Gaps and Omissions

  1. Henry James (only The Turn of the Screw)
  2. George Eliot
  3. Thomas Hardy
  4. D. H. Lawrence
  5. Lawrence Durrell
  6. Michel de Montaigne
  7. Leo Tolstoy (only The Death of Ivan Ilyich)
  8. Augustine of Hippo
  9. Friedrich Schiller
  10. Anthony Trollope
  11. Charlotte Bronte

Gaps in my reading history. As is obvious from this list of omissions, I’m not particularly well-read. Clearly a list of writers one hasn’t read could extend on and on, but I feel that I ought to have read at least one major work of these writers.

Literary Studies 1920 – 1970 – An Aspirational Reading List

‘Anglophone literary studies between about 1920 and 1970 are to be understood, I think, as one of the twentieth-century’s most significant and original intellectual accomplishments.’ Simon During’s argument is worth reading for anyone interested, as I am, in this most formative period of literary criticism. During lists the ‘path-breaking and exciting’ works, which establish an aspirational reading list, many which I’ve yet to read.

  1. T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood (1921)
  2. Percy Lubbock, The Craft of Fiction (1921)
  3. J. Middleton Murry, Problems of Style (1922)
  4. I.A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1924)
  5. T.S. Eliot, Homage to John Dryden (1924)
  6. I.A. Richards, Science and Poetry (1926)
  7. John Livingstone Lowes, The Road to Xanadu (1927)
  8. Laura Riding and Robert Graves, A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927)
  9. T.S. Eliot, For Launcelot Andrewes (1928)
  10. William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930)
  11. George Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire (1930)
  12. F.R. Leavis, Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930)
  13. Edmund Wilson, Axel’s Castle (1931)
  14. Q.D. Leavis, Fiction and the Reading Public (1932)
  15. Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading (1934)
  16. William Empson, Some Versions of the Pastoral (1935)
  17. Samuel Holt Monk, The Sublime (1935)
  18. Richard Blackmur, The Double Agent (1935)
  19. Caroline Spurgeon, Shakespeare’s Imagery (1935)
  20. C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (1936)
  21. Allen Tate, Reactionary Essays (1936)
  22. L.C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (1937)
  23. John Crowe Ransom, The World’s Body (1938)
  24. Yvor Winter, Maule’s Curse (1938)
  25. Derek Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare (1938)
  26. Mary Lascelles, Jane Austen and her Art (1939)
  27. Lionel Trilling, Matthew Arnold (1939)
  28. Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form (1941)
  29. F.O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance (1941)
  30. Alfred Kazin, On Native Grounds (1942)
  31. Cleanth Brooks, The Well Wrought Urn (1947)
  32. Northrop Frye, Fearful Symmetry (1947)
  33. Rosamond Tuve, Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (1947)
  34. F.R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (1948)
  35. T.S. Eliot, Notes towards a definition of Culture (1948)
  36. Leo Spitzer, Linguistics and Literary History (1948)
  37. Rene Wellek and Austin Warren, The Theory of Literature (1949)
  38. Helen Gardner, The Art of T.S. Eliot (1949)
  39. Lionel Trilling, The Liberal Imagination (1950)
  40. Marshall McLuhan, The Mechanical Bride (1951)
  41. Reuben Brower, Fields of Light (1951)
  42. W.K. Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon (1951)
  43. R.S. Crane, Critics and Criticism, Ancient and Modern (1952)
  44. Donald Davie, Purity of Diction (1952)
  45. F.R. Leavis, The Common Pursuit (1952)
  46. M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp (1953)
  47. Dorothy van Ghent, The English Novel: Form and Function (1953)
  48. Randall Jarrell, Poetry and the Age (1953)
  49. John Holloway, The Victorian Sage (1953)
  50. Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: technology and the pastoral ideal (1954)
  51. W.J. Harvey, Character and the Novel (1955)
  52. Allen Tate, The Man of Letters in the Modern World (1955)
  53. R.W. B. Lewis, American Adam (1955)
  54. Frank Kermode, Romantic Image (1957)
  55. Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (1957)
  56. Richard Chase, The American Novel and its Tradition (1957)
  57. Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism (1957)
  58. Irving Howe, Politics and the Novel (1957)
  59. Robert Langbaum, Poetry of Experience (1957)
  60. Yvor Winter, The Function of Criticism (1957)
  61. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society (1958)
  62. Harry Levin, The Power of Blackness (1958)
  63. Earl Wasserman, The Subtler Language (1959)
  64. Harold Bloom, Shelley’s Mythmaking (1959)
  65. Vincent Buckley, Poetry and Morality (1959)
  66. Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel (1960)
  67. Graham Hough, Image and Experience (1960)
  68. Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961)
  69. S.J. Goldberg, The Classical Temper (1961)
  70. Fredric Jameson, Sartre: the Origins of a Style (1961)
  71. Hugh Kenner, Samuel Beckett; a critical study (1961)
  72. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (1961)
  73. William Empson, Milton’s God (1961)
  74. Louis L. Martz, The Poetry of Meditation (1962)
  75. John Bayley, The Characters of Love (1962)
  76. Winifred Nowottny, The Language Poets Use (1962)
  77. Reuben Brower and Richard Poirier, In Defense of Reading (1962)
  78. Morse Peckham, Beyond the Tragic Vision (1962)
  79. D.W. Harding, Experience into Words (1963)
  80. Stanley Fish, Surprised by Sin (1963)
  81. J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God (1963)
  82. Christopher Ricks, Milton’s Grand Style (1963)
  83. Harry Levin, Gates of Horn (1963)
  84. Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry, 1787-1814 (1964)
  85. C.K. Stead, The New Poetic (1964)
  86. Angus Fletcher, Allegory (1964)
  87. Barbara Hardy, The Appropriate Form (1964)
  88. Paul Fussell, The Rhetorical World of Augustan Humanism (1965)
  89. Tony Tanner, The Reign of Wonder (1965)
  90. Rosalie Colie, Paradoxia Epidemica (1966)
  91. Richard Poirer, A World Elsewhere (1966)
  92. Edward Said, Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography (1966)
  93. George Steiner, Language and Silence (1967)
  94. E.D. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (1967)
  95. Frank Kermode, The Sense of an Ending (1967)
  96. Barbara Herrnstein Smith, Poetic Closure (1968)
  97. Hugh Kenner, The Counterfeiters (1968)
  98. Mark Schorer, The World we Imagine (1968)
  99. J. Hillis Miller, The Form of Victorian Fiction (1968)
  100. Helen Vendler, On Extended Wings (1969)
  101. Raymond Williams, The English Novel from Dickens to Lawrence (1970)
  102. Rosalie Colie, My Echoing Grove (1970)

