author’s LSE dissertation. Walks the razor’s edge of nationalist history very neatly, with theoretical interludes, and with well-done footnotes that actually work as footnotes should, to support and augment the text without wandering too far or too vituperatively afield. The only thing I would really complain about is the bibliography which is split into three sections: Armenian language sources, other language sources, and author’s interviews. Personally, a two section bibliography, divided between the author’s interviews and published materials in all languages would have been more helpful, as wandering through the alphabet twice for a name got a little tiring; however, since most of the sources I ended up looking up in the bibliography were non-Armenian, maybe he’s on to something.
Peter Hopkirk. The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. New York: Kodansha International, 1992. [130]
I thought from the looks of it that it would be very dull and dry, but I was wrong. Gripping, readable account of 18th and 19th century wranglings in Central Asia.
P.D. James. Death of an Expert Witness. New York: Warner Books, 1977. [129]
Agreeable fluff; somehow the last half doesn’t hang together very neatly, but nobody’s perfect.
Michael Chabon. Maps and Legends. San Francisco: McSweeney’s, 2008. [128]
Books reviews bundled together, mostly focussing on the dissonance between ‘genre’ and ‘literary’ fiction.
Donald Barthelme. Amateurs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977 (1970–1976). [127]
Refreshing to read such good strange short stories.
D.M. Sturley. A Short History of Russia. New York: Harper & Row, 1964. [126]
A short survey.
Ivan Illich. Shadow Work. London: Marion Boyars, 1981. [125]
A set of essays on the interesting topic of unpaid work in industrial society, but the belligerent tone and at times wild overstatements of available facts make it frustrating. At its best when providing historical backgrounds, when it ventures into linguistics and economics (in neither of which I am proficient, let me say) it sinks to assertion, hearsay, and secondhand ranting: he just doesn’t quite seem to know what he’s talking about (which he does appear to when writing about history).
John Steinbeck & Robert Capa. A Russian Journal. New York: Penguin, 1999 (1948). [124]
Not as embarrassing as one would think, but there is a sort of forced naivete about it that gets a little old. Section on Georgia interesting, but in the end the whole is rather superficial. Dead on about the food, though.
Martin Amis. Einstein’s Monsters. New York: Vintage, 1990 (1987). [123]
Huh. Okay stories I guess, but nothing to write home about.
John Kenneth Galbraith. Name-Dropping: From FDR On. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1999. [122]
Most people aren’t doing much of anything when they’re 91, much less writing terribly lucid memoirs about interesting periods of history. Not long on facts or details, it has a fair amount of personality.
Sissela Bok. Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation. New York: Vintage, 1983. [121]
As it sounds. Thought-provoking – especially the chapters on government, military, and corporate secrecy.
Tim O’Brien. If I Die in a Combat Zone. New York: Broadway Books, 1999 (1975). [120]
Round trip travel to Vietnam. All expenses paid.
F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004 (1925). [119]
As with so many of the books one is made to read during one’s schooling, it is so much better now than it seemed at the time. And it seemed pretty good at the time. Good enough to make me read the complete short stories, This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night. It’s increasingly easy to notice these sops to the attention of the teacher.
William Saroyan. The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze. New York: New Directions, 1997 (1934). [118]
It’s what it isn’t that rather stands out. ‘…the garments of all men must be taken from their bodies and placed on wax dummies in the stores of pawnbrokers etcetera and the night which is ending will never end and the man who sits wakeful amid crumbling will return as a ghost to see his trousers being offered special one dollar and twenty-five cents and the same with his hat’ (‘The Big Tree Coming’, 202).


