a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2021

April

Pierre Lusson, Georges Perec, and Jacques Roubaud. A Short Treatise Inviting the Reader to Discover the Subtle Art of Go. trans. Peter Consenstein. Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2019 (1969). [82]
A charming and whimsical introduction to go.
Mihail Sebastian. Fragments from a Found Notebook. trans. Christina Tudor-Sideri. Seattle: Sublunary, 2020 (1932). [81]
First heard of when reading Norman Manea’s essays, this small volume reminds me of Valéry more than anything else in terms of, well, not mood or style, but how ideas are clumped together into an uneasy bouquet. It is one of those fictional works that causes one to wonder how closely the narrator’s personality, beliefs, approach align with the author’s – and, if they do not align closely, why the author would choose to spend time in the head of such an unpleasant personality.
Kuniko Tsurita. The Sky Is Blue with a Single Cloud. trans. Ryan Holmberg. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2020. [80]
I am not quite sure what I was expecting, but this was different. Not bad, but not what I was expecting. More disaffection and alienation, perhaps.
Sara Ahmed. The Promise of Happiness. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. [79]
It should not surprise anyone that the topic of happiness is of interest to me (at least as a reader). That said, I am not sure that this book is about happiness as such, but rather the ways in which ideas of happiness and expressions about the happiness of others are used for coercion and control. The notion of happiness considered is also not what I would consider happiness as such, but rather that impossible combination of joy and contentment that is usually seen in films or read about in novels, but exists nowhere in the world as one commonly knows – at least not for any length of time. Allowing, however, that Ahmed’s treatment of happiness considers not happiness, but rather the particular thing/state labelled happiness for the purpose of her book, it was interesting to read. The introduction and final chapter (and conclusion) were quite engaging, and if the other two chapters rehashed (or perhaps pre-hashed, as this book was published first) information also presented in Living a Feminist Life (no. 37 below), that is not necessarily a grave fault. If one were to choose which of the two to read, I would say the newer one, as The Promise of Happiness appears to have been written in greater hope, while Living a Feminist Life is in greater earnest.
Bruno De Nicola. Women in Mongol Iran: The Khātūns, 1206–1335. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2018. [78]
An interesting survey of an interesting topic; I am not, however, in a position to judge its value, but it provided an interesting picture of the role of women in the Ilkhanate in terms of politics, economics, and religion. Not at all gossipy (I can’t decide if this is a good feature or a bad one).
Byung-Chul Han. The Disappearance of Ritual. trans. Daniel Steuer. Medford, MA: Polity Press, 2020 (2019). [77]
I don’t remember where I heard of this book, which is a shame because I would like to know what they said to induce me to read it. A humorless, hopeless book – without the virtue of seeming correct or novel or interesting.
Sara Mesa. Four by Four. trans. Katie Whittemore. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2020 (2012). [76]
Sort of like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but sharper, crueler, and without the superficial classical spackle.
Yoshiharu Tsuge. The Man Without Talent. trans. Ryan Holmberg. New York: New York Review Comics, 2019 (1998). [75]
Bleak, but wryly amusing. The many failures and few successes of the titular (anti)hero were diverting – and enriched by the artwork.
Leo Tolstoy. Childhood, Boyhood and Youth. trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude. Oxford: OUP, 1961 (1852, 1854, 1857, 1930). [74]
Uneven and a bit, well, dull – it was a bit of a slog to get through Boyhood and Youth. There are charming passages and a brutal sort of self-parody, but there is nothing really to draw affection or interest. The passage in Youth on three different kinds of love (ch. XXIV, pp. 306–311) was amusing (the narcissism of the ‘self-sacrificing’ love reads as though drawn from life), but overall the characters are repellent and/or not presented with any sort of sympathy (though perhaps a good deal of understanding).
Stella Gibbons. Cold Comfort Farm. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977 (1932). [73]
When I first read it, I focused on the ways in which it made fun of D.H. Lawrence – which is not an inaccurate way to look at it – but it is also spritely and fun. It manages its setting (‘in the near future’) quite well, and only an occasional detail rings false. It does, seem, though, that Gibbons might be more interested in the very minor character of Claude than in any of the characters who actually drive the story, and the character of Flora becomes increasingly supercilious as the novel progresses. Light – a perfect springtime entertainment.
