Friday, December 30, 2011

Books Read - 2011

As is the annual tradition, here is the final list of books I completed reading in 2011, in chronological order of completion; links are to posts in which I've either written about the book or the author, or posted excerpts; following the list are comments and observations, including remarks on my favorite books of the year, plus the always all-important statistical breakdown.

1. A Language Older Than Words, Derrick Jensen
2. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Immanuel Wallerstein
3. The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, Marilynne Robinson
4. Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson
5. Prose, Thomas Bernhard (Martin Chalmers, trans.)
6. My Prizes: An Accounting, Thomas Bernhard (Carol Brown Janeway, trans.)
7. Wittgenstein's Nephew, Thomas Bernhard (David McLintock, trans.)
8. Concrete, Thomas Bernhard (David McLintock, trans.) (re-read)
9. Woodcutters, Thomas Bernhard (David McLintock, trans.)
10. The Emigrants, W.G. Sebald (Michael Hulse, trans.)
11. Yes, Thomas Bernhard (Ewald Osers, trans.)
12. In Defense of Childhood: Protecting Kids' Inner Wildness, Chris Mercogliano
13. The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead
14. Citizens to Lords: A Social History of Western Political Thought From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Ellen Meiksins Wood
15. Sex & War, Stan Goff
16. A Child's Work: The Importance of Fantasy Play, Vivian Gussin Paley
17. The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
18. Spurious, Lars Iyer
19. Not For Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, Rebecca Wisnant & Christine Stark, eds. (excerpt from Andrea Dworkin; from D.A. Clarke)
20. Illness as Metaphor, Susan Sontag
21. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv
22. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic, Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker
23. Death Sentence, Maurice Blanchot (Lydia Davis, trans.) (re-read)
24. Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace, Sara Ruddick
25. The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell (Charlotte Mandell, trans.) 
26. The Last Novel, David Markson
27. The Tyranny of Science, Paul Feyerabend
28. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Silvia Federici (re-read) (also, also, also)
29. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Susan Bordo
30. The Words and the Land: Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth, Shlomo Sand (Ames Hodges, trans.)
31. The Man of Reason: "Male" & "Female" in Western Philosophy, Genevieve Lloyd
32. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, Adrienne Rich
33. Thou Shalt Not Be Aware: Society's Betrayal of the Child, Alice Miller (Hildegarde and Hunter Hannum, trans.)
34. Ubik, Philip K. Dick
35. The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick
36. The Female Man, Joanna Russ
37. The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
38. Tell Me A Riddle, Tillie Olsen
39. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
40. We Have Always Lived In The Castle, Shirley Jackson
41. Homefront: A Military City and the American 20th Century, Catherine Lutz
42. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development, Vandana Shiva
43. The Flight to Objectivity: Essays on Cartesianism & Culture, Susan Bordo
44. The Village and the World: My Life, Our Times, Maria Mies (Madeline Ferretti-Theilig, trans.)
45. The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All, Peter Linebaugh
46. The Vegetarian Myth: food, justice, and sustainability, Lierre Keith
47. Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley
48. Reflections on Gender and Science, Evelyn Fox Keller
49. The Science Question in Feminism, Sandra Harding
50. The Work of Love: Unpaid Housework, Poverty and Sexual Violence at the Dawn of the 21st Century, Giovanna Franca Dalla Costa (Enda Brophy, trans.)
51. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, David R. Roediger
52. Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil, W.E.B. Du Bois
53. Talking Back: thinking feminist, thinking black, bell hooks (re-read)
54. Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, bell hooks
55. Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman
56. The Modern World-System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century, Immanuel Wallerstein
57. We Who Are About To..., Joanna Russ
58. The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin
59. The Modern World-System II: Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600-1750, Immanuel Wallerstein
60. The Eye, Vladimir Nabokov (Dmitri & Vladimir Nabokov, trans.)
61. Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward An Autobiography of A Race Concept, W.E.B. Du Bois
62. Debt: The First 5,000 Years, David Graeber
63. The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter: The Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom, Vivian Gussin Paley

Some statistics
Number of books written by men: 30
Number of books written by women: 33
Number of books which were acquired via the Big Dalkey Get: 0
Number of other Dalkey books: 0
Number of books in translation: 14
Number of books by writers known primarily to me through their blogs: 2 (Lars Iyer, Stan Goff)
Number of books that were borrowed from the library: 12
Number of books read on the Kindle: 5

