Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Wuthering Expectations Best of 2011, if I remember correctly

I have an irritating mental block in which it feels like everything I read before I went to France this summer was read not this year but last year, as if years are now six months long.  A Wuthering Expectations Best of 2011 is thus helpful to me – oh yeah, Les Misérables, that was good!

1.  In early January, I re-read Aeschylus.  The best book I read all year was The Oresteia.  Why pretend otherwise.  I just barely wrote about Aeschylus.

2.  Occasional bookish collaborations are the way to go.  They focus my mind and define my audience.  It helps to know that at least one clearly identified person will be carefully reading my ravings about Alfred Jarry.  To my delight, many people joined in the Anything Ubu Readalong Opportunity, to the extent that the best excuse to root around in my Ubu posts is to find the links to other, better pieces, of which there were many.  The Ubu plays themselves represent, of course, the death of literature – after this, the Savage God, as Yeats put it.  And yet here they are on my Best of list.  Someday when I have recovered my strength I will read them again.

3.  The same collaborative principle applies to much of my reading in Portuguese literature, but this has been recent and I am hardly done, so I will just thank everyone who has joined in so far and remind potential readers that the novels of Eça de Queirós and Machado de Assis have been winning fans wherever they have been opened.   I rank The Maias most highly among the Eça de Queirós novels, and Dom Casmurro among the Machado, but in both cases on such narrow technical grounds that I am not sure there is any point in pursuing the issue.  They have both been outstanding authors to read in depth.

4.  Les Misérables, now that was a good novel.

5.  I cannot describe how much I have been getting from the John Ruskin I have been reading.  I mean that literally – I cannot, and I have not.  This year I read the second and third volumes of The Stones of Venice and the third volume of Modern Painters and feel that I am overwhelmed by Ruskin’s ideas, good and bad.  Perhaps these ideas are being skillfully and subtly woven into the very fabric of Wuthering Expectations.  Yes, that must be it.

6.  In January, I wrote a little piece about Vladimir Nabokov’s novels, and about bibliographing nicole’s chronological attempt on them.  I read the first five this year, but I do not believe I wrote a word about them here.  I would now single out Nabokov’s third novel, The Defense, about a mentally troubled chess genius, as his first masterpiece, a complex overlay of patterns that had no precedent.  Whether or not it is enormously meaningful, I am less sure, but it is an utterly extraordinary artistic object.

7.  While I am on the subject of books I did not write about here, Interpolations Kevin spurred me to read J. M. Coetzee’s Foe, his deconstruction of Daniel Defoe’s novels.  I wrote about it, but only at his place.  Why not.

8.  Those early, Flaubertish stories of Maupassant’s, those were really good.  Ibsen’s Peer Gynt and Brand.  The third edition of Leaves of Grass.  That scene in Le Grand Meaulnes where the puppeteer knocks the stuffing out of a doll, fills it with porridge ("with doleful little cries"), and hurls it into the audience.  That bit of The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc where Joan becomes a saint through sheer force of will.  The artfully detailed disgust of The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.

Now I am just wandering.  Not so bad, not so bad.


  1. At least I was around for the Ubu and Portuguese read along. That means I missed a large chunk of your writings. Sometimes I read them but unable to comment. Your work here at Wuthering Expectations is highly recommended. Thanks for sharing and hope next year presents similar opportunities.

  2. You missed it, but so did I. I am not sure why so much of the above is about what I did not write.

    I owe the inspiration to read the Armah novel to you, Nana, so many thanks to you, too. I should follow up on that somehow.

  3. Thanks for the Eca de Queiros steer. I'm reading 'The Illustrious House of Ramires' now. Not quite the same instant grab as 'Amaro'.

  4. Among the many enjoyments was the Portuguese reads, especially those by Eça de Queirós. I don't recall seeing The Relic in your posts. I highly recommend it since you liked his other works. That is, if you're not burned out on him yet.

    For me, days are feeling six months long and I'm forgetting what I read last week, when I last touched a book. I must get to Ruskin soon...

  5. Eclectic and electric as ever. This is the year I'm reading much of. A 400-yr. old book in my list was an outlier. It was a great time to brush up with Jarry and Machado. Hugo was invincible. Coetzee was a favorite but I had yet to read Foe. Interested in the Nabokov as I love chess (the concept).

  6. And nothing Teutonic in your best-of for this year?

  7. Ramires, not an instant grabber, no. It's a sly one. It's setting up some surprises.

    Now, The Relic, that one I will read in April. A new translation - or a reprint of an old translation? - is coming out then, which I uncharacteristically pre-ordered.

    Oh, that's a good point - if anyone wants to read The Relic with me, please wait until April.

    Rise, that is funny. That is exactly how Nabokov loved chess - as a concept. He had little interest in playing the game, but loved to compose chess problems.

  8. Teutonic, no. It was a Romance language kind of year. French, Spanish, Portuguese. Very little German - a bunch of Gottfried Keller stories and that November miscellany.

    I am thinking that my next Scotch Challenge, once Portuguese has run its course and I have rested, might cover Austrian literature.

  9. I'll be in for that one - of the four Austrian books I've ever read (!), three made my end-of-year list :)

    Well, will make (will have made?) it when it eventually appears...

  10. It'll be six months of Freud, pre-Freud, and post-Freud.

  11. I love reading and learning about Jarry-I could see he was a big influence on Japanese literature.

  12. Jarry would fit in so well with certain strains of Japanese literature. The Japanese were already used to crazy puppet plays.