The OF Blog: December 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review: The 25 Most Notable 2011 Releases

As is custom here at this blog, the final post of the year is devoted to the year's releases that I believe are most deserving of attention.  As I said previously, my reading has shifted more to those fictions that are either not speculative at all or they simply are not marketed as such.  In interests of self-disclosure, I eliminated two books from consideration for this list due to them having translations of mine published.  I do believe, however, that if I didn't have this conflict of interest, that I certainly would have had the Ann and Jeff VanderMeer-edited The Weird and ODD? at least would have made the longlist and the former most likely would have been a Top 5 selection.  So feel free to add those to the "notable" list even if I won't be listing them below.

This year, I'm going to list these notable releases in reverse order, with commentaries reserved for the top five books:

25.  Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

24.  David Anthony Durham, The Sacred Band

23.  Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve:  How the World Became Modern

22.  Moacyr Scliar, Kafka's Leopards

21.  R. Scott Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

20.  Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones

19.  Julie Otsuka, Buddha in the Attic

18.  David Abulafia, The Great Sea

17.  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

16.  Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name is Not Easy

15.  Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox

14.  Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn

13.  Catherynne M. Valente, The Folded World

12.  Jesse Ball, The Curfew

11.  Karen Russell, Swamplandia!

10.  Anders Nilsen, Big Questions

9.  Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Prisionero del Cielo

8.  Javier Marías, Los enamoramientos

7.  Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories

6.  Michael Cisco, The Great Lover

 5.  Colson Whitehead, Zone One

Zone One manages to do something I thought would be nigh-impossible:  get me interested in a story that has zombies.  Looking beyond Whitehead's near-tone perfect prose (if such a thing is possible; the prose is integral to the story), he hints at moving, tragic stories in just a few sparse descriptions of the more benign zombies' appearances and the places they haunt.  Too often the focus of zombie fiction is on the "BRRRAAAAINNNNSSSSSS!" aspect of shoot or be munched upon.  What Whitehead does here is turn everything around and explore the idea of a zombie apocalypse through the traumas of the survivors, showing the world (itself often resembling the mindlessness associated with the undead) as a much more complex and brutal place than what is typically glossed over in zombie fiction.  The thoughts and digressions of the protagonist "Mark Spitz" (the origins of this cognomen is revealed late in the novel) serve to accentuate the emotional state of someone who may be killing more than the straggling remnants of a decayed, corruptible society.

4.  Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again

I reviewed this National Book Award-winning YA novel last month, so I'll keep my thoughts relatively brief here.  Lai's story was one of the most moving I read, in part because of my two years teaching immigrant students in Florida a decade ago.  The emotion that underlies Lai's simple, direct poem/prose lines is powerful because it is not just a single note played over and over again, but a multitude of emotions, many of which are jumbled up in the narrator's mind, that build a complex, moving story out of fragments and youthful (mis)understandings of the world.

3.  Blake Butler, There is No Year

When I reviewed Butler's book back in July, I described it as being:

"Using a mixture of disturbing scenes (the footnoted section on the photographs the son receives a little over halfway through the novel might be one of the most chilling things that I have read in years) and short, staccato passages, Butler has crafted a novel that will linger long in the reader's mind and even longer in her subconscious after the final page has been turned.  Not many narratives prove to be the stuff of which dreams (or nightmares) are made, but There Is No Year might be one of those rare examples.  It is one of the most original, disturbing, moving novels that I have read in 2011 and it certainly will be part of my annual Best of Year reflective essays."

Those thoughts still stand, as this fractured, weird fiction still lingers in my head nearly six months later.

2.  Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife

Ever since I read and reviewed The Tiger's Wife right after its March release, I had thought it would be the favorite to be my top selection.  It certainly is worthy, as it won this year's Orange Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.  Obreht's combination of a poignant war story (drawing in part upon her own experiences as a refugee from the fighting in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s), a family narrative, and magical elements creates a powerful novel that I certainly will re-read with delight in the years to come.

Yet there is another book that has haunted me ever since I read it back in September.  I have not reviewed it in large part because of it, but it is one of those novels that might stay with me for a lifetime, a rarity in this day and age of disposable novels that are obsolete within six months.  Like five others on this list, it's a debut novel and this book may signal the rise of an important new writer in American literature.

1.  Justin Torres, We the Animals

At 128 pages the shortest book on this list, We the Animals belies its brevity with its ability to pack an emotional punch.  It is an autobiographical novel featuring three boys of a mixed-race marriage of two working class individuals who struggle with their situations.  Told from the perspective of the youngest child, the novel unfolds as a series of short, sharp vignettes (rarely more than three or four pages) that show the casual brutality of their lives.  Take for instance this passage devoted to the narrator's seventh birthday:

In the morning, we stood side by side in the doorway and looked in on Ma, who slept open-mouthed, and we listened to the air struggle to get past the saliva in her throat.  Three days ago she had arrived home with both cheeks swollen purple.  Paps had carried her into the house and brought her to the bed, where he stroked her hair and whispered in her ear.  He told us the dentist had been punching on her after she went under; he said that's how they loosen up the teeth before they rip them out.  Ma had been in bed every day since – plastic vials of pain pills, glasses of water, half-drunk mugs of tea, and bloody tissues cluttered the floor around her bed.  Paps had forbidden us to set foot in the bedroom, and for three mornings we had heeded, monitoring her breath from the doorway, but today we would not wait any longer. (p. 12)

So much is contained within this paragraph.  We see the lies that parents will tell to cover up their abuses, the mystery surrounding what could have led to it (the actions of both parents continually puzzle the children throughout the novel), the combination of curiosity and quick acceptance of what the father says – an entire other story laying beneath what is outlined here.  Torres does not linger upon the many events of this childhood; we see the traumas and the brutalities and the humiliations that parents and children alike endure and we may paint for ourselves according to the numbers embedded within the plot.  Torres' decision to pare We the Animals down to its narrative bones allows readers to develop their own conclusions.  For myself, being a teacher of emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children, what he describes resembles what so many of my former students have told or hinted to me over the past three years.

We the Animals is a searing reading experience.  We see the heartaches, the confusion, the outburst of tempers.  We see children neglected for most of their lives.  We see the struggles that the narrator has with his own sexual identity as he ages and how that impacts the family.  Torres easily could have provided a nice, pat ending where either everyone comes together or some other emotional/developmental milestone is reached.  Instead, he purposely concludes at the point where the narrator begins a new stage in his life as a young adult.  These lingering questions about how casual violence can be, how neglect occurs, and how children deal with traumas have no easy answers; sometimes, there are no answers at all.  We the Animals is one of those rare novels that captures the darker sides of families without becoming mawkish.  It simply is the most brilliantly executed novel published this year that I've read and therefore the most notable 2011 release.

December 2011 Reads

Unlike previous months, I'll list this month's reads before the final minute/day has passed.  I finished the year with 517 books and e-books read, my second-highest ever behind 2009's 562 books read.  Some changes in the stories read this year, which I'll address in a post shortly.  Highly doubt 2012 will see as many books/e-books read, as I plan on devoting more time to learning other languages (Persian certainly will be one, but I may work on fluency in German, Serbian, and Russian as well), but plans do change.  Might be more reviews next year, but the majority of those will be posted at Weird Fiction Review, Gogol's Overcoat, or might appear in print magazines (my review of Helen Oyeyemi's Mr. Fox appears in the forthcoming issue of Bull Spec, which I believe will be released in the very near future, if not already).  But enough of plans (there will be a post for that shortly), here are the books read:

475  Yumeno Kyûsaku, Dogra Magra (French translation of the original Japanese; already reviewed)

476  Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin (very good, but its premise might be offputting for many)

477  Carl Sandburg, Carl Sandburg:  Selected Poems (very good collection)

478  Ambrose Bierce, Bierce:  The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs (excellent Library of America edition)

479  Rafia Zafar (ed.), Harlem Renaissance:  Five Novels of the 1920s (essential anthology of Harlem Renaissance prose writers)

480  Umberto Eco, Il pendolo di Foucault (Italian; re-read; excellent)

481  Umberto Eco, Das Foucaultsche Pendel (German; see above)

482  Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum (re-read; see above)

483  Magdalena Tulli, In Red (short, yet haunting in what lies underneath the good prose; translated from Polish)

484  H.L. Mencken, Prejudices:  Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Series (Mencken was a very good early 20th century critic; these LoA reprints are well worth reading)

485  Franz Kafka, Amerika (German; good, but far from his best work, but not surprising it's an early work)

486  Franz Kafka, Amerika (see above)

487  Thomas Frick, The Iron Boys (good debut novel about the rise of Luddite revolts)

488  Jesse Ball, The Curfew (very good; actually read in June, but somehow I forgot to log it then in my handwritten reading log)

