Friday, January 4, 2013

To Be Read in 2013

I make this list so that I can refer back to it when I'm between books and am casting about for the next thing to read. I always forget what my intentions were, so here is a provisional statement of my reading intentions for 2013:

Anton Chekhov: Tales of Chekhov, Volumes 9-13
William Shakespeare: the dozen plays I haven't read yet; mostly English history stuff (my prediction is that I won't read more than five Shakespeare plays this year, including rereads which are inevitable)
Nabokov: Mary, I think. Ada, or Ardor too, maybe. We'll see.
Albert Camus: The Plague (reread) and whatever else of his I have sitting around. A couple of volumes.
Alice Munro: whatever book of stories I have already on the shelf
James Joyce: Dubliners again and Finnegans Wake
John Hawkes: either The Blood Oranges or The Lime Twig. I have them both.
Isaac Bashevis Singer: something, at least. It's been too long since I read him.
André Gide: The Counterfeiters. Supposed to be a hoot.
Thomas Mann: Buddenbrooks
Michael Chabon: something, probably Kavalier and Clay because we might have that on the shelf already.
Philip Roth: The Plot Against America. I have never read Roth, and we have this one. It's like alternative historical fiction, right? Charles Lindbergh elected president of the USA, collaborates with Nazi Germany, or something? Sounds scary and interesting.
John Updike: Claudius and Gertrude. I've avoided this book for years.
Henry James: The Awkward Age and possibly a reread of The Portrait of a Lady.
Lots of Greek plays, though not Sophocles; I've read those too recently to see again.
William Faulkner: Intruder in the Dust
Hillary Jordan: Mudbound
Yukio Mishima: The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. I picked this up almost a year ago.
Charles Dickens: something, possibly Bleak House
Elizabeth Strout: Abide With Me
Muriel Spark: something, possibly Memento Mori
Virgina Woolf: something, possibly Orlando
Tales From the Arabian Nights
More WB Yeats
The Green Knight, but I don't know whose version
Beowulf in whatever translation I own
More Seamus Heaney, but not his Beowulf
lots of books about seafaring and Antarctica and exploration and early 20th century America
Nathanael West: Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust
Nikos Kazantzakis Zorba the Greek
Victor LaValle The Devil in Silver

We'll see what else happens, and how much of the above I actually get to. The best laid plans, etc. I have a Cervantes novella coming from Melville House, more unread books piled up than I can recall, and God alone knows what I'll be buying this year. The above list includes only about half a dozen novels I'll have to go purchase. I think between us, Mighty Reader and I acquire about 50 novels a year. Probably another 50 nonfiction titles. They make excellent insulation and we still have some wall space for new shelves.


  1. The only book I know I'm planning to read this year is Master and the Margarita, but I'm toying with the idea of reading more Chabon because maybe it will be educational. I should also try to finish The Fountainhead, since I got a third of the way through it last year. Same with Madame Bovary and the Tiger's Wife. Does this mean I get bored by middles? And does this explain why my endings are always so lacking?

  2. Middles are frequently boring. Your books don't have endings that are lacking; it's just that your fiction doesn't operate by the "resolution of conflict" rules. Nothing wrong with that. I'm working out ways of having endings that aren't "big finishes" to dramatic stories in my own books. It's hard when you can't just write "So-and-so died. The end."

    Ayn Rand is bad for you, unless you read it as comedy. You never finished reading Bovary? I didn't know that. I also have to read Jennifer Zobair's novel, and Michelle Davidson Argylle's novel. Anne Gallagher is sending me a historical romance that will be interesting. Hopefully I'll have something from you this year, too.

    If you read M&M we can talk about Bulgakov's ending.

  3. I read Bovary all the way through, but that was years ago. I didn't manage to finish the reread last year.

    I'm questioning how my fiction operates, Mr. B. You're right, I've been avoiding the resolution and conflict rules. Why do I avoid them?

  4. Possibly it has to do with your lack of belief in a causal universe? Or your lack of interest in stories that are basically:

    A versus B = A wins!

    or whatever. Or are you resisting working in the typical 3-act structure because you're afraid that the structure will force you to write things you don't believe? I don't know, Mr M. You must tell me why you avoid what you avoid. What is the bad thing that would happen if you used the "save the cat" formula?

