Reading Plans

I am here and still blogging, and thinking a great deal about ways that I could refresh my aims and intentions on this site. I know I want to move back closer to the books again, and to writing in more detail about fragments of books, but I need to think a little more about it. I miss most teaching literary criticism at the moment, and the blog has always been the place where I indulge what I’m missing, but on the other hand I don’t want to teach a course here; that wouldn’t work at all. So, it will all come clear in time.

In the meantime, I noticed a new challenge going around: the ’10 Books To Read Before You Die’ challenge. I don’t want to commit to anything that might turn into a prophesy, but I did become intrigued to put together a list of ten authors I’d like to spend more time with over the next year or so.

Jorge Luis Borges – I’ve only read a little Borges but I would like to work my way systematically through most of what he’s done. His inventiveness is astounding and it’s the kind of work that cries out to be properly read. You can’t have a simple emotional reaction to Borges, you have to think about him, and I do like that.

William Maxwell The Chateau has long been a favourite of mine, and I also loved Time Will Darken It. But he has written several other novels, not to mention a host of literary essays. I’m keen to find out more about his life, too.

Angela Carter – I found Nights at the Circus a linguistic delight but also the kind of word banquet you can’t partake of every day. That’s made me slow to return to Carter, but stylistically she is amazing and an author I want to study in depth.

Robert MusilThe Man Without Qualities has been on my shelf for a while now, but it’s huge and requires forward planning. I’d be keen to have a German season, as I’ve long wanted to read more Hermann Hesse, more Christa Wolf and more Elias Canetti.

Iris Murdoch – In my early twenties I read one of her more mystical novels and really loved it until the ending went a bit mad. I get the feeling that Murdoch is often like this, mixed and unpredictable in her work, even over the course of each novel. But again, she’s an ideas person, and a great literary figure. I’m interested to see how she will read to my older self.

Gabriel Josipovici – You know I love this man. I’d like to read everything he’s ever written. Simple as that. I’d like to write about him in an academic capacity too, if possible.

Louis Aragon – One day I will finish the great beast that is my academic book on fantasy and dream, and when I do, it’s the works of this man I’ll turn to next. He is sadly unavailable in translation, or else I would talk about him more. He belonged to the Surrealist group, but also wrote a series of huge novels focused on romances and family stories, blending history, psychology, war, artistic ambition, changing culture. Oh they don’t write them like that any more.

Vladimir Nabokov – Okay, so it’s finally time for me to read Lolita. I will do it. Nabokov scares me, although he is always on my to-read list. I really fear I may find him overly pretentious in his language use, but there’s only one way to find out.

Drusilla Modjeska – I loved, loved, loved The Orchard when I read it almost a year ago, and then I went around and bought whatever I could find by Modjeska. She hasn’t written so very much, but I adore her combination of academic writing, biography and life story. No one else does that.

Sinclair Lewis – I think this is who I mean. I get confused and suspect that there was once a writer called Upton Wyndham Sinclair Lewis who had a triple life. I read somewhere that Sinclair Lewis lived with Upton Sinclair for a time in his artist’s colony, but the question is: did anyone ever see them together? How sure can we be they were not the same man? But this is an era in American literature that I’d like to read more about.

And while I’m in list-making frame of mind, the following ten titles are all books I’d like to read before the end of the year:

William Dean Howells – Indian Summer
Wallace Stegner – Angle of Repose
John Wyndham  – The Day of the Triffids
William Fiennes – The Music Room
Willa Cather – A Lost Lady
Sara Maitland – A Book of Silence
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
JMG Le Clezio – Wandering Star
Alexandra Fuller – Don’t Let’s Go To The Dog’s Tonight
Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger

What’s everyone else going to read before the year is out?


26 thoughts on “Reading Plans

  1. Litlove, that’s quite a list.

    There is a writer named Percy Wyndham Lewis (for these purposes, “the” Wyndham Lewis) who wrote _Tarr_, _The Apes of God_ (hilarious, and out of control), _Rude Assignment_ (an intellectual autobiography), and more. There was also a D.B. Wyndham-Lewis, british born (“the” Lewis was canadian born, or english, depending on the point of view). Their names were often confused. Whether D.B. “Percy” Wyndham-Lewis Sinclair ever knew Upton Park is a whole other ball of wax.