Sigmund Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents. trans. James Strachey. New York: Norton, 1989 (1929, 1961). [72]
There are great books and there are books that aspire to greatness, and this falls into the latter category. First read it at seventeen and it hasn’t held up well; moreover, it is a bit embarrassing to find so much of my mental furniture is made up of odds and ends out of chapter two. Such is life.

March

Frederick A. Pottle, ed. Boswell in Holland: 1763–1764. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1952. [71]
Most of Boswell’s journal of his time in Utrecht has gone missing (he was quite miffed about it), so the fearless editor compounded a substitute composed of letters to/from Boswell, as well as samples of his memoranda, French and Dutch compositions, and daily poems. The memoranda are of particular interest as they really do seem to be ‘notes to self’ – frank, allusive, repetitive. They provide an image of character that in many ways seems more personable than that presented in the journals.
Theodora Goss, ed. Medusa’s Daughters: Magic and Monstrosity from Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siècle. Philadelphia, PA: Lanternfish Press, 2020. [70]
An interesting collection, but not quite as satisfying as the first Women’s Weird anthology from Handheld Press. Did increase my interest in reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which was unexpected; Woolf’s short stories as well.
Isaiah Berlin. Concepts and Categories: Philosophical Essays. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979 (1939–1978). [69]
I got bogged down in the essay on logical translation (which still frankly muddles me), but the final three essays in the book were charming and excellent and reminded me of why I started to read it in the first place.
Amaranth Borsuk. The Book. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2018. [68]
A strange book about books. Very much a snapshot of one view of the book (as object and content), but it left me unsettled. There were a few passages where a more sympathetic copyeditor would have been useful – and I must say that I am eager for generalist academic books on books to include more contemporary artists’ books, rather than lingering in the ’60s. There is also the question, though, for some: how far iare they books? An open question.
Judith Butler. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. London: Verso, 2004. [67]
A melancholy book. And how many prisoners, sixteen years on, are still at Guantanamo?
Jacques Derrida. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. trans. Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1998 (1995). [66]
A weird and wacky visit through the doorways into the future of history, viz., the Freud archive. One feels the futility of the desire to argue with anything Derrida says, because it is not clear that he says anything – indeed, he spends much of his time saying that he is not saying things. The impression one receives is of a clever person stroking a box in which there may or may not be a cat. (Whether there is, in fact, a box, is also open to interpretation.)
Thomas Keymer, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Laurence Sterne. Cambridge: CUP, 2009. [65]
The essays on Sterne were all solid and interesting, particularly those on Sterne’s political writings and print/visual culture. The essays on modernism and postcolonialism, while they had the potential to be insightful, were of less interest as they engaged less specifically with Sterne but rather chased his phantom through the pages of more recent books (not in itself a bad thing, but perhaps not quite the right approach for a Cambridge Companion to…, especially such a slim one).
Bohumil Hrabal. Too Loud a Solitude. trans. Michael Henry Heim. New York: Havest, 1990 (1976). [64]*
I was going to give up halfway through, right when it seemed to get too bleakly Hilbig-ish for my taste, but then it was mentioned in the last essay in the Ugresic collection and it is such a short book that it seemed a shame not to finish it. It is bleak – but also tender.
Dubravka Ugresic. The Age of Skin: Essays. trans. Ellen Elias-Bursać. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2020 (2014–2018, 2019). [63]
There is the melancholy of exile in the essays, which is familiar from, say, Norman Manea, but there is also a pure and incandescent rage that illuminates, vivifies, enflames the words, even when their tone creeps towards the nastily sarcastic – the implied self-criticism, the unsparingness towards everyone and everything, the belief in the value and meaning of culture – and prevents Ugresic from falling victim to the temptation towards the kitsch of nostalgia.
Benvenuto Cellini. Memoirs, Written by Himself. trans. Thomas Roscoe. Oxford: OUP, 1947 (1566, 1822). [62]
A very strange book about a very strange fellow. He seems to have had a gift for irritating people. Everything all at the same pitch, though – as frustrated not to be paid for something as to be unjustly (?) imprisoned. Much adventure and derring-do, but his actual work remains hazy (even after summoning up images on the online). Very strange.
