The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Archive for the ‘Lists’ Category


Posted on: April 2, 2008

I won a free year subscription to Bookmarks Magazine! Like a true pooterish, basement dwelling blogger the best thing I like about engaging in the on-line literary world is all of the freebies. It is a print magazine but I learned about it through blogs so it’s all the same thing and….

ANYWAY. 🙂 They encourage readers to send in a recommendation list of your ten favourite books and if yours is selected to be printed in an issue you score the freebie. Here’s the unedited version of what will appear in the May/June 2008 issue. As I look through the list again I cringe at my grievous omission of translators — sorry Mildred Boyer, Harold Morland (Borges) and Alfred Birnbaum (who also “adapted with the participation of the author”? Yikes)! and, now that I know it’s actually going to be printed, Josipovici. Curses.

Oh, well. What do you think? In the next life I’ll be damned into the role of a copy writer?

  1. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – It took a war novel for Adichie to win the Orange prize but her first published novel will always rank first for me. It is, among other things, the story of 15 year old Kambili’s gradual discovery of herself in the privileged but oppressive household of her paper mogul father, who shows Christian charity by using fists at home and supporting schools and free speech in a politically turbulent Nigeria. Adichie’s prose and poignant character portrayals will make you catch your breath.
  2. Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway’s descriptions of Pamplona, Spain would tempt any reader to fall in love with the town and country, sight unseen. The characters and setting worked together at a level unsurpassed in his later novels.
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – There are few better characters in English literature than Jane Eyre. Bronte created her with the divine fire that makes such literary figures unforgettable. The dramatic prose is a bonus.
  4. Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges – Here is a universally respected writer who should be more widely read. His words take you on travels through art, history, literary, philosophy, mythology, the rise and fall of nations. This collection of short stories and poems that defy categorisation is a good as start as any.
  5. The Iliad by Homer, translated by Richmond Lattimore – Fagles’ translations are oft praised but Lattimore is the man I go to for the full, mythic grandeur of Ancient Greek myth. This epic poem is a favourite for its literary quality, violenct action and high drama: the perfect blockbuster.
  6. The Last Worthless Evening by Andre Dubus – I consider Dubus to be one of the greatest American 20th century writers. In a prose that at first sight seems so ordinary, he describes in emotionally captivating detail the lives of the ordinary — waitresses, soldiers, teenagers — and in them you recognise yourself.
  7. Poems of the Sea edited by J.D. McClatchy – Whatever form an ocean lover’s thoughts could take there is a poem in this collection that captures it. From anonymous sea shanties, to urban dwellers’ yearnings, to ship wrecks, poets like Sara Teasdale, Noel Coward and Constantine Cavafy explore the full scope of humanity’s relation to the sea.
  8. Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami – I’m a big Murakami fan and it’s my favourite novel. He takes you on crazy adventures underground and through the subconscious and never loses you. In fact, he makes it into a genuine suspenseful mystery.
  9. Selected Poems by Lorna Goodison – She is one of the best poets that Jamaica has to offer and in this collection one pretty much gets all her best stuff here. Her poetry explores all aspects of female experience with an intelligence, humour and creative power that makes it accessible to anyone, regardless of their gender or nationality.
  10. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis – I haven’t finished all of the In Search of Lost Time novels but it’s not because I regret reading “Swann’s Way”. To the contrary I think it’s the kind of book that could, at the very least, have a significant impact on anyone’s philosophy. And reading Proust’s prose via Davis is an ecstatic experience.

I’ve been thinking of a way to justify this post because I occasionally worry about becoming a literary version of a LV brand ho. *shrugs* Here’s a list of all the NYRB Classics mentioned in the “Best of 2007” lists at which I bothered to glance. I privileged links to Amazon over the publisher’s if the former allowed you to read an excerpt.

