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Saturday, December 30, 2017

Some books I read, 2017

Selected Reads and Rereads
I'm not sure how much of a picture this gives of my reading, since a great deal of it is piecemeal (especially with poetry) and not shown here. But it is a part-picture of a ramble through the year. And you can probably puzzle out something or other about my current manuscript by a study of these books.

Currently I'm reading some MacFarlane, some Denis Johnson, and various poets. Again, the poetry is mostly piecemeal. The most accurate portrait of my poetry reading over a year would be a fat anthology I make myself, including a good bit of Yeats. I've only listed poetry here if I read a complete book. I point that out for those of you who might possibly pass by and wonder why your book is not listed--must mean I have not read the entire thing as yet!

* * *

Attila József, Perched on Nothing's Branch: Selected Poems. Translated from the Hungarian by Peter Hargitai. Foreword by Maxine Kumin. Buffalo, New York: White Pine Press, 1999. Academy of American Poets Translation Award. Don't miss József's "Curriculum Vitae" at the start, as it will be an effective way for you to break into tiny, sharp pieces glazed with tears. Poem snip: "Shadows of silverfish sweep the corals, / usher in the blackness, flutter on soft sand; / they touch tired snails and fall asleep for a long time..."

Bible. Various forays into the library of books that we call The Holy Bible. Took a class on Genesis and one on Exodus. Have been reading KJB, NRSV, Robert Alter's translation of Genesis, and David Bentley Hart's brand new translation, The New Testament, meant to mimic the style of the Greek, even where rough, impetuous, and careless as to tenses. It was lauded recently in The Atlantic. A more tempered view by Wesley Hill here.

C. Day Lewis. The Poetic Image. Still pertinent and well worth reading. Essays/lectures from someone who understands literary history and the Modernist place in it for good and for ill. "The Lyric Impulse" is a great introductory piece. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book. Highly recommended for those interested in song, ballad, and shapely poems.

C. P. Cavafy, The Complete Poems of Cavafy, translated by Rae Dalven, with an introduction by W. H. Auden (Harcourt, Brace and World, 1948.) Auden: "The most original aspect of his style, the mixture, both in his vocabulary and his syntax, of demotic and purist Greek, is untranslatable." Every now and then I feel drawn to reread Cavafy in various translations. I love the way he writes of things historical!

Camille Paglia, Glittering Images: A Journey through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. (New York: Pantheon Books.) I read this aloud to my husband on our drive to my mother's house in western North Carolina in October and finished it up on the way back to our home in upstate New York. Some of her speculations are of the very sheerest, but it's a great read if you love art and don't care for the sterility and jargon of much arts criticism. Enthusiasm and respect for spiritual search inform the book. With the early works, the miracle of survival of ancient art and the admiration for the distinctive styles and crafts of shaping wielded by ancient, anonymous people are on Paglia's mind. And if you feel at all uncertain about the history of Modernism, she'll help you out in understanding how one sub-movement reacted to another. (And I must say that she managed to make me see Mondrian in an surprising new way--I had no real sense of what Mondrian thought that he was doing and found him surprisingly symbolic in his mode of conceiving and carrying out paintings.) I like and agree with her ideas of Warhol (or Mapplethorpe) as the dead-end of the avant garde, and I think those ideas translate well to what happened with poetry in the twentieth century, particularly when you look at how both painters pursuing realism and narrative and poets pursuing formal variety (including some ancient forms) and a widened subject matter are slowly gaining ground. Paglia is my favorite feminist because she insists (mightily!) on formulating her own thoughts without a whit of care for the winds and trends of culture in an era when academics tend to march together.

A CLOSET for Ladies and Gentlewomen, or the Art of Preserving, Conserving, and Candying. With the manner how to make divers kinder of Syrups, and all kinds of Banqueting-stufs: Also divers Soveraigne-Medecines and Salves. London: Printed by R. H. [Richard Hodgkinson], 1651. I loved holding this one in my hands and wished I could put it in my pocket (tiny!) and take it home. Cordial waters, preserves, candying, medicines. I've read some other books like this one (I won't list them all!) in the past year, and they are invariably enjoyable--there are some online. Read in a 90-degree cradle at The American Antiquarian Society, AAS.

C. S. Lewis, The World's Last Night. Essays. Here's a favorite clip on culture and on what is "real and live and unfabricated": "But when the things are of high value and very easily destroyed, we must talk with great care, and perhaps the less we talk the better.... For the true enjoyments must be spontaneous and compulsive and look to no remoter end. The Muses will submit to no marriage of convenience."

