I love new reading plans, and thinking about 2009, I have a three-tier approach in mind. First of all there are a number of particular books I’d like to read:
The Master and Margherita by Bulgakov,
The Double by José Saramango,
The White Hotel by D. M. Thomas,
The Women’s Room by Marilyn French,
Atonement by Ian McEwan and
Speak, Memory by Nabokov.
Then there are canonical authors I haven’t read and would like to, most notably, Henry James. I’ve read and enjoyed his short fiction, Washington Square and The Aspern Papers, but this is Henry James-lite. Years ago I never made it fast the first few pages of The Golden Bowl, and I’d like to try again. Perhaps The Ambassadors, this time, or The Bostonians. I’m really keen to read around this historical and cultural era and try William Dean Howells (there’s a beautiful NYRB classic, Indian Summer, that I have my eye on), Willa Cather, Sarah Orne Jewett and (more) Edith Wharton. It’s funny; the British nineteenth century interests me not at all, but that slide out of the nineteenth into the twentieth in just about any other country is quite fascinating. It’s a kind of pre-modernism, I suppose, the moment before modern literature as we know it is born.
There’s also a number of modern canonical authors I’ve never read who represent significant gaps I’d like to fill. Among them are the American Richards – Richard Yates, Richard Ford and Richard Powers. Over in Europe, I’ve never read any Italo Calvino or Albert Cohen, nor any Isabel Allende. I’m keen to try something I have never, ever read before, which is classic science fiction, in the form of John Wyndham and Octavia Butler. And there are a number of wonderful authors I’d like to revisit and read more from, including Hermann Hesse, Borges and Georges Perec (in particular, Life, A User’s Manual).
Finally there are all the sheer fun books I’d like to read. Crime fiction-wise, I’ve never read C. J. Sansom and would like to try him next year, and I’ve only read one Barbara Vine and will be reading more. I’ve been saving up for a special moment when I want a treat or reward Margaret Forster’s Keeping the World Away, Jane Gardam’s Filth, Penelope Lively’s Consequences, Jonathon Coe’s The Rain Before It Falls, Mary McCarthy’s Memoirs of a Catholic Girlhood, and Drusilla Modjeska’s Poppy.
Oh and I should mention also that I’m determined to read more in French next year. I’ve read shamefully little in 2008, and picking up a couple of novels just recently (one of which, Laurent Gaudé’s The House of Scorta which won the Prix Goncourt, the Booker equivalent in 2004 has been extremely enjoyable) has reminded me how much I enjoy it. I’ve hardly got any novels left that I have to read for my academic book, so I can just follow the dictates of pleasure.
First of all, though, I’ll be finishing off the reading I’d decided to do for the end of 2008 and the very beginning of 2009. I said I’d read the Slaves of Golconda shortlist, and I am working my way through that. There are also a number of books including The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks and The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington that are waiting patiently in line. I liked these plans a lot when I made them, and I’m sticking with them. There’s also the small matter of The Recognitions by William Gaddis for the group blog. It’s not an easy read, but it is a very rich and intriguing one, and I’m extremely glad to be tackling this with some wonderful book bloggers.
I do love looking ahead and making plans, and some of these will come off, even if some fall by the wayside. It doesn’t matter at all; reading is an Aladdin’s Cave, not a school syllabus, and who knows what will come out next year, or crop up in a blogger’s post and derail the best laid of plans (even my plan here developed extra layers in the plotting!). It’s a lovely prospect.