My Desert Island Bookshelf

Marooned on a desert island, these are the books I would wish to accompany me. I set one simple rule: one book per writer.

Mathias Enard, Compass
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
WG Sebald, After Nature
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Franz Kafka, The Castle
Homer, Iliad
Geoff Dyer, The Colour of Memory
Roger Deakin, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm
Dante, Purgatory
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Marguerite Duras, Moderato Cantabile
Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
Peter Handke, Repetition
Jorge Semprún, Literature or Life
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, War & War
Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows
JM Coetzee, In the Heart of the Country
Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness
Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva
Kate Zambreno, Book of Mutter
Roberto Calasso, La Folie Baudelaire
Tomas Espedal, Tramp
Christa Wolf, Cassandra
Grace Dane Mazur, Hinges
Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard
Claudio Magris, A Different Sea
Max Frisch, I’m Not Stiller
Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball
Denton Welch, A Voice Through a Cloud
Nick Hunt, Walking the Woods and the Water
JG Ballard, The Kindness of Women
John Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook

(Pure whimsy and volatile by nature)

My Year of Reading: 2016

I bear no guilt for reading fewer books this year than any other in recent memory – I regret only my morbid fascination with the sulphurous news, as the worst aspects of human nature become manifest. My natural refuge in literature has proved insufficient distraction to the horrifying potency of watching vultures tearing at a creature’s entrails, gripped and subdued by the grisly pantomime. I don’t wish to drown in the spectacle. I must find balance and some self-discipline, though only imagine that this year is merely grisly prelude to further gross stupidity and narcissism next year.

It is Jorge Semprún’s writing that proved most alluring this year. In writing Literature or Life, he chose to end a “long cure of aphasia, of voluntary amnesia” to write this lightly fictionalised memoir, controlling and channeling his complex memories of the evil exerted during his incarceration in Buchenwald. I read backwards to the lyrical reticence of The Long Voyage, an almost dispassionate account of the cattle train journey to the concentration camp”. Semprún reassures that it is possible to both write poetically and read about barbarism. Literature or Life is one of those books that sit on one’s shelves for years before one is compelled to read even a sentence. The image that lingers most intensely from Literature or Life is his consideration of which books to take on a return to Buchenwald to film a documentary about the camp. In the end he opts for Mann’s The Beloved Returns and a volume of Celan, who perhaps has written the greatest poems about the Holocaust. Semprún quotes a verse from Celan, “hoping, today/ for a thinking man’s/ future word/ in my heart.”

