a reader

an eudæmonistreading



I spent much of December reading (and re-reading) things that I don’t want to bother to list here. If you are desperate for the complete list, you may contact me via email or in person. I’ll probably have forgotten, but you can still try.

Stanley Meisler. When the World Calls: The Inside Story of the Peace Corps and Its First Fifty Years. Boston: Beacon, 2011. [100]
The Nixon through Reagan presidencies were fascinating, but the rest only so-so. Too early to comment on Bush 2.0 and Obama.
James Boswell. The Life of Samuel Johnson. 2 vols. London: J.M. Dent, 1928 (1791). [99]
See post (eventually).
Stella Gibbons. Nightingale Wood. London: Penguin, 2010 (1938). [98.d]
Supposedly an adaptation of Cinderella, it’s a good-tempered fluff of a novel, not as tight and sharp as Cold Comfort Farm, but amusing even so.


G.K. Chesterton. The Man Who Knew Too Much. Project Gutenberg, 2004. [97.d]
Weird, and more than a little nasty.
Elif Batuman. Possessed. New York: FSG, 2010. [96.d]
See post.
Stella Gibbons. Cold Comfort Farm. New York: Penguin, 2006. [95.d]
It’s nice to make fun of people ‘with deep emotional lives’.
G.K. Chesterton. The Wisdom of Father Brown. Project Gutenberg, 2008. [94.d]
Again, better than anticipated.
G.K. Chesterton. The Innocence of Father Brown. Project Gutenberg, 2008. [93.d]
Better than I suspected them to be.
Ivy Compton-Burnett. Manservant & Maidservant. Oxford: OUP, 1983 (1947). [92]
Good lord what miserable people. They are miserable and insufferable in the beginning, and no one is any better at the end. Wonderful!
Johanna Spyri. Heidi. Project Gutenberg, 1998. [91.d]
Chose the wrong translation – everyone ‘gapes’ when they are tired. Please read a different translation.
Anne Fadiman. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. New York: FSG, 2000. [90.d.1]
Remember reading this in college and being impressed. I enjoyed it the second time ’round, but with less awe. The essay on coffee got me over my feelings of guilt about drinking coffee, so that’s something.
Anne Fadiman. At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays. New York: FSG, 2008. [89.d]
More or less as it sounds. On commonplace things, which is pleasant.
Patricia Highsmith. The Talented Mr. Ripley. London: Penguin, 1983 (1955). [88]
Was surprised to find this in the Darkhan public library.
Carolyn Steedman. Labours Lost: Domestic Service and the Making of Modern England. Cambridge: CUP, 2009. [87]
Looks at domestic service in 18th century England; puts it in sociological and physical perspective. Does not quite manage to fit it into a theoretical framework, though the attempt is hinted at.
Geoff Dyer. The Missing of the Somme. New York: Vintage, 2011 (1994). [86]
Memory, remembrance, and how those things are planned while the things that will be commemorated are actually happening.
Charlotte Brontë. The Professor. Project Gutenberg, 2008. [85.1.d]
Falls victim to self-conceit.
Anne Brontë. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Project Gutenberg, 2010. [84.1.d]
An odd and unhappy book, in its way.
Amanda Vickery. Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009. [83]
Quite readable glimpse of the Georgian domesticity and household economy.


Elizabeth Gaskell. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Penguin, 1998 (1857). [82.d]
See entry.
Barbara Ehrenreich & Deirdre English. For Her Own Good: 150 Years of the Experts’ Advice to Women. New York: Anchor, 1978. [81]
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I’m not sure that this was it.
Cynthia Morrison Phoel. Cold Snap: Bulgaria Stories. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 2010. [80]
Meh. When the most interesting thing about a collection of short stories is that its author was a Peace Corps volunteer, it is perhaps time to find a different collection of short stories. It was fine, but nothing more than fine.
Virginia Woolf. The Voyage Out. Project Gutenberg, 2006 (1915). [79]
Suffers a bit from bossy-author syndrome, the fates of the characters not quite matching characteristics previously developed. Foreshadowing a bit thick.
Antonio Tabucchi. Requiem. trans. Margaret Jull Costa. London: Harvill, 1994 (1991). [78]
An amusing romp; all meals included.
Paul Collier. The Bottom Billion. Oxford: OUP, 2007. [77]
Collier makes some fair points, but the book is marred by a patronizing, condescending tone, and an absence of ‘the grim apparatus of professional scholarship’ (xii). There are several points he mentions that I would like to read more on – notably ethnic diversity and its relation to violence (which I vaguely recall reading about in Z¨aut;rcher’s Post Soviet Wars) – but without the footnotes and references, I can’t find where Collier is coming from. Also, the repeated mea culpa of “this research is new, it hasn’t been published yet, it hasn’t undergone peer review” is as tiresome as it is pretentious.
Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited. London: Penguin, 2009 (1945). [76.2]
Have yet to discover what make the narrator so appealing to anyone else. Partially because he’s not very self-reflective, it’s hard to understand. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.
Douglas Schar. The Backyard Medicine Chest. New York: Elliot & Clark, 1995. [75]
As it sounds.
Alexander Theroux. The Strange Case of Edward Gorey. Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2011. [74]
See post.
Hermione Lee. Virginia Woolf. New York: Vintage, 1999 (1996). [73]
See post.