489  Marcel Proust, Le Côté de Guermantes (French; third volume of his seminal work; essay forthcoming)

490  Elizabeth Alexander (ed.), The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks (very good poetry collection)

491  Marcel Proust,  Sodome et Gomorrhe (French; see above)

492  Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume II: The Guermantes Way/Cities of the Plain (see above)

493  Rafia Zafar (ed.), Harlem Renaissance:  Four Novels of the 1930s (see earlier comment on the first volume)

494  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (review forthcoming)

495  Lavie Tidhar, Osama (very good alt-history that balances noir elements with references to current issues)

496  Marcel Proust, La Prisonnière (French; see above comment)

497  José Saramago, O Homem Duplicado (Portuguese; good, but not his best effort)

498  Carlos Fuentes, Instinto de Inez (Spanish; like Saramago, good, but not Fuentes' best)

499  Umberto Eco, L'isola del giorno prima (Italian; underrated Eco novel)

500 Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before (re-read; see above)

501  Catherynne M. Valente, The Folded World (very good sequel to her in-progress trilogy)

502  Edward Hirsch (ed.), Theodore Roethke:  Selected Poems (very good collection)

503  Michael Warner (ed.), American Sermons:  The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr. (excellent LoA collection)

504  Marcel Proust, Albertine disparue (French; see above comment)

505  Geoff Ryman, Paradise Tales (one of the best reprint collections I've read this year)

506  J.M. McDermott, Women and Monsters (very good; recasting of Greek myth elements for our times reminds me favorably of his Last Dragon in the phrasing and quality of prose)

507  Honor Moore (ed.), Amy Lowell:  Selected Poems (excellent poetry collection)

508  Caitlín R. Kiernan, Two Worlds and In Between:  The Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan (excellent best of collection)

509  Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories (longer review forthcoming, but this was monumental even despite its many flaws)

510  Marcel Proust, Le Temps retrouve (French; see above comment)

511  Francisco Petrarch, Il Canzoniere di Petrarca (Italian; beautiful sonnets)

512  Paolo Chikiamco (ed.), Alternative Alamut (enjoyable collection of Filipino speculative fiction that centers around national mythologies)

513  James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes (competently told, yet I felt as though it were lacking a narrative "soul")

514  Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume III:  The Captive, The Fugitive, Time Regained (see previous comments on Proust)

515  Various, Novum Testamentum Latine (revised Vulgate Latin edition of the New Testament)

516  Edmund Wilson, Edmund Wilson:  Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s & 1930s (very good LoA edition)

517  Various, The Holy Bible (King James edition; also read the 7 books excluded from Protestant editions in the New American edition.  No comment on these due to the nature of the reading, which spanned most of the year)

And there you go.  Which ones have you read?  Which do you want to know more about?

Friday, December 30, 2011

A slice of history: My grandfather's 1939 school journal

My grandfather's drawing of what seems to be WWI-era Germany.  Also note the penultimate note:  "Hitler is a common dictator."

My mother went through my deceased grandmother's belongings yesterday, as she is one of the two executors of her estate.  Among the several books she found my grandfather's school notes, apparently from 1939, when he would have been either a sophomore or junior (he was born in March 1923 and these clippings seem to be from just before the German occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia, so 16 years later).  In them, there were a few notes on Germany, past and present (and other European and Asian nations), as well as newspaper clippings from the same time period.

Interesting to see how close things were to war between Germany and the Soviet Union during the spring/summer of 1939 after the annexation of Czechoslovakia.

For those that are fascinated by contemporary sources, here are the clippings that were found inside the journal.  Note the problems Rumania/Romania was having due to claims from Hungary and others (an issue decided by the ceding of land to Hungary through German mediation), as well as the facts of the day and the Polish refusal regarding Danzig.

More clippings from mid-1939.  Interesting in hindsight, no?

Just thought this might be a neat slice of history for those who are interested in it, especially when it comes to families preserving these clippings over two generations.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 in Review: Overlooked Books and Genres

I'm a little bit later than usual in starting the main year-end review posts, so this will be shorter than usual for me.  In 2011, I set out to read a wider variety of literature than in previous years, at least for the year's releases.  You may have noticed that when I posted the longlist over the overall year's best, there were not many works published/marketed as fantasies or science fiction.  This reflects my changing attitudes toward those two related literary genres; not as much interested me this year that came from there.  This is not to say that there aren't several fictions that utilize some of the tropes associated with those two particular genres, as there are several enjoyable titles that did touch upon it, but for myself, the more enjoyable fictions tended to come from authors that could blend several literary influences into something that felt fresher and more inventive.

Yet try as I may, there were going to be some areas that were not covered much (or at all) in my reading or in my posts on this blog.  I have no inclination toward reading romance novels, whether they be of the Harlequin mode or the paranormal romances so often associated these days with "urban fantasy."  This is not to attack these popular brands (even if I have found the few times that I've glanced at them the sort of writing and characterizations that make them so unappealing to me), but a brief comment explaining why such are not covered here (and likely will never be as long as I am blogging here).

But there are other genres and modes of narration that I do enjoy that I just feel I could not claim with justice to have covered adequately.  The first is Young Adult fiction.  Those who are familiar with me know that I do read and enjoy YA fiction on occasion, albeit titles that are more "realist" than "speculative" in nature.  One of the great joys this year was getting to read and review the finalists for the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature (click on this link to see how I "ranked" these and others in the various categories).  Yet outside of these finalists, I read very little YA fiction this year (I can only think of the book publication of Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making; it previously was published online and was a finalist – and I think winner – of the Norton Award for YA spec fic this past year at the Nebula Awards banquet; very good book, I might add), so it would not be a representative list to just note six books read that are classified by marketers as YA.

Likewise with graphic novels.  I have completed two excellent graphic novels that were published this year, Anders Nilsen's stunning Big Questions, a book that is already on my longlist.  The same goes to the collection of Kate Beaton's eponymous webcomic, Hark! A Vagrant, which made me smile in near-laughter on several occasions (okay, I might actually have laughed aloud a bit).  Craig Thompson's Habibi would possibly have been considered if I had the time to finish it, but it and a few others will have to await until next year before I get to them.

Speaking of unread 2011 releases that I do plan on reading in the very near future:

Drew Magary, The Postmortal

David Lodge, A Man of Parts

Carlo Ginzburg, Threads and Traces:  True False Fictive (non-fiction)

Although I am reading more non-fiction, I am not doing a category this year due to not feeling it is comprehensive enough (unlike prior years, where I should have eschewed posting).  But there were several excellent non-fictions I read this year, including the National Book Award finalists in Non-Fiction that can be found in the link above.  The same goes, including links, to poetry published this year.

I've only read three fictions published in other languages this year.  Of those three, I would recommend them all, but would probably start with Javier Marías' outstanding Los enamoramientos, followed closely by Carlos Ruiz Zafón's El Prisionero del Cielo and a bit further back, Tibor Moricz's O Peregrino (Brazilian Portuguese; the others are Spanish), which I also found to be enjoyable.

I don't read many translated fictions these days due to wanting to read them in their native language whenever possible, but there were four titles released in English translation in 2011 that I thought were great or at least worthy of discussion:

Moacyr Scliar, Kafka's Leopards (Brazilian Portuguese; would have bought this if available).  Oh, this was a great, short novel to read.

Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories (Hungarian, which I don't read at all).  There are a few flaws, but the scope and technique are very, very impressive.  Will likely review this in the coming year, possibly on Gogol's Overcoat.

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84 (Japanese).  It is my second completed Murakami novel (the other was the World Fantasy Award-winning Kafka on the Shore) and it is nearly as good as that.

Gonçalo M. Tavares, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique (Portuguese; again not available via Amazon in the original).  The narrative style Tavares employs in following the rise and fall of a dictator is excellent.

Later this week, I will have two essays devoted to the realist and speculative fictions that I read in 2011, followed by the best 25 2011 releases that I read this year.  One hint (and the reason why I'm not doing a post on debut novels):  the winner is a debut novel.  Another hint:  it's not who you think it is (I haven't reviewed this book yet).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Year-end used, foreign, and leatherbound book porn

In case I ever decide to learn Chinese, I'm collecting both parts of an Introductory level textbook.  Romanian dictionary is for the very few Romanian books I have (two).  Also pictured is an Italian history of late 17th century battles between the Habsburgs and the Ottomans and Helen Oyeyemi's first novel.
The title page to one of the volumes of Chekhov's writings.  Notice the stamp on this page.

Spines for the second and third volumes of Lermontov's dramas (the first wasn't there), along with three volumes of Chekhov's work.