Cynthea Masson, The Alchemist's Council. I had failed to pack a book for my flight to Japan, and an ARC of this novel was the sole volume on the United book-giveaway shelf, so of course I had to take it along.  The author is a Canadian professor who had a postdoc fellowship in medieval alchemical manuscripts at The British Library. As I used a more traditional mode of alchemy to structure a forthcoming book (written some years back), I'm always interested in seeing what others do with alchemical meanings. The realm is complicated enough that the author is forced into info-dumping at times, but it's ingenious, using strange erasures that bring memory losses and an elaborate linkage between scripts and our world. And bees! I left it at an onsen on Sado Island, so perhaps it found someone who can read English.

Dave Bonta, Ice Mountain. An Elegy. (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2017.) Design and woodblock illustrations by Elizabeth Adams. With an interesting essay by Dave about his inspiration from 3eanuts and much more. I know Dave through qarrtsiluni, a meeting in Wales, Via Negativa, and mutual friends. "at the top of a hemlock tree / a porcupine sleeps / in a sunlit halo of quills."

David D. Hall, Worlds of Wonder, Days of Judgment New York: Knopf, 1989. Hall looks at learning faith via gaining literacy and the sacred nature of text. Interesting on the reading matter of the godly (and the less so) of Mass Bay, as well as the wonders and "remarkables" of the time. More on the Sabbath, Sewall, etc. I knew a lot of the material discussed already but still found it interesting. Checked it out at AAS and then ordered a copy--well worth the read.

David Schmer Svahn. Conflict and Genius: A Brief Introduction to a Complex Man--19th Century Scholar, Poet and Priest. William Wilberforce Lord 1819-1907. Doylestown, PA: Otsego Press, 2017. Bassett doctor and amateur historian David Svahn wrote this account of W. W. Lord, poet praised by Wordsworth and eviscerated by Poe, priest who served in the siege of Vicksburg and at Christ Church Cooperstown, where he got into a colorful ruckus! Great book for Cooperstonians and people interested in nineteenth-century poets, thinkers, and clergy. Reviewed for the local Christ Church Chronicle.

Emma Donoghue, Wonder (Boston: Little Brown, 2016.)

E. M. W. Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture. Just as good as it was years ago. Eustace Mandeville Wetenhall Tillyard, former Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, going at chaos and order and the Great Chain of Being.

French Poetry from Medieval to Modern Times, ed. Patrick McGuinness (New York: Everyman's Library, Knopf.) Read on a trip and need to reread.

G. K. Chesterton, The Wit and Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton (New York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1911.  LibriVox. I did not expect these to be so very good--the first half is wonderful. Listened to them while on the treadmill. Amusing and full of marvelous turnings and surprise. In his words, even the frailest of subjects become "thistledown...the roots of stars." The wonder of nonsense, a defense of public obsession with absurd facts, the decline in rash and impossible vows, the proper worship of babies (each a new world), and more.

George and Weedon Grosssmith, The Diary of a Nobody. LibriVox.

(Sir) George Webbe Dasent's translation of Popular Tales from the Norse (Norske Folkeeventyr) collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. Folk tales. You may remember this book from childhood; I did. Tolkien referred to "Soria Moria Castle" as a possible name-source for his Mines of Moria. He also refers to Dasent in "On Fairy-Stories." 71 tales short and long, with a wild variety of voices and accents. LibriVox.

Joanna Moorhead, The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington (London: Virago Press, 2017.) Reviewed in a round-up called "The Runaway Powers of Leonora Carrington."

John T. Hull, The Siege and Capture of Fort Loyall: Destruction of Falmouth, May 20, 1630. A paper read before the Maine genealogical society, June 2, 1885. Portland, ME: Owen, Strout and Co., Printers, 1885. Hard to believe he read the entire book to the state genealogical society.... Though it is quite interesting. Read at AAS.

John Dane, A Declaration of Remarkable Providences in the Course of My life. By John Dane of Ipswich. 1682. To Which is Added a Pedigree of the Dane Family, And a Few Notes. By a Member of the New England Historic-Genealogical Society. [Identified as John Ward Dane in pencil.] Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1854. An account of some charm, full of temptations (a proto-Tom Jones!) and odd events. Influenced a passage in my novel. Read at AAS. I keep seeing this referred to, but with no sense that John Dane is closely related to the heroic Mr. Francis Dane, minister of Andover and defender of accused witches and wizards.

James Turner Johnson, A Society Ordained by God: English Puritan Marriage Doctrine in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century. Studies in Christian Ethics Series. Nashville and New York: Abingdon Press, 1970.

