a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2022

November

Annie Ernaux. “I Remain in Darkness”. trans. Tanya Leslie. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999 (1997). [146]
‘But usually, I think of nothing, I am here with her, that’s all that matters’ (p. 68).
Tom McCarthy. Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays. New York: NYRB, 2017 (2003–2017). [145]
Very interesting and thoughtful essays about things that (generally) I do not care about; the essays did not change my mind.
Violane Schwartz. Papers. trans. Christine Gutman. Oakland, CA: Fern Books, 2022 (2019). [144]
A nuanced, layered book about the experiences of asylum seekers in France, a chorus of voices from all sides of a wicked problem. Beautiful and melancholy.
Umberto Eco. How to Write a Thesis. trans. Caterina Mongiat Farina & Geoff Farina. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015 (1977). [143]
Some very good advice and some very silly advice from the age of typewriters.
John Gardner and John Maier, trans. & ed. Gilgamesh. New York: Vintage, 1985. [142]
An interesting translation, though necessarily superseded because new fragments have been found. The division of the text into column chunks, padded by annotation, does not do the reader much a service. The appendix on translation was a solid and interesting addition of its type. The elegiac tone of the introduction (Gardner died before the translation went to press) set the tone (not inappropriately) for the whole.
Horacio Quiroga. Beyond. trans. Elisa Taber. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2022 (1935). [141]
Creepy, uncanny. Reminded me of Falco’s A Perfect Cemetery (which is in its way amusing, as the Falco in turn reminded me of a book whose title I’ve forgotten).
Kristine Langley Mahler. Curing Season: Artifacts. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia UP, 2022. [140]
Playing with forms of memoir, which I suppose is what one must do if one does not have much interesting material to work with.
Claude Lévi-Strauss. The Savage Mind. trans. anon. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 1966 (1962). [139]
‘What appears to us as greater social ease and greater intellectual mobility is thus due to the fact that we prefer to operate with detached pieces, of not indeed with “small change”’ (267). A problematic book, which would be strengthened (or might fall apart) by leaving out the disagreement with Sartre.
Stephanie Dalley, trans. Myths from Mesopotamia. Oxford: OUP, 1989 (ca. 12th C BCE, etc.). [138]
‘Why have you exerted yourself? What have you achieved? / You have made yourself weary for lack of sleep, / You only fill your flesh with grief’ (108).
Lloyd J. Reynolds. Italic Calligraphy & Handwriting: Exercises & Text. New York: Taplinger, 1969. [137]*
The earnestness of instruction and the precarity of orthography.
Richard Stark. Deadly Edge. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2010 (1971). [136]
Parker tried to understand housekeeping: ‘The world could go to hell if it wanted, but she would put her home in order again before thinking about anything else. / He tried to find something in his own mind to relate that to, so he could understand it better, and the only thing he came up with was betrayal. If someone double-crossed him on a job […] everything else became unimportant until he had evened the score’ (173).
Henri Cole. Orphic Paris. New York: New York Review Books, 2018. [135]
Affectionate and melancholy, more like lengthy postcards than memoir, essay, fragment, or travelogue. Most reminded me of Chrostowska’s The Eyelid or Robertson’s The Baudelaire Fractal.
Sophus Helle, trans. Gilgamesh. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2021 (ca. 12th C BCE). [134]
One of the more literary translations, with the graphic conceit of white space (not uncommon) for lost text (cf. Carson’s If Not, Winter for an equally charming use). Supporting essays quite illuminating. Not sure that I would choose this as the only translation of Gilgamesh to read, but I would certainly suggest it as the second to round out a pair (I read it alongside Stephanie Dalley’s, and they balanced each other well).
Akram Aylisi. Stone Dreams. trans. Katherine E. Young. Brookline, MA: Academic Studies Press, 2022 (2011, 2012, 2018). [133]
A melancholy spectacle. Would be interested in something similar from an Armenian writer (i.e., the nuance and empathy – the clear and distant sight).
Leo Damrosch. The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age. narrated by Simon Vance. New Haven, CT: Yale UP/Ashland, OR: Blackstone, 2019. [132.a]*
More or less as it sounds; an agreeable overview.
Paul Kalanithi. When Breath Becomes Air. New York: Random House, 2016. [131.d]*
It’s always when I end of scrolling through the library’s ‘available now’ ebook list that I find myself reading books like this, the Last Lecture and Tuesdays with Morrie (and, weirdly, Make Your Bed) sort. Although the reading is fine (or even good), it is clear that the writing was the more important task (while the marketing writes itself).
Barbara Becker. Heartwood: The Art of Living with the End in Mind. New York: Flatiron Books, 2021. [130.d]*
I was hoping it would be something between Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am and Berti’s An Ideal Presence, but it was more like Wintering. Not bad, but targeting the New Yorker set.
Eduardo Berti. An Ideal Presence. trans. Daniel Levin Becker. Oakland, CA: Fern Books, 2020 (2017). [129]
Fictionalized interview responses from workers on a palliative care ward. A gift.
Richard Stark. The Sour Lemon Score. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2010 (1967, 1969). [128]
‘As for himself, Parker didn’t believe in luck, good or bad. He believed in nothing but men who knew their job and did it’ (9).
Éric Chevillard. The Valiant Little Tailor. trans. Jordan Stump. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2022 (2003). [127]
Delightfully whimsical, with a bit of bite. Equal parts Grimm and Sterne, with a dash of Rabelais thrown in. A nice mocking of (literary) conventions.
Richard Stark. The Black Ice Score. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2010 (1967). [126]
‘There was nothing about him, it seemed, that did not include its own negative’ (87).

