Friday, March 7, 2014

Authors I have not read.

Ten authors I have not read.  The conceit at The Broke and the Bookish, who originated the idea, is to list popular authors, and they succeed to the paradoxical extent that I have never heard of seven of their ten choices.

My conceit will be that I will pick authors whose work I should have read because I would likely enjoy it quite a lot, and whose work I would have read if I had not followed a path back to older and older books.  This is one of those road not taken sorts of things.  To follow the exercise to its end, I will pair each choice with the writer I actually did read but would not have read if I had read this one.

This game is not as fun as it might seem because you, the reader, are missing information that allows suggestions.  You cannot tell me that I ought to try – I will pick someone no one will suggest – William Burroughs, because I might have read Burroughs.  And I have.  I have met William Burroughs (at a signing, not an interesting story).  I guess you can argue I should not want to read someone I chose.

I remind myself that these are authors who I have not read, so as little Edith Wharton as I have read, for example,  I cannot put her on this list since I have read the one about the sled.

1.  August Strindberg, although I have seen The Dance of Death, a wonderful production, which might violate the spirit of the list.  And anyways I am going to read him soon enough.  (Gotthold Lessing)

2.  Nathaniel West.  Easily the most puzzling omission.  Funny, audacious, sharp.  The other big American writers I have not read – Frank Norris, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Thornton Wilder – do not bug me so much, and in fact I fear that a couple of them might be big drags, but West is my kind of writer, yet somehow I never quite got past browsing through Miss Lonelyhearts  in the Library of America edition I bought several – many – years ago.  (Sir Thomas Browne)

3.  Andrei Platonov.  When I put together my mental map of Russian literature twenty-five years ago, Platonov was off in the hinterlands.  His translator Robert Chandler has argued that the current generation of Russian fiction writers has been finding all sorts of new things in Platonov; meanwhile a series of his books have become available in English.  A copy of The Foundation Pit is in my house.  (Marguerite de Navarre)

4.  Vasily Grossman.  See above.  The attention to Grossman has grown enormously over the past decade or so.  Every blog review I have read has sharpened my interest.  Life and Fate is very long, which is an obstacle, but Everything Flows is not.   (Plutarch)

5.  Witold Gombrowicz is the kind of writer I used to read a lot more of, original and surprising modernists messing around with fiction.  Ferdydurke sounds fun.  All his books sound fun.  (Oliver Goldsmith)

6.  Dorothy Richardson’s stream of consciousness novels, especially the thirteen volume Pilgrimage sequence, do not sound like fun, exactly, but rather a bracing challenge.  I am surprised that Woolf fans have not explored her work more.  (Samuel Richardson)

7.  Grazia Deledda.  Sardinian, a plus, since what do I know about Sardinia; her books are short, a plus.  After the Divorce (1902) and The Mother (1920) sound especially good.  (Stendhal)

8.  Paul Valéry wrote a little bit of everything, which somehow, even with a twenty year crisis period where he did not publish, added up to a huge mass of stuff.  I worry that he is too difficult for me in any bulk, but that is no reason to avoid his poems.  (Michel de Montaigne)

9.  Miguel de Unamuno, speaking of difficult.  Forget his philosophy – I want to read his mishmash of fiction and criticism Vida de Don Quixote y Sancho (1914), available in English as Our Lord Don Quixote.  The English title alone has affected my thinking about Don Quixote.  Why have I not read the actual book?  Do I fear it does not live up to that title?  (Pedro Calderón de la Barca)

10.  Now I am undecided.  Isaac Babel?  Richard Wright?  Christina Stead?  Louis-Ferdinand Céline, who sounds awful, but interestingly so?  Julio Cortázar, how did I miss him?  Or perhaps I will reserve a spot for a writer whose name I do not know, whose books I have never seen, whose existence I am not even aware of.  I am imagining her, or perhaps him, now.  What a great writer.  I can hardly wait.  (William Shakespeare)

40 comments:

  1. Really? Ok, do yourself a favor and read "The Skin of Our Teeth." And read West, and Unamuno, and Valery, and definitely Cortazar. Didn't you meet Burroughs with me at the Dillons on Mass that one time?

