a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2024

February

Lavinia Greenlaw. The Importance of Music to Girls. London: Faber & Faber, 2007. [44]
Perhaps a better constructed memoir than Some Questions Without Answers, but less interesting because less vulnerable.
Tami Hoag. A Think Dark Line. New York: Bantam, 2004 (1997). [43.d]*
Uncomplicated, if improbable.
Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 2 vols. Oxford: OUP, 1928 (1776). [42]
Interesting and engaging reading, in a style of great charm. Troubled in that at least two of Smith’s assumptions (viz., that people are rational actors and that all commerce can be comprehended (i.e., actually comprehended, not simply included) in a single system that does not also incorporate other social factors) complicate his conclusions. But that ending – that one should give up the unattainable dream or project of gold and glory and be satisfied with one’s mediocrity – has a certain beauty that is not widely enough acknowledged.
Annie Dillard. Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. New York: HarperCollins, 2007 (1982). [41.d]*
Sonorous.
Reiner Stach, ed. The Aphorisms of Franz Kafka. trans. Shelley Frisch. Princeton, NK: Princeton UP, 2022 (1918, 1920, 1953, 2019). [40]
Odd, interesting, but somehow unsatisfying. The annotations illuminating, but it is light in a void. See post.
Anna Vaught. The Alchemy: A Guide to Gentle Productivity for Writers. Hay-on-Wye: Hay Press, 2023. [39]
Has some good examples of how to give positive feedback, but a bit too suffocatingly helpful for my tastes/needs.
Vladimir Nabokov. The Enchanter. trans. Dmitri Nabokov. New York: Vintage, 1986 (1939/40, 1957). [38.d]*
Less obviously revolting than Lolita because the narrator is more obviously fractured from morality/reality (as well as arriving at a more horrible end). A distinct work, but perhaps also helpful (with all the ‘Easter eggs’) in interpreting the later one. (Still induces queasiness, though.)
Abigail Williams. The Social Life of Books: Reading Together in the Eighteenth-Century Home. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2017. [37]
Really enjoyable book about reading and sociability, and many of the varieties of readers’ responses to texts (the scrapbooks of magazine cutouts – proto-zines – were particularly interesting).
Mairead Small Staid. The Traces: An Essay. Dallas, TX: A Strange Object/Deep Vellum, 2022. [36]
Ambitious, but vexed by source material too rich for the product.
Patricia Lockwood. Priestdaddy. New York: Riverhead, 2017. [35]
Hilarious, heartbreaking, and odd.
Lavinia Greenlaw. Some Questions Without Answers. London: Faber & Faber, 2023 (2021). [34]
An examination of why one does not write about things that seem the most relevant – that is, why one leaves things unsaid or chooses to conceal things (though a lack of revelation is not necessarily concealment).
François de La Rouchefoucauld. The Maxims. trans. F.G. Stevens. Oxford: OUP, 1943 (1665, 1678, 1940). [33]
The sort of politic advice one receives from the sort of person who invariably puts his foot in it.
Karl Marx. Early Writings. trans. Rodney Livingstone & Gregor Benton. New York: Penguin, 1992 (1843–1844; 1975). [32]
‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’ (p. 423).
Ludwig Edelstein. Ancient Medicine. trans. C. Lilian Temkin. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1987 (1967). [31]
An interesting range of essays on the subject; of particular note the examination of Pythagorean elements in the Hippocratic Oath, and the importance of wealth in maintaining complex health regimes (cf. personal trainers and the wellness industry).
Claire Dederer. Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma. New York: Knopf, 2023. [30]
Uneven and took an odd route to get to its point. See post.
Claire Dederer. Love & Trouble: A Midlife Reckoning. New York: Knopf, 2017. [29.d]*
Makes use of a quite a few different forms and styles (similar in this sense to Kristine Langley Mahler’s rather unsatisfying Curing Season), but doesn’t fully commit to the bit. Or perhaps she commits to the larger bit of not committing to the bit? Bit off more than she could chew, perhaps, and there’s a good deal of cringe.
Claire Dederer. Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses. New York: Picador, 2011. [28.d]*
Waffle with occasional sparks of insight; ‘sloppily thought-out but strongly held reservations (my specialty)’ (3%). The lengths to which people will go to structure their memoirs.
Eleanor Shipley Duckett. The Gateway to the Middle Ages: Monastacism. Ann Arbor, MI: Univ. Michigan Press, 1988 (1961, 1966). [27]
Part of a larger overall work, and the split was not entirely successful (i.e., this volume assumes familiarity with authorial tics established in prior chapters). Presents vivid pictures of four key figures in monasticism in the West during the fifth through seventh centuries.
Anita Loos. Gentleman Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes. New York: Penguin, 1998 (1925, 1928). [26]
‘Because, after all, there is nothing that gives a girl more of a thrill than brains in a gentleman’ (p. 113). An unexpected delight.
Lavinia Greenlaw. The Built Moment. London: Faber & Faber, 2019. [25]
Nuanced, tender. Would sit well with Annie Ernaux’s “I Remain in Darkness” or Lynn Casteel Harper’s On Vanishing.
David Graeber and David Wengrow. The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021. [24]
Ambitious and a bit unwieldy.