At a different bookstore, one that carries limited-edition/antique books, I bought the Franklin Library edition of Charles Darwin's most famous work, an Easton Press edition of three of Ibsen's plays.  The Library of America American Poets' Project edition of Amy Lowell's poems was purchased elsewhere, at my favorite used bookstore earlier in the day.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011 Book Porn

Here are five Library of America editions of works by Henry James, Edmond Wilson, and Jack Kerouac that I received from my family on Christmas Eve.  One of the benefits of having family members who are mostly clueless about what you really like to read is that they'll ask for a list of books that you want, so while none of these were a surprise, all certainly are greatly appreciated and will be read either this week or during the coming year. 

In addition, I received a $25 Amazon gift card and $150 in cash, virtually all of which will be funneled back into buying more LoA editions (yes, I've decided to collect as many of these as I can in order to supply myself with necessary review materials for Gogol's Overcoat and this blog in 2012).  Here's the list of impending Amazon orders that should arrive Wednesday or Thursday:

Library of America Editions

Zora Neale Hurston, Novels and Stories (bought with gift card)
Vladimir Nabokov, Novels 1969-1974
Jack London, Novels & Social Writings
W.E.B. Du Bois, Writings
Henry James, Literary Criticism Volume Two:  French Writers, European Writers, Prefaces to the New York Edition
Herman Melville, Pierre, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Tales, Billy Budd

Plus I decided that I wanted to start learning another language in 2012, so after some deliberation and discussion on a message board, I chose Persian/Farsi.  So with the remaining bit of money (and some of my own), here's what I bought for that:

W.M. Thackston, A Introduction to Persian Revised 4th Edition
Abbas Aryanpur-Kashani, The Combined New Persian-English and English-Persian Dictionary 
M. Darwish, Poems from the Divan of Hafiz (bilingual)

I must admit that a big reason for my decision to learn some Persian revolves around the extremely high regard I have for the medieval Persian poets like Rumi, Hafiz/Hafez, and several others.  Since to me at least poetry rings truest when experienced in the original (I'm an auditory learner, so I "hear" poetry when I read it) and since I wanted a sort of back gateway into a possible future exploration of Arabic (yes, I know Persian is an Indo-European language and Arabic is a Semitic, but I wanted to learn how to read the script (even if modified by four extra letters in Persian) first before tackling that likely very difficult language), Persian made perfect sense to me.

So, what did you receive book-wise for Christmas?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Best of 2011: The Longlist

For those who want to guess which titles will make the final 20/25, here are the ones currently under consideration (in no order but a rough chronological read order, with a few added latter due to oversight):

1.  Karen Russell, Swamplandia!

2.  Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife

3.  R. Scott Bakker, The White-Luck Warrior

4.  David Albahari, Leeches

5.  Michael Cisco, The Great Lover

6.  Blake Butler, There is No Year

7.  David Anthony Durham, The Sacred Band

8.  Ben Loory, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day

9.  Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch

10. Peter Beagle, Sleight of Hand

11.  Umberto Eco, Confessions of a Young Novelist

12.  Jesse Ball, The Curfew

13.  Lev Grossman, The Magician King

14.  Carol Birch, Jamrach's Menagerie

15.  Glen Duncan, The Last Werewolf

16.  Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time

17.  Patrick Dewitt, The Sisters Brothers

18.  Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang

19.  Lászlo Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann, Animalinside

20.  Mary Horlock, The Book of Lies

21.  Anders Nilsen, Big Questions

22.  Stuart Nadler, The Book of Life

23.  Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers

24.  Justin Torres, We the Animals

25.  Gonçalo M. Tavares, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique

26.  Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

27.  Denis Johnson, Train Dreams 

28.  Amy Waldman, The Submission

29.  Javier Marías, Los enamoramientos

30.  Mercé Rodoreda, The Selected Stories of Mercé Rodoreda

31.  Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant

32.  Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

33.  Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox

34.  Moacyr Scliar, Kafka's Leopards

35.  Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

36.  Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones

37.  Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn

38.  Colson Whitehead, Zone One

39.  Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again

40.  Gary D. Schmidt, Okay for Now

41.  Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve:  How the World Became Modern

42.  Umberto Eco and Jean-Claudde Carrière, This is Not the End of the Book

43.  David Abulafia, The Great Sea

44.  Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name is Not Easy

45.  Manning Marable, Malcolm X:  A Life of Reinvention

46.  Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Prisionero del Cielo

47.  Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin

48.  Lavie Tidhar, Osama

49.  Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

50.  Thomas Frick, The Iron Boys

 In addition, there are three novels that may be finished by the 29th (my cutoff date for the overall list) that could crack this list, if complete by then:

Nick Mamatas, Sensation

Catherynne M. Valente, The Folded World

Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories

How many of these books have you read?  Which ones do you want to know more about?  Which one/s do you think will atop my list?

2012 shall see Faulkner Fridays

Shortly after the New Year, Gogol's Overcoat will launch with some content from both Paul Smith and me.  We are going to do a lot of different things with that blog.  One thing that I'll announce ahead of time, in case some want to read along, is a recurring feature called Faulkner Fridays.  For every Friday in 2012, I will be writing my thoughts on a Faulkner novel or short story/-ies.  Although I am a fan of his, I have not read all of his works, so I thought this would be the perfect time to read and review him in a setting where I can have a steady pace that should not overwhelm me too much.

Here's the planned schedule:

6 – As I Lay Dying
13 –  "A Rose for Emily" (likely a reprint of my review from 2011)
20 – Sanctuary
27 – "Barn Burning"

3 – Light in August
10 – "Red Leaves"
17 – "Shingles for the Lord"
24 – Pylon

2 – "Hair"
9 – Absalom, Absalom!
16 – "A Justice"
23 – "The Tall Men"
30 – The Unvanquished

6 – "Centaur in Brass"
13 – If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem
20 – "A Courtship"
27 – The Hamlet

4 – "A Bear Hunt"
11 – Go Down, Moses
18 – "Dry September"
25 – "Lo!"

1 – Intruder in the Dust
8 – "Two Soldiers"
15 – Requiem for a Nun
22 – "Death Drag"
29 – A Fable

6 – "Shall Not Perish"; "Elly"
13 – The Town
20 – "Uncle Willy"; "Mule in the Yard"
27 – "That Will be Fine"; "The Evening Sun"

3 – The Mansion
10 – "Ad Astra"
17 – "Wash"
24 – The Reivers
31 – "Beyond"

7 – Soldier's Pay
14 – "Victory"
21 – "Honor"
28 – Mosquitoes

5 – "Black Music"
12 – ""Crevasse"
19 – Flags in the Dust
26 – "Dr. Mortino"

2 – "The Leg"
9 – The Sound and the Fury
16 – "Turnabout"; "Artist at Home"
23 – "Fox Hunt"; "The Brooch"
30 – "Mistral"; "My Grandmother Millard"

7 – "All the Dead Pilots"; "Golden Land"
14 – "Pennsylvania Station"
21 – "Divorce in Naples"; "Carcassome"
28 – "There Was a Queen"; "Mountain Victory"

The novel order is taken from the publication dates of the Library of America editions (so 1930-1962 and then 1926-1929), and the stories alternate between sections of Collected Stories, the 1976 Vintage edition.  Let me know if you plan on reading along for all or part of these.  I hope this alternation (with a few longer gaps) between novels and short fiction will help prevent burnout.  I'm also considering doing something similar for Henry James' novels, short fiction, lit criticism, and travel writings, but that might transpire over 2012-2013 due to the longer period in which James was active as a writer.

November 2011 Reads

Better late than never, right?  Didn't read as much in November compared to other months (was busy with job transition work, my grandmother's death, and a few other matters), but I did review quite a few of these titles already.  Anyways, here they are.

