a reader

an eudæmonistreading



Vera Caspary. Laura. in Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1940s. ed. Sarah Weinman. New York: Library of America, 2015 (1943). [112]
An enjoyable way to spend Christmas day.
Adam Gazzaley & Larry D. Rosen. The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. Cambridge: MIT UP, 2016. [111]
The usual platitudes and commonplaces – though their comments about playing video games improving memory and concentration was interesting.
Elizabeth Hardwick. Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature. New York: Random House, 1974. [110]
Quite enjoyable.
Edward Schafer. The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985 (1963). [109]
I’d been looking forward to reading this book since 2000; it did not disappoint. Although of course it is outdated and outmoded, its approach to composition and presentation of material was quite interesting – there was pleasure even in endnotes.
Elizabeth Alexander. The Light of the World. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2015. [108]
An interesting book to follow the Danticat, but one wonders about all that is elided in the retrospective of Alexander’s marriage.
Edwidge Danticat. The Art of Death. Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2017. [107]


There are very few books included here, possibly because I abandoned a great many books in November, but possibly also because I was not reading as much as I would like.

Richard Sennett. The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale UP, 2008. [106]
This is not a good book, but it is probably not as bad a book as I think it.
Elizabeth Gilbert. Big Magic. New York: Riverhead, 2015. [105]
Peter Brown. Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350–550 AD. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2014 (2012). [104]
Pleasant and informative.
Wioletta Greg. Swallowing Mercury. trans. Eliza Marciniak. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2017 (2014). [103]
Quite enjoyable.


Stephan A. Hoeller. The Royal Road: A Manual of Kabalistic Meditations on the Tarot. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 1995. [102]
A silly book.
Elvira Navarro. A Working Woman. trans. Christian MacSweeney. San Francisco: Two Lines Press, 2017 (2014). [101]
Reminded me unpleasantly of both Quiet Creature on the Corner and Troubling Love, neither of which I liked.
Stephen Leacock. Nonsense Novels. Toronto: New Canadian Library, 1968 (1911). [100]
Amusing games with genre.
Shen Fu. Six Records of a Floating Life. trans. Leonard Pratt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983 (1809). [99]
Surprisingly readable and pleasing.
Ali Alizadeh. Transactions. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2013. [98]
An ambitious book, that coasted a bit on its ideas.
Valeria Luiselli. Tell Me How it Ends. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2017. [97]
One of the better books I read this year.
Ananda Devi. Eve Out of Her Ruins. trans. Jeffrey Zuckerman. Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2016 (2006). [96]
A book of bargains.
Tenzin Dickie. Old Demons, New Deities. New York: O/R Books, 2017. [95]
An anthology, with all of an anthologies virtues and vices.
Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday-Anchor, 1959 (1958). [94]
I’m still thinking about this.
Olga Tokarczuk. House of Day, House of Night. trans. Antonia Lloyd-Johns. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2003. 1998. [93]*
Craig at Mother Foucault mentioned that they had a Polish literature club; they are mostly reading male poets, so I thought I’d look up some female Polish writers for my reading group of one.


