Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Books I Read in October 2023

The five-day hospital stay breaking the month in half is likely invisible to anyone but me, but that is why the fiction list is so mystery-heavy, and for that matter so long.  Many of these books, the post-surgery group, are not just short but light, well-suited for the invalid's tired hand.  The invalid is feeling much better, by the way, in fact not much of an invalid, so perhaps I am ready for a heavier book.

I hope to get a little - or big - Ovid project going soon.  Metamorphoses and the early Heroides, but them why not the rest.  It would be pleasant to have company, so I will put up an invitation sometime soon.


Mahabharata (2 BCE-2 CE), the 1973 William Buck adaptation

The Bhagavad-Gita (1 BCE), tr. Barbara Stoler-Miller         

The Ramayana (3 BCE-3 CE, maybe), the 1972  R. K. Narayan adaptation

Marvelous books I read 25 years ago, once again great pleasures.  I will pursue this Indian literature line for a while. 


Selected Essays and Dialogues (1 CE), Plutarch - another book from 25 years ago.  I find Plutarch to be a genial voice, not unlike his great descendant Montaigne.



The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886) &

Collected Shorter Fiction, Vol. 2 (1885-1906),  Leo Tolstoy, the 400 pages or so I had never read, plus the above.  Lots of Christian fairy tales, plus “The Forged Coupon,” a clever chain of sin.

The Big Money (1936), John Dos Passos - I love the USA Trilogy in theory, particularly its collage-like construction, but find it dull in practice. Or I find the more ordinary novellish parts - characters, story - dull, perhaps because so much of it is written like a medieval chronicle ("and then... and then... and then...").  I do love the potted biographies of the famous - Henry Ford, Frederick Jackson Taylor, William Randolph Hearst - turned into prose poems.  Would an entire book of just those would become tiresome?

Rebecca (1938), Daphne Du Maurier

The Third Man (1950), Graham Greene - no zither, no kitten, but solid.

The Investigation (1959), Stanislaw Lem

The Wanderer (1964), Fritz Leiber - an odd although Hugo-winning science fiction novel from one of my longtime favorite fantasy writers.  It is an early "planetary disaster" novel, with characters all over (and off) the glove reacting to the catastrophe in different ways.  I was surprised how goofy the book was in places.  Leiber had perhaps been reading Vonnegut and Pynchon.

Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), Jean Rhys

At the Bottom of the River (1983), Jamaica Kincaid

The Black Book (1993), Ian Rankin

A Mountain to the North, a Lake to the South, Paths to the West, a River to the East (2003), Laszlo Krasznahorkai

The Forgery (2013), Ave Barrera



A Journey of the Mind: Collected Poems of Helen Pinkerton (1945-2016), Helen Pinkerton

Mast Year (2020), Katherine Hagopian Berry

Old Orchard Beach Cycle (2022), Robert Gibbons – these last two are Maine poems by Maine poets.  We hit a bad patch in Maine last week.  It felt healthy to read some Maine poems.



L'Art d'être grand-père (1877), Victor Hugo

La Cantatrice chauve (1950) &

La leçon (1951) &

Les chaises (1954), Eugène Ionesco

La Répétition ou l'Amour puni (1950), Jean Anouilh

En attendant Godot (1952), Samuel Beckett

A jolly little “French theater in the 1950s” run along with the great late-period Hugo poetry collection. 


  1. So glad to hear you are feeling better! Looks like a lot of great reading, too.

    I have watched The Third Man and forgotten it is a Graham Greene novel... I'm on a bit of a Greene streak right now (just read The Power and the Glory, about to start The Quiet American).

  2. Good to know that you’re out on the other side. Impressive list under any circumstance.

  3. My understanding is Graham Greene, when he had a screenplay commission, had to write an actual novel and then adapt it into a screenplay. So that is what The Third Man is; that's why it's so short. It's good, and just different enough from the movie to stay interesting.

    I had thought all I did was read, but apparently I normally do something else, because now I am reading more. Although, again, this last couple of weeks the books have been awfully short.

  4. I add my relief at your recovery! Have you seen L'argent, the Bresson movie based on “The Forged Coupon”?

  5. By chance Bresson's movies just reappeared on streaming Criterion. I hope to watch at least a few that I have not seen over the next couple of months, including L'argent. I will say I am not as good at following through on films as I am with books, but I plan to see it soon.

  6. I'm glad to hear you're recovering! And here's a suggestion: for your "French theater in the 1950s" list, how about some Boris Vian? (Doug Skinner)

  7. Vian is a good idea. I am curious about'Écume des jours but fear it is beyond my French, but something shorter would work, however crazy.

    Right now I have retreated to a Simenon novel, something easy.

  8. "L'Écume des jours" is worth reading, full of imagination and surprises. Vian's plays are shorter and easier, and you might enjoy puzzling over them in the context of those other plays from the '50s. Meanwhile, take care of yourself! (Doug Skinner)

  9. Rebecca. One of my favorites ever, and somehow, I did not think it would appeal to you? Maybe I don’t know you as well as I thought after all. I will look for any invitation you put out to your readers, though, as it is always a great joy to read with you.

    Fosse? Have you read any of Jon Fosse, who has soared to my favorite of favorites this year? Imagine the Nobel Prize for Literature going to someone worthy this year. It staggers my imagination.

    So glad, so very glad, to hear that things sound…better.

  10. I have been, over time, reading through these two polls, from 1990 and 1995, of the best crime novels of all time, trying to educate myself about the genre. I don't necessarily try to read every book, but Rebecca, either the #6 or #9 crime novel of All Time! was obviously unmissable.

    It did not become an all-time favorite but I enjoyed the prose, a notch above her peers, and the passive and mildly - or maybe very? - unreliable narrator.

    You will note that I am now reading The Daughter of Time, the #1 or #4 Best of All Time!

    I have not read Fosse. I see that my library, caught sleeping, has just ordered a chunk of his catalogue, so I will find something to try. I admit I am most tempted by his plays. What do you recommend (that is short, let's not kid ourselves, I'm not reading that Septology thing right now)?

    I am not sure that any new novel or novelist can become a favorite of favorites anymore, or not right away. My concept of "favorite," at that high level, includes only books I have lived with for decades, sometimes since childhood. I will not really know if anything I am reading now is a favorite of favorites until I am 80.

  11. It is a very rare book, just like a very rare person, that can spring to the top of my list. I am quite particular, and for the longest time Madeleine L’Engle held the honor of favorite, whom I first read at age 11.

    But, Jon Fosse’s work is extraordinary to me. I felt like he was writing what I have always known and felt, deep inside, only putting it into words in ways I never could. It was so surprising to have this reaction, when I read the first of Septology. When does one come across a kindred spirit, especially whom one has never met?

    I received A Shining today in the mail, from Blackwell’s; I am surprised at what a slight little book it is. Perhaps I will suggest it to you when I’ve read it, as it is certainly not overwhelming in size. It begins with his gorgeous style, so dreamlike and puzzling…

  12. Yes, you can't expect that to happen too often.

  13. Glad to hear you're feeling better! And found books to read in the meantime.

    My brother keeps telling me I should read The Ramayana, but I've never gotten around to it--or really any Asian literature at all. Eventually...

  14. Thanks. Yes, no shortage of books.

    I am still enjoying my wander through Indian literature. With the epics, the retellings are the way to go. The Buck and Narayan versions are great, and I am sure there are other good ones at whatever length you want. My understanding is that most Indians get to know the stories through comic books or animated films.