15 December 2005
One of the first books I read this year was Hornby's collection of essays THE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE, a compilation from his columns in anti-snark mag The Believer. Hornby's column chronicles the books he receives each month and the ones he actually reads, along with facts about those books and about his life in general (and, not occasionally, the confession that as a successful author he has both money and time that most people don't have). The columns are charming and actually inspired me to keep my own lists by month of books going in and out. (I also use mine as a damper when I'm tempted to One-Click a cartload of books from Amazon. I mean, sometimes it works...)
Well, as far as finals week went A LONG WAY DOWN did the trick as far as distracting me. But the story? As my theatre professor say, it's precious. The book got some terrible early reviews (I think this one was my favorite, although I disagree on SONGBOOK) but I gave it a shot anyway... and was, really, quite disappointed. I was willing to forgive a certain contrivance in the set-up (four would-be suicides meet at the top of a building in North London and attempt to straighten out each others' lives), but it never left Twee City on its way to believable. The funny moments (like the invention of a miraculous vision for the tabloids) are outweighed by the tiresome, the unbelievable and the lazily written. And I found that strange, because THE POLYSYLLABIC SPREE is jammed with minor tender moments from Hornby's life, which (with little to do with his reading life) still enliven the narrative. Is this the same Hornby who wrote HIGH FIDELITY?
The Hornby case is troubling because it seems to suggest that writers can't be masters of both fiction and nonfiction (at least not simultaneously), which I guess is what I've been feeling a little bit lately. I started out writing only fiction (well, along with my journal, whose version of the truth is occasionally questionable) but these days when I'm in front of a computer what comes out is usually some form of nonfiction. I still read as much fiction as I used to, but I feel like now I read it as a reviewer, not as a connoisseur. Besides NaNoWriMo, I don't write much fiction any more. I miss it, but I'm not sure if I can go back.
I'm not saying Nick Hornby is feeling the same way, but if his last two books are any indication he may be at some kind of crossroads. I don't know if Hornby should stop writing fiction or if he needs to take a break from nonfiction in order to work on his fiction. I'd like to believe he can do both, but I'd rather one more POLYSYLLABIC SPREE than six more LONG WAY DOWNs. But whether that's true for me as well... I don't know.
04 December 2005
To encourage us to read outside of class (we had ORBs, or Outside Reading Books), Ms. VV gave us a sheet every month with a space for the date, the title of a book read and -- here's the rub -- the number of pages in the book. At the end of the month we would all dutifully total up the number of pages and compare it to last month's, hoping to show some improvement.
I was a slave to that number. I was a pretty addicted reader by that time anyway, but I got it into my head that I had to hit 10,000 pages per month, or else. This emphasis on the number convinced me that a bad book read was better than no book, because you didn't get any points for pages in books you didn't finish. Sometimes I would even pump up my totals by choosing the easy read over the over-my-head classic, just so I could. (Sorry, Ms. VV!)
Of course, now I can only wish I had the amount of time I had to read that much. I guess if I counted magazine articles, Weblogs, scholarly excerpts and class reading I might get there, but it's not about the number so much any more. This year I've been trying a little harder to be choosy about what I read, because (although I won't admit it) I will not get around to reading every book in the world. At least, not if I'm a teensy bit more choosy than I have been in the past. Here's a list of a few books I didn't finish or gave up on this year:
- Ian Gibson, LA VIDA, PASION Y MUERTE DE FEDERICO GARCIA LORCA I love García Lorca and I love two-volume biographies, but this just wasn't a good fit. There was too much name-dropping, and Leslie Stainton's LORCA: A DREAM OF LIFE is better. (Alas, I lent that one to someone I don't like and now I don't have a copy.)
- Jorge Semprún, AQUEL DOMINGO This was for a class I took on Spanish novels since 1939, and our professor proclaimed its brilliance constantly. But with 45 minor characters and a main character who, having lived his life in espionage, had a new alias every chapter, I just couldn't keep up.
- Carmen Martín Gaíte, IRSE DE CASA I loved Martín Gaíte's other book I read this year, NUBOSIDAD VARIABLE ("scattered clouds"), but this one just didn't take.
- Jay Cantor, GREAT NECK I challenge you to read this every-moment-can-foreshadow-unspeakable-doom-for-all-characters novel and not throw it out the window. Seriously. That's what you get for choosing a book by its cover (literally; I saw it in Borders and it looked interesting). Sucker.
- Marian Keyes, SUSHI FOR BEGINNERS The first month of my stay in Madrid I read about 10 Marian Keyes books in Spanish to adjust myself to thinking in the language. I know, they're trashy, but I picked up a lot of useful slang. (The word ligar, for example; it means "to hook up" or "to flirt," depending on context.) I snatched this one from my sister for the trip back to school, but they aren't as good in English; when I realized I'd left it on my first flight, I didn't bother buying another copy.
26 November 2005
So instead of letting this blog languish and die, I'm going to open it up to writing about any and all books I'm reading, meaning to read, attempting to read or swearing off reading.