Another book that languished unread on my shelves was a fine first edition of Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai. Greatness resides in this wonderfully singular story of a mother and son obsessed with Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. I was swept helplessly along by the the torrent of DeWitt’s thought who brings into her novel not only Kurosawa but Ptolemaic Alexandria, Ancient Greek and Fourier analysis. There is a curious quality to the work –stark, lonely, even sadistic– it is one of the most original novels of our time, original as regards sensibility.

I discovered Max Frisch’s work this year. Frisch’s novels offer up a world where no-one is allowed to rest easy; self is thrown back upon uneasy self. There is no escape. Not that Frisch is without hope; his novels unfold the twisted and often darkly comic search for a way out. It is Homo Faber that made the deepest impression, its melancholy cadences contrasting with the ice burn revelation of an incestuous relationship with his daughter.

This year also gave me Anna Kavan’s haunting imagery. The stories in Julie and the Bazooka and I am Lazarus read like a heightened version of Burroughs’s fantasies. Kavan can be gruesomely funny, but with a richness that lies in her proximity to the sensory and the unconscious. It is the chilling tales of narcosis wards that remain, months after reading these stories, the struggle to awaken from speechless unconsciousness. Kavan’s writing, though piercingly clear, is best taken in small doses for its horror and loneliness weighs numbly on the heart.

I’ve read Christopher Logue’s Homer in part during its long evolution but War Music collects all the parts of his adaption of the Iliad into a single edition. This is Homer channelled through Logue’s erudition and the jarring of modern technology. It is a creative ‘translation that shouldn’t work but Logue invigorates an epic that always appears modern.

As the year approaches its end, Reiner Stach’s Kafka: The Early Years is casting a very strong spell over me, This first volume is the last of three to be published due to an overhanging lawsuit. Auden wrote, “Biographies of writers are always superfluous and usually in bad taste”, but there are a few brilliant, definitive biographies that count as essential. This and Stach’s companion piece Is that Kafka? restore Kafka from cliché so we might return to his writing anew.

Here is a list of the 55 books I’ve read so far this year.

Complete List of Books Read in 2015

For those not inclined to delve into the guts of this blog here’s a list of the 78 books I read in 2015.

  1. Pascal Quignard, Abysses. trans. Chris Turner
  2. Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows. trans. Chris Turner
  3. Pascal Quignard, Sex and Terror. trans. Chris Turner
  4. Giorgio Agamben and Monica Ferrando, The Unspeakable Girl. trans. Leland De La Durantaye and Annie Julia Wyman
  5. Enrique Vila-Matas, Bartleby & Co. trans. Jonathan Dunne
  6. Jack Robinson, by the same author
  7. William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Troilus and Cressida
  8. Denton Welch, I Can Remember and Narcissus Bay from Where Nothing Sleeps
  9. Brigid Brophy, Michael Levey, Charles Osborne, Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without
  10. Brigid Brophy, Flesh
  11. Brigid Brophy, Baroque–’n’–Roll
  12. Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball
  13. Brigid Brophy, The Finishing Touch
  14. Brigid Brophy, Hackenfeller’s Ape
  15. Brigid Brophy, The King of a Rainy Country
  16. Marguerite Duras, Practicalities. trans. Barbara Bray
  17. Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique
  18. Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project
  19. Milan Kundera, The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts. trans. Linda Asher
  20. Milan Kundera, Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts. trans. Linda Asher
  21. JM Coetzee, Diary of a Bad Year
  22. JM Coetzee, Slow Man
  23. Scott Abbott and Darko Radaković, Repetitions
  24. Peter Handke, To Duration. trans. Scott Abbott
  25. Peter Handke, The Afternoon of a Writer. trans. Ralph Mannheim
  26. Tomas Espedal, Against Art. trans. James Anderson
  27. Tomas Espedal, Against Nature. trans. James Anderson
  28. Tomas Espedal, Tramp. trans. James Anderson
  29. Michel Houellebecq, Submission. trans. Lorin Stein
  30. Catherine Clément, The Call of the Trance. trans. Chris Turner
  31. Lydia Davis, The End of the Story
  32. Josh Cohen, The Private Life: Our Everyday Self in an Age of Intrusion
  33. Thomas Mann, Railway Accident. trans. Helen Lowe Porter
  34. Wolfgang Hilbig, ‘I’. trans. Isabel Fargo Cole
  35. Ivan Vladislavic, The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories
  36. The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1941-1956
  37. Ullrich Haase and William Large, Maurice Blanchot
  38. Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi, Fra Keeler
  39. Fleur Jaeggy, SS Proleterka. trans. Alastair McEwen
  40. Kathy Acker | McKenzie Wark, I’m very into you. ed. Matias Viegener
  41. Han Kang, The Vegetarian. trans. Deborah Smith
  42. Marek Bieńczyk, Transparency. trans. Benjamin Paloff
  43. Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
  44. Kevin Hart (editor), Nowhere Without No: In Memory of Maurice Blanchot
  45. Bae Suah, Nowhere to Be Found, trans. Sora Kim-Russell
  46. Max Frisch, Man in the Holocene, trans. Geoffrey Skelton
  47. Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories of a City, trans. Maureen Freely
  48. Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me
  49. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus. trans. Helen Lowe-Porter
  50. Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time: A Life In Stories. trans. Mark Fried
  51. Barbara Pym, Quartet in Autumn
  52. Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone. trans. Mark Fried
  53. Ágota Kristóf, The Illiterate. trans. Nina Bogin
  54. Simon Critchley, Memory Theatre
  55. Ágota Kristóf, The Third Lie. trans. Marc Romano
  56. Ágota Kristóf, The Proof. trans. David Watson
  57. Ágota Kristóf, The Notebook. trans. Alan Sheridan
  58. Barbara Reynolds, The Passionate Intellect
  59. Denton Welch, The Journals of Denton Welch
  60. Denton Welch, A Voice Through a Cloud
  61. Denton Welch, In Youth is Pleasure
  62. Jens Bjørneboe, Moment of Freedom. trans. Esther Greenleaf Murer
  63. Rita Felski, Uses of Literature
  64. Denton Welch, Maiden Voyage
  65. Virginia Woolf. The Voyage Out
  66. Samuel Pepys. The Diary of Samuel Pepys
  67. Alice Oswald. Tithonus, 46 minutes in the life of the dawn
  68. Virginia Woolf. Moments of Being
  69. The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with WG Sebald
  70. WG Sebald. A Place in the Country. trans. Jo Catling
  71. WG Sebald. After Nature. trans. Michael Hamburger
  72. Ed. Jo Catling and Richard Hibbit. Saturn’s Moons: WG Sebald-A Handbook
  73. WG Sebald. The Emigrants. trans. Michael Hulse
  74. Philippa Comber. Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of WG Sebald
  75. WG Sebald. Vertigo. trans. Michael Hulse
  76. Tim Parks. Where I’m Reading From
  77. Virginia Woolf. Jacob’s Room
  78. Walter Kaufmann. Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist

Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2016

On the last winter solstice I posted some well-intentioned reading ideas for 2015. I always intend to read fewer new (to me) writers to concentrate on my old chestnuts and I closed gaps in my reading of Mann, Coetzee, Handke, Virginia Woolf and Sebald. Even the minor works of great writers display brilliance and this intention to read deeply and not broadly continues. I’m looking forward to new books from Anne Carson, Geoff Dyer and Jan Wilm’s Coetzee study.

In my year in reading post I wrote of the thrill of discovering Brophy, Welch and Espedal; each writer will undoubtedly make up some of what I read next year. I’m also looking forward to reading more Han Kang, Wolfgang Hilbig, Giorgio Agamben, Pascal Quignard and Ivan Vladislavic, all who produced books that moved me in some way this year.

Writers I don’t yet know but expect to sample in 2016 include Janice Lee, Jean Rhys, Werner Jaeger, Ivan Goncharov, Philippe Jaccottet, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Ingeborg Bachmann, Claude Cahun, Robert Gál, Yves Bonnefoy and Peter Weiss. There’ll be others but these are in my sights at the moment.

At the moment my mind is anchored in ancient Greece and Rome. My reading year is coming to an end with Giorgio Agamben’s and Monica Ferrando’s The Unspeakable Girl, a work of some power published by the brilliant Seagull Books, and Pascal Quignard’s Sex and Terror, which feels like the only book one could read after The Unspeakable Girl.

My inclination at the moment is to dwell in antiquity for some time, perhaps read Chapman’s Homer, which shaped Troilus and Cressida. I’ve acquired some Loebs and assorted ancient Greek plays that I may make time for over the Christmas break. Being overwhelmed by Troilus and Cressida convinces me that I must fill in some of my reading gaps in Shakespeare’s oeuvre.

The fault and glimpse of newness often leads me astray so expect distractions. If the year ahead holds surprises as great as Brigid Brophy, Denton Welch and Tomas Espedal I’ll be a fortunate reader.

Thanks for reading along in 2015 and for taking time to discuss books with me here, in person and on Twitter. I love little more than to discuss books so more conversation please!

