Here is a list of the 39 books I read in 2018:
Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny. I realize that fantasy fiction isn’t really my thing, but I’m trying to appreciate it more. This is the first in a series, and I’m in no rush to continue it. That being said, I have not discarded the book yet!
Jack Kerouac’s American Journey by Paul Maher Jr. Chronicles the early writing career of Jack Kerouac and the travels that later got turned into On the Road. I gave it to a student who is into the beats.
The Light Around the Body by Robert Bly. Don’t remember much about this one, and I donated it upon completion.
Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. What if the west coast broke away and became it’s own country? This 70’s utopian fiction is really interesting and a much better read than I expected. Thought-provoking, and a candidate for inclusion in my Literature and Environment course next fall.
Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion. A short novel and an impressive read. Didion has a way about her. She can really slice through to the point with acuity. An the narrated account of getting an illegal abortion was riveting and disturbing.
The Woman of Andros by Thornton Wilder. Basically a dud of a novel, for me. Only virtue was its shortness. Seemed very stilted to me. Culled it from the herd.
Art and Reality by Joyce Cary. Not bad lectures on art, but not a keeper. I passed it on.
In Dylan Town: A Fan’s Life by David Gaines. My wife picked this up for me at the Pop Culture conference and it’s an interesting blend of academia and memoir. For Dylan fans, only, basically.
The Iliad (Robert Fagles translation). Reread this one for a course I taught in the fall. Fagles was a master translator.
Guide to Kulchur by Ezra Pound. Pound was an important figure in American modernist poetry, but he was a crank, a kook, and a fascist, and I can’t let him off the hook for that. This book was a lot of ranting and raving, and I didn’t keep it around the house after finishing it.
Decline of the West volume 1 by Oswald Spengler. Fascinating synthetic intellectual history and philosophy of history. Long though, and I didn’t have the staying power to go on to volume 2, so I sold the hardback set on eBay.
The Oresteia by Aeschylus (trans. by E.D.A. Morshead). This was not a great translation, but it’s a beautifully illustrated Heritage press edition. Good shelf appeal.
Tono Bungay by H.G. Wells. I thought I would like this one more than I actually did. It was a near fine Limited Editions book club version, which I went ahead an sold on eBay. The novel had some good moments, and H.G. Wells is a prose stylist to envy, but I did get bogged down for a while in the midst of it.
The Immoralist by Andre Gide. My first Gide book, and likely, my last. I was not impressed. Kind of slight, solipsistic, superficial, or something? Not sure what was out of tune here, but this one was not to my taste.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion. I liked the Didion novel so much that I went on to a book of essays, which did not disappoint! One of these days I’ll watch the documentary about her on Netflix.
The Odyssey by Homer (Fagles translation). Reread it for my Western World Lit survey course. Five stars, of course.
An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Freud. I have a bunch of Freud paperbacks gathered from library book sales of yore, and this one was a quick read. Excellent summary of his main theories. Donated this one to the thrift store after completing it.
The Aeneid by Virgil (Fagles translation). Enjoyed rereading Virgil over the summer in preparation for the survey course. I very much enjoyed teaching it, too.
The Temper of our Time by Eric Hoffer. I like Hoffer’s bio as the longshoreman turned philosopher, but the book was a let down, not a keeper.
Cities of the Plain by Proust. This one hooked me from the first page, and once I built up some speed, I mowed through it rather quickly, as fast as you read Proust, which isn’t so fast at all. What I loved about Remembrance of Things Past was how, unlike some novels, it did not sag in the middle, but keeps moving in intriguing new directions.
The Dead Lecturer: Poems by Leroi Jones. Solid 60’s poetry collection that I found at Goodwill for a buck.
California by Edan Lepucki. I liked the start of this post-apocalyptic survivalists in California novel, but the contrived plot was a huge letdown. Talented writer, but this book needed to be recast, in my humble opinion. Donated it to the tiny library in the public park near my house.