Right now I'm reading John L. Hess' MY TIMES: A MEMOIR OF DISSENT. I love those Gray Lady books. I just finished Benjamin Kunkel's INDECISION, which is definitely one of my top books of 2005. I didn't even want to like it, but somewhere around page 175 I couldn't believe it's brilliance. Believe the hype! What are you reading?
14 October 2005
Things I Have Been Reading Which Do Not Appear on the Modern Library List, Nor Have Any Guaranteed Value Whatsoever
Stephen Carter, THE EMPEROR OF OCEAN PARK. Borrowed from my mum. I liked the part about the liberal judge mom refusing to let her son read that pro-life appologia, Horton Hears a Who.
Hilary Mantel, GIVING UP THE GHOST. Memoir of a British novelist which the New Yorker promised was full of paranormal events and eerie coincidences. And in this case, David Remnick done me wrong.
David Itzkoff, LADS. Memoir of a former editor at "Details" and "Maxim." Pretty entertaining, actually, if you like press memoirs already.
Rick Moody, THE DIVINERS. Wildly entertaining novel about the schemers behind a Hollywood miniseries. Thick and convoluted like a Tom Wolfe book, but without any of those pesky authorial moral judgements. Did I mention that Moody is an alum of my own university? He, Marilynne Robinson (GILEAD, HOUSEKEEPING) and Jeffrey Eugenides (MIDDLESEX, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES). And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
Jon Stewart, NAKED PICTURES OF FAMOUS PEOPLE. No, Stewart doesn't have a new book out; this actually came out pre-"Daily Show," in 1998 and I tracked it down on inter-library loan out of curiosity. It's not bad, but it's not Woody Allen; not surprisingly, some of it is pretty dated. Also, I might note that there are no actual naked pictures of famous people in it.
This list isn't an excuse. Really. It's totally not. Okay, maybe a little.
15 September 2005
Watch the madness here. My offer still stands, Mr. Vonnegut! Come forth and receive the Tinfoil Prize!
05 September 2005
21 July 2005
...Words fail me. Just go read it.
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 40-60
19 July 2005
aunty dante says i can have a blog. i dont no what to rite. daddy and i saw a moocow todaay.
posted by StevieD 7.12.84 13:45
School sucks! I got a pandy from one of the prefects today because I broke my glasses, but I didn't do it on purpose! I wanna go home.
posted by StevieD 11.04.89 16:27
YAY Father Dolan says it wasn't my fault! I still wanna go home tho. OK, gotta go for bed check. Sign the guestbook.
posted by StevieD 11.04.89 20:23
Haven't had time much to write in here since I've been at my new school. We're having a retreat till Friday and I've been thinking a lot about the girls and last summer and stuff. Don't mean to be judgmental but what I was doing when I was at home for the summer was just plain wrong. I hope
posted by StevieD 12.10.98 09:45
So far so good with the new plan. Can't write more about it now though because I have more penance to do. I really feel like I am getting to a new level with my relationship with God, but you know what they say... new level means a new devil! Call the cell if you need me.
posted by StevieD 12.11.98 08:02
OMG the priest called me in today and asked if I had had a call! I would so love to be a priest, what do you think? New plan's going great now that I know where I'm headed. Yikes, late for evening mass!
posted by StevieD 12.12.98 19:23
So I'm at Trinity now. I like it okay. I dropped the new plan though. It's pretty complicated but I guess it leads back to this argument I had the other day with Davin when he was yelling at me about not turning in my draft card. It's not that I'm anti-war, I'm anti-citizenship, I guess. I don't want to be Irish or study Irish or be Catholic and have people look at me and define me like that. I told him I wanted to "fly by those nets." Then he called me a pussy.
posted by StevieD 04.26.03 15:45
Hey guys, tell me if you think this poem is any good. I'm reeeeeeally excited about it since it's the first poem I wrote in a long time that doesn't have to do with You-Know-Who. OK, here's what I got so far:
Our broken cries and mournful lays
Rise in one eucharistic hymn.
Are you not weary of ardent ways?
While sacrificing hands upraise
The chalice flowing to the brim,
Tell no more of enchanted days.
So what do you think I should write next???
posted by StevieD 09.23.04 12:22
Met her today... in Grafton Street. The crowd brought us together. We both stopped. She asked me why I never came, said she had heard all sorts of stories about me...People began to look at us.
posted by StevieD 04.15.05 19:01
Honestly I think I'm going to give this blog up. I'm so busy these days forging in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race that I barely have time to check my e-mail. My dad's gone missing, too, and I'm going to have to go look for him in Dublin. So for the two of you that still read this, e-mail me, okay?
posted by StevieD 06.15.05 23:22
This post is dedicated to my TA for the Proust, Joyce and Faulkner course I took sophomore year. Amy V., sorry I didn't really read this book when I was supposed to. Also, you rule.
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 39-61
18 July 2005
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 38-62
08 July 2005
Why they didn't make everyone read this in high school -- we only had a semester of American lit, and because I took it in the fall we didn't have time to get to Faulkner -- is completely beyond me.
