Category Archives: Favorites

Respice Futurum: Reading Plans for 2017

books-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.

 

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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

My Literary jouissance of 2016

This year has been a tough one for many reasons.  It is hard to believe that there could be a “best of” list for anything related to 2016 and I really wasn’t going to bother making a book list.  But Grant from 1st Reading  twisted my arm a bit and I was reminded that if there is one thing that kept me moving forward in 2016 it was the plethora of fantastic books I came across this year.

The French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, in his most recent book entitled Coming, explores the French word jouissance (pleasure) and the similarities between sexual pleasure and artistic pleasure.  Sexual jouissance and orgasm are irresistible desires for humans which we can never fully satisfy and thus we are constantly coming back and reaching for The Other.  Nancy argues that even when an artist produces a jouissance in his or her viewers, there is always a constantly renewed dissatisfaction that keeps the artist working again and again.  I would extend Nancy’s argument about renewed desire and satisfaction to include Bibliophiles such as myself who wallow in the aftermath of a great piece of literature.  We, as avid readers, are always attempting to renew that high, that euphoria, that bliss which slowly creeps up on us when we close the last page of a great book.  Some of us, after a good read, might even have the same expression on our faces as Caravaggio’s Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene which is depicted on the cover of Nancy’s book.  So the list of books below were the ones that brought me jouissance this year; or if I may be so bold as to say they were the standout books that caused me to experience a literary orgasm.

coming

Two Lines 25 is published by Two Lines Press and this 192-page volume contains fascinating literature translated from Bulgarian, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Russian and Spanish.  What excited me most about this collection is that it introduced me to the philosophy and writings of Jean-Luc Nancy.

The writing of Jean-Luc Nancy is one of my favorite literary and philosophical discoveries this year.  I have read three of his books: Corpus, Listening and Coming.  His philosophy explores what it means to be human and he deals with subjects of touching, listening, desiring and loving.  My review of Coming will be out next month and I have so many thoughts about this slim volume that is only 168 pages.

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev is a haunting reflection on what life was like for the author during the years of the Soviet Union.  Lebedev’s prose is dense and poetic and so thoughtful that I found myself rereading entire sections of the book multiple times.  I am very excited that Lebedev has another novel forthcoming from New Vessel Press entitled The Year of the Comet.

War Music by Christopher Logue is a book that I dismissed as soon as I saw it in the FS&G catalog because I don’t usually read any time of modern retellings of Ancient myths.  But Anthony at Times Flow Stemmed had such great things to say about it that I decided to give it a try and I am so glad that I did.  I have so many things to say just about the first 50 pages of this book that I am not sure how I am going to handle a review.  I am thinking of doing several short pieces on each section of Logue’s poem.  As far as retellings are concerned, I also discovered Christa Wolf based on his suggestion and I thoroughly enjoyed her Medea and Cassandra.

Seagull Books Catalog.  It’s unusual to find a catalog on a best of list, but the one that Seagull publishes each year is very special.  It includes writing from authors, translators and even bloggers from all over the world.  This year I was invited to contribute to the catalog and some of my favorite literary bloggers also have pieces in the catalog.  Selections from Roughghosts, Times Flow Stemmed,   Tony’s Reading List and of shoes ‘n ships can all be found in this fabulous collection of art and literature.

The Brother by Rein Raud is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, short book that uses the plot structure of a western as an allegory for demonstrating the balance of good and evil in the world. It my favorite title from Open Letters this year whose books are fantastic.

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes is a skillfully written and poetic novel which serves as a fictional biography of the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. The ways in which he must navigate his life and his art around the Soviet regime are heartbreaking.

The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist is a true literary book that reads like philosophy, meditation, autobiography and parable. Sometimes we are given a very specific story from the author’s life, other times we are given an unclear stream-of-consciousness narrative, and still at other times we encounter a list of questions that the author poses on an entire page of the book. Enquist gives us the totality of a life that includes pivotal childhood memories, a bout of alcoholism that nearly destroys him, and the reflection of his elderly days during which he is waiting by the river to be taken to the other side. For anyone who enjoys serious literary fiction this book is a must-read. So far the English translation has only been published in the U.K. I am hoping it will also be available here in the U.S. This is a book that I look forward to reading multiple times.

