“This recent conjunction of ideas of the diurnal, of weddedness as a mode of intimacy, and of the projection of a metaphysics of repetition, sets me musing on an old suggestion I took away from reading in Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans. She speaks, I seem to recall, to the effect that the knowledge of others depends upon an appreciation of their repeatings (which is what we are, which is what we have to offer). This knowing of others as knowing what they are always saying and believing and doing would, naturally, be Stein’s description of, or direction for, how her reader is to know her own most famous manner of writing, the hallmark of which is its repeatings. The application of this thought here is the suggestion that marriage is an emblem of the knowledge of others not solely because of its implication of reciprocity but because it implies a devotion in repetition, to dailiness. ‘The little life of the everyday’ is the wife’s description of marriage in The Children of Paradise, as she wonders how marriage can be a match for the romantic glamour of distance and drama. A relationship ‘grown sick with obligations’ is the way Amanda Bonner describes a marriage that cannot maintain reciprocity – what she calls mutuality in everything. (This is a promissory remark to myself to go back to Stein’s work. But the gratitude I feel to it now should be expressed now, before looking it up, because it comes from a memory of the work as providing one of those nightsounds or daydrifts of mood whose orientation has more than once prevented a good intuition from getting lost. This is not unlike a characteristic indebtedness one acquires to films. It is just such a precious help that is easiest to take from a writer without saying thanks – and not, perhaps, because one grudges the thanks but because one awaits an occasion for giving it which never quite seems to name itself.)”
(Stanley Cavell, “The Same and Different: The Awful Truth,” p. 177 in The Cavell Reader.)
This was a fine year for distracted reading. Here, then, is a list of all the books that I failed to finish this year that I can remember.
- Homer, The Odyssey, trans. Albert Cook. I found this on the street for a dollar the other day (the garrulous bookseller went out of his way to explain how the plot of The Unbearable Lightness of Being had relevance to today’s economy) and bought it mostly because I was curious about the translation. It seems fine for the first book.
- Charles M. Doughty, The Cliffs. This book is batshit insane, and I’ll have more to say about it later. I found this copy in Istanbul; it’s a closet drama about the coming of World War I to Britain with mystic elements, and you need the Oxford English Dictionary to get past the first page, which is why it’s taken me so long.
- Herodotus, The Histories, trans. Aubrey de Sélincourt. I think I bought this thinking that I would like to see what Herodotus had to say about Libya; as it turns out, not very much. Was doing reasonably well with this, but it got mowed under by Gibbon.
- Robert Kelly, Kill the Messenger. I went through a lot of Robert Kelly this year after picking up a bunch of his books for almost nothing; this volume of poetry seems nice so far, though I misplaced it and didn’t finish it off. Four more of his books sit on my shelf untouched.
- William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch. At a certain point I got anxious about having written off Burroughs, like I tend to do with most of the Beats, and I went and read Queer, which is nice, if rough, and then went to finally read this. But it makes me feel too old. If the bookstores hadn’t been studiously hiding Burroughs when I was in high school I might have appreciated him more. (finished)
- Andre Furlani, Guy Davenport: Postmodern and After. A biographical study of Guy Davenport is something I should be rushing though and I’m not sure why I haven’t here. Ended up at the bottom of a stack of books, probably.
- Michael Richardson, ed., The Dedalus Book of Surrealism 1 & 2. If I rode the subway more, I would have quickly made my way through these nice anthologies; as it was, I read the Gracq piece (uncollected anywhere else) and left it at that.
- Gérard de Nerval, The Salt Smugglers, trans. Richard Sieburth. I’ve said this before: I hate Archipelago’s book design, because it seems like they care about book design (french flaps, matte covers) but they pay no attention to proportions and they end up with something like this landscape volume, which sets the text in columns (in the ostensible interest of making it look more like feuilleton) which makes it more or less unreadable. I do like Nerval and I was given a very good reason to read this, so I’ll go back to this.
- Wendy Walker, My Man and Other Critical Fictions. Another landscape book, but this one justifies its own design. I’ve worked through a little of this (the story based on Ortese’s The Iguana) though this is clearly a book that needs to be read with its sources close by.
- Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. I read a good chunk of this late one night on the train and it seemed absolutely perfect and of the moment as very few other things were this year, but then I failed to go back to it.
- Anna Marie Ortese, A Music Behind the Wall: Selected Stories, trans. Henry Martin. I don’t know if this counts: it’s in two volumes, and I finished the first, after spending an immense amount of time re-reading one of the stories. This is a book I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about; I’ll finish the second volume soon, but it’s a book that requires a lot of mental concentration & and also a book that requires more attention than it’s received. Also currently reading her The Lament of the Linnet, though I’ll finish that soon. (finished)
- Raymond Roussel, Impressions of Africa, trans. Mark Polizzotti. I’ve read the previous translation, of course, and my reading of this version has been slow because I keep going back to other versions to see what’s changed. It’s great so far. Will finish this up the next time I have a block of free time.
- Danielle Dutton, Sprawl. I read a good chunk of this on a plane and liked it, but was aware that I was too tired & wasn’t concentrating well enough for a book without paragraph breaks. I’ll come back to this.
- Marguerite Young, Miss MacIntosh, My Darling. Most embarrassing because most public. I made it about three hundred pages in and had a very good idea what was going on, and then I was distracted. I feel awful about this, of course. But this might be a book you have to read during the summer? I had some success reading this on planes (à la The Accidental Tourist) but it demands to be read outside.
- Ivy Compton-Burnett, A House and its Head. I was having a lot of fun reading this aloud – she kind of demands to be read aloud, doesn’t she? and then something happened.
- Lucy Lippard, I See/You Mean. I’ve read this before, but was re-reading again. Someone needs to reprint this book, which I always want to recommend people, but it’s too hard for them to find copies.
- Albert Vigoleis Thelen, The Island of Second Sight. I started this massive German novel about Majorca after seeing the review in the TLS but then I was distracted by other things.
- Marguerite Young, Angel in the Forest. This book, about religious communities in southern Indiana, is fantastic, but Young’s prose makes me fall asleep in the best way.
- Marcel Proust, Finding Time Again. I forget why I thought it was necessary to re-read this, but I made it about halfway through before getting distracted. Periodically I think it’s necessary to make my way through the second half of Proust. Rarely do I think to go back to the first half – I wonder why?
- Gail Scott, The Obituaryx. I liked Gail Scott’s My Paris, but I couldn’t get very far in this, even though it’s not a long book at all. It seems maybe too Canadian?
- Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions. I felt like I needed to give Borges another chance, but he’s so dislikable as a person, even if he has nice ideas. I bogged down in this problem, which isn’t really fair to the book. I do think it’s terrible what Penguin’s done to his translations.
- David Foster Wallace, The Pale King. This fell into the pile of books by the bed and I haven’t retrieved it yet. I should have felt more compelled to finish this; Wallace on the Midwest and boredom is something that I should find urgent and key. I keep meaning to find a copy of Infinite Jest without the Eggers introduction to see if I like the book as much as I did in 1996; that didn’t happen either & will have to wait until I finish this.
- Daniel P. Friedman & Matthias Felleisen, The Little Schemer. I don’t know how much this counts: this is a book about learning Scheme, which was described as a good book about programming for non-programmers. I like it when I pick it up, but I’ve invariably forgotten everything that came before when I return to my place, so I keep starting from the beginning.
- David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. Like everyone else, I started this this year. Will finish this sooner or later: top of a pile.
- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. This doesn’t entirely count because I’m around 1500 pages into it, but it is still unfinished and I don’t even have a copy of the third volume yet.