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Jessie Wilcox Smith - Woman Reading by WindowOn my previous blog often the only post I ever made each year was a booklist counting up the books I’d read in the course of the twelve preceding months. Perhaps it served no real purpose.

However, I see no reason to be rid of the habit and rather than abolish it, I resolve to change its form into something a little more practical in nature. This list shall go by genre. A study of what I’ve read (I’ll be honest; it wasn’t much). A study to see what I accomplished, to see how far afield I did wander in my armchair travels…

I have provided links to the books I’ve reviewed.

Classic literature: For a start, I finished off Les Miserables from 2011. A genuine accomplishment since it’s over a thousand hefty pages of misery, suspense and author filibustering. Worth every page though.

A choice between Zola and Voltaire for my next French author after Hugo and I chose the latter. Candide of course. As Enlightenment philosophy it was superb and I’ll probably never forget it. As literature it was greatly lacking.

Elsewhere, D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow, which had been on my reading list for the past two years and made me an instant Lawrence fan. The Overcoat and The Nose, a Evelyn WaughPenguin two-in-one and my first ambivalent experience of Gogol. Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall for some much-needed laughter. Siddhartha but don’t get me started on that one…

Great Expectations as an audiobook, Frank Muller as narrator. So good it converted me to the format. Always nice when that happens.

Literature in general: My exploration of Beat culture proceeded with On the Road (a pleasant experience) and Burroughs in his realist phase – Junky and Queer. Burroughs was the better of the two.

Several extravagantly artistic novels with beautiful writing and strange, unnerving images – Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood, John Hawkes’ An Irish Eye, Lawrence Durrell’s Justine and Carlos Fuentes’ Aura.

Yukio MishimaYukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves, an exercise in family friendliness from a surprising source. Dylan Thomas reading A Child’s Christmas in Wales for the holiday season. Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories.

Two catch-all compilations: The Houghton-Mifflin Anthology of Short Fiction, well over a thousand pages of widely selected authors and The Grove Press Reader 1951-2001, read in honour of Barney Rosset.

Modern literature: Nothing. My blind spot. I shall have to make more of an effort in 2013.

Plays: My intention had been to step back from the too easy plays of the 20th Century and get back to the basics. Shakespeare and Marlowe, I’d thought. It turned out to be Shakespeare and Sophocles in the end.Sophocles I read The Theban Plays and then I read Sophocles II for his other works. I even read the script of The Gospel at Colonus by Lee Breuer. Marlowe will have to wait but I did read Hamlet.

Poetry: The five poems that Dylan Thomas recited alongside A Child’s Christmas in Wales. Goblin Market in a Chronicle Books binding with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings to grace the text.

The Harvard this year was supposed to be John Milton’s Complete Poems in English. I read all the pre-Paradise Lost material but got derailed halfway through the greatest poem in the English language (at the same time as I was derailed from The Alexandria Quartet) and rather than complete it, I have opted to turn around and begin from the beginning with Volume 1 in the series.

Non-fiction: As always, a lot of literary material. Oscar Wilde’s long-awaited De Profundis finally made it to the top of my reading list. Surely the best thing he ever wrote. The William H. Gass essay collection Finding a Form, which made for some excellent mental exercise. Henry Miller’s houseguest-from-hell memoir A Devil in Paradise. Reminds me again to either learn French or stop reading Francophiles…

NietzscheNietzsche’s first work, The Birth of Tragedy, which may have been flawed in argument but was a blast to read nonetheless. Nietzsche in Turin: An Intimate Biography, flawed but worth the read.

A couple of music-related books: White Christmas: The Story of an American Song, documenting through Irving Berlin and his greatest hit the rise and fall of Tin Pan Alley (amazingly compelling stuff), and Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, Volume One. Worth the read just for Dylan’s evocations of the early sixties folk scene and his prodigious memory of books once perused.

As usual, heavyweight history suffers…

Light reading: The shameful end of my list. Fessing up time! Agatha Christie’s masterpiece of totally illogical suspense And Then There Were None. Sax Rohmer’s The book cover - Fu ManchuReturn of Dr. Fu Manchu, every bit as good as the first installment and leaving me hungry for more. Two 70s gothics, both coincidentally involving mansions stranded in the midst of dangerous bayous: The Master of Blue Mire and Amberleigh. The latter was not very good.

Speaking of not very good, I read The Alchemist. Made good on it by reading Jonathan Livingstone Seagull and the aforementioned Hesse. Put together the trio made for modest entertainment. None would have stood a chance alone.


That’s all I read, barring an occasional book dipped into briefly. And so my New Year’s tradition continues.

Resolutions? Just the obvious ones: To read more and to write more. I had no expectation when I began this past spring that my blog would get any traffic at all and since it is graced with visitors I must continue to post as regularly as I can. The cold weather does offer ample time for the project. Happy New Year!

Magazine Ogonek 1978