Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Books Read, 2012

Books Read, 2012 Edition:

Harper Lee To Kill A Mockingbird
Flannery O'Connor Wise Blood
Anton Chekhov Tales of Chekhov, Volume 5
Charles Dickens Great Expectations
Michelle Davidson-Argyle True Colors
William Shakespeare Coriolanus
Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451
Henry James The Coxon Fund
Edgar Allen Poe The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
Vladimir Nabokov Invitation to a Beheading
Banana Yoshimoto Kitchen
William Faulkner Sanctuary
Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend
Anton Chekhov Tales of Chekhov, Volume 6
F. Scott Fitzgerald Return to Babylon & Other Stories
Herman Melville Benito Cereno
John Hawkes Death, Sleep & the Traveler
Leo Tolstoy Short Stories
Rudyard Kipling The Man Who Would Be King
Laurence Sterne A Sentimental Journey
William Goldman The Princess Bride
Alexandra MacKenzie Seattle Sleuth
Henry James Washington Square
William Shakespeare King Lear
Leo Tolstoy Hadji Murad
William Dean Howells A Sleep and a Forgetting
Lydia Davis Collected Stories
Michelle Davidson Argyle The Breakaway
Joan Didion Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Davin Malasarn The Pagani Project
Anton Chekhov Tales of Chekhov, Volume 7
Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary
William Shakespeare The Winter's Tale
Salman Rushdie Midnight's Children
Vladimir Nabokov Pnin
W. G. Sebald The Emigrants
William Shakespeare The Life of Henry VIII
Jean-Jacques Rousseau On the Social Contract
Fyodor Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov
Ray Bradbury The Martian Chronicles
Virginia Woolf To The Lighthouse
William Shakespeare The Tempest
Anton Chekhov Tales of Chekhov, Volume 8
Anton Chekhov A Life In Letters
Anton Chekhov Plays
James Longenbach The Art of the Poetic Line
Vladimir Nabokov The Defense
Yasunari Kawabata Snow Country
Benito Perez Galdos Fortunata and Jacinta
Jose Saramago Death With Interruptions
Kazuo Ishiguro An Artist of the Floating World
Blaise Pascal Pensées
Ludwig Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus
Miguel de Cervantes Don Quixote
Virgil, The Aeneid (Fitzgerald, trans.)

The Aeneid, possibly, is the best thing I read in 2012 but possibly I say that only because I just read it and I'm still excited by the thing. It was 402 pages long and I wish it was twice that, so I'd still be reading it. The prose, in Fitzgerald's translation, was electric But more than that, it's just a ripping good tale. I was on the edge of my seat for a great deal of it, as if I was watching an action film. Virgil had an excellent sense of story telling, and I enjoyed the way he'd introduce a character and then tell us that this person was fated to die shortly, and then step back into the narrative to unfold the (usually tragic and ghastly and ultraviolent) character's fate. Fabulous stuff, and everyone should read it, or at least every novelist.

Right now I'm reading Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and it's amazing. Totally groundbreaking stuff from 1962 that's completely fresh today. There's no way to predict what will happen from paragraph to paragraph. The way Spark builds characters is surprising and shocking and absolutely spellbinding. I'm also enjoying the way Spark steps out of the narrative timeline to tell the fates of all the characters, in ways similar to that used by Virgil. This interests me in both Brodie and The Aeneid because it's something I'm doing--in my own way--in my own current work-in-progress novel. Anyway, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is eye-opening and funny and sad and riveting and terrific and I'll have to read more Muriel Spark.

But Miss Jean Brodie is quite droll, as I say. Here the title character (a teacher at a private school in Edinburgh) explains to her young charges why she's not the least worried about an upcoming meeting with her nemesis, the headmistress:

"When I see Miss Mackay on Monday morning," said Miss Brodie, "I shall point out that by the terms of my employment my methods cannot be condemned unless they can be so proved to be in any part improper or subversive, and so long as the girls are in the least equipped for the end-of-term examination. I trust you girls to work hard and try to scrape through, even if you learn up the stuff and forget it the next day. As for impropriety, it could never be imputed to me except by some gross distortion on the part of a traitor. I do not think ever to be betrayed. Miss Mackay is younger than I am and higher salaried. That is by accident. The best qualifications available at the University in my time were inferior to those open to Miss Mackay. That is why she holds the senior position. But her reasoning power is deficient, and so I have no fears for Monday."

Of course Brodie's methods are improper and subversive, and of course there will be a traitor. Great stuff.


  1. That list is nothing short of impressive!

  2. My, that list is prodigious.

    I now feel like a total slacker in the literary department as I am still (STILL!) attempting to slog through Little Dorritt.

    I just spent the last few minutes mentally rearranging my day in an attempt to find more time to read.

  3. Scott, I check your list often in your sidebar. I think I will keep a list this year too, since I can't recall more than a handful of books I read in 2012 at the moment. Keeping a list will probably also make me more accountable. Peer pressure and all.

  4. I don't know what the point of lists like this are. Once in a while I look back to see when I read something, but for the most part it serves no real purpose. Yet I do it, year after year. It's just one of those blog things.

    I read a lot of nonfiction that I don't bother listing here, mostly because I don't read those books from cover to cover; I pick my way around in them the way Alice Munro reads a novel, looking for interesting bits of reality, and rarely ever read the whole book. And who cares that I'm reading Richard Van Gaasbeek's A Practical Course in Wooden Boat and Ship Building?

  5. How was the Flannery O'Connor title? I've never heard of that one.

  6. Wise Blood was O'Connor's first novel. It's a masterpiece. A bizarre, tragically comic masterpiece. I've read it a couple of times and will likely read it again a few more times before I die. It has one of the most perfect final chapters of any novel ever written.

  7. The Aeneid is much disparaged by people who have not read it.

  8. Ain't that the truth? "He just rips off Homer," go the claims. The parallels to The Iliad and The Odyssey are fantastic, and of course part of the whole point. When the tables turn and the Trojans are the guys besieging the walled city, you see just how clever Virgil was. The interoffice politics on Mount Olympus is great stuff, too.

    "the empty air of Heaven"

    Nobody else would write that. That's brilliance.