Clara Parkes. A Stash of One’s Own: Knitters on Loving, Living with, and Letting go of Yarn. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2017. [92]*
While the title says it’s about yarn, the best essays seemed to be about love and loss and how one can express those feelings.
Junichiro Tanizaki. Some Prefer Nettles. trans. Edward Seidensticker. New York: Berkley, 1970 (1955). [91]
I am not one of them. Would rather watch an Ozu movie.
James Rebanks. The Shepherd’s Life: A People’s History of the Lake District. New York: Doubleday, 2015. [90]
Not for me.
Kate Atherley. The Beginner’s Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns. Fort Collins, CO: Interweave Press, 2016. [89]
As it sounds.
Victor Serge. Midnight in the Century. trans. Richard Greeman. New York: NYRB Classics, 2014 (1976). [88]
Not quite Vasily Grossman.
Marianne Fritz. The Weight of Things. trans. Adrian Nathan West. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2015 (1977). [87]
An odd book. Sitting uncomfortably between Barbara Comyns, Christa Wolff, and Vicki Baum.
Northrop Frye. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton, NJ: PUP, 1971 (1957). [86]
An educator’s book. Frye’s addition of ‘anatomy’ to the genres of literature (and his particular definition thereof) deserves greater attention and use than it has gotten. That the book has not been more influential (than it has been) is perhaps the result of Frye’s rhetorical choices, which made the polemical introduction and tentative conclusion (the only parts that most people will read) less substantial than they could have been – especially as the other essays bear thinking over. Particularly charmed by Frye’s knack for the well-chosen detail, as well as his apropos erudition. A model worth emulating.
Rachael Matthews. The Mindfulness in Knitting: Meditations on Craft and Calm. London: Leaping Hare, 2016. [85]
As it sounds. Ms Matthews’s editors (both developmental and copyeditor) did little to assist her in producing this book (or if they did do anything, their impact is remarkably invisible). It lacked the charm and style that would have made it a classic in the genre.
Anise Koltz. At the Devil’s Banquet. trans. John F. Deane. Portland: Tavern Books, 2017 (1998). [84]
Bilingual edition, which I enjoyed cudgeling my brains over.
Junichiro Tanizaki. In Praise of Shadows. trans. Thomas J. Harper & Edward G. Seidensticker. Sedgwick, ME: Leete Island, 1977 (1933). [83]
A charming little book about seeing obscurely. The section about toilets was the most interesting, but the parts about darkened rooms and qualities of darkness was also worthy of attention.
Noemi Jaffe. What are the Blind Men Dreaming?. trans. Julia Sanches & Ellen Elias-Bursać. Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2016 (2012). [82]
Children writing about trying to come to terms with their parents’ experience of the Holocaust or other genocides is not one of my preferred genres of memoir.
Fiona Wright. Small Acts of Disappearance: Essays on Hunger. Artarmon: Giramondo, 2015. [81]
Essays on anorexia – even the essays that did not focus on personal narrative saw their subjects (books, etc.) through the filter of disordered eating. Well enough in its way.


Nagisa Tatsumi. The Art of Discarding. trans. Angus Turvill. New York: Hachette, 2017 (2000). [80]
More methods on how to get rid of things, less precious than Life-Changing Magic…, but more or less the same thing.
Anne Garréta. Not One Day. trans. Emma Ramadan. Dallas: Deep Vellum, 2017 (2002). [79]
An abecedarium of relationships; not quite as impressive as Sphinx, but perhaps a better and more challenging book.
Clara Parkes. The Yarn Whisperer: My Unexpected Life in Knitting. New York: STC Craft, 2013. [78]*
Charming enough.
Northrop Frye. The Educated Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1964. [77]
See post; one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.
Adam Greenfield. Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life. London: Verso, 2017. [76]*
See post.
Muriel Spark. The Girls of Slender Means. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2008 (1963). [75.a]*
Interesting use of repetition to create sense of doom.
Suzanne Scanlon. Her 37th Year, An Index. Las Cruces, NM: Noemi, 2015. [74]*
Has rather the same problem as Scanlon’s other book (and Manguso’s 300 Arguments), that it is womanish book wholly focussed on romantic relationships. It would probably not pass the Bechdel test, which seems unfortunate.
Rainer Maria Rilke. Poems from the Book of Hours. trans. Babette Deutsch. New York: New Directions, 2009 (1905). [73]*
A bit too mystical for my taste.
Greta Wrolstad. Night Is Simply a Shadow. Portland: Tavern Books, 2013. [72]*
‘Notes on Sea and Shore’ was powerful and interesting; the rest of the volume uneven, as is to be expected, but worth the perusal.
William Carlos Williams. In the American Grain. New York: New Directions, 1956 (1925). [71]
See post.


John Bunyan. Pilgrim’s Progress. ed. Roger Sharrock. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965. [70]
While it did have some good moments, and helps illuminate the source of the peculiar tone of Victorian novels, it was overall rather dull, which is a pity and rather unusual for a ‘classic’ novel.
Margaret C. Anderson. The Strange Necessity: The Autobiography: Resolutions and Reminiscence to 1969. New York: Horizon Press, 1969. [69]
Probably the weakest volume, but necessary to complete the picture. A warning.
Renee Gladman. Calamities. Seattle: Wave Books, 2016. [68]
Exactly the sort of meditative personal book I feel like reading at the moment. Pairs well with her Ravickian trilogy.
Pierre Bourdieu. The Field of Cultural Production. trans. Randal Johnson. New York: Columbia, UP, 1993. [67]*
An uneven collection of essays, of which the main one was the most coherent and astringent, though part three on ‘the pure gaze’ was also interesting. The essays on Flaubert were of less interest, though they fit in well with Bourdieu’s notions of cultural production.
Roxane Gay. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. New York: HarperCollins, 2017. [66]*
A defensive book, written in such a way as to ward off criticism, not least because it is so vulnerable – exposing one’s tender belly to a cruel world, it is no surprise that claws should also be in evidence. Powerful for all that.
Mary Ruefle. My Private Property. Seattle: Wave Books, 2016. [65]*
Not quite as overwhelming as Madness, Rack, etc, but a pleasant enough small book.
Anne Boyer. Garments Against Women. Boise, ID: Ahsahta, 2015. [64]*
Quite enjoyable, if a bit overly clever.


