Poetry uncovered, Fiction you never saw, All new writing delivered, Courtesy WINTER: 2019/2020 reading thread

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Essay = Epistle

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 14 January 2020 19:39 (eight months ago) link

I am bogged down in NORTHANGER ABBEY

I just read it over the weekend! Did you make it to book two yet? I get sidetracked so much reading Austen because I look up a lot of words and then spin off into linguistic reveries. I was so happy to see her refer to someone's address as a "direction" in Northanger Abbey, for example.

the girl from spirea x (f. hazel), Wednesday, 15 January 2020 04:19 (eight months ago) link

Cognate to the Spanish “dirección” = address!

Swilling Ambergris, Esq. (silby), Wednesday, 15 January 2020 04:46 (eight months ago) link

that's why I was delighted! the Spanish always seemed like such an exotic word to me, but... no!

the girl from spirea x (f. hazel), Wednesday, 15 January 2020 05:02 (eight months ago) link

THe Mike Heron memoir You Know What You Could Be: Tuning into the 1960s
which was part of the 2 for £5 deal in FOPP.
He's just got as far as meeting Clive Palmer and Robin Williamson who were playing the folk club he's appearing at. He started off asa rock'n'roller but there was no platform for anybody doing original material in that area at the time.
INteresting so far so looking forward to reading the rest of this.

The Walker's Guide to Outdoor Clues and Signs Tristan Gooley
just coming to the end of this, not sure how much of it I'll retain next time I walk through nature.
BUt some interesting observations that it would be good to learn.

Keith Morris My Damage
turned up in the local 2nd hand/remainder bookshop so I grabbed it.
Got as far as him getting bored with Black Flag, leaving forming the Circle jerks and releasing Group Sex.
Also being housemate with jeffrey lee pierce and him leaving cos he's in love with Texacala.
Enjoying this too, knew little about him beyond him being in Black Flag and teh Circle Jerks whose material I don't know very well. Then being in a few bands later on that I know the names of but am not sure I've heard.

Stevolende, Wednesday, 15 January 2020 09:58 (eight months ago) link

One of the many good things about Northanger Abbey is Isabella's overuse of 'amazingly', which I'm tempted to appropriate now and then.

"I really thought before, young men despised novels amazingly"

abcfsk, Wednesday, 15 January 2020 12:26 (eight months ago) link

finished The Man Who Watched the Trains Go By enjoyed it a lot mostly because it was so funny which was not what i was expecting given that the blurb was about how this was Simenon's attempt at a big serious novel instead of another Maigret, but i found Kees Popinga hilarious.

started Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad which i had avoided up until now 'cos i hated the title, but i really like it so far.

oscar bravo, Wednesday, 15 January 2020 14:02 (eight months ago) link

Finished NORTHANGER ABBEY yesterday.

As a text it has historical interest - lots of variant spellings; 'surprise' is usually (or always?) spelled 'surprize'; it uses words in ways we wouldn't, as has been noticed above. A very odd feature to modern eyes: it uses quotation marks around 3rd-person descriptions of speech, rather than just around the words characters say. You can, I would think, see fictional technique still being improvised here.

At times I found the story tiresome, too fixated on trivia (is it respectable for a man and a woman to ride in the same carriage? :O). On the other hand the obsession with money, legacies, dowries etc becomes really hard-headed by the end, sort of superseding the claims of romance.

I like the Bath material because I like Bath. And I think there is some really sharp social observation, comedy and satire. Isabella the greatest creation here - her 'amazingly', cited above, is prescient, as she seems to me a very modern, current figure, one who enthuses to X about how much she loves them, then neglects them; the kind of person who would now comment on every friend's social media post 'OMG love you you are AMAZING'. Austen really gets at something here. I thought Isabella might be redeemed by the end, but no.

Then there is the Gothic element, and the metafictional element, together. This is very strong - a novel partially predicated on a commentary on an extant genre and examples of it, playing off the protagonist's reading of these texts and how they affect her expectations (such preposterous scenes in the abbey where she keeps thinking that spooky things are happening!), and also often addressing the reader with talk of what we expect of a heroine. This whole aspect is cranked up really heavily in the last chapter or so, where the narrator refers to herself in the 1st person a lot. It's almost as metafictional a novel as I've read outside AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS, and perhaps confirms the suspicion that C20 sorts of fictional self-consciousness are in a tradition with this earlier form of it.