October

Virginia Woolf. The Waves. edited by Gillian Beer. Oxford: OUP, 2008 (1941, 1992). [125]
‘It is curious how, at every crisis, some phrase which does not fit insists upon coming to the rescue—the penalty of living in an old civilization with a notebook’ (153).
Dylan Riley. Microverses: Observations from a Shattered Present. London: Verso, 2022. [124]
Hovering between self-deprecation and patronizing condescension, with a strong list towards the latter. The more personal ‘notes’ gave a greater impression of reality (whatever that means) than the boundary-guarding sociological ones.
Matsuō Bashō. Bashō: The Complete Haiku. trans. Jane Reichhold. New York: Kodansha, 2013 (17th C; 2008). [123]
‘with lightning / one is not enlightened / how valuable’ (685).
Luis Sagasti. A Musical Offering. trans. Fionn Petch. Edinburgh: Charco Press, 2020 (2017). [122]
I knew I would like it. And I did.
M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, trans. The Qur’an. Oxford: OUP, 2016 (6th C. CE, 2004). [121]
‘No sooner do We let people taste some mercy after some hardship has afflicted them, than they begin to scheme against our revelations. Say, “God schemes even faster.” Our messengers record all your scheming’ (10:21).
Jean-Luc Nancy. Fall of Sleep. trans. Charlotte Mandell. New York: Fordham UP, 2009 (2007). [120.d]*
‘…in waking it is that which ceaselessly dozes, in sleeping it is that which wakes and watches—from all quarters, every time, it is that which, giving form and tonality to a presence, adheres to the edges, to the outlines’ (36).
Eva Meijer. The Limits of My Language: Meditations on Depression. trans. Antionette Fawcett. London: Pushkin Press, 2021. [119]
A sophisticated veneer on what is essentially Hyperbole and a Half with more of a focus, at least in chapter 3, on anorexia, and much less self-deprecating whimsy. Dogs stories, as in Brosch’s work, are the best part.
Anahid Nersessian. Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2021. [118]
Close readings of the great odes. The parts that were more clearly personal seemed the strongest part – there’s only so much one can wring from a ‘close reading’ (admittedly, quite a bit). As a side note, scholars who find the ‘apolitical’ character of ‘To Autumn’ a vexing response to the Peterloo Massacre (and prefer Shelley’s second-hand hysteria in ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ as a more ‘appropriate’ response) are foolish; one does not need to become (or write) a hot mess to have a meaningful, thoughtful, engaged response to horror. No shame in a hot mess, of course, but it is not an essential mode of thinking/feeling/being-in-the-world, especially in response to (state) terror. The timeless, impersonal ghosts of Keats’s poem say more than Shelley’s allegorical certainties.
Amina Cain. Indelicacy. New York: Picador, 2021 (2020). [117]
More satisfying before its characters were acknowledged as having names, which is also around the point when I started to read more rapidly; this (and my assessment) may not be unrelated.
Joanna Walsh. My Life as a Godard Movie. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2022. [116]
On appearances and on observing the observer of the observed, and what each link in that chain means. A much more interesting book than it has any right to be.
Anwen Crawford. No Document. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2021. [115]
Reminded me of Moyra Davey’s Index Cards, but less edgily posed and as such more readable (by which I mean I did not become frustrated with author’s need to pose, as I did with Davey’s book).
Richard Stark. The Golden Eagle Score. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2010 (1967). [114]
Honor among thieves and the untrustworthiness of confidants.

September

Harry G. Frankfurt. On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2005. [113]
‘The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are’ (61).
Baltasar Gracián. The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. trans. Jeremy Robbins. London: Penguin, 2011 (1647). [112]
Offers such helpful advice as ‘have no blemish’ or ‘dazzle anew’, which are naturally within the grasp of most seekers of right conduct. A vague Stoic inflection, which seems to be just for appearances – as indeed does most of the book. (This makes it sound more superficial than it is, as it seems to make a deeper point about virtue, but the surface reading is presented so temptingly.)
Ryunosuke Koike. The Practice of Not Thinking: A Guide to Mindful Living. trans. Eriko Sugita. London: Penguin, 2021 (2010, 2012). [111]
Peddling Zen to the corporate set. Might not have been the books original intention, but that seems to be the result. Reminds me of Paul’s epistles: strange, seeming wordier than the slimness of the text would suggest, and a certain bland delight in making counterintuitive applications of commonplace dogma.
Dolores Hitchens. Sleep with Slander. New York: Library of America, 2021 (1960). [110.d]
A rather lonely book.
Kate Beaton. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2022. [109]*
Worth the wait.
Dolores Hitchens. Sleep with Strangers. New York: Library of America, 2021 (1955). [108.d]
After being slightly disoriented by the opening (for some reason I managed to believe it was set in London until the oil shares were mentioned), it settled into an identifiable pattern (key points: partnership, aging, settling, coming to terms with failure). Would be interested to know more about the California oil industry in the early/mid-twentieth century, or perhaps just to reread The Long Good-Bye.
Gareth Stedman Jones. Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society. London: Verso, 2013 (1971, 1976, 1984). [107.d]
Not a tale of moral uplift and benevolence. Lots of Mayhew and Engels.
Arthur Schopenhauer. Essays and Aphorisms. trans. and ed. R.J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970 (1851). [106]
‘States of human happiness and good fortune can as a rule be compared with certain groups of trees: seen from a distance they look beautiful, but if you go up to and into them their beauty disappears and you can no longer discover it’ (171).
Richard Stark. The Rare Coin Score. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2009 (1967). [105]
‘…they were waiting for the communal task to be finished and then they would be at each other’s throats—that was all they knew and all they had to know’ (102).
Kate Durbin. Hoarders. Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2021. [104.d]*
A curious book that flirts at the periphery of judgement. A suitable pairing with Jennifer Howard’s Clutter: An Untidy History.
Richard Stark. The Handle. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2009 (1966). [103]
I feel like I’ve seen the film version. Faint echoes of Touch of Evil.
Richard Stark. The Seventh. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2009 (1966). [102]
Impact of chance, chaos, and human nature. Back on track.
Andrzej Sapkowski. The Last Wish. trans. Danusia Stok. New York: Orbit, 2008 (1993). [101.d]*
Cute. Reminded me both of Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver/Uprooted and the Death Gate Cycle, the pleasant memory of reading as a teenager I would not profane by rereading. Unlikely to read further.
Richard Stark. The Jugger. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2009 (1965). [100]
At one point in The Score, Parker comments that a job is no good when it’s personal, and while that wasn’t the case in, for example, The Hunter, it is certainly the case here. It is odd to see Parker so baffled and uncertain – the earlier novels have general found him clear sighted and goal oriented – and it doesn’t quite ‘work’. The whole feels like a set-up to keep series going, focused on the next tale rather than the current one; reminds me of some Macdonald’s later Archer novels, not in a particularly good way.

