Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Books read, etc., 2016 edition

No messing around in 2016; here's the list:

Stendahl The Red and the Black
Robert F. Scott Antarctic Diary
Michael Smith Tom Crean: Unsung Hero
Eliot Bliss Saraband
Anton Chekhov The Bishop and Other Stories
Arthur Conan Doyle His Last Bow
JRR Tolkien "Leaf By Niggle"
JRR Tolkien "Farmer Giles of Ham"
William Shakespeare "Troilus and Cressida"
Gertrude Stein Paris France
Kaethe Recheis Lena: Unser Dorf in der Krieg
Ursula K. Le Guin A Wizard of Earthsea
Ursula K. Le Guin The Tombs of Atuan
Ursula K. Le Guin The Farthest Shore
E. B. White Here is New York
Max Frisch Homo faber: ein Bericht
Juan Rulfo Pedro Páramo
Anton Chekhov The Party and Other Stories
Francis Beaumont "The Knight of the Burning Pestle"
Magda Szabó The Door
Anton Chekhov The Story of a Nobody
Richard Henry Dana Two Years Before the Mast
Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island
George Orwell Down and Out in Paris and London
H.W. Tilman Mischief Goes South
Thomas More Utopia
Abraham Lincoln Selected Speeches and Writings
Anton Chekhov "Three Years"
H.W. Tilman Mischief in Patagonia
Ernest G. Draper Lectures in Navigation
Agatha Christie Cat Among the Pigeons
William Faulkner Selected Short Stories
Kino: The Poetry of Nikola Vaptsarov
Gertrude Stein The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
Frank Kermode The Classic
Georgi Gospodinov The Physics of Sorrow
Roland Barthes Mythologies
Anton Chekhov Selected Stories (P&V, trans.)
Arthur Rimbaud A Season in Hell
Leopoldo Alas La Regenta
Anton Chekhov The Prank
Nathanael West Miss Lonelyhearts
Apsley Cherry-Garrard The Worst Journey in the World
T.H. White The Once and Future King
John Williams Stoner
Sigmund Freud Civilization and its Discontents
Isak Dinesen Seven Gothic Tales
Marcel Proust Swann's Way
Beowulf (Burton Raffel, trans.)
Charlotte Smith Elegiac Sonnets and Other Poems
John Ruskin The Crown of Wild Olive
Charlotte Smith "The Emigrants"
Georgi Gospodinov Kleines morgendliches Verbrechen
Georges Bataille The Blue of Noon
Charlotte Smith Beachy Head & other poems
Marcel Proust Within a Budding Grove
Simon McCartney The Bond
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Chase, Nickerson, et al. The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale
Selected Letters of Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas "Under Milk Wood"

No rhyme or reason to my reading this year, though there was a lot of interest in Antarctica and sailing ships. And in long books: I am currently 2 1/2 volumes into Marcel Proust's Remembrances of Times Past or whatever you wish to call it, and by now it feels less like reading a novel than like meeting an acquaintance for lunch almost every day to hear him reminisce about his life. Which is a fine thing. It continues to be a good book, each volume better than the last.

I didn't read nearly as much poetry or Shakespeare as I wanted to this year, and I find myself re-reading more these days, making less room for things as-yet unread. I have observed that this is a natural pattern in aging readers, so I think I'm on schedule. The half-remembered classics of my youth have been getting my attention, which explains Beowulf and The Once and Future King. Next year I might read Mallory and The Long Ships, both new to me but logical steps from the immediately-aforementioned books. Perhaps next year I'll stop using so many hyphenated words, too.

I'm not sure if I'll continue reading the letters of dead writers. The Dylan Thomas book I've about finished is quite frustrating: one wants to reach back in time and give the little Welsh brat a good wallop.

More successful, for me as a reader, was the collection of speeches and letters from Abraham Lincoln. I picked it up in March, I believe, at the gift shop inside the Lincoln Memorial. Certainly I have my opinions about some of the possibly unconstitutional actions of Lincoln during his administration, but I feel much more kindly toward old Abraham than I used to do. Him being a yankee and all. Eye-opening, funny, moving, etc. Way better than what I imagine Eat, Pray, Love to be like.

Also in nonfiction, I enjoyed Simon McCartney's The Bond. It is the memoir of a retired elite mountain climber who valued friendship over personal glory. You don't find much of that in the sporting world, so this story is a refreshing change of tone. The book won the 2016 Jon Whyte Award at the Banff Mountain Book Competition, and also the 2016 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature. If you want, you can read my short review of it here. I'm all about human decency in late 2016.

Speaking of which, I report that as I sit typing this post, I have not quite finished drafting the novel I began this year, a thing called Nowhere But North that's part creation myth, part Henry James romance, and part Melville. Possibly the only novel I have written that I will claim is an actual work of art. Clearly unpublishable, but hopefully in early 2017 I'll finish the first draft and then set the book aside while I revise the novel I wrote last year (was it last year?), a Bildungsroman in stories, letters, and a stageplay, called Antosha! I hope to flog that novel to agents and publishers sometime in mid-2017. Fingers crossed, etc. Antosha! might be less unpublishable than other books of mine.

This year I shopped around a novel called Mona in the Desert, a beautiful novel about family, divorce, memory, and literary criticism. It's still with a couple of small presses for consideration, so we'll see. In a world where carpenters get resurrected, etc. I also sent out an older novel, Go Home, Miss America, to a few select publishers. At least one of them is actually reading the MS, so who can say what will happen?