Robin Romm, ed. Double Bind: Women on Ambition. New York: Liveright, 2017. [63]*
The essays that were not by failed lawyers were interesting. What is it about legal training that inculcates solipsism?
Clarice Lispector. The Complete Stories. trans. Katrina Dodson. New York: New Directions, 2015 (62). [62]
It took me a while to get through, as the stories were so unnerving and unsettling, but in a very good way – I didn’t want to finish with them.
Vasily Grossman. Forever Flowing. trans. Thomas P. Whitney. Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 1997 (1970). [61]
A surprisingly charming and humane book.
Margaret C. Anderson. My Thirty Years’ War: The Autobiography: Beginnings and Battles to 1930. New York: Horizon Press, 1969 (1930). [60]
More irritating than The Fiery Fountains, because of greater focus on literary personalities and egos.
Lynda Barry. Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2014. [59]
A rather haphazard book, with occasional nods to a framing narrative, but drowsy ones. Interesting for the variety of exercises it includes, as well as suggestions of what the student reactions to them were.
D.W. Gibson. Not Working: Losing a Job in Today’s Great Recession. New York: OR Books, 2012. [58]
An interesting imitation of Studs Terkel – not quite as deeply thought, and with occasional gaffes of tone, but there it is. Thought-provoking and troubling.
William Caxton, trans. The Book of the Knight of the Tower. ed. M.Y. Offord. Oxford: EETS, 1971 (1484). [57]
Such an interesting way of giving advice – with greater emphasis on negative examples than positive, some of which seemed wholly counter-intuitive and/or hypocritical.
Lindy West. Shrill. New York: Hachette, 2016. [56.d]*
I don’t know. I wanted to sympathize, but ultimately found that I could not. There was a great deal of feeling in the book, but not enough reflection and self-examination (as opposed to self-judging and self-justification) for my taste. The problem for me was not that it was shrill, but that it stayed in the shallows. Others may have a different experience.


Hannah Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2007 (1951). [55.a]*
One hesitates to emphasize that this book is timely, but there is much that is disturbingly familiar in its pages.
Barbara Comyns. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths. New York: NYRB Classics, 2015 (1950). [54]
I came home from work and started reading it and didn’t look up until I finished.
Patricia Meyer Spacks. Privacy: Concealing the Eighteenth-Century Self. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. [53.d]
One of the few works of scholarship that I haven’t felt guilty about lingering over. Enjoyable readings of famous, infamous, and forgotten novels, with an eye to how people think about privacy and concealment.
Margaret C. Anderson. The Fiery Fountains. New York: Horizon Press, 1969 (1951). [52]
The second volume of Anderson’s memoirs; deeply charming.
Leonora Carrington. Down Below. New York: NYRB Classics, 2017 (1945). [51]
A distressing short memoir about madness.
Sarah Iles Johnston. Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature. New York: OUP, 1990. [50]*
Not as bad as I had feared it might be, but read like a reworked dissertation.
Sarah Manguso. 300 Arguments. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf, 2017. [49]
It reads like sentences cut from the drafts of Manguso’s other books; not necessarily a bad thing, on the whole.
Rebecca Solnit. The Mother of All Questions. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017. [48]*
A better book, I think, than Hope in the Dark, but not the book for me at the moment.