August

Stephanie Burt. After Callimachus: Poems. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2020. [99]
Uses Callimachus as a springboard for verbal acrobatics, now staying near the source, then twisting away. Quite charming.
Alan Loney. Not Reading Herakleitos. Melbourne: re.press, 2021. [98]
A book that should have been a blog post. (At length, see post.)
B.E. Perry, ed. Babrius and Phaedrus. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP (Loeb Classical Library), 1975. [97]
Aesopic fables in verse; very substantial introduction and notes, which were in general more interesting than the fables themselves. There was, however, a nice variant on Pandora’s box (no. 58), in which a man was given a jar containing all the blessings intended for the immortal gods, but being a curious sort of fellow, he unsealed the jar and all the good things flew out, except that dubious gift – hope.
Mieko Kawakami. Ms Ice Sandwich. trans. Louise Heal Kawai. London: Pushkin Press, 2020 (2018). [96.d]*
Odd and aimless, like most first crushes. The kid acting out the gun fight stole the show.
Banana Yoshimoto. Dead-end Memories. trans. Asa Yoneda. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2022 (2003). [95.d]*
Not flashy, not arrogant, but perfectly in control, tender. ‘Happiness descends on you suddenly, regardless of circumstance, and so indifferently that it seems cruel. It doesn’t care where you are, or who you’re with. / You don’t see it coming. / You can’t make it happen. It might arrive with your next breath, or you might never get to experience it no matter how long you wait. Like the movements of the waves, or shifts in the weather, the miracle lies in wait for everyone. / I just didn’t know it then.’
Mieko Kawakami. Heaven. trans. Sam Bett and David Boyd. New York: Europa Editions, 2021 (2009). [94.d]*
On beauty, bullying, and what it means to see clearly. Reminded me of both Godard’s À bout de souffle and Donna Tartt’s Secret History, with some of the pleasures and perils of both.
Richard Stark. The Score. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2009 (1964). [93]
A little something for everybody: complicated heist, revenge, summer stock theater.
Richard Stark. The Mourner. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2009 (1963). [92]
The mechanics of the plot did not, perhaps, merit the structural architecture.
Richard Stark. The Outfit. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2008 (1963). [91]
Look at all these chickens, coming home to roost.
Richard Stark. The Man with the Getaway Face. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2008 (1963). [90]
‘He had the constant feeling that violence and evil were all around him, kept just out of sight because these people needed him as a doctor, but if he were ever to turn his head fast and see the evil they would have to kill him, whether they needed him or not. Because of this, he had trained his curiosity to be a small and private thing’ (150).
Shunmyo Masuno. Don’t Worry. trans. Allison Markin Powell. New York: Penguin Life, 2022 (2019). [89.d]*
About what one would expect. Soothing, with a slightly flat affect.
Richard Stark. The Hunter. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2008 (1962). [88]
If, as Schopenhauer says, the aim of genuine art is to put big heads on small people, Parker is the guy to rip the small heads off of ’em first.
Dorothy Thompson. The Dignity of Chartism. Edited by Stephen Roberts. London: Verso, 2015. [87.d]
Diverse essays, generally book reviews, on labor history and Chartism. With a Marxist slant, but not hard-nosed about it. Very British.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The Inspector Barlach Mysteries. trans. Joel Agee. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2006 (1950–1953). [86]
‘We can’t save the world as individuals, that would be a task as hopeless as that of poor Sisyphus; it is not up to us, nor is it up to any man of power, or any nation, or the devil himself…’ (Suspicion, p. 208).
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. One Billion Years to the End of the World. trans. Antonina W. Bouis. London: Penguin, 2020 (1976/7, 1978). [85]
Also published in English as Definitely Maybe. Cute in its way, but not ‘profoundly beautiful’ as a blurb would lead one to believe. Perhaps most interesting for its depiction of apartment living.
Nastassja Martin. In the Eye of the Wild. trans. Sophie Lewis. New York: New York Review Books, 2021 (2019). [84]
Another book about a woman’s intimate encounter with a bear. это странное место Камчатка.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Notes on Grief. New York: Knopf, 2021. [83.d]*
Slight and somehow fragile. Has the chatty personability of, say, We Should All Be Feminists, but also wouldn’t be uncomfortable on the shelf next to Edwidge Danticat’s The Art of Death or Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. Not as flatly shattered as Denise Riley’s Time Lived, Without Its Flow, because there is after all the sense of a life lived and lived fully.

