My New Year’s Eve tradition continues with the new list, divided by category, of all the books I read this past year. I have added links for each one I reviewed. As always is the case, I was unable to read all I had planned and produced fewer reviews than I would have liked (though more than last year, so I’m on the right track).
I shall be following it up with two new posts after New Year’s: The Ten Best and Five Worst Films I saw in 2013. So, watch for those if you’re curious and enjoy!
Classic literature: I only managed a small set of “cornerstone” fiction this year. Read Women in Love (to correspond with last year’s Rainbow) and finally got around to Therese Raquin. Both were good, if somewhat flawed, but Dubliners was a singularly underwhelming experience.
Also, beginning a long-term study of the gothic novel’s evolution, I revisited The Castle of Otranto and found a close read greatly enhanced my enjoyment of it. Immediately followed with The Sorrows of Young Werther, a mannered but strangely disconcerting Romantic novella.
Literature in general: I finished The Alexandria Quartet: Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea. Oddly enough, not much else for this category. Began Gore Vidal’s American Chronicles with Washington, D.C. – a novel a bit too close to what I hear on the news to qualify for escapism, but major props for cynicism and not dating an inch from the 60s to today. Won’t be my last Vidal.
Modern literature: Last year I struck out completely and resolved to do better. To my surprise, I actually did so. The results were…mixed. Tried Infinite Jest but it overwhelmed me with its showoffy non-communication and I gave up. The Russian Vladimir Sorokin’s minor dystopic novel Day of the Oprichnik didn’t do much for me either and A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick just waffled in a lukewarm middle between seperate types of excellence. I did enjoy revisiting Joyce Carol Oates and being newly convinced of her talent by Will You Always Love Me? and I Lock My Door Upon Myself. The greatest find was unquestionably Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher (review pending).
Plays: Not a blessed one. Mostly owing to their fate of being boxed up until shelving is built for them.
Poetry: Actually managed rather well this year. Further Beat exploration with Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind; The Poems of Jean Toomer, subtle, spiritual and highly modernist in style; Cliff Burns’ New and Selected Poems – a truly staggering work of modern poetry; and the Polish poets Anna Swir (Happy as a Dog’s Tail) and Czeslaw Milosz (Bells in Winter). Really, not a lame duck in the batch.
Non-fiction: My desire to be a “serious” reader has at last paid off in spades. I have embarked upon the too-long-intimidating challenge of reviewing The Harvard Classics and to that end read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin side by side with Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Moved along to the less well-known and rather less entertaining Journal of John Woolman and William Penn’s maxims Fruits of Solitude.
An interest in history piqued, I spent a great deal of time on McCullough’s mammoth character study John Adams, well worth the read. Equally perfect was Christopher Hibbert’s King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780. Then there was The King’s Speech, which was too bland to justify its existence, and Satan: The Early Christian Tradition, which led to the shocking discovery that theology makes for fun reading.
On the lighter literary side, nothing is lighter than 84, Charing Cross Road. There was also Mike Evans’ coffeetable book The Beats (good rundown with a side helping of photographs). Joan Didion’s of-its-time classic Slouching Towards Bethlehem proved to have a very troubling effect on me as I read but I also kicked back with more books by and about Henry Miller: His memoir of Greece The Colossus of Maroussi and Brassai’s memoir of him Henry Miller: The Paris Years. Clive Bloom’s Gothic Histories (research material) promised more than it delivered, mostly thanks to some really shoddy editing.
Finally, a textbook labeled Evolutionary Psychiatry, which I read in a fit of melancholy. It was actually quite excellent, combining compassionate Darwinism with Jungian theory.
Light reading: The shameful end of the list! This year I acquainted myself with Conan the Barbarian of all things and to my great embarrasment, very much enjoyed the stories I read. I’m really gaining a taste for the legends of pulp…
Also, another of Charlotte Armstrong’s thrillers (The Gift Shop), this one way too implausible in the second half for my taste so it may be a while before I pick up another. The Terror Trap was a rather lame effort at 70s romantic suspense, where the heroine puts up less fight than a little old lady. On a tonier level, reading The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany really helped me change my opinion on science fiction and has left me seeking further into the field. And no one can go wrong with Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit…
I haven’t been very active with my blog lately for rather banal reasons, but as always, the New Year’s Resolution remains firmly to read more, more widely and to sharpen my writing skills for future productions. I love this little blog of mine dearly and have no intention of ever giving it up. Happy New Year!