Donald M. Nicol. The Byzantine Lady. Cambridge: CUP, 2004 (1992). [47]
A set of brief lives of ten Byzantine ladies (some of whom were, in fact, rather long lived). Interesting for the ways in which the women were able to influence policy – for both good and ill.
William James. Pragmatism. In William James: Writings 1902–1910. New York: Library of America, 1988. [46]
Customary charm and some striking images.
Erich Neumann. Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development of the Feminine. trans. Ralph Manheim. Princeton, NJ: PUP, 1971 (1952). [45]
Old school psychologizing of myth. Amusing. One can’t help feeling a little tenderly towards it.
Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold. The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am. trans. Kerri A. Pierce. Victoria, TX: Dalkey Archive, 2013 (2009). [44]
Melancholy short novel about old age, love, loneliness, and marriage.
Norberto Luis Romero. The Arrival of Autumn in Constantinople. trans. H.E. Herbert. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2010 (1998). [43]
Delightful and absurd short stories, reminiscent of Borges or Cortázar.
Beatrice Forbes Manz. The Rise and Rule of Tamerlane. Cambridge: CUP, 2002 (1989). [42]
A solid introduction to the subject of Timur’s career, with particular emphasis on his restructuring of power (reducing the actual authority of the tribes) in the Chagatai Khanate. A bit repetitive.
Andrés Barba. Such Small Hands. trans. Lisa Dillman. San Francisco, CA: Transit Books, 2017 (2008). [41]
A creepy, satisfying, and quick read.
Margot Adler. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America. London: Penguin, 2006 (1979). [40.d]*
A thorough but not at all rigorous popular history of paganism in the US, with particular emphasis on the 1970s. About what one would expect.
Ana Kordzaia-Samadashvili. Me, Margarita. trans. Libby Heighway. Victoria, TX: Dalkey Archive, 2015. [39]
Amusing short stories from Georgia, but not out of the common way.
John Berger. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin, 1990 (1972). [38]
Marxist art history for a popular audience.
Carlo Ginzburg. The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller. trans. John & Anne Tedeschi. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980 (1976). [37]*
Impact of literacy on the spread of ideas in popular cultural, and the ways in which this undermines the authority of those in power (in this case a somewhat embattled Catholic church).
Gabriel García Márquez. Clandestine in Chile. trans. Asa Zatz. New York: NYRB Classics, 2010 (1986). [36]
Short account of arrogant film maker combining personal exploration with endangering the safety of others.
Robert Bresson. Notes on the Cinematograph. trans. Jonathan Griffin. New York: NYRB Classics, 2016 (1975). [35]
Interesting (and aphoristic) look at creativity.


Mary Ruefle. Madness, Rack, and Honey. Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2012. [34]
One of the most enjoyable reading and thinking experiences I have had in quite some time. The aphoristic elegance of Ruefle’s approach is seductive – even if it does inspire me to write praise that sounds like marketing copy.
Stendhal. Memoirs of an Egotist. trans. Andrew Brown. London: Hesperus, 2003 (1892). [33]
Amusing. Will probably set me on a slow-motion Stendhal kick, which is unexpected.
Walter Ullmann. A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages. Harmondsworth: Pelican, 1965. [32]
As it sounds, but more readable.
Jen George. The Babysitter at Rest. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy Project, 2016. [31]
Has some of the problems as Noll, the self-conscious distance, the lack of affect, the self-ironizing – but with more effective use of humor.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We Should All Be Feminists. New York: Anchor, 2014. [30]
Charming, particularly in the way that it will approach a topic then twist suddenly, like a cat in mid-air, and approach it from another angle, landing nimbly on its feet.
João Gilberto Noll. Atlantic Hotel. trans. Adam Morris. San Francisco: Two Lines Press, 2017 (1986). [29]
The disaffection of Noll’s narrators really doesn’t do much for me. Mileage may vary.
Helen MacDonald. H Is for Hawk. New York: Grove Press, 2015. [28]
A thoughtful meditation on mourning and recovery – more effective and powerful when read slowly, and losing some of its force in the final third.
Judith Butler. Giving an Account of Oneself. New York: Fordham UP, 2005. [27]*
An odd book, best read quickly (for it feels as though written quickly), about how any attempt to give an account of oneself is necessarily a relationship to an ‘other’ in general, and to circumstantial authority in particular.
Girolamo Cardano. The Book of My Life. trans. Jean Stoner. New York: NYRB Classics, 2002 (1570). [26]
The first eight or so chapters were a charming model for an autobiography, but it became a bit repetitious and querulous thereafter, unfortunately.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Confessions. trans. J.M. Cohen. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 (1768). [25]
What an annoying little prig.