Stacy Schiff. Véra: Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov. New York: Modern Library, 1999. [117]
Makes me interested in the Wilson/Nabokov correspondence, but leaves me a little tired of dramatic details of daily drudgery. It’s all very well that folks are plagued with money worries, but when one reads about it over and over and over and over again, the special pleading about ‘artistic greatness’ rather sours. Sour grapes.
Steven Runciman. Byzantine Civilization. New York: Meridian, 1956 (1933). [116]
A good short introduction to Byzantine history – would work well paired with Anna Comnena & Psellus. What it would work well for, I’m not quite sure, but it would undoubtedly work well.
Evelyn Waugh. Helena. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978 (1950). [115]
A sort of I, Claudius for Catholics. Except shorter. And less political. And less Suetonius.
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations & Selections from Letters to Fronto. ed. R.B. Rutherford. trans. A.S.L. Farquharson. Oxford: OUP, 1998 (1989: Rutherford’s edition and trans. of selected correspondence; 1944: Farquharson’s trans of Meditations). [114]
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. On Death and Dying. New York: Macmillan, 1969. [113]
Thought-provoking book about stages of reaction to news of fatal illness and how to respond to dying and death.
William J. Lederer & Eugene Burdick. The Ugly American. New York: Norton, 1999 (1958). [112]
This novel made me mad in a way that it’s good to be mad, because it means I might actually do something. After fifty years it’s still timely.
Don DeLillo. Running Dog. New York: Vintage, 1989 (1978). [111]
Doesn’t really read like it was written by DeLillo – the opening page and a half maybe, but after that just a rather silly novel about counterterrorists, pornography, and knife fights.
Ronald Grigor Suny. The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union. Stanford: SUP, 1993. [110]
Between starting this book and finishing this book I read more than twenty other books; which is not to say that this is a bad work of scholarship or history, but just that it got a little depressing and made me think a bit too much about things I didn’t particularly want to think about and so I had to set it aside and let my mind settle before I could finish it.
Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: HarperPerennial, 1990 (1937). [109]
Makes me want to read her autobiography, as well as folklore collections (Every Tongue Got to Confess & Mules & Men) and ‘travelogue’ (Tell My Horse). However the dialect grated on my nerves – but maybe those were nerves that needed to be grated away anyhow.
Flannery O’Connor. Everything that Rises Must Converge. New York: FSG, 1965 (1956–1961). [108]
Moody and written for dissection.
Dave Eggers. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius; Mistakes We Knew We Were Making. New York: Vintage, 2001.[107]
Precious, but the better for it.
Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989. [106]
Of course what I really wanted was: The 7 Habits of Highly Affected People.
Nick Hornby. Fever Pitch. New York: Riverhead, 1992. [105]
Memoir about football. Memoir pitfalls.
Jared Diamond. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: Norton, 1997. [104]
Optimal fragmentation.
Sir Osbert Sitwell. Left Hand, Right Hand!. Boston: Little, Brown, 1944. [103]
There was a good little blurb on the back to the effect that if you wanted to know what it was like to be born with a silver spoon, etc., that this was a good book to read, and I have to say that I rather agree.
Nancy Mitford. Frederick the Great. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1995 (1970). [102]
Amusing, but little. One of those books that tests if you are actually interested in a subject, but which if you actually are, proves to be insufficient.


Truman Capote. In Cold Blood. New York: Vintage, 1993 (1965). [101]
Confused, but intriguing.
Bill Bryson. The Lost Continent. New York: HarperPerennial, 1989. [100]
Huh. A beach-reading sort of book, sand in the shorts, too sweaty and runny greasy sunscreen kind of stuff.
Martin Amis. Koba the Dread. London: Vintage, 2002. [99]
At the beginning of the book Amis says that he read several yards of books on the subject, and I have to say that those yards of books are probably better than his book; but, if you haven’t the inclination to read those yards of books, this might be an okay substitute, though in places it isn’t clearly thought out and as a whole it lacks coherence – it’s as though he sat down with a very clear idea of what he wanted to write and then wrote something completely different which he nonetheless thinks is the book he had imagined.
Sarah Vowell. Assassination Vacation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. [98]
Going around to the sites of non-Kennedy presidential assassinations. Creative non-fiction.
Rita Golden Gelman. Tales of a Female Nomad. New York: Three Rivers, 2001. [97]
Freedom through travel, and courage through food.
Oscar Lewis. Tepoztlán: Village in Mexico. New York: Holt, Winehart & Winston, 1960. [96]
Summary version for general public of Lewis’ other books on the area. Particularly interesting are the comments on attitudes to rural life – the false ‘humble’ abode of a middle class person’s poor weekend house in the country, versus the actual poverty and limited circumstances that can surround such Marie Antoinette-ing.
Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin. Three Cups of Tea. New York: Penguin, 2006. [95]
An odd and interesting and compelling story about building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A look at a different way of doing international aid work.
Madeleine L’Engle. A Wrinkle in Time. New York: Scholastic, 1962. [94.1]
Strangely different than I remembered, but this is often so with books one read in childhood.
Nadezhda Mandelstam. Hope Against Hope. trans. Max Hayward. New York: Modern Library, 1986 (1970). [93]
A strange sort of book – memoir, treatise, apologia, memorial all in one.
Harry K. Wong & Rosemary T. Wong. The First Days of School. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications, 2005. [92]
A thought-provoking book about setting goals and managing one’s attitude towards employment.
Bill Bryson. A Walk in the Woods. New York: Broadway, 1998. [91]
It is refreshing to find that I have become a better reader and better sense of tone in the past ten years. Which is not to say that this is a better book than it is, but that it is at any rate a better book than I would have thought it was, had I read it then.
Thomas Hughes. Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1997 (1857). [90]
A classic of its kind, and much better than expected. It sat on the shelf for a month looking dull and tedious, but on actual inspection turned out somewhere between Kipling and Trollope.
Søren Kierkegaard. The Seducer’s Diary. trans. Alastair Hannay. London: Penguin, 2007 (1992). [89]
Mary Roach. Stiff: the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. New York: Norton, 2003. [88]
Thoughtful and humorous look at the fate of corpses in America.
Iris Murdoch. The Sandcastle. London: Penguin, 1978 (1957). [87]
A schoolmaster’s tragedy, his bossy wife, and crazy kids. Astonishing how the characters can have such depth and the novel has a whole such flatness. Strangeness (and academical orientation) of the daughter not particularly believable.
Robert Crumb & David Zane Mairowitz. Kafka. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2007. [86]
You buy it for the pictures, dummy.
Aaron Cometbus. Cometbus #47: Lanky. Berkeley, CA: Cometbus, nd. [85]
Kids these days.
Joe Sacco. Safe Area Goražde. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 1999. [84.1]
As riveting and saddening as the first time I read it.


