Reading in the New Year

Here they are then, laid out on my bed this morning, the things I’ll be reading in the next six months or so. I used to be a fast reader, but children, job, and editing The Secret War into something that resembles a novel takes all the time I used to devote to reading. I don’t lament the loss of all that time I used to have. This decade is simply for other things. Still, I look forward to these books:

  • Letters of Wallace Stevens. I’ve read these before, and loved them, written as they are by a man who was in full control of himself and his life, and his poetry. I’m wondering, this time around, where the cracks are in the persona he displays in these letters — the fault line that runs through the image he creates of the bluff lawyer, man of the world, and seasoned poet. I have another motive for reading these letters: there’s a character like Stevens in the novel I’ll begin this year, so the letters will be useful in filling in the outlines of this man.
  • Peter Hennessy’s Never Again. A book about post-war England. The novel with the Stevens character is set partly in post-war London. I’m not going to read a ton of books, but this one looks quite good.

  • A Woman in Berlin. A memoir about post-war Berlin. Can you see a pattern emerging? I’m curious about this time in general, and have heard this is well worth reading. Last summer I read Philip Kerr’s great series of mysteries set in Berlin (Berlin Noir), and wanted to read more about this time and place.
  • The Aeneid. This new translation, by Robert Fagles who did wonderful translations of the Odyssey and the Iliad, is a handsome book. And I’ve wanted to re-read this for some time. As I’m driving to San Francisco for the next five weeks every day for radiation treatments, I’ve checked out some books on tape about the Greeks. I’ve loved hearing the bits from the Odyssey and wondered how the Aeneid would read next to those.
  • Stories, Katherine Mansfield and Collected Stories, Dorothy Parker (the Modern Library edition from the lovely Ella’s box of books). I want to read more short stories this year. These look terrific.
  • Joyce, Ulysses. I picked up this wonderful Modern Library edition at the San Francisco Public Library Book Bay a few weeks ago and began looking at it this morning. As I read it, I’ll be thinking about how Virginia Woolf called Joyce “underbred” and looking with glee for those underbred bits to share with all of you.
  • Poet of the Appetites. A biography of M.F.K. Fisher, whose work I like very much. This biography looks well-researched and isn’t that book jacket beautiful?
  • The Three Musketeers. I began this over the summer, got distracted and want to get back to it. It’s a terrific translation, and a ripping story. Maybe I’ll try reading it out loud to my boys. When they’re not playing nintendo.
  • Charms for the Easy Life, Kay Gibbons. I think I read Ellen Foster, but it made absolutely no impression on me. Remember that thing I said about not reading very many contemporary writers? (Except mystery writers, come to think of it.) I’ve got to do something about that this year.
  • The Elements of Style. This was a Christmas gift. It’s illustrated! I can’t wait to write about it. In simple, clear sentences, of course.
  • Proust. Swann’s Way. We’ll see. It took me six years to get through this the first time around.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe it’ll be easier in a different translation.

And William Boyd’s Restless — I’m reading it now, so it didn’t make it into the photo.


23 thoughts on “Reading in the New Year

  1. Beautiful pile. I’ve never planned six months of reading ahead, and will be interested to hear whether you stick to the plan or get distracted.

    Regarding the Wallace Stevens letters, that’s something else I’ve never done and never considered doing: reading someone’s collected letters (except mine to others or others’ to me). But I’ve never heard a better reason for doing so than yours. Maybe you or other readers would recommend the best Letters volume for a novice like me.

  2. My dear David, I’m sure I’ll swerve wildly from that pile from time to time, but am hoping not too much. As for great letters, perhaps you are not as nosy as I, and so don’t see letters as an ideal way to peek over the shoulders of those you admire. Of course the letter writing self is an invented self, but it’s still interesting to see how a great writer portrays him or herself to friends and admirers. Virginia Woolf’s letters (I think they’re collected in a volume called Congenial Spirits) are very good that way, and fun too because they’re a bit gossipy about her circle.

  3. A Woman in Berlin is a good read. After I read it I thought that it would have been a good book for a discussion group or for a classroom setting. All kinds of things to discuss.

    I loved The Three Musketeers. I’d love to have the time to read it again. I have The Man in the Iron Mask on my list of hopefuls for next year.

  4. Wonderful books, BL, to which I shall be adding in a short while… I’m interested to know how you get on with the Charms for the Easy Life, which I read a few months ago. You’ve got quite a few biggies in your list, brave woman that you are!

  5. Litlove, Courage and foolishness are often difficult to tell apart. I don’t make new year’s resolutions, though, so all I have to do is read 11 books in six months, while other people are busy losing weight, improving their tennis, being nicer to their family and generally improving their lot and the lot of those around them. (I slink off now, to drink some tea for this awful cold I’m catching and lie around reading Restless.)