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim. I read again after many decades and was surprised to find how well I remembered it, particularly the episode of the burned bedclothes and the "Merrie England" talk. The apex of the drunken address still reminded me of Fink-Nottle's, and antihero Jim Dixon of a sharper, less hapless and sweet Bertie Wooster. After being in the British army, Kingsley Amis must have been out to break all the campus rules.... Is Dixon sometimes roiling with class rage, spite, boredom, maliciousness, immaturity, self-contempt, and an Amisian-Larkinesque view of women? Sure. Here's Dixon in the morning: "Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.” Now I feel like rereading some Wodehouse and maybe The Loved One.

Leena Krohn, Doña Quixote and Other Citizens. Portrait: Tales of the citizens of an usual city. I wrote about Doña Quixote here.

Leonora Carrington, Down Below (New York Review of Books, 2017.) I reviewed Carrington books here.

Leonora Carrington, The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (The Dorothy Project, 2017.) Reviewed in a round-up called "The Runaway Powers of Leonora Carrington."

Leonora Carrington, The Milk of Dreams (New York Review of Books, 2017.) Reviewed in a round-up called "The Runaway Powers of Leonora Carrington."

M. Michelle Jarrett Morris, Under Household Government: Sex and Family in Puritan Massachusetts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. I don't think I read all of this one...

Michael Donaghy, Shibboleth (Oxford, 1988) Recommended poetry collection. "...the dive was there before the hawk was, / Real as a wind shear before the blown snow reveals it."

Peter J. Bohan, Early Connecticut Silver, 1700-1840. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1870. This one also talks about earlier silver in the short text. Lots of images. AAS.

Philip J. Greven, Jr., Four Generations: Population, Land, and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1970. AAS. Had to skim this one, as I didn't have it for long.

Philip Larkin, The Whitsun Weddings. I wrote about this volume (and a bit about Charles Causley as well) here.

Robert Alden Rubin, Seeing the Bones and Other Poems (read in manuscript.) This one will find a home eventually.

Robert Forby, The Vocabulary of East Anglia--originally published in 1830. 2 vols. Fascinating.

Robert Macfarlane, Landmarks (Hamish Hamilton, 2017.) Lovely, bumpy, tactile, strange place names in the UK.

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option. New York: Sentinel, 2016. Oddly, I found this book helpful in thinking about the feelings behind Puritan emigration and town establishment in New England. That is, it's really clear on communities needing to form in resistance to the dominant culture. In other ways, entirely different!

The Saltonstall Papers, 1607-1815: Selected and Edited, with Biographis of Ten Members of the Saltonstall Family in Six Generations. Boston, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1972. 2 vols. I only used the first volume--some great letters, and the biographies were useful and sometimes contradicted earlier sources I had used. Great interest, and answered some questions I had. Read at AAS.

The School of Good Manners, 1769. I finally learned the source of "the upper hand." When you're walking with another person, the right hand position is the one for the superior person. When three, he/she should be placed in the middle. (This reminds me of Darcy and Bingley's sisters walking in the garden, and Darcy's attempt to have Elizabeth join them. But no, they are "charmingly disposed." Or something like that.) Hey, and "Spit not in the Room, but in the Corner, and rub it with thy Foot...."

Steve Turner, Imagine. Basic. Very much in line with his International Arts Movement talk.

Susan Hankla, Clinch River (Roanoke: Groundhog Press, 2017.) Poetry collection reviewed for The Hollins Critic. Read it! Our interview is also forthcoming. This is one of the second series of volumes from poet and writer R. H. W. Dillard's new and much-appreciated Groundhog Press (Roanoke, Virginia.)

T. McClure Peters, A Picture of Town Government in Massachusetts Bay Colony, at the Middle of the Seventeenth Century As Illustrated by the Town of Boston. Dissertation, School of Political Science, Columbia College. The McWilliams Printing Co., 1890. A highly useful little book to help understand town officers in early towns and Mass Bay governmental courts and structure. The number and variety of offices is surprising. And some offices are open only to Selectmen. Really curious and interesting if you like knowing such things! Read at AAS.

Ted Hughes, Selected Translations: Poems, ed. Daniel Weissbort. (New York: FSG, 2006.) A bit of Homer, an opera text (a version, not a translation) for the Bardo Thödol, Ferenc Juhász's marvelous "The Boy Changed into a Stag Cries Out at the Gate of Secrets, and more. Wide variety in close, near-literal versions for the most part. Great collection for Hughes fans or for anyone who wants to take a look at a wide variety of writers.

Thomas L. Purvis, Colonial America to 1763. Almanacs of American Life. Facts on File, 1999.