A Year in Reading: 2015

Denton Welch’s last work stands at the head of a list that marks a fine year’s reading with the discovery of three writers whose work has changed me: Brigid Brophy, Tomas Espedal and Welch

Denton Welch’s A Voice Through a Cloud is alive throughout though left incomplete by his death. Welch’s characteristic eye for detail and ear for dialogue is clear in all his work but in A Voice Through a Cloud he maintains an unstable tension that keeps his light touch so very serious. The smiles of acknowledgement and tears become impossible to separate. It’s hard to imagine a finer book in any year and his other two novels are small but magnificent.

If pressed I’d name Brigid Brophy’s The Snow Ball as the finer of her novels that I read this year, an elegant tale of female eroticism that splices together Brophy’s twin fixations of Mozart and Freud.

What Welch, Brophy and Tomas Espedal share is the sense that they are all writing their lives in fiction, fulfilling an attempt to smuggle reality into their art and doing so with force of intellect, originality and passion. Any of Espedal’s three translated works would serve as a book of the year but Tramp will be one I return to again and again. That all three are published by Seagull Books simply underlines my deep-seated affection for their vision.

Those writers aside, this was also the year I read Ágota Kristóf’s trilogy, novels that led by precise description and a fierce power that lay in what was left out. Little was left out of Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, in HT Lowe-Porter’s translation, a brilliant conception of the demonic, also explored in Wolfgang Hilbig’s disturbing but equally singular “I”.

Two works of literary criticism stood out this year: Rita Felski’s Uses of Literature and David Winters’s Infinite Fictions; both offered profound insight, refined by doubts and perplexities and in both cases suffused with a love of literature.

Espedal’s Tramp was a good companion novel to Jessa Crispin’s The Dead Ladies Project which beautifully navigated the indeterminate space between memoir, biography and travel narrative.

Like Beckett’s Murphy, this year the macrocosm intruded into the freedom of the microcosm, i.e. the job-path became all consuming, leaving less time to read and write here. That said I expect to read seventy or so books by year end, respectable enough given other commitments which include discovering a zest for public speaking.

Fra Keeler’s Influences

Reading is pure pleasure for me, without obligation, professional or otherwise. I abandon books frequently after fifty pages or halfway through, whichever comes first. For every book I finish, three preceding books end up in a bag by the front door destined for the local charity shop. It is rare and fortuitous that I read two brilliant books consecutively.

I’m still thinking about Gillian Rose’s Love’s Work. I’ll read it again very soon, more slowly, pencil in hand this time. I’m curious about Rose’s Adorno book so please let me know if you’ve read it and have an opinion.

Next though I’ll reread Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler, which I finished this morning. I hope to write more about it soon. It is a distinctive, rather special book. I suggest it’s a cross between Lispector, Nabokov, and just a suggestion of late Beckett, which is probably too high a pedestal for a first novel, but I have been enjoying the afterglow all day, and need to ponder and read it again, immediately.

Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi acknowledges at the end of the book that “Fra Keeler would not have been possible without the following constellation of films and books.” I’m posting the list in full because I love lists, but also because I love Fra Keeler, and, as a first novel, reading some of the books on the list that I haven’t read before and watching some of the films enables me to linger, however loosely, in the world inhabited by this remarkable book. If I read a better contemporary book this year, I shall be surprised.

  1. César Aira How I Became a Nun
  2. Attila Bartis Tranquility
  3. Thomas Bernhard Three Novellas and The Loser
  4. Roberto Bolaño Distant Star and By Night in Chile
  5. Luis Buñuel Diary of a Chambermaid
  6. Éric Chevillard Palafox and Crab Nebula
  7. Brian Evenson The Open Curtain
  8. Max Frisch Man in the Holocene
  9. André Gide The Immoralist
  10. Jean-Luc Godard Breathless
  11. Nikolai Gogol Diary of a Madman
  12. Witold Gombrowicz Cosmos
  13. Knut Hamsun Hunger
  14. Alfred Hitchcock Vertigo
  15. Anna Kavan Ice
  16. Imre Kertész Kaddish for an Unborn Child
  17. Abbas Kiarostami Close-up
  18. Jim Krusoe Iceland
  19. Patrice Leconte Monsieur Hire
  20. Doris Lessing Memoirs of a Survivor
  21. Clarice Lispector The Hour of the Star
  22. Jean-Pierre Melville Le Circle Rouge
  23. Marie Redonnet Hotel Splendid, Forever Valley and Rose Mellie Rose
  24. Eric Rohmer Six Moral Tales
  25. Daniel Pail Schreber Memoirs of My Nervous Illness
  26. Muriel Spark The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  27. Magdalena Tulli Dreams and Stones and Moving Parts
  28. Lynne Tillman This Is Not It
  29. Trajei Vesaas The Ice Palace
  30. Diane Williams Romancer Erector