The Guardian
The Bog People
P.V. Glob
Excerpt from a long ass recommendation: Rereading PV Glob’s The Bog People – my Christmas present to myself in 1969, the year it was published in Rupert Bruce-Mitford’s perfectly pitched translation (now published by New York Review of Books) – I took more notice of such incidental information than I did at the time: what entranced me then was the main story and the unforgettable photographs, most especially one that showed the head of the Tollund Man, perfectly preserved after centuries under the peat. No representation of the human face before or since, not Veronica’s napkin or Rembrandt’s self-portraits, has had such a profound effect on me; no better example exists of how flesh and blood life can be transformed into the otherness of an image with the power, in Yeats’s words, “to engross the present and dominate memory”. Seamus Heaney

The Horse’s Mouth
Joyce Carey
I first read Joyce Cary’s anarchic comedy The Horse’s Mouth (New York Review Books) when I was in bed with the flu one winter, aged about 18. It was heady stuff for a country boy with poetic dreams, and more in thrall then to Soho than saltmarsh. The book’s narrator, Gulley Jimson, is an ageing painter, former jailbird, con-artist, self-deprecator, and forever not finishing his vast mural of the Fall. His story is about the triumph of dream over accomplishment, and as he recounts his manic life, dodging creditors and ex-wives, stealing paint and searching for yet more ways of giving Eve some body, his staccato descriptions – half James Joyce, half Marie Lloyd – build up an incandescent picture of London’s landscapes and bohemian lowlife. From the very beginning, by the Thames – “Sun in a mist. Like an orange in a fried fish shop” – you know you’re in for a dizzy ride. Richard Mabey

The Guardian – 2

The Peregrine
JA Baker
The Peregrine by JA Baker (originally published in the 60s and reissued by New York Review Books in 2005) is a wonderfully intense combination of natural history and soul-searching – brilliantly watchful of its subject, and also of the author’s own melancholy spirit. Written in a kind of lyric trance, it is nevertheless always grounded and particular. Mesmerising. Andrew Motion

Sleepless Nights
Elizabeth Hardwick
…for real bad sleepless nights, there is nothing that keeps you awake more than Elizabeth Hardwick’s mesmeric novel Sleepless Nights (New York Review Books). Colm Tóibín

Publisher’s Weekly
White Walls: Collected Stories link
Tatyana Tolstaya
Beautiful, imaginative and disconcerting, the Russia of Tolstoy’s great-grandniece is a labyrinth of eras, treasures and horrors: past and present, shabby and brutal, magical and otherworldly.

Three Percent: Best translations of 2007
Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, translated from the French by Luc Sante (link)

Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy, translated from the Hungarian by John Batki (link)

Ice by Vladimir Sorokin, translated from the Russian by Jamey Gambrell (link)

In comments Penelope Burt suggests, “‘Soul and Other Stories‘ by Andrey Platonov, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler et al. – basically a reprint, I guess, but with one new story this time round. Chandler and his colleagues are doing the impossible for a very great and still neglected author.”

The Village Voice
All About H. Hatterr (link)
G.V. Desani
Imagine a schnockered Nabokov impersonating The Simpsons’ Apu while reeling off tales of an Anglo-Indian Don Quixote, and you get some sense of Desani’s wacko masterwork—a hilarious mix of slapstick misadventure and philosophic vaudeville, voiced in a manic Hindu-accented English so jagged and dense it makes you dizzy. A 1948 bestseller in England, sporadically reissued since then, and now in the NYRB home of the almost-forgotten, the author’s only novel follows the idealistic naïf H. Hatterr on his wisdom-seeking quest, in which he encounters (among other nuts) the malaria-mad mystic Giri-Giri, a scheming sage who deals in used clothes, and Charlie, the steak-loving lion. To paraphrase T.S. Eliot’s view: It’s the goddamn weirdest book you’ll ever read. ROBERT SHUSTER

Vladimir Sorokin
Let’s be honest: The novel, as a form, is not getting any younger. In an age of staid conventions, few writers have done more to invigorate and expand the possibilities of narrative fiction than Vladimir Sorokin, who has made it is his business, over the past 25 years, to probe and dissect the ulcerated psyche of the Russian people. It’s difficult to summarize the plot of Ice, only the second of his novels to be translated into English, without making it sound like the fantasy of a violent and heretical Scientologist. Let’s just say there are abductions, millenarian prophesies, and an alien super-race—and that, somehow, it works. GILES HARVEY

