Thursday, February 1, 2024

Books I read in January 2024 - as long, indeed, as this book, which hardly anyone will read by reason of its length

The best book I read was Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which will also be the best thing I read in February.  I gotta catch up on my posts.

One big book down, and as a result my list of January books is more sensible.

TRAVEL, let’s call it

Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941), Rebecca West – I will try to write this up a bit.  I should find something in 1,150 pages to write about.  The quote up in the title is from here, obviously, p. 773 of the Penguin paperback.


Ten Nights of Dream (1905-8), Natsume Sōseki

Arrowroot (1930) &

The Secret History of the Lord of Musahi (1935), Junichirō Tanizaki

Go Down, Moses (1942), William Faulkner – the end of the great run.  Was it Hollywood that got him, or the booze, or just the inevitable movement of time?

The Glass Bead Game (1943), Hermann Hesse – a Utopian novel about a society, hundreds of years in the future that puts the highest value on Bach and mathematics and pretends that Modernism – heck, Romanticism – did not happen.  A huge Romantic himself, Hesse writes a spiritual sequel to Adalbert Stifter’s Indian Summer, salvaging Germanic culture from Austro-Prussian neuroticism and Hitler.  A strange book.

Watt (1945 / 1953), Samuel Beckett – meanwhile Beckett killed time in southern France carrying messages for the Resistance and creating logic puzzles in the form of a novel.


Ceremony and Other Poems (1950), Richard Wilbur

Xaipe (1950), E. E. Cummings

Inward Companion (1950), Walter de la Mare – Wilbur’s first book; late books by Cummings and de la Mare, all a treat.  I didn’t get to the Stevie Smith’s book from 1950, presumably also a complete delight, or to Neruda’s Canto General, presumably something less pure.


Selected Poems (1934-88), René Char – several years ago I read the right-hand pages, the ones in English.  This time I read the left side.

Le Seuil Le Sable: poésies complètes, 1943-1988 (1991), Edmond Jabès – before writing the mammoth Book of Questions that made his reputation, Jabès published a series of Surrealist, Max Jacob-like chapbooks in Egypt.  Those make up Le Seuil, “the threshold,” I assume he means to his major work of later decades.  I thought they were petty good on their own terms, but I have a taste for that sort of thing.  I wonder if Surrealist poems make for bad French learning, since the whole point is to confuse context.  Le Sable, “the sand,” the small number of words that make up the late poems of Jabès.

Trois chambres à Manhattan (1945), Georges Simenon – a French actor, nearly divorced, picks up a woman.  He doesn’t like her, he loves her, he becomes jealous, obsessive, submissive, and so on.  That’s it, no murder, almost no melodrama, just Simenon on love and sex and maleness, but without his addiction to prostitutes.  Readable but kinda dull.

 I have almost finished my Portuguese textbook and have begun an actual class.  Reading will follow at some point.


  1. How Interesting you've just read Ovid!I'm fascinated by retellings and the place of women in his poetry and have ordered Ted Hughes'retellings ..After Ovid..and must reread my own..the Heroides..female lovers' laments..and Wake Siren!.I have a copy of the whole poem out from the library.

  2. I will try to write this up a bit. I should find something in 1,150 pages to write about.

    I hope you do; I'll be interested in your thoughts. It's a wonderfully written book, but as I said here:

    "It astonishes me that people are so little inclined to understand that atrocities are committed by all sides in any conflict, and the only side worth taking is against armed conflict. I still remember my discomfiture on realizing that Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, which I had loved when I first read it, was basically an eloquent account of blind passion for one side in a multisided conflict, glossing over their evils and emphasizing the evils committed by the other sides. And that book has gone on blinding later observers like Robert Kaplan. Why can’t we all just get along?"

    (That "one side" is that of the Serbs, for those who haven't read the book. She adopts the Serbian attitude that they are the older brothers of all South Slavs and everyone else should defer to them and accept their leadership.)

  3. Ovid has been moving more slowly, especially in the writing, than I had hoped. Everyone else is likely done with the book. I hope to write up Heroides sometime, too. Please let me know what you think of the Ted Hughes book.

    West's book is a funny case, brilliant in many ways, but does she ever say some strange things, and her romanticization - that's how I take it - of the Serbs is a major source of the strangest ideas. I would like to read something about her use of sources but I have not found anything yet.

  4. The Balkans will sweep otherwise smart fluent people off their feet. I just finished Rose Wilder Lane's The Peaks of Shala (1923). She romanticizes the Albanian villagers by feeling kin with them, due to common racial origins. She writes “It was as though I had returned to a place that I knew long ago and found myself at home there.....I had forgotten that these people are living still in the childhood of the Aryan race, and that I am the daughter of a century that is, to them, in the far and unknown future." O-Ee-Yah! Eoh-Ah!

  5. It's amazing how thoroughly all that "race" nonsense corrupted the intellectual and artistic discourse of the last couple of centuries.

  6. I have rediscovered my blog. Yes, The Balkans do seem to bring out the Romantic side of some people. And the stereotypes, the Balkans as the world of Duck Soup and Doctor Doom.

    West is not as bad with "race" as the above but it was still a surprise to see her pushing the word so hard in 1941. Often simply replacing "race" with "culture" softens the essentialism.