Saturday, August 18, 2007

Blot's Read List

From Escutcheon Blot
Hallo Kiddies!

The ever and ever-increasingly beloved Blot has returned home to Berlin (also known as Sodom on the Spree) from a very busy season. As you all know by now, I accomplish a lot of reading in the down-time on the road and between performances.

I wanted to share with all of you who actually work 40+hour weeks, and then go home to families who adore you, consequently having no time to read so exhaustively, what I have exhaustingly read--who do the first only occasionly and the second almost never.

First the list of the 2006-7 season: I was going to list it here, but it is long, boring, pretentious, and actually rather embarassing when one considers the implied aspersion it makes upon my ability to interact with living people. In my defense, when I am at home I accomplish no more than 2 books per week of reading, rather than the book-a-day pace of my on-the-road sojourns.

In no particular order (actually the order that I found them in my bookshelves, and could remember if I had read them this year or last--a concomitant hazard of reading so much and so quickly that some books are forgotten as soon as they are finished: conversely, a benefit is that good books can be read over and over again, as I have always missed something the last time around):

Venice-Tales of the City, by Michelle Lovric -- a chatty history of sinking city.

The Middle East-2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day, by Bernard Lewis --very good history-deliniates Shia-Sunni strife and history thereof.

Charles Dickens, The Last of the Great Men, by G.K. Chesterton -- acceptable paeon to Dickens, whom I love, by an author for whom I have no particular regard.

Rosenkranz and Guildenstern are Dead, by Tom Stoppard -- OK, it's a play...but I read it, didn't I?

Howard's End, by E.M. Forster -- better than the film, but then, what isn't? (Later NB: there should be no apostrophe, apparently, but my copy, an relatively early American edition, 1921, has an apostrophe on the cover and then none in the either the running titles or the text itself...just another fun bibliophilic brouhaha---thanks to Edward Copeland for bringing the problem to my attention)

Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, by C. Dickens -- all re-reads, of course - a recurrent, spasmodic reassesment of my favorite books of Dickens' -I liked Copperfield better, Twist rather less: never liked Cities, and still don't.

Journey into Christmas, by some chick named Aldrich -- blah! Tripe.

I Claudius and Claudius the God, by Robert Graves -- great historical novels.

The Honey Badger, by Robert Ruark -- a more than semi-autobiographical book of Ruark's approaches the lyrical beauty of The Old Man and the Boy.

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole -- I finally found a good, used copy, at the same time remembering that I wanted to read it...lots of fun.

Vanity Fair and the Christmas Books (collection), by William Thackary --VF a re-read, still like it, although I prefer Dickens; Christmas Books mostly forgettable, except for the diary of WT's gourmandizing for a week or so...amazing what that man ate...course he died young...and fat.

Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion, by Jane Austen -- just a re-read of my 3 favorite Austens...for my money P & P is the most perfect novel in the English language.

False Impression, by Jeffrey Archer -- Lord Archer, convicted of perjury in politically-motivated gotcha trial after Tories lost '97 election - better writer than politician, though - The Fourth Estate is a must-read.

Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin (the Berlin Novels), by Christopher Isherwood -- I expected more from this iconic writer whom I had never read--Oh well.

Village Centenary, Tyler's Row, Summer at Fairacre, Farther Afield, Village Affairs, and A Peaceful Retirement, by Miss Read -- I found these all at a used bookstore in Darmstadt, discarded by some Anglophile--slender but pleasant reads, especially for those who have seen Last of the Summer Wine on PBS or BBC America.

Two Lives, by Vikram Seth -- Biography of beloved Aunt and Uncle...I like Seth, loved A Suitable Boy...but this and his other few novels are simply not up to what is still his magnum opus.

Out of Africa, by Karen Blixen --nice, but not really worth the hype...a rare instance where the film might actually be better than the original book.

Perfume, by Patrick Sueskind -- yucky yucky book...I read it English, not wanting to wade through the German...good though, in its way.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco -- another author who seems to have shot his wad early on...Foucault's Pendulum and the Name of the Rose have not been equaled by later efforts.

The Voyage Out, by Virginia Woolf -- Juvenelia - nice first effort, of interest only to Woolf fans.

North Toward Home, by Willie Morris -- from whence came the basis of the film My Dog Skip...good book, but not worth the attention it got...another example of the tendancy of northern critics to beatify mediocre southern writers who leave the South and then bad-mouth it.

The Winter of our Discontent, by John Steinbeck -- I like Steinbeck, and I like this book.

Moby Dick, by Herman Melville -- great book - homoerotic like all his seafaring efforts.

Evelina and Cecilia, by Fanny Burney -- first important female novelist, late 18th century, daughter of the great music writer Dr. Charles Burney--very enjoyable portraits of upper-class life in the reign of George the Third.

