It’s been a memorable year in my reading life, more concentrated than most years. The high points have been extraordinary, the lows few and forgettable.
The unexpected revelation of my year are the novels, letters, essays and diaries of Virginia Woolf. After the thrilling discovery of A Writer’s Diary, The Waves, Mrs. Dalloway and the climax of my year’s reading To the Lighthouse, I intend to read much more of her writing. My thanks to Frances for the motivation to tackle Woolf.
I’ve been slowly acquiring decent editions of Woolf’s diaries and plan to start on these next year, dipping into the other novels, essays and letters as the mood suits. Reading (and rereading) more deeply into a writer’s output, over a few months, is proving more satisfying than my recently acquired habit of flitting from author to author.
My plan next year is to read a lot more Woolf. I expect also to immerse myself into the literary output of Coetzee, Flaubert, Kafka and Bellow, each of whom, to different degrees, I am mildly obsessed with at present.
My other fictional landmark of this year is undoubtedly Ulysses. My reading began as a provocation and ended as an unveiling. That a novel can capture the agony and beauty of life so coherently shook me, continues to agitate me. It is a book I dip into weekly.
Finnegans Wake has replaced Ulysses as a delayed, taxing challenge, but not one I wish to accept at the moment. My only Joycean plan for next year is to read Richard Ellmann’s Biography.
The third in the trio of books that set my head on fire this year is What Ever Happened to Modernism? Offering a personal perspective on literature and Modernism, Josipovici enabled me to understand why some forms and styles of novel electrify me and others leave me still hungry, or worse, nauseous.
Other books that left an indelible mark during the year were Coetzee’s trilogy of fictionalised memoirs, Leigh Fermor’s short but very beautiful A Time to Keep Silence, Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants, John Williams’ brilliant Stoner, Josipovici’s The Singer on the Shore and Andrei Codrescu’s The Poetry Lesson. Don Quixote, of course, is also sublime but that will not be news to any serious readers.
Revisiting Kafka this year, unbelievably reading The Trial for the first time, and now slowly digesting the Collected Stories and Diaries, occupy a different cavity than everything mentioned above. His writing is the ‘axe for the frozen sea’ inside me.
Uniquely this year, there is only one book that I completed (though several I threw aside after fifty pages) that I regret, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours. Out of a misplaced love of Mrs. Dalloway I finished the book but cannot reclaim the hours I devoted to this execrable book.
>I'm hoping to tackle Ulysses in the new year, so I'm glad to hear that it's enjoyable as well as gratifying!I'm sorry about The Hours.
>I'm impressed! All that Woolf, she's my favorite.
>You've had such a lovely Modernist year, Anthony! I'm excited to read the Josipovici with the Wolves when we tackle it this coming year. And Woolf's diaries – oh, you have such a treat awaiting you. They are a constant inspiration to me and at the same time very much "comfort reads." As are (I blush slightly to admit it) the letters between her and Vita Sackville-West.
>What Emile said – all of that amazing Modernism! I've enjoyed reading about it along the way.
>A great year of reading! I must say I agree with you about The Hours – it's all too smugly clever with its references to Mrs Dalloway but is dead on the page.
>Colleen – 'Ulysses' is immensely entertaining, the more that I read and understand, the more I admire and enjoy the work.Daniel-Halifax – And mine, from my reading thus far.Emily – It has been a brilliant year of Modernist reading. I'm saving a reread of Josipovici's WEHTM for the Wolves reading, and looking forward to hearing your thoughts.Amateur Reader – Thank you so much.Jen – Thanks, a year's reading that will be hard to beat. 'The Hours' was consistent with my bad film-good book/good film-bad book theory.