a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2020

January

Georg Simmel. The Art of the City: Rome, Florence, Venice. trans. Will Stone. London: Pushkin, 2018 (1898–1903). [17]
The essay on the city in general was perhaps the most illuminating; although the purpose of using chronological order is clear, moving from the happy accidents that characterize the layout of Rome to the individual ground beneath the heel of money is disconcerting. The whole reminded me very much of Henry James.
Mary Beard. Women and Power. New York: Liveright (Random House Audio), 2019. [16.a]*
To paraphrase: ‘thankfully not everything can be related directly to ancient history.’ Would that the afterword to the revised edition could have been the starting point, as there one felt the undercurrent of power.
Cees Nooteboom. Lost Paradise. trans. Susan Massotty. New York: Grove, 2007 (2004). [15]*
It feels like a book that is familiar, that is like other books that one has not yet read; perhaps something like Nobody Is Ever Missing (which I did read) or A Time for Everything (which I haven’t read, but which was published the same year as this book). Might be trying to do too much; echoes of Milton and Magic Mountain and other things, too, I’m sure.
William Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. ed. William Lyon Phelps. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1923 (<1598). [14]
An odd play. Certainly better than Two Gentlemen of Verona, but the silliness with the rings feels unnaturally Plautine for its setting.
Cees Nooteboom. The Following Story. trans. Ina Rilke. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1994 (1991, 1993). [13]*
A tender, melancholy book.
Cees Nooteboom. The Captain of the Butterflies. trans. Leonard Nathan & Herlinde Spahr. Los Angeles, CA: Sun & Moon Press, 1997 (1983, 1989). [12]*
Melancholy, a rich luster. Echoes of H. D.
Jan de Hartog. A View of the Ocean. New York: Pantheon, 2007. [11]*
A short book, but wrestling with large issues. I found it while searching the library catalogue for something else.
Christopher Nadon. Xenophon’s Prince: Republic and Empire in the Cyropaedia. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001. [10]*
An odd book, at once trying to relate the Cyropaedia to Machiavelli and comment obliquely on the dangers facing education at the time of its writing (or indeed now, I suppose). It rests heavily on ‘reading’ Xenophon’s book, but doesn’t give much of a sense of it – not clearly, anyhow.
Elizbeth Berg. The Year of Pleasures. New York: Random House, 2005. [9.d]*
I saw someone on Twitter reading a different book by this author and it had a flat appeal, a suggestion that moral and emotional ambiguity might be lacking, but that it would soothe a mind harried by overwork. It was and did – but I need to remember not to consume such books like bonbons, as it upsets the digestion of better things.
John Durham. The Marvelous Clouds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. [8]*
On wanting to make a mark; on wanting not to leave a trace. I am not quite sure I followed down all the lines of thought quite as intended, but it was a meditative book and doubtless did me little harm in not being fully understood.
M. L. West. Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994 (1992). [7]*
Much of the information about music (i.e. the later chapters) was a bit too technical for me, and the section on rhythm seemed more a matter of wishful thinking based on available evidence rather than sound examination, but that, again, could be my own ignorance.
John Gould. Herodotus. New York: St. Martin’s, 1989. [6]*
A sympathetic and thoughtful overview of Herodotus and his methods; less concerned with being an all around introduction than Roberts’ book, it was thus more successful (in requiring less baggage from the reader). Also a model in criticism – finding what is good in a source and making the most of that, acknowledging its limitations, and avoiding cutting remarks for the sake of showing off one’s own cleverness.
Linda Boström Knausgård. Welcome to America. trans. Martin Aitken. New York: World Editions, 2019 (2016). [5]*
Another story about a broken family.
Carmen Boullosa. Before. trans. Peter Bush. Dallas, TX: Deep Vellum, 2016 (1989). [4]
A ghost story.
Suneeta Peres da Costa. Saudade. San Francisco, CA: Transit Books, 2019 (2018). [3]
Reading the beginning, it felt like I had read it before. It has a flat dreaminess similar to Devi’s Eve out of Her Ruins, as well as that book’s fragmented approach – but less brutal, less implicit moralizing.
Jennifer T. Roberts. Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: OUP, 2011. [2]*
Although there is much to like in this book (as at least one reviewer noted), it is a strange little book, oddly informal, and the picture that it presents of Herodotus, while not directly contradicting my own understanding of The Histories, is not wholly recognizable. It is like seeing a familiar acquaintance being introduced in a more formal setting, to an audience of people who cannot be expected to care and so much effort is taken to point out ‘marketable’ aspects of their personality. The final chapter on the historian’s errors and accuracies would have been much helped by footnotes.
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, trans. Songs of Kabir. New York: New York Review Books, 2011 (ca. 15th C.). [1]*
Engaging translation, one that becomes part of and actively engages with the corpus as a living thing rather than monumentalizing it. Doniger’s preface helped contextualize a bit, as did the translator’s introduction. Not at all what I expected – and more than I imagined. Glad to start the year off with poetry that is also borrowed from the library.

(last revised: 26 January 2020)

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