a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2024

June

Ernst Cassirer. The Philosophy of the Enlightenment. trans. Fritz C. A. Koelln & James P. Pettegrove. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1951 (1932). [98]
Sits interestingly with Berlin’s Three Critics of the Enlightenment, but is less clear about when it is asserting its author’s views and when it is summarizing the views of a historical figure. But I am an inattentive reader.
Herta Müller. The Passport. trans. Martin Chalmers. London: Serpent’s Tail, 2015 (1986, 1989). [97.d]*
Unsettling and rather unpleasant.
Emily J. Edwards. Girl Friday Mysteries. 3 vols. New York: Crooked Lane, 2022–2023. [96.d]*
Grist for the treadmill while waiting for other holds to come in.
Isaiah Berlin. Three Critics of the Enlightenment. 2nd ed. edited by Henry Hardy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2013 (1960, 1965, 1976, 1993, 1997, 2000). [95]*
Provides clarity for three confusing authors (Vico, Herder, Hamann); perhaps too much clarity – confusion is part of their pleasure.
Karl Marx. Grundrisse. trans. Martin Nicolaus. London: Penguin, 1993 (1857–8, 1939, 1973). [94]
A great baggy mess of a book. Quite fun to read, except for the fractions.
James C. Scott. Two Cheers for Anarchism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2014 (2012). [93]
Could not tell if the mismatch between descriptions in the text and figure captions was intentional (i.e., deliberately anarchic) or just messy. Perhaps a bit of both.
Robin Waterfield, ed. Xenophon: Conversations of Socrates. trans. Hugh Tredennick & Robin Waterfield. London: Penguin, 1990 (4th C. BCE, 1970). [92]
Uneven, but with flashes of amusement. Normcore Socrates.
Gail Hareven. Lies, First Person. trans. Dalya Bilu. Rochester, NY: Open Letter, 2015 (2008). [91]
An unsettling novel about boundaries and fiction (among other things).
Robert B. Parker. Taming a Sea-Horse. New York: Dell, 1986. [90.d]*
I think I skipped over this one for some reason but can’t figure out why. It’s fine.

May

Benedicta Ward, trans. The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. New York: Penguin, 2003. [89]
More aphoristic than the gnostic and apocryphal gospels, but just as weird. Picked it up because Cristina Campo made it sound interesting (and it was certainly more interesting than The Way of a Pilgrim, which she also recommended).
E.V. Gordon. Pearl. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980 (14th C., 1935). [88]
Feels good to stretch the muscles for reading poetry and Middle English. Amusing rehash of revelation and pastoral.
Andrew Louth, ed. The Way of a Pilgrim. trans. Anna Zaranko. New York: Penguin, 2019 (1884, 2017). [87]
Interesting presentation of anxiety, but overall dogmatic.
Robert B. Parker. Spenser Novels. vols. 2, 14–17, 20, 22–33, 35–39. New York: Dell, 1974–2011. [86.d]*
Probably running out of steam on these, but they are very good for reading on the treadmill.
Anthony Grafton. Forgers and Critics: Creative and Duplicity in Western Scholarship. rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2019 (1990). [85]
Suggestive rather than convincing.
George Eliot. The Lifted Veil and Brother Joseph. Oxford: OUP, 2009 (1959, 1999). [84]
Not that great, actually.
Marghanita Laski. Ecstasy in Secular and Religious Experiences. Los Angeles: Tarcher, 1990 (1961). [83]*
A mind-meld of Underhill’s Mysticism, James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.
Robert B. Parker. Spenser Novels. vols. 4, 6–12. New York: Dell, 1979–1985. [82.d]*
The decision to keep the setting contemporary reduces some of the appeal.
Robert B. Parker. The Judas Goat. New York: Dell, 1978. [81.d]*
Wildly improbable. Interesting, though, to see how the habits of airports have changed.
Alan Garner. Treacle Walker. New York: Scribner, 2022. [80.d]*
At the beginning it seemed like it might sink into the twee-dom of the faux-folktale, but it ended up being unexpectedly moving.
Frederick C. Beiser. The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987. [79]*
Unexpectedly entertaining; Beiser provides a solid overview of the trends in German philosophy in (roughly) the second half of the 18th century, giving clear sense both of personalities and philosophical arguments. The sections on Hamann were particularly illuminating.
James C. O’Flaherty, trans. and ed. Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia: A Translation and Commentary. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1967. [78]
The introduction and commentary are of course longer than the text; they offer helpful background and interpretive material that does not entirely (although it mostly does) stand up to scrutiny. The annotations to the text could be more substantial to help the reader untangle Hamann’s allusions and meanings, but, well, the book would have been much longer.
Robert B. Parker. Mortal Stakes. New York: Dell, 1975. [77.d]*
Improbable, but a fun read. Again, the quotidiana stole the show.
Robert B. Parker. The Godwulf Manuscript. New York: Dell, 1973. [76.d]*
Snappy, with the Chandlerian chaos approach to plot resolution. The descriptions of food were my favorite part.
Plato. The Symposium. trans. W. Hamilton. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1951 (4th C. BCE). [75]
Richer than I remember it being.
Norman Hampson. The Enlightenment. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976 (1968). [74]
A solid, casual overview.
Franco Moretti. The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature. London: Verso, 2014 (2013). [73]
Prosy.
Becca Rothfeld. All Things Are Too Small. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2024. [72]*
Grapples with its ideas the way the Spartan boy held onto a stolen fox: messily.