Lots of interest, but I think it's a book to read quite fast, not get stuck on as I did.

the pinefox, Friday, 17 January 2020 09:41 (eight months ago) link

I wanted to move on to Jennifer Egan's THE KEEP because I hear it's also a Gothic parody. But I don't have it so I've started on another Egan: LOOK AT ME (2001). I'm impressed so far.

the pinefox, Friday, 17 January 2020 09:42 (eight months ago) link

A very odd feature to modern eyes: it uses quotation marks around 3rd-person descriptions of speech

If you go back another couple of hundred years you begin to see all kinds of bespoke approaches to handling dialog in text - reading contemporary transcripts of witch trials from the 17th century (which is going about as far back from Austen's time as Austen is to us) they would enclose speech in quotes but also switch all the pronouns to third person, which really throws you until you get used to it (not to mention the free-form spelling, where people aren't even troubled to spell a word the same way consistently within a single text).

Austen uses uncontracted forms of tag questions in a way modern English speakers don't ("this attic is amazingly gloomy, is not it?" vs "isn't it?" or "is it not?"). But what I wonder is if Austen is employing them in a marked way or not... was that just the usual form tag questions took in conversation during her time, or was she employing those uncontracted forms as an affect for the purposes of characterization (the way we might have a character today say "it's hot out today, is it not?" vs "isn't it?")?

the girl from spirea x (f. hazel), Friday, 17 January 2020 17:10 (eight months ago) link

I finished Iceland's Bell last night, making it the first book I've read in 2020. At this pace I'll read (quickly calculates on fingers) about half as many books as I read in 2019. Part of the difficulty I had getting through this one was not the book's fault. I've been disinterested in reading most evenings and diverting myself with crosswords often as not. But some of the problem was with the book.

It lacked fully developed characters or any true center to the plot, but instead was a historical novel that relied for much of its interest from a desultory overview of the history of Iceland, circa 1680 - 1710 AD. No doubt this period and place in history holds more fascination for Icelanders than for non-Icelanders like me. Laxness did the best he could; he was a very talented author. I just wasn't his ideal audience.

A is for (Aimless), Friday, 17 January 2020 20:25 (eight months ago) link

i've tried to read 'independent people' several times and never gotten very far

mookieproof, Friday, 17 January 2020 21:00 (eight months ago) link

My reading pace has been slow this year so far, on account of having a miserable cold and mostly being too tired or miserable to read.

o. nate, Saturday, 18 January 2020 02:25 (eight months ago) link

I've finally gotten around to Chronicles, having had it for the best part of 15 years. I like it, broadly, but I'm a little underwhelmed overall. He's great company and the early stages are magical but there's something about his aphoristic style that starts to wear thin in the Oh Mercy section. I'll stick with it.

Life is a meaningless nightmare of suffering...save string (Chinaski), Saturday, 18 January 2020 22:44 (eight months ago) link

I also thought the "Oh Mercy" section was the weakest. I still liked it overall.

o. nate, Sunday, 19 January 2020 02:13 (eight months ago) link

Great points F. Hazel about how diverse the conventions of English writing were, the further you go back.

It all makes me wonder when it was that things finally became more codified - I suspect around the late 19th century - which ironically is also the same time that we tend to think of a new wave of literary rule-breaking starting. In other words maybe 'modernism' only appears iconoclastic because language had finally just been settled.

the pinefox, Sunday, 19 January 2020 14:25 (eight months ago) link

Reading Five Children and It, which from the get-go left A Wrinkle In Time far behind, with Nesbit's super-concentrated, occasionally feverish, empathetic, yet firm, young-auntie voice vs. L'Engle's slobbery Granny Jesus kisses (although I'm told that some of hers, incl. in this same series, are a lot better).
Looking toward my first Sebald---ILB seems to favor Austerlitz over Saturn's Rings, amIright? Those are the ones at hand.

dow, Monday, 20 January 2020 01:20 (eight months ago) link

ILB seems to favor Austerlitz over Saturn's Rings, amIright?

Poll it? (NB: I've read neither - thought I own one of them - and would not be able to vote in such a poll.)

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 20 January 2020 04:00 (eight months ago) link

Great points F. Hazel about how diverse the conventions of English writing were, the further you go back.

It all makes me wonder when it was that things finally became more codified - I suspect around the late 19th century - which ironically is also the same time that we tend to think of a new wave of literary rule-breaking starting. In other words maybe 'modernism' only appears iconoclastic because language had finally just been settled.

This is really interesting.

