Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2018

A month shy of this blog’s anniversary and it strikes me how subtly but incessantly my reading tastes have morphed over these nine years. It is both a strength and weakness of relatively long-term blogging that one’s earlier inclinations and opinions are maintained for public viewing. As WordPress’ statistics show, readers frequently access earlier posts that now make me wince. Opinions, perceptions, comparisons are perpetually recast. They are also metamorphic. That is not to say today’s impressions are more discerning or refined, but there is little guarantee that the ‘this is’ of today will not change to the ‘this is not’ of next month.

Since starting the blog, I’ve unsystematically read hundreds of books. I am selfish about what I read, driven by serendipity. Where the books lead, I follow. Without checking the lists I keep, I’ve forgotten more of the books that I’ve read than I could recall, but they are nevertheless connected in some vast storehouse of memory, each book connected with the one preceding it and the one that followed. A book read nine years ago may spark a decision today to pull another book off my shelf today.

Next year, my reading will take a different tack. This might last for months. It might take all year, but I plan only to read one book for quite a long time. T. S. Eliot wrote, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third.” My inclination has always been towards Dante, but unlike Shakespeare (arguably), to read The Divine Comedy slowly, attentively and patiently, one needs to be willing for submersion in what is outside the text. So, one book but requiring one to read around, behind and between Dante’s strange poem.

This isn’t my first time making this journey. I’ve read Inferno several times, Purgatorio twice, but have yet to make my way to Paradiso. Dozens of other texts, stories and histories are alluded to within those 100 cantos. Many more were influenced by Dante’s sublime poem. I don’t know how long this project will last. Until I get bored or, more likely, get led down another rabbit hole.

Aside from several translations of Dante, my initial guides will be Virgil (naturally), Prue Shaw, Dorothy Sayers, Erich Auerbach, Graham Harman and Peter Hawkins.

I do intend to come up for air from time to time, with other plans to read more Jan Zwicky, Dorothy Richardson and Peter Handke during the year.

NB: Long term readers of this blog will know how fickle are my reading intentions.

38 thoughts on “Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2018

  1. Alas. You know, I was hoping, somehow, that you would help me get some closure – or at least a good opening – on Clarice Lispector in 2018. Why did I think this? Have you mentioned her much?
    Am reading my way through Iris Murdoch and wondering how I can be said to be “reading” at all.

    Looking forward to your divagations, as well as your determined strides.

    • Yes, I am enthusiastic about Lispector’s work, though find it fiendishly difficult to write about coherently. I did write about Água Viva, which I like very much. I might well read more Lispector next year; I’ve always intended to. See how fickle I am – you’ve sidetracked me already! I’d also like to read more Murdoch sometime.

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. I approve of your plan. I have just finished a year’s project of reading Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura with the help of Cyril Bailey’s edition with Latin and English on facing pages, and much commentary. It is, as you may know, an Epicurean Atomist’s philosophical poem, six books long, and utterly engaging. My high school Latin has been improved immeasurably by doing it, and I have been able to draw a number of people into following it day by day, week by week. The Dante project will prove just as rewarding for you, I am sure. The Bolligen edition of Dante — darn, can’t remember who did it, is also facing pages Italian and English. If you post the verses you are discussing in you blog, we can all learn along with you! Good Luck!!

    • Have you read Jane Bennett’s The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter or the superb Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things? Both draw heavily on Lucretius in their investigation into nonhuman forces. My copy of De Rerum Natura (unread) must be abridged, as it certainly doesn’t run to six volumes. Did you write about your project on a blog? If so, might you share the link please?

      Thanks for the suggestion and the Murdoch plug.

      • Well I know about both of those books and should read them. deRerum is a six book poem not six volumes! In Bailey’s edition it’s two volumes of text and one of commentary. I did the DeRerum as a project for myself and a group of about 35 regular readers. What we shared was that we are all jazz singers, at all d

  3. I am glad I’m not the only one who reads unsystematically – I often wish I wasn’t so easily swayed. Nevertheless, I’ll be very interested to follow your thoughts on Dante. I read Inferno and Purgatorio decades ago but stalled at Paradiso (as you do…) and I suspect read them very badly. Look forward to hearing how you get on.