438  Nikky Finney, Head Off & Split (already reviewed)

439  Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière, This is Not the End of the Book (transcribed series of talks between the two on the future of the printed book.  I highly recommend this.  I think this is not yet available in the US, as I have an UK edition)

440  David Abulafia, The Great Sea (one of the best histories of the Mediterranean Sea and its people that I've read in years)

441  Carl Phillips, Double Shadow (already reviewed)

442  Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch (already reviewed)

443  Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name is Not Easy (already reviewed)

444  Adrienne Rich, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve:  Poems 2007-2010 (already reviewed)

445  Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital:  Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution (already reviewed)

446  Franny Billingsley, Chime (already reviewed)

447  Vergil, The Georgics (poetry; translated; good, but not his best work ;))

448  Georges Perec, Les Choses (French; very good)

449  Manning Marable, Malcolm X (already reviewed)

450  Marcel Proust, Du Côté de Chez Swann (French; review essay in near future)

451  Shelley Fisher Fishkin, The Mark Twain Anthology (excellent Library of America anthology of writers' thoughts over the past 140 years on Mark Twain)

452  H.L. Mencken, Prejudices:  First, Second and Third Series (one of the best literary/cultural critics of the 20th century; excellent two-volume collection by the Library of America)

453  Aimee Bender, Willful Creatures (very good weird fiction collection)

454  Marcel Proust, A l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (French; review essay in near future)

455  Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio (the original version of the tale; good)

456  Mercè Rodoreda, Death in Spring (good, but not as good as her short fiction)

457  Hafiz, The Gift (excellent translation of one of the best medieval Persian Sufi poets)

458  Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Volume I:  Swann's Way/Within a Budding Grove (translation is adequate, but has not dated well)

459  Milorad Pavić, Priča koja je ubila Emiliju Knor/The Tale That Killed Emily Knorr (re-read; Serbian/translated; already reviewed)

460  Carlos Ruiz Zafón, La sombra del viento (re-read; Spanish; good, but the worst of his three adult novels)

461  Milorad Pavić, Unique Item - Delta Novel (will be reviewed sometime in 2012)

462  Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Juego Del Ángel (re-read; Spanish; already reviewed)

463  Milorad Pavić, Blue Book (review sometime in 2012)

464  Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Prisionero del Cielo (Spanish; reviewed already)

465  Umberto Eco, La Misteriosa Fiamma della la Regina Loana (Italian; already reviewed)

466  Umberto Eco, Тајанствени Пламен Краљице Лоане (Serbian translation; already reviewed)

467  Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (re-read; already reviewed)

468  Milorad Pavić, Drugo Telo (re-read; Serbian; review in 2012)

469  Milorad Pavić, Second Body (re-read; review in 2012)

470  Christopher Bollen, Lightning People (good 2011 debut novel)

471  Catherynne M. Valente, The Habitation of the Blessed (promising opener to a series that touches upon the Prester John legend)

472  Milorad Pavić, Sedam smrtnih grehova (Serbian; review in 2012)

473  Milorad Pavić, Siete pecados capitales (Spanish; review in 2012)

474  Eric Pankey, Cenotaph (good poetry collection)

With a week remaining in 2011, December has seen some progress on the reading front.  Last night, I passed 500 books read this year.  Should finish all of Proust in the coming week, along with two more Eco novels (I plan to have written reviews for all six of his novels by mid-January).  The Best of 2011 posts will start sometime next week, likely the 27th or 28th and running through the 31st.  Plenty to discuss there, I promise, including several books you may never see on other lists.  Having finished 115 books initially released in 2011 (and with a few more to go), I think my coverage might be somewhat comprehensive for the areas of interest I have, but then again, there's always more to be discovered later, no?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Twitter conversations influencing book purchases

Now that I'm out of work for a few months (unless I see a better-paying job before March, which is possible), I've had a lot more time for Twitter than I've had for 16 months.  I usually use it to keep up with certain news items, but occasionally some interesting discussions about literature will take place.  Earlier this morning, I was chatting with two Brazilian writers, Fábio Fernandes and Alex de Souza, about translation issues of stories going to/from Portuguese and English.  The talk shifted to certain poets.

Luís Vaz de Camões.

Antero Tarquinio de Quental.

Francesco Petrarca (surprisingly not available in Portuguese translation).

I was reminded that I needed to read more José Maria Eça de Queirós by reading their comments on certain Portuguese writers.

Then the topic shifted to how Camões was like the Portuguese Milton.  I noted that he was actually very popular in Elizabethan England and that Shakespeare (among others) almost certainly read him.  Then the topic shifted to other epic poets:

Torquato Tasso.

Lodovico Ariosto.

Matteo Maria Boiardo.

Lope de Vega (already owned an edition of his Spanish epic poetry)

And although I already owned some of these in translation, I ended up buying (most for free, some for $0.99, one for $4.99) nine of these in Portuguese or Italian editions.  Now I get to read (or in a few cases, re-read) these works and possibly review some, if not all of them, sometime next year.

Yes, Twitter can be a perilous place for reviewers/lovers of Renaissance epic poetry to visit and converse.  But at least I'm assured of several great reads in the weeks and months to come, all now stored on my Kindle for iPad app.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The problematic issue of graphic violence in fiction

This weekend, spurred by my citation of a post made at Requires Only That You Hate, a long discussion began over at the Westeros forums on "Violence, rape, and agency in the 'gritty fantasies.'"  As is the wont in many such discussions, the conversation got derailed toward discussing only one scene of threatened violence/rape, the one discussed in the first link.  It even got to the point where author Richard Morgan blessed us with his wise statements on the issue:

As a writer myself, I confess I’m pretty horrified at the drubbing Joe Abercrombie is getting here, first and foremost because the overall implication of the drubbers seems to be that certain things are simply off-limits to a writer, that said writer must navigate narrow corridors of tasteful should and ought - which to my mind puts us a short hop, skip and jump away from Satanic Verses fatwa territory.

But I’m also horrified because, frankly, you’d have to have a reading age of about twelve to believe that Abercrombie’s intent here (conscious or sub) is to browbeat lesbians for their temerity in not liking cock. You’d have to never have heard of things like dramatic irony, variable p.o.v, the unsympathetic protagonist, horror by implication, subverted trope, unspoken authorial critique, show-don’t-tell, all ‘at good shit. In short, you would, in literary terms, have to be a child.

Honestly, in the last ten years I’ve seen some astonishingly poor (and/or willfully obtuse) interpretative reading of genre text, but I think this one takes the crown. 

But despite the round-and-round nature of the often-derailed discussion, I think the core issue (or "core" to me at least, but then again, I was the one who initiated that discussion there) is the problematic issue of graphic violence in fiction.  I am not a pacifist; sometimes violence is a regrettably necessary last resort to aggressive violence.  But I have experienced enough over my professional career (which at times has involved me working directly with or teaching teens that have suffered emotional, physical, and mental traumas, including sexual abuse) to abhor graphic violence for the sake of "authenticity" in fiction (read "violence for violence's sake).

It is strange to read comments arguing that violence has to be included in order for something to be "real;" especially odd when the works in question are epic fantasies.  Yes, yes, I can hear almost the thoughts of those who are thinking, "Hey!  But if the setting is a violent world, shouldn't one reasonably expect there to be violence?"  This of course presumes that violence is somehow necessary in order for the story to be told, something that often is not the case (I doubt Patricia McKillip's The Riddle-Master trilogy would be improved with gore, explicit swearing, and a rape or three thrown in to show how "dark," "grim," and "gritty" the setting is). 

But let's humor that train of thought that says in a violent world, violence must be shown.  How explicit should it be?  Should there be an unrelenting amount of violence described in detail, down to the downy ass hairs of those being raped in every possible orifice?  Most people would probably say no, that there are limits to the effectiveness of depicting such violent acts.  Yet "too much" is a blurred line. 

For myself, I take issue with the need to use graphic acts as a stand-in for true character and plot development.  It is often lazy writing in which a character is shown to be "bad" or at least "not all good" by having him (usually a him in these situations, although not necessarily) go out and kill or rape someone in cold blood.  What often happens is that the person that suffers the violent act/s exists solely for that moment, like the infamous Star Trek red shirts.  Ironically, the things that Morgan decries in the quote above do not occur very often in these scenes.  Instead, it is just an explicitly-shown action in which the recipient (and sometimes the initiator) is interchangeable for purposes of the event because s/he has no real development.  Writers who take these deplorable shortcuts should be criticized for not developing something powerful from such exceptional, traumatic events of violence; settling for clichéd commentaries or a narrative shrug and a move on to the protagonist's next fuck/slaughter moment is what happens too often, with the victims being mute witnesses.

This is problematic because, to me at least, it cheapens the effect.  Murders and physical/sexual abuse are exceptional events; we frequently act shocked when we know someone who initiates or suffers from either violent action.  Yet many of us watch "body count" movies or read novels in which the death tolls mount and little to nothing affects the protagonist (or even the villain).  This distortion of the traumas explicitly revealed makes me wonder about the narratives and if there is something endemic about the genres in which this occur that numbs readers to what is truly shocking.  Perhaps for some, the true issue is not if these types of stories influence others to commit said acts but if they are just numbed to what many consider to be horrific, unconscionable acts.

Others doubtless have other takes on this.  What do you think is the issue here and how it should be addressed?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

New blogging endeavor and books bought for review there

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@Squirrelpunkd) already know this, but for those who don't, very shortly Paul Smith and I are going to be launching a new literary review/discussion blog called Gogol's Overcoat.  It will be an outlet for both of us to discuss at length non-genre fiction, non-fiction, histories, poetry, and the other arts patronized by the Muses.  There will be guest writers and several features that hopefully will make our site worth visiting regularly.