Novels in Three Lines
Félix Fénéon
History acknowledges Félix Fénéon (1861–1944) as the editor of Rimbaud’s Illuminations, a regular at the Mallarmé salon, and a dashing anarchist who may or may not have detonated a bomb that accidentally deprived the poet Laurent Tailhade of an eye. And now, thanks to a shrewd feat of translation by Luc Sante, Fénéon will be remembered for authoring one of the finest volumes of poetry in 2007. Novels in Three Lines assembles the 1,000-plus faits-divers published throughout 1906 in the Paris daily Le Matin. Fénéon transformed a minor mode of journalism into a major literary art, distilling current events into terse, evocative snapshots: “After a misstep, then tumbling from one outcropping to another, Rouge, a mason, of Serriéres, Savoy, who was picking herbs, fractured his skull.” Think of them as the missing link between the meticulous enigmas of Symbolist poetry and the thing-based integrity of Imagism. Read them, preferably in small daily doses, for endless, unnerving beguilement. NATHAN LEE

Slate Magazine
I’ve been dipping into two offbeat books that combine clear eyed reportage with exotica run wild. Félix Fénéon, an art critic who hobnobbed with Mallarmé, spent much of 1906 writing miniature summaries of news items to fill out newspaper columns. Assembled by his longtime mistress, and tautly translated by Luc Sante, Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines is violent, ironic, and sometimes just plain weird: “Frogs, sucked up from the Belgian ponds by the storm, rained down upon the streets of the red-light district of Dunkirk.” Christopher Benfey, art critic

New Statesman
Novels in Three Lines
Félix Fénéon
My other great delight has been Luc Sante’s translation of Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, a collection of over a thousand anonymous items by the French anarchist – deliciously tart and brilliantly compacted micro-vignettes of daily life in all its ironies, passions and dark mysteries. Sukhdev Sandhu

Novels in Three Lines
Félix Fénéon
An unclassifiable book if ever there was one — surreal and absurd and very funny in a macabre sort of way. Charlotte Mandell

I know that the Times Literary Supplement best list had one or two NYRB books (guess which one/s?) but the physical copy in the library that I’m in has disappeared, another copy at another library is half-way across campus, and the archived link to the article on their website isn’t working. Screw it.

I made the trek, claimed a copy, examined it twice, not a single NYRB C in sight. Ah, well. As far as the university presses went, Yale won by a mile.

Stolen from Dark Orpheus with slight adjustments.

Books bought/received from January 1st, 2007 to December 14th, 2007
166: 34 of these were internet freebies or sent to me by awesome on- and offline friends

Books bought/received from aforementioned that were read
37. An additional 2 were abandoned. Currently reading 4. (That was better than I expected.)

Books completed in 2007
77 including graphic novels and anthologies. Before the year is out I expect I may reach 80.

Authors whom I read multiple titles
Roger Mais (2), John McGahern (2), *Claude McKay (2), Alan Garner (2), Madeline Hunter (2), Emma Holly (2), **Chris Abani (2), Patricia A. McKillip (3), A.S. Byatt (2). Total: 9. (I’m a bit disappointed in my tally for McGahern and I had wanted to read at least one more Hollinghurst this year.)

Authors I read for the first time
37: This excludes authors published in anthologies

Favourite “discoveries” (excluding Western canon authors)

  • David Treuer
  • Mercé Rodoreda
  • David Sedaris
  • John McGahern
  • Gabriel Josipovici
  • Natsume Soseki

(Reading Sorrentino was an exercise in pleasurable sado-masochism. I can’t name him a “favourite”. Yes, I’m going to buy all of his books (eventually).)

Books re-read
2: Jane Eyre and The Lord of the Rings. (This excludes books I re-read immediately after the first round eg. Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick; that would increase the total to 5.)

Non-fiction titles read
3: excludes school assigned texts. Still (technically) reading 2.

Authors outside of the US & UK
Nigeria – 2 (Abani and Adichie currently reside in the US, but they still count, right?)
Jamaica – 3 (woo!)
Italy – 1
Turkey – 1
France – 2
Japan – 1
Canada – 2
Spain – 1
Total: 13 (ouch)

Notable reads of 2007

  • Amongst Women – John McGahern
  • Goldberg: Variations – Gabriel Josipovici
  • Mulligan Stew – Gilbert Sorrentino
  • Winter Rose – Patricia A. McKillip
  • The Flight Series: Volumes 2, 3 & 4
  • The Wedding Jester – Steve Stern
  • My Name is Red – Orhan Pamuk, translated by Erdag M. Göknar
  • House Rules – Heather Lewis
  • The Translation of Dr. Apelles: A Love Story – David Treuer
  • My Christina and Other Stories – Mercé Rodoreda,translated by David Rosenthal
  • Paradise Lost – John Milton
  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
  • The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion – Ford Madox Ford
  • Mrs Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
  • Kokoro – Natsume Soseki, translated by Edwin McClellen
  • Demons and the Making of the Monk – David Brakke (I haven’t finished it yet but it’s that good.)