The Captive by Proust
The Sweet Cheat Gone by Proust
The Past Recaptured by Proust
Yes, I mowed through the last four books in Proust’s masterwork all in one summer. I couldn’t put it down, and once I got into a 20 page a day routine, I realized that I would be able to complete the thing in August. So thankful I finally made it through. It is one of my all-time favorite novels, and I’d like to read it again in the more contemporary translations.
Gilgamesh (Stephen Mitchell translation). Excellent translation of a classic that I taught in my survey class. The students really liked it.
Book of Job. Reread it for my survey course. Why do bad things happen to good people? Just because.
The Masks of God: Occidental Mythology by Joseph Campbell. I really find Joseph Campbell to be inspiring and insightful. This helped me to get prepared for the survey course. I always learn things from him.
Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach. I taught portions of this one for my survey course, and read the whole thing over the summer. Years ago I had started it and put it down. I understand it better now, and got plenty of enjoyment from it.
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. Another book that I had started a couple times before and put down. Having finished Proust, I decided to give this one a shot, and I got through it in a few weeks time. Can be maddening to read, but I respect that Joyce was shooting for something unique. When I first completed it, I was almost pissed off at what he had put me through, but as the days wore on, I kept thinking about it, and I read some criticism, and gave it some begrudging respect. It stays on the shelf!
The Nibelunglied. Really lovely edition published by Limited Editions Book Club. I almost taught it for the survey course but decided to go with Parzival instead.
The Late Great Planet Earth by Lindsay and Carlson. I couldn’t help but pick this up at the thrift store. A nostalgia read for me, because when I was a kid I read it and took it more than half seriously. I’ve wised up since then. It was interesting to see how much Lindsay got wrong, after so many years have passed.
The Koran. Taught portions of this for my survey course. I’m glad to have finally read this major religious text. I would not recommend the Penguin classics translation, however. There must be something better out there.
Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie. This was one of the pleasant surprises of my reading year. I have a small collection of Vintage Contemporary paperbacks from the 80’s and 90’s, and I pulled this one off the shelf, looking for something easy to read, which it was. I was immediately struck by the narrative tone and characters and finished it quickly. Highly recommend it. Later in the year I tracked down the film version on youtube, which has achieved a bit of cult status, but I was majorly disappointed. Don’t bother with the film. Just enjoy this fine novel set in 70’s America.
Verlaine: Poems. This small Peter Pauper press edition had some nice illustrations in it, and some of the translations were good.
Inferno by Dante. I went with the Ciardi translation for my survey course. I haven’t read Dante since college, and it was a great pleasure to revisit him. I spent a lot of time wondering which circle of hell I would assign to Donald Trump. There are so many possibilities!
The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion by Mircea Eliade. I know Eliade has a bit of a compromised reputation because of his right-wing affiliations, but I didn’t detect any of that slant in this fine summary of comparative religion. It was lucid and brief. He was clearly a major figure in that field, and his knowledge shone onto the page.
Chance by Joseph Conrad. Jeez, for how many decades has this pocketbook been on my shelf going unread? I gave it a shot and slogged through it. Not one of Conrad’s best, though it was a good seller for him. I gave it away.
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. Nice way to finish the year. An easy read. Auster is a kind of natural storyteller. He reminds me a little bit of John Irving, only more concise and urban in his orientation.
To sum up, I summited a few major literary mountain peaks this year, but my total book count suffered as a result. I am trying to get better at not accumulating so many new and used books (I have plenty to read already!) and not keeping books around that I’ve finished and don’t anticipate returning to. I hope that trend continues. Read it, don’t horde it, pass it on. I’ve also been thinning the book collection of books I don’t anticipate needing to read in the near or far future. Slowly, the library is getting healthier, like going on a diet and getting more exercise. I would like to read more books for 2019, and I expect that I will have the time to do so.
Happy new year. To books, to life!