Sunday, December 18, 2011

year's end lists

So I read the lists of "year's best" whatevers this time of year, & inevitably feel out of it, behind the times, fuddy-duddyesque, etc. And I read the excellent Steve Evans's "attention span" feature on his Third Factory, where he solicits people to name their current notable reading, and I inevitably feel out of it, behind the times, etc. But for what it's worth, here's some notables that I've read over 2011 – not a year, I'm afraid, that I'm in any hurry to revisit.

While I revisited a lot of biography in the Spring teaching a biography seminar (Claire Tomalin's Pepys, Ray Monk's Wittgenstein, James Miller's Foucault, etc.), I haven't read many memorable biographies this past year; standouts were I suppose Ian Hamilton A Gift Imprisoned: The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold and Ralph Maud's cranky Charles Olson at the Harbor, something of an anti-biography – more specifically, an anti-Tom Clark biography.

History/intellectual history and philosophy were heavy on the ground, much of it on the Victorians: TW Heyck's The Transformation of Victorian Intellectual Life was eye-opening, & AN Wilson's The Victorians was great fun, and beautifully written. David Cooper's A Philosophy of Gardens, if a trifle dry, was well worth the slog.

I'm purposefully leaving out the bales of Ruskin criticism I've read this year, & singling out some titles of non-Ruskinian interest:
Ross Hair, Ronald Johnson’s Modernist Collage Poetry
Geoffrey Hill, Collected Critical Writings
Michael Löwy and Robert Sayre, Romanticism Against the Tide of Modernity
A. D. Nuttall, Dead from the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination
(The Nuttall book officially counts as an intellectual romp; from the Casaubon of Middlemarch to Mark Pattison, his supposed model, to Pattison's own scholarly interest, the early modern humanist Isaac Casaubon.)

I read more fiction than usual, for whatever reasons – comfort food, I suppose. Much of it was ephemeral in the worst sense: reread trashy science fiction & fantasy from my junior high years; stacks of HG Wells and Jules Verne. I did read Erskine Childers's The Riddle of the Sands, which I highly recommend. And after being prodded to read Penelope Fitzgerald's The Blue Flower by more than one poet friend, I finally buckled down and did so, only to find it transcendently beautiful & deeply moving. So of course I read four more Fitzgerald books: each one different, each one perfect of its kind: Offshore, The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Golden Child.

And then there's poetry. This was the year of the anthologies, two of which I read straight thru – Christopher's Ricks's Oxford Book of English Verse and John Dixon Hunt's Oxford Book of Garden Verse – and several others I'm at various stages of. But these were a few of the outstanding titles – but only a few – among the maybe 80 or 90 collections of poetry I read for the first time this year:
Rae Armantrout, Money Shot
Dan Beachy-Quick, This Nest, Swift Passerine
Caroline Bergvall, Meddle English
Sean Bonney, The Commons
Cyrus Console, The Odicy
Chris Glomski, The Nineteenth Century and Other Poems
Geoffrey Hill, Clavics
Joseph Lease, Testify
John Matthias, Trigons
Lisa Robertson, R’s Boat
Jay Wright, Polynomials and Pollen: Parables, Proverbs, Paradigms, and Praise for Lois
Astonishingly enough, I seem to have read thru ten volumes of the Library Edition of Ruskin this year. But for some inexplicable reason, that fact doesn't do much to lift me out of my current slough of despond.


undine said...

Thanks for posting these suggestions, especially the endorsement for _The Victorians_, which sounds like fun.

bill sherman said...

hmmm..Ralph Maud's Olson bio isn't really anti-Tom Clark, just anti-Tom Clark's bio of Olson, most specifically the TONE of Clark's book.