Friday, December 21, 2012

The Wuthering Expectations Best Books of 2012, in a certain narrow sense

The best books I read in 2012 were Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871).  Although I made use of the books I did not actually write about them.  This is a recurring pattern, my avoidance of the Best Book of the Year.  I will hash this out with my therapist and in the meantime write about an overlapping subject:  the Books I Most Enjoyed Writing about in 2012.

1.  Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert; The Toilers of the Sea, Victor Hugo; The Kill, Émile Zola.  I was actually worried that Madame Bovary would not be so much fun because of its familiarity, but I was wrong.  All I had to do was plunge my hands into the muck of the text to dig up all sorts of unusual specimens, spiny or slimy, generally good whether grilled or fried.

The writers are half-lunatics and their novels are packed with unpleasantness, but writing about books in this tradition is like a holiday for me.  Whenever I was having trouble with some other writer, which was all the time this year, I would think “Get another Zola novel, that’ll be fun.”  I always resisted, though.  Basically, if you see me reading Zola it will likely be as a desperate curative to a loss of blogging confidence.

2.  But then again trouble is fun, too.  Robert Browning is often intensely difficult, sometimes to the point of obscurity.  Reading him, writing about him, is a vigorous, thrilling struggle.

The challenge with Fernando Pessoa is not always the individual poem, some of which, like those of the shepherd heteronym Alberto Caeiro, are deliberately if deceptively simple, but the system, the enormous imaginative contraption of poets and poems and non-poems Pessoa constructed.  My metaphor is wrong, since much of the fun of Pessoa is that the reader constructs his own system out of all of the amazing parts Pessoa created.

3.  This was a good year for writing about short fiction:  Robert Walser, Giovanni Verga, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Schnitzler, Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, the masterpieces of world literature of Machado de Assis.  Part of the fun, I suppose, is that it so quickly becomes possible to hop around among texts, so even lesser – heck, often trivial – work like the early Twain I read suggests a lot of ideas.  Given major work like the best Kipling or Verga or Machado and the possibilities overwhelm.

4.  Charles Dickens could fit in with the French writers in that I knew how to attack Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend.  The latter seemed like the better novel; the former was more fun to write about.  I do not know why.

Knowledge of the writer is not the key, but comfort with a set of techniques.  So though I barely know the work of Henry James it was easy to see how to attack Washington Square and "The Aspern Papers" with some well-worn tools.

5.  Writing about Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives was made vastly more entertaining because of all of the other people writing about it at the same time.  I hope that Little Women in January is half as fun.  I am still working on it, but I have an angle.

Thanks to everyone who helped me write, whether through a comment here or a half-remembered but inspirational post from three years ago at your own place.

And happy holidays to everyone!   Soon I will be on Christmas break until early January.


  1. Happy holidays! I suppose Christmas break = reading time across centuries still. Looking forward to the angles your new reading year will spotlight on.

  2. Angles, it's all about the angles.

    Happy holidays to you, too!

  3. Every time a bell rings, an angle gets its wings.

    You claim to doubt it, but Wuthering Expectations had a great year in 2012.

  4. An amusing post indeed! Robert Bolano left me absolutely cold. Henry James likewise. But I agree with you about the French trio you mention but why no Balzac? (Lost Illusions is an all time favourite of mine).

    I can't read Dickens these days - he digresses and rambles too much for me.

    Have a wonderful Christmas and thanks for your visits to my blog over the last year

  5. Enjoy your much-deserved vacations. It's been a pleasure reading your blog all year!

  6. Little Women, not my favorite, which makes me all the more curious to read your angle.
    Have a wonderful holiday and a very fine break - here's to 2013! Cheers.

  7. It sounds like you had a wonderful reading 2012 indeed! I'm looking forward to your Little Women thoughts comes January, as I've recently started myself and am already curious as to your angle. Hopefully I'll finish this one in time to post with you and Bellezza and anyone else participating.

    Happy holidays and I hope you have an excellent break!

  8. Happy holidays and thank you for a year of entertaining posts, as well as a reminder that I've never read Alice in Wonderland or Through the The Looking Glass.

  9. I miss writing about books. I mean, I still write about books when I read one that really inspires me to give an opinion on my blog, but I miss writing about them in an academic style. I learned so much from breaking down texts, analyzing them, and regrouping them into a thesis with ideas and quotes to support those ideas. Everyone always thinks it's odd when I say I was an English major in college but have no desire to go into public school teaching. I just really like writing about books and poems and stories and articles and what have you. I'd love to get into a line of work someday where I'm writing about books and interviewing writers about their books. Whilst writing my own, of course. :)

  10. Another year of wonderful and varied reading! And thanks for all your thoughtful and interesting posts. It's been ages since I read Little Women and the details are nonexistent but I am looking forward to finding out what you think of it. Enjoy the holidays and happy New Year!

  11. *grin* Glad I am not the only one who looks at some books as excellent to 'play' with as a blogger as well as fun to read. :)

  12. I am still on vacation but will say hello rather than catch up on other people's blogs, which in the past week have been too rich and may make me ill if read in too great a quantity.

    Hello! Happy New Year,soon! Thanks for all of the good wishes and nice words. I will address a point or two.

    Tom - Why no Balzac? Records indicate that I have not read Balzac since 2010. As for Dickens, I am not sure that he digresses enough. You have read Tristram Shandy, right? That book has the proper ratio of digression to non-digression. Any move away from that ratio is an artistic failing, and likely an act of artistic cowardice.

    Little Women is not exactly a favorite book of mine, but as Alex suggests, that ain't got nothin' to do with nothin'. She expressed the thought a little differently. The problem is how to read the book, and how to write about it.

    The basic angle is something like: What if I take Little Women seriously as a didactic novel?

    I should try to write something about Carroll. Maybe after I have read some of his later books.

    Lauren - I know what you mean! Do I ever. Just keep writing, hacking away, gripping the keyboard in anguish, banging your felt head on the piano keys while receiving encouragement from a frog puppet in a trench coat - however it is you write.

    1. Your posts are always a reminder that writing about writing must be writing. Looking forward to reading this writing in 2013.

  13. Exactly, it is writing, with all that writing demands.

  14. The nicest thing about reading this post is recalling all the other terrific posts that made this one possible. It's an enormous pleasure reading your writing about your reading. To a very happy and productive new year!

  15. Gee, thanks. A good new year to you, too.