In preparation for that, I've been stocking up on certain books that I want to cover that deserve more than the 850-1200 word reviews that I typically write here (don't worry, I plan on keeping this blog updated frequently).  Here are some of the books I've bought the past week or so (including a McKay's run today) that will almost certainly be covered in some form or the other over at Gogol's Overcoat (minus the Easton Press edition of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Candida that I inexplicably forgot to photograph):

The first four books are part of the American Poets Project, published by Library of America (I have their Theodore Roethke edition ordered).  I am thinking of doing a monthly poetry feature, if not a biweekly one, since a love of poetry has been in at least three generations of my family.  Found two more Hesse books in German, so those will be read sometime in 2012, provided I free up the time to brush up on my German.  I was almost shocked to see the Portuguese edition of José Saramago's The Duplicated Man when I was at McKay's today.  Even more surprising was that it was only $1.50 (I rarely can get a Portuguese edition online for under $25).  I am thinking of reviewing several Saramago volumes, either for here or Gogol's Overcoat (or possibly both).  And yes, I picked up a beginner's level Chinese textbook.  I think it would be a good challenge over the next several years to learn at least a few hundred Chinese characters so I could make a stab later at learning how to read in that language.

I've also been buying a lot of new and used Library of America editions lately in preparation for a possible regular feature on Gogol's Overcoat.  I've read the majority of these stories and poems before, but I value the notes and presentation of the Library of America editions.

Notice the diverse titles published under the Library of America aegis.  The sermons have been interesting so far (ending with the sermon Martin Luther King, Jr. gave just before his assassination was chilling) and Ambrose Bierce was a delight to read.  F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of my favorite 20th century writers.  Haven't read any of Charles Brockden Brown's novels, so this will be a discovery for me, or so I hope.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Books that will not appear on my Best of 2011 overall list

Different people have different tastes.  If you hope to read a bunch of epic fantasies on my Best of 2011 overall list, you will be sorely disappointed.  I found this past year's crop to be rather disappointing as a whole, despite a very good middle volume from Scott Bakker (I see to like his middle volumes the best; hope that doesn't bode ill for his next book) and series closer by David Anthony Durham.  So with that in mind, here are 12 of the books that will not make a Top 20/25 (maybe even a Top 50) list from me and brief reasons why they will not be considered for even a longlist:

Joe Abercrombie, The Heroes (it was a dull and tedious read replete of the same old tired clichés that I've seen executed better by other authors; happened to be my least favorite work by him)

Daniel Abraham, The Dragon's Path (a bit light for a new series opener, although there is hope for the sequels to be stronger, as in his previous series)

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (novellas that should be too slight for major literary prizes are not making my shortlist of best fiction)

Gail Carriger, Heartless (good addition to the series, but at times the conceit was tedious to read)

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One (I grew up a jock in the late 80s and early 90s, so seeing this sort of setting glorified puzzles me, as the story is more suitable for a popcorn summer blockbuster flick than for any sort of weighty novel)

Steven Erikson, The Crippled God (better than the previous volume, of which this forms the latter half of the final sequence, but a bit too uneven for me to consider it for the overall best)

Maeve Gilmore and Mervyn Peake, Titus Awakes (Frankensteinish post-mortem revivals don't make for the best novels)

George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons (parts of it were wonderful, but much of it was dull)

China Miéville, Embassytown (the language conceit was overplayed in some quarters; the execution was lacking in the middle third to half of the novel)

A.D. Miller, Snowdrops (how this tepid suckfest of a novel made it on the Booker Prize shortlist still baffles me)

Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear (I've had the book for nine months now and still can't muster the enthusiasm to read it, so it certainly won't appear on the list)

Brandon Sanderson, The Alloy of Law (It was light-adventurish enough to divert, but not solid enough to linger in my memory)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The dilemma of writing year-end lists

In the 10 days or so, I'm going to begin writing a bunch of posts regarding my 2011 reading, with some concentration on 2011 releases.  Having done something in some form on this blog since 2004, it has become as much an obligation as it is an opportunity for reflection.  I am a surprisingly (at least to myself) conscientious reader in that I take note of what I've read and I look to see if there are any trends that span months or years.  Sometimes, the results of this self-searching are unexpected (like the precipitous drop in category SF/F books I've read over the past two years) while at other times there's nothing shocking (such as the number of non-English language books read usually ranges from 50-100 a year).

But the problem I face the most in writing out these observations is that it's hard to tell what my "core audience" is these days.  It was easy back in the 2004-2008 period, when I largely blogged about "core genre" works, particularly new releases.  But now, when the last fantasy-marketed book was read/reviewed in October and not many in that month or the preceding couple? 

Maybe that's an overly pessimistic view.  I know there will be very little to no overlap with what you might find on the more popular SF/F-oriented sites like The Wertzone (which I think is now the largest single-person SF/F blog I keep track of), Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, A Dribble of Ink, or others similar to them.  This is not a bad or good thing; it's just that my tastes are different from what I've seen covered on their blogs. 

What I have noticed in previous years is that some commentators who frequent multiple blogs seem to judge each blog's list by his/her previous familiarity with the books on it.  Using a hypothetical here, let's say a poster found Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear (a book I own but have not had the desire to read and likely won't this year) to be the best book, irrespective of literary genre, of the year.  If say Pat "ranks" the book as his 17th best book and Adam ranks it as his 5th (totally arbitrary numbers, mind you), that hypothetical poster might declare Pat's list to be garbage while praising Adam's, even if that were the only book on either list that this hypothetical poster had read.  Can you imagine the dismissals I might get when I not only admit that Rothfuss' book has not been read but that there will likely be very few, if any, "core genre" books on a possible Top 50 list (no, I'm not writing a list of that length; separate posts will cover the majority of the books that would appear on a top whatever list)?

Conversely, there are those hypothetical readers who hope that a particular reviewer's top whatever list will contain books they've only heard mentioned in passing, if at all.  Maybe that reader wants something different than Hack and Slash, vol. 20 and is willing to try Jesse Ball's The Curfew or Moacyr Scliar's Kafka's Leopards, for example.  Then maybe a top whatever list, or even better a series of related essays on books read, will intrigue that reader and get her/him to try some older fictions as well as new.  Perhaps one can read afresh Carl Sandburg's poetry or Sufi poetry. 

This of course brings the problem back full circle.  In order to attract any attention, a lot of effort has to be expended highlighting the likely "obscure" books, only for little notice to be taken by the majority of readers because they haven't heard of the books from their other, likely more favored, sources.  It truly is a dilemma in deciding how much effort should be spent highlighting works, as it sometimes takes the "trojan horse" approach of mixing the populist (and possible mediocre) in with the brilliant and likely obscure work.  One runs the risk of diluting the quality of the list.  Let's face it, if I were to have a list with Aimee Bender, Zoran Živković, Milorad Pavić, Thomas Ligotti, and Michael Cisco on it and then tossed in Terry Brooks and Terry Goodkind to make the list more recognizable to readers, the dishonesty in doing so would be so obvious to those who are at least vaguely aware of the first five readers that I would risk losing all credibility as a literary critic/reviewer.  Needless to say, if one were trying to sell books, it would be the heavy inclusion of the Ciscos of the world that would dampen bookseller confidence in promoting such a list.  Thus the world, like the worm, turns.

So what to do?  In my case, it'll be me writing a list for the "fortunate few" who might discover the authors I discuss long after their books are published.  Maybe there might be the odd decently-selling work on there (chances are decent one megaseller will be mentioned this year, something involving a city associated with a dragon), but almost certainly there will be a slew of books that defy easy categorization, except maybe for the epithet of "damn good book."  Hopefully, readers will be willing to pick up a few of the books I discuss that aren't being discussed heavily elsewhere.  But that's out of my hands, no?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Want to read my translation of Leopoldo Lugones' "El escuerzo"/"The Bloat Toad"?

I agreed to have my recent translation of Leopoldo Lugones' "The Bloat Toad" (it appears in ODD?, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer) published at Weird Fiction Review.  Go over there, read it, and leave a comment there (or here, if you want me to know that you read about it first here) about your thoughts on the story and the quality of the translation.  Shortly, there should also appear there a commentary on the translation that I just submitted.  It should appear by sometime Monday, if not later today.

And for those of you who want to read more weird, well there's a Book Recommendations post that went live earlier today as well.  Plenty of excellent weird fiction to chill your bones and make you fret about your environs this holiday season!

