Posts in category: reading log

June reading log

Apart from the book on Walter Raleigh’s lost colony of Roanoke, this month was pretty poor for my reading. I think I advanced about ten pages further into Marguerite Young’s marvelous Angel in the Forest, a book that shocks me with its brilliance and leaves me reeling with every page, every sentence even. And I am not exaggerating.

I tell myself one day I will read one of the many novels on my shelves. It’s a different type of experience, surely, than reading criticism, history, or poetry, as has been my wont of late. But it seems I read fewer and fewer novels: Looking back at my reading logs, I count five novels I read so far this year: two early novels by Harry Mathews, one by Ishmael Reed, The Alteration by Kingsley Amis, and Fatale by Manchette. (I’m not counting Angel in the Forest, which retards me so, I fear I’ll never finish it.) Of these, the only one that really strikes me as outstanding is The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium by Mathews.

I am kicking myself to get back on track and only read things that give me pleasure. I don’t know why it has to be this way. What a convoluted path my reading has taken.

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Style, Rhetoric, & Rhythm: Essays (1966) – Morris Croll (begun; reading this in part for its angle on Euphuism and the so-called Baroque style of the 17th century)

Apalache (1976) – Paul Metcalf (re-reading; this is outstanding, and a favorite book of mine, as I’ve said before)

Printing Poetry: A Workbook in Typographic Reification (1980) – Clifford Burke

A Kingdom Strange: The Lost Colony of Roanoke Island (2010) – James Horn

Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World: A New History (2011) – Nick Bunker (begun; probably will not finish)

some books on Ohio history

May reading log

Angel in the Forest: An Epic of Two Utopias – A Chronicle of the Experiments by Father George Rapp & by Robert Owen in Nineteenth Century America (1945) – Marguerite Young

The Middle Passage: A Triptych of Commodities (1976), U.S. Dept. of the Interior (1980) – Paul Metcalf (reread)

Common Landscape of America, 1580-1845 (1982) – John R. Stilgoe

Achab (séquelles) (2015) – Pierre Senges

Winslow Homer at the Addison (1990) – Paul Metcalf

April reading log

The Dust of Suns (c.1930/1990s) – Raymond Roussel (trans. Harry Mathews)

The Philosophers’ Madonna (1931/2008) – Carlo Emilio Gadda (trans. Antony Melville)

Exercises in Style (1947/2012) – Raymond Queneau (trans. Barbara Wright & Chris Clarke)

Trial Impressions (1977), The New Tourism (2008?) – Harry Mathews

The Attraction of Things (?) – Roger LeWinter (trans. Rachel Carreau)

The Nonconformist’s Memorial (1993) – Susan Howe

The Case of the Persevering Maltese (various) – Harry Mathews

The Emerald Light in the Air (2014) – Donald Antrim

I read only three of these stories, and was sufficiently terrified to leave off there. “Another Manhattan” in particular left me feeling I couldn’t go on. I read Antrim’s first novel about seven years ago and found it nothing to write home about, but this is hardly the same author. I think I would enjoy, and will seek out, Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers.

What Is Landscape? (2015) – John R. Stilgoe

plans sauvages (2016) – Hélène Fréderick

Debths (2017) – Susan Howe

The Transport… (2017) – John Trefry

My Back Pages (2017) – Steven Moore (Skipping around in this. Is Moore America’s best (living) critic? I would hazard to say so.)

March reading log

The Merry Wives of Windsor (c. 1600) – William Shakespeare

The Conversions (1960) – Harry Mathews

The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium (1971) – Harry Mathews

It occurs to me that Mathews’s default sense of the phrase and of diction (when he’s not up to disturbing linguistic conventions) is essentially Victorian in nature. This of course aligns with his love of Ruskin, Robert Louis Stevenson, and The Aspern Papers. I found this to be a masterpiece, every bit as good as Cigarettes and The Journalist.

The Players (1985) – Paul Metcalf

An odd play for the stage that Metcalf wrote sometime in the 1980s; not entirely sure what to make of its whimsical construction. Apparently the play was performed in Pittsfield, MA in the summer of 1986.

17 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (1987/2016) – Eliot Weinberger

A Mouthful of Air: Language and Languages, Especially English (1992) – Anthony Burgess (some chapters, not the whole compendium! a lot to work through here)

Working the Stone: The Natural, Social, and Industrial History of the Village of Farnams, Town of Cheshire, County of Berkshire, Commonwealth of Massachusetts (2003) – Paul Metcalf and Lucia Saradoff

The Quarry (2015) – Susan Howe

I’ve had little patience for Howe’s work & style lately; partly it’s discovering certain repetitions, the same material reworked when I was seeking something new. She has a new title forthcoming from New Directions this year, Debths, which I shall attempt to review.

Attrib. and other stories (2017) – Eley Williams (hopskotchin around in this)

Gorse Journal #7 (2017)

Glad to have a Pierre Senges translation of mine published in this – buy it!

February reading log

The Revenger’s Tragedy (c. 1580s) (not for nothing is it considered one of the grandest of Elizabethan revenge tragedies)

English Prose Style (1950?) – Herbert Read (ridiculously pedantic in places but useful in others; many of the example excerpts are so long they kill my appetite to read them; is my attention, my patience winnowing?)

Chromos (1940s/1990) – Felix Alpau (begun on a lark; ain’t gonna persevere, not till the time’s right. As I read I keep thinking who translated this? It’s that kind of a book. Reminds me of Zeno’s Conscience, which I could never truly penetrate.)

Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology (1971) – Walter J. Ong (Ong was one of English lit. & lang.’s foremost scholars in the late 20th century, doggedly forging his own niche. Confounding to think of the implications of such a phrase as “Jesuit scholarship.” I read about the first half of it, got what I needed, & cut out. Interesting argument that the ideology of Romanticism, with its emphasis on individual expression & feelings, could only arise once everything was sufficiently written down in dictionaries, directories, encyclopedias, etc.)

Flight to Canada (1976) – Ishmael Reed (I read it because Paul Metcalf takes an epigraph from this book for his Both. Previously I’ve read Mumbo Jumbo. I found this one entertaining, verging on laughter in a few places, but not quite what I was looking for. I plan to read Reckless Eyeballing sometime soon. As Biblioklept knows, Reed is a neglected treasure.)

Atlas () – Glen Baxter

Patagoni – Both – Firebird – I-57   (1988) – Paul Metcalf (By the end of this I will be the world’s foremost expert on Paul Metcalf.)

Headlands: The Marin Coast at the Golden Gate (1990) – Paul Metcalf, et al. (not strictly speaking a “Metcalf book,” but a commissioned collaboration. I regret not going to Oakland last fall & seeing the area when I had the chance.)

Garbage (1993) – A.R. Ammons (Finally — a work suited to my despair of the present. I’ll be (re?)reading Glare very soon I think & 1 or 2 of the major works included in Ammons’s Collected Poems 1951-1971 or whatever the dates are.)

The Night of the Gun (2008) – David Carr

January reading log

The Flea of Sodom (1950) – Edward Dahlberg (can’t recall the last time I was so disoriented; a mix of tiresome & exhilarating)

Will West (1956) – Paul Metcalf (reread)

“Sardonicus” (1961) – Ray Russell (I wasn’t scared much)

Genoa (1965) – Paul Metcalf (rereading in progress)

Edward Dahlberg: a Tribute; Essays, Reminiscences, Correspondence, Tributes (1970) – ed. Jonathan Williams (this was great)

The Alteration (1976) – Kingsley Amis (+++)

Fatale (1977) – Jean-Patrick Manchette (trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith, 2011) (not quite memorable enough)

The Leafless American and Other Writings (1986) – Edward Dahlberg (I liked several essays inordinately)

An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin (2007) – Rohan Kriwaczek (abandoned with spite)

The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation, 2nd ed. (2008) – Lawrence Venuti (great section on Paul Blackburn)

Time Travel (2016) – James Gleick (stuck!)

December reading log

The Jew of Malta (c. 1592) – Christopher Marlowe

Pericles (c. 1608) – William Shakespeare

The Stars My Destination (1956) – Alfred Bester (in progress)

Random Acts of Senseless Violence (1993) – Jack Womack

2016: Found Gems

I do read a little contemporary literature, but for a year-end list the more interesting thing in my opinion is always to focus on what’s obscure, the chance discovery, the forgotten tome. So here goes…

Terrors of the Night or a Discourse of Apparitions (1594) – Thomas Nashe

You will not find another author so madcap entertaining as Thomas Nashe. No, it’s not easy to read. When I read Nashe it feels I’m looking through a glass darkly to a time when the conventions of written English were in radical flux, coming into formation. I tried to read Pierce Penniless but my attention felt worn out after about 15 pages. It (and The Unfortunate Traveler and Lenten Stuff) await my attention another moon. From Terrors of the Night:

“As touching the terrors of the night, they are as many as our sins. The night is the devil’s black book, wherein he recordeth all our transgressions. Even as when a condemned man is put into a dark dungeon, secluded from all comfort of light or company, he doth nothing but despairfully call to mind his graceless former life, and the brutish outrages and misdemeanours that have thrown him into that desolate horror, so when night in her rusty dungeon hath imprisoned our eyesight, and that we are shut separately in our chambers from resort, the devil keepeth his audit in our sin-guilty consciences; no sense but surrenders to our memory a true bill of parcels of his detestable impieties. The table of our heart is turned to an index of iniquities, and all our thoughts are nothing but texts to condemn us.” (full text)

Because I Was Flesh (1961) – Edward Dahlberg

Rainer Hanshe recommended Dahlberg to me as being up my alley, and that was after I’d read Paul Metcalf’s high praise of Dahlberg’s Because I Was Flesh in From Quarry Road. So I knew it was time. Well, an American who lived and breathed in the twentieth-century went and wrote a whole book about himself and his mother in soundly Elizabethan language. Sounds risky, but the mad codger flew high. Some will spurn it for its reconditeness, others will smear it for what they perceive as its misogyny, but I revel in its relentlessly rhetorical turns and its abstruse diction. But a small taste:

“Only a man cankered by his own zeal would crimp Scripture in order to call a lady barber a disorderly Magdala. When the time came she would be a steadfast wife and provide a husband who cherished her with a jolly, bawdy bed and fat gammons. She would look just as legal and righteous as any other female householder. Love restores the blind, the palsied and the virgin, and even if a lady barber smeared her bridal sheet with Heinz ketchup, no bridegroom should be so foolish as to examine it. A man who scrutinizes everything that he does–or someone else does to him–will die swearing or live to run mad in the streets with no cover for his nude soul but a syllogism. Besides, a woman is a marvelous chameleon creature, for she can cheat, lie and copulate, and still be the tenderest pullet.” (p. 25 in the New Directions edition)

Frame Structures: Early Poems 1974-1979 (1996) – Susan Howe

“On Monday, massacre, burning, and pillage
On Tuesday, gifts, and visits among friends”

(from Chanting at the Crystal Sea, strophe 20; link to blog post on Howe)

Orality and Literacy (1982) – Walter J. Ong

Tiny but crucial, Orality and Literacy maps out some of the differences between speech and writing, between what Ong calls “primary oral cultures” and societies governed by writing. This is very stimulating for anyone curious about the history of literature, the cognitive dynamics of language, and much much more. A nice reminder of what we are almost wired to forget:

“It is demoralizing to remind oneself that there is no dictionary in the mind, that lexicographical apparatus is a very late accretion to language as language, that all languages have no help from writing at all, and that outside of relatively high-technology cultures most users of languages have always got along pretty well without any visual transformations whatsoever of vocal sound.”

Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization (1994) – Roger G. Kennedy

I became interested in the extinct mound-building civilizations of the eastern United States (many mounds of which may still be visited today) this year. I had visited several mounds throughout my adoloscence but what is there really to be seen or to know beneath the imposingness of a monumental heap of dirt? I’m plagued and perplexed by my partial knowledge still, and no matter how much I read about the mounds they remain impenetrable to me. Kudos to the archaeologists and paleontologists whose efforts have increased our understanding of these early inhabitants of North America, and to such historians as Roger Kennedy who in this book aims for a synthetic understanding of what those civilizations must have been like. It might it help to mitigate a little bit of that amnesia from which Americans always seem to be suffering.

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989) – Stephen Jay Gould

I found this book at the library’s annual used sale quite on a lark; I headed for the science and nature section with a yen to redress my ignorance in matters of geology. Well, I’m still little more than an ignoramus when it comes to the deep time of the earth, but my eyes were opened to the mind-boggling difference of such alien arthropod life forms as Anomalocaris, Marrella and Opabinia. Gould’s book is a tour de force, illuminating not just the radical contingency of history, but the ways institutions and ideologies shape the way scientists look at history. This was the first book I had read of Gould’s, and it is Cambrian natural history written with the clip and ease of an airport thriller, what a rare thing.

Etudes de silhouettes (2010) – Pierre Senges

A good swath of this book (about 6,000 words) will be published in my translation next spring in the newish London-based journal Hotel. The book consists of short texts (ranging from half a page to 5 pages or so) composed from Kafka’s unfinished beginnings found in his notebooks. That probably sounds odd and not too inviting, but what makes this book so extraordinary is the humor, the undreamt of flights of fancy which Senges schemes up time and time again. I hope I can find a publisher who wants to publish the full book in English. I will keep trying. For now, there is The Major Refutation.

November reading log

Pierce Penniless His Supplication to the Devil (1590s) – Thomas Nashe (stuck)

“The Avenger” (1838) – Thomas De Quincey

Erik Satie (1930) – Pierre-Daniel Templier (trans. E.L. French & D.S French, 1969)

The Man in the High Castle (1962) – Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Erdritch (1964) – Philip K. Dick

Nothing Like the Sun (1964) – Anthony Burgess

Peace (1975) – Gene Wolfe

The Mechanic Muse (1987) – Hugh Kenner

by the same author (2014) – jack robinson

October reading log

“The Fight,” “The Indian Jugglers” (c. 1820) – William Hazlitt

“The Last Days of Immanuel Kant” (1827) – Thomas De Quincey

“Modern Manufacture and Design” – John Ruskin

Because I Was Flesh (1961) – Edward Dahlberg

Orality and Literacy (1982) – Walter J. Ong

Nineteen Seventy Four (1998) – David Peace (abandoned)

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life & Times of Warren Zevon (2007) – Crystal Zevon et al. (skimmed)

The Novel: An Alternative History, vol. 1 (2010) – Steven Moore (in good progress)

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (2015) – Sam Quinones (stalled)

Medieval Monsters (2015) – Damien Kempf & Maria L. Gilbert

September reading log

Finding it hard to sustain any kind of regular reading routine these days. Same old story: family responsibilities, work, too many books I want to read, distracting me, many books commenced, dipped into, many threads scrambled and lost. But what thee lovest well remains.

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Tamburlaine (part 1) (1590) – Christopher Marlowe (struggling to read)

The Secret of the Old Clock (1930) – Carolyn Keene (a Nancy Drew book, reading with my daughter)

The Novel: An Alternative History, Vol. 1 (2010) – Steven Moore (started)

White-Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, A Memoir (2013) – Michael Clune

Here Are the Young Men (2014), This Is the Ritual (2016) – Rob Doyle

August reading log

Billy Budd, Sailor (1888/1924) – Hermann Melville

Classic American Graffiti (1934) – Allan Read

Because I Was Flesh (1961) – Edward Dahlberg (in very slow progress)

The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1966) – Carlo Ginzburg (trans. John & Anne Tedeschi, 1983)

Chanting at the Crystal Sea (in Frame Structures) – Susan Howe (reread)

On the Ceiling (1997) – Eric Chevillard (trans. Jordan Stump, 2000)

Les théories de Suzie (2015) – Eric Chevillard (a children’s book, with illustrations by Jean-François Martin)

Vestiges_02: Ennui (2016)

Cendres des hommes et des bulletins (2016) – Sergio Aquindo and Pierre Senges

July reading log

Volpone (1605) – Ben Jonson

Review of Contemporary Fiction, Paul Metcalf/Hubert Selby Jr Issue (1981 or 82) (in progress)

Where Do You Put the Horse? (1986) – Paul Metcalf

Enter Isabel: The Herman Melville Correspondence of Clare Spark and Paul Metcalf (1991)

Teach Yourself: Geology (2003) – David Rothery (in progress)

Etudes de silhouettes (2010) – Pierre Senges

Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives (2014) – Susan Howe

The Sixth Extinction (2014) – Elizabeth Kolbert

Cendres des hommes et des bulletins (2016) – Pierre Senges & Sergio Aquindo (in progress)

June reading log

A pretty nonpareil month in books — many excellent things. If there is an underlying pattern here at all, it’s the Ohio book (the Indian accounts, the Wright Brothers, the Ordovician fossils) I am working on, & also exploring Paul Metcalf’s influences & peers (Metcalf’s work being an inspiration for the Ohio book). The Jesperson is a fair outlier, but every bit as edifying  as George Saintsbury. But I don’t know if I will finish it, skipping around as per my wont.

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Growth and Structure of the English Language (1905) – Otto Jespersen (in progress)

“Projective Verse” (1950) – Charles Olson

Paterson (1960) – William Carlos Williams

Captured by Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts (1961) – ed. Frederick Drimmer (in progress)

White Trash Cooking (1986) – Ernest Matthew Mickler

Sagetrieb 5.3, Featuring Paul Metcalf (1986)

Singularities (1990) – Susan Howe

Frame Structures: Early Poems 1974-1979 (1996) – Susan Howe

An Ear in Bartram’s Tree: Selected Poems 1957-1967 (1972), Jubilant Thicket: New and Selected Poems (2005) – Jonathan Williams (in progress)

Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006) – David Lynch

A Sea Without Fish: Life in the Ordovician Sea of the Cincinnati Region (2009) – David L. Meyer and Richard Arnold Davis

The Wright Brothers (2015) – David McCullough

May reading log

Hamlet ou les suites de piété filiale (1887) – Jules Laforgue

Afloat on the Ohio (1897) – Reuben Thwaites

Call Me Ishmael (1947) – Charles Olson

The Maximus Poems I – III (1960) – Charles Olson

Paterson I – II (1946) – William Carlos Williams

Fire Sermon (1971) – Wright Morris

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (1999) – Simon Winchester

Graffitis (2012) – Charlotte Guignard

Lillabulero 12 (1973) – Paul Metcalf Special Issue

Begun/in progress :

The Tragic History of the Sea / História trágico-marítima (c. 1735) – edited & compiled by Bernardo Gomes de Brito (ed. & trans. C.R. Boxer, 1959, 1968)

The Median Flow: Poems 1943-1973 () – Theodore Enslin

Colonel Zoo (1997) – Olivier Cadiot (trans. Cole Swensen, 2006)

The Lost Colonies of Ancient America (2014) – Frank Joseph

April reading log

All over the place this month. I was (am) in reading heaven, but my focus was (is) destroyed.

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Gilgamesh (c. 2,500 BC) – anon. (trans. Stuart Kendall, 2012)

Beowulf (c. 1000 AD) – anon. (trans. Thomas Meyer, 1970/2012)

Intellectuals in the Middle Ages (1957) – Jacques Le Goff (trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan, 1993)

Victorine (1959) – Maud Hopkins

The Kingdom of this World (1949) – Alejo Carpentier (trans. Harriet de Onís, 1957)

The Book of Literary Lists (1985) – Nicholas Parsons

Frontiers (1989) – Michel Butor (trans. Elinor S. Miller & Warren C. Miller)

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (1989) – Stephen Jay Gould

The Birth-mark (1993) – Susan Howe

” ‘Seeing Words Machinewise’: Technology and Visual Prosody” (1999) – Craig Dworkin

L’occupation (2002) – Annie Ernaux

March reading log

A nonpareil month for my reading… I also watched a few films by John Cassavetes, including, most recently, A Woman Under the Influence (dir. John Cassavetes, 1974), which is beautiful and terrifying.

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A History of Elizabethan Literature (1887) – George Saintsbury

Bath House (1940s? 50s?) – Hans Henny Jahnn (trans. Adam Siegel, 2016)

Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization (1994) – Roger G. Kennedy

Anthologie de Charles-Albert Cingria (1995) (parts)

Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance (1998) – Carlo Ginzburg (trans. Martin Ryle & Kate Soper, 2001) (couple chapters)

Subterranean Worlds: A Critical Anthology (2004) – ed. Peter Fitting

Sitcom (2007); Asbestos Heights (2015) – David McGimpsey

Shakespeare Thinking (2009) – Philip Davis

New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (2013) – Colin G. Calloway

“Pierre Senges: ‘Le chasseur des idiots'” – Laurent Demanze (chapter from Les fictions encyclopédiques de Gustave Flaubert à Pierre Senges (2015))

February reading log

My great discovery of the month was Thomas Nashe, who I do nominate as an honorary regent in my home.

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Terrors of the Night (1594) – Thomas Nashe

Cymbeline (c. 1610) – William Shakespeare

Correspondence of John Cleves Symmes (1780s-1810)

Le Nez qui voque (1967) – Réjean Ducharme (in slow progress)

The Weather Fifteen Years Ago (2006) – Wolf Haas (trans. Stephanie Gilardi & Thomas S. Hansen, 2009)

That This (2010) – Susan Howe

The Empathy Exams (2014) – Leslie Jamison

The Victory with No Name: The Native American Defeat of the First American Army (2015) – Colin G. Calloway

The Argonauts (2015) – Maggie Nelson (jettisoned)

Best of 2015 in Reading, Pt. 3

Around January 1 I had intended to post this list of books I was particularly awed by, but it seemed a bit much to tack on to my two previous retrospective posts for the bygone year (2015 in favorite pre-1900 books, and 2015 in favorite post-1900 Books).

Now, of course, I figure, what the hell, am I going to let this draft languish? What’s a blog for anyways?

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True Histories (c. 160 A.D.) – Lucian (trans. Keith Sidwell, 2004)

Lucian’s tale is one of the first surviving instances of that rare genre known as the Menippean satire.

The Discourse of Lorenzo Valla on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine (1443) – Lorenzo Valla (trans. Christopher B. Coleman, 1922)

A Looking Glasse for the Court: A dispraise of the life of the Courtier, and a commendacion of the life of the husbandman (1539) – Antonio de Guevara (trans. Sir Francis Bryant, 1548, 1575)

The blackface Gothic letterface & the facsimile reproduction drove me a little crazy.

Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578) – John Lyly (abridged)

I first read this text years ago in university when I was researching Love’s Labour’s Lost, in which Shakespeare parodies the excesses of Lyly’s Euphuism. But I returned to it this year for reasons to be disclosed at a later time.

Life Is a Dream (1635) – Pedro Calderón de la Barca (trans. Gwynne Edwards, 1991)

The Sun King: Louis XIV at Versailles (1966) – Nancy Mitford

Fifteen years before this book appeared, Nancy Mitford had translated the French classic La Princesse de Clèves (1678). What court gossip!

‘Letter to Sor Filatea de la Cruz’ (c. 1690) – Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (trans. Edith Grossman, 2014)

What Maisie Knew (1897) – Henry James

Apalache (1976), Both (1982), The Middle Passage: A Triptych of Commodities (1976) – Paul Metcalf

Metcalf’s historically-inflected textual collages defy classification. Only one more of Metcalf’s major works remains before I’ll have read everything he published (or nearly so): I-57.

January reading log

The Book of J (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers) (c. 950 B.C.; trans. David Rosenberg, 1990; interpreted by Harold Bloom; in progress)

On the Shortness of Life (49 A.D.) – Seneca (trans. C.D.N. Costa, 1997)

Books VI, VII, & VIII of Mémoires d’outre-tombe (1849) – François-René de Chateaubriand

Vie de Samuel Johnson (1959) – Giorgio Manganelli (trans. Dominique Férault, 2010)

Patagoni (1971), Zip Odes (1979), Dept. of the Interior (1980), Waters of Potowmack (1982), Golden Delicious (1985), Mountaineers Are Always Free! (1987),  Araminta and the Coyotes (1991), Huascarán (1997)  – Paul Metcalf

Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1985) – Italo Calvino (trans. Patrick Creagh, 1988)

But Beautiful (1990) – Geoff Dyer (rereading)

The Ohio Frontier: An Anthology of Early Writings (2005) – edited by Emily Foster

Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma-Queen (2015) – Mary Norris

Blazes, Posts, & Stones: A History of Ohio’s Original Land Subdivisions (2015) – James L. Williams (in progress)

2015 in Reading, Pre-1900 Books, Pt. 1

Well, this is as pretentious as it gets: I might as well be an old fuddy-duddy nodding off in my fauteuil with these dusty old tomes. I was tempted to cheat and throw in a few baroque and Renaissance titles from the end of 2014, but some restraint is called for. Perhaps to be continued… (See also my post-1900 favorites list for the year.)

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Meditations (165 A.D.) – Marcus Aurelius (trans. Maxwell Staniforth, 1964)

I’d begun reading this in 2007 if not prior but could never plow through the middle. Aurelius reprimanding himself, reminding himself to be strong, ever aware of life’s vanity, the final fatality that will wipe all human affairs away, repeats himself, repeats himself, then repeats himself some more. One passage always used to crack me up, where Aurelius chides himself to be like Antoninus, how he was able because of his sparing diet to hold out to evening, not even requiring to relieve himself by evacuations except at the usual hour; his firmness and steadiness in friendship (book 6, section 30). There’s probably no other book I can page through with as much pleasure as this one, although it is always with a strange, perverse irony that I am reading the innermost thoughts (diary) of a man who was writing only for himself and no other. Ever present in his admonitions to himself, there hangs a gulf of difference between what we would like to be, and our natural tendencies (to err, so human). And, on top of that, the awareness that the austerity Aurelius would foist on himself is, after all, impracticable, infeasible.

The Kama-Sutra of Vatsyayana (trans. Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1883)

The Kama-Sutra attracted my attention when I was growing up in Ohio, where I found it in certain illustrated editions in local bookshops, but it wasn’t until I reached Ottawa that I acquired a pocket edition of the classic translation for a buck. I’m no prude, but I didn’t quite expect to find cock rings, penis piercings, lingam ointments consisting of honey, black pepper, and powder of white thorn apple, instructions for biting and scratching during congress and so on and so forth, but it’s all here somewhere or other. There are some tedious parts, and Vatsyayana’s translator, the intrepid Sir Richard Francis Burton, like old Aurelius has an awful tendency to repeat himself, saying in fifty words what he could say in thirty — but remember: To read an abridgment is to try to visualize the ocean by looking at a glass of water.

The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (1988) – Roberto Calasso (trans. Tim Parks, 1994)

This book exhausted me. Once I got ⅔ or ¾ in, I no longer cared to discover the remainder. But Calasso’s synthesis of so many sources for the principal figures of Greek mythology into a seamless whole, while taking into account the innumerable contradictions and paradoxes, parallels, and echoes is truly a thing of wonder. At least on the way out. It made my head spin. (I’ve included this book here not because it is a pre-1900 book, but because it deals with the ancient world.)

Exercises for Holy Dying (1650-51) – Jeremy Taylor

… every morning creeps out of a dark cloud, leaving behind it an ignorance and sleep as deep as midnight, and undiscerned as are the phantasms that make a chrisom-child to smile: so that we cannot discern what comes hereafter, unless we had a light from heaven brighter than the vision of an angel, even the spirit of prophecy. Without revelation we cannot tell whether we shall eat tomorrow, or whether a squinzy shall choke us: and it is written in the unrevealed folds of divine predestination that many who are this day alive shall to-morrow be laid upon the cold earth, and the women shall weep over their shroud, and dress them for their funeral.

Historie comique des états et des empires de la lune (1653) – Cyrano de Bergerac

A curious thing happened: I reread this Menippean satire especially to find a choice passage I remembered from a prior reading in 2006. The remembered passage I could not find. I just as soon realized that the edition I had been reading was hardly  the same as the one I had been reading in 2006, but was based on a 19th-century edition of Bergerac’s French text, which had been censored posthumously by Bergerac’s friend and literary executor, Henri Lebret. Some 250 years later, it was Remy de Gourmont who, in 1908, had the censored passages first published. For your delectation, I offer this beautiful heresy in my own original translation:

After Eve and her husband had eaten the forbidden apple, God, so as to punish the serpent who had led them into temptation, confined him to the body of man. Nor has any human creature since been born who does not, as punishment for the crime of the first transgressor, keep and nourish a serpent in his belly, begotten by this first. You may call it your guts, and you think those necessary for life, but in fact they are nothing but serpents looping back on themselves many times. When you hear your entrails crying out, that is but the serpent whistling who, following the natural appetite by which he drove the first man to eat to excess, is asking for food too; because God, who chose to make you mortal like the other animals, made that insatiable hunger your obsession in order to punish you, such that if you fed it too much, you would smother and squeeze the serpent; or if, when with his invisible teeth the ravenous beast bites your stomach, you refuse him his pittance, he cries, he rages and releases that venom which your doctors call bile, and which heats your body so that, by the poison he diffuses into your arteries, you are soon consumed. Lastly, to show that your guts are a serpent you hold in your body, remember that serpents were all found in the tombs of Asclepius, Scipion, Alexander, Charles Martel, and King Edward, still feeding on the cadavers of their hosts.

The Garden of Cyrus. Or, the Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered (1658) – Sir Thomas Browne

A curious work of pattern-finding, taken to madness-begetting lengths. Pareidolia. In question is the pattern of reticulation, crossing, or decussation — also known as the quincuncial (quincunx) or lozenge pattern. Nature and planting provide no shortage of striking examples of it. A series of questions verging on incomprehensibility, which we read across a gulf of nearly four centuries. E.g., If any shall further quaery why magneticall Philosophy excludeth decussations, and needles tranversely placed do naturally distract their verticities? Browne starts by talking about crop-planting patterns, but then gradually the pattern becomes the world; the quincunx subsumes all. Certainly one of the more soporific texts with which we had reason to deal this annum. But the ending makes it all worthwhile, as the Quincunx of Heaven runs low, and ’tis time to close the five ports of knowledge… To keep our eyes open longer were but to act our Antipodes. The Huntsmen are up in America, and they are already past their first sleep in Persia. But who can be drowsie at that howr which freed us from everlasting sleep? or have slumbring thoughts at that time, when sleep it self must end, and as some conjecture all shall awake again?

The Monadology (1714) – G.W. Leibniz (trans. D. Garber & R. Ariew, 1991)

This is a powerful, very short philosophical treatise. Voltaire thought the conclusion a little wrongheaded (“do we not verily live in the best of all possible worlds?”), but that’s of no consequence to us here: it’s what comes before that counts: Each portion of matter can be conceived as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fish. But each branch of a plant, each limb of an animal, each drop of its humors, is still another such garden or pond. And so on and on to never any end.

2015 in Reading, Post-1900 Books

With few annotations, and even fewer qualms, I offer the crème de la crème of my year’s reading — books published after 1900, that is. (See also my 2015 pre-1900 reading list.)

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Henry IV (1922) – Luigi Pirandello (trans. Mark Musa, 1995)

This short play blurs the lines between madness and sanity. It might have been my mood, or what was going on in my life at the time, but it had me almost fearing for my own sanity, not just the character’s. Wonderfully disturbing. At Librivox you can listen to or download a free audiobook version, with volunteer voice actors.

Ladies Almanack (1928) – Djuna Barnes

Distinguished for its raunchy, parodic Elizabethan style, and accompanied by the author’s illustrations, this tiny tale was written for Barnes’s patroness Natalie Barney and her sapphic coterie. “Now this be a Tale of as fine a Wench as ever wet Bed,” it begins The full title, in good  Renaissance tradition, is Ladies Almanack, showing their Signs and their tides; their Moons and their Changes; the Seasons as it is with them; their Eclipses and Equinoxes; as well as a full Record of diurnal and nocturnal Distempers. Written and illustrated by a Lady of Fashion.

The Best of S.J. Perelman (mid-20th century)

Marginalia on Casanova (1939) – Miklós Szentkuthy (trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2012)

The Old Man and the Sea (1952) – Ernest Hemingway

I’ve never felt drawn to Hemingway’s novels, but when I saw this on a bargain rack, there was no question we were going to go home together. I was not disappointed: the old man in his lonely skiff, lulled by illusions and pushed past the point of exhaustion, had me in tears through the final pages. If Moby-Dick is too long and too arch for you, maybe just go here.

Goethe and One of His Admirers (1956) – Arno Schmidt (John E. Woods, 1990)

Acquaintance with Grief (1966) – Carlo Emilio Gadda (trans. William Weaver, 1969)

This is the only book in recent memory that had me doubled up in tears with laughter. I did not understand everything I read. As with Moby-Dick, I had the impression that certain of the book’s baroque excesses were excessive by design, verging on a sort of self-parody. But it’s hard to say. Incidentally, this work proved unfinishable for Gadda — the last section is in draft form, far less complex in its syntax than the sections preceding it. Unlike That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, which I haven’t read, this book is sadly out of print; I paid dearly for my copy. Translator William Weaver achieves a rare feat here, of making the work feel like it is essentially his.

