Taking Account

Checking in with goals I made at the beginning of this year.

  1. Ancient Greek and Roman lit.  I’ve read The Odyssey by Homer, Medea by Euripides, and The Birds by Aristophanes.  I’m still hoping to get to The Aeneid, Symposium, and (potentially) Anne Carson’s translations of Euripides.  I doubt I will make it to Aristotle’s Poetics.
  2. Shakespeare.  I’ve read Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, and The Merchant of Venice.  Also working my way through his sonnets.  Planning to read Macbeth (a reread) and The Winter’s Tale before year’s end, which would bring me to five Shakespeare plays this year.
  3. Woolf. No progress, started the diaries, but got distracted.  May still read The Waves.
  4. Joyce.  No progress.  Reread “The Dead”.  Hoping to read Portrait… soon.
  5. Dante.  No progress, wanted to read The Aeneid first.  Moving this to next year?
  6. Proust.  No progress, read a bit of Swann’s Way, got distracted.  Next year.
  7. Nabokov.  Read his complete stories and Mary, his first novel.  Planning on reading King, Queen, Knave later this year.
  8. Authors I feel I will love. No progress.  Still hoping to get to Perec this year though…
  9. A few lady classics.  Read Jane Eyre, Villette, and Sense & Sensibility.  Attempting to make time for Wuthering Heights this winter.
  10. Short stories.  I did read the Munro and Carver I wanted.  Also a few others I don’t feel like listing now.  Currently reading Yates’s stories.
  11. NYRB Classics.  Read a few, will try for more, but I am satisfied as is.

So.  Not as much progress as I had hoped for, but I have read amazing books this year, more than a few gaps filled.  A few detours on the way, including a Les Liasons dangereuses inspired reading list and a little digging into detective fiction origins.

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Fall List

(Because reading lists are what I make.)

Tradition authors:

  1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  2. House on the Strand by Daphne DuMaurier
  3. Affinity by Sarah Waters
  4. The Sundial by Shirley Jackson
  5. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  6. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle

Mystery authors:

  1. Patricia Highsmith
  2. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  3. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  4. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
  5. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

A re-read:

  1. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Others that are definite:

  1. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffmann
  2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  3. Nightmare Alley
  4. Simenon
  5. Poe (tales and poems)
  6. The Vistor by Maeve Brennan

Maybes, we’ll see:

  1. The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. Miss Peregrine’s
  3. The Leavenworth Case
  4. Flann O’Brien
  5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  6. Kate Atkinson
  7. Tana French
  8. The Weird Sisters
  9. The Night Circus
  10. The Magicians


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Ivan Turgenev’s First Love

There is something so simple, but so satisfying in Turgenev‘s work.  Every word seems to matter, every scene intentional.  Perhaps this is because I’ve only read his shorter works, this novella, First Love, and his ‘short stories,’ Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.

It opens at the end of a dinner party. The host decides the remaining guests, all men, will tell the tale of their first love.  Most of them claim to have uninteresting experiences of first love, but Vladimir Petrovich allows them hope for a good story, saying, “My first love was certainly not at all ordinary.”  But he refuses to tell it aloud then and there, promising within two weeks to write it down for them.  What follows is the fulfillment of his promise.

He begins at his family’s summer home, when he is sixteen, and barely beginning to take notice of girls:

I remember that at that time the image of woman, the shadowy vision of feminine love, scarcely ever took definite shape in my mind; but in every thought, in every sensation, there lay hidden a half-conscious, shy, timid awareness of something new, inexpressibly sweet, feminine . . . This presentiment, this sense of expectancy, penetrated my whole being; I breathed it, it was in every drop of blood that flowed through my veins — soon it was to be fulfilled.

Soon neighbors (a Princess! and her daughter!) move in next door, and Vladimir catches a glimpse of her.  He loves Zinaida almost instantly, even when he sees her for less than a perfect creature (in her own words: “I am a flirt: I have no heart: I have an actor’s nature.”), he loves her no less, only his jealousy increases.

