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Monday, January 02, 2017

Selected Reading, 2016 Happy New Year

Selected 2016 Reading List, in ABC order by author
Books by friends, books recommended by friends, 
new reads, lots of rereads, books read to review or blurb. 

Of course, I lost my list (so me!) partway through the year, 
so here's what I remember right now in the way of books read in full.

Aldhelm, Saint Aldhelm's Riddles, translated by A. M. Juster. Reviewed for First Things. (Yes, I liked it and gave it a great review.) My husband bought me a copy at the same time I bought myself one, so clearly it must be a "me" sort of book!

Jane Austen, Persuasion. Reread, again. It has climbed higher on the Austen list. Maybe I'm finally old enough to appreciate its virtues.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. Reread for the Nth time. In the kingdom of the novel-in-English, I can never be done with rereading Fielding, Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, and Melville.

Jane Austen, The Watsons (fragmentary novel.) If you're a fan....

Willis Barnstone, translator of The New Covenant Volume I: The Four Gospels and Apocalypse. Translated from the Greek and informed by Semitic sources. Extensive introductory and appendix essays. I don't always agree with him but the essays and notes are interesting, and so is the translation, which uses Aramaic / Hebrew name ways and returns the text to poetry.

Michael Bishop, Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls  Read in manuscript to write a blurb for Kudzu Planet Productions. Illustrated with charm and abundance by Orion Zangara.  Full blurb: "Joel-Brock Lollis's family has vanished into the labyrinthine Sporangium below a curious Georgia emporium, Big Box Bonanzas. Glimpses of an older J-B Lollis of the Atlanta Braves on a BBB television suggest that Joel-Brock may never get back his parents and sister. The Valorous Smalls--almost-ten Joel-Brock, lively teen Addi, and tiny detective Valona--forge their way into the mushroom realm to change that possible future. Young readers who enjoy quests with marvels in the kingdom of the weird (mushroom warriors! mazes! time games! giant slugs!) will find much to interest, amuse, and surprise them in Michael Bishop's unusual fantasy, Joel-Brock the Brave and the Valorous Smalls, well and profusely illustrated in pen-and-ink by Orion Zangara."

Louise Bogan, The Blue Estuaries: Poems, 1923-1968. Fine poems, well worth reading. As with Muir, I like the mythic ones a lot. That may be because they were the first I knew, as both writers were in a mythic poetry anthology by John Alexander Allen bought when I was seventeen.

G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse. If you're a fan of LOTR, read this! Clearly a major source, far more suggestive of Tolkien than I expected.

Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White. Reread yet again. Such a marvelous "sensation" novel, such curious characters, such moody "set pieces," starting with the initial encounter with the Woman in White. While it was very clear on the unequal status of men and women (particularly as regards inheritance) at the time, I suppose that its marked fluidity of male and female roles within a Victorian world always conscious of what is proper must be of new interest to scholars in our era.

John Putnam Demos, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England.

Annie Dillard, The Abundance. If you like Dillard, which I do, you might order this thinking (as I did) it would be chock full of essays. I was rather disappointed that this selection was not a little more abundant in its choice. Great starter book if you haven't met her before.

Seb Doubinsky, Predominance of the Great: non-haikus. Narcissitic comment: always so pleasant to have a poem dedicated to you--to find out what words the poet thought suited to "you."

Jeffrey Ford, The Shadow Year. Interesting to read another Ford novel. But if you have not but wish to read him, start with the short stories.

Richard Goldbeer, The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England.

Georgette HeyerThe Marriage of Convenience. Read this one because Ellen Kushner kept talking about Heyer. It is frothy--rather as if Leon Garfield, Jane Austen, and P. G. Wodehouse had a word-frolic.

Clive James, Poetry Notebook. Wonderful essays, well worth reading. If you write or read formal poetry (you know, the stuff we used to just call poetry, back before Modernism), you will find him congenial, I expect.

Mary Kinzie, The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose: Moral Essays on the Poet's Calling. Learned about this one via a Michael Juster tweet. This book would be salutary for any young poet to read, no matter his or her bent, because he or she would be challenged by the description of the poetry of our day. Even if the poet radically disagreed (perhaps especially then?), such strongly formulated arguments would be helpful in coming to understand his or her own thoughts.

Ursula LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea.  Holds up from the first read, many years ago.

Ursula LeGuin, The Tombs of Atuan. Ditto.

George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind.
I loved this as a small child; it feels dated but still has the MacDonald sweetness.

George MacDonald, Phantastes. Foundational book for 20th-century fantasy.

Jo Mazelis, Ritual 1969. You can read my review of this collection (her third) for Planet: The Welsh Internationalist. "Jo Mazelis’s well-crafted stories in Ritual, 1969 (Seren, 2016) stand at a crossroads—liminal place between worlds where criminals and suicides were buried—of the fantastic and the homely real."