Hovannes Toumanian. The Bard of Loree. trans. Mischa Kudian. London: Mashtots Press, 1970. [83]
Some poems, including Anoush, which reads like second-hand Byron.
Hovannes Toumanian. Selected Works. trans. various. Moscow: Progress Press, 1969. [82]
Poems and also some stories.
Sir Philip Sidney. The Old Arcadia. ed. K. Duncan-Jones. Oxford: OUP, 1994 (1580). [81]
A joyously youthful romp, with bears and cross-dressing and all the usual problems of mistaken identity. And poems! ‘Any man may guess that knows love is better than a pair of spectacles to make everything seem greater which is seen through it’ (78).
Raymond Chandler. Farewell, My Lovely. New York: Ballentine, 1971 (1940). [80.2]
I don’t remember how I described it before, but it’s still dern good.
Donald Barthelme. The King. New York: Harper & Row, 1990. [79]
A war story that falls across mythologies and centuries in quite an odd way.
Iris Murdoch. The Time of the Angels. London: Triad-Panther, n.d. [78] 0586045929
Creepy and moody post-war story of London.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Gulag Archipelago. trans. T.P. Whitney. New York: Harper & co, 1973. [77]
Tim O’Brien. The Things They Carried. New York: Penguin, 1990. [76]
Quick read; variations on the theme.
Robert M. Pirsig. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. New York: Bantam, 1984 (1974). [75]
The sort of book about philosophy that would appeal to people who don’t like philosophy. Like Steppenwolf, only with motorcycles.
Rebecca West. The Thinking Reed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985 (1936). [74]
About happiness and unhappiness and what it means to not understand love.
C.W.R.D Moseley, ed. The Travels of Sir John Mandeville. New York: Penguin, 1983. [73]
As strange a thing as anyone is likely to read (or write), ever.
Spider Robinson. Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. New York: Tor, 1977. [72]
Stefano Benni. Timeskipper. trans. A. Shugaar. New York: Europa, 2008. [71]
About time and politics and personal fate. Entertaining and inventive.


Virginia French Allen. Techniques in Teaching Vocabulary. New York: OUP. 1983. [70]
Has several useful and amusing activities for teaching English vocabulary.
Yukio Mishima. The Sound of Waves. trans. M. Weatherby. New York: Knopf, 1956. [69]
A love song, a love song!
Vladimir Nabokov. Pnin. New York: Bard, 1957. [68]
Daniel Defoe. Moll Flanders. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1988 (1722). [67]
Juicy. Sits squarely between Pamela and Fanny Hill, and rather crowds them both off the literary bench.
Aram Saroyan. Complete Minimal Poems. New York: Ugly Duckling, 2007 (1964–1972). [66]
{ … }
Isak Dineson. Seven Gothic Tales. New York: Vintage,1961 (1934). [65]
Tone and manner seemed to have been borrowed from all over the literary map and still to be highly individualistic. Thinking about the volume as a whole, it put me in mind of several M.R. James stories, which suggests she has an appropriate level of strangeness for her genre.
Dave Eggers. What is the What. New York: Vintage, 2007. [64]
Much better as a book than I expected it to be. Not sure what I was expecting, though.