As with many first loves, this one does not end so happily, I might even call it tragic.  First Love is short, about one hundred pages, and I read it in one sitting, which was perfect.  Turgenev always reminds me of Chekhov’s stories, even though Turgenev was writing before Chekhov was born.

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Villette: Week One

These are thoughts half-formed, nascent, and wholly mutable as I delve further into Charlotte Brontë’s final novel, Villette, along with the rest of the readers in the Villette readalong.

Five chapters into Villette, and my question is: who is Lucy Snowe?  She’s the main character and narrator of the novel.  But I know little else of her.  In fact, I feel better acquainted with six year-old Polly and the “rheumatic cripple” Miss Marchmont.

The concrete facts are slim.  There’s no mention of her family, save her godmother Mrs. Bretton.  “Troubles” sum up the eight years between her departure from Bretton and her employment to Miss Marchmont.  It’s hinted she’s wearing a mourning dress and seems “a worn-out creature,” a physical display of these “troubles.”  Lucy has “not yet counted twenty-three summers,” she is twenty-two (the same age as I am).

But, I’ll attempt to read between the lines.  Lucy is calm, wise, and has so far seemed to act mature.  Even her trip to London was well thought out, with a mission.  (Although the Aurora Borealis was somewhat the catalyst for this decision.)  Observant may be her most prominent characteristic so far, always watching, always listening, always thinking.  And here, I identify with her.  This observance tells me of Polly and Miss Marchmont in exacting detail.  This observance also blocks me from learning more of Lucy Snowe herself.

Lucy seems to feel a strong connection to, and a strong belief in the power of, nature.  During the storm on the last night of Miss Marchmont’s life, she anxiously recalls three previous times when “events had taught me that these strange accents in the storm–this restless, hopeless cry–denote a coming state of the atmosphere unpropitious to life.”  She allows the Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky to spark a possible change in her life, a new location: London.

So, onward to London, until next week!

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Impressions: January Edition

It would be impossible for me to post singly on every book I read in a month.  This is my attempt to make sure no books slip through the cracks.

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (translated by Barbara Wright) is the result of Queneau observing a fairly banal scene on a bus one day and writing the story of it ninety-nine different ways.  Some of the stories are inventive and imaginative and others are either confusing if you’re not familiar with different linguistic tricks (somewhere in the middle of the book are three stories which when you put the letters together properly form one story) or slightly boring.  All in all though, I enjoyed this, my first Queneau and am curious to discover what his work is like when it’s not so limited in scope.

Oh, Ishiguro.  It seems we’re not meant to be.  I was unimpressed by your Never Let Me Go (although I am intrigued by the trailer for the new movie), but decided to give you another go with Remains of the Day, possibly your most beloved work.  I don’t mean to say I disliked it, because I didn’t, but I didn’t like it very much either.  Something in your style irks (and frustrates) me, preventing me from caring about the character(s), which I’m noticing is pretty important if one is going to enjoy an Ishiguro novel.

I adored Steve Martin‘s 2000 novella, Shopgirl, so very much.  It’s quirky, but it has a lot of heart.  Mirabelle is the titular shop-girl, who is working at the glove department of a department store, when she meets a rich, older gentleman who can give her everything but his heart, truly.  But even so, they develop a deep affection for one another.  It’s very quote-able, but I’ll only pick one:

“I’m fixing myelf.”

“I’m fixing myself too,” says Jeremy.

And they know that they will forever have something to talk about.

I actually finished Mariama Bâ’s So Long a Letter the first day of February, but I read most of it during January for the Year of Feminist Classics.  It’s an epistolary novel comprised of letters from a recently widowed woman to her friend, a divorcée.  While both women were forced to deal with their husbands’ decisions to take another wife, they took different paths.  I was fascinated by the glimpse into the lives of these two women, and the wrap-up for the selection is here.  On friendship and love:

Friendship has splendours that love knows not.  It grows stronger when crossed, whereas obstacles kill love.  Friendship resists time, which wearies and severs couples.  It has heights unknown to love.