Alda Merini (Susan Stewart, translator), Love Lessons: Selected Poems of Alda Merini. I have read this book twice, trying to see why I should be a fan. Still not, alas. It seems more than a language problem, as I once again felt let down. Truly, I would like someone to explain to me why I should admire the poems. I would welcome a little enlightenment. Alessandra Bava tells me that Alda Merini is quite good, and I believe her but still can't see.

Edwin Muir, Collected Poems. I had not read him in a long time; I like his poems, especially the myth-tinged ones.

Garth Nix, Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Goldenhand and To Hold the Bridge. Y. A. fiction. The two last are new, a novel and a collection (the title novella is set in the Old Kingdom.) Thinking about going back to a novel for teens than I abandoned when almost finished, but I think this is about all the contemporary Y. A. I read last year.

Adam Roberts, The Thing Itself. I tweeted a lot of quotes from this book in the fall, and regret that it has not had a wider readership. If you love irrealism of any sort, try it. If you love Kant, try it. Oh, just go ahead and try it!

Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped. Enjoyed as much as when I was a mere sprat. The "flight in the heather" (admired by Henry James) and the roundhouse battle are well-handled pieces that mix action with forcible inaction and watching. I also like the wild weirdness of the hideout for Cluny Macpherson, Jacobite rebel. The relationship between David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart is effective in great part because Alas is so rash and bold and childish and proud, and David is tested in his loyalty to the man who has saved him. Set in the eighteenth century and making use of the murder of Colin Roy Campbell the Red Fox near Ballachulish (the Appin Murder), the story is well worth a read if you missed it, growing up.

Michel Tournier, Gilles and Jeanne (translated by Alan Sheridan.) Definitely should not be the first Tournier read. I think it must be called a failure, though failures are, of course, important to art and shed light on related work or can be transitional bridges to something more successful. Yet I dislike it. You know it's not kindred when the book is short and you start skimming anyway!

Robert Walser, Oppressive Light (selected poems, translated by Daniele Pantano.) Walser made me write a few poems in opposition to his, so I am grateful to him. I was a little disappointed--somehow expected more, when I should have been simply curious--but interested all the same.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God. The self as kingdom flourishing within the divine kingdom.

W. B. Yeats, Crossways.
I always read Yeats, but this year I'm looking at his poems as separate collections instead of hopping about at whim (although I am doing some of that as well.) New poem "I Met My True Love Walking" has a sigodlin relationship to "Down By the Salley Gardens."

W. B. Yeats, The Rose.

Philip and Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings. How lovely to have such a wonderful setting, to be a writer in a setting where words mattered so very much. How sweet to grow and aspire in a small, encouraging country that cares about its literature.


  1. Did I ever mention the Graham Greene essay wherein he praises RLS's skill with action passages, citing this from Kidnapped:

    ... As for hope, I had none; but only a darkness of despair and a sort of anger against all the world that made me long to sell my life as dear as I was able. I tried to pray, I remember, but that same hurry of my mind, like a man running, would not suffer me to think upon the words; and my chief wish was to have the thing begin and be done with it.

    It came all of a sudden when it did, with a rush of feet and a roar; and then a shout from Alan, and a sound of blows and some one crying out as if hurt...

    Persuasive yet poetic, I thought.

    And does it count if I sing Down By The Salley Gardens rather than just read Yeats. The Britten arrangement, of course, and how I linger on:

    She bid me take life easy,
    as the grass grows upon the weirs.
    But I was young and foolish
    and now am full of tears.

    Some versions have "love" instead of "life" and I can't make up my mind.

  2. Stevenson is marvelous, isn't he? Loads of interesting writers mark him as a favorite. Greene and Borges and more... Yes, the roundhouse section is awfully vivid and well-paced. I've always liked writing passages with lots of movement, and "Kidnapped" has a great deal of swash and flight!

    I would love to hear you sing "Down by the Salley Gardens," though why not do both? This poem was somewhat inspired by that one, I suspect--at any rate, the form and the attitude at the start: I Met My True Love Walking.

  3. The Chesterton is great!

    "For God is a great servant,
    And rose before the day,
    From some primordial slumber torn;
    But all we living later born
    Sleep on, and rise after the morn,
    And the Lord has gone away.

    "On things half sprung from sleeping,
    All sleepy suns have shone,
    They stretch stiff arms, the yawning trees,
    The beasts blink upon hands and knees,
    Man is awake and does and sees—
    But Heaven has done and gone.

    "For who shall guess the good riddle
    Or speak of the Holiest,
    Save in faint figures and failing words,
    Who loves, yet laughs among the swords,
    Labours, and is at rest?

    "But some see God like Guthrum,
    Crowned, with a great beard curled,
    But I see God like a good giant,
    That, labouring, lifts the world.

    Happiest of new years to you, the physician, and the younguns! We had snow for New Year's day, beginning just after midnight. It was unexpected and beautiful.

    1. Chesterton is so varied and surprising to me... I don't know him as well as I ought.

      Thank you for the wish--hope all is very well with you and the Mighty Reader, and that you have a wonderful year. Think I might be going to both Paris and Kyoto this year. WOW.