Edit:  The commentary piece is now live on Weird Fiction Review.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Fallout from last week's posts on reviewing/William Morrow letter

It seems that something I said in my two posts regarding the much-ballyhooed (and somewhat maligned) William Morrow letter to some online reviewers has struck a nerve with several people.  Checking through Google's blog search function, I see one of the School Library Journal's blogs has linked to my post, using the second post (which it seems so many of the other commentators failed to read) to open up a discussion that I found to be well worth reading, not just because her position is similar to my own.

Then a couple of large newspapers joined the fray.  The UK paper The Guardian's online column had the eye-catching title of "Are Publishers Putting the Squeeze on Bloggers?"  The columnist, Alison Flood, looks at several sides of this now-apparently contentious issue.  She notes (and I agree with her) that William Morrow is well within their rights to try to reduce the number of unwanted copies.  What the publisher failed to consider, she muses:

The problem is their understanding of the relationship between blogger and publisher – the assumption, as The OF Blog put it, "that the blogger reviewers will act as paid-in-kind promoters for the publisher". They may not be asking for a positive review, but they are saying that the books they send out merit being reviewed, and that this should be done in a time frame which fits their plans for publicity. As soon as you set limits on which books are reviewed and when that's a loss of the impartiality which is what makes books blogs (the best of them) so refreshing. If William Morrow want employ people to promote their books, they should be paying them.

 This lies at the heart of my initial reaction.  I have been in the past too visible of a blogger for there to be only dripples of review copies arriving at my door (some days, back when I was still moderating wotmania's Other Fantasy section, I would receive over a dozen review copies in a single day), so the trend has been for publicists to send via mailing lists a lot of unsolicited copies.  When wotmania closed in September 2009 and I changed this blog's focus, the rush of copies became too much, so I said as much here back in late October 2010.  I did have (and hope to have again shortly) a very demanding day job of teaching adolescents who were placed in a residential treatment center.  Working 40-60 hour weeks (and a few unpaid weekends this past summer) does not leave much time for reviewing books that do not interest me as much, even those which initially caught my eye from the enclosed press kits.  I may read very fast, but there's no way that I'm going to read 50-100 genre works and review them in any given month even when I am not working.  If other publishers want to adopt the troublesome part of William Morrow's letter and track requests and posting dates, they are well within their rights to do so, just as I'm well within mine to not request anything (which I don't do anymore).

The LA Times' book blog, Jacket Copy, had an interesting post a week ago on this issue, "Has book blogging hit the wall?  William Morrow's blogger notice."  There is a lot of food for thought in Carolyn Kellogg's piece, particularly regarding the nature of the relationships being established between publishers and reviewers such as myself.  As I said in my second post, I have no objections to being "dropped" if publishers think my stance on reviewing (no promises anything will be reviewed, only considered if sent to me) is not to their liking.  I'll say it again:  reviewing is an old craft that ought not to be controlled by those whose products are being reviewed.  I do not write reviews to please publishers (if they happen to think a review I've written is great, then swell, but my audience is not those providing review copies), but rather because I like to think I have something to say about the literature that I read (yes, I said "literature," the other L word that some don't like to admit to reading/reviewing).  My reviewing, whether it be the content of a singular review or in my selection of books to review, should not be unduly influenced by marketing departments.  One would like to think this does not occur in reviewing, whether it be for print or online publications, but sadly this is not always the case.

Now it's understandable that some of my positions on this issue are going to be contended, maybe even misunderstood.  I had the time today to read a few sites that were discussing the issue and I think some might need to reconsider what I said in both prior posts.  For example, I see someone thinks that:

Getting adversarial is no way to conduct a relationship, Larry. Perhaps publishers who operated like William Morrow, with a buffet style, have to shoulder some of the blame for not figuring out a better strategy from the get-go. Though maybe they were just optimistic about human nature. Fools!

Interesting reaction.  It is, of course, one that presumes that being "adversarial" means that I'm being rude, obnoxious, or any of those other pejoratives of choice.  I disagree.  What I advocate for myself (and would like to think some would do it) is to kick the tires, sniff the perfume, and not think that anything sent for review consideration is going to be great.  If a publishing firm were to expect me to review works (likely of a positive nature) for them at their convenience, then sorry, I will not do that, for reasons noted above.  It is odd to see this turned about around issues of "relationships" and "fairness," which seems to imply that the person writing this piece envisions a presumably "personal" relationship (not possible in my case, as outlined above) where I guess reviewers are supposed to "work with" publishers in a "fair" setting.

To that I just shake my head.  Somehow I doubt Roger Ebert worries about being "fair" or about his "relationship" with the various film companies when he goes into a theater and writes a review of some of the movies he watches each week.  I suspect past reviewers, such as H.L. Mencken or Edmund Wilson, just to name two of the more famous 20th century American critics, would be aghast at the presumption that reviewers should be so involved with publishing firms. 

What some people don't seem to be willing to discuss is the cynical notion of reviewing as cheap advertising for firms.  Yes, it's inevitable that some promotion happens whenever a title is mentioned (*cough*Herbert Rosendorfer's The Architect of Ruins*cough), but when there are more and more questions about how reviews come into being and whether or not reviewers are worried about "their supply," then I suppose there might be indeed something rotten in the state of Denmark.  As I said before and will say now, at this point I couldn't care less if every publisher cancelled sending me anything.  It wouldn't hurt this blog, its mission, or its content.  But others depend upon those copies in order to maintain their blogs' relevancy, since their focus is on what I sometimes pejoratively call "the new shiny."  They are the ones, I suppose, who have to have the "relationships" in order to survive and perhaps they are the ones who depend upon this perception of publisher largess.  If so, it's a perception that I consider to be repugnant. 

Ideally, online reviewers are treated as their print brethren, whose profession is the consideration (and subsequent review) of titles.  In reality, this is far from the case, in part due to the unevenness of the review quality, the types of reviewers, and their aims.  I consider myself (others might disagree) as a more formal reviewer; my initial exposure was writing critiques in grad school.  Others aim to be "fan" reviewers and there is nothing wrong with that (even if I dislike those types of reviews quite frequently due to the shallowness of their discussions of a book's merits and deficiencies).  What there should be in common is a respect of boundaries.  I am skeptical of those who "follow" publishers on social media; it seems to violate necessary boundaries between the people producing materials and those weighing in on its merits.  Anything that weakens that requisite divide leads me to wonder if the involved parties are losing sight of what reviews traditionally have signified.  Maybe the new way is leading to closer "relationships" where "fairness" and not the sometimes brutally honest commentaries will be the norm.

If that is the case, then I'll just resist that depressing scenario as long as I can.

Things to do to keep myself occupied

Can't go into details due to confidentiality laws, but as of this afternoon, I find myself lacking work in my day job (teaching at a residential treatment center) for the next 90 days or so.  No fault of my own, just a series of unfortunate events elsewhere.  I could apply for a transfer out of state, but that is unlikely, but again, I have a bit of free time that I've desperately wanted for several months now.


Here are some tentative plans: 

  1. Read and review more of the Library of America editions I'm collecting.
  2. Write more commentary pieces, even if it means some people will disagree vociferously.
  3. Translate a short story from Spanish into English that to my knowledge has never been published in translation before.
  4. Write a few more critical analysis pieces.
  5. Review more books from non-Anglophone countries.
  6. Promote Squirrel Appreciation Day (January 21)
  7. Review the remaining novels by Umberto Eco that I have yet to review.

That, along with some recreational plans, should keep me active enough until I return to work.  Fear the squirrels' minion, as he has hoarded many nu...err, books, that will be unleashed on the unsuspecting.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Library of America titles

I am often attracted to collecting certain well-designed books.  In addition to owning the majority of the Easton Press 100 Greatest Books, I have slowly been building my collection of Library of America titles, as the design, thin paper, the scholarship, in addition to the classic titles themselves, appeal greatly to me.  It's not a cheap endeavor, as a new volume usually lists for $35 or $40 (admittedly, most are $20-28 on Amazon).  Over the past three years, I've managed to acquire nearly 50 titles, some of them used, and I hope to add to my collection in 2012.

Although I had planned to wait until New Year's Day to announce this, I do plan on reading (and likely reviewing) several, if not all, of the Library of America editions that I currently own, in hopes that it'll draw more people to read these stories and to support a non-profit agency.  Below are the current titles through this month.  Bold means I've read it in that edition, italics for books owned but not read in the LoA edition, and plain means I need to acquire copies in the future:

Edit:  Found a used two-volume bicentennial edition of Lincoln's speeches and writings in excellent condition this afternoon at McKay's, so the total is now up to 50 books acquired for this series, plus poetry collections by James Agee and Carl Sandburg for Library of America's Poetry series.