Sarah Fielding. The Governess; or, Little Female Academy. Project Gutenberg, 2008. [72.2.d]
Didactic, rather dull. ‘The misses all agreed, that certainly it was of no use to read, without understanding what they read; and began to talk of the story of the giants, to prove they could make just remarks on it’ (Tuesday, the second day).
Samuel Richardson. Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded. Project Gutenberg, 2009. [71.2.d]
A silly book, and indeed a sillier one than I remember it being. ‘My heart’s turned into butter, and is running away at my eyes’ (gruesome image).
Roy Porter. English Society in the 18th Century. London: Penguin, 1990. [70]
A very readable introductory social history.
Richard Stark. The Score. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2010. [69.d]
What’s better than a good noir-ish crime caper? A FREE noir-ish crime caper! Thanks University of Chicago Press!
William Morris. The Hollow Land. Project Gutenberg, 2005. [68.d]
Not sure about this one.
William Morris. Wood Beyond the World. Project Gutenberg, 2007 (1913). [67.d]
What a strange story. Social norms vs. morality vs. code of law – makes rather a hash of it, really.
Elizabeth Gaskell. Mary Barton. Project Gutenberg, 2003. [66.2.d]
Didn’t realize until halfway through that I had already read it. Shows what sort of reader I am, doesn’t it.
Kay Redfield Jamison. Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide. New York: Vintage, 2000. [65.d]
An interesting overview.
Elizabeth Gaskell. Round the Sofa. Project Gutenberg, 2001. [64.d]
Plus the short stories mentioned in the text. What a weird story, too.
Elizabeth Gaskell. Lizzie Leigh. Project Gutenberg, 2005. [63.d]
Not a very happy story, with not a very happy ending.
Rosemary Gladstar. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. New York: Storey, 2008. [62.d]
As it sounds. Wholesome and a little silly.
Alberto Manguel. A Reader on Reading. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. [61.d]
A diverse collection of essays, some better than others. Perhaps better perused than read straight through, as the tone got a bit overwhelming/tiring towards the end.
Anne Bronte. Agnes Grey. Project Gutenberg, . [60.d]
Another example of re-reading bringing disappointment.


(One of these is not like the others.)

Elizabeth Gaskell. Wives and Daughters. Project Gutenberg, 2003. [59.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. North and South. Project Gutenberg, 2001. [58.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. A Dark Night’s Work. Project Gutenberg, 2005. [57.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. The Grey Woman and Other Tales. Project Gutenberg, 2009. [56.d]
Victoria Glendinning. Leonard Woolf. New York: Counterpoint, 2008. [55.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. The Half-Brothers. Project Gutenberg, 2005. [54.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. Cranford. Project Gutenberg, 1996. [53.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. Ruth. Project Gutenberg, 2001. [52.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. Cousin Phillis. Project Gutenberg, 2001. [51.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. My Lady Ludlow. Project Gutenberg, 2005. [50.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. The Moorland Cottage. Project Gutenberg, 2004. [49.d]
Elizabeth Gaskell. Sylvia’s Lovers. Project Gutenberg, 2002. [48.d]