Ten Stories of Beethoven’s Ninth

  1. Adorno thought that Beethoven had gone too far with his Ninth Symphony, that he had made the work all too intelligible.
  2. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is woven into the fabric of life in Japan with the finale available as a karaoke disc.
  3. The demonic composer Leverkühn in Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus aspires only to unwrite Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
  4. Speaking about the nature of evil, Anthony Burgess said that evil is tantamount to farting during a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
  5. Twenty-one year old contralto Carolina Unger, who sang the contralto part at the first performance of this first major symphony to use voice, is credited with turning Beethoven to face his applauding audience.
  6. In Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of A Clockwork Orange, Mr Alexander plays Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony repeatedly in the hope of driving Alex De Large to suicide.
  7. In The Lost Steps, Alejo Carpentier replaces a madeleine with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as the trigger for a memory of his father that sends the narrator-protagonist on a quest to war-torn Europe.
  8. It is little known today that the source of the ‘Turkish music’ (seventh variation) of the ‘Ode to Joy’ theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was not Turkish drummers, but more likely the ‘African drum corps’, who were highly popular and active in European military and court bands in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
  9. In Adrienne Rich’s poem The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven Understood at last as a Sexual Message, Rich attributes to the symphony the rage of sexual impotence.
  10. On Joseph Goebbel’s initiative, Hitler’s birthday in 1937 was celebrated with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a performance repeated in 1942 when Hitler assumed command of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front.

WG Sebald: Bibliography of Secondary Literature

In the next few days I’ll draw to a close my present immersion into Sebald’s work, leaving The Natural History of Destruction, Campo Santo, Across the Land and the Water, Unrecounted and For Years Now for another day.It’ll prolong the moment when I can only reread Sebald, and also give me the chance to take a breather from his unique atmosphere of mourning and ghosts.  Sebald’s work induces in me a particular sensation of vulnerability and melancholy; splashing about in the deep end is luxurious in its own peculiar way, but immersion can become overwhelming. (Though I’m considering reading some Woolf next so simply substituting another flavour of haunting and reflecting on the work of memory.)

Previously I’ve compiled bibliographies of worthwhile secondary literature of writers whose work I hold in affection, Beckett and Kafka in particular. In Sebald’s case, Terry Pitt’s Vertigo should be the first stop for English-speaking Sebald obsessives, followed by Christian Wirth’s Sebald site for German speakers.

I’m sure the list below isn’t definitive. It represents those publications that caught my attention, which I plan to get around to reading sometime. If you think I’ve missed any that are worthwhile please let me know in comments.

  1. Saturn’s Moons: WG Sebald – A Handbook. Legenda, 2001. If you only buy a single piece of secondary material, this is the one to get. Jo Catling and Richard Hibbit have compiled an extraordinarily rich resource, including a huge secondary bibliography. The chapter on WG Sebald’s library alone makes this book worthwhile.
  2. Searching for Sebald: Photography After WG Sebald. Institute of Cultural Enquiry, 2007. There are some fancy editions of this book, but I have a softcover version. I have barely dipped into this beautifully produced book. Photographs in Sebald’s books constitute a parallel narrative, so I’m looking forward to studying this closely at some point.
  3. The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with WG Sebald. Seven Stories Press, 2007. I’ve read and enjoyed the Tim Parks essay, and will finish the other essays and interviews before moving on from Sebald.
  4. WG Sebald: History – Memory – Trauma. Walter de Gruyter, 2006. Looks like an interesting collection of essays, including Sebald’s Amateurs by Ruth Franklin.
  5. Reading WG Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience – Deane Blackler. Camden House, 2007. In his thoughts on the book, Terry Pitts said, “I will say that I found myself feeling that Blackler was often articulating how I feel as I struggle to understand why reading Sebald is unlike reading just about anyone else.”
  6. WG Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity – JJ Long. Columbia University Press, 2007. Sebald’s work in context with the ‘problem of modernity’ looks right up my street.
  7. WG Sebald: A Critical Companion. Edinburgh University Press, 2004. Essays and poems include those by JJ Long and Anne Whitehead and George Szirtes.
  8. The Undiscover’d Country: WG Sebald and the Poetics of Travel. Camden House, 2010. Terry Pitt’s posts on this publication.
  9. After Sebald: Essays and Illuminations. Full Circle Editions, 2014. I picked this book up at its London Review Bookshop launch. Intriguing collection of essays by artists and writers as diverse as Coetzee, Tacita Dean, Robert Macfarlane and Ali Smith.
  10. Sebald’s Bachelors: Queer Resistance and the Unconforming Life – Helen Finch. Legends, 2013. I enjoy Helen Finch’s blog and Twitter account, and am very interested to read a book that Terry Pitts calls, “one of the most important books on Sebald to date”.