    Books I hope to read this year:

    -Gilbert Sorrentino’s _Little Casino_ (underway) and _The Abyss of Human Illusion_ (cheerful title)
    -Mati Unt’s _Brecht at Night_
    -Gabriel Josipovici’s latest
    -Peter Pištanek’s _Rivers of Babylon_ trilogy, and
    -Henry de Montherlant’s _Chaos and Night_ (a re-read)

    That’s the list as of today, anyway.


  2. I adore Angela Carter and think that a “linguistic delight” is a wonderful way to describe Nights at the Circus. Is that the only novel of hers that you have read? I recommend any of her books but The Bloody Chamber and Wise Children are also exceptionally good.

    Lolita is one of my favourite books and on my top ten “bucket” list of books that I want to read is Ada or Ador by Vladimir Nabokov.

  3. Sorry to hear you were under the weather Litlove–I managed to catch something as well so hopefully we’re both on the mend now. I always enjoy your posts whatever you choose to write about, so bookish subjects sound good to me! I’d love to read more William Maxwell and Sinclair Lewis as well, so I will be especially interested in what you have to say about those two (though the others as well). I think I mostly want to finish the books I’ve started this year that have been languishing on my night stand (particularly a Stefan Zweig novel, which is excellent only he has to contend with too many other books as competition). I’m also in the mood for a good Victorian novel and am trying to decide between George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell. Not sure what else though I’m sure there are plenty of books lying around I’d like to start reading…

  4. Your list of 10 books to read before you die has been thoughtfully selected. My TBR pile has become so overwhelming that this might help me organize my pile a bit better. If I think about those books that I must read before I die there are thousands but coming up with a short list will be a fun exercise for me.

  5. I am always in love/book lust with your wonderful lists! I never leave here without adding to my own. Sometime, let’s get a cup of virtual coffee and talk about Louis Aragon. I wrote an article some time ago about the way the Surrealists adopted Lewis Carroll — such fun! — and Aragon was a whole chapter of my dissertation, but I haven’t read his big Communist Realist novels. I want some recommendations!

  6. Beyond the usual SF, I’m hoping to read:
    Ovid’s Metamorphoses
    Dante’s Inferno
    some Northrop Frye
    an analysis of Sophocles, my favourite playwright
    Goethe’s Faust.

    Beyond those, there’ll be plenty of other books I read no doubt (I might break 150 this year), but those are the ones I’ve been meaning to read for a while now.

  7. ‘The Little Stranger’ and ‘The Music Room’ are on my list as well. I’ve also just been asked to talk to a group about Arthur Ransome (it’s the eightieth anniversary of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ next year) which is as good a reason as any to re-read the whole series. And, you still have ‘The Day of the Triffids’ to read – wow what fun!

  8. The ten books I hope to read before the end of the year are:

    Lawrence Durrell The Alexandria Quartet
    Sigrid Undset Kristin Lavransdatter
    Doris Lessing The Golden Notebook
    Patrick Hamilton The Gorse Trilogy
    Victoria Glendinning Leonard Wolf
    Edith Wharton The House of Mirth
    Gavin Maxwell Ring of Bright Water
    Girls Like Us Sheila Weller
    L.M. Montgomery The Blue Castle
    Joan Szechtman This Time

    I think I’ve got my hands full with the above list: I’ve already begun the Sigrid Undset book and so far it’s going well.

  9. Lovely books! I really enjoyed reading Angle of Repose & A Lost Lady a while back. Wolf Hall is one book I’d like to finish this year, along with A Children’s Book by A S Byatt, William Fiennes The Snow Geese, 1599 by James Shapiro, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood also spring to mind.

  10. 10 before January hits: Philosophy in the Flesh (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson), Philosophy of Mind (John Heil), The Defining Moment (Jonathan Alter), Body Consciousness (Richard Shusterman), Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein), What is Philosophy (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari), Religion and the American Mind (Alan Heimert), Bone Game (Louis Owens), Tree Day Road (Joseph Boyden) and The Beautiful Struggle (Ta-Nehisi Coates).

  11. As always, litlove, that is some list! I agree with Claire on Carter’s The Bloody Chamber (retelling of fairy tales, incidentally) and Wise Children. You’d have fun also with Nabokov’s Pale Fire…Musil’s Posthumous Papers has been staring at me from the pile for a long time; perhaps this year I’ll get to it. Otherwise, more Borges, more Murdoch, and I really want to do Durrell’ls Alexandria Quartet. Someday…

  12. It seems like I am gushing on about Wolf Hall everywhere it is mentioned, but I finished it last night and it is just so wonderful I feel everyone should be pushing it up their list (although a few bloggers I know really didn’t like it so it’s obviously not one of those universal books).