July

David J. Hand. Statistics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, OUP, 2008. [82]*
As it sounds.
Charles Portis. Norwood. New York: Overlook, 1999 (1966). [81.d]*
Modern picaresque. The illusion of transparency. Portis has the gift of treating his characters (and his readers) with a dispassionate yet indulgent condescension, which manages not to be patronizing. His willingness to leave narrative threads untied (a sort of decorative fringe to the figure in the carpet) is masterful.
Tana French. In the Woods. New York: Penguin, 2008 (2007). [80]
If the narrator of a work of fiction claims to be a liar, does it mean the book is successful when the whole of it feels false?
Marcel Detienne. Comparing the Incomparable. trans. Janet Lloyd. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2008 (2000). [79]*
Observations on the disciplinary border dispute between history (nationalist, narrow) and anthropology (comparative, scattered), via classical antiquity. Wants to see a field of ‘human experience’ (not in those words, precisely, but comprehending the question of what it means to be a human in time), but seeming good-naturedly tired. Less effective than Jullien’s In Praise of Blandness in covering some of the same territory. In the roughly ninety-six endnotes (those delimiting herms of academia), some of which contained multiple citations, only about six women were cited, and citations of scholars of non-European ancestry were equally scarce: are these, then, the disciplinary boundaries and the limits of comparison?
Melissa Gira Grant. Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work. London: Verso, 2014. [78.d]
Pretty much what it sounds: a polemic, somewhat scattered by being at the unhappy intersection of brute morality and capitalism (where there are skirmishes on many fronts).
Søren Kierkegaard. Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology. trans Walter Lowrie. New York: Harper & Row (Torchbooks), 1941 (1843). [77]
‘Everything is transformed into a theatrical decoration. A dreamy reality looms up in the background of the soul. One feels a desire to throw on a cloak and slink quietly along the walls with a searching glance, attentive to every sound. One does not do it, one merely seeks oneself doing it in a renewed youth’ (55).

June

Jan Kochanowski. Laments. trans. Seamus Heany and Stanisław Barańczak. London: faber and faber, 1995 (1580). [76]
‘Yet what is time’s great remedy? The wax / And wane of things, and nothing more; the flux / Of new events, now painful, now serene; / He who has grasped this accepts what has been / And what will be with equal steadfastness, / Resigned to suffer, glad to suffer less’ (Lament 19, or: A Dream).
Yves Ravey. A Friend of the Family. trans. Emma Ramadan and Tom Roberge. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2022 (2013). [75]
It’s difficult for an author to write convincingly (persuasively? believably?) about someone whose intellect is, generally speaking, at a different point on the scale than the author’s own; this is a truism that works in any direction one likes. In any case, this novella doesn’t quite manage it.
Winifred Holtby. Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir. London: Continuum, 2007 (1932). [74]
A charming and interesting book, with the unfortunate characteristic of being a work of criticism about a finer critic than the author; this is not to say that Holtby is not good or that she is not keener than most writers on literature. Rather, I simply noted that any time I was tempted to mark out a passage as particularly fine, nineteen times out of twenty it was part of a long quotation from Woolf.
Mahmoud Darwish. A River Dies of Thirst. trans. Catherine Cobham. New York: Archipelago, 2018 (2009). [73]
‘Pretending to be neutral, in a poem or a novel, is the only forgivable crime against morality. […] The autumn winds sweep the street and teach me the skill of deleting. Deleting is writing’ (154f.).

May

Charles Yu. Sorry Please Thank You: Stories. New York: Pantheon, 2012. [72]*
Light, but not wholly empty.
Denise Riley. Say Something Back / Time Lived, Without Its Flow. New York: NYRB Poets, 2020 (2016, 2019). [71]
I want to say that I will put together a post on this, because it did spark thinking, but the thoughts are perhaps too choppy: the frail vessel of words would be swamped.
Darwyn Cooke. Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2012. [70]*
Didn’t enjoy it quite as much as The Hunter, but I think that was primarily because I rather dislike orange as a spot color. There were also a few visual tics (e.g., in the presentation of the team) that seemed slightly cheap/falsely … cinematic? game-like? Hard to say. Still good tho’.
Darwyn Cooke. Richard Stark’s Parker: The Hunter. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2010. [69]*
While not, like the graphic novel of Paul Auster’s City of Glass, better than the original novel, Cooke’s adaptation adds to an already rich text.
Isaac Bashevis Singer. Shammai Weitz. trans. Daniel Kennedy. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2022 (1929). [68]
Not Isaac Babel, but not helping to dispel any possible confusion. Ends just as it gets going, rather like falling off a cliff.
Susanne K. Langer. Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art. New York: Mentor Books,1951 (1942). [67]
I will confess to not reading this attentively; while I do not care to make an assertions about Langer’s abilities as a thinker (although she clearly has the skill to synthesize a wide range of available material from a variety of disciplines), her style leaves something to be desired – a sort of flatness that does not escape from the expected image. Although there was much one might want to quibble with, there was nothing that really surprised – nothing that makes the reader sit up or feel there is anything worth the effort of arguing about. But my reading was inattentive, so perhaps greater attention to the details would reveal a book that is more than a commonplace précis of a certain approach to thinking in the early to mid twentieth century.
Caren Beilin. Revenge of the Scapegoat. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy Project, 2022. [66]
My impression was of a book that the author very much needed to write, but not necessarily one that I needed to read. Would be of interest to those with a fondness for trauma narratives, satires of the art world/residencies, dysfunctional relationships, and miscommunication.
Felicitas Macgilchrist and Rosalie Metro, eds. Trickbox of Memory: Essays on Power and Disorderly Pasts. Santa Barbara, CA: Punctum Books, 2020. [65]
An uneven collection of essays, with that nearly unbearably earnest tone I associate with ‘action research’ and the ‘complicating’ or ‘imbricating’ or ‘obfuscating’ of ideas (or the worst sort of Frenchification in academic writing). Any more specific comment would be untrue, because, say, a desire for the essays to be more concrete would have to face the unhappy realization that the first essay, quite specific in terms of time and place and people, is a sort of watery creative non-fiction instead of an engagement with memory as an object of study. A fine entry for the CV, but not hard-hitting in the lists of the field.
Olga Sedakova. In Praise of Poetry. trans. Caroline Clark, Ksenia Golubovich, & Stephanie Sandler. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2014 (2001). [64]
Although I did not much care for the poetical part of the collection (which had a certain flatness of affect I was not in the humor for, a lack of the allusiveness that seemed promised elsewhere), I did enjoy the essay and interview. I had been afraid, on starting on the essay, that it would be like the collection of short critical works by Wisława Szymborska – portrait of a literary figure among the tea things, all oleaginous crumbs and condescension – but I was agreeably surprised by the sly humor and the appreciation of the concrete. If it was not exactly what I was hoping, it was at least not what I had feared.