We Jam von Economo (James Redd and the Blecchs), Monday, 20 January 2020 04:24 (eight months ago) link

Looking toward my first Sebald---ILB seems to favor Austerlitz over Saturn's Rings, amIright? Those are the ones at hand.

― dow, Monday, January 20, 2020 2:20 AM (six hours ago) bookmarkflaglink

I don't know if ILB really does? In any case, while pure and uniquely Sebaldian, they wildly differ. Austerlitz is an all-encompassing single story: all the deviations, everything covered, is what makes up the story arch and the history we learn. 'The Rings of Saturn' is much more meandering and takes you into even more unexpected terrain, the leads not necessarily all connected to each other (I mean of course it's all connected Sebald-style, but).

I couldn't choose between the two, really (and I'm - right now - reading 'The Immigrants' for the first time, which was his debut and seems like the best introduction to him as a writer, too). 'Austerlitz' is immensely impressive - well they all are - but perhaps start with 'The Rings of Saturn', which isn't as top heavy as Austerlitz is? But then idk, Austerlitz is a masterpiece, too.

Le Bateau Ivre, Monday, 20 January 2020 08:24 (eight months ago) link

I think Austerlitz is much better. Rings of Saturn is very good, but also feels a bit like a bunch of small essays loosely connected. In Austerlitz, it all takes one shape, and is immensely emotionally powerful.

Frederik B, Monday, 20 January 2020 08:43 (eight months ago) link


THE RINGS OF SATURN is always the one for me. Tremendous exhibition about it at Norwich Castle last year.

Lots of his pictures for AUSTERLITZ were also on display at UEA.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 January 2020 09:17 (eight months ago) link

I've started reading Maria Edgeworth's CASTLE RACKRENT.

I had better not read too many books at once.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 January 2020 09:17 (eight months ago) link


You are right, of course.

Le Bateau Ivre, Monday, 20 January 2020 09:42 (eight months ago) link

Except for some reason I wrote THE IMMIGRANTS instead of the correct title: THE EMIGRANTS.

the pinefox, Monday, 20 January 2020 10:24 (eight months ago) link

In descending order:

The Emigrants
The Rings of Saturn

They're all good, though.`

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 20 January 2020 12:40 (eight months ago) link

I echo Alfred's list. Austerlitz is extraordinary but, given the emotional weight of it, I don't know that I could read it again.

I'm in that delicious/enervating phase of being between books and not knowing what the hell to read.

Ngolo Cantwell (Chinaski), Monday, 20 January 2020 14:02 (eight months ago) link

In anticipation of a trip to the southwestern US next May I've started reading the sensationally named Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, Hampton Sides.

So far, it is a competent narrative history aimed at a popular audience. The style is workmanlike and just readable enough not to be irritating. Although it is copyright 2006 and the author attempts to embrace some of the Native American side of the story, he has already managed to use the word "squaw" several times, which tends to cast some shade on his credentials in that regard.

A is for (Aimless), Monday, 20 January 2020 17:58 (eight months ago) link

xpost Thanks yall---I'll probably start with Austerlitz, although I certainly sympathize with any book or author tagged, fairly or not, as meandering.
I read a book first publised in 2019, by an actual youngperson! Jia Tolentino's Trick Mirror---Reflections on Self Delusion. At thirty, she looks back to her Canadian-Filipina origins, with prodigious parents who got religion in Toronto, and vaulted to a megachurch lifestyle complex, which the author and her friends referred to as "The Repentagon," somewhere in the "fathomless sprawl" of Houston--which had no zoning laws, so it was near a teen club dedicated to the music and memory of DJ Screw---and as a young and restless, yet well-schooled teen, she found the szzyrup experience compatible with her ideal of eternity---later sought in the desert, while doing psychotrophics---which might have something to do with her attraction to the writings of Simone Weil, the Christian mystic who escaped to WWII London yet starved herself to death in solidarity with the victims of Hitler (since this book came out, JT's New Yorker archive has incl. illuminating, disturbing examination of what had seemed to me something of a mystery trend: millenials posting "just kill me now, blow me away," in ecstatic context).
Back to life: her storytelling essays may have been strengthened by actual journalism, which she first practiced while going back to her alma mater, the University of Virginia, in the wake of the Rolling Stone debacle. She immediately recognizes and sharpens her view of shady nuances, while meeting people close and closer to the center of the recent furor.
Also rides the rapids through tunnel of mirrors, "The 'I' in Internet," seeking to make sense of some involvements, to get perspective on others that make all too much sense, or seem to (Russian nested doll tendencies of some psychedelic and even weed experiences, splitting difference between self-awareness and self-consciousness, may also apply). And she works hard to make the money required for the good food and exercise (esp. a mostly female-inhabited hivetivity known as the barre, which might have come from an unholy collaboration of Ballard and Atwood) required to make the money for
Oh well, she's got a good acerbic sense of humor about all this. Also a lot of good stuff about her favorite children's books, and discussions of seemingly familiar voices---Weil, Plath, Ferrante, several others--while pointing out things I hadn't thought of and didn't know.
The only section I have doubts about is "The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams," mainly because Trump upstages everybody.