Maël Renouard. Fragments of an Infinite Memory: My Life with the Internet. trans. Peter Behrman de Sinéty. New York: NYRB, 2021 (2016). [61]
A clever and limpidly written consideration of the commonplaces of living with the internet, with a focus on the accessibility of information rather than the opportunities for personal connection. A sense of familiarity throughout the book – nothing particularly novel, even when the writer verges into personal anecdote – one has thought all of this before, even if one did not express it so well.
Melissa Edmundson, ed. Women’s Weird 2: More Strange Stories by Women, 1891–1937. Bath: Handheld Press, 2020. [60]
A charming collection, though not quite as successful in terms or eerie/weirdness as the first. Sarah Orne Jewett’s ‘The Green Bowl’ stood out as interesting/something to follow up.
Esmé Weijun Wang. The Collected Schizophrenias. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf, 2019. [59]
An uneven collection; the stronger essays had been published previously elsewhere, and the last two essays in particular were of the dismal advertising copy type – cf. ‘insight’. See post.
Jenn Shapland. My Autobiography of Carson McCullers. Portland, OR: Tin House, 2020. [58]
Picked this up because of the mention of Annemarie Schwarzenbach, whom I’ve scribbled about elsewhere. Although I’ve read a bit of McCullers, her writing did not particularly grab me at the time and I never pursued it further. Shapland’s meditations on McCullers’s writing and biography – what it means to write, what it means to write as a woman, what is means to be queer – suggest that another look would not be amiss.
Banine. Days in the Caucasus. trans. Anne Thompson-Ahmadova. London: Pushkin Press, 2019 (1945). [57]
Wryly humorous and of course melancholy (‘I saw with my own eyes the end of the world’) – if the second half falls into a sort of distanced romanticism, it makes sense as a shocked reaction to the Soviet takeover of Baku.
Dale B. Martin and Patricia Cox Miller, eds. The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2005. [56]
Although the introduction did not explicitly say that the volume was a festschrift, nearly every essay mentioned the work of Elizabeth A. Clark in such a way as to very nearly make it one. The editorial turn in late academic publishing. Most of the essays were, however, quite good – aimed I think at the intelligent general reader, undergraduates, or readers coming to the study of late antiquity without the necessary linguistic baggage. All of the essays in the first two sections were worth reading, and the essays by Averil Cameron, Theresa Shaw, and Susanna Elm were particularly noteworthy in the final one.
Narine Abgaryan. Three Apples fell from the Sky. trans. Lisa C. Hayden. London: Oneworld, 2020 (2014). [55]
At the crossroads of the fairytale, folk tale, and magical realism. See post.
Paul Valéry. Dialogues. trans. William McCausland Stewart. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen, 1956 (1921, 1941). [54]
As PF noted, it was only after reading Valéry that I was able to approach Plato with anything approaching sympathy. The underworld is perhaps the perfect setting for a Socratic dialogue.
Alexander Griboedov. Woe from Wit. trans. Betsy Hulick. New York: Columbia UP, 2020 (1824). [53]
An amusing intellectual comedy, in the French manner, that made me want to reread Stoppard’s ‘Arcadia’. Chatsky, however much based on Chaadayev, seemed very much a Byron character. It would greatly have benefited from the intervention of a proofreader, as there was much punctuation running amok (including a semicolon attempting to stand in for an apostrophe). I thought I would be able state my reaction to the play without mentioning these (rather minor) mistakes, but they so overwhelmed my reading of it that they are the first thing that springs to mind when I think about it.
Artemidorus. The Interpretation of Dreams. trans. Martin Hammond. Oxford: OUP, 2020 (3rd C CE). [52]
Amusing, with some interesting psychological insights into interpreting dreams (viz., that they are context dependent and the product of the mind). An engaging look at the world on the cusp of late antiquity.
Albert Hourani. A History of the Arab Peoples. narrated by Wanda McCaddon. Cambridge, MA: HUP/Ashland, OR: Blackstone Audio, 2008 (1991). [51.a]
‘Arab’ here is defined loosely (in the common manner), but it was engaging book to listen to. Noteworthy that France in Algeria seemed to make the same mistakes as in Canada several centuries earlier – providing yet further evidence that settlers are, if not the worst, in no case particularly laudable examples of humanity. There seemed, too, to be the promise of Arab Spring in the air at the end, though that might be reading too much back into the text.
Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice. Oxford: OUP, 1974 (1813). [50]
Read it slowly, one chapter a day, until the last seven chapters, which I gulped down with relief.
Judith Schalansky. An Inventory of Losses. trans. Jackie Smith. New York: New Directions, 2020 (2018). [49]
A strange and charming book, exploring the boundaries between novel and essay, trying on different voices, using different ways to describe what no longer exists (if it ever did). Curiously, my memory of the book, my experience of reading it, is tied up with the useless pride of being the first in line to have it on hold at the local library; as the city went into lockdown, though, purchasing of physical books was paused, and I cancelled the hold after eleven months and succumbed to the expedient of purchasing a copy of my own.
Noémi Lefebvre. Poetics of Work. trans. Sophie Lewis. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2021 (2018, 2020). [48]
I am not at all certain what I was expecting from this novel, but it had an irritating grittiness that was surprising and – one must assume – intentional as it is very different from Blue Self-Portrait. A strange book, with rather a late-20th-century feel.

February

Frederick A. Pottle, ed. Boswell’s London Journal: 1762–1763. London: William Heinemann, 1950. [47]
Boswell is a difficult character and is not always his own best advocate. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I was inclined to take a dim view of his activities, but overall the journal is interesting and challenging. From both Byron and Boswell, one finds that the advice a parent offers is usually right (which doesn’t make it less annoying).
Benedict Anderson. A Life Beyond Boundaries. London: Verso, 2018. [46.d]
It bills itself as an intellectual memoir, but it is not quite that – it tracks a very particular cursus honorum of US-American academia that was only possible in the middle part of the 20th century (and even then primarily for a limited demographic). Anderson acknowledges as much, but tries to convey some of his enthusiasm and wonder for the opportunities he was afforded. A charming book, but not a very revealing one.
Johann Georg Hamann. Writings on Philosophy and Language. Edited and trans. by Kenneth Haynes. Cambridge, UK: CUP, 2007 (1759–1786). [45]
In Hamann one encounters a spritely thinker, who weaves his texts so neatly, embellishes them with such dazzling coruscations, that one is delighted, bemused – it is an awesome spectacle. I will need to read this collection another time or two before I even begin to get a hang of what he is saying.
Lerone Bennett, Jr. Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619–1964. rev. ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964 (1962). [44]
Deeply depressing, even in the smoothed-over, popular history version. Shame, one calls out, shame, shame!
Minae Mizumura. Inheritance from Mother. trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter. New York: Other Press, 2019 (2010–2011, 2012, 2016). [43]
Many themes (and character types) familiar from A True Novel. Plays more with form and would probably work better reading a chapter a week to mimic the original serial publication; the moments of reflection and reorientation would add depth and would smooth out the repetitions. It would also prevent cramming the end, which I did, but was probably not fair to the tone or the story.
Melissa Edmundson, ed. Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890–1940. Bath: Handheld Press, 2019. [42]
A collection of good uncanny stories, which led me to believe I may have underestimated Edith Nesbit. Did not have the M.R. James effect of keeping me a awake at night, but did manage to unsettle my nerves deliciously.
Sarah Jeong. The Internet of Garbage. Version 1.5. The Verge, 2018. [41.d]
A clearly presented statement about the difficulties of content moderation, which provide admirably cogent synopses of several online fiascos and issues that are, sadly, still relevant.
Alan Taylor. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. New York: Penguin, 2001. [40]
I picked this up because I haven’t really read anything about US-American history since high school and it finally seemed time to change that. Thankfully, this was not wholly concerned with the march of progress towards these United States, but rather focused on European encounters with the indigenous peoples of North and South America. The American Revolution was (rightly) mentioned only by the way, allowing the narrative to sweep on to the European exploration of the Pacific without any of the tedious myths of founding fathers or bands of brothers. Out of date (and with a correspondingly dated bibliography), it was even so a refreshing change from the history one learns in (US-American) schools.
Toril Moi. Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary Studies after Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2017. [39]
An interesting book that presents its ideas (primarily about Wittgenstein and ordinary language philosophy, with a strong dash of the ‘post-critique’) clearly, but it remained unsatisfying, perhaps because the focus was on ‘after Wittgenstein et al.’ rather than on the ‘literary studies’. Worked well with Ahmed and Hamann, but reading it was rather like watching a mediocre football match on television – I couldn’t care about the score and only really found it amusing when the players fell down (which is scarce the point of the match).