  13. Wonderful list! I don’t think I’m in a planning and list-making mode right now, or I’d join you, but I do like reading other people’s plans. I’d really love to know what you think of Nabokov. I’ve been meaning to read some Borges and also Maxwell and maybe Howells, so perhaps I can join you in your reading now and then.

  14. Ditto Claire on “The Bloody Chamber” — highly, highly recommended from yours truly. It’s been my experience that Iris Murdoch’s novels almost always come to pieces in the final quarter, but oh, the ride! Two that hang together all the way through are The Sea, the Sea which I have read fifteen times, and A Fairly Honourable Defeat , which I have read only five times, but which I liked equally well.

    At some point this year I bought nearly everything that Christopher Isherwood wrote, having become fascinated by the sleight of hand that permits him to write a first-person narrative in which the narrator isn’t the main character of the story. So I should maybe get around to reading the rest of those. I also started a couple of books by Hans Fallada, became actually nervous of the sheer weight of obvious risk-taking genius I was about to be subjected to, and put them back down. I’d like to finish them, when there’s less on my mind.

  15. Wow, that is a list and a half. I’m interested in the Borges, partly because he is apparently the author to read to get a feel of Buenos Aires. And Josipovici (since you rave about him). If this was a book club I’d be vying for the Sara Maitland. Alexandra Fuller gives a lovely sense of what it was like to grow up in Zimbabwe. I’m also wary of Lolita. Will be interested to hear your reaction.

  16. JB – thank you for that, um, clarification! 🙂 I still feel that someone in there is running two different identities…. And a most intriguing list of books you have there – I’m interested in hearing how you get on with all of them.

    Claire – I have read The Bloody Chamber and agree wholeheartedly with you (but not Wise Children – should read that soon). Have you read The Infernal Desires of Doctor Hoffman? That’s one I want to get hold of but can’t find. And your remark (along with that of some other commenters) about Nabokov means that I will definitely commit to reading him before the year is out.

    Danielle – so sorry you’ve been poorly! Do hope there was some extra reading time in it. I really MUST read Stefan Zweig, and I don’t read enough Victorians. I loved Middlemarch but have never returned to Eliot – I should do so!

    Kathleen – I’m hoping to get a few thousand in before the end, I agree! But I occasionally make lists to help prompt me in book choosing. I never hold myself to them absolutely, but I like a range of options in my mind.

    Anne – Ah! Someone who’s read the Maitland. I’m very glad indeed that you liked it and have bumped it up the list accordingly. I bought the Book People’s deal on the amassed Booker shortlist as I got frustrated waiting for the paperbacks, but they must be out soon! xoxoxo

    Jenny – oh that is indeed a conversation I would love to have! Someone who knows Aragon! If you have references to direct me towards your scholarly works, I would love to read them too. Otherwise, I’ll just say the word ‘Aurelien’. I adored that novel – one of my all-time top 10.

    Andrew – what an interesting list! Of the ones I’ve read, Metamorphoses I can thoroughly recommend. Faust I found a curious read – powerful in some ways, old-fashioned and creaky in others. But it’s the sort of book one ought to have under the belt. If it’s a good reading of Sophocles, let me know – I’d be most interested in that.

    Ann – Arthur Ransome was one of the authors I never managed to get to before my son grew up, although my dad loved him. Do hope your talk goes splendidly well! And very interested in hearing what you have to say about the Waters and the Fiennes.

    Jennifer – wow, what a fantastic list! And some serious reading in there. I’ve heard good things about the Undset although I have a little trouble with chunksters myself. But I’d like to read it. I loved the Doris Lessing and the Edith Wharton and would very much like to read the Durrell too!

    Booksplease – oh some lovely books on your list, there. I read The Robber Bride years ago and adored it. I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say about all the books you mention!

    gumbomum – how nice to have you visit! And your vote for Lolita counts, you know. I will definitely read it in the near future.