Fiction or Poetry (or sufficiently literary memoir):
Number of books: 24
Number that are poetry: 0
Number that are memoirs:1 (I'm arbitrarily counting Bernhard's My Prizes here)
Number that are re-reads: 1
Number of authors represented: 15
Number of books by female authors: 10
Number of female authors: 7
Number of books by American authors: 11
Number of American authors:
Number of books by African-American authors: 0
Number of African-American authors: 0
Number of books by non-American, English-language authors: 3
Number of non-American, English-language authors: 3 (Stead, Iyer, Shelley)
Number of books in translation:10
Number of authors of books in translation: 5
Number of translated books by female authors: 0
Number of foreign languages represented in translation: 3 (German, French, Russian)
Most represented foreign language: German (7: 6 Bernhard (plus a 6th non-fiction-ish Bernhard), 1 Sebald)
Number of Nobel Prize-winners: 0
Number that could be categorized as science fiction: 6
Number of science fiction books written by women: 4

Number of books from before 1800: 0
Number of books from 1800 to 1899: 1
Number of books from 1900 to 1914: 0
Number of books from 1915-1944: 3 (Gilman, Nabokov, Stead)
Number of books from 1945 to 1970: 8 (all 3 Sh. Jackson, both PKD, Olsen, Blanchot, one Bernhard)
Number of books from 1971-1989: 7 (Le Guin, both Joann Russ novels, 4 Bernhard)
Number of books from 1990 to 1999: 1 (Sebald)
Number of books from 2000 to 2010: 3 (Markson, Littell, Bernhard's My Prizes)
Number of books from 2011: 1 (Iyer)

Number of non-fiction books: 39
Number of books by female authors: 23
Number of books in translation: 4
Number that are biographies or letters or memoirs: 3
Number that are philosophy or about philosophy: 7
Number that are books of criticism or essays: 2
Number that are about politics or economics or history: 13
Number about pop music: 0
Number about science: 3
Number about feminism: 14
Number about parenting or education: 5
Number that are anthropology: 2

Comments & Observations:
This turned out to be a good reading year, all things considered, though you wouldn't know it from reading this blog. The skimpy number of links to posts in the list above is but one measure of the blog's extreme slowdown. Still, the reading itself was fruitful. 

Overall, I completed quite a few more books this year than last, though not coming anywhere close to previous years. The numbers were heavily skewed towards various kinds of non-fiction. In addition, not only did I succeed in finally reading more women writers, but in fact for the first time I read more books written by women than by men. Weirdly, my sense was of the women heavily out-numbering the men, but it was really only by 3 books. No doubt this is an indicator in itself of male privilege. (How does the story go? When women number as little as 25% of any group, men tend to report that it was "dominated" by women? I could look that up, but you get the idea.)

I began the year finishing up Derrick Jensen's inimitable Language Older Than Words, which I actually did succeed in writing about. Soon I was reading Marilynne Robinson's two related collections of essays. I'd meant to write about those (they're worth writing about; I may yet write something drawing on them after all) but never got around to it. They're the closest things I read this year to literary criticism; I'm not convinced that's what they are. Then came the several Bernhard books, including a re-read of the excellent Concrete, which long ago was the first Bernhard novel I ever read. I also loved Woodcutters and Wittgenstein's Nephew, both of which I rate very highly, if perhaps just under the brilliant trio of Concrete, The Loser, and Old Masters (Extinction remains as yet un-read). I did not much care for Yes. Looking at it in context, it seems to point away from the heavier early novels and towards the lighter later ones that I prefer. But it felt off, and awkward, all the way through. Mixed in among these was Sebald's The Emigrants, which is probably my favorite of his novels. I finally waded my way through to the end of The Man Who Loved Children; the novel's many stretches of beauty may not have made up for the title character, who is perhaps the most unreadably annoying and obnoxious major character in literary history. Part of me wants to never again pick up another Christina Stead novel, going against my informal rule to give authors more than one shot; another part of me figures, well, at least that fucker won't be in the rest of them. (Right?) Besides, I already have Letty: Her Luck sitting there waiting for me. Gah. I spent a goodly amount of time with Jonathan Littell's remarkable novel, The Kindly Ones. It was on my mind for weeks, and I can still recall several scenes vividly. And yet, it shocked me a little to see it there on the list. I read that this year? Seems ages ago. Spurious was the only novel originally published in 2011 that I completed, but at least it was a good one.

For most of the year, I frankly had a hard time reading fiction. The characters and plots felt like impositions. So, the rest of the year was fairly dominated by non-fiction, except for a stretch during our summer trip, when I read my first two Philip K. Dick novels (I liked them just fine, especially Ubik), three Shirley Jackson books (all of which I thoroughly enjoyed, especially the novel We Have Always Lived In The Castle), the Tillie Olsen collection (the first story of which is devastatingly moving; the rest of which didn't work for me at all; I could barely make my way through them), and Joanna Russ' The Female Man. Later on I read Russ' We Who Are About To... I tend to forget she was a student of Nabokov's. One wonders what he would have thought of her fiction. In any event, I appreciated them and, as I've noted previously, I expect Russ to figure in this blog's future. Finally, I should mention The Dispossessed, my first Ursula Le Guin novel, and likely not my last.

