Thursday, June 1, 2023

Books I Read in May 2023

I had a good time.


The Nicomachean Ethics (4th C. BCE), Aristotle - a post, however shallow, should appear soon.


Joseph in Egypt (1936), Thomas Mann

The Long Valley (1938) &

The Grapes of Wrath (1939), John Steinbeck - I last read this probably forty years ago.  The great turtle chapter is still great.  It's not Moby-Dick, but the mix of rhetorical modes is brilliant and sophisticated.  I have read five Steinbeck books recently and have been enjoying them a lot, kitsch, propaganda, and all.  

The World and All It Holds (2023), Aleksandar Hemon - look, a new novel.  Written at the usual Hemon level (high), but the subject is grindingly depressing.  Hemon shoves his poor protagonist into the world's worst places.  Be warned.


Selected Poetry (1940-73) &

Peasant's Wake for Fellini's Casanova and Other Poems (1986-8), Andrea Zanzotto

To Each His Own (1966), Leonardo Sciascia - this is the only book actually related to where I am going.  Another anti-Mafia anti-mystery.

If Not Now, When? (1982), Primo Levi - an adventure novel about Russian Jewish partisans, with barely any Italy in it at all.

Eldorado (2006), Laurent Gaudé - no, this one is about Sicily, too, if distantly.  The state of Mediterranean immigration circa 2006.  I read it in French, since the Portland, Maine, public library has a copy in French.  Good library.


More Was Lost (1946), Eleanor Perényi - a memoir of love and bad timing.  A 19 year-old American marries into the Hungarian nobility in 1937.  Events ensue.  Bad, bad events.  Only in her mid-twenties when she wrote the book, her youthful voice is a pleasure amidst the crises and tragedies. 


Adonis (1657), Jean de La Fontaine

A Harpa do Crente (1838), Alexandre Herculano - the great Portuguese Romantic poet, his ostentatious tomb dwarfing the Modernist tomb of Fernando Pessoa in the Jerónimos monastery in Lisbon.

Le bleu du ciel (1935/1957), George Bataille

Le Mont Analogue (1944/1952), René Daumal - I have been catching up on mid-century French weirdos.  The current Wiki for the Bataille novel says it "deals with necrophilia."  The book is in the French decadent tradition, but boy does that give the wrong idea.  As metaphor, not wrong.

I still owe a post on Gide's anti-novel The Counterfeiters.  


  1. I haven't read any Steinbeck in years but I went through a phase in which I read The Winter of Our Discontent frequently - it's possible I first did so because of its Richard III title (another phase of mine), but I must have really liked the novel. He's a writer who does seem to be out of fashion; it's interesting to see how you are responding to him.

  2. Gosh you read a lot this month. I am still finishing Nicomachean Ethics, but should finish tomorrow. I am reading 10 books at the moment, including the Gioia translation of Seneca's The Madness of Hercules. and Robin Waterfield's book on Plato. I too have had a full, fun month

  3. I last read Steinbeck - Of Mice and Men, The Pearl, The Grapes of Wrath, and I am pretty sure The Red Pony - forty or so years ago.

    In the last year I read Tortilla Flat, In Dubious Battle, Cannery Row, and the two from this month, and I have enjoyed them all enormously whatever their flaws, and well aware that they are in this moment utterly uncool.

    You asked for "warm" books recently and I was tempted to recommend Tortilla Flat, a loose novel about the beautiful losers of Monterey, characters Steinbeck clearly loves. Cannery Row is a lesser, more kitschy return to the subject. In Dubious Battle is open union propaganda. I enjoyed every one of these books for what it was.

    The Grapes of Wrath is beyond them all, in part because of its rhetorical range. It does many things. If one part is not so interesting, in language or subject, the next will make up for it. A rich book.

    I could easily read more Steinbeck, but I think I will take a break for now.

    Clare, the remarkable thing is that I read two 500 page (more or less) novels, the Mann and Grapes. It has been a while since I read such a thing.

    Otherwise, the books are pretty short, although the Aristotle is, as you know, no joke. I am so glad you are reading Gioia's Seneca. Please let me know what you think of the new Plato biography.

  4. I'm taking on some Italian reading in preparation for my September trip. The Italians, while a tiny bit dated, is the book I'd most recommend so far.

  5. The John Hooper book? That is a good idea, in a sense better than my literary tour of parts of Italy I will be nowhere near.