Tuesday, January 1, 2013
More Left to Read, and Re-read, than Already Read
Behind the Beautiful Forevers:
Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
by Katherine Boo
Fire in the Belly:
The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
by Cynthia Carr
Country Girl: A Memoir
by Edna O’Brien
NW: A Novel
by Zadie Smith
Canada: A Novel
by Richard Ford
The Testament of Mary
by Colm Toibin
by Emma Donoghue
This Is How You Lose Her: Stories
by Junot Diaz
by Louise Gluck
New Poems and Translations
by David Ferry
Among these ten books, all published in 2012, I confess that I’ve not completed a reading of any of the books on the list above. They’re here because of one reason or another–which I touch upon in what follows–and I want to complete or read them in 2013. And maybe I can sway one or two of you to follow suit.
I’ve read enough Edna O’Brien, and loved every page of novels like Wild December and In the Forest, as well as her biography of James Joyce, that I’ve jotted down her memoir as a must-read now. Perhaps it will spur me to tackle finally her Country Girls trilogy. There’s also the temptation of her recent book of stories, Saints and Sinners, as well as other novels, especially House of Splendid Isolation, Down by the River, and The Light of Evening.. And there is her “true” novel, A Pagan Place, published ten years after her first novel and dealing with her repressive childhood, which included parents who abhorred literature as well as six years of tutelage by the Sisters of Mercy. From what I know of the price she’s paid to write the truth while in Ireland–her books denounced by the church and censored, even burned--I doubt there’s any stronger reason to read her, at least for me, than her brush with a nation’s Fount of Dogma that vexed Joyce into exile long before her departure for London, where she still lives.
Some years ago I read with relish David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives, published before he died from AIDS at age thirty-seven; his life is now recorded by Cynthia Carr, and certainly the conditions under which he pursued his art need to be known during our time, our most recent era of sanctimony. I’ve also read Junot Diaz’s Drown, and the further adventures of his alter ego Yunior turns up in his latest book, which promises to be even better than his first collection of stories or, possibly, his only novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pultizer Prize a few years ago and whose conclusion I've not yet reached. I know two of Zadie Smith’s first three novels, White Teeth and Of Beauty, as well as her collection of essays, Changing My Mind; and now that I’m deep into this, her fourth novel, I may read next The Autograph Man, her second novel, before deciding that yes, she is near to being the finest young novelist writing in English.
I know well the work of Richard Ford, whose every book I’ve read and whose new novel’s reviews remind me of his brilliant book of stories Rock Springs and of his short novel Wildlife, both dealing with eponymous, troubled lives much like those I recall from my youth in the western portion of the continent. The work of Louise Gluck has been mostly a continuing pleasure since her first book of poems, Firstborn, and her eleven books are collected here, perhaps most worthy for the last seven, whose lyric sequences are regarded by some as evoking poetry’s kinship with the novel. The other poet, David Ferry, is more familiar to me as the translator of Gilgamesh and the Odes and Epistles of Horace, a trio of books I treasure; his new book won the National Book Award–as did a first book, a work of nonfiction by Katherine Boo, an apparently remarkable journalist whose book is said to read like a novel. (See the New York Times review of the book, which I shared here fairly recently.)
I have held off until now in reading Colm Toibin–though I’ve been tempted by his novels The Master and Brooklyn–but the subject of his novella and what would seem to be his very unique take on it claim my attention these days. Nor have I yet read Emma Donoghue, whose stories may finally lead me back to her first novel Slammerkin, whose subject has long been one of my touchstones, among them the Mexican poet Homero Aridjis’s lyric novel Persephone (1967, revised 1986).
So there you have it. I find I read more slowly now than I did last year. I frequently recall my emergence from a dissertation, on Stanley Kubrick, to devour Jayne Anne Phillips’s Black Tickets and Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which remain two of my favorites. In addition to re-reading them–and others by the likes of Hawthorne and Melville, for example–I find it curious that I continue to try to read so many new books when there are so many others I’ve yet to finish or to be finished with.
(29 and 31 December 2012, and 1 January 2013)