Edit (5/24/12):  Total volumes owned is now up to 101.  Updated listing to include forthcoming titles through the end of 2012.

Edit (2/24/13):  Total volumes owned is now up to  109.  Updated listing to include forthcoming titles through the end of 2013.

Edit (1/11/14):  Total volumes owned is now up to 128.  Updated listing is current through at least mid-2014.

Edit (1/12/15):  Total volumes owned is now up to 136.  Updated listing is current through at least mid-2015.

Edit (1/24/16):  Total volumes owned is now up to 165.  Updated listing is current through at least mid-2016.

Edit (3/5/17):  Total volumes owned is now up to 196.  Updated listing is current through the end of 2017.

Edit (6/23/2018):  Total volumes owned is now up to 227.  Updated listing is current through the end of 2018.

4.  Harriet Beecher Stowe, Three Novels
7.  Jack London, Novels and Social Writings
8.  William Dean Howells, Novels 1875–1886
9.  Herman Melville, Redburn, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick
10.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, Collected Novels
13.  Henry James, Novels 1871–1880
14.  Henry Adams, Novels, Mont Saint Michel, The Education
15.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and Lectures
16.  Washington Irving, History, Tales and Sketches
17.  Thomas Jefferson, Writings
18.  Stephen Crane, Prose and Poetry
19.  Edgar Allan Poe, Poetry and Tales
20.  Edgar Allan Poe, Essays and Reviews
21.  Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad and Roughing It
22.  Henry James, Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers & English Writers
23.  Henry James, Literary Criticism: French Writers, Other European Writers, Prefaces to the New York Edition
24.  Herman Melville, Pierre, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Billy Budd, Uncollected Prose
26.  James Fenimore Cooper, The Leatherstocking Tales: Volume One
27.  James Fenimore Cooper, The Leatherstocking Tales: Volume Two
28.  Henry David Thoreau, A Week, Walden, The Maine Woods, Cape Cod
29.  Henry James, Novels 1881–1886
30.  Edith Wharton, Novels
31.  Henry Adams, History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson (1801–1809)
32.  Henry Adams, History of the United States During the Administrations of Madison (1809–1817)
33.  Frank Norris, Novels and Essays
34.  W.E.B. Du Bois, Writings
35.  Willa Cather, Early Novels and Stories
36.  Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie, Jennie Gerhardt, Twelve Men
37.  Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, Poor Richard, and Later Writings
37.  Benjamin Franklin, Silence Dogood, The Busy-Body, and Early Writings
38.  William James, Writings 1902–1910
40.  Eugene O'Neill, Complete Plays 1913–1920
41.  Eugene O'Neill, Complete Plays 1920–1931
42.  Eugene O'Neill, Complete Plays 1932–1943
43.  Henry James, Novels 1886–1890
44.  William Dean Howells, Novels 1886–1888
45.  Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings 1832–1858
46.  Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings 1859–1865
47.  Edith Wharton, Novellas and Other Writings
49.  Willa Cather, Later Novels
50.  Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters
51.  William T. Sherman, Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman
52.  Washington Irving, Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, The Alhambra
53.  Francis Parkman, The Oregon Trail, The Conspiracy of Pontiac
54.  James Fenimore Cooper, Sea Tales
55.  Richard Wright, Early Works
56.  Richard Wright, Later Works
57.  Willa Cather, Stories, Poems, and Other Writings
58.  William James, Writings 1878–1899
59.  Sinclair Lewis, Main Street and Babbitt
60.  Mark Twain, Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1890
61.  Mark Twain, Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891–1910
62.  The Debate on the Constitution: Part One: September 1787 to February 1788
63.  The Debate on the Constitution: Part Two: January to August 1788
64.  Henry James, Collected Travel Writings:  Great Britain & America
65.  Henry James, Collected Travel Writings: The Continent
66.  American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, volume one: Freneau to Whitman
67.  American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, volume two: Melville to Stickney, American Indian Poetry, Folk Songs and Spirituals
68.  Frederick Douglass, Autobiographies
69.  Sarah Orne Jewett, Novels and Stories
70.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Collected Poems and Translations
71.  Mark Twain, Historical Romances
72.  John Steinbeck, Novels and Stories 1932–1937
73.  William Faulkner, Novels 1942–1954
75.  Zora Neale Hurston, Folklore, Memoirs, & Other Writings
76.  Thomas Paine, Collected Writings
77.  Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1938–1944
78.  Reporting World War II: American Journalism 1944–1946
79.  Raymond Chandler, Stories and Early Novels
80.  Raymond Chandler, Later Novels and Other Writings
81.  Robert Frost, Collected Poems, Prose and Plays
82.  Henry James, Complete Stories 1892–1898
83.  Henry James, Complete Stories 1898–1910
84.  William Bartram, Travels and Other Writings
85.  John Dos Passos, U.S.A.
86.  John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings 1936–1941
87.  Vladimir Nabokov, Novels and Memoirs 1941–1951
88.  Vladimir Nabokov, Novels 1955–1962
89.  Vladimir Nabokov, Novels 1969–1974
90.  James Thurber, Writings and Drawings
91.  George Washington, Writings
92.  John Muir, Nature Writings
93.  Nathanael West, Novels and Other Writings
94.  Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s and 40s
95.  Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1950s
96.  Wallace Stevens, Collected Poetry and Prose
97.  James Baldwin, Early Novels & Stories
98.  James Baldwin, Collected Essays
99.  Gertrude Stein, Writings 1903–1932
100.  Gertrude Stein, Writings 1932–1946
101.  Eudora Welty, Complete Novels
102.  Eudora Welty, Stories, Essays, and Memoir
103.  Charles Brockden Brown, Three Gothic Novels
104.  Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1959–1969
105.  Reporting Vietnam: American Journalism 1969–1975
106.  Henry James, Complete Stories 1874–1884
107.  Henry James, Complete Stories 1884–1891
108.  American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King Jr.
109.  James Madison, Writings
110.  Dashiell Hammett, Complete Novels
111.  Henry James, Complete Stories 1864–1874
112.  William Faulkner, Novels 1957–1962
113.  John James Audubon, Writings and Drawings
114.  Slave Narratives
115.  American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, volume one: Henry Adams to Dorothy Parker
116.  American Poetry: The Twentieth Century, volume two: E.E. Cummings to May Swenson
117.  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Novels and Stories 1920–1922
118.  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poems and Other Writings
119.  Tennessee Williams, Plays 1937–1955
120.  Tennessee Williams, Plays 1957–1980
121.  Edith Wharton, Collected Stories 1891–1910
122.  Edith Wharton, Collected Stories 1911–1937
123.  The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence
124.  Henry David Thoreau, Collected Essays and Poems
125.  Dashiell Hammett, Crime Stories and Other Writings
126.  Dawn Powell, Novels 1930–1942
127.  Dawn Powell, Novels 1944–1962
128.  Carson McCullers, Complete Novels
129.  Alexander Hamilton, Writings
130.  Mark Twain, The Gilded Age and Later Novels
131.  Charles W. Chesnutt, Stories, Novels, and Essays
132.  John Steinbeck, Novels 1942–1952
133.  Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith, Elmer Gantry, Dodsworth
134.  Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky, Let It Come Down, The Spider's House
135.  Paul Bowles, Collected Stories and Later Writings
136.  Kate Chopin, Complete Novels and Stories
137.  Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1963
138.  Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1963–1973
139.  Henry James, Novels 1896–1899
140.  Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy
141.  Saul Bellow, Novels 1944–1953
142.  John Dos Passos, Novels 1920–1925
143.  John Dos Passos, Travel Books and Other Writings 1916–1941
144.  Ezra Pound, Poems and Translations
145.  James Weldon Johnson, Writings
146.  Washington Irving, Three Western Narratives
147.  Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
148.  James T. Farrell, Studs Lonigan: A Trilogy
149.  Isaac Bashevis Singer, Collected Stories: Gimpel the Fool to The Letter Writer
150.  Isaac Bashevis Singer, Collected Stories: A Friend of Kafka to Passions
151.  Isaac Bashevis Singer, Collected Stories: One Night In Brazil to The Death Of Methuselah
152.  George S. Kaufman & Co., Broadway Comedies
153.  Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, An Autobiography
154.  Theodore Roosevelt, Letters and Speeches
155.  H. P. Lovecraft, Tales
156.  Louisa May Alcott, Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys
157.  Philip Roth, Novels and Stories 1959–1962
158.  Philip Roth, Novels 1967–1972
159.  James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, and Shorter Fiction
160.  James Agee, Film Writing and Selected Journalism
161.  Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast and Other Voyages
162.  Henry James, Novels 1901–1902
163.  Arthur Miller, Collected Plays 1944–1961
164.  William Faulkner, Novels 1926–1929
165.  Philip Roth, Novels 1973–1977
166.  American Speeches: Political Oratory from the Revolution to the Civil War
167.  American Speeches: Political Oratory from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Clinton
168.  Hart Crane, Complete Poems and Selected Letters
169.  Saul Bellow, Novels 1956–1964
170.  John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley and Later Novels 1947–1962
171.  Capt. John Smith, Writings, with Other Narratives of Roanoke, Jamestown, and the First English Settlement of America
172.  Thornton Wilder, Collected Plays and Writings on Theater
173.  Philip K. Dick, Four Novels of the 1960s
174.  Jack Kerouac, Road Novels 1957–1960
175.  Philip Roth, Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy & Epilogue 1979–1985
176.  Edmund Wilson, Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1920s and 30s
177.  Edmund Wilson, Literary Essays and Reviews of the 1930s and 40s
178.  American Poetry:  The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
179.  William Maxwell, Early Novels and Stories
180.  Elizabeth Bishop, Poems, Prose, and Letters
181.  A. J. Liebling, World War II Writings
182.  American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau
183.  Philip K. Dick, Five Novels of the 1960s and 70s
184.  William Maxwell, Later Novels and Stories
185.  Philip Roth, Novels and Other Narratives 1986–1991
186.  Katherine Anne Porter, Collected Stories and Other Writings
187.  John Ashbery, Collected Poems 1956–1987
188.  John Cheever, Collected Stories and Other Writings
189.  John Cheever, Complete Novels
190.  Lafcadio Hearn, American Writings
191.  A. J. Liebling, The Sweet Science and Other Writings
192.  The Lincoln Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Legacy from 1860 to Now
193.  Philip K. Dick, VALIS and Later Novels
194.  Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Other Novels 1926–1948
195.  Raymond Carver, Collected Stories
196.  American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

