Read in 2008 (More catching up)

An ongoing list of my 2008 reading (the new entries are #s 9-12):

  1. The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book the Fourth) by Lemony Snicket
    • The endless, near-blind stupidity of the adults in the lives of the Baudelaire orphans (chased from home to home, guardian to guardian by the unscrupulous, Baudelaire-fortune-hungering Count Olaf) is becoming somewhat exhausting. The tone and design of the books is delightful; if only their narratives were less formulaic. [Tuesday, January 1, 2008 ***]
  2. Midnight Days by Neil Gaiman, et al.
    • Alas, I don't know enough about the background mythologies of these various comics worlds to appreciate fully this collection of short pieces Neil Gaiman penned for various more-and-less mainstream series. Still, like a lot of Gaiman's work (and I always enjoy him more as a comics writer than as a novelist) it was very pleasant reading. [Friday, January 4, 2008 ***1/2]
  3. The Odyssey: the Fitzgerald Translation by Homer
    • Homer is pure delight, the purest of pure delights - the kind that gets richer and richer the more time you spend with it. The only thing that keeps The Odyssey from the kleos of a full five stars is that it never quite achieved (for me) the sustained and consistent richness and density of structure that characterized The Iliad. Maybe it will ripen into my mind into a five-star, however. Or maybe the difference is that I expected to love The Odyssey as much as I did, but I was surprised by delight in my reading of the grim old Iliad. [Thursday, January 10, 2008 ****1/2]
  4. Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    • I took this along to the MLA (the national conference where I rushed madly from one job interview to another for several days in the Chicago slush) with the idea of having reading that would instantly distract me from my frenzied professional thoughts when it was time to make an attempt at sleep. It served its purpose very, very well. Unfortunately, although the language was always a delight, the plotting was not as ingenious as I expected. (I think this may be the only Jeeves book I have read, and I had read it before, so that may account for a certain... lack of freshness that hung like a miasma about the plot. On the other hand, my last reading appears to have been 15 years ago, so surely the miasma had had time to disperse since then.) [Sunday, January 13 ***1/2]
  5. The Odyssey: the Fitzgerald Translation by Homer
    • A second reading! That's right. I'm teaching it, so it paid to be thorough. [Monday, January 28 ****1/2]
  6. Homer's Odyssey: A Companion to the Translation of Richmond Lattimore by Peter V. Jones
    • And I also plead pedagogical thoroughness here. I have to say, however, that it is rare that I read classic works with a line-by-line critical companion, and I have gotten a little bit addicted to it (particularly when I don't have access to the linguistic nuances of the text's original language). [Monday, January 28 ****]
  7. Sacred Cows by Karen Olsen
    • I live in the town that Sacred Cows takes as its setting, a town that does not often inspire any literary interest, much less enthusiasm. Sadly, Olsen's incredibly detailed mania for the town isn't very well integrated into the plot or thematics (are there even thematics at work here?) of the novel. Often, a plot point would evoke a long digression about a restaurant that the heroine loves on a nearby corner, a restaurant which could only exist in this town, oh and by the way let me tell you in mundane detail about what items make an appearance on the menu of this place.... This happens not once, but numerous times over the course of the novel, and not once does the digression prove to have any relevance to the events of the novel. And bear in mind, I was a reader EAGER to have this town portrayed for me - positively elated by the prospect of living in the same literary world that I move through every day - and even I found it tedious. I can't imagine how people who don't live here got through it. [Monday, January 28 *1/2]
  8. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
    • This is my first John Green novel, although he and quirky sibling Hank have delighted me for months with their 2007 video blog project (Brotherhood 2.0). It was indeed an ambrosial whirlwind of a read amidst the madness of teaching prep, the job market, and dissertation-finishing. This YA (but not too Y) novel centers on a washed up prodigy as a painful dumping by his 19th girlfriend named Katherine prompts him to flee with his best friend on the iconic post-high school road trip. [Wednesday, January 30 ****]
  9. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
    • The less said about this most classic of Christie mysteries the better, I think. It is the most famous and lauded (for its ingenuity of plot) of the Hercule Poirot mysteries, but (sadly for me) I had heard this ingenuity described in vague but still too informative terms before I started the book. Thus I was able to anticipate the novel's outcome from almost the first chapter, which really dulled its appeal. I hope that my description is acrobatically equivocal enough to spare any of you who have yet to read it a similar fate. [February 5, 2008 ***]
  10. The Aeneid by Virgil
    • This one was for the speedily-paced "Epic and Novel" course I am teaching this semester, and it was a ... bombastic successor to The Odyssey. Aeneas' defining characteristic is, famously, pietas (or adherence to duty), and it seems to me that his epic requires the same qualities from its readers. Nonetheless, there is much to admire in the intricacies of Virgil's narrative structures and strategies, even if they are more insistent and less, hm, multifariously ingenious than Homer's. [February 10, 2008]
  11. Set in Stone by Linda Newbery
    • Newbery's young adult novel, which won what was then called the Whitbread Children's Book Award in 2006, was a real pleasure to read. It fools the adult reader (or the adult reader who also reads classic country house fiction) into assuming that it is a derivative YA variation on its generic intertexts, Jane Eyre and The Turn of the Screw, setting us up with a prim and almost homely governess (whose name is Charlotte, no less) and a back story that includes a sexually charged pair of dismissed servants. But while it is playing you off between these two famous influences, it is weaving quite a different tale.... Come to think of it, it is also rather like Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, both in its complex structure that relies on multiple narrative voices (although nowhere near as complex as Collins's devices) and in its main characters (an art tutor and a self-effacing older sister figure). Hmm. [February 13, 2008 ****]
  12. The Inferno by Dante
    • The next in line on my course syllabus for epic. I have to say that each work we have read has mapped itself on to my life in some way, and we read The Inferno while I was in the midst of the mad final stages of completing my full, penultimate dissertation draft. It was truly infernal. Dante's world is a grim and punishing one, with scenes of graphic intensity that can't be matched by any modern horror film, and of scatological imagery that a thirteen year old boy would find it hard to rival. It is also, more fascinatingly, a work that is obsessed with the seductive, absorptive power of literature, most famously in the episode of Paolo and Francesca, two lovers who were drawn into romance by reading about Lancelot and Guinevere (word has it that Rodin's The Kiss depicts Dante's famous lovers). [February 19, 2008 ***1/2]
  13. What will be next? Weight? Don Quixote? Who knows!

One Response so far.

  1. Great list so far! Any list that includes both Homer and PG Wodehouse is a winner! Updates?

    By the way, we are in The Complete Booker together. So today is my day to check out the blogs of all my fellow participants. What an interesting and creative bunch of fellow readers! Keep up the good work!

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