Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Wuthering Expectation Best Books of 2015 - the noodles they make for me

Last post for a while, until January, so it had better be a list of books.

Four Best Books of 2015 that are actually more or less from 2015.

1.  John Keene’s Counternarratives.  I wrote an oblique post mostly about a story telling, from Jim’s point of view, what happened after Huckleberry Finn, which I predict will someday be a famous, much taught story.  And it isn’t even the best story in the book.  If I had spent the year reading new books, I do not think I would have read a smarter one.

2.  Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation (2013 in French), another counternarrative, The Stranger from the perspective of the brother of the murdered man.  Or at least he thinks the Camus novel is about his brother.  Maybe he is wrong.  The idea of the novel is so obvious I am shocked it had not been done, but the execution of the idea is full of surprises.  This one will also be much taught.

3.  César Aira’s The Musical Brain (stories originally from 1987-2011 or so), filling a big hole in English.  More is more with Aira, and this book has more more than most.  “Cecil Taylor” is a masterpiece.

4.  Carola Dibbell’s The Only Ones.  A post-apocalyptic future with a teenage hero, oh no, but what looks like (and is) a science fiction novel is actually or also a moving study of motherhood about a single welfare mom in Queens.  The mother’s voice is worth hearing for its own sake.

Some especially useful second-rate books

1.  Ippolito Nievo’s Confessions of an Italian, also new to English this year.  The novel mapped out a history of Italian literature I did not know existed, stretching from the 18th century to Italo Calvino.  Hugely helpful.

2.  Henry James, The Europeans, The American, “The Passionate Pilgrim,” “The Pension Beaurepas,” etc.  No one needs to read a previous word of James to read The Portrait of a Lady, but it was instructive to watch him work his way up to it. James was deliberately working his way to a major work, refining and discarding ideas and characters.  Really interesting to follow along with him.

3.  British poets of the 1890s: William Butler Yeats,  Lionel Johnson,  Francis Thompson, Robert Bridges, John Davidson, Ernest Dowson (and I could add some who were first-rate: Hardy, Housman, Kipling, and Yeats will graduate in a decade or two).  Many of these poets were part of a semi-coherent movement, others just lumped in by temporal coincidence.  Reading them in bulk, I began to have doubts about their good taste and good sense, but they made sense together, which is what I was hoping.

The best of the best

Gustave Flaubert, Sentimental Education; A Shropshire Lad, A. E. Housman; Little, Big, John Crowley; Life Is a Dream, Pedro Calderón de la Barca; Germinal, Émile Zola.  The confusion of the two dinners at the end of the first act of Richard Bean’s and Carlo Goldoni’s One Man, Two Guvnors; Rosso Malpelo digging for his buried father in Giovanni Verga’s “Rosso Malpelo”; Richard Jefferies falling in love with a trout; Mark Twain getting his watch fixed; John Davidson on the beach with his dogs; Lizzie Eustace trying to memorize Shelley in The Eustace Diamonds; the scene in Marly Youman’s Thaliad where the little kids in the van drive away from the little boy – no, even better, when they go back for him; and the end of “All at One Point” in Calvino’s Cosmicomics when Mrs. Ph(i)Nk0 creates the universe in an act of generosity – “Boys, the noodles I would make for you!” – which may perhaps be an allegory for what all of these writers were doing for me this year.

24 comments:

  1. Oh, I am going to have to send a link to the friend who always reproaches me for Gabriel!

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  2. A great "Whoa" moment, when the book took a surprising turn.

    The underground fantasia in Glimmerglass was a temptation for this list, too.

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  3. Oh, that was a lot of fun to write as well.... Thanks for including me.

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  4. Thanks for a year of great reading! Merry Christmas and happy New Year!

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  5. Oh, I want to read Sentimental Education! How I've loved Flaubert's Madame Bovary.

    Some of my favorite bits of reading in 2015 have been the books we've read together: Little, Big and Emma specifically.

    Looking forward to more books shared in 2016! Merry Christmas, Tom.

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  6. Totally in awe of your productivity, Tom. Thanks for all the reading pleasure you've given me and others this past year. Looking forward to reading about what you read in 2016.

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  7. John Keene's Huck Finn story is here http://www.vice.com/read/vice-exclusive-john-keenes-huck-finn-inspired-short-story-rivers-1884 as a sample for the book, which I've got on order.

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  8. What nice thoughts, thank you all.

    DoBel - that will be your new portmanteau nickname - have you read Flaubert's novella A Simple Heart by any chance? Sentimental Education does everything it can to be unlovable; A Simple Heart is the opposite.

    "Productivity" is a kind word. That's my motto, from Sartor Resartus - "Produce! Produce!"

    Roger - thanks for the link, how handy. Vice is one odd publication.

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  9. After hearing good things about it, I've resolved to read Keene's book. Most of the new releases I read seem to be "new to English" books (I'm in the middle of Spiro's "Captivity" and hope to post on it soon...it is remarkable), so thanks for posting your high regard for this one. I'm looking forward to it!

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  10. Nope, the only thing I've read by Flaubert is Madame Bovary, and that several times. Are you suggesting I read A Simple Heart before Sentimentsl Education? I am always open to your suggestions, as you know.

    xo, DoBel :)

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  11. Interesting! You've done two things with your posting: (1) given me a couple of authors/titles to add to my 2016 reading plan; (2) reminded me about the difficult challenges associated with reading all of Henry James in order (i.e., something I hope to accomplish someday). r/ Charles @ http://invitationtotheclassics.blogspot.com/

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  12. "A Simple Heart" - less a concern about before or after than about the difference between a 70 page novella and a 500 page novel. They're both great.

    Charles - thanks, for the kind words and the pointer to your blog. Next year will be a big Henry James year for me, I hope.

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  13. Maybe next year you could do a 'ghost stories of Henry James'-themed Halloween read-along; you know, The Jolly Corner, The Friends of the Friends, Turn of the Screw, Sir Edmund Orme, The Private Life, Owen Wingrave, etc.

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  14. Such a good idea. Consider it done, or to be done.

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  15. Happy New Year from R.T./Tim at the new and improved http://beyondeastrodredux.blogspot.com/

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  16. 500 pages don't scare me; perhaps I shall begin right after I've read Two Serious Ladies with Scott W., Dorian and Frances. And anyone else up for it.

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  17. Less fear than logistics. Easier to find time for a short book. Or so I find.

    Yes, happy new year, Tim. Good luck with Cervantes.

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  18. Have begun Sentimental Education and am now on page 107...a wonderful book, indeed. Thank you.

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  19. Your four best sound so tempting, I almost feel that I should have a WutheringExpectations month and read them all at some point during the year. Although having pulled a number of books from the shelves of my favourite Dublin bookshop today before managing to grit my teeth and put them all back, I am going to see how far I can get into the year without adding to my piles of books. There are plenty here already. And Happy New Year by the way.

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  20. Started Sentimental Education - outstanding! By chance, or subconscious suggestion, I also started a Flaubert book.

    Séamus, thanks for the new year's greetings. I am close to glad you did not buy any books on my account, although I do someday want to visit that bookshop.

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  21. I find my own reading constantly being distracted/influenced by your reading/blogging, which is a way of saying thanks for another great year at WE. Happy New Year!

    I have to revisit all of your Flaubert posts; I'm currently reading Stendahl, who seems like a bridge between Voltaire and Flaubert.

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  22. With Stendhal, I am an ignoramus. I thought I understood his memoir pretty well.

    No distraction problem this year, since I have vowed to only read non-distracting books. William Dean Howells, like that.

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