  4. I don't know which impresses me more: (1) your eclectic reading, or (2) your ability to distill in delicious tastes your assessments. I am envious of both accomplishments. But I must confess to being a thief: I will steal some of your authors and titles for my own TBR wish-list. Chesterton and Stephenson intrigue me. And Yeats!

    1. It was fairly eclectic this year, at least as much as I can remember! Glad you liked the notes, though they could be more, I guess.

      Those are all good choices. I'm starting the new year by reading Philip Larkin's "The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse."

  5. I want to reread The Woman in White, Bleak House, and Dracula. Maybe this summer. Right now, I'll take the froth of Heyer. LOL

    1. Oh, I've reread all three! Think I've only read Dracula twice, though. Bleak House needs revisiting every few years. A good plan, Melinda. And enjoy the froth!

  6. Bogan and Muir - I was just wondering if they would fit this year. Well, I bought Muir's Collected Poems, so I was doing more than wondering.

    1. Oh, I shall have to reread him when you write about him. Muir and Bogan go together well, I think.

  7. Now, -- this is tangential in the extreme -- do you like Robert Browning, Marly?

    1. Ye-es, well... I haven't read him in a long time. And when I think of him now, I think of the usual suspects like "My Last Duchess" and "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." And I think the latter was in my mind when I was writing a certain story, long ago. I always think it a good sign when a writer engenders something else, at least in part. So perhaps I need to re-visit him to know how much I like him.

      I do like blank verse, and he is definitely important for it, especially the monologues. Milton, Browning, Stevens for bringing short blank verse in as a possibility....

    2. I asked as an experiment, because I have blind spot for him, like Ruskin's blind spot for Whistler: I read him and want to say, "a ragged right margin doesn't make a piece of bad prose into a poem!" But so many people like him I know there must be something there that I can't see. I wondered because your taste in books is so much like mine: I wondered if we'd share that lacuna as well.

    3. All I can say is that he's clearly not a favorite because that is measured by the desire to return to a writer....

      I just bought Larkin's Oxford anthology of modern English verse and am reading it. Lots of people I either haven't read in eons or else don't know. But he seems proportionally about right, after looking at the table of contents.

    4. And now I want to know who else you don't like! Among the departed canonical, I mean.

    5. Huh. I'll have to think on that. I like almost all of the departed canonicals, though there are some that I don't think I'll be getting back to, during this life: John Dryden and Thomas Hardy have probably seen the last of me :-)

    6. Yes, do. Dryden I haven't read in eons. Same with Shelley. I feel that I ought to reread Four Quartets for some reason, but I reread the short poems about a year ago and don't really feel like it. Not do I feel like Pound or Williams. I'll probably never again put up with Zukovsky and what's-his-name with the boring long poem. Sheesh, can't even remember his name. Hardy I am reading again in the Larkin anthology.

  8. Your link for The Thing Itself goes to the page for Ritual 1969. I haven't read Muir in a while, but still can get through some of "The Town Betrayed" and "Robert the Bruce to the Douglas on Dying" (at least that's how I remember the title).

    1. Well, there must be a spell on it! I'll fix it.

      Those are in your head? What else do you have memorized? I wish I had more. Must work on that this year.

    2. Memorized? Quantities of Yeats, bits of Wyatt, Jonson, Lewis Carroll, Robert Graves, Frost, heaven knows whom.

      I no longer know all of "The Town Betrayed" or the other, but I can string together some lines.

    3. Oh, that's a good list! I have some Shakespeare, Yeats, and Hopkins that is error-free in my head, but I want more....

  9. Oh, and the Inklings: I read somewhere yesterday that Tolkien made the translation of the Book of Joshua that appears in The Jerusalem Bible. But the "reader's edition", which is what I have, says nothing about who translated what.

    1. There is something about Tolkien and biblical translation... keep thinking that some of what he did wasn't used. No doubt Christopher Tolkien will publish it, if so!

    2. Sorry, the Book of Jonah. If only I could invent a "Publish" button that caused me to think before rather than after I clicked it ...

    3. Found the quote--must run but shall put it in later!

    4. Zaleski, The Fellowship: At the end of January [1957]. Fr. Alexander Jones, and admirer of The Lord of the Rings, wrote to ask if Tolkien would be willing to join the translation team for The Jerusalem Bible, a new Catholic English translation of scripture for which Jones was the overall editor. The translation was to be drawn in part from an existing French version and in part from original Hebrew and Greek texts. Tolkien disliked French for its phonological and structural hauteur; he also blamed it for contaminating Old English after the Norman invasion; but he read it well enough and couldn't pass up the opportunity to contribute to what would become the basis of the English Lectionary of the Mass for decades to come. He dashed off a translation of Isaiah I: 1-31 to Father Jones in indicate his level of competency. Father Jones, delighted with the result, asked Tolkien to tackle the Book of Jonah, a short text that he completed in about two weeks.

      And he did offer to do Joshua and Judges...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.