The Temple of Iconoclasts (1972) – J. Rodolfo Wilcock (trans. Lawrence Venuti, 2000)

Pas Un Jour (2002) – Anne Garréta

Garréta got a lot of attention and positive press this year for her book Sphinx, which Deep Vellum published in Emma Ramadan’s translation. So far I’ve read Ciels liquides and this book, which stands out as my favorite of Garréta’s. The narrator reflects back on her (or is it his?) different loves, carnal and platonic. The chapter changes for every lover, along with the style. The preface and the afterword ground the book in its governing conceit (notice I did not say constraint).

Out Stealing Horses (2003) – Per Petterson (trans. Anna Borne, 2005)

Oh, this book had me crying too. J.M. Schreiber and P.T. Smith recommended it to me, how could I resist?

Fragments of Lichtenberg (2008) – Pierre Senges (trans. Gregory Flanders, unpublished)

Years ago Dalkey Archive announced this translation as forthcoming and it looked like it was going to come out this past August/September, but, alas, it has fallen off the map again. Through a little conniving I managed to obtain an ARC of the book. (So did Charles Boyle.) M.A. Orthofer reviewed it, with admiration.

An Honest Ghost (2013) – Rick Whitaker

As I said in my write-up of the book: “This novel is built from sentences culled from other books: it takes them out of context, and fits them together into a new mosaic form.” A form of experiment or paradoxically unoriginal writing. Well worth the detour.

Loitering (2014) – Charles D’Ambrosio

Some of these personal essays, like “Seattle, 1974,” “Documents,” “Orphans,” “This Is Living,” “Misreading,” are just flooring in their emotional power and weird, casual poise.

Reading Women

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I’m well aware that I spend a lot of time reading books written by men, and hardly as many written by women. But I don’t normally like to call attention to the fact, and for good reason: it’s embarrassing! No, it’s not really that. OK, it’s that too. It’s that dividing up writers along gender lines seems rather wrongheaded to me. Doing so can be very useful for revealing unconscious bias in reading habits (and research shows we are subject to unconscious biases of various kinds, does it not?). But at the same time I’m not really interested in quantitatively analyzing my reading, not in any way whatsoever. Number of pages, number of books, number of books written by women, vs. number of books by men, etc. I don’t really care, I’d much rather address myself to the singularity of individual authors, whether they be male or female, following my curiosity, my interests, and my instincts.

Anyways, while recognizing that in terms of quantity women writers got short shrift to the men this year, nevertheless I spent many hours in the sublime company of many female writers, whom I will now name-check. Marguerite Duras, Nancy Mitford, Patricia Highsmith, Christine Brooke-Rose, Djuna Barnes, Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Cynthia Freeland, Anne Garréta…

Check back soon for a couple more end-of-the-year retrospective posts.

December reading log

I am anxious about the classics. Have I read them well enough? Never. What am I doing reading these books am I succeeding? I end this year’s reading with a month’s list that includes the Kama Sutra, Job, Aurelius’s Meditations, — and two books I had long been meaning to reread: Michael Kohlhaas and Molloy. The only month in which my attention to the old was equal to December was January — during which I read some Virgil, Petronius, Sir Thomas Browne, Mandeville, and Anne Garréta’s Pas Un Jour.

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The Kama-Sutra of Vatsyayana (c. 400 BC – 200 CE)  (trans. Sir Richard Francis Burton, 1883)

The Book of Job, The Song of Solomon (King James Versions)

“Preface to the Hebrew Bible” – George Steiner

Meditations (c. 175 AD) – Marcus Aurelius

Michael Kohlhaas (1811) – Heinrich von Kleist

“I and My Chimney” (1856) – Herman Melville

Molloy (1951) – Samuel Beckett (trans. Beckett & Patrick Bowles, 1955)

Will West (1956) – Paul Metcalf

Moscow to the End of the Line (1968) – Venedikt Erofeev (trans. H. William Tjalsma)

Ecrire (1993) – Marguerite Duras

Mira Corpora (2014) – Jeff Jackson

Ecrire

Apart from having seen Hiroshima, mon amour once or twice back in the aughts (for which Duras wrote the screenplay), Ecrire (Gallimard, 1993) was my first encounter with the writing of Marguerite Duras. It’s an unusual book, not only in the way it begins without much in the way of a subject — the author/writer/narrator describing her solitude in an empty house in the Normandy countryside — but then in the way it consists of five very different and seemingly unrelated parts.

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I found the first two sections by far the most interesting: “Ecrire” and “La mort du jeune aviateur anglais” (“To Write” and “The Death of the Young English Flyer”). But it was a passage of several pages in that first section, “Ecrire,” that was truly unforgettable. Duras’s narrator describes being in a house, waiting for a friend, and noticing the slow death of a fly over 20 or so minutes. The memory seems to come out of nowhere, as most all of the things she relates in those first two sections do; there is a strong sense of the haphazard and the arbitrary in the way she lets certain memories and thoughts speak, as if they were utterly foreign to her, as if they came from nowhere or from someone else. The tone is one of surprise, revelation, and discovery.

Anyways, the fly. The death of the fly. Duras imputes to the fly’s death a colossal significance. She seems sublimely aware that this verges on absurdity, if not comedy, but avows that, no, in fact, the fly’s death is death in whole, death in its totality, as present and significant as anywhere else on the globe. I read the passage with a feeling of awe and incredulity, wondering if that observation were not rich with irony. But no. It’s a staggering thought, made lucid by short, lucid sentences, a sustained reflection on solitude, and a sense of quiet patience.

