Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The girls & I are back in the smug heat, leaving J. on her own in the bracing chill of Manhattan for the next couple of days. It was a nice jaunt, if a bit short. I managed to take in a grand performance of The Marriage of Figaro at the Met, to spend some quality time with a vast, nay overwhelming Kandinsky exhibition at the Guggenheim, & to ride down to the Strand and replenish – well, supplement – my already groaning shelves of next-to-be-read poetry books.

Two things I picked up were on biography – not biographies per se, but biographical criticism, the sort of thing I read with avid interest: Janet Malcolm's Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice and Hermione Lee's Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography. Both of them I read in hungry, greedy gulps – and ultimately unsatisfied gnawings. Sigh. I'm always on the hunt for the holy grail of biographical criticism, the single book that will capture the practical & theoretical joys & problems of the genre, the epistemological conundrums, the place of life-writing within the whole literary system. And while Malcolm & Lee offer lots to think about, they aren't it: indeed, they come nowhere close to Leon Edel's Literary Biography, Richard Holmes's volumes of meta-biographical essays, or even Malcolm's earlier book on Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman.

I guess I'll just have to write my own book.
It's time for year-end lists. I always hate these things when I read 'em from others, mainly because everybody's so hip & with-it, listing books they've read that have been published in the last three weeks, while I'm still laboring thru stuff written back in the benighted '80s. Oh well – with the proviso that I'm constitutionally something of a slow learner, a perennial catch-up-ball player, here's my list of things I read this year that blew me away:

To an Idea: A Book of Poems David Shapiro
Lingos I-IX Ulf Stolterfoht
Things on Which I’ve Stumbled Peter Cole
Ours Cole Swensen
Eschaton Michael Heller
Meteoric Flowers Elizabeth Willis
Emptied of All Ships Stacy Szymaszek
Goan Atom Caroline Bergvall
Fig Caroline Bergvall
Scribe Norman Finkelstein
Broken World Joseph Lease
Raik Ray DiPalma
Terminal Humming K. Lorraine Graham
Memnoir Joan Retallack
Uncle Silas Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Perdido Street Station China MiƩville
Ryder Djuna Barnes
Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan Jean Daive
How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation Marc Bousquet
Greater Perfections: The Practice of Garden Theory John Dixon Hunt
Marx’s Revenge: The Resurgence of Capitalism and the Death of Statist Socialism Meghnad Desai
Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay John Dixon Hunt
Heaven knows a lot of stuff has fallen thru the cracks, especially in fiction & nonfiction. (How embarrassing is it to confess you've first read Little Women or David Copperfield in your mid-40s? and how wonderful they were?) But a few things that stick in my mind.


BenFromBoca said...

Hey, Mark.

Off topic for this blog, but I hit the Strand myself on Monday night. When were you there?
Normally I have to weed out my bag before I get to the cashier; this time there was one lonely occupant. Thomas Eisner's For Love of Insects. Fabulous book about how the chemical defenses of insects were discovered during the 20th century.

Mark Scroggins said...

Hey Ben!

Dang -- I was there from about 7.30 or so thru about 9. Sorry I missed you. Opposite for me: examining my receipt on the train back, I discovered I'd gotten charged for something that wasn't in the bag, & that I didn't at all recognize.

Hey, you gotta paste a url into those FB notes, for those reader who don't have your blog bookmarked!

Archambeau said...

Bravo for the unhip reader! I mean, I'm still catching up on the 1980s, the 1880s, and the 1780s. And I've barely started with the 1680s and 1580s. Hell, I still have to finish the last book of The Faerie Queen.


Adam Katz said...

In terms of biographical crit, or meta-biography: have you considered Woolf's Orlando? Tho it's not really a biography, this frees it to comment on the role of the biographer (as it pretends to be one) from perhaps a meta-zone?