Dashiell Hammett. Red Harvest. New York: Vintage, 1992 (1929). [47]
A creepy book. Hard-boiled.
Charlotte Bronte. Villette. Project Gutenberg, 2003. [46.d]
Not the novel I remember reading at 17, but a much better and more sophisticated one. Sadly, though,I wanted to read the same Villette that I read at 17, and it wasn’t there any more.
Thomas Wallace Knox. Overland Through Asia. Project Gutenberg, 2004 (1871). [45.d]
Owes a great debt to other travel writers of the area, to judge by his borrowings from Kennan, but an interesting catalog and taste of 19th century light prose.
Kazuo Ishiguro. The Remains of the Day. New York: Vintage, 1990. [44.d]
Fussier than I remember.
Charlotte Bronte. Shirley. Project Gutenberg, 2009. [43.d]
Patrick Leigh Fermor. Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. New York: NYRB Classics, 2006 (1958). [42]
Probably my new favorite travel book. Lost its energy a bit at the end and wandered, but it works, I think. And I didn’t even realize that the author had just died. Huh.
George Kennan. Tent Life in Siberia. Project Gutenberg, 2004 (1870). [41.d]
Adventures in Kamchatka. A strange word.
Anne Carson. Eros the Bittersweet. Champaign, UL: Dalkey Archive, 1993 (1983). [40]
I was cranky when I read this the first time. I was slightly less cranky this time. But still cranky.


Pierre Bayard. How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read. New York: Bloomsbury, 2010. [39.d]
As it sounds, but surprisingly more interesting.
Matthew Battles. Library: An Unquiet History
About libraries. An overview really.
Shannon Hayes. Radical Homemakers. New York: Left to Write, 2010. [37.d]
About not being ashamed of keeping house.
Ellen Sandbeck. Organic Housekeeping. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2006. [36.d]
On not being neurotic about keeping house.


Aton Edwards. Preparedness Now. Port Townsend: Process, 2006. [35.d]
For middle-managers who want to be superheroes.
Willa Cather. Stories, Reviews, and Essays. Project Gutenberg, 2008. [34.d]
See post.
Melody Beattie. Codependent No More. Center City, MN: Hazelden, 1992. [33.d]
On relationships and things that make them go wrong.
P.H. Matthews. Linguistics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2003. [32.d]
As it sounds. And very short.
Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen. The Urban Homestead. Port Townsend: Process, 2008. [31.d]
As it sounds, about gardens and making yogurt and all those fruity things.
Jill Lawless. The Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia. Ontario: ECW, 2000. [30.d]
Interesting account of Mongolia in the late 1990s by a journalist working in Ulaanbaatar.
Bernard Spolsky. Sociolinguistics. Oxford: OUP, 1998. [29]
Interesting introduction, but coming so soon on the heels of Language and Culture, there was a lot of repetition.
Shashi Deshpande. The Dark Holds No Terrors. New Delhi: Penguin, 1990 (1980). [28]
Family relations, power relations, sexual relations, all kind of relations.
Anita Desai. Where Shall We Go This Summer. Delhi: Orient, 2009 (1982). [27]
This somehow did not grab be at all.
Claire Kramsch. Language and Culture. Oxford: OUP, 1998. [26]
I think I’ve been trying to read too many books in this series in too short a period of time. My brain has gone fuzzy.
Christopher Morley. Streamlines. New York: Doubleday, 1936 (1933). [25]
Did not read all essays as attentively as perhaps I ought to have, but as the quality ranged widely it is perhaps to be expected.
Karl E. Meyer. The Dust of Empire. New York: Public Affairs, 2004 (2003). [24]
If you know nothing about Central Asia or current events, this book might prove useful, as it is an engaging summary (please imagine all necessary equivocations about the difficulties of summarizing history and current events). Mr. Meyer attempts to wear the cloak of knowledge lightly, but unfortunately, it sometimes slips from his shoulders. As when, for instance, he asserts that it was only the unified petition of the Greek generals that got Achilles back into battle – as though the death of Patrokles were not a greater inducement. This might be forgiven as a momentary nodding, but a few pages later he displays his ignorance of the particulars of the US cultural exchange programs run in Central Asia (e.g. Muskie, UGrad, FLEX, TEA, etc.) and so all of his facts became suspect to me, sadly.


I spent much of April reading (and re-reading) stupid books that I don’t want to bother to list here. If you are desperate for the complete list, you may contact me via email or in person.

Varlam Shalamov. Kolyma Tales. trans. John Glad. New York: Penguin, 1980. [23]
Amazing. Great to get back to reading books on paper.
Anne Lamott. Bird by Bird. New York: Anchor, 1995. [22.d]
Practical advice for the easily distracted.
D.T. Suzuki. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove, 1964. [21.d]


I also re-read the Harry Potter books in March, but I don’t much feel like itemizing them in my book lists. Just in case you were thinking that I’ve gotten lazy and stopped reading. I have gotten lazy, and am reading books that don’t require much brain work.