Some Well-Intentioned Reading Ideas for 2015 (updated)

These are not reading resolutions. Writers promising literary gifts lead me astray too easily for these ideas to be fixed in any way.

This year I read widely covering fifty or so writers, concentrating my reading more deeply only twice on Houellebecq and Anne Carson’s work. In 2015 I’d like to read more deeply into the work of some of my favourite authors: alternative Dante and Homer translations (and Adam Nicholson’s The Mighty Dead: Why Homer Matters) ,  more Ballard’s short stories, always more Beckett, John Berger, Roberto Calasso, more Anne Carson, the new Tom McCarthy, Robert Musil’s diaries, Hélène Cixous, Coetzee, Jenny Diski, Dostoevsky, Marguerite Duras, Pierre Hadot, Houellebecq’s new one if translated next year, Kafka’s short stories, László Krasznahorkai, Clarice Lispector, Bourdieu, Doris Lessing, Nabokov, Alice Oswald, Robert Macfarlane, Nietzsche, Atiq Rahimi, WG Sebald, Thomas Mann, Christa Wolf and Virginia Woolf.

Beyond these ‘old chestnuts’ (as Beckett called his favourite authors) I’m looking forward to unexpected surprises within the pages of the following new books, either missed in 2014 or due in 2015, by authors I have not read before:

  1. Kirmin Uribe – Bilbao – New York – Bilbao
  2. Claudia Rankine – Citizen: An American Lyric
  3. Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor – Dust
  4. Ceridwen Dovey – Only the Animals
  5. Karin Wieland (trans. Shelley Frisch) – Dietrich & Riefenstahl: The dream of the new woman
  6. Can Xue – The Last Lover
  7. Anna Smaill – The Chimes
  8. Han Kang (trans. Deborah Smith) – The Vegetarian
  9. Paul Celan – Breathturn Into Timestead
  10. David Winters – Infinite Fictions: Essays on Literature and Theory

There are several other writers whose older works I’d like to get around to exploring sometime soon including Jens Bjørneboe, Martin Shaw, Ivan Illich, Eva Hoffman, Ivan Goncharov, David Abram, Ágota Kristóf, Rebecca Solnit, Tomas Espedal and Elfriede Jelinek.

As always, distractions are greater than my ambition, but if I manage to take in a decent selection of the above I’m expecting a good year in reading. There are several other titles I have my eye on but I’m mindful of your patience and Molloy’s admission that ‘if you set out to mention everything you would never be done.’

A Year in Reading: 2014

A sense of despondency settled on me as I totted up the number of books I completed this year. Sixty-four read to date in 2014, a hefty reduction from the eighty-five to a hundred I used to consider my yearly run-rate. I can’t even excuse myself by pointing to any especially taxing or lengthy books, though I am abandoning unsatisfying fiction earlier and earlier-there were at least a dozen I gave up within twenty pages.

Absorption with the short-term high of Twitter is the root of my distraction. Twitter has given me an opportunity to converse with, and in many cases meet, many serious readers and thinkers around the world, but how to balance that blessing with its qualities as a massively capacious time sink? One way or another I need to reduce the distraction.

Three writers dominated my reading this year: Michel Houellebecq, Anne Carson and Jenny Diski. Houellebecq, unlike the other two, is no great stylist but is the only fictional writer I know who so precisely captures in fiction what it is to live through this latest manifestation of capitalism, a neoliberalism whose influence reaches deep into notions of individualism and identity. Carson enables me to agree with Harold Bloom’s assessment of literary genius, as defined by a writer’s ability to widen and clarify our consciousness, and intensify our awareness-Carson has been augmenting my consciousness for some time, and I fully expect that to continue. Diski’s quietism and unsociability continually provides me with those prized moments when you come across a thought or feeling you’d thought particular to you-those moments when it feels like a hand has come out and taken yours.

Those writers aside, the books that impressed me this year, in the sense of becoming deeply fixed in my mind are the same books I’ve bought for friends, urging them zealously to read immediately. There are five that are each extraordinary in the own way: Grace Dane Mazur’s Hinges: Meditations of the Portals of the Imagination, Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, Atiq Rahimi’s A Curse on Dostoevsky, Jonathan Gibbs’ Randall and Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams.

