Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2019

As I have mentioned in a previous post, The Woodstock Academy where I have had the privilege of teaching Latin and Classics for many years now, is one of the oldest secondary schools in the United States and has a simple yet profound Latin motto which reflects and respects this tradition: Respice Futurum–-translated literally as “Look back at your future.” This is a fitting way for me to think about and discuss my reading plans for the new year since my previous literary patterns help to shape the future.

In 2018 I was not content to read a single book by an author, but instead engaged in what I called literary projects that involved immersing myself in an author’s oeuvre while also reading whatever additional sources were available by or about that author (letters, essays, biography, autobiography, etc.) Here are a few such projects I have in mind, so far, for 2019:

Classics (20th century or earlier):

John Cowper Powys: I am half way through his novel Wolf Solent and think Powys’s writing is brilliant. I am also planning to read his magnum opus A Glastonbury Romance and his autobiography, aptly titled, Autobiography. I’ve ordered a copy of The Pleasures of Literature which should be arriving any day now and I am also thinking of tracking down some of his letters and poetry which, I believe, are all out of print.

Anthony Powell: A Dance to the Music of Time (I have yet to purchase the entire series, but am leaning towards the University of Chicago Press editions). I also found, last week at my favorite secondhand bookshop, the first volume of his autobiography, Infants of the Spring. When the time comes I will complete my collection of his autobiographical books. Finally, I’ve ordered copies of his non-fiction writing, Miscellaneous Verdicts: Writing on Writers and Under Review: Further Writings on Writers, 1946-1990.

Andre Gide: I discovered Gide in 2018 by reading his very short book, Theseus. I’ve put together a pile of his books that I would like to read in 2019 which include: Madeleine, Journals: 1889-1949, Straight is the Gate, If it Die: An Autobiography, The Andre Gide Reader and Pretexts.

H.D.: I saw quite a few posts last year about H.D.’s writing, especially her poetry, and her volume of Collected Poems which I’ve already been dipping into is magnificent. I also plan to read: Palimpsest, Nights, Notes on Thought and Vision, and Bid me to Live. And I’ve ordered copies of The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan and A Great Admiration: H.D./Robert Duncan Correspondence 1950-1961 which should both arrive any day now.

Dawn Powell: I’m especially excited about this author which will be completely new to me. I bought Library America editions of her fiction as well as the volume of her Diaries from Steerforth Press. (Thanks to @deckr_j on Twitter for this discovery).

Anita Brookner: I’ve been tempted for a while to try this author because of Trevor from The Mookse and the Gripes who raves about her books. Having collected three of her books I’m ready to dive in: A Start in Life, A Friend from England and Incidents in the Rue Laugier.

W.G. Sebald: I did a Michael Hamburger reading project this year and discovered that he was also a translator of Sebald. I would like to read all of Sebald’s fiction in the order that they were written and published. I haven’t bought any of his books yet, though, because I would like to research which editions and translations would suit me best.

Other possible books that are sitting on my shelves awaiting my attention include the six volume set of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time I received for Christmas, Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries, Alexander Herzen’s massive autobiography, Casanova’s 12-volume memoir, and Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I was thinking it might be a good idea to choose one of these as a summer reading project, but there is no way I could get to all of them! I would also like to explore Flaubert, whose Sentimental Education particularly captivated Kafka, and the last George Eliot novel I have yet to read, Romola.


Giorgio Agamben: The few books I read by him in 2018 captivated my attention due to his discussion of words and language. I am especially excited that Agamben has quite a backlog of translations published by Seagull Books that I have yet to read. I’ve also acquired Profanations, Karman and his magnum opus, Homo Sacer. I will slowly work my way through his shorter pieces before I even think about cracking open Homo Sacer.

Sergei Lebedev: His previous two novels, Oblivion and The Year of the Comet, are brilliant. I am eagerly awaiting The Goose Fritz from New Vessel Press which will be published in March.

Claudio Magris: I have yet to finish his book Journeying from Yale Press and I will also add to my piles his new book, Snapshots, translated for the first time in English and also published by Yale Press.

Kate Zambreno: Her Book of Mutter was intriguing and I am looking forward to her new book due out in April entitled Appendix Project: Talks and Essays

Clarice Lispector: The Besieged City is due out in April. Even though she is a 20th century author, this is a new translation published by New Directions.