A Lady and Her Husband by Amber Reeves from Persephone Books is a charming and entertaining look into the life of a middle-aged British couple that has been married for twenty-seven years. This book was written in 1914 so it brings up many political and social issues that were relevant at the turn of the last century and which continue to be discussed into the 21st Century. Debates that have taken place during the recent elections in the U.S. have reminded us that women are still paid less than their male counterparts, the minimum wage for workers continues to be too low, and millions of Americans still do not have access to proper healthcare.

Berlin-Hamlet: Poems by Szilárd Borbély is my favorite collection of poetry this year published by NYRB Poetry.  The layers of imagery, references and allusions to great figures like Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Attila József and Erno Szép are stunning. I find it so sad and tragic that the author succumbed to his deep sense of sadness and took his own life.

American Philosophy: A Love Story by John Kaag is another work of non-fiction that was one of my favorites this year.  Kaag’s journey from Hell to Redemption in his own personal life via the 10,000 books in Ernest Hocking’s personal library gave me an entirely new appreciation for American philosophers. Kaag also reminds us of the amazing resiliency of the human spirit and that no matter what we might suffer we must keep moving forward.

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, New York Review of Books Poetry, Nonfiction, Persephone Books, Philosophy, Poetry, Russian Literature, Seagull Books

2015: A Banner Year for Indie Presses

I have been very quiet on the blog for the last couple of weeks because decking the halls and wrapping the gifts have taken up much of my time.  But like my fellow bloggers on the web, I have been thinking about my list of favorite books for 2015.  As I was looking through my reviews and thinking about all of the fantastic books I have read throughout the year, I immediately noticed a similarity among the books: most of them are published by independent presses.  I have gravitated more and more to independent press releases and have come to the point at which I seek out books from these brave, hardworking and smart publishers.  So here is my list for 2015.

Indie Press Favorites for 2015:
I have to start out with one of the very first small press books I read in 2015 and absolutely adored and that is Guys Like Me from New Vessel Press.  When I read this book I was so moved by its simple, character driven plot that I wanted to read anything else I could get my hands on by this publisher.  And I was not Guys Like Medisappointed.  I have read many of the books in their catalogue and I would add two more of their titles to my 2015 favorites list as well:  I Called Him Necktie and Alexandrian Summer.  If you want books with interesting characters and thought-provoking, emotional themes then I highly recommend giving these titles a try.

Next up, I have on  my list two titles from Gallic BooksGeorge’s Grand Tour and Nagasaki.  Gallic Books was founded in 2007 and it’s mission is to find the best books written in French and make them available to the English-speaking world.  Both of these titles will warm your heart and restore your faith in humanity.  They are actually great books to read around the holidays.Nagasaki

The Physics of Sorrow appealed to me because of the parallels drawn between the main character in the book and the Greek mythological figure of the Minotaur.  However, I learned so much more in this book than I ever expected.  The lasting effects of communism on a country like Bulgaria are astounding.  This book made me reflect on the fact that as Americans we oftentimes take our freedom for granted and we forget what citizens of countries like Bulgaria suffered under decades of oppressive regimes.  This title is published by Open Letter and since reading this I have been very excited to explore their wide range of translated titles.

Speaking of communism and its aftermath, another favorite title of mine this year was Calligraphy Lesson, which is actually a collection of short stories.  In this Calligraphy Lessoncollection, Shishkin, one of Russia’s most famous contemporary authors, offers stories about himself and various members of his family and the devastating impact of Soviet rule had on their lives for generations.This title is brought to us by Deep Vellum , which has a catalogue rich with titles in translation from all over the world.

A list of small presses with fantastic titles published in 2015 would not be complete without a mention of a  Melville House title.  You might have heard of them because of their famous Twitter war with Penguin Random House.  If you haven’t read this little exchange, it is definitely worth a quick look for the hilarious jokes and barbs.  My first introduction to their books was through the novel The Scapegoat.  This novel is translated from the Greek and not only contains an interesting murder mystery, but it also teaches us an important lesson about what we can learn from history.  In addition,  Melville House has also published a fantastic collection of classic novellas which are definitely worth a look.  I have bought and reviewed several titles from their novella collection this year as well.

