Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Reading in 2017: a preposterous list

I really have no idea what I'll read in 2017, so I have no idea what makes me think this post is a good idea. And yet.

Proust. Yes, Proust. I'm not quite halfway through the six volumes of In Search of Lost Time. I imagine I'll have finished by the spring. It's a remarkable novel, this thing of Proust's, a sort of endless knot of desire and irony.

Tolstoy. War and Peace to be precise. I read this book when I was fifteen or sixteen, so almost forty years ago. I am certain I have forgotten most of what I read except for the Battle of Borodino (that spinning cannonball, have I got that right?) and the early scene in the bar with the English and German soldiers and the Russian officer (I think) who insisted on translating everything into English for the Englishmen, who protested that they did speak Russian. Or something like that. Anyway, it's such a long book that I figure there must be some other scenes in there that are worth remembering.

Miscellany. The Long Ships. Thayer's Life of Beethoven (again). More poetry (I shall force myself to swallow some of the Romantics, with whom I've always had difficulty). Erich Kaestner's Emil und die Detektive. The NYRB collection of "New York" stories by Henry James. More literary criticism, probably. More philosophy, very likely, hopefully with an emphasis on Augustine and Kierkegaard. Some sociology texts I happen to have to hand. Blah blah blah. A focus, possibly, on values and morals and art. I'm not really sure.

I have vague ideas about (re)reading all of Conan Doyle's "Holmes" stories and books this year, though I pretty much doubt that will happen. I think 2017 might be heavy on nonfiction. It feels like it, though I'm not sure why. Although, of course, there is no real reason to label literary criticism and philosophy as "nonfiction".

Other ideas. The Iliad again. Herodotus, Xenophon. That sort of thing. Aurora Leigh and other long poems. Long poems, yes. That's the ticket. Middlemarch, finally. This list is already too impossibly long.

27 comments:

  1. Scott, I shall look forward to all of your 2017 postings, but will be on tenterhooks waiting to hear from you about Tolstoy and Eliot.

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    1. Tolstoy: Not enough bears! Not enough whales! Plenty of vodka!

      Eliot: This doesn't look much like Modernist poetry to me!

      I'm going to try to find a three-volume edition of War and Peace so I can comfortably carry it around town, 400 pages at a time. The edition of Middlemarch I plan to read is a small cloth-bound pocket-sized thing published in the early 20th century with a yellow cover and small type. I forget where I bought it, though possibly it was MacLeod's in Vancouver. Hopefully my eyes will be up to it.

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    2. Solution for both challenges: Kindle!

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    3. "'Everyone fears a bear,' he says, 'but when you see one your fear's all gone, and your only thought is not to let him get away!'" (Book IV, Ch.4, Maude translation)

      So true! So wise, Count Tolstoy!

      I am reading War and Peace, too; how fun. I don't remember either of the scenes you remember. Man, what a long book.

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    4. Kindle! No!

      The first scene of War and Peace that I remember, with the drunks, has a bear, a cub. There's also that incident with the bear and the policeman. And after that, the vast bulk of the novel is bear-free. A true failing, Mr Tolstoy. A real lost opportunity. And no whales at all, if I remember correctly.

      I plan to read the Maude translation, too. In the Everyman's Library edition. Maybe in the summer. After I finish with Marcel and his friends.

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    5. Bears! Most amusing. "Enter, pursued by a bear." Perhaps that is at the root of Tolstoy's troubles with Shakespeare....

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    6. Shakespeare as stand-in for Tolstoy's rejection of traditional Russian values, yes! It all makes sense now. And I've finally found my dissertation topic.

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    7. To both Scott and Tom:
      When do you intend to reread War and Peace?

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    8. Tom is reading it now! I will be reading it after I finish the last three volumes of Remembrance of Things Past, so in a couple of months at the earliest. My loose plan is to make it part of my summer reading.

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    9. I'm getting close to the Battle of Austerlitz - very exciting!

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    10. Cool.
      I plan to read Life and Fate in summer.

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  2. A bunch of folks (including me) just started Herodotus, if you want to join in.

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    1. That is so so tempting, and I have a copy waiting, but I should watch the straws on this camel's back. If you blog about it, though, I'll be reading!

