Best Things 2014, Part I: Books
January 5, 2015 § 4 Comments
Upon deep reflection I nearly came to the conclusion that 2014 was a total shit show, unworthy of comment/time travel/etc.
Then upon deeper reflection I realized that I read all of Proust’s Search in roughly eight weeks.
So yeah, 2014 is exonerated!
In addition to these extraordinary books—
In Search of Lost Time Volume I: Swann’s Way. 1913.
In Search of Lost Time Volume II: Within a Budding Grove. 1918.
In Search of Lost Time Volume III: The Guermantes Way. 1920-1.
In Search of Lost Time Volume IV: Sodom and Gomorrah. 1921-2.
In Search of Lost Time Volume V: The Captive & The Fugitive. 1923-5.
In Search of Lost Time Volume VI: Time Regained. 1927.
in the 1992 Modern Library translation by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin, and D. J. Enright*
[*I like their work, though of course the argument can and has been made that they’ve over-smoothed the French, which Lydia Davis has not. I was reading Proust in a small group and this was the translation chosen out of consensus. I’m happy I went along because the Viking series, from my occasional referencing it, seems to be inconsistent probably on account of having different translators for each novel.
One day I’ll read in French. And do my own translation! Ambitions.]
—I began my discovery of three writers whose work, like Proust, will have a lasting impact on how I read, write, think, live:
(1) Edmond Jabès;
[I read the first two volumes of The Book of Questions (The Book of Questions. 1963. & The Book of Yukel. 1964.), translated by a my biggest translation hero, Rosmarie Waldrop, and published by Wesleyan University Press. This was part of an amazing one-on-one tutorial and I’ll be reading the rest when I can breathe again.]
(2) Etel Adnan (who is going to be a major figure on my upcoming comprehensive exams—she is completely stunning and writes in multiple genres and languages);
[Sitt Marie-Rose. 1978. Translated from the French by Georgina Kleege. Post-Apollo Press, 1982.
Seasons. Post-Apollo Press, 2008.
The Cost for Love We Are Not Willing to Pay. Hatje Canz Verlag, 2011.
Sea and Fog. Nightboat Books, 2012.]
(3) and Lisa Robertson (whom I got to hear read and lecture at Naropa and make sign a billion books for myself and a friend).
[Occasional Work and Seven Works from the Office of Soft Architecture. 2003. Coach House Books, 2011.
Magenta Soul Whip. Coach House Books, 2009.
Nilling: Prose Essays on Noise, Pornography, the Codex, Melancholy, Lucretius, Folds, Cities and Related Aporias. BookThug, 2011.
The Weather. New Star Books, 2011.]
I should add George Oppen to this list, though technically I’ve read his books before; but I read more this year and wrote an essay on him for a class about his “we.” It’s not a bad essay. Maybe I should send it somewhere.
I can also officially stop pretending I’ve read Lyn Hejinian because I finally read My Life.
I’ve never been fully able to understand why people just assume you’ve read certain poets. Those poets inevitably are Hejinian, Dickinson, and Williams, at least in the circles I currently work in. It’s really just one circle, very tiny-ly drawn. And no, I have not read Dickinson’s Collected Poems, even though I have the book, and I possibly never will. I did read all of Paterson, however, and well, let’s leave it at that.
Finally, I discovered that I really like Shakespeare‘s As You Like It. It’s roughly the eighth play of his I’ve read and the only one I’ve actually enjoyed. Call me a heathen. Rah.
Here are some more great books I read last year (not including things I re-read):
John Ashbery. Three Poems. 1972. Penguin, 1986.
Gro Dahle. A Hundred Thousand Hours. 1996. Translated from the Norwegian by Rebecca Wadlinger. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.
Marosa di Giorgio. Diadem: Selected Poems. Translated from the Spanish by Adam Gianelli. BOA Editions, 2012.
Joel Felix. Limbs of the Apple Tree Never Die. Verge Books, 2013.
Sakutarō Hagiwara. The Iceland. 1934. Translated from the Japanese by Hiroaki Sato. New Directions, 2014.
Christian Hawkey. Ventrakl. Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010.
Geoffrey Hill. Canaan. 1996. Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
Hiromi Itō. Killing Kanoko. Translated from the Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. Action Books, 2009.
Mani Rao. Echolocation. Chameleon, 2003.
Martha Ronk. Why/Why Not. University of California Press, 2003.
Farhad Showghi. End of the City Map. 2003. Translated from the German by Rosmarie Waldrop. Burning Deck, 2014.
Jack Spicer: After Lorca. 1951.
Frankly, Jabès and Adnan (mentioned above) way exceeded any other (very small amounts of) fiction I read last year. I almost put in Antonio Tabucchi‘s Indian Nocturne (trans. Tim Parks) but on second thought, I mostly like it for how it opens with this by Maurice Blanchot:
Those who sleep badly seem to a greater or lesser degree guilty: what do they do? They make the night present.
I would appreciate it if someone could tell me where Tabucchi got this from. My own internet searching has not been successful.
Walter Benjamin. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiogragphical Writings. Translated from the German by Edmund Jephcott. Schocken Books, 1986.
MFK Fisher. Consider the Oyster. 1941. North Point Press, 1988.
Susan Howe. Sorting Facts: or, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Marker. New Directions, 2013.
Richard Sennett. The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities. W.W. Norton, 1991.
George Steiner. After Babel. 1975. Oxford University Press, 1998.
Rosmarie Waldrop. Lavish Absence: Recalling and Rereading Jabès. Wesleyan University Press, 2002.
Steiner deserves a special mention. It took me forever to read the book—it gets enormously dry at points and is flawed, of course it is, but I love how he arrives at his major theses. For example, that Babel represents not so much a fall as the necessary survival of humankind through a multiplicity of language. And lots more translation-related stuff and some stuff I find disturbingly wrong. But that’s all for another comprehensive exam.
Maybe I should admit I also read Simone Weil‘s Waiting for God (trans. Emma Crauford) but didn’t know what to make of it. I copied some passages out and will return to them often, but somehow the idea of being Catholic outside the Church, but believing in nearly all of its bullshit dogmas, I don’t know . . . Her politics are more interesting to me, and the way her intelligence and her empathy are so inextricably tied to one another. I should read Carson’s Decreation next, to see if Weil opens up more to me through her.