I must give a nod to Peirene Press, which I discovered by reading White Hunger.  This small British press specializes in publishing novellas translated into Looking Glass SistersEnglish.  Their books may be small, but they pack a powerful, emotional punch.  One of the best books of the year, in my humble opinion, is their novella The Looking Glass Sisters.  This book did not get as much attention as I think it should have; it is one of those reads where you think about its plot and characters long after you close the last page.

And the final independent press that I discovered late in the year thanks to Joe over at Roughghosts, is Istros Books.  I would say that their novel Dry Season is one of my favorites of the entire year.  Since finishing this book I have acquired several more of their titles which I am very excited to read and review in 2016.  Istros specializes in translating fiction from Eastern Europe.

There are two very special small publishers that I must mention from whose catalogues I own many, many books.  These two publishers deserve their own special categories as they have entire shelves on my bookcases dedicated to their titles.

Persephone Books:
Original-Greenery-Street-cover-422x600A friend of mine, who is always spot on with his recommendation for me, turned me on to Persephone Books.  Persephone is an Independent British publisher that specializes in reissuing lost classics which are mostly written by female authors.  I fell in love with the first book I read from them, Greenery Street, and even since I have read one or two of their books per month.  I just can’t get enough of them.  It was very difficult to come up with only a couple of my favorites from 2015 but I have to go with Greenery Street and Patience.  Both books are funny, sweet and so well-written.   Persephone has quite an extensive catalogue and I would eventually like to work my way through all of their books.  There will most definitely be many more Persephone reviews to come in 2016.

 

New York Review of Books Classics:
AkenfieldThe first book I read from the NYRB classics collection was Stoner and ever since then I cannot get enough of their books.  This year I once again read several titles from their catalogue.  The Door, a book translated from the Hungarian which has been on many top ten book lists of the year, was also one of my favorites.  I would also add two additional books to my favorites list which they published in 2015.  Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village by Blythe was on of my favorite non-fiction books of 2015.  This book gives us a glimpse into all the of aspects of an English village in the 20th Century.  This is a must read for anyone who is a fan of British Literature.  The final book on my list for 2015 from NYRB classics is  Ending Up by Kingsley Amis.  This book is absolutely hilarious as it chronicles the final days of a group of septuagenarian roommates.  I have big plans to review several more of the NYRB books in 2016!

That pretty much wraps it up for me as far as 2015 is concerned.  In the new year I have titles on my TBR piles that include books from all of these Indie Presses.  Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Io Saturnalia and Happy New Year!

-Melissa, The Book Binder’s Daughter

 

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Literature in Translation, Literature/Fiction, New York Review of Books, Nonfiction, Novella, Opinion Posts, Persephone Books, Short Stories

Review: Stoner 50th Anniversary Edition by John Williams

I received an advance review copy of this title from New York Review of Books.

My Review:
Stoner 50thFor those of you that are not new to my blog, you might have noticed that this book has a place in my “favorites” section. In this book we are introduced to William Stoner who is born at the turn of the century into a very poor farm family in rural Missouri.   Stoner would have also become a farmer like his father and when he is given a scholarship to the state university, he fully intends to study agriculture.  But through the influence of a tough but inspiring English professor, Stoner changes his major to English and he himself becomes a University English professor.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed most about the book is Stoner’s contemplation about what it means to be a good teacher. He also doesn’t always play the university politics game and his career suffers for it.  He is forced to teach Freshman English courses over and over again and he does so in a stoic manner without protest.  Whether he is in a graduate seminar class or a beginning Freshman English class he always gives his best teaching to his students.

Stoner meets a charming young woman at the home of his professor and he immediately decides that he wants to marry her.  He courts Edith for about two weeks and they have a modest wedding ceremony at her parent’s house.  But Edith soon reveals her mental instability and Stoner realizes very quickly that his marriage is a miserable failure.   But Stoner never even contemplates leaving Edith and instead he endures a miserable life at home with a wife who is crazy and unpredictable. I was glad to see that at one point in the book, though, he does find real love and intimacy, which I think is what he craves all along.

