Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2017


I have the privilege every day of going to work at a place that I love and that has a long and rich tradition of education.  The Woodstock Academy, founded in 1801, is one of the oldest public schools in the United States and it has a simple yet profound Latin motto which reflects and respects this tradition: Respice Futurum– “Look back at your future.” (For the philologists out there, respice is a present active imperative, a compound made up of the prefix re (back, again) and the verb spicio (to look) and futurum is the accusative, singular of the noun futurum which is formed from the future active participle of sum.)

These two simple Latin words capture the idea that one moves towards the future while also reflecting on the past.  My husband likes to say that this motto is the equivalent of moving forward on a train while sitting in a seat that is facing backward.  I thought Respice Futurum is apt for a reflection on books as well;  it seems fitting to look ahead to my reading plans for 2017 while also reflecting on the types of books I have encountered over the past year and how they will influence my reading choices moving forward.

According to my list on Goodreads I read 105 books, a total of 24, 484 pages in 2016.  A few books were left off this list such as Pascal Quignard’s Roving Shadows and The Sexual Night. The Goodreads list also doesn’t include a few volumes of poetry I’ve read and some collections of essays.  And my list does not include any of the Latin or Greek authors I’ve translated or retranslated in 2016.   This was not a bad year for me, but not my best either.   The books in translation I have read have come from the following languages:  French, German, Spanish, Estonian, Russian, Italian, Bulgarian, Korean, Malayalam, Kannada, Hungarian, Swedish, Turkish, Slovene, Icelandic, Hebrew, Norwegian, Portuguese.

In looking at this list of lit in translation, I would like to explore more books from Asia and Africa which are not well-represented on my list.  I would also love to explore more books translated from Arabic which is a huge gap in my translated fiction.  If anyone has suggestions, please leave them in the comments!

Almost all of the books I have read have been published by small presses which will continue to be my main source of reading: Seagull Books, New Vessel Press, Open Letter and Deep Vellum, Archipelago, New York Review of Books and Persephone Books. 

My first read of 2017 has been The Story Smuggler by Georgi Gospondinov.  This is #29 in the Cahier Series and the first one I’ve read from this series.  I loved it so much that I went back and bought six more titles from the series, so there will be more Cahier titles in my future.

Gospondinov’s book The Physics of Sorrow is my favorite book from the Open Letter Catalog and one of my first reads in 2017 that I just started is another title from Open Letter, Justine by Iben Mondrup. 

A book that I have already started in 2016 and will finish in 2017 is The Collected Prose of Kafka from Archipelago Press.  This is a title that I am slowly making my way through and savoring.  Archipelago has managed to collect some of Kafka’s best short pieces into one volume.

I have discovered the works of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy this year and reading his extensive backlist published in English should keep me busy for a very long time.  Next up on my list of books written by him is his title on Sleeping.

Speaking of French writers, I am eager to read Pascal Quignard’s Terrace in Rome and All the World’s Mornings in 2017.

I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy of  Russian author Sergei Lebedev’s The Year of the Comet which is being published in 2017 by New Vessel Press.  I am very excited that I will have an interview with Lebedev coming up in an issue of Numero Cinq, for which literary magazine I am also privileged to continue to do production editing, to scout and recruit translators and to write reviews.   I am also looking forward to two additional lit in translation titles from New Vessel:  Moving the Palace (from Lebanon) and Adua (from Italy.)

I am always eager to read whatever Seagull Books publishes and thanks to their wonderful catalog I have discovered some classics of Indian literature.  I am also looking forward to reading Goat Days by Benyamin which is already sitting on my bookshelf.  I also understand that Seagull is publishing more works from Tomas Espedal in English translation which I am very eager to get my hands on.  A long-term, very long-term goal of mine is to read the entire backlist from Seagull Books.  I will do my best to put a large dent in that list this year.

This year I discovered Ugly Duckling Presse and I am eager to explore their backlist of poetry as well as their essays.  I have a copy of To Grieve by Will Daddario on my shelf already.  I would like to read more essays this year, so please leave suggestions for essays in the comments!

Finally, I would like to read more classics in 2017, especially Tolstoy, Pushkin and other Russian masters.  I have a collection of Tolstoy’s short stories and a copy of The Complete Prose of Pushkin sitting on my shelf that I have yet to read.  I also look forward to the reissues of classics from NYRB who is publishing more books my Henry Green.  I am hoping to have read all six reissued Green books by the end of 2017.  And, as always, I look forward to whatever classics from British, (mostly) female authors that Persephone Books has in store.

And as far as posts on my blog are concerned, I have always shied away from writing about Latin and Greek and classics, but my reading of Logue’s War Music has inspired me to continue writing about The Iliad and to do some of my own translations and interpretations of various Latin authors.

classics-booksA sampling of some of my most cherished classics books; the Loebs are nestled snugly on the bottom shelf.

Well, I could go on and on about my reading plans for 2017 or I could just go and actually get to reading.  Happy new year to all of my fellow bibliophiles.  I hope you also get a chance to Respice Futurum.

chair-bookroomThe cozy spot where much of my reading takes place.  It is overlooked by a print of The Roving Shadows cover done by Sunandini Banerjee, Seagull Books artist.



Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, French Literature, German Literature, Hungarian Literature, Italian Literature, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books, Opinion Posts, Persephone Books, Seagull Books

36 responses to “Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2017

  1. Jonathan

    I’m enjoying not having any set plans for 2017—there are a few possible ‘Big Projects’ if I get bored not having a BP on the go.

    I like your reading place, it’s very light.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Small publishers *are* great aren’t they? Some lovely reading there and look forward to hearing about what you read this year. And your reading look is beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My plans just blog more j only review 70 something books last year I. Put sure how many I read probably 100


  4. These are good plans. I am especially keen on the idea of seeing more writing about Greek and Roman classics here! That is something to look forward to.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am still debating how much a commitment I wish to make as the year opens but Arabic lit is on my agenda (along North African lit which may be French). I bought a lot this year but got to only one title. High on my current pile are Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal (I read Crocodiles in 2016), Rabee Jaber’s Confessions (Lebanese, I’ve had an ARC for a long time),Tayeb Salih’s Season’s of Migration to the North (NYRB—a classic I’ve had for a few years), and two prose pieces by poets: Mahmoud Darwish’s In the Presence of Absence (Archipelago, a self-elegy he wrote when he knew he was dying) and Ghassan Zaqtan’s Describing the Past (Seagull, because, well you know, it’s a Seagull).
    If I get ambitious I do have the first part of Nobel winner Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy on hand. And lots of upcoming titles bookmarked. Check out:

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m enjoying not having any serious plans for the first time in several years. Happy reading in 2017 – it sounds like have some great books ahead of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tony

    Some great plans there – hope you have fun following them (or not folllowing them!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tony! The best part about it is that I am not involved in any challenges or clubs. I stay away from those so I can have the freedom to read what I want. I am actually going to read the Seagull Book that you just reviewed first!


  8. It sounds like a terrific year’s reading. I’m looking forward to more Quignard and the newly translated Espedal, plus those surprises that lie in wait with my new small press subscriptions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Anthony. I am excited for you to explore the books from your small press subscriptions. I will be eager to hear what you think of the Open Letter and Deep Vellum books in particular. I think you will enjoy The Physics of Sorrow from Open Letter.


  9. No plans for me but I’d echo your enjoyment of small presses. Now that Penguin Random House seem to be ruling almost half the publishing world I think small houses are the place to look for originality. And I do like your husband’s analogy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Susan. Who knows if I will follow all of my plans. The only definite is that I will stay with small press books. And my husband comes up with a real gem every once in a while so I had to give him credit for this one 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Can’t tell you how much I enjoy the grammatical details of Respice Futurum!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Like Jonathan and Ali, I’m enjoying not having any fixed plans for my reading, so much of which is driven by my frame of mind at the time. Wishing you all the best for 2017 – it sounds as if you have lots of great books to look forward to.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Vishy

    Wonderful reading plans, Melissa! I got Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow after you recommended it 🙂 Hoping to read it soon. I want to get The Story Smuggler too – loved the quote you posted from it! Love your bookshelf! I have never seen so many Virgils, Horaces and Greek and Latin reference works in anyone’s home bookshelf. It gave me goosebumps! I also love your reading place – so beautiful and comfy with lots of light! Happy New Year to you too! Hope you discover many wonderful books this year!


  13. i really so love respice futurum as well, its grammar. your rooms look great with that wonderful relaxed blue, it’s very in omnibus requiem quaesivi et nusquam inveni nisi in angulo cum libro. espedal i plan to read as well and henry green. i do quite look forward to your latin translations…


    • I am a bit of a grammar junkie, it’s my favorite part of teaching Latin. Of course, my students find it boring but I am glad someone appreciates it! And you have captured the spirit of my room beautifully with this Latin. I ought to have some sort of a sign made with this sentence and hang it in my book room. I look forward to your thoughts on Espedal and Green as well. I loved your νεῶν κατάλογος post. I have to admit when I was reading Logue’s War Music I was disappointed that he left out the catalog of ships. Maybe if he had more time he would have worked it in.


  14. I like the Respice Futurum title too.

    Great plans, very structured, I admire you for that. I can’t do that, my job is full of planning and doing it for my hobby is just impossible.

    Happy reading for 2017, I’ll follow your reading journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. buriedinprint

    It’s always nice to hear about someone’s day job when it’s a positive thing (so often it’s the opposite): how lovely! And what a terrific reading year. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2017 holds on the page for you as well!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I love hearing about all the reading in translation that you do. I would love to read more of it myself, but there are so many things I would love to read that much of it ends up not getting read. However, every book counts, and I enjoy adding your recommendations to my list!
    Here’s to some more great reading in 2017!


  17. I hope to be a more regular visitor to your blog this year, Melissa, but for now I’ll just mention that your reading plans sound great (in particular your focus on small presses and Russian lit) and your reading nook looks great as well! Two Arabic-language classics that I recommend are Naguib Mahfouz’s Miramar (shorter but much more striking and subtle than his wildly overrated soap opera The Cairo Trilogy) and Tayeb Salih’s Season of Migration to the North (this one in particular really wowed me). Anyway, happy reading to you in 2017!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: Respice Futurum: Some Reading Plans for 2018 |

  19. Pingback: Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2019 |

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