    TBM — Thanks and happynew year to you!

    Sassy Monkey — I’m so glad to hear that. I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about the reading group I belong to and your recommendation of A Woman in Berlin is very helpful.

  6. Strunk and White are right up there with the Captain and Tennille in my book. I love it that I can go into any used book store ANYWHERE and get a copy of The Elements of Style for about a buck and a half. This book gets me through the whole its/it’s dilemma every time (on page one.)

  7. Hi Scott — for a very long time I thought Strunk & White was sort of like the Chicago Style Manual or the bluebook (which is what you get in law school). Deadly boring, I mean. I was so surprised and delighted to discover it’s anything but. I suppose if I’d known it was written in part by E.B. White I might have known better. This illustrated copy is a lot of fun.

    Welcome Velox! I’ll be talking about the Aeneid for days, i’m sure, because it’s such a fat book. Happy holidays and all the best to you with your ten week resolutions — a marvelous idea.

  8. This is an impressive list, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you have to say about the books. Ulysseys and The Aeneid! You can use your Stunk and White to see where Joyce breaks all the rules.

  9. What a big and lovely pile of books – I love the way they are going to feed into your writing. That’s good planning, Bloglily. Hope you’re enjoying Restless. It was one of my favourites this year.

  10. Well, I’ll be very curious to hear how the reading goes. May I add that I’ve never read any of them all the way through (read parts of The Elements of Style when required for school and never thought of going back and reading the whole thing, despite being an editor. You can tell I’m an editor, though, because I don’t find the CMS boring at all. In fact, have been planning for years to actually read it cover to cover)? I’m assuming that seeing The Three Muskateers (first PG-rated movie I was allowed to see, back in the days when that actually meant something. Very exciting!) doesn’t count.

  11. Oh my. You have the lovely new edition of “The Aeneid” by Robert Fagles – I wanted it so much but I keep telling myself it’s too pricey. I should wait for the paperback.

    But I see you have the Richard Pevear’s translation of “The Three Musketeers” – I’m reading it right now, and I aways find Pevear’s introductions informative and enjoyable. I hope they allow Pevear to do the rest of the D’Artagnan series.

    I’m looking forward to reading M.F.K. Fisher myself next year. But I’ve read mixed reviews about Joan Reardon’s bio on Fisher. Look forward to hearing your comments on the bio. Fisher seems like such an intriguing character.

    And Proust is one of my best reads in 2006. I can see you have Lydia Davis’s translation – it’s good, and I like her intro. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    This is a good list to look forward to in 2007.

    Have a Happy New Year.

  12. BL, that is a very nice stack of books! and, oh, how I admire you: ‘Ulysses’ and ‘Swann’s Way’ scare me… a lot… though I might pluck up the courage some day, because they are books I would really like to read.
    ‘The Three Musketeers’ is by far my all-time favorite book: I try to read it once a year at least, if not the whole series, and it always makes me laugh and cry, even though I know it so well -I hope you enjoy it
    now, I’m off to check the ones I haven’t heard of, maybe they’ll find their way into MY stack of books… 🙂
    – Happy New Year!!

  13. I’ll wait for your review of the Ford book – even if you don’t blog about it do let me know what you think. My jury is still out on him. Actually, it’s not. He’s been sentenced to my Never to read pile, but I’m willing to overturn it if you recommend it. Or if the lead character meets his end.

    Wow, I sound like the grinch who ruined the book stack! In all seriousness, what a lovely pile of books you have! I can’t wait to hear all about them!

  14. My dear brilliant Emily — You’re absolutely right. The Chicago Manual of Style ISN’T boring, not in the least. How do I know that? (Well, you said so, but then I also went to their wonderful website at clicked on the link to their online Q&A and discovered that they’re very funny over there. (Check out what they say about whether an inanimate object can DO something.) Were I making resolutions, one of them would be, rethink your old assumptions before you mouth off about them. Gems are everywhere! In fact, when I post about elements of style, I’ll be posting about CMS also.

    BikeProf — I’ve just started Ulysses this morning, and notice that Joyce writes dialogue the same way Cormac McCarthy does — with a dash before the speaking bits. (I think that’s how McCarthy does it. Now I’m frozen with anxiety about my memory which seems to be only firing at about 10% capacity this week…) Anyway, I will indeed cross-ref Strunk & White.

    Hi Charlotte — Restless is one of those gulp it up books. I loved it as I read it, and then realized there were things about it I questioned afterwards. More to say about that in the new year.