April

Georges Duby, ed. Revelations of the Medieval World. trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Vol. 2 of A History of Private Life, edited by Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby. Cambridge, MA: Harvard/Belknap, 1988 (1985). [71]
Still interesting, but less acute than the first volume, in part because the authors of too many of the chapters seem to feel the need to toady to the volume editor. But one must suppose that the minutiae of academic politics, too, are part of the history of private life.
David Harvey. A Companion to Marx’s Grundrisse. London: Verso, 2023. [70]
An enjoyable introduction/summary.
Kelley Armstrong. Rip through Time. 2 vols. New York: Minotaur, 2022–2023. [69]
It is cute to see an author having fun with genre conventions, even if it does not result in anything particularly new.
Wang Wei. Poems. trans. G.W. Robinson. London: Penguin, 1973 (8th C. CE). [68]
Moody and slightly querulous, but with some evocative images.
Charles Simic. No Land in Sight. New York: Knopf, 2022. [67.d]*
Clear but not particularly resonant, like the bright glints off rain-soaked asphalt.
Lee Child. The Killing Floor. New York: Berkley, 2023 (1997). [66]
A solid mystery, but rather violent. Reminded me a bit of the Parker novels.
Dashiell Hammett. Woman in the Dark. New York: Vintage Crime, 1989 (1933). [65]
A bit undermotivated.
Tristan Foster & Michelle Lynn Dyrness. Midnight Grotesques. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2023. [64]
Odd objects.
Jakuta Alikavazovic. Like a Sky Inside. trans. Daniel Levin Becker. Oakland, CA: Fern Books, 2024 (2021). [63]
On outsiders and family and culture and museums. Delightful.