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  2. I've read something by all except Grossman and Valéry (and Stead).

    The good thing about Nathaniel West is you can go from having read nothing to having read everything in a weekend. Try his weird novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell - it's certainly, like none of the others.

    I somehow imagine if you got started on D Richardson's Pilgrimage, you'd finish it before me. I'm only reading at the rate of less than a book a year; it would take you about a month, I suppose.

    Céline is marvellous and funny.

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    1. I've been planning to start Richardson as soon as I run out of Powys. The person who borrowed Pointed Roofs from the library six months ago has finally brought the book back.

      Does anyone know if this Guide to Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage is a good idea? (http://muse.jhu.edu/books/9780944318515)

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    2. Umbagollah, I wouldn't mind knowing which Powys you found interesting. I've reread two and read another, but that's it.

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    3. Thank you for the link.

      I've been working my way through all of Powys's books and it's hard to say that one of them seems more interesting than another because there's something useful in all of them, even in The Inmates, which is a strident sketch of ideas that he's already hashed out in other books. I wouldn't push The Inmates on anyone who wasn't already a Powys completist. Maiden Castle was the one that pulled me back into his work, and Weymouth Sands was the one that made me want to read the rest.

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    4. I thought about making one of these entries a Pykk tribute. I have not read Chirstina Stead, but if I had it would have been at the expense of Mervyn Peake.

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    5. I noticed Stead's name in there. Definitely not the person to go after if "length is an obstacle." Eight hundred pages on bank fraud. Six hundred pages on a man who doesn't actually love his children. Etc.

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  3. If you want to go beyond West I would recommend The Bridge over San Luis Rey as I can't imagine Wilder wrote a better book. And it's very short.. Apart from Strindberg and West I haven't read any of these which should make me very embarrassed indeed, seeing as most of them wouldn't even make my own embarrassment list.

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  4. Nice list of the unread. i am almost embarrassed to put together something similar for myself.


    Out of your list I have only read Platonov. I thought that both The Foundation Pit and Happy Moscow were worthwhile with Happy Moscow being a little stronger.

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  5. This game is not as fun as it might seem because you, the reader, are missing information that allows suggestions.

    You absolutely have to read Ferreira de Castro, Júlio Dinis, Fialho de Almeida, Herberto Hélder, Guerra Junqueiro, Florbela Espanca, Mário Cesariny, Nuno Braganla, Manuel Alegre, Maria Gabriela Llansol... OK, I'm just churning out names I know you have no way of reading. See, that wasn't very difficult to get around, was it?

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  6. Oh dear, I haven't read a lot of these either. I have read Nathanael West; I suspect you'd enjoy him. I've read some Valéry, and didn't quite know what to make of him. Perhaps you can try "Monsieur Teste," and report back.

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  7. This is definitely not a Humiliation list, not even West. If I were pretending to be an expert in 20th century Polish literature and had never read Gombrowicz, that would be a problem. But I am not, and none of us are. Whenever I have read about him, though, I have thought wow, that sounds good. Yet I have read nothing. That's really all this is. No embarrassment. Rather a certain amount of pleasurable anticipation for reading that may well be ten or twenty years in the future (or, of course, never).

    I am working backwards here. I like how any list like this brings out the "should" impulse - not people in general should read West, but rather that you (meaning me, I) should read him, which I am sure is true.

    Doug, I have picked up and browsed Valéry even more often than I have browsed West. Those "Monsieur Teste" pieces are my best bet, too.

    Miguel, I dunno. That list of yours was not much fun for me. I guess if one of us had fun, it was worth it. Randomly looking up Herberto Hélder, because of his odd name, I come away thinking, yes, I certainly would like to read something of his.