Northrop Frye. The Modern Century. Oxford: OUP, 1969. [24]
Earnest collection of essays about urban living, modernity, and Canada.
Rebecca Harding Davis. Life in the iron mills, or The korl woman. New York: Feminist Press, 1972 (1861). [23]
A bit ponderous, especially the dialect. Not certain I would call it feminist per se, but definitely anti-capitalist.
Georges Lefebvre. The Coming of the French Revolution. trans. R.R. Palmer. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971 (1939). [22]
A solid and clear overview – made me miss The Roman Revolution, though.
William James. Writings, 1878–1899. ed. Gerald Eugene Myers. New York: Library of America, 1992. [21]
Psychology, Briefer Course was quite interesting, but Will to Believe and the essays rather sapped my desire to live, particularly when James recycled material (in a way that’s called self-plagiarism nowadays).
Marina Tsvetaeva. Moscow in the Plague Year: Poems. trans. Christopher Whyte. New York: Archipelago, 2014. [20]
A bit too much of the grand, dramatic gesture for my taste.
Barbara Ehrenreich. Living with a Wild God. New York: Hachette/Twelve, 2014. [19.a]*
On the uses of mystical experiences.
Annie Modesitt. Memoirs of a Knitting Heretic. Self-published, 2004. [18]
A memoir of knitting peculiarly, back when people were more particular about such things.
Zoé Oldenbourg. The Crusades. trans. Anne Carter. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2008 (1965). [17.a]*
Rather ill-organized, both the book and the Crusades.
Friedrich Nietzsche. Dawn: Thoughts on the Presumptions of Morality. trans. Brittain Smith. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2011 (1881). [16]
Not as bad as I was afraid it might be from the first few pages of aphorisms.
Jessa Crispin. Why I Am Not a Feminist. Brooklyn: Melville House, 2017. [15]
See post.
Sarah Bakewell. At the Existentialist Café. New York: Other Press, 2016. [14]*
An approachable look at existentialism and phenomenology. Not sure the conceit of the café added much to the flow of the book – seems like the sort of thing that gets one through a draft but then could be revised away.
Renee Gladman. Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2013. [13]
An elegant summation of the Ravickian trilogy.
Erin Boyle. Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2016 [12.d]*
A memoir about putting one’s house in order; part of that peculiar mixed genre of memoir, self-help, and ‘lifestyle’ writing. Perhaps a younger version of myself would have found it appealing, but expensive napkins and maintenance-heavy silverware no longer hold a significant place in my personal ambitions.


Suzanne Scanlon. Promising Young Women. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2012. [11]
Disjointed short novel about madness, beauty, and a young woman.
Anne Carson. Float. New York: Knopf, 2016. [10]
Recycles a good bit of material – notably from Nay, Rather – but takes an interesting look at meaning and staying afloat in one’s life and in the world.
Fouad Laroui. The Curious Case of Dassoukine’s Trousers, trans. Emma Ramadan. Dallas, TX: Deep Vellum, 2016 (2012). [9]
Sharp, absurd, and thoroughly amusing short stores.
Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. Fra Keeler. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2012. [8]
A violent book – at first this is subtle, but then it becomes heavy-handed.
Sarah Andersen. Adulthood Is a Myth. Riverside, NJ: Andrews McMeel, 2016. [7.d]*
Sometimes one just needs a bit of a laugh.
Julia Kristeva. Black Sun: Melancholy and Depression. trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia UP, 1989 (1987). [6]
An interesting set of essays on the subject of melancholia, with strong underpinnings of Freud & Melanie Klein. The essays on Holbein and Duras, in particular, were thought provoking.
Manuela Draeger. In the Time of the Blue Ball. trans. Brian Evenson. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2011 (2002–2003). [5]
A peculiar set of short stories by one of Antoine Volodine’s heteronyms.
Renee Gladman. The Ravickians. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy, a publishing project, 2011. [4]
An odd and uneasy book – a good follow up to Event Factory. Looking forward to reading the next volume in the trilogy.
Bae Suah. A Greater Music. trans. Deborah Smith. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2016 (2003). [3]
See post.
San Juan de la Cruz. The Poems of St John of the Cross. trans. Willis Barnstone. New York: New Directions, 1972 (1591). [2]
It seemed to me this was a book I had read; I picked it up and found I had not. So I did.
Qiu Miaojin. Last Words from Montmartre. trans. Ari Larissa Heinrich. New York: NYRB Classics, 2014 (1996). [1]
See post.

(last revised: 2 November 2020)

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