Sarah Chayes. The Punishment of Virtue. New York: Penguin, 2006. [63]
Trenchant examination of Afghanistan from 2001–2005. Strong and full of feeling, but unable to protect or defend. Acts of witnessing and martyrdom.
Vendela Vida. And Now You Can Go. New York: Knopf, 2003. [62]
Apparently there is a market for novels about confused college girls with a lack of self-perception, an excess of self-awareness, and a habit of making poor/cruel decisions.
Wendy Walker. The Secret Service. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1992. [61]
A very strange story; not all parts hang together and I can’t help but feel it doesn’t really resolve, in the end.
Michael Arlen. Passage to Ararat. New York: FSG, 1975. [60]
Half-Armenian American travels to Soviet Armenia trying to figure out what it means to be Armenian. Apparently, it involves a great deal of self-loathing and victimhood.
Oliver Sacks. Musicophilia. New York: Knopf, 2007. [59]
Well, now I know where the Radio Lab guys get all their stories…
Karen Connelly. Dream of a Thousand Lives: A Sojourn in Thailand. Seattle: Seal Press, 2001 (1993: as Touch the Dragon. [58]
Very good on the disorientation of a new place; a bit purple in places, but seems sincere.
T.H. White. The Sword in the Stone. New York: Putnam, 1939. [57]
Much better than I expected/remembered.
Robert Hurst. The Art of Cycling: A Guide to Bicycling in 21st-Century America. Helena, MT: Falcon, 2007 (2004: as The Art of Urban Cycling). [56]
A must-read for bicycle-commuters.
Carlotta Gall and Thomas de Waal. Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus. New York: NYUP, 1998. [55]
Relatively comprehensive journalistic narrative about the first round of violence in Chechnya in the 1990s. Includes some historical background, but necessarily brief. An updated version would be very welcome.
Philip Marsden. The Crossing Place: A Journey among the Armenians. New York: Kodansha Globe, 1995 (1993). [54]
Englishman travels around in the early 1990s looking for information about the Armenian genocide of 1915. A bit obsessive, sort of crusade-mentality.


Rory Stewart. The Places in Between. New York: Harcourt, 2006. [53]
So this Scotsman decides to walk across Afghanistan from Herat to Kabul in the fall of 2001, and this is what he wrote. Less self-consciously literary than Road to Oxiana, but contains some of the same charm about the frustrations of travel.
Fumiko Enchi. The Waiting Years. Trans. John Bester. Palo Alto: Kodansha, 1971 (1949–1957). [52]
All situation, unbearable tension somehow borne, but wearying, wearying.
Boris P. Piotrovsky. The Ancient Civilization of Urartu: An Archaeological Adventure. trans. James Hogarth. New York: Nagel, 1969. [51]
Very adventurous. Lots of leftover grains and carbonized brains.
Wendell Steavenson. Stories I Stole. New York: Grove, 2002. [50]
Essayistic travel-book/memoir about living in the Caucasus.
Kate T. Williamson. At a Crossroads: Between a Rock and My Parents’ Place. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2008. [49]
Captures some of the hopelessness one feels when there isn’t anything in particular one has to do and no great goals spring to mind. Not as cleanly executed as her book on Japan, though, her character bringing less cohesion than a country can.
Sirarpie Der Nersessian. The Armenians. New York: Praeger, 1969. [48]
No doubt it is now out-of-date with regard to some of its details, but in its overall outline and clear writing, it is the best introduction to early and medieval Armenian history I have yet read. Doesn’t overwhelm one with details, but doesn’t skimp, either. Includes some very nice b&w plates of coins, churches, sculptures, and paintings.
Michael Pollan. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin, 2006. [47]
A peculiarly American look at food.
A.E. Redgate. The Armenians. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998. [46]
The subject of this quip. But a fairly thorough overview of Armenian history from prehistory until about the eleventh century, after which point it dwindles to summarydom.
William Saroyan. The Human Comedy. New York: Harcourt Classics, 1989 (1943). [45]
Sort of a cross between Steinbeck and Thornton Wilder; simple clear prose, and foreshadowing that is as subtle and hard to miss as a big neon sign pointing the way to perdition.
Anatole France. Queen Pédaque. trans. Jos. A.V. Stritzko. New York: Modern Library, 1923 (1921). [44]
Sits oddly between James Branch Cabell & Balzac.
A.R. Luria. The Mind of a Mnemonist. trans. Lynn Solotaroff. Cambridge: MA: Harvard UP, 1987 (1968). [43]
As it sounds; lots about the visual aspect of memory.
James Branch Cabell. Beyond Life: Diazain des Démiurges. New York: Modern Library, 1919. [42]
Strange excursion about god and literature; or more to the point, divinity.
Jana Martin. Russian Lover and Other Stories. Portland, OR: Yeti, 2007. [41]
Short stories in a variety of moods, mostly about young women going astray. Less noxiously precious than July.
Mikhail Lermontov. A Hero of Our Time. trans. N. & D. Nabokov. Garden City, NY: Doubleday-Anchor, 1958 (1840). [40]
An anti-hero embarks on modest adventures and our noble translators (not paraphrasers) are sharp-tongued in the endnotes.
Alexander Pushkin. A Journey to Arzrum. trans. Birgitta Ingemanson. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1974 (1836). [39]
Pushkin travels through the Caucasus to meet up with the Russian army in Turkey. Does a bit of wide-eyed touristing and then goes home.
Jonah Lehrer. Proust was a Neuroscientist. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2007. [38]
Yes it is very important for science and art to cross-fertilize, but I somehow feel that the author misses the point and makes connections that are tenuous at best. It would undoubtedly be better if each essay did not contain the sentiment ‘and now we know they were right’ in almost the exact same words.


