Monthly Archives: June 2010

Literary Confessions

Lots of people have been doing some form of the “literary confessions” or the “I really should have read this, why haven’t I yet?” meme, so I thought I would too. So let’s see — what are the books it seems I should have read by this point but haven’t yet gotten to?

  1. Shakespeare’s history plays. With the exception of Julius Caesar, I haven’t read any of them. Almost all the Shakespeare I’ve read was for a full-semester college course on the subject, and the professor I had didn’t emphasize the history plays, going for the tragedies and a few comedies instead. I haven’t gotten motivated to read them on my own.
  2. I’ve read some of the Canterbury Tales but not all of them. Actually, I wonder how many people have read all of them instead of reading just the most famous ones. Regardless, it seems like I should have read the whole thing. But no.
  3. Everyman, the play. Can you see a theme in this list so far? If it’s before, say, 1660, the chances are decent I haven’t read it.
  4. The Aeneid. As far as major epics go, I’ve read The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Paradise Lost, but I’ve ignored Virgil.
  5. But on to some more (relatively) modern things. Oliver Twist. I’ve read my fair share of Dickens — Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol. But no Oliver Twist and no Hard Times.
  6. Billy Budd. I’ve read Moby Dick, but nothing else by Melville. In fact, I’m not that great on the Americans, generally. I’ve read The Scarlet Letter, but not House of Seven Gables or Blithedale Romance; I’ve read relatively little Poe; and I’ve read The Pioneers by Cooper but not Last of the Mohicans or any other of his novels.
  7. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. This is one that many people get to in High School or thereabouts, right? I missed it somehow.
  8. Anything by Margaret Atwood. I have Alias Grace and Hobgoblin owns The Handmaid’s Tale, but I have yet to pick her up. Soon, hopefully soon. I follow her on Twitter after all.
  9. Catch-22. Hobgoblin encourages me to read this every once in a while, but without any success. I’m not against reading it, but I don’t think it’s exactly my sort of book.
  10. The Last Temptation of Christ. This is one I would like to get to, but I say that about thousands of books.

So that’s my list. I think I’d better get reading now.


Filed under Books, Memes

Book Buying Binge

I got the urge to go book shopping the other day, so I talked Hobgoblin into traveling to Manhattan to see what we could find. We both came home with a nice stack. We started at Three Lives, headed from there to Partners and Crime, took a walk over to the Strand, stumbled into Shakespeare and Co. for the first time, and ended our trip at Housing Works Cafe. There are at least a handful of other bookshops within fairly easy walking distance that we could have visited, if our backpacks hadn’t already been full and if we weren’t in need of dinner (at one of our favorite places, Chat ‘n Chew).

Here’s what I found:

  • Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem. I adored The White Album when I read it a year or so ago, and so I wanted another collection of Didion essays. I have her book The Year of Magical Thinking, which I’m looking forward to, but that’s not an essay collection, and I wanted essays.
  • George Orwell’s Facing Unpleasant Facts. You’ll see that I was on a nonfiction kick. I found six great books all at the Strand, which is why I like to go there so much: they have a great section of literary nonfiction that goes on for shelves and shelves — biographies, criticism, essays, memoirs. I usually head straight to that section and don’t emerge until someone makes me. Orwell is an amazing essayist, and I’m happy to read as many essays of his as I can find.
  • David Laskin’s Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals. I read about this book on Zhiv’s blog. Its subjects include Mary McCarthy, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Hannah Arendt, and others, all of which sounds great, plus Zhiv’s enthusiasm was very persuasive.
  • Kathleen Norris, The Virgin of Bennington. I read her book The Cloister Walk a while back, although I don’t remember it well, but she’s always seemed like a writer worth tracking, and the description of this book sounded intriguing: “Shy and sheltered, Kathleen Norris wasn’t prepared for the sex, drugs, and bohemianism of Bennington College in the late 1960s — and when she moved to New York City after graduation, it was a case of our of the frying pan and into the fire.” I’ve been in a mood for memoirs lately, and surely this will be a good one.
  • Mary Gordon’s Good Boys and Dead Girls and Other Essays. I heard about this one from Emily. It’s a collection of essays and reviews, focusing particularly on literature, gender issues, and the Catholic church.
  • David Lipsky’s Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. I couldn’t resist this one. Eventually I will read all of Wallace’s work, but I don’t want to read it too fast, so reading about him for a bit will slow that whole process down.
  • And now on to some fiction. I got copy of George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life because I’ve been hankering after some Victorian fiction. I want it to be something I’m sure to love, so Eliot is a safe bet. I have other Victorian novels to read, but sometimes no one else but Eliot will do.
  • Anita Brookner’s The Bay of Angels. When I saw this book at Housing Works, I realized I wasn’t sure whether I had an unread Brookner novel at home or not. Having an unread Brookner novel at home seems like a wise thing to do, so I grabbed this one. It turns out I did have an unread Brookner after all, but now I have two.
  • Robert Walser’s The Tanners. I don’t remember where I’ve read about Walser recently, but I know I have and he sounds intriguing.