Open Secrets by Alice Munro is a collection of short stories mostly set in the fictional small Canadian town of Carstairs.  As with So Long a Letter, I read this mostly in January, except for the last story.  While there’s veins of brilliance running throughout all the stories, my favorites were “Carried Away”, “The Albanian Virgin” (during which I had my “Munro is amazing!” epiphany), “Open Secrets,” and “The Jack Randa Hotel.”  A major element in these stories was letter writing, as almost all of them had an epistolary component.  I think the reason Munro is so beloved is because she knows people.  She knows how they act, why they act that way, the pieces of their inner lives that manifest themselves outwardly.  She knows the strange people, the outcasts, the damaged, those geographically cut off from main society.  Two quotes, both from “The Albanian Virgin”:

A dermatologist sees grief and despair, though the problems that bring people to him may not be in the same class as tumors and blocked arteries.  He sees sabotage from within, and truly unlucky fate.  He sees how matters like love and happiness can be governed by a patch of riled-up cells. (pg. 127)

My connection was in danger—that was all.  Sometimes our connection is frayed, it is in danger, it seems almost lost.  Views and streets deny knowledge of us, the air grows thin.  Wouldn’t we rather have a destiny to submit to, then, something that claims us, anything, instead of such flimsy choices, arbitrary days? (pg. 147)

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February Plans

I am addicted to list making.  My desk, purse, notebooks, cell phone are littered with lists on note cards, post-its, receipts.  Some of these (okay a good number) are lists of books.  I like seasonal reading, and I find joy in making lists of the perfect books for each month, or period in my life.  This doesn’t mean I stick to them, of course.  I’ve been known to possess a wandering eye.  I also tend to over-stuff my lists, making it impossible for me to finish all of them in the given time period, so I don’t worry about reading them all.  I view them as guidelines or options, not a strict syllabus.  So instead of leaving my February list on a note card, I’ve decided to share it (with pictures!).

The above three I very much want to get to this month.  I’ve had Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust on my To Read list for years.  I think it’s time to start.  Virginia Woolf’s The Waves I’ve been meaning to read for about a year, and The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Volume One 1915-1919 I want to begin reading, although I don’t know that I expect to finish within the month.

These, and the following, were selected with the loose theme of love in mind, with a few deviations.

  • The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  • Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  • What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
  • Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
  • Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson
  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

  • First Love by Ivan Turgenev
  • Light Boxes by Shane Jones (Takes place during a perpetual February)
  • The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason (Retelling of the recently finished The Odyssey)
  • Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (I’ve been wanting to read more Austen.)
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (Also been wanting more Morrison)
  • Birthday Stories edited by Haruki Murakami (My birthday is in February.)
  • A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Others I considered that didn’t make the cut this time: The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, Liars in Love by Richard Yates, and Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie.

So, have you read any of these?  Which should I start with?

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February Group Reading

There are a few group readalongs I’m participating in during February.

I’ll be finishing Naguib Mahfouz‘s Cairo Trilogy with the final installment of Sugar Street, hosted by Richard of Caravana de Recuerdos.

I so enjoyed my first experience reading with The Wolves, because even though the selection wasn’t necessarily my favorite, the discussion surrounding the work was very enriching and fun!  The February selection is Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt (selected by Emily of Evening All Afternoon), a book I’d never heard about before, but I’m excited to give it a go.

The readalong of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, hosted by Wallace of Unputdownables, runs through February and March, with a post every week.  Most likely, I won’t be able to post every week, but I’ll be reading and checking in with participants.

Bookworm Meets Bookworm is hosting an Age of Innocence Readalong.  I’ve recently fallen head over bookends for Edith Wharton and am happy to have an excuse to read more of her.

Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity of Cardigan Girl Verity are hosting Persephone Reading Weekend from February 25th-27th.  I’ve yet to read a Persephone, but I’ve got three in the queue.  Any suggestions on which to read first?

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