The prose in this book is exceptionally elegant. This is one of those books that my thoughts keep wandering to over and over. It makes one contemplate so many different ideas: career, family, love, marriage, and even death.  The 50th anniversary edition issued by the New York Review of Boks is a hardcover book with an introduction by John McGahern.  Even if you have already read Stoner on the Kindle or in the original paperback, this beautiful hardcover edition is very special and worth having on one’s bookshelf.

About The Author:
John WilliamsJohn Edward Williams was born on August 29, 1922, in Clarksville, Texas, near the Red River east of Paris, Texas and brought up in Texas. His grandparents were farmers; his stepfather was a janitor in a post office. After flunking out of junior college and holding various positions with newspapers and radio stations in the Southwest, Williams enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a half years as a sergeant in India and Burma. Several years after the war, Williams enrolled in the University of Denver, where he received his B.A. in 1949 and an M.A. in 1950. During this period, his first novel, Nothing But the Night, was published (1948), and his first volume of poems, The Broken Landscape, appeared the following year. In the fall of 1950, Williams went to the University of Missouri, where he taught and received a Ph.D. in 1954. In the fall of 1955, Williams took over the directorship of the creative writing program at the University of Denver, where he taught for more than 30 years. Williams’s second novel, Butcher’s Crossing, was published by Macmillan in 1960, followed by English Renaissance Poetry, an anthology published in 1963 by Doubleday which he edited and for which he wrote the introduction. His second book of poems, The Necessary Lie, appeared in 1965 and was published by Verb Publications. In 1965 he became editor of University of Denver Quarterly (later Denver Quarterly) until 1970. In 1965, Williams’s third novel, Stoner, was published by Viking Press. It has been recently been re-issued by The New York Review of Books. His fourth novel, Augustus, was published by Viking Press in 1973 and won the prestigious National Book Award in 1973 and remains in print.

The critic Morris Dickstein has noted that, while Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and Augustus are “strikingly different in subject,” they “show a similar narrative arc: a young man’s initiation, vicious male rivalries, subtler tensions between men and women, fathers and daughters, and finally a bleak sense of disappointment, even futility.” Dickstein called Stoner, in particular, “something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away.”

After retiring from the University of Denver in 1986, Williams moved with his wife, Nancy, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he resided until he died of respiratory failure on March 3, 1994. A fifth novel, The Sleep of Reason, was left unfinished at the time of his death

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Giveaway: Austen in August-Pride and Prejudice Novel Journal

I received a box of beautiful and unique books and journals from Thunder Bay Press. Their selection of journals and classic books make great gifts for those who love literature, writing and journaling. For the Austen in August event hosted by Adam at  Roof Beam Reader I am giving away one Pride and Prejudice novel journal (US only).

Novel Journals:

Novel JournalAs a blogger I am always looking for journals in which to scribble my thoughts about books. I have a scattered collection of notebooks and I was thrilled to receive the journals from Thunder Bay Press so I could better organize my reviews. The sturdy, heat burnished covers ensure that the pages are not easily ripped and if I spill a beverage on the journal then the paper is still protected.

The durable nature of these journals, however, is not their most notable feature. Each journal contains the lines of a famous novel in tiny print. The lines of print serve as the lines one which to write in the journal. This would make a fabulous gift for anyone who likes to write and appreciates classic literature. Thunder Bay Press has a large collection of novel journals which include Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations and TheJournal Text Adventures Huckleberry Finn. To see a complete list of journals that are available please visit this link: http://blog.thunderbaybooks.com/2015/03/novel-journals/

 

Giveaway:

I am giving away one Pride and Prejudice novel journal, just like the one pictured above. It contains the lines of Austen’s famous novel in small print.  To enter:

  •  Leave a comment below and tell me what your favorite Austen novel is.
  • You must also be signed up for the Austen in August event on Roof Beam Reader.
  • The giveaway runs from August 5th through August 12th.
  • I will choose one random winner who will be notified via e-mail.
  • The winner will have 48 hours to respond with a valid U.S. mailing address.
  • Open to U.S. residents only

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Favorites, Giveaways