The World of Mr. Mulliner, by P.G. Wodehouse -- anyone who has read my periodic effusions knows I love Wodehouse...this book is no exception...a good intro to old Pelham Grenville(Plum) they are all short stories.

My Uncle Oswald, by Roald Dahl -- the amorous adventures of a fictional uncle...typical Dahl, a comedy involving syphillus.

The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids, The Seeds of Time, Trouble with Lichen, The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndam -- early British sci-fi writer: I found an omnibus edition--well-written and enjoyable--more personal than most later sci-fi techno-babble.

My Antonia, by Willa Cather -- always wondered what the fuss was about Willa Cather...still wondering.

A Widow for One Year, The Fourth Hand, The Hotel New Hampshire, and A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving -- went through an Irving spasm...enjoyable reading...lots of perversion.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu, by Susanna Clarke -- a sort of Jane Austen meets Harry obviously JK Rowling-inspired writer who, although she writes considerably more elegant prose, is not the storyteller that the Potter-plotter is...very good books though, well worth a read.

Chance, by Joseph Conrad -- I don't like Conrad, and though I remember reading this, I don't remember what it was about...something Edwardian and plodding, as I recall.

What Came Before He Shot Her, by Elizabeth George -- an unpleasant follow-on to the last, and upsettingly-concluding mystery in the Lynley series - which are generally very good.

Battlefield Earth, by L. Ron Hubbard -- if this is what Scientology is all about, then the German government should stop persecuting the poor deluded idiots...they make enough problems for themselves.

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami -- a somewhat scatterbrained, deconstrunctionist fanatasy novel, full of cultural references--the disturbing thing is that almost all of the references are European, leading one to consider the borrower label the Japanese have carried for almost a century as being, in the person of this very popular author at least, well deserved.

Moving Mars, by Greg Bear -- a lightweight novel by one of sci-fi's more respected "hard" authors.

Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan -- again, enjoyable, but not really worth the hype it garnered.

The Complete Robot, by Isaac Asimov -- Asimov, like Heinlein, was great for his ideas, rather than his prose--but both good storytellers, nonetheless.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age 13 & 1/2, and Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction, by Sue Townsend -- the first and latest in the long, and putatively hilarious series by English authoress Townsend...she's no Wodehouse.

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin -- Early eighties fantasy, alternative history...sweet and entertaining.

The Flight of the Falcon, by Daphne du Maurier -- mystery novel, typical du Maurier; mid-twen-cen gothic.

Black Narcissus, by Rumer Godden -- Big hit in 50's, made into moderately successful film...nuns run amok in the Himalayas; Whee!

The Beautiful and the Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- a lesser novel by a near-great novelist...certainly it disturbs all that within oneself which says one is not achieving what one should, and one is spending far more money doing it than one should, to boot.

Helen with the High Hand, by Arnold Bennett -- Slim, mildly amusing novel by mildly amusing early twentieth-century humourist.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis -- a re-read from teen years...too irritatingly wholesome and dated for my taste...The Screwtape Letters are a far better exposition--in photographic negative - of Lewis' Mere Christianity than Narnia ever was, despite contrarian hype.

Pandoras Star and Judas Unchained, by Peter Hamilton -- a very well-written Parable of the Enemy Within and Without, set in the middle of the new millenium(4 or 5 hundred years from now, that is; very literary sci-fi, and very little techno-speak.

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger -- a recent effort by a new author, part of the whole chick literature movement, meandering - on purpose, I think - but surprisingly moving at the end.

Chesapeake, by James Michener -- a re-read, one of Michener's greatest books, especially for this transplanted Tidewater Virginian - although the whole book takes place in the Maryland end of the bay...blech!

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith -- Good!...Evil wins in an entertainingly bloody fashion.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley -- Arthurian legend retold - for the umpteenth time - this time from the vantage-point of the Druids and Morgen le Fay; worthwhile.

The Lighthouse and The Children of Men, by P.D. James -- the poor man's Agatha Christie...good writer and plotter, but no Christie...Lighthouse written recently and showing a lamentable decline in ability from an author in her eighties.

Parsival, by Richard Monaco -- Arthurian re-telling found in remaindered bin for fifty cents...worth the fifty cents.

How to be Good, by Nick Hornby -- another putatively funny British author...why can't the English write comedy anymore? I think they have become, like the rest of us, too angry.

The Risen Empire, by Scott Westerfield -- don't buy this looks great, sci-fi tome with mystery surprise ending...but no big surprise; plod-o-rama.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreissler -- amoral morality tale from Gilded Age...clumsily written by newspaper man, but enjoyable to the end, even if it drags a bit in spots.

The Ponder Heart, by Eudora Welty -- I like ol' Eudora, and this is one of her most famous books...but it copies a little too much of Faulkner for me to respect its originality.

Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi -- an at-times pedestrian, at-times chilling non-fiction account of an female intellectual's life in the Islamic Republic.