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  3. My start so far: Larkin's Oxford anthology of modern English verse plus a giant classical anthology, which I have misplaced per my usual after getting an inch into it. Must read Bailey this year. Terrible that I haven't yet! (Racked with guilt, but I do at least know where the book is now. It is with all the other books by friends which I haven't yet read. Agh! So publish another while I'm not looking....) I was enjoying both till I lost one, but I'm still enjoying the Larkin, which has a number of people I don't know and appears to have the right proportion of the ones I do know.

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    1. A review I read of a volume of Norman Mailer's letters said that he maintained a Little Guilt Mountain of letters he should have replied to but had not, and a Big Guild Mountain of friends' books that he had not read.

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    2. Hah. Yes, I do have a Big Guilt Mountain. I buy books by friends to support them but then find that I am overwhelmed because it turns into a mountain range. Nevertheless! I am inching my way through the landscape.

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  4. I have seen a two-volume printing of Ann Dunnigan's translation of War and Peace, published (when my wife long ago got the one-volume printing) by Signet Classics. It is a shame that the old custom of printing novels in three volumes went out of fashion, at least for the massive ones. I wonder whether the two-volume version was printed overseas, given a) that the British seem to favor less bulky bindings and so on, and b) that it turned up on the used books table of a Russian Orthodox cathedral in my neighborhood.

    Yes, the spinning shell explodes and wounds Prince Andrei.

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    1. Ah, poor prince. He must be the character who stands there staring at the shell before it goes off, then.

      The edition I read in my distant youth was a single volume, with the size and appearance of an old family bible. An embossed blue leather cover, gilt lettering on the spine. It weighed a ton, I imagine. I think that none of the French was translated into English. I had no idea at the time that I was reading a classic of European literature. If there had been any science fiction at my grandparents' house that summer, I wouldn't have been reading Tolstoy.

      I'm a real fan of compact books. My small-but-growing collection of century-or-older volumes will attest to that. Two years ago I received for Christmas a copy of Bleak House that's about the size of my hand, with a forward by Chesterton. Published in 1911, just my sort of delightful thing.

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    2. Dunnigan drops the French pretty quickly. Pevear and Volokhonsky, whose translation I read in 2015, give the French and German in the main text, with translation in footnotes.

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    3. I've done some looking around and I think that if I read the Maude translation (which I probably did), then the French and German were translated in footnotes. W&P was very likely the first novel I ever read with foreign language in the text. It was very likely the first "real" novel I ever read.

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  5. This sounds like a heck of an interesting reading agenda for 2017, Scott.

    Shortly before Thanksgiving, I decided to try something completely different: In 2017 (and beyond, which will surely be necessary) I'm going to read at least 50 books about, and occasionally by, Native Americans: good recent histories, biographies, and folktale and short-story collections. The first five or six books have already been enlightening; it's exhilarating, in middle age, to leap into a field where nearly everything is fresh and new.

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    1. That sounds like a great project. Quite a step away from medievalism! A couple of years ago I started reading Pacific Northwest folktales. Some good stuff about whales and birds! My contemporary reading has been limited to some Sherman Alexie stories and nonfiction accounts of life in mission schools. There is a lot of material out there.

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    2. Jeff, that sounds like the way Laura Frankstone often goes about painting plans for the year--one overarching pursuit (with little side ventures.) It does seem as if it could be fruitful.

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  6. Tell us if you find anything interesting on morals and art (John Berger's death makes this kind of area especially poignant and sharp; what does it mean to call a work of art moral?).

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    1. I've thought some about Berger's ideas, about value and vision, and that brought me back to Jon Gardner's idea about moral fiction, being fiction that is honest--as honest as the writer can make it, without editorial or deliberate slant. I realize this form of honesty is essentially impossible. So I keep thinking. I don't know what I'm looking for, if anything, so much as I'm trying to find voices in the conversation. Or something like that. I am very close to believing that every utterance of every sort is suspect and prejudiced and not worth either uttering or hearing. I would prefer believing something else. Possibly it's just that I feel my own language is totally exhausted, and that it was pretty puny in the first place. I am winding down from being a novelist, I think, and wondering about the use of speech, partly unfortunately here in this minuscule public blog of mine.

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  7. Herodotus is great fun, Xenophon less so (but still worth reading). Neither is as brilliant as Thucydides, but that's really no knock on Herodotus. I need to read Herodotus & Thucydides one of these days--something I tell myself often without doing anything much about it. Your plans are very appealing; I'm almost envious. Cheers!

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    1. I had so much fun with Thucydides. What an amazing book. Someday I'd like to get myself to the Aegean region to see what all the fuss was about.

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