April

David Whyte. Consolations. rev. ed. Langley, WA: Many Rivers Press, 2019 (2014, 2015). [63]
Generally commonplaces, charmingly put. Tempting to read as a novel, to picture the characters and situations behind the meditations, but it doesn’t quite sustain that sort of reading.
Charles H. Kahn, ed. & trans. The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. Cambridge: CUP, 1981 (1979). [62]
Heraclitus seems to be among the philosophers that every generation needs to interpret anew. ‘It is one of the strangest phenomena in Heraclitean scholarship that this indefensible alteration of an unexceptional text transmitted by our most reliable ancient source – an alteration base upon nothing more than an inexact quotation in an after-dinner speech – has been accepted by a whole generation of recent editors…’ (p. 195; viz., Plato muddying the waters again).
George Eliot. Middlemarch. Oxford: OUP, 1958 (1871). [61]
‘Shallow natures dream of an easy sway over the emotions of others, trusting implicitly in their own petty magic to turn the deepest streams, and confident, by pretty gestures and remarks, of making the thing that is not as though it were’ (p. 834).
Pu Songling. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. trans. John Minford. New York: Penguin, 2006 (17th century CE, 1766). [60]
A charming collection of tales, full of ghosts, fox spirits, and other strange creatures. In a way they feel related to the fable, as some of them could be interpreted as having a ‘moral’, but the spirit of the whole is not didactic or moralizing, but rather simply interested in the collection of oddities: a sort of seventeenth-century ‘news of the weird’.
Peter Dear. Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge in Transition, 1500–1700. 3rd ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2019 (2001, 2009). [59]
A solid introduction, clearly geared towards undergraduates, on the rhetorics of and approaches to ‘science’ in the stated time period. Very readable, if occasionally superficial (could do with more connections to other streams of thought), and with a helpful ‘further reading’ bibliography that will probably point one towards the book one was hoping to read. The long shadow of Aristotle, or ideas of Aristotle.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The Assignment: Or, on Observing the Observer of the Observers. trans. Joel Agee. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2008 (1986, 1988). [58]
A strange little book, curiously timely/timeless, where the application of constraints (each chapter as a single sentence) seems both arbitrary and essential.
Aristotle. The Eudemian Ethics. trans. Anthony Kenny. Oxford: OUP, 2011 (4th century BCE). [57]
A surprisingly readable translation, with solid notes (both textual and philosophical) and introduction. More weird details than I remember (e.g., the women who rip out and eat unborn children, and other strange behaviors of those living near the Black Sea (1148b30)).
Sheila Liming. What a Library Means to a Woman: Edith Wharton & the Will to Collect Books. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. Minnesota Press, 2020. [56]
I will admit to being a bit disappointed by this book; I had hoped that it would offer more materiality rather than ‘close readings’ and the gauze of theory (I was hoping for more interrogation of booksellers’ lists and receipts – in this the Conclusion was the most interesting part of the book and could have led to a better overall book if it had formed the core rather than, well, the conclusion). I don’t doubt that the information I was hoping for is simply lacking (like much of Wharton’s personal library, destroyed in the Blitz), but the overall tone of the book, the way it seemed to look up for confirmation/affirmation rather than reaching out to inform (cf. Nicholson’s book below) was disheartening (where is the humor? where the lightness?). It is solid and well-crafted – very workmanlike. There are good questions asked, but no deep answers. What sparks of insight it might contain are well damped, which is perhaps as well given how inflammable libraries are.
Robert Alter, trans. The Wisdom Books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. New York: Norton, 2011 (2010). [55]
Of interest primarily for the notes and introductory material, but fairly readable (despite the ‘lads’ and ‘dolts’) even so. Confirmation (if such is needed) that ‘Ecclesiastes/Qohelet’ remains my favorite book in the Bible.
Catherine Nicholson. Reading and not Reading The Faerie Queene: Spenser and the Making of Literary Criticism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2020. [54]
A tremendously delightful, clever, and engaging book about Spenser, who does not (and probably will never) number among my favorite authors. An artfully constructed work of literary criticism that could be read with pleasure in its own right in addition to whatever it has to say about Spenser.
K.K. Ruthven. Faking Literature. Cambridge: CUP, 2001. [53]
Trying to make sense of (in)authenticity, which is a rather clever way of sneering at snobs.
Arthur W. Frank. The Wounded Storyteller. 2nd ed. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2013 (1995). [52]
On illness and stories and bearing witness – who tells the stories and what stories do they tell. Shoving back, in a way, against ‘heroic’ medicine. An interesting look at narrative and suffering, which argues its points neatly, economically, and approachably.
Józef Wittlin and Philippe Sands. City of Lions. Wittlin trans. Antonia Lloyd-Jones. London: Pushkin, 2016 (My Lwów, 1946). [51]
Interesting exploration of a sense of place – what one notices and what one doesn’t. The contrast in tone between the two (with Sands’s actually seeming the more nostalgic) was unexpected.
Max Belcher. The Lighted Burrow. trans. Christina Tudor-Sideri. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2022 (1937). [50]
Fascinating and inventive illness narrative; the contrast between startling imagery and occasionally banal occurrence is quite effective. Could have used another proofread (footnoted birthdate impossible for Maurice Chevalier, and possible repeated passage on p. 121), but not to the point of vexation.
Susanna Clarke. Piranesi. New York: Bloomsbury, 2021 (2020). [49]
Rich and interesting; while not always subtle, it doesn’t belabor its points. Need to reread Frances Yates on memory palaces. The best mystery I’ve read so far this year.