  17. Mary – that is another extremely impressive list! I’d love to know what you make of the Deleuze and Guattari – quite the hardest philosophy I think I’ve ever attempted to read, but intriguing stuff. I’m going to have to look up several from your list so thank you – I love being introduced to new authors!

    ds – I do love to have a list on the go, but I don’t hold myself honour bound to complete it, or even to stick resolutely to it. I’d love to read Durrell, too. But I will definitely make time for Carter and Nabokov. There are conversations there I’d love to have with my blogging friends!

    Jodie – I am SO happy to finally have my copy of Wolf Hall. I’ve heard lots of good things about it too, and have wanted to read Mantel for a long time. I will definitely be reading it in the next week or so and will look forward to comparing notes!

    Dorothy – oh I agree that the urge to list-making sometimes hits and sometimes doesn’t. I won’t hold myself sternly to this, but I like to have a broad aim in view. I’d love to know what you make of the Howells (which I’ve just finished) and Borges and Maxwell. Nabokov is a must now and a conversation I’m looking forward to having with you all.

    Lilian – no you’re right – it does come from Nights at the Circus, if you mean the bit where the train derails and they all wander off into the Siberian wilds and the women come across the prison… It is a wonderfully powerful passage in an amazing novel. I must read more of her!

    David – I have read The Bloody Chamber, but everyone’s comments are making me feel I’d like to read it again. Thank you for the Murdoch recommendations, useful as she was quite prolific. And I’d never heard of Hans Fallada so instantly looked him up and oh my! what a talent that man must be. His work sounds amazing, and will certainly go on the list – though I can quite see why one might choose the right moment to read it.

    Pete – well, would love to know what you think of Borges, Josipovici and/or Maitland! I’m committed to reading Nabokov now – it will be such an interesting blog conversation to have.

  18. Victoria, I haven’t read The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman but I do have a copy. Both that and Heroes & Villians are sadly out-of-print but I tracked down copies of both. I haven’t read either yet as once I have, there is nothing new to read by Angela Carter and that concept is devastating; however, I am planning to finally read one, or both, of them next month for an Angela Carter-related feature on my blog.

  19. You must have peeped over my shoulder at my list, or gotten into my head somehow! Or maybe it was the other way round? Anyway, my list, though I haven’t written it down, is perhaps not so oddly similar. Your comment about Sinclair Lewis made me laugh I always get him and Upton confused and wonder as you do, has anyone ever seen them together?

  20. I’ve just read the archives on Maupassant’s Le Horla and would agree that here was a formidable author – and well worth reading (especially in French). I’d say he was on a par with Zola and even Dostoievski. If I could be so bold as to make a suggestion for alternative reading material by a more contemporary author who may translate a little better into English – try Bernard Werber. Les Fourmis (The Ants) and Les Thanatonautes are well worth a read or to get a flavour of this man’s perception, try L’Arbre des Possibles – a collection of short stories.

    The following quote from his website gives an indication of what I mean…


    JOKE : A story about a guy who goes to his doctor. He’s wearing a top hat. He sits down and takes off his hat. The doctor sees a frog sitting on his bald head. He looks more closely, and sees that the frog seems to be soldered to the skin.

    – « You’ve had this for a long time ? », says the doctor, surprised.

    The frog replies : « At first it was only a little wart on my foot ».

    This joke illustrates a concept. Sometimes your analysis of an event is mistaken because you’re stuck in the only viewpoint that is apparent to you.’

    If any of you have read or decide to read Bernard Werber I’d be interested to hear your comments.

    Kind regards.

  21. I plan to read a few more books by Nobel prize winners, “The Remains of the Day”, “The Fortunes of the Rougons” and perhaps a few others that strike my fancy. I typically don’t formulate any solid reading plans unless I’m very bored and my books are a mess, so right now (with an organized collection), it’s unclear as to what I’ll pick up next. You’ve got a lot to tackle though by year’s end; good luck with all those!

    (I also always get confused between Sinclair Lewis and Upton Sinclair. It also doesn’t help that both names are so… strange.)

  22. PLEASE don’t give up blogging. You don’t sound to be in any danger of losing self, to me. And we out here need people like you to inspire us.

    Would you consider adding another book to your TBR list? ‘Right to Die’ is the story of a young journalist with Motor Neurone Disease whose mind is searching for solutions to the big questions of life and death. His wife, Naomi, finds his diary after his death and her story and her haunting secret are woven alongside his as she reads it. The book was recently shortlisted for a literary prize (BMA) and is my fifth published novel. My publisher is happy to send you a review copy if you have the time and inclination to read it.

    But whatever the response please keep blogging.

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