one woman’s reading: books of the Baroque year both future and past

What a difference a year and a day makes!

I’ve just discovered this among my files, as it were, and it bears so little resemblance to anything I could possibly write this weekend that I’m publishing it as a curio.

I (or someone kind of like me) wrote:

Four days into 2007, and long after all those newspapers did their “books of the year” sections, we’re looking into the abyss of a new Reading Year. Baroque Mansions is piled high with things to read in 2007 (& I need my eyes to hold out this time; one of them is aching even now, but I think it’s just an ache).

I have plans, I have commissions, and I even have a few little old hankerings. Sometimes I miss the simple pleasure of reading a novel, for no other reason than that it looked fun; of course there is still impulse-reading, and I do waste (“wa-aste?!?!?“) an inordinate amount of time reading internet-things, but it isn’t the same as when I used to read for… the story… and the plucky little characters…

Then there’s the day job. Lots of items of professional interest are piled up in two different places around Baroque Mansions, alongside the poetry piles, the essay and criticism piles (Hazlitt, Sydney Smith, anyone?), and the odd little forlorn novel pile. Oh and I bought a proof copy of Larkin’s letters the other day. I’ve put it on top of Lowell’s letters. They’re both in pink dustwrappers.

Plus, I have decided it is time to learn more about typography, properly. My happiness may depend on it. That’s another pile.

It’s becoming clearer all the time that I will never read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – a book I just, one day in the second-hand shop, thought looked very interesting. And a friend had liked it. But that ain’t enough to cut it any more.

Several of the “book blogs” seem to list books people have “read,” as if they pick up a book, read it till it’s finished, and then read another book in the same fashion, for no other reason than that they “like” them. They read, or hear, about it, and if they decide they might like it, they read it. Then they read another one; and they talk about them in terms of whether they thought they were “good” or not.

I mention all this only because it sounds so completely different from how, what, and why I read that it might as well be ice skating or hill walking. Don’t they dip into a hundred books, on the grounds that they feel they “should know what’s about”? Don’t they read books they dislike? Do they really finish everything? When can you be said to be “reading” something – is it when you take the same book every morning on the tube? Is it like going steady? (Uh oh. I take a different book every day on the tube, depending on my mood and what I was dreaming about. Plus there are usually a couple in my bag, forgotten, from previous days.) Don’t they get sidetracked by trains of thought? Do they not read any criticism or non-fiction? Is it always just for entertainment – novel after novel – and never for elucidation, research, education or critical analysis? (Having said which, I do wish I read more fiction.)

(I say they; it should probably be you. I know I’m the one who’s out of kilter, not you. And this is why I can never go into a bookshop on a date, or whatever, because they think it’s fun to browse, and my cover would be instantly blown. I say would be – but it has happened. They don’t like it.)

Ah, well. Here’s the list, what I can remember. Of course there was lots more that I read standing up in Border’s or Waterstone’s. But, like eating with the fridge door open, that probably doesn’t count.

Ashes for Breakfast, by the German poet Durs Grünbein
Atomised, Michel Houellebecq
two novels by Mary Wesley
all of Wendy Cope’s collections
Auden: essays, poems, “Letter to Lord Byron”
Table Talk of WH Auden, by Alan Ansen (who died a couple of months ago)
, by Robin Robertson
District and Circle, bits of, Seamus Heaney
Rapture, Carol Ann Duffy
The Optimist, Joshua Mehigan
Samuel Johnson, by Walter Jackson Bate – bits of
“Rambler” essays, a couple of, Johnson
Belle de Jour, blog book (far less sensational than promised; am I so unshockable?)
Charles Lamb and Elia, ed. JP Morpugo, ancient Penguin
Boudicca & Co, Jane Holland (Salt Publishing)
Faber Book of Sonnets and Penguin Book of Sonnets, in tandem, over the summer
Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag (Queen of Supposition and Sweeping Extrapolation) (I know, she died this year too)
Selected Poems, Geoffrey Hill, in beauteous new Penguin
Selected Poems, Greg Delanty, for an interview that never happened
title essay plus a couple, The Geography of the Imagination, Guy Davenport
Object Lessons, Eavan Boland
Harbour Lights, Derek Mahon
Almanacs, by Jen Hadfield
Gethsemene Day, Dorothy Molloy
Life Studies, Lowell
The Wounded Surgeon (Confession & Transformation in Six American poets), Adam Kirsch
Western Wind: an Intro to Poetry, David Mason and John Frederick Nims
Ulysses, James Joyce (bits of; much better than the audiobook, sweet as that was)
“The Dead”, James Joyce
great chunks of Less Than One by Joseph Brodsky (I just don’t really do that “I read this book from start to finish” thing)
various essays by Ian Hamilton
Immigrant Blues, Goran Simic
The Ode Less Travelled, Stephen Fry (more arch than a gothic cathedral, but technically sound enough)
I spent a most of a week reading Martin Amis’ “Horrorism” article from the Guardian (horrorism is bloody right)
, Orhan Pamuk (bits of)
The Forsyte Saga (started, twice, for reasons stated above)
Bleak House (ditto)
short stories of Elizabeth Bowen
Autumn Journal, MacNeice; about four times
Louis MacNeice: a Study, by Edna Longley
Moon Wheels, Ruth Fainlight
Selected Poems, Ruth Fainlight

Well, that’s what I can remember as standing out. To a certain extent it’s arbitrary: there was some Wallace Stevens, some Coleridge, some Keats, I think there was some Anne Sexton in the summer. Plus there have been reams of articles, interviews, poems etc, downloaded from the web. Plus endless magazines…

My book of the year would probably be Charles Lamb.

Previous post:

Next post: