Posts in category: reading log

April reading log

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


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.


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.


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?

* * *

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.)


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.)


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


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.


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


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.


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.

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.


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

Good Morning, Midnight (1939) – Jean Rhys

The Legend of the Holy Drinker (1939) – Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hofmann)

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

The Iceman Cometh (play) (1946) – Eugene O’Neill

Nightmare Alley (1946) – William Lindsay Gresham

Under the Volcano (1947) – Malcom Lowry

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

The Ginger Man (1955) – J.P. Donleavy

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.

* * *

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…)

August reading log

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)

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

A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (c. 1612) – Thomas Middleton (abandoned)

Exercises for Holy Living, Exercises for Holy Dying (1650-51) – Jeremy Taylor (somewhat abridged)

The Story of the Barbary Corsairs (1885) – Stanley Lane-Poole (in slow progress)

Ladies Almanack (1928) – Djuna Barnes

The Best of S.J. Perelman (1920s-1950s) – S.J. Perelman (always dipping in & out, because it’s first-rate hilarity)

The Zoo Story (c. 1958), The American Dream (c. 1960) – Edward Albee

The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800 (1950s?)- Lucien Febvre & Henri-Jean Martin (trans. David Gerard, 1997)

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

Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories From History and the Arts (2007) – Clive James (begun)

Books of late

This year my reading is tending towards several niche areas, to the exclusion of almost all contemporary writing. Soon, though, I hope to pick up a few authors’ books that I’ve been hearing a lot about — Per Petterson’s, for one. Meanwhile, I wanted to write a post on some of this season’s books that have my curiosity and interest.

First, a couple of reprints of note: Coffee House Press, who has previously issued the entirety of Paul Metcalf’s work in a three-volume collected works, has published one of Metcalf’s earliest works, Genoa, in paperback with an introduction by Rick Moody. I first read this after I discovered it through Larry McCaffrey’s megabooklist, called “The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction.” McCaffrey’s entry reads:

Genoa, Paul Metcalf, 1965 : Metcalf invents a narrative structure–part mosaic, part history, part genealogy, part invention–which appropriates generous selections of materials drawn from the Christopher Columbus myth, Moby Dick, a myriad other sources to develop a narrative that reveals a whole host of connections between the greed and blood-lust of our founding fathers and contemporary Americans.

All of Metcalf is so sublime, I would suggest if your curiosity is piqued that you consider acquiring a volume or 2 or 3 of Metcalf’s Collected Works, because they sell for peanuts after being remaindered by publishers and booksellers, or deaccessioned from the libraries that used to house them (alas, you pay for shipping). You won’t regret it.


I also notice that David Gates’s Jernigan (1990) has been re-issued by Serpent’s Tail. I read this last year after I came across a recommendation somewhere. (Online excerpt.) This is a novel about a self-pitying, sophisticated alcoholic and his decline, told with acid wit and self-pitying humor. The pacing and voice are unforgettable. Gates has a new short story collection out too, by the way.

Pierre Senges’s latest book to be published in French, Achab (séquelles), is out from Éditions Verticales in the middle of this month. It imagines the afterlives of Captain Ahab and the white whale from Melville’s Moby-Dick subsequent to their mutual pursuit. You can listen to him read its beginning pages at France Culture (20 mins.). This book is a whopper, over 600 pages including a robust table of contents — not unlike Fragments de Lichtenberg (2007). That one is forthcoming in English (trans. Gregory Flanders, Dalkey Archive, 2016), and was reviewed recently by M.A. Orthofer of The Complete Review. This book has been pushed back and pushed back, and last I heard it will be available from Dalkey for sale in January 2016. I had the privilege of reading it in the advance reading copy earlier this summer, and it is stunning.


What else? In my reading queue are Dispraise of the Courtier’s Life by Antonio de Guevara, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800 by Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, and (eventually) Per Petterson.