Honourable Mentions

  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Black Lightning – Roger Mais
  • The Bartimaeus Trilogy – Jonathan Stroud
  • The Land of Spices – Kate O’Brien
  • The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
  • Averno – Louise Glück
  • The Ides of March – Thornton Wilder

Edit: On a weakly related note, have any of you noticed how often NYRB Classic books have popped up on “Best of…” lists on both sides of the Atlantic? I’ve only maintained a prolonged interest in The MillionsYear in Reading but if I the impulse occurs and lasts long enough I may make a note of the different lists and which titles were mentioned. Off the cuff  I’d say that the most popular one was Novels in Three Lines by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Sante.

To push against chain stores’ battered reputations the local Chapters consistently beats the independent at stocking new and not so new books from the line. The latest I came across was Dante: Poet of the Secular World by Eric Auerbach. The search on the website led me to the imprint’s own edition of Dante’s Inferno, translated by Ciaran Carson. Now I really am stumped about which translation to buy.
*I’m in the middle of his Selected Poems

**Currently reading The Virgin of Flames

Is the blog title work safe? Anyway, two fluffy items appear for your viewing pleasure. First the “first lines of the month” meme which I spotted at the Classical Bookworm.

January: “One day Chuang Tzu fell asleep, and while he slept
he dreamed that he was a butterfly, flying happily about,
And this butterfly did not know that it was Chuang Tzu

February: Lee is caught smoking pot at her boarding school and is expelled.

March: I’m not going out today if I can help it.

April: March was a decent month for books.

May: Moravagine was…it was something, rather, it was many things all of which I’m still trying to pin down.

June: I am busily trying to come up with a respectable post on the Ford novel, resisting the temptation to indulge in The Land of Spices‘ muted raptures.

July: It’s the beginning of July and a friend and I are planning to move out because our land lord proved especially stubborn towards admitting the most adorable, tiny, well-behaved basset hound in our midsts.

August: My first encounter with Adam Zagajewski’s Without End: New and Selected Poems was a bit discouraging: read the first poem, thought it was really good, moved on to others and met a solid blank wall.

September: In the past I expressed a wish to read a collection such as this when I read “Gode’s Story” in A.S. Byatt’s Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, originally published in Possession.

October: After reading both poems, “A Myth on Innocence” and “A Myth on Devotion”, despite Hades’ largely indubitable, loving tone expressed in the second, it’s Persephone’s uncertainty that my reaction more closely resembled.

November: The Short Review is a new site that was launched today by Tania Hershman, a short story writer, to provide reviews of short stories by other writers.

December: “Over the coming year, Open Letters will be proud to serialize Adam Golaski’s innovative translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, presenting each new part on its completion.”


Then we have the 13-books-I-should-have-read meme that I spotted in a few places but the only I can remember now is Pages turned (which conveniently links to two other bloggers who did it too).