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 37-63
06 July 2005
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 36-64
02 July 2005
08 June 2005
So the moral of the story is, country mice don't marry city mice.
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 35-65
Ellen versus the Modern Library: 34-66
06 June 2005
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 33-67
03 June 2005
02 June 2005
Ellen vs. the Modern Library: 31-69
31 May 2005
For the past five months I've been in a foreign country where English books are easy to get but the selection is not top-notch. The library I've been using the most (where I went Monday to look for books for the impending start of this project) did not have #100, nor #99, nor #98... and so on down for quite a while.
So while I'll be back in the States within two weeks, I'll be starting with a kind of bibliographic free-for-all. The first book will be Edith Wharton's THE HOUSE OF MIRTH (#69), and I will start it tomorrow. Yikes, tomorrow. I'd better do some mental calisthenics before then.
28 May 2005
I remember when the Modern Library put out its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. I was sitting at the breakfast table with my parents and, just for fun, I thought we ought to go through the list and mark off what each of us had read. I had read about 20 at the time, I think. My parents had each read somewhere in the 30s, though not all the same ones, and my mom (as a frustrated English major) had read more than my dad.
After this very silly exercise, I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to say you had read ALL of them? Sure, the list is arbitrary, and I don’t know that the readers’ choices which run along the same page to the right are any better or fairer. All kinds of groups attacked the Modern Library after it put this list out, which in terms of diversity and discussion is only fair.
But then again, I’ve always been the kind of person who liked to work off of lists. I remember getting a copy of my high school summer reading list and wishing I could say I had read all the books enclosed, however improbable. (That list, as long as we’re giving credit, was compiled by my former boss and the much admired Margaret Rossetto formerly of the University School Upper School Library, and if you e-mail her she might send it to you.) Besides, I feel like I might get some kind of literary bragging rights from having done the whole thing. I focus on contemporary novels, after all, and at least one particular group of accredited people believe these are the ones worth studying.
I've posted the entire Modern Library list with the books I've already read marked off, as well as a short FAQ that may or may not answer your burning questions. Re-reading is a joy and a pleasure, but with 12 months at stake there just isn’t time. I’ll also post anything else I turn up about the Modern Library’s list, book lists in general and so on.
Oh, and just for fun, I’m going to start from the bottom of the list and work up. I get a feeling those books down there below 80 might feel a bit neglected.
15 May 2005
Sheer bravado. That, and I’m an avid reader to begin with.
Aren’t you missing out on these classics entirely by trying to read them in a hurry?
It’s probable, but I hope that the ones I really like I will be able to go back to and savor. Besides, given an unlimited amount of time, I probably would never finish the list, because it would expand to fill the time allotted.
How are you going to find all those books?
I like libraries, so I’m going to use those primarily and bookstores only if necessary. I would love to support the book industry by buying all of these in hardcover -- perhaps even in the Modern Library editions! -- but I am a student with a limited access to funds and buying all of those just isn’t feasible. I am currently a card-carrying member of three libraries, the Eastern Shores Library System, the New York Public Library and the Emmaus Public Library. If all those fail, there are always inter-library loans. I have also gotten a fair amount of these books from BookMooch which I highly recommend.
Are you being sponsored by the Modern Library?
Oh, do I wish! It would certainly make getting hold of the books easier. No, I am not affiliated with the Modern Library, Random House, or any other backing institution.
So what do you do besides reading?
I'm a writer, editor and published poet living in New York City. I love going to plays, coffee-shop hopping, traveling, finishing 5Ks, soup, snow peas, the outdoors, talking and not talking...
I want to do it with you!
Super. Would love to follow along either by e-mail or on your own blog. Drop me a line.
Any other questions, comments, complaints: e-mail lnvsml (at) gmail (dot) com.
01 May 2005
2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
21. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos
25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
29. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell
31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer
53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
57. PARADE'S END by Ford Madox Ford
59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm
61. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather
62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones
64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis
69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell
72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul
73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
81. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow
83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul
85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
89. LOVING by Henry Green
90. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles
95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
96. SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron
98. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain
99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy
Number of books I’d already read on this list when I started: 30
Books that will take a long, long time to read: #43 is a ten-book series. How the makers of this list were able to sneak that one by, I’ll never know. And let’s not forget #77.
Hidden trilogies: #23 and #29.
Books I checked as done and then had to undo: #15, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. I have attempted it several times, but let’s be honest here, I’ve never actually finished it. So don’t go telling me everyone dies in the end.
Three favorites of the books I’ve read: I really enjoyed THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (#58) even though it was assigned reading for AP English in high school. Like the vast majority of people my age I like Fitzgerald in pretty much all his efforts (#2 and #28 here). And after I finish all these, maybe I ought to re-read ALL THE KING’S MEN (#36) in advance of the star-studded filmic remake -- though I hate Sean Penn, but that’s really neither here nor there.