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.
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.
I am proud to announce the list of the year’s 8 best books in the fiction category. I’ve read none of these, but little does that matter, right? Anyhoo, here’s what’s piqued my curiosity in the English-American publishing world, either from reading reviews, hearing author interviews, or whatever else. And who can tell, one day I might even read one.
The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse – Iván Repila (trans. Sophie Hughes, Pushkin Press)
Signs Preceding the End of the World – Juri Herrara (trans. Lisa Dillman, And Other Stories)
Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Boxed Set) – ed. Sarah Weinman
I Can Give You Anything But Love – Gary Indiana (Rizolli)
Vertigo – Joanna Walsh (Dorothy Project)
The Door – Magda Szabó (trans. Len Rix, NYRB Classics)
The Dying Grass – William T. Vollmann (Viking)
The Book of Numbers – Joshua Cohen (Random House)
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson (Graywolf)