Mikhail Bulgakov. A Dead Man’s Memoir (A Theatrical Novel). trans. A. Bromfield. London: Penguin, 2007 (1965). [37]
A strange piece of work about being a playwright.
Robert Musil. Posthumous Papers of a Living Author. trans. Peter Wortsman. Hygiene, CO: Eridanos, 1987 (1957). [36]
Strange short pieces.
Chad Taylor. Departure Lounge. New York: Europa, 2006. [35]
A casual thief, a missing girl, and twenty years of mystery.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. trans. H.T. Willetts. New York: Everyman, 1995 (1962). [34]
As it sounds, and very good.
Wendell Berry. Recollected Essays: 1965–1980. San Francisco: North Point, 1981. [33]
About people’s relation to their environment and how they’re muddled about it. Especially good when he’s describing a specific place and not getting angry about the modern ‘mobile lifestyle’.
Paul Fussell. Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. Oxford: OUP, 1982. [32]
Rather narrower in range than I had imagined.
Dave Eggers, Deb Olin Unferth, & Sarah Manguso. The Small Box of Short Stories. San Francisco: McSweeney;s, 2007. [31]
Pretty okay short-shorts.
Jason Lutes. Berlin: City of Stones. vol.1. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2001. [30]
Robert Byron. The Road to Oxiana. Oxford: OUP, 2006 (1937). [29]
An excellent travel narrative, with good comments on architecture, history, and the nature of travel.
Stefan Heym. The Architects. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2006 (1958). [28]
Treachery and betrayal and building design.
William Carlos Williams. Selected Poems. ed. Randall Jarrell. New York: New Directions, 1963. [27]
‘It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack//of what is found there.’
Ira Glass, ed. The New Kings of Non-Fiction. New York: Riverhead, 2007. [26]
An interesting selection of essays somewhat lacking in diversity.
Wendell Berry. Home Economics. San Francisco: North Point, 1987. [25]
Farms good; agribusiness bad. Local and immobile communities good; fragmentation and mobility bad. The essays that were primarily observations of farm practices of which Mr. Berry approved struck me as the strongest and most convincing in the books, as well as being the least didactic. The intrusion of ‘the kingdom of God’ was not a surprise, but was not, from my point, necessary, although of course from Mr. Berry’s it was.