dow, Monday, 20 January 2020 18:23 (eight months ago) link

Suddenly came to the end of teh Mike Heron memoir part of You Know What You Could Be.
Just getting heavily into it when it abruptly ended. So hope there might be some hope that he writes a longer memoir at some point.
Has Robin Williamson written a memoir?
Heron gets as far as Robin and Licorice getting back from Morocco which means the psychedelic era of th eband is just about to get underway.

Hertoic Failure by Fintan O'Toole
the book on Brexit which came out last year and i started before Xmas and thought I was going to get read over Xmas.
INteresting stuff, he's exploring the meaning of the title subject. He's just been talking about the Terror being found in 2016 and the mission it was on to find the NOrthwest passage. Followed by a load of people going off to try to find the lost ship and not being thought to be really doing it if they came back without finding the ship, including somebody who found the entrance to teh Northwest passage which i thought was mythical. INteresting book, may need to read some more of him once I get through this. Wish I'd gotten myself together to get a ticket to watch him talking at the local university when he was here last year or the year before.

Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'roll: The Science of Hedonism Zoe Cormier
Popular science book on the pleasure principle and evolution and stuff.
Bought this is n a charity shop a while back and its been sitting in a pile waiting to be read.

Stevolende, Monday, 20 January 2020 18:54 (eight months ago) link

I finished The House in Paris by Elizabeth Bowen, slowed a bit by my suffering from a miserable cold, which turned out to be strep. It's not a super-easy book to read, bearing as it does a number of modernist hallmarks - acute attention to psychological states, unusual formal structure, lack of omniscient perspective. On the other hand, it does tell a coherent, emotionally-resonant tale, the shape of which becomes clear at around the 3/4 point, and is resolutely realist, keeping flights of lyrical fancy to a minimum. When the shape of the plot first becomes apparent, it may seem perhaps a tad old-fashioned, Gothic even, but by the end, its necessity to the careful and intricate structure becomes plain. Dealing as it does with gradations of social respectability and expected behavior which have now been nearly erased by the march of 20th-century progress towards the fully-liberated consumer, and limning as it does a particularly genteel level of that society, at the rare slow moment, one may catch a whiff of the dusty and fusty. Nonetheless the acuteness of the portraits, especially of the children, and the current of mordant humor running just below the surface, together with the overall craftsmanship and frequently glittering sentences, make it hard to assign any grade other than "masterpiece".

I've now started the enjoyably diverting (and undemanding) Life is Meals by James and Kay Salter.

o. nate, Monday, 20 January 2020 22:17 (eight months ago) link

I discovered Bowen in December '18. "Gothic" is a good descriptor. If you liked what you read, try The Death of the Heart.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 20 January 2020 22:19 (eight months ago) link

I'd like to read that one at some point.

o. nate, Monday, 20 January 2020 22:24 (eight months ago) link

Also try doorstop Collected Stories, from the very early 20s (and maybe before?) to late 60s.

dow, Tuesday, 21 January 2020 00:49 (eight months ago) link

a person of interest, susan choi

youn, Wednesday, 22 January 2020 01:49 (eight months ago) link

ive been reading mickelsons ghosts by john gardner ~ p good, reads vaguely like a less depraved sabbath's theater to me

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 22 January 2020 23:08 (eight months ago) link

The Lark Ascending, Richard King. Enjoyed Original Rockers quite a lot so looking forward.

