books of 2010, and then we’ll move on

Today’s the day we slide back into reality. I slept late, which was a good thing, but had uncomfortable dreams. We’re all taking (and indeed making, if we haven’t already) stock. Today has been a mixture of mopping, cleaning, sorting old things, and setting new things in motion. Several new books have arrived, which I ordered in a dream of having time, which I did on December 26th; it’s a lovely stack of wonderfulness, including an Everyman omnibus edition of Richard Yates, which I’m beginning to like all the better for having been bound upside-down in its cover. And – work work work – I’m beginning to commission reviews and essays for Horizon Review Issue 6.

But before we go into all that, let’s finish putting the old year to rest. What were the books that made 2010 what it was? What do I take with me into 2011, and what would I give you from that year?

First, let me say I didn’t read a lot of “books” – I read thousands of poems, essays, articles, magazines, parts of books. There were a handful of novels. Many poet friends had new collections and pamphlets published, as (way back on January 10th) did I, with my Oscar & Henry.

(Without being by someone else and something I read, Oscar & Henry was really my book of the year, and set the tone from the start. Two of the books that made a huge impact on me early in the year were Oscar Wilde’s Complete Letters – an enormous purple clothbound glory, containing the first-ever complete unabridged edition of De Profundis – and a really good Selected Letters of Henry James.) (You could never have a complete. Even this one is all the better for the fact that I have another, very different selection.)

But reading, reading…! The things that still stand out from my year’s reading are a small and imperfect list. I spent a couple of months reading old issues of Horizon magazine, and a few more just reading poetry textbooks, in bits. Most of the poetry I’ve read this year has been in that vein. Beckett has loomed large in the autumn, but he isn’t on the list; Don Paterson’s “Sound and Sense” essays have loomed large, as has Auden to a lesser – but equally specific – extent. And then there’s Horizon Review

I think the strangeness of my reading has been one reason why 2010 can’t be the norm from now on, and why I’m dipping my toe back in reading novels: a modest, private kind of reading. Right now I’m reading Gjertrud Schnackenberg’s new collection, Heavenly Questions. I don’t want to say much about it except that a) it is very different from the rest of her work, in one way, and that b) she puts the rest of us to shame, with her intense distilled vision and the precision of her technique.

Chronic, DA Powell
Briggflatts, Basil Bunting
Astrophel and Stella, Sir Philip Sidney
Pandorama, Ian Duhig

Only Joking
, Gabriel Josipocivi
Vanity Fair, Wm Makepeace Thackeray
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau
Enemies of Promise, Cyril Connolly
Friends of Promise, Michael Shelden
The Unquiet Grave, Cyril Connolly

So what’s 2011 looking like? The piles variously contain:

Molloy – Beckett
Easter Parade, and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness – Yates
The Calligrapher – Edward Docx
What Ever Happened to Modernism? – Josipovici
Vanity Fair – Thackeray – the rest of it
The Bars of Atlantis – essays of Grünbein, the rest of it

and far too much poetry to list. Stacks of it.

And the rest. The Horizon inbox is filling up as we speak, for Issue 6 in April…

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