I read no poetry this year, other than stray attempts at some Geoffrey Hill, and a few poems from Kay Ryan's Best Of It collection.

Brief interlude to include a list of books I read substantial portions of without yet completing by the year's end:

James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed
Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down
E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class
Leopoldina Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction
bell hooks, Feminist Theory: from margin to center
Kolya Abramsky, ed. Sparking a Worldwide Energy Revolution
Rosalind Belben, Is Beauty Good
Mathias √Čnard, Zone
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents
Alice Munro, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Early in the year, I got the brilliant idea that I'd get a Kindle and use it to read pdfs, including pdfs of various books I'd come across (this was around the time of the February events in Egypt, when I really wanted to read Rule of Experts by Timothy Mitchell, and had acquired an e-copy of it; I still want to read it, but not on the Kindle). Well so, I got a secondhand-ish Kindle, and set about converting pdfs and. . . it didn't really work out. It's annoying; all too often, the books get all mangled in the conversion process. I did, however, discover that Amazon has all these free public domain books, so I downloaded several. Which is how I finally read, after all these years, W.E.B. DuBois' masterpiece, The Souls of Black Folk. Later in the year, I read his second sort of memoir, Darkwater, also on the Kindle, then Dusk of Dawn, not on the Kindle. I expect to be reading more DuBois, especially his monumental study, Black Reconstruction. The Kindle experience is not one I relish. It's nice having easy access to several books at once, but frankly I don't enjoy the interface. No doubt more recent iterations, or something like the iPad, would change my opinion of e-reading somewhat, but on balance if I'm going to use the Kindle, I do not want the book to be long. (God, the last thing I'd want to do is read Proust on it. Ugh.)

In my brief Kindle-pdf experiment, I did read one full book, Stan Goff's Sex & War. Goff's book is a personal exploration of the links between militarism, misogyny, and sex from a feminist perspective. This led directly to the multi-author Not for Sale collection and really initiated one of the two great non-fiction threads of the year: feminism. I've already written about the Ruddick and Russ books and their role in this, as well as my re-read of Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch. I read a lot about feminism and science (cf. Evelyn Fox Keller, Sandra Harding) and feminism and philosophy (Susan Bordo). Federici led me to Dalla Costa, and also recommended Maria Mies' memoir (which, alas, I didn't think was very good, as a book, though she says many interesting and important things in it). My prior knowledge of Mies' classic Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale had led me to Vandana Shiva's work. All very helpful, fascinating, important. Ruddick's Maternal Thinking and Adrienne Rich's Of Woman Born are, as noted, bibliographical goldmines.

In the midst of all this, I attended an excellent panel discussion on race, here in Baltimore, held at 2640. David Roediger was scheduled to be there, but was a no-show (some travel complication), but his famous study of the white working class, The Wages of Whiteness, was available for sale there. I snapped it up and read it immediately. A great book, to be sure, which saddened me deeply, but which also reminded me of my longstanding interest in the American history of race, which had been my focus in college and for the first few years after college (and which is why it was so weird I'd never read DuBois). It further brought to mind that the first feminist I'd ever read was, in fact, bell hooks. So I re-read the hooks I had (Talking Back), realized that I'd long since internalized her basic critiques of liberal white feminism, wondered if this wasn't why I'd not spent any time pursuing feminism as an area of study until very recently, even as events in my personal life helped radicalize my own feminism (though not necessarily in ways that would be familiar to the so-called (white) "radical feminists"). Then I took hooks' first book, Ain't I a Woman, out of the library, and in short order consumed it. And it, too, is a bibliographical goldmine. So now, in the coming year, I have a huge, interesting list of women writers to read, which crucially includes many women of color.

The other great non-fiction reading thread, which of course I see as related, was furthering my reading in the history and workings of capitalism. Last year's big deal was volume one of Capital itself. This year meant world-system analysis and anthropology, along with Marxist histories from the likes of Peter Linebaugh, as well as Federici's book, and the Italian Wages for Housework feminists she was originally linked with. The Long Twentieth Century, by the late Giovanni Arrighi, had been my only previous encounter with world-system analysis, but I'd found that book so fascinating, and so surprising and yet persuasive, in particular how it flew in the face of Marxist accounts of the origins of capitalism, that I wanted to know more. I came across Immanuel Wallerstein's brief introduction to world-system analysis, which is a delightful sort of historical overview of both the world-system itself, and the analysis. Late in the year, I saw Wallerstein speak (also at 2640). I picked up and read the first two volumes of his monumental study, The Modern World-System. I'll have more to say about these works in separate blog posts (really!), but suffice it to say that many things make a lot more sense to this reader after reading these books than they did before. Then, just before the end of the year, I read David Graeber's utterly engrossing book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and more and more things started to fall together. I see Debt as a perfect complement to the books by Wallerstein, Arrighi, Mies, Federici, Linebaugh & Rediker, etc. But again, separate blog posts are in order to explore the book itself and its relation to those others.