  • Black Sunlight by Dambudzo Marechera: The excerpt on The Mumpsimus was enough to convince me that he was a writer worth reading. As it turns out the writer of the VQR article in that post also wrote a book I intended to read.
  • Letty Fox: Her Luck by Christina Stead: Woman author? Check. NYRB Classic? Check. I read the excerpt available on Amazon just for fun. It sounds that good. Why the heck haven’t I read it yet? Beats me.
  • Dream Wheels by Richard Wagamese: I discovered this one when I browsed the new shelf at the campus library earlier this year after picking up the latest from David Treuer.
  • The Healers by Ayi Kwei Armah: I had this grand notion of honouring the Literary Saloon‘s anniversary by reading one of the reviewed Complete Review books. Yeah…didn’t turn out too well. Next year!
  • The Victorian Chaise-lounge by Marghanita Laski: This one got mentioned on a lot of blogs last year, including Danielle‘s. I think it’s a Persephone book. It sounded fun and loopy. I like loopy.
  • Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White: This was also probably a part of my grand Literary Saloon project, but besides that, the bloggers there champion White any chance they can get. Their insistence worked! Sort of. He’s on my mind, anyway, and the NYRB Classics have a lovely edition.
  • Waiting for an Angel by Helon Habila: He wrote the VQR piece on Marechera but I’d heard of this novel long before then. How long ago I’m not sure but it is also lurking on the periphery, waiting to be acquired.
  • Virgin Soil by Turgenev: Here lieth another grand project: Russian literature. 2007 was to be the year that I burst through the obscure, intimidating wall that for so long had prevented me from attempting it. Then I got Demons and all the other Russians had to wait. (Sorry, ol’ Turg.)
  • An Abundance of Katherines by John Green: It was a Cybils nominee; he’s a YA blogger favourite; I liked the cover. Next year!
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: Yeah, too many people talked about him this year. I should probably get to it before they distorted into a movie.
  • On the Ideal Orator by Cicero: This one has awaited an audience since 2006. My readings were comparatively less diverse this year with non-fiction taking a killing. I just didn’t feel up to tackling the old bird.
  • Another Hollinghurst novel: When I find a book I really enjoy I try to read more from the same author. I almost picked up Folding Star this morning but the openings in The Virgin of Flames by Abani and Eclipse by Banville won out.
  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson: Was never in the right mood for this one. Tried to get by the first page and couldn’t, not because it was bad, but because I just wasn’t feeling it. It’s one I’ll pick up intermittently until the stars align.

I’m in the mood to do a list, not those end of the year kinds, more of a chatty, what’s been up with my reading lately and how about those latest purchases. I’ve spent some time in Spanish-speaking territory with The People of Paper by Plascencia and then the Mercé Rodoreda story collection. I’ll do my best but I don’t think the Hodgson book will last much longer. My next Salon read will likely be another translation, Desire and its Shadow by the Mexican author, Ana Clavel.

I’ve been in a translation mood so I dropped by Dalkey and Serpent’s Tail to see what they had to offer. Here’s some of what I left with:

  • Embracing Family by Nobuo Kojima, translated by Yukiko Tanka – I had a yearning to own more Japanese literature. Verbivore is cooking up a challenge next year and I’d like to have a nice selection on tap from which to choose.
  • The Planterium by Nathalie Sarraute, translated by Maria Jolas – (Why do I need to go to Amazon to find out who translated the books?) Besides the fact that it’s French lit. the plot sounded like a lot of fun.
  • Zoo, or Letters Not about Love by Victor Shklovsky, translated by Richard Sheldon – I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this Forward article on the author, but I liked what Joshua Cohen had to say about Shklovsky, and I chose this book because it’s an epistolary, which I like now. The article may even have been responsible for putting me in the translation mood.

Serpent’s Tail has one of the most…eclectic does not seem the right word, but their roster of writers and backlist is pretty all over the place in the most positively odd way imaginable.

  • A Brief Life by Juan Carlos Onetti, translated by Hortense Carpentier – When I read the book description I thought that a book couldn’t sound more wonderful. (Then I internally groaned at my hyperbole.) Still, such a first reaction guarantees acquisition. I’ve never read a Uruguayan author before (I think).
  • Floria Tosca by Paola Capriolo, translated by Liz Heron – One of my friend’s professors has been nagging me to read this for what seems like ages but has only been two months. The back cover has a TLS quote that praises the book for its philosophical element; Goldberg: Variations by Josipovici had a similar TLS quote. I’m hoping it’s a good sign.
  • Smile by Paul Smaïl, translated by a whole pot of people – I’m a bit concerned that less than 200 pages required 3 translators, but the book’s themes interest me and I liked the first page a lot.
  • Voices by Dacia Maraini, translated by Dick Kitto and Elspeth Spottiwood – Beyond Hammett I rarely come across mysteries that merit more than a blink. But if any do catch my eyes, they tend to be by an Italian.

How about those NYRB classics? You haven’t heard me gush about those in a while. I haven’t read any lately but does that ever prevent me from buying more?

