Monday, December 31, 2007

Books Read - 2007

This is the final list of books I completed reading in 2007 (links are to posts in which I've either written about the book or the author, or posted excerpts):

1. Dance Dance Dance, Haruki Murakami (Alfred Birnbaum, translation)
2. On the Edge of the New Century, Eric Hobsbawm
3. The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
4. The Urth of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe
5. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
6. Peasants and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov (Constance Garnett, translation)
7. The Red and the Black, Stendhal (Burton Raffel, translation)
8. Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev (Rosemary Edmonds, translation)
9. Middlemarch, George Eliot
10. Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Goldstein
11. Kindred, Octavia Butler
12. The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
13. Independence Day, Richard Ford
14. Reality and Dreams, Muriel Spark
15. The Enigma of Arrival, V.S. Naipaul
16. Dirty Snow, Georges Simenon (Marc Romano & Louise Varèse, translation)
17. Frost, Thomas Bernhard (Michael Hofmann, translation)
18. Tainted Love, Stewart Home
19. Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist, Alexander Berkman
20. Selected Dialogues of Plato (Benjamin Jowett, translation; Hayden Pelliccia, revised)
21. Emma, Jane Austen
22. How to Read a Poem, Terry Eagleton
23. Goldberg: Variations, Gabriel Josipovici
24. Towards a New Cold War, Noam Chomsky
25. Wolf Point, Edward Falco
26. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
27. Dusklands, J.M. Coetzee
28. The Rings of Saturn, W.G. Sebald (Michael Hulse, translation)
29. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth (re-read)
30. The Room Lit by Roses, Carole Maso
31. Reader's Block, David Markson
32. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
33. The Enlightenment: An Interpretation/The Rise of Modern Paganism, Peter Gay
34. The Threat to Reason, Daniel Hind
35. The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, Gabriel Josipovici
36. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
37. The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
38. Fiction and the Figures of Life, William H. Gass
39. Pincher Martin, William Golding
40. Empire of Capital, Ellen Meiksins Wood
41. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera (Michael Henry Heim, translation)
42. The Malady of Death, Marguerite Duras (Barbara Bray, translation)
43. On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion, Gabriel Josipovici (one, two)
44. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, Eric Foner
45. The Ghost Writer, Philip Roth (re-read)
46. Zuckerman Unbound, Philip Roth (re-read)
47. The Anatomy Lesson, Philip Roth (re-read)
48. The Prague Orgy, Philip Roth (re-read)
49. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
50. Memento Mori, Muriel Spark
51. The Ballad of Peckham Rye, Muriel Spark
52. The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles (Paul Roche, trans.)
53. Baltasar and Blimunda, José Saramago (Giovanni Pontiero, translation)
54. Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-1992, Midnight Notes Collective
55. Watt, Samuel Beckett
56. Mercier and Camier, Samuel Beckett
57. Zeno's Conscience, Italo Svevo (William Weaver, translation)
58. The Lover, Marguerite Duras (Barbara Bray, translation)
59. The Mandelbaum Gate, Muriel Spark
60. Everything Passes, Gabriel Josipovici
61. The Retreat, Aharon Appelfeld (Dalya Bilu, translation)
62. Unto the Soul, Aharon Appelfeld (Jeffrey M. Green, translation)
63. The Book of Disquiet, Fernando Pessoa (Richard Zenith, translation)
64. All Souls' Day, Cees Nooteboom (Susan Massotty, translation)

Some statistics
Number of books written by men: 51
Number of books written by women: 13 (!)
Number of books which were acquired via the Big Dalkey Get: 1
Number of other Dalkey books: 0

Number of books of fiction: 49
Number of authors represented: 31
Number of books by female authors: 10
Number of female authors: 5
Number of books by American authors: 16
Number of American authors: 9
Number of books by African-American authors: 1 (!)
Number of African-American authors: 1 (Butler)
Number of books by non-American, English-language authors: 14
Number of non-American, English-language authors: 9
Number of books in translation: 19 (including 2 of 3 by Beckett)
Number of authors of books in translation: 16
Number of translated books by female authors: 2 (both Duras)
Number of foreign languages represented: 8 (German, French, Italian, Portugese, Russian, Japanese, Hebrew, Ancient Greek)
Most represented foreign language: French (5 total)
Number of Nobel Prize-winners: 5 (Beckett, Golding, Saramago, Naipaul, Coetzee)
Number of books from before 1800: 1 (Sophocles)
Number of books from 1800 to 1899: 6
Number of books from 1900 to 1949: 3
Number of books from 1950 to 1989: 26
Number of books from 1990 to 1999: 5
Number of books from 2000 to 2006: 6
Number of books from 2007: 0

Number of non-fiction books: 15
Number of books by female authors: 3
Number of books in translation: 1 (Plato)
Number that are memoirs of sorts or letters: 2 (Berkman, Maso)
Number that are philosophy or about philosophy: 3
Number that are books of criticism: 4
Number that are about politics or economics or history: 6
Number about pop music: 0
Number about science: 0

Comment & Observations:
As noted in my previous post, I've already given a brief overview of my year in reading, over at Ready Steady Book. Inevitably, I left some out. For one thing, I completed four books since submitting my short piece to RSB; I wrote about two of them (the books by Aharon Appelfeld) and the other two were among my favorites of the year--All Souls' Day by Cees Nooteboom and Everything Passes by Gabriel Josipovici. The latter shouldn't be much of a surprise since, as I say in my overview, this year was more than anything else the year of Josipovici. This was especially true of his critical volumes, The Book of God and On Trust, but the fiction, including Goldberg: Variations (about which I wrote my first external review), made quite an impression as well.

