Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books Read - 2008

This is the final list of books I completed reading in 2008, in chronological order of completion (links are to posts in which I've either written about the book or the author, or posted excerpts), with comments and observations, not to mention statistical breakdown, to follow:

1. Swann's Way, Marcel Proust (C.K. Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin, trans.; D.J. Enright revised) (re-read)
2. Within a Budding Grove, Marcel Proust (trans. as above)
3. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Frederick Engels (Samuel Moore, trans.) (re-read?)
4. The German Ideology, Marx & Engels (C.Dutt, C.P.Magill, W.Lough trans.; C.J. Arthur, editor)
5. Moscow Diary, Walter Benjamin (Richard Sieburth, trans.; Gary Smith, editor)
6. God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens
7. The Guermantes Way, Marcel Proust (Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright, trans.)
8. Sodom and Gomorrah, Marcel Proust (trans. as above)
9. Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, Carl Wilson
10. To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings, T.S. Eliot
11. Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, Terry Bouton
12. Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker
13. The Singer on the Shore, Gabriel Josipovici
14. Molloy, Samuel Beckett
15. Malone Dies, Samuel Beckett
16. Mythologies, Roland Barthes (Annette Lavers, trans.)
17. Heroes, John Pilger
18. Master of Reality, John Darnielle
19. Love and Living, Thomas Merton
20. Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot
21. The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
22. The Captive, Marcel Proust (Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright, trans.)
23. The Fugitive, Marcel Proust (trans. as above)
24. Letter to His Father, Franz Kafka (Ernst Kaiser & Eithne Wilkins, trans.)
25. The Mirror of Criticism: Selected Reviews 1977-1982, Gabriel Josipovici
26. Time Regained, Marcel Proust (Andreas Mayor & Terance Kilmartin, trans.; D.J. Enright revised)
27. Bartleby & Co., Enrique Vila-Matas (Jonathan Dunne, trans.)
28. Montano's Malady, Enrique Vila-Matas (Jonathan Dunne, trans.)
29. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
30. The Inferno, Dante (Robert & Jean Hollander, trans.)
31. Orlando, Virginia Woolf
32. The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Peter Handke (Michael Roloff, trans.)
33. Now, Gabriel Josipovici
34. Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard (Richard & Clara Winston, trans.)
35. Adventures in Marxism, Marshall Berman
36. To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson
37. The Spire, William Golding
38. Moo Pak, Gabriel Josipovici
39. Gathering Evidence, Thomas Bernhard (David McLintock, trans.)
40. Endgame, Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, Derrick Jensen
41. The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes (Richard Miller, trans.)
42. Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee
43. The World We Wish to See: Revolutionary Objectives in the Twenty-First Century, Samir Amin (James Membrez, trans.)
44. The Immortal Bartfuss, Aharon Appelfeld (Jeffrey M. Green, trans.)
45. War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, Michael Schwartz
46. Correction, Thomas Bernhard (Sophie Wilkins, trans.)
47. Home, Marilynne Robinson
48. Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said
49. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño (Natasha Wimmer, trans.)
50. Touch, Gabriel Josipovici
51. A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett, Hugh Kenner
52. Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, Dahr Jamail
53. Reflections, Walter Benjamin (Edmund Jephcott, trans.)
54. Blindness, José Saramago (Giovanni Pontiero, trans.)
55. Endgame, Volume II: Resistance, Derrick Jensen
56. Spleen, Olive Moore
57. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla & Jon Kabat-Zinn
58. Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, Slavoj Žižek
59. The New Imperialism, David Harvey
60. The Actual, Saul Bellow
61. The Aspern Papers, Henry James

Some statistics
Number of books written by men: 56.5
Number of books written by women: 4.5 (!!)
Number of books which were acquired via the Big Dalkey Get: 0
Number of other Dalkey books: 1

Fiction or Poetry:
Number of books of fiction or Poetry: 30
Number of authors represented: 17
Number of books by female authors: 4
Number of female authors: 3
Number of books by American authors: 4 (including T.S. Eliot)
Number of American authors: 4
Number of books by African-American authors: 0
Number of African-American authors: 0
Number of books by non-American, English-language authors: 7
Number of non-American, English-language authors: 5
Number of books in translation: 19 (including all 3 by Beckett)
Number of authors of books in translation: 9
Number of translated books by female authors: 0
Number of foreign languages represented: 6 (German, French, Italian, Portugese, Hebrew, Spanish)
Most represented foreign language: French (10 total: Proust and Beckett)
Number of Nobel Prize-winners: 6 (Beckett, Bellow, Coetzee, Eliot, Golding, Saramago)
Number of books from before 1800: 1 (Dante)
Number of books from 1800 to 1899: 1 (James)
Number of books from 1900 to 1949: 11
Number of books from 1950 to 1989: 8
Number of books from 1990 to 1999: 5
Number of books from 2000 to 2007: 3
Number of books from 2008: 1 (Robinson)