    Hello Dark Orpheus — That Aenied is indeed the sort of thing somebody has to give you. It has “BIG GIFT” written all over it and I was thrilled to be given it. And yes, I’ve heard some grumbling about the Fisher bio too. Still, I’m curious about her, particularly curious because I’m interested in the invented self of the memoirist and letter writer and I’d like to know a bit about her that comes from a source other than her! (That’s a rousing recommendation of TTM — I can’t wait to get to it. I do think it’ll be a read aloud book in our house.) And thanks for the encouragement to get to Proust. I know there are huge rewards there, and am hoping they’ll be there when I arrive.

    Oh Marta, have no fear! Nobody has to read for a grade around here, and nothing, nothing has to be read because it’s good for you. That’s one of the wonderful things about being an adult who reads for pleasure. The funny thing is that once you decide that’s how you want to read, you’re liberated to read things you always thought were too hard for you. So go pick up that Joyce and give it a try! if you have the attention span for a fat adventure like The Three Musketeers, I don’t see why Ulysses need scare you away.

    Courtney, I absolutely will. And you’re no grinch for not liking someone’s work very much. It’ll be fun to read Ford with your NEVER to read pile in mind.

    Hi Dorothy, (I do so like your avatar!) I’m looking forward to the Aeneid, something I read in college and that’s just a hazy sour memory of Dido and not-Odyssey. It’ll be great to go back and recover it — which is what I’m hoping will happen.

    xo, BL

  15. I gave the illustrated Elements of Style for our office gift exchange (one of those “pick a wrapped gift or steal one that’s already been opened from its current owner” gift exchanges) and it was the most popular gift, stolen the most times.

    I’m currently reading (well, listening to, actually) Lay of the Land and I’m really enjoying it. It’s actually quite a bit deeper than his previous books and very well-written (and read). I’m finding it both thought-provoking and entertaining, with interesting characters that I want to know more about and perceptions about life passages that ring true. The narrator of Lay of the Land is also undergoing radiation treatment (via implanted radioactive seeds in his prostate gland). I was sorry to hear that cancer treatment is back in your life and hope it’s not too difficult.

    Do you know about It’s a great source for downloadable audio books. You can listen to them from the computer, on an Ipod or other MP3 player or burn them to CDs and listen to them that way. I listen to books while I paint, take walks or (less often) do housework. I subscribe and download two books a month, and always select long unabridged books, which range from 10 to 30 hours of listening.

  16. Jana, did your illustrated book have a dust jacket? Mine came from Walden Books in Oakland, a gift from my husband, but without a dust jacket. I’m wondering if maybe in his haste to score the perfect gift, he might have left it behind!

    I didn’t know you could listen to audible on your ipod — when I checked about a year ago, it wasn’t yet compatible. But I think two books a month is about right. I’d love to hear about other things you’ve rented from them. Right now, I’m making my way through The Wine Dark Sea, from the library, a nonfiction book whose subtitle is “Why the Greeks Matter” — Olympia Dukakis narrates it and I’m really enjoying it. And after that? I’ll be sure to check out

    As for radiation, it’s hard to believe, but it took three months to get set up for the treatments after the surgeries I had this summer, so this is my first and last series of treatments. Yay for that. I’ll be done in February and happy to see the last of the hospital, even if it is UCSF and even if they are incredibly competent and caring.

  17. Hi Lillly, No…the book doesn’t have a dust jacket, sadly. I thought the same thing, when I came to pick up the copy held for me at the store, but the guy took me to the shelf where they were displayed and there were no dustjackets.

    I’m now halfway through Lay of the Land and I’m no longer quite as thrilled by it. I’ve been listening to Audible on my ipod since I got it nearly two years ago. I’ll see if I can put together a list for you of the books I’ve listened to. Once you’ve purchased them you “own” them so I believe the list of all of them will be readily available.

    I’m relieved to hear this is just a finishing touch treatment. Yay!

  18. I do love your pile and also the idea of making a pile, thinking that far in advance. One of my NY resolutions is to read much more– not just something that I allow myself at night, after everything else is done, but something I start my day with. We’ll see.

    Have you read The Sportwriter? It was the first in Richard Ford’s novels about Frank whatisname, and it’s one of my all-time favorite books.

  19. What a marvellous lot of reading you’ve got lined up. I appreciate the variety and also your detailing of the where and the why of each one. More Katherine Mansfield stories and “The Lay of the Land” are both on my list as well, and I’ve been covetously eyeing that new translation of the Aneid… “Restless” was one of the books I read over the holidays. I thought it quite deeply flawed but a very good read all the same. I always learn something from reading Boyd even when he’s not at his best. I will be very curious to hear what you think of it.

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