March

George Eliot, trans. Spinoza’s Ethics. edited by Clare Carlisle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2020 (1856). [48]
I read it superficially, as it is most emphatically not meant to be read. Much that bears re-reading, even if one cannot accept some of the premisses on which Spinoza bases his ‘prolix geometrical method’. The introduction alone is quite worth reading.
Federico Falco. A Perfect Cemetery. trans. Jennifer Croft. Edinburgh: Charco Press, 2021 (2016). [47]*
There was a story I read within the last few years about a man wandering around a dead-end village, perhaps somewhere in Italy, perhaps not, and staying the night in an abandoned house and watching the fireflies. This book kind of reminded me of that.
Friedrich Engels. The Condition of the Working Class in England. trans. Florence Kelley-Wischnewetsky. Oxford: OUP, 2009 (1845, 1887, 1993). [46]
A lot to chew on. A lot to get angry at (still). Unpleasantly surprised (well, maybe surprise is too strong – dismayed) by the patronizing misogyny and anti-immigration posturing. A young man’s book.
Dominique Fortier. Paper Houses. trans. Rhonda Mullins. Toronto: Coach House Books, 2019 (2018). [45]
As enjoyable as The Island of Books, if not more so. Kind of cute in its depictions of Emily Dickinson, but that’s always a danger.
Isaac Babel. Odessa Stories. trans. Boris Dralyuk. London: Pushkin Press, 2018 (1916–1937, 2016). [44]
Have to admit that I had previously managed to confuse Isaac Bashevis Singer and Isaac Babel, but that will be less of a problem going forward; though there is tenderness in both, they are looking in different directions.
Antonio de Guevara. A Looking Glasse for the Court. trans. Sir Francis Bryan and Jessica Sequira. Seattle, WA: Empyrean Editions, 2021 (1539, 1548). [43]
Another manual for how to live and how to behave, somewhere between Castiglione and Marcus Aurelius, but with more beard scratching.
Walter Serner. Last Loosening. trans. Mark Kanak. Prague: Twisted Spoon Press, 2020 (ca. 1927). [42]
A peculiar set of instructions – decadent, strange. Made stranger by the mental image of Bertie Wooster trying to follow them.
Emily Ogden. On Not Knowing: How to Love and Other Essays. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2022. [41]
Charming personal essays; somewhere between Ginzburg’s Little Virtues and Gillian Osborne’s Green Green Green.
Natasha Fijn. Living with Herds: Human–Animal Coexistence in Mongolia. Cambridge: CUP, 2011. [40]
A clear and thoughtful book; as always, I enjoyed the excerpts from the field notes more than the surrounding argument, but that is the way of things. An interesting example of academic style. Although clear and reasoned, it did not dance along its argument, but stepped neatly. Workmanlike.
Claire Keegan. Small Things Like These. narrated by Aidan Kelly. New York: Grove/Minneapolis, MN: Highbridge Audio, 2021. [39.a]*
Small, but not slight (nor particularly subtle, but that’s another point).
Pierre Senges. Rabelais’s Doughnuts. trans. Jacob Siefring. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2022 (2007–2014). [38]
‘Once everything has been consumed, only the gloss remains, as the measure of all things’ (p. 72).
William Caxton, trans. The History of Reynard the Fox. edited by N.F. Blake. Oxford: Early English Text Society, 1970 (1481). [37]
Punchy and funny and strange. Rich, crunchy language and absurd social situations. Setting up to read more animal fables.
Mary Oppen. Meaning A Life. New York: New Directions, 2020 (1978). [36]
Of Virginia Woolf: ‘…her writing meant to me the flash of insight while a leaf falls, the knowledge of complex relations that comes in a moment of understanding’ (p. 82). Not quite as enthralling (or gossipy) as Margaret Anderson’s The Fiery Fountains, it is also a great deal more moral, while being less concerned with morality. A curious distinction. Eschewed comfort. Taken for granite.
Max Blecher. Transparent Body & Other Poems. trans. Christina Tudor-Sideri. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2022 (1934). [35]
Charming and uncanny. Not mean-spirited.
Henry Fielding. A Journey from This World to the Next and The Journal of A Voyage to Lisbon. Oxford: OUP, 1997 (1743, 1755). [34]
Fatal journeys: one fictional, one real (in so far as anything of the page is real). The fascination with Julian the Apostate seems out of time; the first of the books seems a century and a half too early, and the second a decade or so too late. The two distinct tones of writing, of humor, are noteworthy; the tenderness of gallows humor. Uncertain visions.
Ed Brubaker, Marcos Martín, and Muntsa Vicente. Friday, Book One: The First Day of Christmas. Portland, OR: Image Comics, 2021. [33]*
A bit too slight at present, but it would be interesting to see where it will end up going.
Ryad Girod. Mansour’s Eyes. trans. Chris Clarke. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2020 (2019). [32]
Hallucinatory, crumbling around the edges: rules, regulations, madness, guilt, envy, transcendence.
Pierre Bourdieu. Pascalian Meditations. trans. Richard Nice. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 2000 (1997). [31]
Fit curiously well with the Földényi, particularly the final chapter, which was, by a curious coincidence, also about the experience of time. And what is free time? And for whom is it free?
László F. Földényi. The Glance of Medusa: The Physiognomy of Mysticism. trans. Jozefina Komporaly. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2020. [30]
A curious book, like the rapid shuffling of index cards from which several are drawn and bound together without being quite connected, but without being quite disconnected, either. Little that was unexpected or new, but an interesting assemblage.
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. trans. George Long. narrated by Wanda McCaddon. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media, 2010 (2nd C.). [29.a]*
Soothing, even if doesn’t inspire quite the same level of fortitude as Epictetus.
Per Aage Brandt. If I Were a Suicide Bomber. trans. Thom Satterlee. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2017 (2007–2014). [28]
Much better than the stupid title would lead one to believe. (Granted, in the context of the poem from which it originates, the title is less stupid, however…)
Gillian Rose. The Melancholy Science: An Introduction to the Thought of Theodor W. Adorno. New York: Columbia UP, 1978. [27]
Rigorous, sharp (astute/acute), and clear. Does not often succumb to the temptation to rhetorical flourishes.
J.L. Austin. Sense and Sensibilia. edited by G.J. Warnock. Oxford: OUP/Galaxy Books, 1964 (1961). [26]
Perhaps more notable for its tone than its content; clearly would have been delightful lectures. Highlights the tangled philosophical problem at the heart of The Velveteen Rabbit.
William Shakespeare. The Tempest. rev. ed. edited by David Horne. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1955 (ca. 1610/11). [25]
‘…when I wak’d / I cried to dream again.’
Emily Brontë. The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë. edited by C. W. Hatfield. New York: Columbia UP, 1941 (1836–1848). [24]
Although one sees the point of rooting the poems in the context of the Gondal mythos, it doesn’t add much to them (indeed, rather detracts) for the casual reader.
Martin Weller. The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011. [23]
A book that could have been a blog post, save that blog posts do (or did) not receive sufficient weight in tenure applications. Focused on scholarly interaction and community, so not quite what I was looking for.
François Jullien. In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics. trans. Paula M. Varsano. New York: Zone Books, 2008 (1991). [22]
Although most of the objects discussed are Chinese, one would still hesitate to say that it is a book about either Chinese thought or aesthetics. It explores the margin, but perhaps not the full page. Well worth reading and thinking about, however.
Julio Cortázar & Julio Silva. What the Mugwig Has to Say & Silvalandia. trans. Chris Clarke. Seattle, WA: Sublunary Editions, 2022. [21]
Charming and odd.