I will also catch up on some of the publications from the Cahiers series which are always a delight. And, finally, I have my eye on new releases from Seagull Books, Fitzcarraldo Books, & Other Stories (publishing Gerald Murnane this year) and New York Review of Books which I won’t list here. But all of these publishers are wonderful if you are looking for interesting contemporary authors, literature in translation, or reissued classics.


In 2018, I’ve read more poetry than any other year and would like to continue that into 2019. I always enjoy the variety of publications from Ugly Duckling Presse. I’ve also been tempted by flowerville to explore Emily Dickenson which I haven’t picked up since studying her in school. My intention is to also read Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets and Hamburger’s The Truth of Poetry to enhance my understanding of and appreciation for different types of poets and poetry.

Of course, all of this is subject to change based on weather, mood, alignment of the planets, attention span, etc.

What is everyone else excited to read in 2019?


Filed under American Literature, Autobiography, British Literature, Essay, French Literature, Italian Literature, New York Review of Books, Poetry, Seagull Books

40 responses to “Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2019

  1. Your ambitions impress and exhaust me, Melissa! Sebald is wonderful. You are in for a treat. May your 2019 reading journey be rich, intentions and detours alike.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Rohan Maitzen

    What a varied and ambitious list! Of course I’m very curious to see what you make of Romola. I have really liked all the Brookner I’ve read. And Sebald is a writer I keep meaning to try: I have Austerlitz and The Emigrants ripening on my shelves. Happy 2019 reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ali

    What an impressive list of books. I will be interested to see what you think of Dawn Powell. I have tried several novels of hers over the years (Terry Teachout blogged in the past about her), but I abandoned one of her novels after a few pages. I have read Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, and I liked it so I would like to read A Start in Life, which I tried. And i will also be curious to hear about your impression of Romola (I have not read it).

    In 2019, I want to finish Daniel Deronda (I stalled out at about page 300), as well as The Golden Bowl (I stalled out about page 150). I’m currently reading The Transit of Venus, and I am enjoying it very much. Her writing reminds me very much of Elizabeth Bowen, whose The Death of the Heart I adore. I also want to work my way through Kolyma Stories, which I am currently doing, and I eagerly await the second volume.

    I also want to explore the work of Conrad. After I finish Melville’s Confidence-Man, which I’m also reading now, I plan to read Victory, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent. And finally I do want to read Broch’s Sleepwalkers and Boethius’s Consolation of Philsophy.

    So those are my plans. Phew! This was long. I’m not sure I’ll get to all these books. I’m a slow reader. But I’m making a concerted effort to stay off much if social media except for looking at Twitter for book suggestions.

    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a glorious list, Melissa! Many of my favourite writers are on it. The Dance to the Music of Time is brilliant, and I read it right after finishing Proust, because I felt bereft without a massive read in front of me! I see that you have a photo of H.D.’s Notes on Though and Vision, for which I was the in-house editor back in the days when I worked at City Lights, out in San Fransisco. I am starting a writing project now, about the French Symbolists and the life in NYC in the 1970s, so my reading is going to be somewhat circumscribed this year, but I am starting Murakami’s new novel, Killing Commendatore, which has already put me in the trance his prose usually does. I shall follow your remarks on your reading with great pleasure as the months go by.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Ali! Your own list is equally as impressive! I hope you finish Deronda. I quite liked it.

      I’ve always enjoyed Boethius as well. Happy reading and happy new year!


  4. Liz

    Wow, what an incredible set of plans. Your 2018 reading seemed spectacular to me – 2019 looks like it will be even more so. I look forward to continuing to follow your fascinating reading journey! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kaggsysbookishramblings

    Wow! Absolutely amazing reading projects Melissa and I’m mightily impressed. I’d be happy to sink myself into any of them and in fact I should feel prompted to finally read all the John Cowper Powys books I own. I shall follow your posts this year with great interest! 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think my (contemporary) historian partner would appreciate your school’s motto, Melissa. Happy reading in 2019!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What varied and impressive plans, Melissa! You’re sure to have plenty to keep you going there. I’m also hoping to make a start on A Dance to the Music of Time this year. It’s been on my horizon for a while, but the recent episode of Backlisted just might be the push I need to get going.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Goodness, it sounds like you are going to be very busy this year, Melissa, not sure when you will get any sleeping or socialising done! Your reading projects have inspired me to think a bit more like that in terms of my own reading (and I’m planning a bit of a read around the Paris Commune in May), so I may find myself following your Kafka example from 2018 or Sebald from 2019.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you do reread Kafka. It was such a wonderful experience to read his diaries and letters along with the bio. I find the experience of a project more pleasurable than just reading a single book.