Rudi Paul Lindner. Nomads and Ottomans in Medieval Anatolia. Bloomington, IN: Research Institute for Inner Asian Studies, 1983. [38]
Although out of date (and it is unclear how well it has held up), it is in many ways a model monograph: limited, clear, precise, and attempting two things – to clarify one aspect of a problem while modeling the use of a particular type of historical data under utilized (by Western scholars at least) at the time of composition. The chapter on sheep taxation was particularly interesting.
Sara Ahmed. Living a Feminist Life. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2017. [37]
A thought-provoking volume, which works well in combination with Toril Moi’s Revolution of the Ordinary, as well as with Musonius Rufus. I am not sure that my definition of happiness aligns with Ahmed’s, but that may be the result of relative degrees of privilege (a somewhat tangled term that will have to suffice here). Hard to say. It is a book that offends where offense is needed. (Cf. no. 79 above)
Musonius Rufus. That One Should Disdain Hardships. trans. Cora Lutz. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2020 (3rd C CE; 1947). [36]
Less helpful than Epictetus because more judgmental – Musonius Rufus has rather more opinions on proper grooming and diet than one would expect: Stoicism as subculture rather than philosophy. Glad that Lutz’s translation (originally published in Yale Classical Studies) is now more readily available, but wish that this volume had also included her helpful overview of the philosopher (i.e. that this was a complete reprint of her original article).
Lisa Robertson. Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. Astoria, OR: Clear Cut Press, 2003. [35]
The type of autodidactic essays that sit close to the idea of the prose poem. Mostly focused on art and architecture (not surprisingly), but with excursions into the personal and historical.
Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nuwayrī. The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition. trans. & ed. Elias Muhanna. New York: Penguin, 2016 (14th C.). [34]
A wide-ranging selection from the fourteenth-century Egyptian encyclopedist. Personally, I would have preferred a longer selection from the history (particularly regarding the Mongols) rather than the inclusion of Avicenna’s opinions on fruits and vegetables, but doubtless the latter is as characteristic of the work in its entirety as the former.
Minae Mizumura. A True Novel. trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter. New York: Other Press, 2013 (2002). [33]
Rich and wonderful.
Jill Heydt-Stevenson. Austen’s Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. [32]
A very corporeal, embodied reading of the Austenian corpus, examining double entendres and (as an example) the (not-so-)hidden meaning of Gowland’s lotion (i.e. as a treatment for syphilis).
Ronald Blythe. Akenfield. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972 (1969). [31]
‘Time in the village is quite different from time in the town. You enter time when you enter a town – you rush through it. In a village time enters you, slowly, naturally. I knew so little about time and its importance when I came here’ (314).
Cristina Rivera Garza. Grieving: Dispatches from a Wounded Country. trans. Sarah Booker. New York: Feminist Press, 2020 (2011–2020). [30]
A companion piece to The Restless Dead – really the two books could be interleaved and would form a coherent whole. Grieving is, however, a more fluent and personable book, without the introductory stiffness of the other. The neologism ‘visceraless’ is tiresome, but I can see that ‘gutless’ would not quite work.
Lisa Robertson. The Baudelaire Fractal. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2020. [29]
The back cover copy perhaps over-emphasizes certain elements of the book, but it is an engaging novel – an ‘I-novel’? autofiction? it might perhaps be a roman à clef, but the key to it probably remains in the author’s bosom, which does not satisfy the gossipy impulse – that is as enjoyable as I thought it would be.
Paul Valéry. Idée Fixe. trans. David Paul. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen, 1965 (1932). [28]
Gentle, light, tender. Ideas and words glint as though on the shifting surface of the sea. A rare purely pleasurable reading experience.
A.A. Long, ed. & trans. Epictetus: How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2018. [27]
A readable translation of the Encheiridion with a succinct supporting introduction to Epictetus and Stoic thought. An odd production, but its heart seems to be in the right place. See post.