197.  American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now
198.  John Marshall, Writings
199.  The Mark Twain Anthology: Great Writers on His Life and Works
200.  Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, Following the Equator, Other Travels
201.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Journals 1820–1842
202.  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Selected Journals 1841–1877
203.  The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner
204.  Shirley Jackson, Novels and Stories
205.  Philip Roth, Novels 1993-1995
206.  H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: First, Second, and Third Series
207.  H. L. Mencken, Prejudices: Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Series
208.  John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society and Other Writings 1952–1967
209.  Saul Bellow, Novels 1970-1982
210.  Lynd Ward, Gods’ Man, Madman’s Drum, Wild Pilgrimage

211.  Lynd Ward, Prelude to a Million Years, Song Without Words, Vertigo
212.  The Civil War: The First Year Told by Those Who Lived It
213.  John Adams, Revolutionary Writings 1755-1775
214.  John Adams, Revolutionary Writings 1775-1783
215.  Henry James, Novels 1903-1911

216.  Kurt Vonnegut, Novels & Stories 1963–1973

218.  Harlem Renaissance Novels: Four Novels of the 1930s
219.  Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs
220.  Philip Roth, The American Trilogy 1997–2000
221.  The Civil War:  The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It
222.  Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August & The Proud Tower
223.  Arthur Miller, Collected Plays 1964–1982
224.  Thornton Wilder, The Eighth Day, Theophilus North, Autobiographical Writings
225.  David Goodis, Five Noir Novels of the 1940s and 50s
226.  Kurt Vonnegut, Novels & Stories 1950-1962
227.  American Science Fiction:  Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s volume 1:  1953-1956
228.  American Science Fiction:  Nine Classic Novels of the 1950s volume 2:  1956-1958
229.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House Books volume 1
230.  Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House Books volume 2
231.  Jack Kerouac, Collected Poems
232.  The War of 1812:  Writings from America's Second War of Independence
233.  American Antislavery Writings:  Colonial Beginnings to Emancipation
234.  The Civil War:  The Third Year Told by Those Who Lived It
235.  Sherwood Anderson, Collected Stories
236.  Philip Roth, Novels 2001-2007
237.  Philip Roth, Nemeses
238.  Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac & Other Writings on Conservation and Ecology
239.  May Swenson, Collected Poems
240.  W.S. Merwin, Collected Poems 1953-1993
241.  W.S. Merwin, Collected Poems 1993-2013
242.  John Updike, Collected Early Stories
243.  John Updike, Collected Later Stories
244.  Ring Lardner, Stories & Other Writings
245.  Jonathan Edwards, Writings from the Great Awakening
246.  Susan Sontag, Essays of the 1960s &70s
247.  William Wells Brown, Clotel & Other Writings
248.  Bernard Malamud, Novels and Stories of the 1940s & 50s
249.  Bernard Malamud, Novels and Stories of the 1960s
250.  The Civil War:  The Final Year Told by Those Who Lived It
251.  Shakespeare in America:  An Anthology from the Revolution to Now
252.  Kurt Vonnegut, Novels 1976-1985
253.  Various, American Musicals 1927-1949
254.  Various, American Musicals 1950-1969
255.  Elmore Leonard, Four Novels of the 1970s
256.  Louise May Alcott, Work, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, Stories & Other Writings
257.  H.L. Mencken, The Days Trilogy, Expanded Edition
258.  Virgil Thomson, Music Chronicles 1940-1954
259.  Various, Art in America 1945-1970:  Writings from the Age of Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Minimalism
260.  Saul Bellow, Novels 1984-2000
261.  Arthur Miller, Collected Plays 1987-2004
262.  Jack Kerouac, Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Big Sur
263.  Reinhold Niebuhr, Major Works on Religion and Politics
264.  Ross Macdonald, Four Crime Novels of the 1950s
265.  Various, The American Revolution:  Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1764-1772
266.  Various, The American Revolution:  Writings from the Pamphlet Debate 1773-1776
267.  Elmore Leonard, Four Novels of the 1980s
268.  Various, Women Crime Writers:  Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 1950s:  Volume 1:  The 1940s
269.  Various, Women Crime Writers:  Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 1950s:  Volume 2:  The 1950s
270.  Frederick Law Olmstead, Writings on Landscape, Culture, and Society
271.  Edith Wharton, Four Novels of the 1920s
272.  James Baldwin, Later Novels
273.  Kurt Vonnegut, Novels 1987-1997
274.  Henry James, Autobiographies
275.  Abigail Adams, Letters
276.  John Adams, Writings from the New Nation 1784-1826
277.  Virgil Thomson, The State of Music & Other Writings
278.  Various, War No More:  Three Centuries of American Antiwar & Peace Writing
279.  Ross Macdonald, Three Novels of the Early 1960s
280.  Elmore Leonard, Four Later Novels
281.  Ursula K. Le Guin,  The Complete Orsinia
282.  John O'Hara, Stories
283.  Jack Kerouac, The Unknown Kerouac:  Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings
284.  Albert Murray, Collected Essays & Memoirs
285.  Loren Eiseley, Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos:  Volume 1
286.  Loren Eiseley, Collected Essays on Evolution, Nature, and the Cosmos:  Volume 2
287.  Carson McCullers, Stories, Plays & Other Writings
288.  Jane Bowles, Collected Writings
289.  Various, World War I and America:  Told by the Americans Who Lived It
290.  Mary McCarthy, Novels and Stories 1942-1963
291.  Mary McCarthy, Novels 1963-1979
292.  Susan Sontag, Later Essays
293.  John Quincy Adams, Diaries 1779-1821
294.  John Quincy Adams, Diaries 1824-1848
295.  Ross McDonald, Four Later Novels
296.  Ursula Le Guin, The Hainish Novels & Stories, Volume 1
297.  Ursula Le Guin, The Hainish Novels & Stories, Volume 2
298.  Peter Taylor, The Complete Stories, Volume 1
299.  Peter Taylor, The Complete Stories, Volume 2
300.  Philip Roth, Why Write?:  Collected Nonfiction 1960-2013
301.  John Ashbery, Complete Poems 1991-2000
302.  Wendell Berry, Port William Novels and Stories:  The Civil War to World War II
303.  Various, Reconstruction:  Voices from America's First Great Struggle for Racial Equality
304.  Albert Murray, Complete Novels & Poems
305.   Norman Mailer, Four Books of the 1960s
306.  Norman Mailer, Collected Essays of the 1960s
307.  Rachel Carson, Silent Spring & Other Environmental Writings
308.  Elmore Leonard, Westerns
309.  Madeleine L'Engle, The Kairos Novels, Volume I:  The Wrinkle in Time Quartet
310.  Madeleine L'Engle, The Kairos Novels, Volume II:   The Polly O'Keefe Quartet
311.  John Updike, Novels 1959-1965
312.  James Fenimore Cooper, Two Novels of the American Revolution

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