  4. Abandon all hope, you who enter your reading itineraries online! But it’s a wonderful plan. Dante scholar Prue Shaw’s husband, if I am not mistaken, is Clive James, that versatile wordsmith, poet, critic, broadcaster, and translator, still going strong at the end. Will James’s recent Englishing of the Divine Comedy into fluent quatrains — flipping Italian threes into Anglo fours — enter into your voyage to Paradiso?

  5. at all different points in our singing and I did it as a challenge to see if it would interest people from very different backgrounds and interests. I am now going to delete it and go back to other things. It isn’t scholarly in the way it should be and since I am retired academic, I wouldn’t feel right about doing more with it. If you are interested, I’d be happy to send you an essay I did publish on Lucretius and the Sublime, published in Tate Research Papers.

  6. Sorry — lost the rest of my comment. I did the Lucretius project for a small (35 ) group of jazz singers, as a challenge to myself and them. Now it’s going into cold storage until I decide if there is something else I want to do with it. Since I am a retired academic, it wold have to become something more scholarly to see the light of day… however, I do have an essay in Tate Research Papers about Lucretius in the eighteenth discussion of the sublime. If it’s of any interest to you, I will send you the link! Annie J

  7. That’s a great project. I thought about something similar myself but wasn’t able to carve out the required time. I’ll be looking forward to it. I am especially interested in the secondary literature you’re going to tackle.

  8. Anthony, in addition to Peter Hawkins, I recommend John Freccero’s Dante: the Poetics of Conversion, Teodolinda Barolini’s The Undivine Comedy and Borges’ Nine Dantesque Essays (in Selected Non-fiction/The Total Library). But what translation/s is/are do you plan to use? My favourite edition is the Durling/Martinez, with the Hollanders’ a close second.

  9. My only plan for next year is to keep on reading an Iris Murdoch a month until I’m finished (again). Lovely to see her mentioned so much by other commenters here. Happy reading!

  10. Below the link to my Lucretius paper. Oh the three volume translation by John Sinclair is the one that has the Italian and English face to face. When I took a course on Dante with Freccero at Stanford back in the 1970s, he had us all buy that one. Its a way to learn or brush up your Italian as well, and I think its a great help to use it even if you choose a more literary or elegant translation to make you happy. The Sinclair will make you accurate.

    (maybe you have to copy and paste into your browser — I will try it and see) … yeah, copy and paste.

    Anyway, the way I did Lucretius was to give my readers say twenty to thirty lines a day (mon-fri)– first in Latin, and then my translation — a mishmash of Bailey and Highschool and also some random thoughts of my own – It was great fun….but it also required a lot of discipline to get up early in the morning before doing anything else… and I also did gain and lose readers throughout the year.

    I shall be looking to see your blog posts! Annie J.

  11. Thanks, Annie. I shall make some tea and read that this evening.

    I’m pleased to say that the Hollander and Kirkpatrick translations also have the Italian on the facing pages. An Italian friend bought me the Sinclair, and that was my first reading of Inferno and Purgatorio before reading Hollander’s translation.

  12. I used Anthony Esolen’s edition when I read the entire work, and I found both his translation clear and his notes helpful. I have heard excellent reports on Dorothy Sayers’ footnotes. I wish you the best in your intentions! How is your Italian?

  13. Coincidentally*, Dante is next up for me, too. Which translations do you have? Is there one you prefer? (*I’m writing from a chilly hillside just south of Florence, so it’s not my most imaginative choice…)

        • My modern Italian is better than it was thanks to this trip, which makes the facing-page editions enticing, but I’m confined to digital while we’re travelling, so will start with the Penguin Kirkpatrick in English only. I have Auerbach as guide (and the recent Clive James for comparison, although more as a curiosity than anything else).

          • Yes, I saw that in another comment above. I’m ambivalent about him as a writer of verse. His poetry largely leaves me cold, but his song-writing collaborations with Pete Atkin in the 70s were an important part of my childhood. Their cadences were rooted in me very early, so much so that his turn of phrase is always deeply familiar.

          • His Poetry Notebook 2006-2014, from the bits I’ve dipped into, is reasonably interesting, a collection of pieces he wrote on poetry in various publications.

  14. Pingback: A George Steiner Rabbit Hole | Time's Flow Stemmed

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