Leslie A. Marchand, ed. ‘In My Hot Youth’: Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 1, 1798–1810. Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 1973. [26]
Creates an odd, impetuous picture. ‘All countries are much the same in my eyes, I smoke and stare at mountains, and twirl my mustachios very independently, I miss no comforts’ (letter to Henry Drury, 3 May 1810).
William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Richard the Third. ed. Jack R. Crawford. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1927 (ca. 1593). [25]
As with many people who aspire to power, Richard is presented in the latter part of the play as not really knowing what to do with it (or how to manage it) once he had achieved his goals. Ambition outpacing interest. Once an arrow has reached its target, its moment of interest has passed.
Amitava Kumar. Every Day I Write the Book: Notes on Style. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2020. [24]
This, along with Elements of Academic Style, I picked up in 2020 as I was trying to be more conscious (or conscientious) about my copyediting work. Both are rather informal books, and this one offers a wide range of advice – much of which would be relevant to any sort of writer, not just those working (or seeking to work) in an academic context. A moderate pep-talk of a book, that attempts to model the type of work proposed; I frequently found myself out of sympathy with the examples cited – though I am willing to concede I am not the book’s ideal reader.

January

Edmund Burke. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford: OUP, 1990 (1757). [23]
A bizarre book. Burke’s idea of the sublime was essentially intelligible, but his idea of beauty was peculiar; in trying to be clear, he became absurd. His discussion of water highlights, for me, one of the main problems of the book: in his explanation, ‘simple’ water is insipid, tasteless (though he admits it to be healthful if not drunk too cold) – yet to one who is thirsty, there is little that is sweeter. Burke would perhaps say that the sensation a thirsty person feels in drinking water is delight (viz., the cessation of the pain of thirst), but to my thinking it can be a positive pleasure. There is too much Stoicism in Burke, and not enough Epicurus.
William Shakespeare. The Third Part of King Henry the Sixth. ed. Tucker Brooke. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1923 (ca. 1591). [22]
It is amazing how much a villain adds to a play.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The Devils (The Possessed). trans. David Magarshack. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971 (1871, 1953). [21]
A strange, unsettling book. The gears of the different parts don’t seem to mesh together particularly well, but it would probably be less successful as a novel if they did.
William Shakespeare. The Second Part of King Henry the Sixth. ed. Tucker Brooke. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1923 (ca. 1591). [20]
Better use of witches and the uncanny, and the politics seemed more personal and less like the setting up of pieces on a board for future play.
Daniel Defoe. A Journal of the Plague Year. Ed. Anthony Burgess & Christopher Bristow. London: Penguin, 1986 (1722). [19]
Plus ça change – although much was unfamiliar (the lives of the watermen and glaziers, the communal ovens at bakers), reactions to the 1665 plague in London seemed familiar, with the flight of the wealthy to rural areas, the asymptomatic carrier (or ‘walking destroyer’ as Defoe put it), even the plague parties to deliberately catch the illness (with results about what one would expect). Yet for all that, rather hopeful.
Cristina Rivera Garza. The Restless Dead: Necrowriting & Disappropriation. trans. Robin Myers. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt UP, 2020 (2013). [18]
An uneven collection, the first two essays of which did not delight (or perhaps I was not in a mood to be delighted), which was interesting for its discussion of the work of writing and what makes a writer (essays on archives [which resonated nicely with my recent reading of Carol Steedman’s Dust], Markson, and Twitter were of particular interest) – as well as the duties inherent in being a writer (and reader): ‘Let’s not be optimistic. There’s no reason to be. But let’s always, always be stubborn’ (167).
William Shakespeare. The First Part of King Henry the Sixth. ed. Tucker Brooke. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1918 (ca. 1591). [17]
Not a strong effort – too much to-ing and fro-ing, and unhappy bits of King John; the character of Joan was inconsistent, and the political machinations in England were of the mustache-twirling variety.
Eric Hayot. The Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities. New York: Columbia UP, 2014. [16]
A solid and useful guide to academic writing, which I read both in hopes of having something suggest to students and as a way of honing my editorial practice. I’m not sure that it will achieve either of these aims, but the first section on planning and habits (the scene-setting or stage-dressing prior to writing) was deeply interesting, while the section on the ‘uneven U’ might be more helpful in a strictly pedagogical context.