Before closing, I'd like to say a brief word about the small clutch of books about children and parenting and education. Many such books touch on a lot of important things, but seem of limited value insofar as the authors do not seem aware of the implications (political and cultural) of the problems they raise, and the types of solutions they seem to favor. Chris Mercogliano's In Defense of Childhood and Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods fit in this category. Vivian Gussin Paley's books manage to escape this problem by being more focused on day-to-day practical matters involving the play of young children in schools. I've written a little bit about her work before, but I'd like to emphasize how inspiring I find her work. Again, though, the political implications of what she writes about are incredibly vast (and part of me would love to know what Josipovici would make of it!). I hope to revisit her work in future blog posts as well. Finally, Alice Miller's book, Thou Shalt Not Be Aware is utterly fascinating and a necessary corrective to Freudian nonsense about sex drives and Oedipal complexes. Incidentally, Miller was not a feminist herself, but in the afterward to the edition of the book I have, she did highlight the work of feminists in bringing to light various poisonous parenting practices.

Ok, that wraps up another year of reading. Thank you.



Blogger M. S. Smith said...

An interesting write-up, Richard, and what an array of books. I love Sontag's book on illness (illuminating in the way that so much of her work was). I have Sebald's book on my shelf and really should get around to reading it, as it looks quite good. With Perkins Gilman and especially Du Bois, you've got two of the great social writers of their generation. I recently read Jackson's "The Lottery" short story, which I sort of liked; in the least it piqued my interest and perhaps I'll check out "We Have Always Lived n the Castle."

63 books of course means more than one per week, which is impressive. I'm curious -- how do you read? That is, do you parse through the sentences, occasionally take notes, etc. or just read straight through? A friend who's an avid reader recently mentioned that when reading fiction, he essentially just lets the writing flow by until he's done with the book, which is probably how most writers intend us to read their work. I'm too much of an academic in some ways, and so even with fiction I have to parse through things, re-read passages, take notes. Result? I can't quite read much in a year's time, sadly.

Happy New Year.

December 31, 2011 5:11 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hello, Michael. Thanks for commenting, and happy new year to you, too!

With Perkins Gilman, I should say that I expected Herland to be somewhat heavy handed, but I didn't think that it was. And while I liked Jackson's "The Lottery", I suspect it actually works better in the context of the collection its in.

As for how I read, well... for one thing, my reading is almost entirely contained within my commute to and from work. Fiction I mostly read straight through, wanting to get the writer's flow. Non-fiction is a little different in that I often stop to think, and underline passages, and make notes in the text, and have sparks going off that I'd like to write about. But the physical circumstances of the train ride make it difficult for me to actually write on the train. I've tried at times, and it's just uncomfortable, sloppy, etc. I could bring a laptop, I realize, but I have not.

What happens, as a result, I think, is that, while I underline, and certainly pause at length to think, and re-read passages, I tend to lose the great bulk of what it is I'd like to write about. One thing I'd like to do this year is figure out a way to address that problem. I'd be perfectly happy reading fewer books but writing more about what I do read.

January 01, 2012 10:37 AM  
Blogger M. S. Smith said...

Richard, thanks for the explanation. Like many Angelenos, my only mode of transportation is the car. When I've visited or lived in cities that have good public transportation, I've always taken advantage of the extra time to read. It's a nice advantage. I think I'm going to make much more of a concerted effort when reading fiction to let the prose flow and to give my self a more "united" reading experience. With non-fiction, I definitely read in the same vein that you do, and I can't see my habits changing too much there, although it can sometimes depend on the book (I'm currently reading a book on WWI that reads effortlessly and so I'm not pausing much at all). Overall, I want to find a way to read more, and that'll involve changing some habits.

I've not read too much of Perkins Gilman myself, but I had a similar reaction -- not heavy-handed. She's a sophisticated writer. I had borrowed Jackson's "Lottery" short-story collection; I might go back and read the whole thing. For an avid and busy reader such as yourself, the advent of the new year can be an exciting thing -- a whole world of new books to read in the coming twelve months. Enjoy.

January 01, 2012 7:28 PM  

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