I got The Goshawk by T.H. White because a fantasy author that practised falconry is too good a thing to pass by. It’s almost too perfect. And now I may possibly get around to The Once and Future King since Steve Donoghue thinks it’s worth a shot.

I’ve never been disappointed by a NYRB C book (yet?) but ever so often I’m surprised at how well I get along with the works of their female authors. Their novels and short stories are always so persistently strange and weird, and they achieve that effect without the *pyrotechnics of their male brethren. (Not that I don’t like pyrotechnics. I do.) I have no idea if Rebecca West meets that description but I saw it on the store shelf and did not hesitate: woman writer? check. NYRB classic? Check. Now I own The Fountain Overflows. I also picked up the Edith Wharton short stories collection because she’s an author I plan to get around to. Eventually. I’ll probably start with the short stories first before I get to umm…House of Mirth. Sunflower by Gyula Krúdy translated by John Batki joined the stack because I figure I don’t read enough Hungarians.

Other notable purchases were Diary of a Bad Year by Coetzee because I wanted to; Italy Out of Hand: A Capricious History by Barbara Hodgson because Trading Memories convinced me that her travel writing is worth paying for (and it had one of one those pretty golden thread bookmarks and an illustration of Mary Shelley); Melusine by Sarah Monette which I meant to get pretty close to a year ago, somehow forgot, then spotted the hardcover on the bargain shelf for less than $5. But Virtu is in paperback (and mass market too, my precious) so I’ll get that full price.

At some point I’ll mention my Peepal Tree Press finds.

* I take that back. I think it’s down to that French/British thing. Richard Hughes’ brand of weirdness is more along the lines of Warner or Aussies like Stead rather than the crazy French. (But boy, do I love their craziness.)

Dorothy W. posted an excerpt on the merits of rereading, from the introduction to Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature. (It’s a posthumous publication Sylvia, so he had nothing to do with the title. :)) I already mentioned that I wanted to keep rereads for Sunday Salon — a tactic that would, among other things, make it easier for me to come up with content. Creating a list isn’t as thrilling as I wanted it to be because I remembered there were authors I had already planned to reread: Charles Dickens and D.H. Lawrence. But I didn’t intend to get to those until next year. In the meantime…

An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

OK, ok, so this wouldn’t be a reread, but I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time now, and it would be a perfect Sunday Salon read. Don’t ask me on what I’m basing that conclusion. Is it my fault the cover looks so attractive? And Sundayish?

At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches -Susan Sontag

I’m not sure how an essay collection would work, but I do recall one of last week’s participants reading a non-fiction book on the Ottoman empire.

Desire and Its Shadow – Ana Clavel

It’s a LibraryThing review copy, not a reread, but I ought to get to it some time soon. It sounds pretty loopy and might be fun to blog about, in spurts.

Collected Fictions – Jorge Luis Borges

I was so excited when I bought this book, but the reviewer at Complete Review was right. This is an overwhelming collection, with everything just thrown together, so it’s hard to keep any kind of momentum. It would be nice to make some progress, so reserving it some Sundays might help.

Hippolyte’s Island – Barbara Hodgson

Woo! Finally an actual reread makes it on the list. I’d want to read this one again because it was so much fun the last time, the photographic illustrations were so beautiful, and made the book something very special. I’ve since read all of Hodgson’s illustrated novels and one of her non-fiction books.

Summer Lightning and Other Stories – Olive Senior

Another reread! This one is a collection I read in high school and would like to try again because Senior is such a respected Jamaican author and I remember nothing about this book.

Well readers, besides Dickens and Lawrence there doesn’t appear to many books I’d like to reread any time soon, while there are too many unread books on the shelves, crying out. So much for self-improvement.

Let’s move on to some of the books I’d like to add to full shelves.

Diary of a Bad Year – J.M. Coetzee

It’s odd how his Disgrace left such a deep impression, yet I’ve never read another one of his novels. (I own The Life and Times of Michael K.) If nothing else, the fact that some wacky Booker judge didn’t think it was a novel sealed its spot on my shopping list.

Samedi the Deafness – Jesse Ball

I passed it by on one of the display shelves: the flashy cover stopped me, but the tired author comparison on the cover (something about it being like Graham Greene) propelled me onwards. It took a Boldtype review to remind me that it was written by the same Jesse Ball whose poems I found so intriguing earlier this year.

