Friday, December 1, 2023

Books I read in November 2023

Recovery from surgery leads to a long list of books. (Everything is going well, by the way, thanks).  My idea of a “comfort read” is a book on a subject about which I do not know much – start me over at the beginning – thus my enthusiastic Indian literature project, which is ongoing, more slowly.

I need to write up an invitation to read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and perhaps more Ovid.  Any minute now I will write that.  Please join me on Metamorphoses.



Interior Landscape: Love Poems from a Classical Tamil Anthology (1-3 CE) &

Speaking of Shiva (10-12 CE),  both tr. R. K. Amanujan – the pleasure is in the variations in the formula; the latter is especially strange.

Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man (1965),  U. R. Ananthamurthy – an esoteric dispute about the burial of a corrupt holy man leads to a number of outstanding novelistic ironies.

Malgudi Days (1982),  R. K. Narayan – stories from the 1930s through the 1970s about Narayan’s famous town.  More Narayan, easy to enjoy, in my future.

Classical Indian Philosophy (2020),  Peter Adamson & Jonardon Ganeri – written at my level, the crucial thing, although I beg you not to test me.

Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (2020),  Arvind Krishna Mehrotra – an Indian beatnik gets more interesting.

After (2022),  Vivek Naryanan – “after” the Ramayana, an ambitious 600 page poetic response to the great epic, like Christopher Logue’s War Music, say, if not as focused or as strong.

Four of these books are from NYRB Classics or NYRB Poets.  Good for them.



Macunaíma (1928),  Mário de  Andrade – a surrealist picaresque looted from German anthropologists’ collections of Amazonian folklore, mixed with Afro-Brazilian traditions and modern Sao Paulo, the most purely Brazilian book I will ever hope to read, and also the most foreignizing translation I have ever read, even more than Leg Over Leg.  So many birds, insects, plants, and whatever else - so many non-English words - all explained in the notes.

The Man without Qualities  (1938),  Robert Musil – the 200 pages Musil almost published in 1938, making it the last coherent narrative piece of his monster.  The Burton Pike translation has 400 pages more of notes and fragments, containing some of Musil’s best writing, he says, but I will never know.  I think the action is in the satirical 800-page 1930 first volume, but some smart people prefer the more mystical unraveling of late Musil.

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940),  Ernest Hemingway – this book was so famous, the epitome of the serious novel.  Now?  I wonder.  It is a mix of enjoyable kitsch, godawful kitsch (the love affair, the “Spanish”), and quite good action scenes.

H. M. Pulham, Esquire (1941),  John P. Marquand – another big best-seller, easy to read, with lots of Boston and Maine detail, and a good narrator of the perfectly reliable but utterly clueless type.

The Bridge over the Drina (1945),  Ivo Andrić – centuries of history flowing around a bridge that I could still visit today, often reading more like history than fiction.

Delta Wedding (1946),  Eudora Welty – rich, gorgeous, subtle.

The Common Chord (1947),  Frank O'Connor – doing his thing, writing about his people.

The Daughter of Time (1951),  Josephine Tey – the recovery classic, detection directly from the hospital bed, which is not where I read it.  Soon after, though.  Today the detective would have been sent home after a few days, destroying the conceit.

Collected Stories (1908-53),  Colette – I have been reading through Colette’s short writings for years, in French, but I finally gave up on finding the last few books, so I switched to English for about 60 pages.  The early work on the Cherí character is worth reading.  If you have a taste for Colette, it’s all worth reading, easily.

Andrienne Kennedy in One Act (1954-80),  Adrienne Kennedy – a new Library of America collection of a writer about whom I knew nothing inspired me to learn something.  A series of one-act avant-gardisms concludes with two stark adaptations of Euripides; how enjoyable.

Mort (1987),  Terry Pratchett – about a tenth as many good lines as Douglas Adams, but that many good lines justifies the project, the life.  Plus he's good with endings.

The Adventures of China Iron (2017),  Gabriela Cabezón Cámara – the gaucho epic as pan-sexual Utopia.

This Is How You Lose the Time War (2019),  Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – perhaps the worst blurbage I have ever seen. The short novel about time traveling enemies who fall in love is neither “seditious” nor “dangerous” nor does it “ha[ve] it all.”  If I were not giving the book away (as a gift, not because it is bad) I would tear off the covers.



Body Rags (1968) &

Selected Poems (1946-80),  Galway Kinnell

Glass, Irony and God (1995),  Anne Carson

Things on Which I've Stumbled (2008),  Peter Cole

Zeno's Eternity (2023),  Mark Jarman



The Burning Oracle (1939),  G. Wilson Knight

Ear Training (2023),  William H. Pritchard – perhaps my favorite living critic, with a new collection of pieces going back to the 1970s, and not too many pieces that I had already read in The Hudson Review.



The Diary of a Young Girl (1947),  Anne Frank – I thought this was the most famous book I had never read, but that is not true anymore, is it?  Harry Potter is likely more famous.  I hate to think what else.



Les inconnus dans la maison (1940),  Georges Simenon – The Strangers in the House, a character study of an lonely alcoholic lawyer.  A stranger is murdered in his house.  And the lawyer is also a stranger in his own house!

Caligula (1944) &

Les Justes (1949),  Albert Camus – laughable as a portrait of 1905 Russian anarchists but likely an exact portrait of people Camus met in the French resistance.

L'Équarrissage pour tous (1950),  Boris Vian – in which Vian fails to “read the room,” as we might say now, setting his anti-war satire in Normandy on D-Day, just where and when the French are at their most anti-anti-war.  But it all works out.  Less outrageous than Catch-22, really.

Tête de Méduse (1951),  Boris Vian

A real sign of recovery, I have resumed my Portuguese study, starting over with an outstanding textbook written by and for high school teachers in southeastern Massachusetts.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. How on earth did "hear" become "here". Android really is a pain some days.

  2. Sometimes the auto-correct seems designed mostly for comedy.

    Ovid invitation on its way, soon, soon.

  3. I'm very glad to hear you're doing well, Amateur Reader! What you wrote about For Whom the Bell Tolls fits with my husband's reading, which he finished yesterday. I think he especially agrees with you about the "godawful kitsch."

  4. Thanks.

    In 1940 Hemingway is in some kind of self-parody phase. Trapped by his celebrity maybe. I don't know if he ever escaped it.

  5. I love the stories of R. K. Narayan

  6. I hope to read more of them. He cultivated a fresh piece of turf. So to speak. Quite enjoyable.

  7. This Is How You Lose the Time War

    Man, I did not like that book:

    Also, congrats on recovery!

  8. Thanks so much.

    The similarity - identity - of the voices in Time Wars is especially odd given that each voice is by a different writer. Although maybe that was not the division of labor. But it has to have been.

    To anyone interested in the Time Wars book, languagehat's objections are all exactly accurate, and the blurbs are full of outrageous lies. So choose accordingly.

    On the other hand, I want to encourage fantasy writers to return to the age of books under 200 pages that do not require a commitment to 1,500 more pages.