Dublin and Ireland Awakening, by Edward Rutherford -- Historical novel by English author who, chaemeleon-like, dons the mantle of unquenchable Irish grievance against the English occupiers...not perhaps as good as Sarum, but Dublin, especially, is one of the best in this, to my mind somewhat questionable, genre.

The Testament, by John Grisham -- good beach read.

Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess -- P.G. Wodehouse meets Noel Coward, travels the world, becomes pope's in-law, has lots of faithless boyfriends, and writes a lot.

The Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis -- purchased in the Atlanta airport to wile away the time on the flight back to Europe...mission accomplished.

Theft, by Peter Carey -- who-dunnit in modern art world...pretty good actually, now that I think about it--Australian.

Changing Planes, by Ursula le Guin -- whatever - not bad if you can find a used copy...not worth ten bucks for a new one, however.

Harry Potter Years 1-6, by J.K. Rowling -- I wanted to refresh my memory for Year 7.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling -- tome to be posted next week.

These are the books that I can remember having read in the 2006-7 season (September to July). Obviously, I read too much and reflecting upon how many are re-reads and how some books I can't really even remember; too quickly. The list is not too terribly serious, taken as a whole - for, when I am working/travelling, I am often too pre-occupied to concentrate on weightier matters, and I try to buy most of my books in second-hand shops, which tends to render my reading list a bit scattershot and eccentric - especially when one considers that I live in Germany, but don't enjoy reading in German, so must choose from the far less multitudinous English section.

As I said, I don't mean to fact last week I had to stop reading for three or four days, because of eye-strain. Reading this much is merely a function of how much time I was on the road.

Yours, lovingly,

Escutcheon Blot


odienator said...

I've read about 14 of these. I'm sure most people have read that big Mr. Moby in school. I also had to read Sister Carrie. The only thing I remember about it was that it inspired one of those goofy Topps parody stickers. Dreiser and Stephen King had collaborated on "Sister Carrie's Sister, Carrie."

I love duMaurier, Highsmith and Dahl. Agree with you on Conrad--what a blowhard and a bore. Can't get with you on Steinbeck (though I love his short stories).

Impressive list.

Jeffrey said...

Joseph Conrad is not a blowhard or a bore! I've read a few of his stories and loved them all. And when you consider his excellent prose in a second language, which he did not learn until he was a young adult - what's more impressive than that?

Regarding Melville: I think Moby Dick is the great American...novel? No, book. But I'd say his first two works, Typee and Omoo, were not homoerotic at all, but just flat erotic. I still dream about Fayaway.

Lot's of interesting stuff on this list, 'Scutch - most of which I haven't read.

Wagstaff said...

EB, you read so much that I'm jealous. I guess it's up to me to defend Joseph Conrad. I think he's one of the greatest. I haven't had a chance to read Chance yet, but right now I'm in the midst of a major Conrad phase, working my way through everything he wrote. He is indeed prolix, and can sometimes be a chore to read, but he's hardly a blowhard and the payoffs are numerous and well worth the time spent. If much of his work is overwritten, then it is beautifully overwritten. If you're familiar with him only through Heart of Darkness, then I recommend novices start with Youth, The Duel, The Secret Sharer, or The Nigger of the Narcissus. Under Western Eyes is another great novel. Joseph Conrad is Henry James out of doors. Now, if you don't like Henry James ...

Wagstaff said...

G.K. Chesterton is another one of my favorites.

EscutcheonBlot said...

Boys Boys.

Joseph Conrad is clunky clunky clunky. I like 'Lord Jim' and 'The Nigger of the Narcissus". But I hated 'Nostromo', I can't even remember 'Chance'. If it weren't in my bookshelf, I would never have remembered reading it.

I have a great deal of respect, nay, awe, for what Conrad achieved in learning to read and write fluently in a foreign language--as an adult. I have been busily failing at said undertaking(not really, but I sure as hell can't write very well in German).

But I have always wondered if he would have been a more elegant writer if he had, like his contemporary and countryman Henryk Sienkiewicz, written in Polish and then merely oversaw the english(or french) publication. I think he suffers from the automatic IQ deduction that one gets when expressing oneself in second language.

I bought a cheapie "Under Western Eyes", intending, oh so very appropriately, to read it on this year's trip to Warsaw. But, that is the train ride of literary broken dreams. I ploughed through about a 100 pages and then gave up...prefering to transcribe 17th Latin poetry, of which I only understand 20% at most, to reading that book.

This is getting too long.

Maybe more on James Later.


EscutcheonBlot said...

That should read 17th century latin poetry. And I probably only understand 15% without a dictionary.

And I don't like Henry James very much at all. Did I include the volume of Henry James short stories? I don't remember. This post was kind of like a James sentence...long, self-congratulatory and in the end, meaningless.