February

Phil Christman. How to Be Normal. Cleveland, OH: Belt Publishing, 2021. [20]
Thoughtful, solid essays on faith, reason, and humanity. A sense of groundedness: tethered. Curiously reminded me of seeing Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins speak (separately) at a series of lectures some years ago, Dawkins with the fervent, invariably unappealing air of zealot, pounding the pulpit, caught in his head (at that point rhetorically impressive rather than ’round the bend), and Sagan equally staunch in his beliefs, but present, sensible, in the world even at the point of leaving it. Anyhow; had already read, I think, half of the essays in various places online. A more coherent collection than Midwest Futures (at least to someone outside the Midwest), which occasionally felt more like urban planning than cultural criticism – but it’s been a while, so perhaps I’ve misremembered. A phenomenology of normalcy (not, however, normcore).
Vladimir K. Arsenyev. Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. trans. Jonathan C. Slaght. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2016 (1921). [19]
A book that always surprised by being interesting just when one wanted to give up on it. An odd combination of adventure, anthropological observation, and scientific exploration. Dersu is quite the hero of the book, not least because he seems to be the only character who seems to know where he belongs and, more importantly perhaps, where he does not.
William Shakespeare. The Winter’s Tale. edited by Frederick E. Pierce. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1918 (ca. 1609). [18]
Not so much a coherent whole as two-and-a-half plays wrapped up in a cloak, pretending to be a prince trying to fool the audience. No ribbons here. Sits next to Alkestis in the category of plays that irritate without satisfying.
Ron Hogan. Our Endless and Proper Work. Cleveland, OH: Belt Publishing, 2021. [18]
Softly supportive.
Jennifer Howard. Clutter: An Untidy History. Cleveland, OH: Belt Publishing, 2020. [17]
Rather like skimming through the self-help/home organization section of the library. It is not quite the book I wanted it to be (which is not a strike against it, merely an observation), although it was frustrating to feel that the book I desired was two or three drafts away. As it stands, it is lightly journalistic (as indicated by the use of AP style) and approachable, but does not excavate too far beneath the clutter of appearances and easy comparisons. Perhaps I wanted an object-oriented ontology, rather than a set of almost-advertisements for professional organizers. Content, rather than a history.
William Shakespeare. Pericles, Prince of Tyre. edited by Alfred R. Bellinger. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1925 (ca. 1607). [16]
Has its moments, but a weird play. There’s the concern, in Act V, that the incest at the beginning might be a foreshadowing in good tragic tradition, but things turn out well enough as the play careens from melodrama to new comedy. A silly piece of work.
William Shakespeare. The Tragedy of Cymbeline. edited by Samuel B. Hemingway. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1924 (16??). [15]
Has a bit of a slow start, but by the time one gets to act three, it is possible to get caught up in things. Cloten is a clod and the wicked stepmother is ridiculous, and theirs seems to be the main tragedy of the piece – all the rest is misunderstand and resolution. (Of course Cymbeline is also an idiot, which is no great character trait in a king, but not uncommon.)
Polly Barton. Fifty Sounds. London: Fitzcarraldo, 2021. [14]
An interesting means of circumventing the dangers of memoir, of defining boundary limits and imposing a narrative arc on what could too easily be shapeless – clever, too, in coopting that potential for shapelessness, the dangers of the random, by structuring the reflections as a series of discursive glosses. Smart and tender and thoughtful.