But maybe what I really ought to be doing is rereading. I recently read A History of English Prose Rhythm (1912) by George Saintsbury, and I shall return to it. I’ve long wanted to reread Michael Kohlhaas by Kleist and Hind’s Kidnap by Joseph McElroy, but I don’t know how easy it will be to ignore my appetite for novelty. Soon, perhaps. But first, this translation I am working on, this roofing website, and these books…

July reading log

“A Farewell to Essay-writing” (1828) – William Hazlitt

Letters to Lou (1914-1915) – Guillaume Apollinaire (as read aloud by Guillaume Gallienne)

“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – Jorge Luis Borges (re-read)

The Book of Nightmares – Galway Kinnell (re-read)

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (1976) – Danilo Kis (re-read; superbly translated by Duska Mikic-Mitchell, 1978)

Earth and Embers: Selections from L’homme rapaillé – Gaston Miron (trans. Plourde & D.G. Jones, 1984)

Veuves au maquillage (2000) – Pierre Senges (in progress)

An Honest Ghost (2013) – Rick Whitaker

June reading log

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

Utopia (1516) – Sir Thomas More (trans. Ralph Robinson, 1556)

A History of English Prose Rhythm (1912) – George Saintsbury (in progress)

The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932) – Carl L. Becker

“The Aleph” – Jorge Luis Borges (trans. Norman Thomas di Giovanni)

The Mahé Circle (1946) – Georges Simenon (trans. Siân Reynolds, 2015)

Le crime paie, mais ce n’est pas évident – Giorgio Manganelli (trans. Dominique Férault, 2003; in progress)

Agalmamemnon (1984) – Christine Brooke-Rose (in progress)

The Rise of Pseudo-Historical Fiction: Fray Antonio de Guevara’s Novelizations (2004) – Horacio Chiong Rivero

Fragments of Lichtenberg (2008), “Des ébauches prises sur le fait” (2014) – Pierre Senges (trans. Gregory Flanders, 2016)

Parle-leur de batailles, de rois et d’éléphants (2010) – Mathias Enard

May reading log

The Narrative of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca (c. 1542; trans. R. Adorno & P.C. Pautz, 2003)

‘The Opening of the Will’ (c. 1800) – Jean-Paul Richter (audio at Librivox)

‘To Build a Fire’ (1908) – Jack London (recommended: audio at Librivox)

‘The Auto-da-Fé of the Mind’ (1933) – Joseph Roth (trans. Michael Hoffman)

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

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

‘The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved’ (1970) – Hunter S. Thompson

Fragments of Lichtenberg, ‘Shylock dans le miroir,’ ‘Entreprise et renoncement’ (2006 – 2011) – Pierre Senges

‘Court of Last Opinion’ (2015) – Joseph McElroy

April reading log

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

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (1908) – G.K. Chesterton

Into Disaster (1941) – Maurice Blanchot (trans. Michael Holland, 2013; skimmed)

Dark Mirrors (1951) – Arno Schmidt (trans. John Woods, 1995)

The Tudors (1955) – Christopher Morris (skimmed)

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

La Parole baroque (2001) – Eugène Green (in progress)

selections in Hyperion (2013-2014) – Miklós Szentkuthy, Maria Tompas, et al.

Loitering (2014) – Charles D’Ambrosio (selections)

March reading log

Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) – Anonymous (trans. Mark Alpert, 1969)

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

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

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

‘The Approach to Al’Mustaim’ (1936) – J.L. Borges (trans. Andrew Hurley)

‘Cows in Half Mourning’ – Arno Schmidt (trans. John E. Woods)

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

Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method (1986) – Carlo Ginzburg (trans. John & Anne Tedeschi, 1989)

But Is It Art? (2002) – Cynthia Freeland

Sort l’assassin, entre le spectre (2006) – Pierre Senges

February reading log

The Solitudes (c. 1615) – Luis de Gongóra (trans. Edith Grossman, 2012)

Selected Poems (c. 1630) – Francisco de Quevedo (ed. & trans. Christopher Johnson, 2009; in progress)

The Story of My Life (c. 1795) – Giacomo Casanova (trans. Stephen Sartarella & Sophia Hawkes, 2000; in progress)

‘Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard’ (Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, 1848, pp. 346-353) – Charles Mackay

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

Towards the One & Only Metaphor (1935) – Miklos Szentkuthy (trans. Tim Wilkinson, 2012; not finished)

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

La Grande panique (1966) – Jean-Jacques Sempé

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

Centuria: One Hundred Ouroboric Novels (1979) – Giorgio Manganelli (trans. Henry Martin, 2005; in progress)