Andrei Platonov. Soul and Other Stories. trans. various. New York: NYRB, 2008 (various). [24]
Robert Grudin. Time and the Art of Living. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1982. [23]
A book about time that was very clearly composed in time; rather as one imagines reading the daily journal of a college professor over his shoulder might be. Does give the sense that his classes would not be particularly enjoyable, though doubtless they would give a sense of time.
Thomas Szasz. The Second Sin. Garden City, NY: Anchor Doubleday, 1973. [22]
The ‘second sin’ is the poor use of language. The language of the book is, not surprisingly, very clear, but the main thing it is clear about is that its author is transparently unhappy.
Miranda July. No One Belongs Here More than You. New York: Scribner, 2007. [21]
Back-cover blurb by David Byrne: ‘Miranda July’s is a beautiful, odd, original voice – seductive, sometimes erotic, and a little creepy, too’. Emphasis on the creepy. It reads like the deluded ramblings of an adolescent girl (trapped, sometimes, in a middle-aged body) who feels she needs to talk explicitly (if faux-naively) about sex in order to seem interesting. An odd persona to choose. A book of blinking, blankness, impassivity, pain.
Jason. The Last Musketeer. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2008. [20]
Saves the earth from Martian invasion. As it sounds.
Michael Pollan. In Defense of Food. New York: Penguin, 2008. [19]
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
Dale Carnegie. How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books, 1974 (1936). [18]
Much less suave than I expected.
J. Michael Yates. The Man in the Glass Octopus. Vancouver, BC: Sono Nis Press, 1968. [17]
Some place between Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and Csáth or Kafka or Bruno Schulz, not necessarily in the best possible way.
Geoffrey Keynes. The Gates of Memory. Oxford: OUP, 1981. [16]
Geoffrey Keynes was a surgeon, bibliophile, and editor of Blake, Thomas Browne, and others. He knew quite a few people who became (or were already) famous (e.g. Rupert Brooke, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Eric Gill, among others), and his accounts of them and of himself are droll, modest, and frequently amusing. The narrative thread of his life tangles somewhat, especially in his account of middle age and beyond, but that is perhaps to be expected.
Sarah Bilston. The Awkard Age in Women’s Popular Fiction 1850–1900. Oxford: OUP, 2004. [15]
Looks at Victorian literary views of the ‘adolescence’ – or how girls coped with not being a child and not really understanding sex.
Ellen Sandbeck. Organic Housekeeping. New York: Scribner, 2006. [14]
Advice for creating a ‘well-tempered’ (and [relatively] non-toxic) home.
Rose Macaulay. Potterism. London: St James’s Library, 1950 (1920). [13]
Young folks against commercialism and success who yet want to get along in the world, and all the ‘tragi-farcical’ goings-on they undergo.
Claire Preston. Thomas Browne and the Writing of Early Modern Science. New York: CUP, 2005. [12]
Works from the premise that Thomas Browne was a human being, that his style (or manner) developed over time, and that he fits in well with his age, being a great synthesizer of disparate notions.


Raymond Queneau. We Always Treat Women Too Well. trans. Barbara Wright. New York: NYRB, 1981 (1947). [11]
Huh. Supposedly a send-up of the bodice-ripper, it begins at the Joycean and descends to the absurd. If you can imagine.
Raymond Queneau. Odile. trans. Carol Sanders. Elmwood Park, IL: Dalkey Archive, 1988 (1937). [10]
Mathematician figures out what he wants, which happens to be the girl he married, so that’s all to the good, I guess. I’m sure there were clevernesses here, but I missed them.
Julien Gracq. King Cophetua. trans. Ingeborg M. Kohn. New York: Turtle Point, 2003 (1970). [9]
A man visits his friend’s country house during the first world war, melancholy and the way things are ensue.
Yevgeny Zamyatin. We. trans. Clarence Brown. London: Penguin, 1993 (1920–1, 1988). [8]
Not a book to be read slowly – about the perfect state and the fascination of people who disagree.
V.S. Naipaul. Reading and Writing: A Personal Account. New York: NYRB, 2000. [7]
Naipaul reflects that, on the whole, writing is very hard, because one must always be doing something new or the whole thing isn’t worth doing. This is especially difficult when one doesn’t have a history, as colonized or emigrant people of course haven’t.
Aleksandar Zograf. Regards from Serbia. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf, 2007. [6]
Graphic memoir about life in Serbia during the NATO bombing.
Julien Gracq. The Narrow Waters. trans. Ingeborg M. Kohn. New York: Turtle Point, 2004 (1976). [5]
Journey of memory and association down the stream of time.
Daniel Moulthrop, Nínive Clements Calegari, & Dave Eggers. Teachers Have it Easy. New York: New Press, 2005. [4]
They think teachers should be paid more.
Sandor Ellix Katz. The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green, 2006. [3]
On not being afraid: of your food and of your government.
Joel Hafvenstein. Opium Season. Guilford, CT: Lyons Press, 2007. [2]
Dude worked for one of the companies contracting to USAID in Afghanistan in 2004–2005. Memoir of his time there, personal impersonality.
Matt Briggs. The Moss Gatherers. Medical Lake, WA: Stringtown Press, 2005. [1]
Creepy short stories with a musty smell. Decay.

(last revised: 24 September 2016)

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