Claudia L. Johnson. Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2012. [15]
The afterlife of material culture and authorial celebrity, with a solid chronological overview of the shaping of Austen’s legacy among the Janeites and others. The chapter on the Chawton house had particularly interesting readings of material culture within the novels.
Johan Huizinga. Homo Ludens. trans. anon. Boston: Beacon, 1950 (1938, 1944). [14]
About the agōn and play and seriousness and the dangers, ultimately, of capitalism and humorless Marxists.
Fernando Pessoa. Philosophical Essays. ed. Nuno Ribeiro. New York: Contra Mundum, 2012. [13]
Not so much philosophical essays, as notes in the direction of philosophy. The excess of ligatures (and I should note that I am usually fond of them) hindered pleasant reading of the text.
Hans-Georg Gadamer. The Enigma of Health. trans. Jason Gaiger & Nicholas Walker. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1996 (1993). [12]
Charming, calming, thought-provoking. A mixed bag of essays and informal talks, with some repetition, but the overall effect of reading was soothing. A tonic.
Karl Marx. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. trans. unknown. New York: International Publishers, 1962 (1852). [11]
Far more amusing than expected.
William Shakespeare. Henry V. ed. R. J. Dorius. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1955 (1599). [10]
A curious time to read this play, and the politicking in it drew my attention more on this rereading; pairs well with Marx’s The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
Carolyn Steedman. Dust. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2001. [9]
A thoughtful consideration of historiography, with a look at the dust of the archives and the dust of the ragman, with everything in between. Will provoke further thinking.
Ermanno Cavazzoni. Brief Lives of Idiots. trans. Jamie Richards. Cambridge, MA: Wakefield Press, 2020 (1994). [8]
Not as amusing as I had hoped it would be; would perhaps have enjoyed it more if I had read it when I was younger.
Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility. Oxford: OUP, 1973 (1811). [7]
Got a bit bogged down by the extremes in the sisters moods and actions, but once the machinery of the plot clicked into gear, this became more interesting (or at least tolerable). As always, the narrator’s slight cruelties (i.e., the straightforward, neutral statement of the personal failings they either do not acknowledge even to themselves or, in knowing, wish to hide) towards minor characters were among the most enjoyable elements.
Gilbert White. The Natural History of Selborne. Oxford: OUP, 1951 (1789). [6]
A charming account of observation of the natural world, drawn out over the course of a decade or so. Very interested in swallows and house-martins (i.e., all the hirundines).
Mark Pattison. Memoirs. London: Macmillan, 1885 (Gregg Int’l. reprint, 1969). [5]
The common adjective used to describe these memoirs is ‘bitter’, but they do not seem bitter as such, but rather shaped be the author’s disappointment, particularly with himself. Although he does note the ways in which his expectations were disappointment in the course of his academic career, rather than placing the burden of blame wholly on others (i.e., the ‘bitter’ course), he places most of it on himself (and not entirely in that method of self-criticism that places the blame for failures on others) – his locus of control remains internal, although (as with many who suffer from depression) he cannot always find his way to acting in accord with what he believed to be the better parts (or potential) of his character.
Iris Origo. War in Val d’Orcia: An Italian War Diary, 1943–1944. New York: NYRB Classics, 2017 (1947). [4]
An interesting look at civilian life under martial law/in a war zone. Pairs very well with her early diary, A Chill in the Air.
Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford. Business as Usual. London: Handheld Press, 2020 (1933). [3]
Droll and charming, captures some of the feeling of working in a large organization. The sort of book one could also find from Persephone Press.
Nathalie Léger. Exposition. trans. Amanda DeMarco. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy Project, 2020 (2008). [2]
Charming and strange, ties with the other two pieces in the triptych, while also calling to mind the Moyra Davey essay collection; references to Zola and Duras that I ‘got’ which I might not have done a year ago.
Émile Zola. The Fortune of the Rougons. trans. Brian Nelson. Oxford: OUP, 2012 (1871). [1]
Our author does not go in for subtlety. The young couple who meet in a graveyard throughout their courtship meet the end one would expect. The narrative structure is strange with the action proper occurring over the course of a week (?) although with the flashbacks (for each group of characters) going back years in separate chapters. An odd beginning to a series (from which I have only read Nana some years ago) and an odd and not wholly satisfactory novel.

(last revised: 19 April 2021)

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