New-York-sur-Loire (2005) – Nicolas de Crécy

Paradoxes of Peace or the Presence of Infinity (2009) – Nicholas Mosley

‘Entretien Croisé de Nicolas de Crécy et Pierre Senges’ (2010)

January reading log

Rude Woods (c. 45 B.C.) – Virgil (trans. Nate Klug, 2014)

The Satyricon (c. 90 A.D.) – Petronius (trans. P.G. Bale, 1997)

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

The Book of Marvels and Travels (1360) – John Mandeville (trans. Anthony Bale, 2012)

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542) – Bartolomé de Las Casas (trans. Nigel Griffin, 1992)

The Changeling (1622) – Thomas Middleton & Rowley

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

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

The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, & Fairies (1692) – Robert Kirk

‘The Alchymists,’ in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841) – Charles Mackay

‘The Boys,’ in The Brothers Karamazov (1880) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Hadji Murad (1904) – Leo Tolstoy (trans. L. & A. Maude, 1967)

Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) – Hubert Selby, Jr.

Pas Un Jour (2002) – Anne Garréta

‘Façons, Contrefaçons,’ ‘Un Exercice de style un peu vain,’ ‘Plusieurs façons de farcir un pastèque’ (2006-2013) – Pierre Senges

Submergence (2012) – J.M. Ledgard

Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy (2014) – M.A. Orthofer

’14 & ’15 in books

Of the books I read in 2014, these are the ones I most enjoyed, which I will certainly reach for again:

On Monsters and Marvels (1582) – Ambroise Paré (trans. Janis L. Pallister)

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (1959) – Erich Auerbach

La Princesse de Clèves (1678) – Madame de Lafayette

Jacob’s Room (1922) – Virginia Woolf

If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) – Chester Himes

The Inheritors (1955) – William Golding

The Grifters (1963) – Jim Thompson

The Buenos Aires Affair (1973) – Manuel Puig

The Use of Speech (1980) – Nathalie Sarraute (trans. Barbara Wright)

Ciels liquides (1990) – Anne Garréta

Ghosts (1990) – Cesar Aira (trans. Chris Andrews, 2008)

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter (2000) – Cesar Aira (trans. Chris Andrews, 2006)

La Réfutation majeure (2004) – Pierre Senges


As for the year ahead (though my predictions always turn out wrong), here are some of the texts I’m gearing up for:

True Stories – Lucian

A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1542) – Bartolomé de Las Casas

Hadji Murad – Leo Tolstoy

History of English Prose Rhythm – George Saintsbury

The Flanders Road – Claude Simon

Passing Time – Michel Butor

Waters of Potowmack – Paul Metcalf

stories – Flannery O’Connor

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

Pop. 1280 (1964) – Jim Thompson

Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) – Hubert Selby, Jr.

The Death of the Detective (1974) – Mark Smith

Pas un Jour (2002) – Anne Garréta

various works – Pierre Senges

The Infatuations (2013) – Javier Marias (trans. Margaret Jull Costa)

The Coming of Print, 1450-1800 – Lucien Febvre


…. including these other titles, which I really think I should re-read.

La Princesse de Clèves (1678) – Madame de Lafayette (trans. Nancy Mitford (1951), New Directions)

The Trial (1913) – Franz Kafka

Jacob’s Room (1922) – Virginia Woolf

Molloy (1951) – Samuel Beckett

Hind’s Kidnap (1969) – Joseph McElroy

Coming Through Slaughter – Michael Ondaatje

A Tomb for Boris Davidovich (1978) – Danilo Kis

Cigarettes (1987) – Harry Mathews

Austerlitz (2001) – W.G. Sebald


Here’s wishing the best of years in reading — and all else — to you and your loved ones in 2015. (And thank you, reader, for reading this blog. Without you… it would just be a letter in the void.)

December reading log

The Book of Marvels and Travels (c. 1360) – John Mandeville

Cane (1923) – Jean Toomer

The Killer Inside Me (1952) – Jim Thompson

Savage Night (1953) – Jim Thompson

The Grifters (1965) – Jim Thompson

Blind Man with a Pistol (1969)- Chester Himes

Ciels liquides (1990) – Anne Garréta

Pas Un Jour (2002) – Anne Garréta (blog post on this in January)

Dept. of Speculation (2014) – Jenny Offil

Music & Literature #5

I also tried to read Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Montesquieu’s Persian Letters but was unsuccessful. Are they too boring, or was I too impatient? What difference does it make? (Not one iota.)