(The Reverend) Thomas Morong, Puritan Life and Manners. An Address, Delivered in Ipswich, Massachusetts, at the Memorial Services on Forefathers' Day, Dec. 21, 1870, Together with a Notice of the Exercises on That Occasion. Boston: Lyman Rhodes, Printer, 1871. A good year-by-year source, despite a few oddities. Fat tabloid publication. Another one that it's hard to believe was a presentation because it's the length of a short book. People must have been more patient than we are. Read at AAS.

250th Anniversary of Ye Anciente Town of Haverhill. Worcester, MA: F.  S. Blanchard and Co., July 2 and 3, 1890. A big fat tabloid publication. What a bargain for a mere 10 cents! Loved this crumbling, darkening source. So helpful. Read at AAS.

[William Badcock.] W. B. of London, Goldsmith, Touch-stone for Gold and Silver Wares. Directing how to know Adulterated and unlawful GOLDSMITH'S Works, and the greatness of the Cheat therein; and how to punish the Offenders, and recover Recompence to the party wronged. Being a Treatise of great life for every Buyer of PLATE, and all Buyers and Wearers of Silver-Hilts, and Silver Buckles, and all other kind of GOLDSMITHS Works. The second Edition with Additions, Comprising the principal matters relating to the Goldsmiths and Cutlers Trades, and material things concerning all other Manual Trades. London: Printed for J. [?] Bellinger, in Cliffords-Inn-lane, and T. Basset at the George near Cliffords-Inn in Fleet-street, 1678. This is one I didn't get to keep long enough to read the whole thing, but it's fascinating and another volume that is tiny and packed and delicate. Read at AAS.


  1. I realise you're packing lots of titles in here, many of them of the "improving" sort. But for me Diary of a Nobody does at least deserve a small hand-wave. There are not many comic novels where one joke (in essence, poor dear Pooter's innocence and ignorance) is sustained throughout and still has the power to make us laugh right at the end. Much of the humour is sustained by the Grossmith brothers' ability to lay "pregnant eggs", lines that seem bare of implication but which we, the readers, recognise will fructify a couple of pages further on, causing us to exist in delightful and hilarious anticipation. For all that, Pooter is three-dimensional. Nice work if you can get it. Mes félicitations.

    1. A great many I would categorize as the useful sort--things that helped me with a novel. But I'm fond of listening to comic stories and novels when exercising or walking. (I enjoyed the reread of Amis pere as well, though the most amusing thing might have been the book of manners.)

  2. Fluttering by with Sylvester greetings!
    I'll take a closer look at this wonderful list after finishing with Binti (Nnedi Okorafor), The Errant Hours (Kate Innes), and my dose of poetry, Voyage of the Sable Venus (Robin Coste Lewis). I do have to put in a word for the novels by Jesmyn Ward I stumbled on this autumn ... wow!

    1. I do like recommendations! How did you like the others?

    2. My first Okorafor tale, read earlier this year, was 'Who Fears Death.' I liked it so much for its originality that I picked up 'Binti.' Well I don't have words enough to convey how deeply this tale touched me; simple on the surface, lush writing, and spot-on pacing. I've just finished re-reading 'Binti' and 'Binti:Home' in preparation for the release of the third and final installment, Binti: The Night Masquerade, in a week or so. I am on tenterhooks!

      'The Errant Hours' has been on my to-read list for a year, and I finally started it. About a fifth of the way in, I very much like the way Kate Innes draws the characters. She obviously knows quite a bit about the time period.

      'Voyage of the Sable Venus' is eye-opening for me, as I don't really know art in depth. But the poetry is beautiful to the ear and I am learning so much. Happy to have this one on the nightstand!

      I have reviews for Jesmyn Ward's books on my Goodreads profile. Stunning. Simply stunning. I love the fact that she is not afraid of a well-placed adjective or of letting her sentences be as long as necessary.

    3. Thank you! I really do like recommendations. I don't think I had a sense of what sort of book you like prior to this!

  3. I am impressed and envious. For me the past year is a blank, but I remain hopeful about 2018 and the revised blog address and reading goals.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Oops....wrong address

    2. I am so far behind on books that I have promised to read... Next year I will have to catch up on books by friends, books to blurb, etc.

      Happy New Year to you! Happy Feast of the Holy Name!

  4. Happy new year!

    I keep seeing Dave Bonta's book mentioned here and there. It's clearly calling to me; I'll be ordering a copy.

    1. Happy new year to you, Jeff--enjoy your next whirl around the sun (and reading the Bontasaurus, too!)


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.