Number of non-fiction books: 31
Number of books by female authors: .5
Number of books in translation: 9
Number that are memoirs of sorts or letters: 2 (Kafka, Bernhard)
Number that are philosophy or about philosophy: 0
Number that are books of criticism: 10
Number that are about politics or economics or history: 17
Number about pop music: 2
Number about science: 0
Number about parenting: 1

Comment & Observations:
Brief pointless note on the numbers: this is the first time, probably since I started reading fiction seriously more than a decade ago, when I read more non-fiction titles than fiction. (Though, with the late addition of The Aspern Papers, it's tighter, and may flip in fiction's favor, since I'm sort of ambivalent on what to call Darnielle's Master of Reality. Strictly speaking it's fiction, I guess, but for some reason it doesn't feel right to call it that.) Anyway, works are listed if I felt they could be justifiably called a "book". Certainly, single novels count, but then In Search of Lost Time is divided into seven parts, the fifth and sixth of which are contained in one volume (in the Moncrieff et al. translation, that is). So I count them as one each, contributing seven to the whole. I have the Grove 100-year anniversary edition of Beckett's works, which is everything packed into four volumes. If they were published individually originally (as books), I count them as such. But, while I counted Waiting for Godot last year, given its length (and would count any of Shakespeare's plays), I don't count the other short plays (no Krapp's Last Tape or Not I, for example).

Back to possibly less pointless observations: As noted earlier, see the Books of the Year Symposium at Mark Thwaite's Ready Steady Book for some of my thoughts on my reading year. For the most part, I won't discuss the books I mentioned over there. However, one book I forgot to mention and neglected to mention at all on this blog this year, was Carl Wilson's excellent entry in the 33 1/3 series, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. It's putatively about Celine Dion, from the perspective of a decided non-fan perplexed by her popularity, but it's really a fascinating enquiry into the nature of taste and politics and democracy. I expected to write extensively about this book, but my apparent wholesale abandonment of music as a writing subject, plus my general busy-ness, meant it got left out.

Other thoughts: My main reading goal this year, as articulated in passing here, was pretty much limited to reading the whole of In Search of Lost Time, as well as Beckett's prose trilogy, both of which I did in fact read, even finishing them with plenty of time to spare before the birth of our daughter (which had seemed important to me, since I expected to see a drastic reduction in my available reading time). I expect them to be reading companions for some time (though I know I'll be re-reading the considerably shorter Beckett works much sooner!). I read a lot of works in translation, but other than Vila-Matas and Bolaño (and, well, Dante), this did not mean I was reading authors new to me (Bernhard, Handke, Saramago, Appelfeld, and of course Proust and Beckett were the familiar names).

I read more literary criticism, as I'd hoped; this amounted to seven full books, the three by Josipovici, two by Barthes, and books by Eliot and Kenner. (It doesn't seem to me that Benjamin's Reflections quite qualifies). I read a fairly large chunk of A.D. Nuttall's (so far very good) Shakespeare the Thinker, and of course struggled with Blanchot's The Space of Literature and Heidegger's Poetry, Language, Thought. And I read a substantial portion of part one of Kierkegaard's Either/Or. Obviously the last two are philosophy.

Other books I read portions of: I read the first three stories in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice collection, including the title story, or novella. So far I still struggle with Mann (in particular, here, there were some things about the Lowe-Porter translation that bugged me), but I hope to finish the collection, and possibly move on to Dr. Faustus in the new year (maybe even another attempt at scaling The Magic Mountain??). I dipped into Kafka's collected stories, reading primarily the very short pieces, having previously read most of the longer ones. I read about one quarter of Peter Brown's fascinating history, The Rise of Western Christendom. And of course I read bits and pieces of various books about pregnancy, childbirth, babies, parenting, breastfeeding, and, crucially, baby-related sleep issues.

Poetry! I've always had difficulty with poetry and have long felt this to be one of my great shortcomings as a reader (in that I sense that it limits my engagement with non-poetry as much as poetry itself). With Josipovici's guidance (via his beautiful essay collected in The Singer on the Shore), I decided to try Eliot's The Four Quartets, reading various parts of it several times. I found I could read it, with some limited understanding and appreciation. I also tried my hand at some of Wallace Stevens' poetry (we have a beat-up Vintage Collected Poems; unaccountably, I already covet the expensive Library of America edition), with limited success so far. And of course, I read The Inferno, my first real pass at Dante, in the Hollander & Hollander translation. I had a good time with it, though I confess I read it more like narrative (for the account being narrated), than like a reader of poetry, but I hope to be able to approach it differently in the future.