Awake and Dreaming – Kit Pearson

I read about this one in the September Quill & Quire, which wasn’t awful this month, indeed it was rather good. My attitude to all sorts of things are changing and I feel much about the local public library. It’s not very noisy any more, due to the new arrangements they’ve made with the tables: there’s a huge space in the middle of the top floor with a long line of tables. With this and the wireless access it tends to be populated by industrious laptop owners rather than giggly students. Bless them.

Anyway, the book! The brief spot was for Pearson’s new book but Awake and Dreaming was her big success it seems and I’m always on the look out for good YA fantasy books. Although, now that I’ve actually read the jacket copy on Amazon, I don’t know if it is a fantasy, and I don’t read the teenage realism stuff. Hmmm.

Like You’d Understand Anyway – Jim Shepard

I noticed Shepard’s name being bandied around a lot recently, but I didn’t pay any attention. I already had one NBA fiction nominee and that was enough for me, thank you. Then during a tag surf I read a well-written review of Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!. I visited the blog and scrolled until I found another review, which turned out to be of Shepard’s latest. Sarah’s description got me:

In these stories, Shepard does something that very, very few contemporary do these days: he uses his imagination and has fun. No, you won’t find stories here about a struggling writer in New York City wrestling with ennui or a writing professor who longs for his younger days in Europe. You’ll find adventure stories of failed expeditions in the Australian outback and totally awesome hunts by lacklustre Nazis for evidence of the yeti in Tibet during World War II.

Adventure stories! I haven’t read those in a while.

The Quiet Girl – Peter Høeg

I read about this one in the latest Harper’s Magazine, another one I actually spent some time with because of my short visits to the public library. (It’s on display.) John Leonard mentioned it in his New Books column. All he had to write was that the main character was a clown. I was in. If I like the magazine enough over the next few issues, I may just subscribe. It is dirt cheap compared to what the others offer.

Conversations with Professor Y – Louise Ferdinand Céline

I discovered at the public library a Canadian literary magazine that I’d never heard of before, on any site or in any print publication: Books in Canada: The Canadian Review of Books. As prints of its kind go up here it’s the best around simple because they do what they say: review books. There aren’t any photo essays, though they do cover photography books, and there aren’t any political editorials. In fact, it’s not at all overtly political, like the awful Literary Review of Canada or the NYRB; and it has no “industry news” like Quill & Quire They review non-fiction, a lot of Canadian fiction and make a point of reviewing first novels, as well as poetry and children’s literature. The October issue even had a glowing report on the Calabash Literary Festival that was held in Jamaica earlier this year.

Unfortunately I can’t link to any of this because the website is woefully out-of-date. I e-mailed the editor to find out what was going on and to her credit, Olga Stein, the editor replied in about 5 minutes. An update is imminent but, like similar outfits, the publication is working on a tight, tight budget, and in such situations the website is the first to suffer. Still, it seems like certain death to ignore one’s on-line presence, so I’m glad they plan to work on that.

Oh, the book? It’s published by Dalkey Archive and is written by a crazy French author. What more do you need to know?

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall is one of those books one must read before you die. (“Attempt” falls under my definition of “read” (a sincere attempt) because one must give leeway in such matters.) It is both because of the writing and not. I’m almost ashamed to admit that it might be because of the message (ewwwww! I know, I know, I want to shower after typing that) or rather the tremendous emotion, the rage, the ferocity that can be clearly seen behind every word. It’s both hard for me to imagine how anyone could pick up this book and not be overtaken, persuaded and yet very easy because Hall’s prose is…sometimes it’s clumsy, belaboured and improbable. She can be melodramatic and twee. It’s her “voice”, her spirit which allows me to forgive that in a way I never could forgive a polished, elegant prose that was sterile and lacked verve.

It’s offensive and so immensely stupid and abominable that high school students can be assigned books that cover all kinds of “sins” but this one will not make it for some time (if ever) because of the sexual orientation of the protagonist.

