Read It, Sam…Then Read It Again!

Readitsam

My Reader’s Block, a delightful blog, is sponsoring a rereading challenge for the year 2016.    Even though it is late in the year, I aim to the level of “Living in the Past”–rereading 16 or more books.  I have a lot of gaps in my reading, but rereading is almost always a soothing anodyne and antidote to those bodice-rippers praised too fulsomely by the New York Times Book Review.

So here I go:

Reread 1:  PNIN by Vladimir Nabokov.

I can’t get over the wonderfulness of the squirrels.

There are 13 encounters of various kinds with squirrels in PNIN by Nabokov. Pnin is a Russian emigre who has fled from communism and has ended up as an adjunct professor in the USA. Most people make fun of him as an “elderly” (although he is in his early 50’s) absent minded professor. He is very genial and willing to laugh at himself. But in case you think that the man is a joke, as most of the people around him do, consider the themes of deracination and WWII. Pnin has lost his first love and family members to concentration camps. He is extremely generous and the book is filled with the contrast between the casual joking or cruelty of other people towards the bald man and the reality of his life: one lived with generosity towards others, one of sacrifice and loss, one of kindness to all.

 PNIN also is a linguistic tour de force. If you like puns and word play, Nabokov is in top form here. PNIN was written around the same time as Lolita, and he seems to be the anti-Humbert Humbert. In all ways that Humbert is evil, Pnin is kind.  

Reading the Nobels

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I have a placid, unruffled exterior:  I am bovine and try to look at least a little stupid.  But at heart, I am very competitive.  I’ve recently become aware of the world of “Book Challenges” and they excite me.   I am going to join a few and see how it works out.

For the Nobel Prize challenge, I would like to blog about Kipling (poetry), Yeats, Shaw, Mann, Sinclair Lewis, Galsworthy, Pirandello, O’Neill, TS Eliot, Faulkner, Nelly Sachs, Sohzhenitsyn, Bellow,  Brodsky, Toni Morrison, Seamus Heaney, Harold Pinter,  and perhaps Pasternak.

This preliminary plan excludes many superb authors but I am wary of being too ambitious.   But it seems to be an excellent challenge overall.  And YES, I know that the Nobels are quirky and have neglected some of the finest authors.  That call from Stockholm should have come to Nabokov and Joyce.  Why not select Tolstoy instead of Sully Prudhomme?   Or Mark Twain or Henry James or Edith Wharton?  What happened to Proust and Woolf?

It’s an imperfect list, but a challenge I cannot resist.

Reading the classics

Reading the classics:

This is my application to become a member of the inspiring Classics Club:

theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com

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My plan is not as precise as it might be.  It may have glaring omissions that have been caused by my recent reading.  I hope to read at least one novel by novelists and a significant number of poems by poets.  With people like George Meredith and Thomas Hardy, I plan to do some of each.  When I have not specified titles it is because I have read the books in the past and will do rereading.  I’ve read everything by Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and Dickens.   Rereading is always in order but how to tell if on any particular day I long for Daniel Deronda or Adam Bede?   Books I have completed are indicated in purple text.  I am only indicating the books read from 2016 forward.

 

  1. Lewis, Sinclair:  a significant number of works. Our Mr. Wrenn; The Innocents, Main Street, Babbitt
  2. Marquand, John P:  The Late George Apley
  3. Stendahl:  The Charterhouse of Parma
  4. Arnold Bennett
  5. Barbara Pym Some Tame Gazelle, Excellent Women, Jane and Prudence
  6. Elizabeth Taylor Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont
  7. Willkie Collins
  8. John Galsworthy
  9. Thomas Hardy
  10. Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  11. Daphne De Maurier
  12. Henry James
  13. Rose Macauley
  14. Somerset Maugham
  15. Herman Melville
  16. George Meredith
  17. Nancy Mitford
  18. Toni Morrison
  19. Iris Murdoch
  20. Vladimir Nabokov   Pnin
  21. VS Naipaul
  22. Edward Rutherfurd
  23. Carol Shields
  24. CP Snow
  25. Leo Tolstoy
  26. William Trevor
  27. Anthony Trollope The Last Chronicle of Barset
  28. Sarah Waters
  29. Thornton Wilder
  30. AN Wilson
  31. George Eliot
  32. Gibbon (excerpts)
  33. Thackeray
  34. Updike
  35. Roth
  36. Richard Yates
  37. Joyce, Ulysses
  38. Dickens
  39. Mann:  Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain
  40. Conrad
  41. Faulkner
  42. Hemingway
  43. Turgenev
  44. Pushkin
  45. Robert Penn Warren
  46. Dostoevsky
  47. Jane Austen
  48. John Cheever
  49. Peter Taylor
  50.  Pulitzer Prize winners—fiction and poetry and drama
  51. Man Booker winners and short list and long list selections

STORIES:

Chekhov

Katherine Mansfield

Jane Gardam

Poetry

  1. Anthony Hecht, both early and late poems
  2. Wordsworth:  shorter poems and The Prelude
  3. Keats:  the Great Odes
  4. Robert Browning:  significant dramatic monologues
  5. Seamus Heaney
  6. Tennyson
  7. Robert Frost
  8. Yeats
  9. TS Eliot
  10. Wallace Stevens
  11. George Szirtes
  12. ee cummings
  13. WH Auden
  14. Elizabeth Bishop
  15. Philip Larkin
  16. Theodore Roethke
  17. John Berryman
  18. Shakespeare’s sonnets
  19. Thomas Hardy
  20. George Meredith
  21. Gerard Manley Hopkins
  22. Algernon Charles Swinburns
  23. Matthew Arnold
  24. DG & Christina Rossetti
  25. John Hollander

DRAMA:

Shakespeare

Ibsen

Williams

Pinter The Caretaker

Ben Jonson

Chekhov

“The Fascination with What’s Difficult”

childreading

When I was six—as AA Milne would say—I read books.  As soon as I finished a book I turned right back and reread it.  And again.  And again.   I was a rereader and discovered that rereading was a source of endless delight.    When a book was too difficult, I would force myself to continue thinking in a vaguely Wordsworthian way that I was storing up great wealth for future years.

I unwittingly became an insufferable snob—or, to be kind, I developed good taste.  I wanted to experience what the adults did and started reading Proust, Joyce, and Virginia Woolf plus many poets by the time I was 13.  I knew that someday these books would become as transparent as Dick, Jane, and Sally.  I was wrong about that, but with each rereading comes greater pleasure.   This blog is dedicated to re-reading and re-re-reading.

I don’t have many people to speak with about books.  Mr. Gubbinal is great, but he’s extremely academic and often cannot remove himself from that arcane jargon of the pedant.  It seems as if there are millions of people writing poetry but few willing to read it.

I hope that this blog will become my friend and confidante.   It is to be my own private Henry Jamesian ‘ficelle’.  Now on to the hard part:  I think it will be more difficult to master tags and links than to try to explicate The Waste Land.