“The march toward old age, and let’s say it plainly, toward death, continues to provide unimaginable surprises, as if everything were an invention, a spectacle in which I am both actor and audience, and in which the scenes are characterised quite often by their parodic quality, like a laughable but also harsh theatrical illusion.”
Mostly unread fiction on these shelves, all monsters exceeding five-hundred pages; some philosophy, or philosophical anthropology in Blumenberg’s case. Tolstoy is missing as is my almost complete set of Heinemann’s Anthony Powell, and two huge Arno Schmidt editions. These are all in my future and the shelves that excite me most, rabbit-holes of discovery that hold in reserve so much promise and mystery.
There are a few novels missing that I’d like to read: William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, another attempt at Infinite Jest, Pynchon, Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra, possibly Louis Armand’s The Combinations, and Cáo Xuěqín’s novel, Grossman’s Life and Fate, Lessing’s space fiction novels. Ever curious about Richardson’s Clarissa, but I don’t think I could sustain myself through its entirety.
In no particular order, this is a list of my favourite writers/books. Of course, it is incomplete.
Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Pale Fire and Speak, Memory and literary lectures
Simone de Beauvoir
Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook
Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
Nadine Gordimer’s The Pickup
Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Pascal Quignard’s The Roving Shadows
John William’s Stoner
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Jay Griffith’s Wild: An Elemental Journey
Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s War and War
Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness
Carlos Fuentes’s Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone
Ruth Reichl’s Endless Feast
Teju Cole’s Open City
Jenny Erpenbeck’s The Visitation
Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? and The Lessons of Modernism
Virginia Woolf’s later novels and diaries
Jospeh Heller’s Something Happened
WG Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn
Don DeLillo’s Underworld
Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia
Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
Clarice Lispector’s Água Viva
Dante’s Divine Comedy
Kate Zambreno’s Heroines
Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych
James Joyce’s Ulysses
Richard Power’s The Time of our Singing
Will Ferguson’s Hokkaido Highway Blues
Carlos Fuentes’s Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone is a fictionalised account of a torrid relationship with actress Jean Seberg. The authenticity of the relationship has been questioned. It is a odd though passionately written book, set in the years immediately after 1968. Subsequent reading of J. Edgar Hoover’s targeting of Jean Seberg and her sorrowful ending deepens the intensity of the tragedy.
In the collaboration that takes place between writer and reader, my reading of this story is affected by a memory of a torrid but doomed relationship. The memory adds colour and augments the sense of participation. This is of course the case with any good fiction that is able to tap into shared emotional states. It is one of the reasons to read.
I find, in all great novels, a human project, call it passion, love, liberty, justice, inviting us to actualize it to make it real, even if we know that it is doomed to fail. Quixote knows he fails, as do Pere Goriot and Anna Karenina and Prince Myshkin. But only through the consciousness, implicit or explicit, of such failure, do they save, and help us save, the nature of life itself, human existence and its values as lived and proposed and remembered by all the ages, all the races, all the families of humankind, without alienating themselves to an illusion of unending, certified progress and felicity.
I love and I write to obtain an ephemeral victory over the immense and infinitely powerful mystery of what is there but does not show itself … I know the triumph is fleeting. On the other hand, it makes invincible my own secret power, which is to do something – this very moment – unlike anything in the rest of our lives. Imagination and language show me that, for imagination to speak and for language to imagine, the novel must not be read as it was written. This condition becomes extremely dangerous in an autobiographical text. The writer must be lavish in presenting variations on his chosen theme, multiply the reader’s options, and fool style with style through constant alterations in genre and distance.
Currently reading Diana: The Goddess Who Hunts Alone by Carlos Fuentes. A strange book but perhaps a writer to read more widely; Bloom lists A Change of Skin and Terra Nostra in the Western Canon.