November reading log

Natural History – Pliny the Elder (1st century A.D.; begun, skimming around)

Beowulf – anon. (8th – 11th century A.D.; trans. Seamus Heaney; just the 1st half)

‘The Battle of Maldon & Other Old English Poems (circa 1000 A.D.) – anon. (trans. Kevin Crossley-Holland)

‘The Horla,’ ‘The Christening’ (1886) – Guy de Maupassant

The Turn of the Screw (1898) – Henry James

‘The Colour Out of Space’ (1927) – H.P. Lovecraft

If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945) – Chester Himes

Genoa (1965) – Paul Metcalfe

Missing Person (1978) – Patrick Modiano (trans. Daniel Weissbort)

Border State (1992) – Tonu Onnepalu (trans… ?)

Serendipities: Language and Lunacy (1998) – Umberto Eco (trans. William Weaver)

All My Friends (2004) – Marie NDiaye (trans. Jordan Stump, 2014)

Environs et mesures (2011) – Pierre Senges

October reading log

A great month for my reading. I spent more time in the Renaissance than I have in a long, long while. Galway Kinnell, poet of extraordinary warmth and vision, died a few days ago; may his soul rest in peace, as they say. Here’s an illustration from the first hardcover edition of his Book of Nightmares, which I scanned back when I had the book out on loan from the library. So Happy Halloween, you living ghouls.

Kinnell 9


In Praise of Folly (1510) – Erasmus

L’art de naviguer (1539) – Antonio de Guevara (trans. Catherine Vasseur)

On Monsters and Marvels (1582) – Ambroise Paré (trans. Janis L. Pallister)

Urne Burial (1658) – Thomas Browne

Journal of the Plague Year (1722) – Daniel Defoe (begun; probably will not finish)

A History of English Prose Rhythm (1910) – George Saintsbury (begun)

some stories by Frank O’Connor

Near to the Wild Heart – Clarice Lispector (abandoned)

Ragtime (1975) – E.L. Doctorow

The Use of Speech (1980) – Nathalie Sarraute (trans. Barbara Wright)

The Lute and the Scars (1994) – Danilo Kis (trans. J.K. Cox)

Self-Portrait in Green (2005) – Marie NDiaye (trans. J. Stump, 2014)

Géometrie de la poussière (2005) – Pierre Senges (begun)

Les Carnets de Gordon McGuffin (2008) – Pierre Senges

Proxima du Centaure (2010) – Pierre Senges

‘A Vehicle in Sixteen Stages’ – Pierre Senges (trans. B. Hoepffner, 2010)

Zoophile contant fleurette (2012) – Pierre Senges

September reading log

Mostly enjoying César Aira and Pierre Senges this month.

* * *

The Death of the Heart – Elizabeth Bowen

Les Aventures de Percival – Pierre Senges

Ghosts (1998; trans. Chris Andrews, 2008) – Cesar Aira

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter – Cesar Aira

Conversations – Cesar Aira

Demolishing Nisard (trans. Jordan Stump) – Eric Chevillard

‘A Vicious Cycle’ – Evan Lavender-Smith

‘ … and nobody objected…’ – Paul Metcalfe (re-read)

‘The Orchard’ (1987) – Harry Mathews

August reading log

“The Moment Before the Gun Went Off” – Nadine Gordimer

Bee Thousand – Marc Woodworth (in the 33 ⅓ series)

Lives of the Caesars – Suetonius (skipping around)

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight – Vladimir Nabokov

Pincher Martin – William Golding

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)- Robert M. Pirsig

Writers – Antoine Volodine (review forthcoming)

Begun or in progress

The Death of the Heart Elizabeth Bowen (begun)

Human Wishes / Enemy Combatant – Edmond Caldwell (non-sequentially begun)

Around the Day in 80 Worlds – Julio Cortazar

Beloved – Toni Morrison (in progress)

Could not abide

The Lost Estate (1912) – Alain-Fournier (skimmed)

A Man Asleep – Georges Perec

The Map and the Territory – Michel Houllebecq