January

Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples. Saga. Boxed set: vols. 1–9. Portland, OR: Image Comics, 2021. [13]
Aw, man.
Julio Cortázar. Letters from Mom. trans. Magdalena Edwards. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2022 (1959). [12]
Mourning and melancholia.
Helen Macdonald. Vesper Flights. New York: Grove, 2021. [11]
Many of the essays were good and many were middling; the ones that did not work (for me) were the ones that seemed most divorced from their context in a magazine, where the easy disjunction of arbitrary moralizing is natural, expected. The personal essays, the ones that did not try to be broadly informative, but were rather specifically so, were the most appealing.
Alexander Bevilacqua and Frederic Clark, eds. Thinking in the Past Tense: Eight Conversations. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2019. [10]
Ostensibly a book about the practice of intellectual history, the eight interviews by mid- to late-career academics provide an interesting picture of academia from 1950 to about 2018, with a distinctive blend of hard work, fortuitous circumstance, and, yes, privilege. For some (three in particular), the privilege is aggravating because it goes unacknowledged, or acknowledged through name-dropping disguised as false humility, while for the others the element of good luck (or social debt) receives at least a faint nod, a small offering at the altar of happenstance. I am not saying that the scholars interviewed in this volume do not deserve their success, or did not work for it, but they all seem to have tumbled into comfortable positions with an ease, well, which is probably matched today for people of equal privilege and character, but not for the majority of early career researchers who go from one precarious contract to another and lack the institutional support to spend time reading at random in their field. The answers about particular research practices (equivalent to, but more intelligent than, ‘how do you take notes?’) were illuminating, but also melancholy. A volume of magical thinking.
Margaret Kennedy. Where Stands a Wingèd Sentry. Bath: Handheld Press, 2021 (1941). [9]
A war memoir that perhaps pairs better with Iris Origo’s two volumes than with Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges, in part because of the non-urban setting, but also for the sense of intellectual distance between what is happening around the author and how the author (or the figure representing the author) is reacting. Disjointed, but charming.
Fredric Jameson. Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality. London: Verso, 2016. [8.d]
An incisive example of how much a reader can bring to a book. (Which is not to say that Chandler doesn’t bring his own fun to the party.)
Ogier Ghislain de Busbecq. The Turkish letters of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, Imperial Ambassador at Constantinople, 1554–1562. trans. and edited by Edward Seymour Forster. Oxford: Clarendon, 1927. [7]
I think I managed to get Busbecq mixed up in my mind with Çelebi when I was buying a copy of this little book; despite some disappointment on realizing my mistake, I did find Busbecq’s letters diverting. He had a keen eye for what passed in front of him: curious, open, but not perhaps very deep.
William Shakespeare. Measure for Measure. rev. ed. edited by Davis Harding. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1954 (1604). [6]
‘Haste still pays haste, and leisure answers leisure; / Like doth quit like, and Measure still for Measure.’ Has the briskness of Midsummer Night’s Dream or Romeo and Juliet, but the weird plotting of All’s Well that Ends Well; a strange play. The stoic lecture at the beginning of Act III was a bit of a doozy.
William Germano. On Revision: The Only Writing That Counts. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2021. [5]
Wholesome. (See post.)
Preti Taneja. Aftermath. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2021. [4]
A difficult book to read – guilt, anger, despair. Trying typographical tricks – expansion and contraction, omission and exclusion. The interruption of flow       and the aftermath. The close readings (Hag-Seed, Cherry) cruel, perhaps unkind; unnecessary? It is not clear. No answers, only more questions.
Josephine Balmer, trans. Sappho: Poems & Fragments. rev. ed. Hexham, UK: Bloodaxe Books, 2018 (1984, 1992). [3]
An interesting approach to Sappho, with a solid (if not novel) introduction and textual note. Strong in parts and weak in others. The echoed gossip of the field, ancient and modern. This is allusion, not elucidation.
Cody-Rose Clevidence. Listen My Friend, This Is the Dream I Dreamed Last Night. Brooklyn, NY: The Song Cave, 2021. [2]
Oneiric and fragmentary, concerned with meaning-making, justice, COVID, and gender – among other topics. The fragments run together on the line rather than being spaced out as in Rachel Cusk or Jenny Offill, which creates the effect of a logical boustrophedon, a wandering here and back, rather than the sometimes dubious leaps of an epigrammatic grasshopper. In need of punctuated proofreading.
William Shakespeare. The Life of Timon of Athens. rev. ed. edited by Stanley T. Williams. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 1954 (1606). [1]
The worst of Shakespeare’s plays that I like. All of the things that make it bad are present in other plays, where I detest them, but here they seem interesting, a comment on human nature rather than a dramatic failure. Has its highs and lows, but unlike Timon himself, averages out.

(last revised: 30 November 2022)

ego hoc feci mm–MMXXII · cc 2000–2022 M.F.C.