So that was our trip. I can’t remember all of the books Hobgoblin got, but one of them was Justin Cronin’s novel The Passage, and he’s downstairs reading it now. I don’t think he’ll want to do anything else but read until he’s finished with the thing.


Filed under Books

The TBR Challenge: Beckett

Today I finished my 12th book for Emily’s TBR challenge (you can see my list in the sidebar to the right). That is, I read my 12th book out of a planned 20, and I’m in the middle of a 13th. Considering the fact that the challenge goes until the end of this year, I’d say I’m doing quite well. I’m enjoying having a longish list of books to choose from, which gives some structure to my choices but also isn’t too limiting. We’ll see how I feel when I get down to just a couple books left, but since I have more than six months to read them, I have plenty of time and can read books off as well as on the list. I like this structure so much, I might compile another list of 20 when I’ve completed this one, just for the fun of it.

So the book I finished today is Samuel Beckett’s novel Molloy. Well, that was an interesting read. It was odd and wonderful in the way you expect from Samuel Beckett, if you’ve read him before. I could tell that this book was written by the same author who wrote Waiting for Godot and Endgame, two plays I’ve read and/or taught, and which I enjoyed in a bewildered, bemused kind of way. I responded to this novel in much the same spirit.

The book splits into two parts, and I’ll admit to liking the first part much better than the second. The first part is told in the first person from Molloy’s perspective, and it’s a stream of consciousness narrative of his journey through some unnamed territory. He’s no regular traveler, though; he’s a vagrant, with no money, very few possessions, and one simple quest — to find his mother. He’s not sure where she is, though, and he’s also not sure where he is; all he knows is that he wants to find his mother, but he keeps running into obstacles that keep him away. He’s physically decrepit, first of all, with one bad leg and a “good” leg that is in danger of going bad, and a whole host of other ailments. He travels around on a bicycle that he can’t move very well. He can’t remember much either, and he keeps running into people who arrest him or insist on taking him in, which he wants none of.

What makes this narrative appealing is the rambling voice, which is comic, bawdy, philosophical, and despairing by turns. He moves from a wonderfully funny meditation on how to store his 16 “sucking stones” — stones that keep him from feeling the full extent of his hunger — so that he sucks on each one equally and in order, to serious thoughts on death, to comic passages on the body, and back to seriousness again. It’s absurd and crazy and sometimes moving.

The second section is narrated by a mysterious detective-type named Moran who receives instructions to find Molloy. This part of the book is about his preparations for and execution of this mission (or his attempted execution of it). While Molloy is endearing in an odd sort of way, Moran is an ugly character: he treats his son and his housekeeper abominably, and he’s full of pride, hypocrisy, and cruelty. As he sets out to find Molloy, his world begins to fall apart around him until he becomes a lot like Molloy himself — lost, physically falling apart, despairing, hopeless.

While I didn’t enjoy the second half as much I did the first, I still loved the bizarreness of it all. This is the kind of novel where you have to get rid of your expectations of what a novel usually is and accept a completely different kind of world, with entirely different rules. I like the challenge of this, at least now and then. It’s not a difficult novel, really; it’s just off in its own corner far away from all the other novels, doing its own unique thing.

For my 13th book in the TBR challenge, I’m reading a collection of essays by the poet Louise Glück, Proofs and Theories. I’ve read only the first essay so far, which I thought was wonderful: it’s an autobiographical essay on the experiences that turned her into the type of poet she has become. The writing is thoughtful and smart, writing to take one’s time with.

And now I need to go choose another novel. I’ll probably pick something not on the TBR challenge list, just for a change of pace. But I have no idea what it will be.


Filed under Books, Fiction