January

Georg Büchner. Lenz. trans. Richard Sieburth. Brooklyn: Archipelago, 2004 (ca. 1830s, 1999). [23]
A rather nice little edition (with supporting documents) of a rather complicated little book.
Guy Debord. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. trans. Malcom Imrie. London: Verso, 1998 (1990). [22]
Tedious mystification of the commonplace (Hegel would be proud). But then of course I am not an initiate, and perhaps it would be more illuminating after one has mastered the secret handshakes.
Bridget Hill. The Republican Virago: The Life and Time of Catharine Macaulay, Historian. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992. [21]*
Readable biography and critical assessment of the historian and political personality.
Guy Debord. The Society of the Spectacle. trans. Ken Knabb. Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 2014 (1967). [20]
Mid-century Marxist hash.
John F. Benton, ed. Self and Society in Medieval France: The Memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent. trans. C.C. Swinton Bland. Toronto: University of Toronto Press/Medieval Academy of America, 1989 (ca. 12th C., 1970). [19]
A very odd sort of memoir by a very odd sort of person.
Robert Boissiere. Meditations with the Hopi. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Co, 1988. [18]*
The kind of book one would find in a national park visitor center gift shop, which is not what I was expecting when I put it on inter-library loan.
Gina Apostol. The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata. New York: Soho, 2009. [17]
‘I waited for fires of wrath to burn in me at the thought of my country’s sorrows, but mainly, if I were truthful, all I had was a dim passion for irregular verbs’ (p. 203).
J.M. Wallace-Hadrill. The Barbarian West: The Early Middle Ages, A.D. 400–1000. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962 (1952). [16]
A charming short survey; historiographical fashions have changed, and doubtless the field has uncovered other evidence, but it remains a nice little introduction.
Garbriel García Márquez. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: who drifted on a life raft for ten days without food or water, was proclaimed a national hero, kissed by beauty queens, made rich through publicity, and then spurned by the government and forgotten for all time. trans. Randolph Hogan. New York: Vintage, 1986 (1955). [15]
Pretty much as advertised in the title, although with more of a focus on the shipwrecked part than on the beauty queens. Creative nonfiction.
J.D. Robb. Random in Death. New York: Macmillan, 2024. [14.d]
I wanted to see if it was just Cadfael or if I am getting tired of series in general. Think I’m getting tired of series, particularly when they succumb to their formulae. How does one write a police procedural without narrative tension?
Ludwig Wittgenstein. Philosophical Investigations. rev. 4th. edition, ed. and trans. G.E.M. Anscombe, P.M.S. Hacker, and Joachim Schulte. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 (1953). [13]
Instructions for exiting a cage that (1) most people are not trapped in and (2) does not exist. Cleverness marking the path towards wisdom.
Karl Marx. Dispatches for the New York Tribune: Selected Journalism. edited by James Ledbetter. New York: Penguin, 2007 (1848–1862). [12]
Trenchant.
Rūmī. The Masnavi, Book Two. trans. Jawid Mojaddedi. Oxford: OUP, 2008 (ca. 1262, 2007). [11]
Less amusing than Book One, perhaps because I had expectations, but easier to get through.
Tezer Özlü. Cold Nights of Childhood. trans. Maureen Freely. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2023 (1980). [10]
I first attempted to read this some months ago and it didn’t suit my mood, but after reading Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and finding my mood a bit more open, I tried it again and found it much more interesting. Fragmented and disjointed, with odd jumps and cross-cuts that suited its subject of madness and misunderstanding.
Harriet Guest. Small Change: Women, Learning, Patriotism, 1750–1810. Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press, 2000. [9]
On currencies of thought and change great and small. The chapters on Elizabeth Carter were particularly interesting.
Éric Chevillard. Museum Visits. trans. Daniel Levin Becker. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2024 (2004, 2007, 2013, 2017). [8]
Typical Chevillard drolleries. Good fun.
Britgitte Reimann. Siblings. trans. Lucy Jones. Oakland, CA: Transit Books, 2022 (1963, 2009). [7]
My first go at reading this left me underwhelmed, but I returned in a more sympathetic frame of mind and found it more interesting than I had expected (esp. in terms of narrative structure; the eroticism of the sibling relationship was less pleasant). A sort of trick knot of family psychology – one tug and the tensions unravel.
Kang Young-Sook. At Night He Lifts Weights. tarns. Janet Hong. Berkeley, CA: Transit Books, 2023. [6]
I did not expect to like these short stories, but in their uncanniness and oddity they were strangely appealing.
Sergio Chefjec. Forgotten Manuscript. trans. Jeffrey Lawrence. Edinburgh: Charco, 2023 (2015). [5]
Slight but charming essay on writing by hand and the aura of the manuscript.
Pierre Michon. Winter Mythologies and Abbots. trans. Ann Jefferson. New Haven, CT: Yale UP (Margellos), 2014 (1997, 2002). [4.d]*
Darkly atmospheric, with glimmers of brilliance.
Gennady Aygi. Time of Gratitude. trans. Peter French. New York: New Directions, 2017 (1975–2001). [3]
Very chatty reminiscences and poems, with quite a few scare quotes; not as moving as Khodasevich’s Necropolis. The piece on Shalamov was quite interesting (evocative, maybe?), but the book as a whole, slim as it was, was disappointing.
Valerie Wayne, ed. Women’s Labour and the History of the Book in Early Modern England. London: Arden Shakespeare/Bloomsbury, 2022 (2020). [2]
Not entirely about early modern England, as there are several essays on women book collectors and editors of Shakespeare, but overall a very enjoyable collection of short of essays on bookwomen.
Philippe Ariès. Western Attitudes toward Death from the Middle Ages to the Present. trans. Patricia M. Ranum. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1974. [1]
Less coherent than I had hoped (in the sense that it included fewer of the odd details that add charm to small monographs), but an interesting overview of the decentering (over the course of several hundred years) of the dying in the midst of death.

(last revised: 29 February 2024)

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