Daniel_Rf, Thursday, 23 January 2020 09:58 (eight months ago) link

Just now coming to this thread -- I read Reinhardt's Garden last year and loved it! I'm a few months removed so my impressions are no longer the freshest; but I read it around the same time I tried to read a Bernhard I'd never read before (Old Masters), and I thought Haber was doing something quite different and, in a way, much more straightforwardly enjoyable, once you get past the intimidating look of the unbroken word-column, and the basic conceit of the delirious monologue. I thought the transitions between the narrative present and recollected events were managed very well, and kept me interested in a way that Bernhard sometimes fails to do. (Not that he doesn't hold my interest [Well, Old Masters didn't; apart from that, though...], but with TB I tend to feel I'm being asked to focus more on the language itself, and less on the story.)

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Thursday, 23 January 2020 15:43 (eight months ago) link

Yeah, I really liked Reinhardt's Garden.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Thursday, 23 January 2020 20:38 (eight months ago) link

I've started reading Maria Edgeworth's CASTLE RACKRENT.

How can one read James Joyce — or Beckett for that matter — without a sound appreciation of Castle Rackrent?"

-- Brian Aldiss, "Diagrams for Three Enigmatic Stories"

alimosina, Thursday, 23 January 2020 21:17 (eight months ago) link

Castle Rackrent is a perfect little black comedy.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Friday, 24 January 2020 01:44 (eight months ago) link

i finished parable of the sower over the holiday and i'm just blown away. i can't stop thinking about it. of course i'll be picking up the second in the series and everything else butler wrote, but if anyone has any other suggestions in this vein i'd really appreciate them: prescient books that deal with the disaster of now, that understand social reality outside protected bubbles and point ways forward, from queer povs a bonus.

As someone who also read Parable for the first time recently, I'd be curious to hear whether you found anything that fits the bill.

I'm tempted to recommend Omar Al-Akkad's American War, which gave me similar feelings, but was less well-written (What isn't less well-written than Octavia Butler, though?!), to the point where it stopped holding my interest around the halfway mark. Been meaning to pick it back up though!

handsome boy modelling software (bernard snowy), Friday, 24 January 2020 01:55 (eight months ago) link

Deep into that Barr book on Ealing - curious how even as far back as the 70's, someone mounting a defense of the studio had to put the spotlight on its "rebels" (Hamer, McKendrick) and push back against its archetypal image - "x isn't just what you thought it was" admitidley being a well-worn approach to talking about anything.

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 24 January 2020 10:14 (eight months ago) link

I like Brian Aldiss, and like people to read old books, but I don't really understand his question above.

I don't see very much relation between this and Joyce, or Beckett. I do see a bit of a relation with Myles na gCopaleen - the parodic Editor and footnotes anticipating AN BEAL BOCHT / THE POOR MOUTH.

Though my understanding of most things is very limited indeed, I suspect that I actually know Joyce, at least ULYSSES, better than Aldiss did.

the pinefox, Friday, 24 January 2020 11:07 (eight months ago) link

Just reading some batches of short novels:

Linda Bostrom Knausgard - The Helios Disaster
Thomas Benhard - On the Mountain
Peter Handke - The Afternoon of a Writer
Franz Kafka - Letter to his Father
Anna Kavan - Sleep has his House
Natalia Ginzburg - Happiness, as Such

xyzzzz__, Friday, 24 January 2020 16:45 (eight months ago) link

finished THE REVISIONARIES by a.r. moxon, which . . . not even sure what to say. enormous, rambling, meta. i quite liked it, and it easily kept me going through 600 pages, but i don't think i'd dare *recommend* it

it shares that distinction, among other things, with infinite jest

mookieproof, Friday, 24 January 2020 19:35 (eight months ago) link

Finished part 1 of Bros K. The story so far: everyone is screaming.

Swilling Ambergris, Esq. (silby), Sunday, 26 January 2020 03:57 (eight months ago) link

Thanks to this thread, I checked out Thomas Benhard's Old Masters.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 26 January 2020 12:05 (eight months ago) link

Finished CASTLE RACKRENT, plus Preface, Glossary, Notes, Appendix, Introduction, Note on the Text.

The Glossary is probably the highlight of all these: classic Irish fun, though the 1995 Introduction fancifully describes it as a patriarchal strategy of containment written by Edgeworth's father. The Introduction goes too wildly off-beam in those directions but does make a fair case for understanding the importance of the novel as a kind of allegory of the fate of the Anglo-Irish.

the pinefox, Sunday, 26 January 2020 13:34 (eight months ago) link

Started reading the copy of Crime and Punishment I bought a couple of years ago thinking I'd try something ther than constance garnet.
Enjoying it so far but have a few other things i want to read.

Stevolende, Sunday, 26 January 2020 14:11 (eight months ago) link

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