The three shorter texts that come after “Ecrire” and “La mort du jeune aviateur anglais” were quite various, and not very memorable. I found it very hard to relate two of them to the rest of the book’s contents at all. This was a little frustrating, and I’m left wondering if I didn’t approach the book with the right mindset or patience. I was under the impression that the book was a unified work, and not, let’s say, an after-the-fact collection of various short pieces. At this time I’m not really inclined to even try to figure that one out.

Marguerite Duras (1914-1996) was a dynamo of letters, and I look forward to reading more of her work, in particular La douleur (1985) and L’Amour (1971). Any other recommendations from readers, possibly yourself, are welcome.

November reading log

What Maisie Knew (1897) – Henry James

The Trees (1940) – Conrad Richter

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955) – Patricia Highsmith

Wake in Fright (1961) – Kenneth Cook

Recollections of the Golden Triangle (1978) – Alain Robbe-Grillet (trans. J.A. Underwood, 1984) (finally finished after abandoning midway)

Louis the Torch (1983)- Paul Metcalf

The Shape of a City (1985) – Julien Gracq (trans. Ingeborg A. Kohn)

Arvida (2011) – Samuel Archibald (trans. Donald Winkler, 2015) (begun)

Daring Greatly (2012) – Brené Brown

Wake in Fright & Other Blotto Books

Kenneth Cook’s short novel Wake in Fright (1961) is, according to its publisher, the “original and greatest outback horror story.” J.M. Coetzee acknowledges it as a “a true dark classic of Australian literature.” So, naturally, I was interested and sought it out.

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I found it horrifying and suspenseful, but also humorous at times. For the book’s entirety, the protagonist, a young schoolteacher, finds himself stranded in a tiny outpost town of New South Wales, near what Cook ominously calls “the Dead Heart,” that is, the uninhabited interior of Australia. On his way home to Sydney, he spends a night in a mining town called Bundanyabba (or “The Yabba,” as the locals call it; apparently modeled on Broken Hill, where Cook had jobs as a journalist in his twenties). The schoolteacher goes on a little spree that depletes his savings, leaving him broke, without any way to get home or anywhere to stay for the six long weeks ahead of the Christmas break. Thus, he finds himself dependent on the hospitality of the locals of The Yabba, who ply him with beer after beer, and take him on a ultra-violent nocturnal kangaroo hunting trip. (Dare I tell you that a film adaptation, directed by Ted Kotcheff, can be viewed on YouTube?)

So this book takes the form of an alcoholic nightmare, and it set me thinking of the other classic books in this vein. On Twitter I asked what other books people would consider classic novels/novellas of alcoholism, in addition to two that sprang readily to my mind: Appointment in Samarra and Under the Volcano.

So, for no other reason than the sheer pleasure of making lists, I compiled the answers. This list stakes no claim to exhaustivity, especially as it includes only a few works written in languages other than English, but I would be glad to include any suggestions readers might have. You can leave those in the comments, or on Twitter.

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L’assommoir (1877) – Emile Zola – via @AmateurReader

The Sun Also Rises (1926) – Ernest Hemingway – – via @olivia8k

Tender is the Night (1934) – F. Scott Fitzgerald – via @olivia8k

‘A Drunk Man Looks at a Thistle’ (poem) (1926) – Hugh MacDiarmid – via @issekinicho

Appointment in Samarra (1934) – John O’Hara

The Thin Man (1934) – Dashiell Hammett – via @levistahl

The Lost Weekend (1944) – Charles Jackson – via @noctambulate

The Iceman Cometh (1946) – Eugene O’Neill

Under the Volcano (1947) – Malcom Lowry

The Drinker (1950) – Hans Fallada – via @jb_lett

Wake in Fright (1961) – Kenneth Cook

A Fan’s Notes (1968) – Frederick Exley – via @olivia8k

Post Office (1971) – Charles Bukowski – via @olivia8k

Moscow to the End of the Line (1973) – Venedikt Erofeev – via @theuntranslated

Disturbing the Peace (1975) – Richard Yates – via @jb_lett

Ironweed (1983) – William Kennedy – via @noctambulate

Pushkin Hills (1983) – Sergei Dovlatov – via @issekinicho

Jernigan (1991) – David Gates

October reading log

Ecclesiastes (King James Version, 1611)

Richard III (1605) – William Shakespeare (free audio recording)

Moby-Dick (1851) – Herman Melville

selections in The Geography of the Imagination (1981) – Guy Davenport

Apalache (1976), Both (1982), The Confidence-Man (play adaptation of Melville’s novel, 1980s?), selections in Where Do You Put the Horse? (1986), The Wonderful White Whale of Kansas (1996?) – Paul Metcalf

Apology #4

Gorse Journal #4

September reading log

I’m in the middle of at the beginning of What Maisie Knew, and I can’t help but think that it’s awkwardly written. The way James uses adverbs seeming so stiff… (some sort of innuendo there? probable). I don’t think it’s so much a question of my winnowing attention span, although there is that to be taken into account, but I sure do go in for the short ones, & tend to bail on the long ones.

The Middle Passage and The Old Man and the Sea are the only books that awed me. Paul Metcalf’s work is a boon to humanity, and a treasure trove.

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What Maisie Knew (1897) – Henry James

A Handbook for the Perfect Adventurer (1920) – Pierre Mac Orlan (trans. Napoleon Jeffries, 2013)

The Old Man and the Sea (1952) – Ernest Hemingway

The Middle Passage: A Triptych of Commodities (1976) – Paul Metcalf

The Elements of Typographic Style, 3rd ed. (2004) – Robert Bringhurst (a weird mix of deathly boring, rarely beautiful, & historically interesting — good, but not a page-turner by any means)

Ravel (2006) – Jean Echenoz (trans. Linda Coverdale, 2010)

Landscape in Landscape – Gerald Murnane (failed to get past p. 30…)