March

Pascal Quignard. The Silent Cross. trans. Chris Turner. Calcutta: Seagull, 2024 (2009, 2013). [62]
Reminded me of Towards the One & Only Metaphor, but less prickly and acrobatic. A somberness that occasionally feels a bit put on.
Thomas De Quincey. The Last Days of Immanuel Kant. Seattle, WA: Empyrean Editions, 2021 (1827). [61]
‘There must be no yielding to panics of darkness’ (p. 50).
Paul Veyne, ed. From Pagan Rome to Byzantium. trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Vol. 1 of A History of Private Life, edited by Philippe Ariès and Georges Duby. Cambridge, MA: Harvard/Belknap, 1987 (1985). [60]
More solid and interesting than the abundance of illustrations would lead one to believe.
Guy Debord. Panegyric I–II. trans. James Brook and John McHale. London: Verso, 2009 (1989, 1997; 1991, 2004). [59]
An odd duck. Not sure the whimsy compensates for the annoyance.
Lauren Berlant. Cruel Optimism. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2011. [58]
Interesting idea, unconvincingly executed. The book would have been a third of the length without all the candle-lighting at the shrines of academic authority. The chapter that had originally been part of a festschrift for Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick was the strongest, though, perhaps because it was more engaged with the text it discussed rather than pontificating about how the text or film applied to the nebulous form of the argument. Reading something in the service of something else usually does not produce a good reading (in the sense both of understanding and experience).
David Ricardo. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation. edited by Piero Sraffa with M. H. Dobb. Carmel, IN: Liberty Fund, 2004 (1816, 1951). [57]
I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed with a book. Disheartening in terms of style, argumentation, and character. Of course I read it inattentively, so that might have something to do with it.
William Drummond. A Cypresse Grove. Seattle, WA: Empyrean Editions, 2021 (1623). [56]
A charming meditation on mortality, with a lot of cribbing from Plato.
Giada Scodellaro. Some of Them Will Carry Me. St. Louis, MO: Dorothy Project, 2022. [55]
The ones about food I liked; the ones that mostly weren’t about food I mostly didn’t care for. Food for thought.
Cristina Campo. The Unforgivable and Other Writings. trans. Alex Andriesse. New York: NYRB Classics, 2024 (1987, 1998). [54]
Essays so elegant and assured, so exquisitely handled, they are practically poetry.
Sabrina B. Little. The Examined Run: Why Good People Make Better Runners. Oxford: OUP, 2024. [53]
A somewhat unconvincing exploration of what your cross-country team might be like if Aristotle were the assistant coach. I think I fall just outside the Venn diagram for this book’s readership.
Robert Alter, trans. Genesis. New York: Norton, 1996 (ca. 400 BCE). [52]
Did not notice until after finishing the book that it is dedicated to the (late) Amos Funkenstein, who is the hero of the footnotes.
Ernst Bloch. On Karl Marx. trans. John Maxwell. London: Verso, 2018 (1971). [51]
Extracts from The Principle of Hope. According to Bloch, there is no truth but truth and Marx is his prophet. Occasionally trenchant (for a sentence or two), but then succumbs to dogmatism or flowery fanaticism, marking the boundaries between the ‘Marxist’ and the sinner. A frustrating book.
Sarah Harvey. Orbital. narrated by Sarah Naudi. New York: Grove/Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2023. [50.a]*
A sweet book; not saccharine, but tuneful.
Jacob Burckhardt. The Age of Constantine the Great. trans. Moses Hadas. Garden City, NJ: Doubleday Anchor, 1956 (1882, 1949). [49]
A teleological focus on Christianity, but witty overall, with psychologically acute sketches of several key figures.
Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities. trans. William Weaver. New York: Harcourt, 1974 (1972). [48]
The gratifying comfort of rereading a book from one’s formative years and finding it still as delightful.
Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek. After Work: A History of the Home and the Fight for Free Time. London: Verso, 2023. [47]*
Not particularly helpful, actually. The distinction between convenience and the saving of labor was perhaps the best point. The ideals are good (i.e. the work involved in caring and reproduction should not be shuffled off solely onto women, immigrants, and/or people of color), but their ‘solutions’ are so vague and oracular that they seem more concerned with not being wrong than in making concrete suggestions. The mention of the cafeterias for members of Parliament (and the niceness of the food served there) was a nod in the right the direction, but their overall approach was insufficiently strident (militant?) to be convincing.
Douglas Luman. Rationalism. Seattle, WA: Sublunary, 2021. [46]
‘This project willfully ignores the original text’ (p. 38).
Laura Lippman. Baltimore Blues. New York: HarperCollins, 2015 (1997). [45.d]*
Somewhere between Rosemary Edghill and Sara Paretsky, but more toward the weaker end of that scale. The journalistic approach to investigation is perhaps less interesting to me than the insurance agent’s. Very soft focus on the characters, to the detriment of the book as a whole.

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: 16 June 2024)

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