For no real reason I mention that I'm working on Vittorio Monti's little salon piece Csardas, an exciting bit of fluff that is nowhere as difficult as it looks, and Wolfgang Mozart's lovely violin concerto in G major, which is much more difficult than it looks, like every bit of Mozart's music. The violin is a very satisfying hobby; every technical solution is also an artistic solution, much the way it is with writing fiction.

Next year: Shakespeare's "history" plays! More poetry! More German-language fiction! More Chekhov again! More obscure 20th-century English women! More Proust! More Euripides! No Antarctic nonfiction! No age-of-sail books! More Bulgakov! Dumas! Woolf! Hugo! Murdoch! Goethe! Boll! et innumerabilis alios!


  1. I'm blown away by the range and numbers of your reading accomplishments! And I'm impressed by your 2017 reading plans. Perhaps I will also come up with a similar resolution. Yes, that seems like a good plan. Structure! Goals! Commitments! Just the thing for the befogged and meandering Swiss-cheese mind of a fading septuagenarian! Onward!
    For now, though, a simple offering to you will please suffice: I give you my best wishes for a blessings filled Christmas!

    1. I'm more of the random, one-book-leads-loosely-to-the-next school of reading; structure and goals don't work for me very well in that respect. Otherwise I'd be reading through my to-be-read stacks instead of what I actually do, which is mostly unpredictable. Happily at least, since I have no plans to write a new novel in 2017, any nonfiction I read will be for pleasure rather than research.

      Happy Christmas to you as well, and a fabulous 2017.

  2. I would never have considered reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past except for your comment. I am now encouraged to do so.

    I found your blog through R.T.

    1. Proust has a reputation of being difficult, but I've been highly entertained. I know the length is daunting, but the thing is, I'll read 50 or 60 books a year anyway, 24,000 pages easy, without even thinking about it, so why not make 4,000 of those pages one really long book? What's the difference, right?

      I found Tim through DG Myers, I believe.

  3. Great list Scott - I also read Stoner (just read your response) and Miss Lonelyhearts is one of my all time favourites. (I can't see a post on it..) Chekov has been on my 'this year' list for quite a few years. Maybe this year will be the one. The Proust is quite an experience... Have a great Christmas!

    1. I've read your post on Miss Lonelyhearts! Great stuff. I remember wanting to write something about the book, but I couldn't get past, "wow, look at that." A terrible, ugly, beautiful work of art.

      Chekhov was the greatest writer of short stories. He is my favorite writer. I'm always going back to Chekhov. I believe that I've read every word of his that's been translated into English, including his letters, notebooks, and the nonfiction study of Sakhalin Island.

      M Proust continues to treat me well.

      Have a great Christmas yourself! I love your band, by the way. Excellent stuff. If I had any recordings of my old bands, I'd post them.

    2. Thanks Scott (for compliments on blog post and band.) I read a multi-volume Collected Stories of Chekhov when in college many years ago and remember being blown away by them. Hope you find some old recordings..

  4. I saw you read Miss Lonely Heart. Assuming you liked it, I strongly endorse West's other three novels. Each very strange and wonderful.

    1. I have Day of the Locust, and I'll hopefully get to it in 2017. Lonelyhearts wore me out. Did you get the thing I emailed to you?

    2. Scott, yes but I had it on a six year old iPad that imploded. Please send again. Thanks. West's two other books are only about 100 pages, near no one seems to read them, very weird books

  5. Wonderful list, full of works I cherish and fuller of those I don't know at all. A friend and I just yesterday spent a long drive discussing every story in Seven Gothic Tales and ending up, once again, in awe. And for years I've been alternately drawn to and repelled by the notion of reading The Worst Journey in the World; perhaps now that the ice-caps are melting I'll finally wade in. One of my goals for 2017 is to get to The Astrologer at last, before your up-and-coming publications leave me too far behind.

    1. I'd really like to go into more unfamiliar reading territory; I habitually stick pretty much to the same eras and territories. Blogs like yours help to expand my literary map, so thanks!

      Worst Journey is pretty well written. Cherry-Garrard was pals with G.B. Shaw, who gave him writing tips! The journey in question is not actually Scott's doomed trip to the Pole; it's a trip along the continental coastline in search of emperor penguin eggs. I'm not kidding. Still a fine adventure. But any wastelands I read about in 2017 are going to be deserts of the heat and sand variety.

      There's no hurry for anyone to read my little book, though I hope someday to actually have another little book published. We'll see.

  6. Merry Christmas

    FYI . . . My blogging is going in a different direction at a different address:


    Please join me there.

  7. Terrific list, Scott. You're right: as a reader, you weren't foolin' around in 2016.

    Merry Christmas and happy new year to you and yours!

  8. Ooh, good luck with the history plays! I'm especially fond of 1 Henry IV, will be very curious to see what you make of them!

    If you are reading Hugo next year, may I recommend the underrated Ninety-Three? It's short for Hugo, shorter than Les Miserables and Notre Dame de Paris, and it has a marvelous digression on the National Convention of the French Revolution, plus some unforgettable characters.

  9. I've read "Richard II" and "Henry VIII", and I thought Richard was great. Seattle Shakespeare did a mighty fine production of it last year. "Henry VIII" should be called "Cardinal Wolsey." I guess that one's not 100% Shakespeare.

    Thanks for the Hugo recommendation. We have Les Mis on the shelf in an ancient hardback monstrosity of an edition, so any excuse not to carry that around is a good one. Digressions are a plus!

  10. Happy New Year! I somehow jettisoned my reading list, which I was keeping in my Drafts folder. I'm too lazy to try and resurrect it, but I did intersect with you at a few points... Good luck with publishers in 2017. I just met with a young writer who was dithering between sending out and self-publishing, and who seems to have now chosen the latter.