Herbert Schendl. Historical Linguistics. Oxford Introductions to Language Study. Oxford: OUP, 2001. [20]
A good introduction, but not as interesting as the Stylistics volume; I’m not sure whether that’s a result of my own tastes, the authors’ styles, or what, but this one took a bit of work to get through (for me, anyhow).
Peter Verdonk. Stylistics. Oxford Introductions to Language Study. Oxford: OUP, 2002. [19]
I wish this book had been available when I was a highschool student or undergraduate – it’s a clear and concise introduction to how to go about reading a text, be it a newspaper headline or a poem.
Christopher Walker. Armenia: The Survival of a Nation. London: Croom Helm, 1980. [18]
This book, with the exception of the bitter criticism of British policy, tells you the story of the Armenian genocide more or less as an Armenian would tell it to you – without a lot of context for what was going on in the Ottoman empire at the time, which makes it even harder to wrap one’s head around the awful events. In both the build-up and aftermath of the period of massacres the book is rather dull and wooden, but livens up when describing the sufferings of the Armenians. The post-war period resettles into a certain blandness of tone, and the narrative becomes a bit more confused (not surprising, as the period was confusing). In all, though, a good overview/starting point for anyone interested in Armenia, the genocide, Sovietization, nationalism, and the history of the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
L.M. Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables. Project Gutenberg Text. [17.d]
Huh. Shorter and less enthralling than I remember it.
Hugh Kenner. Flaubert, Joyce and Beckett: The Stoic Comedians. London: Dalkey Archive, 2005 (1962). [16]
Clear and thought-provoking. Better, it helps clarify and reform one’s own thoughts.


Terry Pratchett. Equal Rites. New York: Harper, 2005. [15.d]
Even more light reading.
Terry Pratchett. The Colour of Magic. New York: Harper, 2005. [14.d]
More light reading.
J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2009. [13]
Light reading.
J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2006. [12]
Light reading.
J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2004. [11]
Light reading.
Edith Nesbit. The Book of Dragons. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2004 (1900). [10]
I’ve been on a fairy tale kick, lately.
George Prochnik. In Pursuit of Silence. New York: Knopf, 2010. [9]
About people’s relationship to silence and noise in the modern world.
Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. Apartment Therapy. New York: Bantam, 2008. [8]
As it sounds.
Christa Wolf. One Day A Year: 1960–2000. trans. Lowell Bangerter. New York: Europa, 2007 (1003). [7]
As it sounds – a description of one day (Sept. 27) for forty years.
Lydia Maria Francis Child. The American Frugal Housewife.12 New York: Samuel S. & William Wood, 1832. [6.d]
‘Nothing is better than ear-wax to prevent the painful effects resulting from a wound by a nail, skewer, &c. It should be put on as soon as possible. Those who are troubled with cracked lips have found this remedy successful when others have failed. It is one of those sorts of cures, which are very likely to be laughed at; but I know of its having produced very beneficial results.’


Hanna Arendt. Eichmann and the Holocaust. New York: Penguin, 2006 (1963). [5]
Abridged from Eichmann in Jerusalem; still quite powerful/thought-provoking. (And no, I really don’t have anything more to say about it at present.)
Agatha Christie. Sparkling Cyanide. Moscow: Aries, 2008 (1945). [4]
A nice Christmas present and a good distraction from the cold.
Vladimir Nabokov. Pnin. New York: Avon, 1969 (1953). [3]
See post.
Thomas Goltz. Azerbaijan Diary: A Rogue Reporter’s Adventures in an Oil-Rich, War-Torn, Post-Soviet Republic. London: M.E. Sharpe, 1998. [2]
See post.
Christopher Hill. Reformation to Industrial Revolution. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986 (1969). [1]
Like the other two volumes in this series (The Pelican Economic History of England), this is geared to the undergraduate with a general background in the history of the period, who might be scared off by an excess of statistics. It remains, I think, a good introduction, but probably not the only thing one should read on the subject. For the series as a whole, even though the three volumes are written by three different authors, they work well together; each book covers a time period overlapping with the next, thus giving a different view on the period while bridging the adjustment to the different styles of the authors.

(last revised: 27 May 2019)

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