Finally, I took the plunge this year and began reading more seriously in and around Marx and political economy. Marshall Berman's fine essay collection, Adventures in Marxism, made me want to read Capital more than ever (though it also inspired me to read Edmund Wilson's interesting but rather bloated To the Finland Station, which, if I'd read it first, might have soured me on taking on Capital; happily, I was forewarned, both by Berman and by Louis Menand's imperfect introduction; also, Wilson's text comes more alive when he quotes Marx, so that's another indicator). So, I'm excited to actually read Capital itself next year (with as much guidance from David Harvey as I can manage to view), as well as Harvey's own The Limits to Capital. Finishing the year with Harvey's excellent The New Imperialism, which lucidly explains the crisis of capital overaccumulation (which I gather he lays out in the earlier Limits), I hope to be on much better footing than I would have been if I'd tackled Marx's mammoth work any earlier. Oh, and I re-started Ellen Meiksins Wood's Democracy Against Capitalism, again reading the first 60 pages or so; I should read the balance of it in the first part of the year, which should also help.

And so ends another fine year for reading. Here's to a great 2009. Happy New Year!


zunguzungu said...

Well done, sir. But don't be one of those people who only reads Inferno; sally forth! Purgatorio is my favorite, but reading the whole thing is really far more than the sum of its parts; the perspective that Dante is capable of in hell is hellishly limited, so it's only once he gets out of the realm of the damned that he starts to revise and rethink what he thought he had discovered there (and the drama between him and Virgil is the best part about the whole poem, but it doesn't get really interesting until Dante starts to overpass his mentor). My two cents.

Richard said...

Hello! Thanks for the comment. And thanks for the encouragement to continue with Dante. I fully intend to read the rest of the Divine Comedy, though I had loosely planned to read The Inferno again before moving on, but I may abandon that and just, as you say, sally forth... Cheers!

Edmond Caldwell said...

All that, AND a kid? Crikey. I'm impressed.

When you set out to read Proust, did you consider the new Penguin translations? I read the Mark Treharne trans. of Guermantes Way, just for purposes of comparison, but decided I still preferred the Kilmartin-and-Enright-doctored Moncrieff.

Richard said...

Thanks, Edmond. It should be noted that I have a nearly two-hour commute, each way, every day. This is a mixed blessing. I get home later than I'd like, but then I also have, if I'm not in a coma, two hours of solid reading a day.

I did not consider the new translations when I set out to read Proust. I am interested in at least checking out the Lydia Davis translation of Swann's Way.

Richard said...

I am envious, because, with a 2 year old son, I don't have the time for this sort of thing anymore, although I have enjoyed reading Victor Serge's The Unforgiving Years and Platonov's Soul, this year, among others. Moravia is quite fine as well, I just finished The Time of Indifference.

On the non-fiction side, Lefebvre's The Urban Revolution remains relevant. I am still endeavoring to finish Baudrillard's The System of Objects.

--Richard (from American Leftist)

Richard said...

Thanks for the comment, Richard. And for the recommendations, particularly the Lefebvre. Also I'm sure I'll get around to reading Baudrillard one of these days!

Andrew K said...

If it's of any use, I found Mann's 'Dr Faustus' much more satisfying than 'Magic Mountain', the former inducing the desire for more, the latter possibly the desire for no more. I thought 'The Magic Mountain' comfortably twice as long as it needed to be, & the life in the sanitorium a quickly exhausted minor subject, just the life in the village with the Jesuit & his intellectual adversary adding some kind of dynamic of interest to the book. There's a good essay on Mann by DH Lawrence, specifically on 'Death in Venice', in typical Lawrentian strident tones. Lawrence's essays are generally well worth having, shots of intellectual adrenaline, even if sometimes his arrow is well off mark. Though if off-mark, you can be sure it'll be shooting past the target rather than falling limply short, which is part of what appeals.

Richard said...

Hi Andrew. I appreciate your thoughts on Thomas Mann (and Lawrence). I admit that the prospect of taking another pass at The Magic Mountain fills me with more than a little dread (I made it 250 pages in the first time; I was really enjoying it at first, but got bogged down).

Andrew K said...

Same here. I just found a quickly declining interest in the central character & his milieu. Everything seemed to be on an inevitable path into a kind of narcissistic inertia; I mean the nature of the sanitorium & whatever his name was's desire to retire into it. If you do manage to make a further assault, there is I think one of the most bizarrely awful scenes in literature, involving an impassioned declaration of love. So bad you wonder what Mann is playing at.