      • I’ve been carrying most of my Kafka paraphernalia, i.e. books. short stories, letters, journals with me for decades (ever since the age of 14, when I first started moving between countries more frequently). So it would be easy for me to reread those, while also reading the Kafka biography. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get the chance to read it at the same time as you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m very interested to hear what you have to say about the bio!! Look forward to your posts on it, Marina!


  9. I’m seriously impressed by your plans, and know I would not be able to be so organised and committed. I do hope you enjoy the Anthony Powell series. Did you know there was an excellent TV series quite a few years ago?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderfully ambitious plans!
    I’m especially interested in your views on Brookner (who I love), and Sebald, who I’ve been meaning/planning to read for very long time – but …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! I’m especially excited about the Sebald after reading about Hamburger whi translated him. Do you have a favorite Brookner? Do recommend others that I don’t have listed here?


  11. I think «Leaving Home» might be my favorite Brookner … but really, any of her books will do when I’m in the right mood (= tired of our culture’s celebration of easy shallowness)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Impressive plans, Melissa! I will be wayward in my reading, as usual. But you might be heartened to know that, spurred by your reference, I started reading Dance to the Music of Time the other day. So far, so excellent! We’ll see how well I keep up with it.
    I hope you like Brookner. It took me a while to get her. In my 20s I was too callow to appreciate her. I think her first book (A Start in Life) is a great place to begin.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love your plans, Melissa! Gide, HD, Lispector & Sebald are favourites of mine. I also have my eyes on Zambreno’s essay collection, and you inspired me to grab a copy of The Pleasures of Literature last year – which I am loving so far 🙂 Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. How I admire your ability to make plans and stick to them! I’ve read very few of the writers you mention which makes me even more intrigued to see what you think. I do have one Dawn Powell novel,as I mentioned, and have read some Sebald. Although I have never engaged with one writer as intensely as you are doing, I must admit I’ve enjoyed reading Muriel Spark’s novels this year. As well as continuing with that I plan to re-read some of Doris Lessing’s work for the 100th anniversary of her birth this year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find that making a plan helps to really keep me on track and focused. I very much enjoyed your Spark posts this year and it was your posts that led me to her. Thanks for that.

      I have Lessing sitting on my shelf! Thanks for reminding me. I will have to add her somewhere into the mix.


  15. For Sebald, there is only one English translation of each book. There are different paperback editions, but I don’t think they differ aside from the covers.

    It would be hard for me to move him out of the “Contemporary” category. I read every book as it came out in English. When you pursue him, do not miss A Place in the Country, not fiction but of a piece with his fiction. Your kind of book I would bet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for letting me know about Sebald. I thought Michael Hamburger also translated him. Not sure which ones. Maybe his is the one available among those in English. My categories are very arbitrary. As I am reading Powys I would even put him in contemporary now.

      Thanks again and happy new year!


    • Hamburger did not translate any of Sebald’s prose, but rather two books of poetry, After Nature and Unrecounted. Since the latter was posthumous, it includes a little essay by Hamburger about his friendship with Sebald.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Craig

    Wow, what a list! Austerlitz is one of my favorite novels, and I have read a couple Brookner’s and liked both very much. I’m looking forward to reading what you think of Schmidt’s Lives of the Poets. I’m planning on reading two Spanish trilogies: Javier Marias’s Your Face Tomorrow, and Agustin Fernandez Mallo’s Nocilla trilogy. Happy New Year and happy reading Melissa.


  17. You’ve got some good Brookners there. I especially like mid- to late-period Brookner. Incidents in the Rue Laugier is mid-period and full of treasurable lines. Do try The Next Big Thing / Making Things Better. Oh, and Brookner loved Sebald. She was an early fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Poetry is wonderful. I read a poem the way that some people get up and take a walk. I soak in the sounds, images, unusual words, etc. It’s like looking at a painting in a museum. If the poem is going to be for you, you will know it and know whether to read on or linger longer with it.

    Liked by 1 person

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