  5. Have you read Save The Cat? I actually think I ended up following that format rather closely with the novella I wrote for my nephew. There's nothing wrong with it, and in good hands I think it works beautifully. But the thought of doing it myself always bores me in the beginning.

  6. Maybe a more intelligent answer is that I used to consciously avoid certain techniques in my writing, but now I don't. I just tell the story however it seems comfortable to tell it while I'm writing. So if it's a three-act structure, so be it. If it sounds like Shakespeare or a Bugs Bunny cartoon, so be it. I worried for a couple of years about writing "typical" or "generic" or whatever fiction and thereby failed to master some solid storytelling techniques I use all the time now. To The Lighthouse has a tight 3-act structure, though Woolf breaks all kinds of other rules, and the central conflict of the father versus the family continues across all three acts. I don't know what I'm saying here.

  7. Yeah, I know what you mean about being bored by the idea of following a formula. The thought of assembling the three-act plan for my next novel, frankly, depresses me. But I know that once I get started on the writing, the subject matter and narrative style will be complex enough that the background stucture will be not only hidden from view, but a good thing for me because I'll need it to lean on for support.

  8. The trick is to realize that assembling a plot or whatever is the least interesting part of writing, so you just get that out of the way and start working on the cool stuff. It's like making dinner, maybe. On Wednesday night, Mighty Reader and I made vegetable stir fry over rice. Making the rice was not as fun as chopping the vegetables and mincing the ginger and putting it all in the pan. But it was sure nice to have rice.

  9. Mincing ginger is no fun, Mr. B. If it is for you, then you should come over and mince ginger for us.

    To play the advocate of Satan, what if the plot wasn't the least interesting part? What if you had three hundred years to write a novel, so that you could focus on character and language and plot and everything and make them all equally original. Is there something inherent with the idea of plot that makes it basic? I have no answers.

  10. There's a documentary called Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which I liked. For a good part of the film, you learn about sea creatures: inspecting tuna, massaging octopus, etc., and you think the fish is really important. Then, they move onto rice and have a whole section on rice and how important it is for the rice to be body temperature and how Jiro's special rice producer refused to sell rice to some big hotel chain because only Jiro knew how to cook it properly. You end up seeing the fish as only half of the equation. Maybe. Anyway, I sometimes wonder if my ambitions surpass my talent, and that's pretty depressing.

  11. What's this "original" stuff? What's "original" got to do with art? Focus on truth and let originality take care of itself, Davin.

    My ambitions, I hope, will always surpass my talent. It gives me a reason to write the next book.

    Sometimes I wonder if you're trying to make the experience of writing too much like the experience of reading. Writing is not supposed to be a constant ecstacy of discovery. Writing is creating a work of ecstasy for someone else to discover. Some of this creating involves drudgery. This makes writing a noble profession rather than a form of entertainment.

    I love cutting vegetables. My knifework is first-rate. We have a drawer full of expensive, good knives. Do I sound like I'm arguing with you? I don't mean to be.

  12. I often wonder the same thing about my experience of writing. It's a problem. It's makes me question the point of it, to tell you the truth.

  13. I love writing when it's going well. I don't know why it doesn't always go well. I don't even know what I love about it when I love it. I do not especially enjoy my own novels, though. I have no idea what they are, what they mean. So what's up with that? I try not to think much about my own experience of being a writer. I try to just think about the current book.

  14. Time and again I return to the story (likely untrue, but let's prentend otherwise) of Vladimir Nabokov digging around in his basement one winter, looking for tinder for the woodstove. Upstairs in his den, Nabokov has shelves lined with all the different editions and translations of the novel Lolita. Down in the basement he finds the original MS of that very book. Yes, he says, this will burn nicely, and he carries it upstairs and starts a fire with it.

  15. This was not the usual Friday Filler chatter, but it was enjoyable all the same.

  16. You mean "Gawain and the Green Knight?" If you can read "Finnegan's Wake," you should certain read it in the original. I dearly love that one.

    Yes, I'm noodling around...