More general observations, then. Unlike last year, I did not set any specific, quantifiable goals for my reading. I read fewer books than last year, as I expected I might. I thought the decrease would be due to slower reading or longer books or more non-fiction, but in truth it had a lot more to do with sleepiness. I am unable to read when I'm tired; I don't know how people do it. But if my eyes start to drop, and I feel I'm dragging across the page, it's over. That happened far too often this year, for reasons that I won't bore you with here. In any event, huge chunks of what should have been quality reading time were wasted, gone forever, spent idling in a coma on a pointless train commute to oblivion.

As I said, I thought I would read more non-fiction, but this did not turn out to be true. I hoped to read some philosophy, which I did barely do (counting Plato, of course, but also Rebecca Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza, as well as substantial portions of Martha Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, which I really hope to be able to dive deeper into in the coming year). I wanted to read more literary criticism, and I did. I wouldn't say I read a lot of it, but what I did read mattered to me quite a bit. I read half of Hugh Kenner's Joyce's Voices, which inspired me to go back and re-read the shorter Joyce before finally taking on Ulysses (though so far I've only re-read the first story in Dubliners). I also read about half of Kenner's useful, and entertaining in its own right, A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett. It was this, combined with On Trust, that moved me to get on with Beckett. (Ulysses will have to wait till after him and, frankly, Proust. I'm 2/3 into my re-read of Swann's Way. Only extreme travel-related sleepiness prevents it from making this year's cut.)

I virtually ignored current or recent fiction this year. I read The Road largely because of the hype, and I was happy I did. I read recent fiction from Josipovici, of course. And I read The Lay of the Land to complete Richard Ford's trilogy about Frank Bascombe (along with Lars, I mourn for that "narrative voice"). In the context of the general drift of the year, the Stewart Home and Ed Falco novels amount to statistical outliers.

Authors (of fiction) I read this year for the first time: Muriel Spark, William Golding, Milan Kundera, Fernando Pessoa, Marguerite Duras, Italo Svevo (well, not quite true: I'd previously made it a third of the way into A Man Grows Older), Richard Ford, Paul Bowles, Gene Wolfe, Simenon, Murakami, Stendhal, Turgenev, George Eliot. Again, my reading was dominated by Euro-American male writers (admittedly more Euro than American this time), though I have a lot of the works of both Spark and Duras yet to read, which is nice. I talked a lot about and around Modernism and the certainty of the 19th century novel (for example here, here, and sort of here), but it should be noted that I had a great time with both Middlemarch and The Portrait of a Lady. I found Pessoa at times slow going, but absolutely vital. I was pleasantly surprised to find an interesting writer in William Golding (one of those Nobel winners I used to dismiss out of hand, in my utter ignorance of his actual work). I didn't say anything about Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, but it's a lovely novel. On the strength of it I picked up a used copy of his collected stories. There wasn't anything I read this year that I hated, or was sorry to have wasted my time on. The worst novel I read this year was probably Spark's The Mandelbaum Gate. I read five of her novels this year, and I will read a lot more of her in the future, but this novel from 1965 was clunky and plodding, surprising considering how light her other fiction is. It was also substantially longer than the others and seemed to be straining for significance, with its Israel/Jordan setting and political backdrop. To be fair, it was not without its moments that made me smile, but I was mostly happy to be done with it.

Novels that I read decent chunks of but didn't finish (but plan to return to): Correction by Thomas Bernhard; Repetition by Peter Handke.

Short stories I read that aren't really part of a coherent story collection per se, except insofar as the book it's in also contains several novels and stories an' stuff by the same author in one of those Library of America thingies: "Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville

Non-fiction (non-criticism) books I read significant portions of without finishing (sleepiness!): The Politics of War: The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943-1945 by Gabriel Kolko; The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868-1936 by Murray Bookchin; Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World by Mike Davis; Democracy Against Capitalism by Ellen Meiksins Wood; Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti

I should have more to say later on about the Midnight Notes Collective's excellent Midnight Oil essays. And I kept meaning to write something about Daniel Hind's worthy volume, The Threat to Reason (incidentally, the only book originally published in 2007 I read all year). It represented a welcome reprieve from all the boring and clueless popular atheist and Islamo-baiting articles and books we were inundated with this year. I had some relatively minor quibbles with the book, but it's the kind of work that we need more of these days.

And that's it for a damn fine year of reading. Here's looking forward to 2008!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I miss Elise Blackwell's GRUB on your list -- for someone who likes to write as well.

I cannot but quote Joe Queenan for you:
“In this deliciously mordant send-up of the publishing world, Elise Blackwell conjures up a universe filled with talentless novelists, reptilian publishers, unprincipled agents and brain-dead critics. Thank God this is only a fantasy. Thank God any similarity to real life is entirely fortuitous.”

Enjoy in 2008!