*ahem* Anyway so, I was saying? Yes, you really should try it! Other books on my Read Before You Die (RBYD) list are

  • Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges
  • Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake
  • The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
  • Ahead of All Parting by Rainer Maria Rilke
  • Oscar Wilde’s plays (I can’t decide which one yet)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  • The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah
  • Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust (Lydia Davis translation, please)
  • The Iliad by Homer (Richmond Lattimore translation)

The only interesting thing about this list is the “types” of men and women presented. (Hint: oh never mind, you’ll see.)

Summer solace: hot tips for every kind of reader, courtesy of that strange, strange beast, The Guardian’s Observer. Clear the mind with an article by Murakami Haruki on jazz and writing, translated by Jay Rubin, in the NYTBR. (via Summer Place)

Incidentally, I finished Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick, a Slaves of Golconda read, in a day. The glorious, precious benefits of having the house to one’s self.

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. – Winnie the Pooh, from “The House at Pooh Corner” by A.A Milne

thinkingblogger.jpg Dorothy at Of Books and Bicycles has honoured me with a Thinking Blogger Award! The starter of this meme wanted this to highlight bloggers with “real merits” and I am pleased that Dorothy thought my site worthy of such a description. I was given the choice of listing 5 other blogs fitting the criteria, which the following can do if they so desire.

The Reading Experience

Thumb drives and oven clocks

Incurable Logophilia


Geoffrey Philp’s Blogspot

Of course these are not the only “thinking bloggers” I read so browse my blogroll for more cerebral fare.

A Different Stripe: HALF-PRICE SALE at NYRB

Which ones are you going to get? As for me…

The Child by Jules Vallès – Jules Vallès, an anarchist and a bohemian, dedicated his book “to all those who were bored stiff at school or reduced to tears at home, who in childhood were bullied by their teachers or thrashed by their parents,” and it tells the (autobiographical) tale of a young boy constantly scapegoated and abused, emotionally and physically, by his peasant mother and schoolteacher father, whose greatest concern is to improve their social status. But the young hero learns to stand up to his parents, even to love them, in time, and for all the intense pain the book registers it is anything but dreary. 

The “Also see” book is Unknown Masterpieces by Balzac which had several transcendent moments.

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick – Nobody writing prose now gives me as much pleasure as Elizabeth Hardwick. She honors our language and enlivens our woe. “Sleepless Nights” is elegant, wise, tasty–a truly wonderful book.

— Susan Sontag

I’ve stayed away from her fiction, ’till now, because I was worried that it wouldn’t be as good as non-fiction. I have her Seduction and Betrayal listed in Assortments because it was such a salient, inspiring, beautiful book. It’s the only collection of literary criticism that I own (so far). And NYRB has it and Sleepless Nights on a special offer! (No, I’m not on any payroll. Stop looking at me like that, I’m not.)

 Varieties of Exile by Mavis Gallant – Russell Banks’s extensive new selection from Gallant’s work, demonstrates anew the remarkable reach of this writer’s singular art. Among its contents are three previously uncollected stories, as well as the celebrated semi-autobiographical sequence about Linnet Muir—stories that are wise, funny, and full of insight into the perils and promise of growing up and breaking loose.

The female writers in the NYRB classics back list are the ones whose works I’ve gotten on the best with. I expect this to continue. Or not. Who cares, the cover of this book is gorgeous.

And so these aren’t on sale but don’t they look irresistible?

Virgin Soil by Ivan Turgenev – Turgenev was the most liberal-spirited and unqualifiedly humane of all the great nineteenth-century Russian novelists, and in “Virgin Soil”, his biggest and most ambitious work, he sought to balance his deep affection for his country and his people with his growing apprehensions about what their future held in store.

I’ve been tentatively widening the range of my net to include Russian authors, none of which I’ve actually tried except Nabokov (he counts, right?).

The Pure and the Impure by Colette – Colette herself considered “The Pure and the Impure” her best book, “the nearest I shall ever come to writing an autobiography.” This guided tour of the erotic netherworld with which Colette was so intimately acquainted begins in the darkness and languor of a fashionable opium den. It continues as a series of unforgettable encounters with men and, especially, women whose lives have been improbably and yet permanently transfigured by the strange power of desire.

A few bloggers have been reading her novels so, by chance, I plugged her name into the site search and this is what popped up. It sounds enticing.

Sadly these shall have to wait ’till March. Those Soft Skull books plumb cleaned out the last of my February book budget. Oh, will next week never come.