    Brian - your reviews of Platonov were among those I have read. I am still looking forward to Foundation Pit most intensely. It has the crazy raft scene, right? I want to read the raft scene.

    Bruce Bawer had a a superb piece on Thornton Wilder in The Hudson Review five years ago that caught my attention, although I have done nothing about it. Length, whether of San Luis Rey or of his plays, is certainly no barrier here. Just inertia.

    Same with Richardson. I have enjoyed obooki's pieces on her books. Have you written about Deledda, too? Or just put included her on the 53 favourite novels list.

    knitter - I remember when you bumped into Burroughs, but I was not there. I had met him before we met, actually, at a Beat reunion event. Ginsburg and Ferlinghetti were present, too, but I was too ignorant to really know who they were, so I just have a book signed by Burroughs. Oh well.

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    1. Don't fret, Tom, I'll eventually write one of my long posts on Herberto Hélder one day.

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  8. Ferdydurke! Bless the internets: I first heard of this, and decided to read it, from another blog; here you are reminding me that I need to get on that.

    I might make a similar list--with the condition that I already have to own something by the unread author; a little public self-flagellation never hurt anyone, right?

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  9. I own books by about half of the writers mentioned above. A few I have carried around for many years. Whatever I might be thinking when I purge the shelves, my Library of America edition of Nathaniel West is staying put.

    As you say, the public display can be useful. Maybe I will goad myself into reading someone here. They all sound awfully good.

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  10. I am surprised someone who reads Samuel Richardson- all of Samuel Richardson?- regards Dorothy Richardson as a challenge

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  11. All of Samuel Richardson, well, not the sequels to Pamela. So I did find a limit.

    Everyone should be thankful that it did not occur to me to start a book blog while I was immersed in 18th century literature. It would have been months of Richardson updates. "Clarissa is trapped in her room. Still trapped. Pretty much the same. Maybe she'll - nope, still in her room."

    I don't know why I haven't read D. Richardson. At one point I read a number of her contemporaries, but I guess I wandered off from them.

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    1. The Samuel Richardson updates would have been amusing in their own odd way.

      Read a good bit of Dorothy Richardson back when I was too young to know better. Evidently it streamed into my brain and then out my years, for I remember nothing.

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    2. Stream of consciousness will do that. It is hard to remember the specifics of a stream.

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    3. Oops, I meant out my "ears," but "years" may well be better!

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  12. It would have been a shame to miss what you did choose listed above, though. Hopefully there will be plenty more moments for you to continue making choices.

    Ferdydurke is a good introduction to Gombrowicz. I'm sad to see length is an obstacle, since Life and Fate was one of my favorite reads in…well, ever. Hopefully Everything Flows will remove that obstacle.

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  13. If I were reading randomly, I would likely read fewer long books than I do now. In this exercise, length is an obstacle almost by definition. It is just math.

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  14. Some writers whose books I wish were available for me to read:
    Volnius,
    Petronius (I've only been able to read a couple of fragments from his thousands of pages long masterful novel).
    Archilochus,
    Alcaeus,
    Sappho (only a few fragments of their magnificent poetry are extant).
    Yosa Buson (just some samples of his wonderful haiku have been translated so far).
    The 19th Century Chinese Ghost Story Collection: To Read by Lamplight in the middle of Autumn while it Rains, one of the greatest books of horror stories, completely unavailable in translation.

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  15. Voyage au bout de la nuit is worth reading, I assure you.

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  16. Hey, I met William Burroughs at a signing too. In the right mood, I might even have suggested him (The Wild Boys, anyway, and, uh...okay well, that may be it. Though I did also like his dumb little book about cats).

    I've read three out of each of your ten - West, Grossman, Deledda (Montaigne, Stendhal, Shakespeare) - with The Foundation Pit and Ferdyduke on the shelf waiting. And a few Paul Valéry poems (scratch a French person and they bleed Valéry…).