Last year I omitted the geeky statistics influenced by Twitter snark the year before, but fuck the cynics (I’m so bored of world-weary cynics). This year half of the books I’ve read are by women writers, not a deliberate practice but a pleasing one in the year of Badaude’s #readwomen2014 action. About 60% of the books I read are non-fiction, the same proportion are by either French or British writers. About a third of the fiction I read is translated, a proportion that seems to be consistent year on year.

This year I read a lot more work by writers I hadn’t read before, including two exceptional debuts by Catherine Lacey and Alice Furse: in  both cases I look forward to reading their follow-up books. I became acquainted with the work of Carole Maso and Elena Ferrante and intend to read their work more deeply (and, of course, the writers I mention above).

I also discovered the Dark Mountain Project, a network of thinkers who are shaping a cultural response to our ecological, political and social unravelling. Discovering others that so closely share my thoughts provides relief even when the line of thinking is overwhelmingly pessimistic. Via Dark Mountain I was lead to Nick Hunt’s Walking the Woods and the Water, a journey in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor, which I am currently reading. I recommend it highly to anyone that has read Paddy Fermor’s books, it is every bit as evocative and beautifully written.

I don’t feel that I’ve been a consistent blogger this year (haven’t even written of many of the books I’ve mentioned above), so was very pleased to get name-checked by the Guardian book blog. I am thrilled that, despite my inconsistency, a couple of hundred readers a day drop by Time’s Flow Stemmed. Thank you very much for your interest.

A Neoliberalism Reading List

(Re)reading from first to last, as I have recently, Michel Houellebecq’s entire body of translated work leaves me in little doubt that he is the only novelist in the west truly capturing the pernicious effects on individuals living through this latest manifestation of capitalism, a neoliberalism whose influence reaches deep into notions of individualism and identity.

Carole Sweeney’s reading list below is as good as any I’ve seen on the history of capitalism in the twentieth century, and most particularly on the rise of neoliberalism. I’ve read some of these and plan to read the others, and welcome any other reading suggestions along similar lines.

  • Luc Boltanski, Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism
  • Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of our Times
  • Krishnan Kumar, From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society: New Theories of the Contemporary World
  • Ash Amin, Post-Fordism: A Reader
  • David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism
  • Gilles Lipovetsky, Hypermodern Times
  • Paolo Virno, Michael Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy
  • Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences
  • Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power
  • Henry Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed
  • New Bibliological Definitions Added

    Bibliocarnality: the mania for continuing to acquire books despite have insufficient time left to read those you possess but haven’t yet read.

    Bibliophilic neuralgia: involuntary facial twitches that accompany the enthusiasm expected by a relative who has presented you with an unwanted book as a Christmas or birthday gift.

    Bibliobender: the orgy of book acquisition that follows a 6-12 month moratorium on acquiring any new books.

    Bibliolatry by Proxy: desperate yearning to see the title and cover of the book you’ve been reading, and enjoying, over someone’s shoulder on a bus or train journey.

    Proustian Chihuahua Syndrome: the sinking resignation halfway through a book of more than five hundred pages that you haven’t got the tenacity to get to the end.

    Bibliobacchanalia: reading a book after the third glass of wine, fully knowing you’ll have to reread those fifty pages again tomorrow (but no longer caring).

    Nine Perfect “Products”

    1. Fuji X100 camera
    2. The Cure’s Boy’s Don’t Cry album
    3. Beckett’s “trilogy” of novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable
    4. Tony Scott’s film True Romance
    5. Dr. Marten 10-Eye steel toe-cap boots (Cherry Red)
    6. Sibelius’ The Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
    7. Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci
    8. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
    9. Cross “Townsend” black lacquer fountain pen (medium nib)

    [Inspired by “Houellebecq’s” lament for three perfect products in The Map and the Territory. I’ve drifted beyond fungible manufactured commodities into performance: what can be manufactured with sounds, words, bodies and light.]

    ‘In my life as a consumer.’ he said, ‘I’ve known three perfect products: Paraboot walking boots, the Canon Libris laptop-printer combination, and the Camel Legend parka. I loved these products, with a passion; I would’ve spent my life in their presence, buying regularly, with natural wastage, identical products. A perfect and faithful relationship had been established, making me a happy consumer. I wasn’t completely happy in all aspects of life, but at least I had that: I could, at regular intervals, buy a pair of my favourite boots. It’s not much but it’s something, especially when you’ve quite a poor private life. Ah yes, that joy, that simple joy, has been denied me. My favourite products, after a few years, have disappeared from the shelves, their manufacture has stopped purely and simply – and in the case of my poor Camel Legend parka, not doubt the most beautiful parka ever made, it will have lived for only one season …’