    Life and Fate is one of the few 20th century books I've read where I felt almost ashamed not to have read it before.

    I should love West more than I do; I read all four of his novels, and the only one that really sticks with me (because its central conceit keeps cropping up in American life and because it's kind of a one-trick-pony that my memory can retain) is A Cool Million.

    I deeply admired Grazia Deledda's Reeds in the Wind. That's a book that has stayed with me. I would like to read more. Trading her for Stendhal, though…ouf! - really, must I make that kind of choice?

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  17. Books I want to read but can't, because they are lost or untranslated or do not exist, that is also a good game. A better game, actually. More imaginative.

    Emma - I assume that every writer I mentioned is worth reading. I hope so, because some day I'm gonna read them all.

    must I make that kind of choice?

    My hope is that in the long term the answer is "No" or at least "Yes, but trivially." In the shorter term, it is just "Yes."

    I just meant that no one would suggest Burroughs in response to someone on my list, although I did mention Céline, so now I see that I was wrong.

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    1. Hey, the Yeyu Quideng Lu (Readings during night rain by the autumn lamp) by Xuan Ding is not an imaginary book. It's referenced on page 30 of Rania Huntington's 'Alien Kind, Foxes and Late Imperial Chinese Narrative'. There's even some German research dedicated to it (sorry for the long link):
      http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.uni-leipzig.de%2F~ostasien%2Fdas-yeyu-qiudeng-lu-des-xuan-ding-1832-–-1880-eine-schriftsprachliche-novellensammlung-des-spaten-19-jahrhunderts&act=url

      I'd also like to add to the list of Chinese Ghost and Fox story collections that I dream of one day reading: Strange Grasses by the Firefly Window and He Bang'e's Intermittent Records of Night Conversations.

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  18. John Galt, Henry James. Trollope. George Elliot (if I haven't read Middlemarch), Elizabeth Gaskill, the young Australian

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  19. Miles Franklin.

    That list is all right with me.

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  20. Oh, Platonov! I might humbly suggest starting with short stories rather than The Foundation Pit, to ease into Platonov's worldview and use of language... that worked best for me, at any rate, because The Foundation Pit felt so very, very loaded. I think my first Platonov story was "The Motherland of Electricity," which I loved, but "The Return" is one of my very favorite stories. By anyone. There's a new Platonov collection in the works from NYRB; I worked on one of the stories, "Immortality," which was a treat.

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    1. Oops, I meant to say that my work on the Platonov story is in collaboration with Robert Chandler. (I should be banned from commenting on anything whatsoever before 9 a.m., particularly the day after "spring forward"!)

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  21. A new Platonov collection, very nice. That will be four books from NYRB.

    I like to think I am not a reader in need of ease. Loaded - sounds great!

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  22. Well, I have only heard of three of your unread authors, but I *have* recently read one of 'em - Miss Lonelyhearts, in fact, which has recently been republished in a beautiful edition by Daunt Books. It was good fun, and a little baffling.

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  23. I think my list might be a little heavy on "baffling"! That might explain not why I have never read these authors but at least why I do not simply read them one after the other.

    Those Daunt Books editions - which I had never heard of - are quite attractive. I will have to keep an eye out for copies that have floated over to the US.

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  24. Egads! You've put me in a difficult position with your suggestion and your list. Perhaps I should try something similar. I'll ponder the idea. Thanks for the provocation. (BTW: I am familiar with only two of your listed authors -- Strindberg and West -- and that familiarity is limited; ah, life is so short and there are so-o-o-o-o many books!)

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    1. Surely it's impossible for one's familiarity to be limited with West: he only wrote four short novels, so once you've read one (except thr first, whose title I can't remember, but it was a dada drag) you've read a large chunk of him.

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    2. The Library of America edition of West fills out the space with screenplays. Of what movies, I do not remember.

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  25. This was a good exercise in about three different ways.

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