Reading List 2022

January

Inside Dope by Paul Thomas, Hachette New Zealand 1996
extremely entertaining comic crime story; author has a real flair for character and description, sharp humor

Legends of the Condor Heroes 1: A Hero Born by YONG Jin, translated from the Chinese by Anna Holmwood; (c1959) English ed. Maclehose Press 2018
a wonderfully entertaining martial arts fantasy adventure tale with memorable characters and briskly moving action; excellent translation

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, Riverhead Books 2020
(book group) several stories of different forms of “passing”; novel overcrowded, felt labored

A Brief History Of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage, Bloomsbury 2021
title says it all; engaging style, lively anecdotes, cautionary observations about the unforseen consequences of technology and good intentions

Lady Joker by TAKAMURA Kaoru, translated from the Japanese by Marie Iida and Allison Markin Powell; (c1997) English edition Soho Press 2021
Vol. 1 immersive fascinating portrait of Japanese society in the guise of a crime novel

The Meaning Of Travel by Emily Thomas, Oxford Univ. Press 2020
a pleasurable tour with “philosophers abroad”, contemplates the who and why of travel and what we think of where we’ve been

The Village Of Eight Graves by YOKOMIZO Seishi, translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk; (c1971) English edition Pushkin Press 2021
an irresistable title; another delightfully complex problem for detective KINDAICHI Kosuke complete with a lost Samurai treasure hoard

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated from the French by Aneesa Abbas Higgins; (c2016) Daunt Books 2020/Open Letter 2021
award winner for translation; language both spare and unsparing in description; enigmatic storyof borders and uncertain identities, its tone as cold as the weather in the shabby out-of-season resort town

Dancing On The Ropes, Translators and the Balance of History by Anna Aslanyan, Profile Books 2021
entertaining stories of the role of translators/interpreters in history illustrate the challenges and philosophies of cross-language communication

Prefecture D by YOKOYAMA Hideo, translated from the Japanese by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies; (c1998) English edition Riverrun 2019
early stories set in the Japanese Police unit that became the setting of the author’s excellent 2012 novel Six Four

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo; (c1946) NYRB 2018
psychologically insightful, intensely suspensful story of escape from a Nazi prison camp for political dissidents before the war

,

2021 in books

The past year may be a personal best for number of books read, at least since my childhood when I remember reading this many and more during the golden days of summer vacation. I am a little surprised at my total of 92 but will attribute it to one part motivation to reduce the mighty stacks of to-be-reads and one part blinkered escape from the world.

Here’s how it sorts out. I read about the same number non-fiction as last year with 26. The novels added up to 66. There were 22 books translated from other languages into English. Atypically for me, a little more than half my list had been published (either new or in the English translation) since 2015. That reflects the pandemic buying binge to support bookstores creating the afore-mentioned mighty stacks.

It’s very gratifying to review my reading list and see so many very good, satisfying, well written titles. My 10 Best list feels a little arbitrary. Several were easy picks but others might have been different another day. So here is my list of ten plus a few. I don’t claim that I chose the best, but these are ones I most enjoyed.

Non-Fiction

China In Ten Words by YU Hua (translated from the Chinese)
Fire & Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster 1917 by Michael Punke
Hokkaido Highway Blues: Hitchiking Japan by Will Ferguson
A Stranger To Myself, The Inhumanity of War: Russia 1941-1944 by Willy Peter Reese (translated from German)

Fiction

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre (translated from the French)
Reading In The Dark by Seamus Deane
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
The King At The Edge Of The World by Arthur Phillips
Human Acts by HAN Kang (translated from the Korean)
The Memory Police by OGAWA Toko (translated from the Japanese)

Special Multi-Novel Achievement Category

the five “Patrick Melrose” novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Never Mind
Bad News
Some Hope
Mother’s Milk
At Last

Special Unexpected Pure Reading Pleasure Category

The Distance by Eddie Muller

resolutions – -good advice never goes out of date

To endeavour to get the better of the intrusions of indolence of mind and body, those certain harbingers of enfeebling age. Rather to wear out than to rust out. To rise early; and, as often as possible, to go to bed before mid-night…not to indulge repose too frequently on the couch in the day. Not to give up walking

To continue the practice of reading — pursued for more than fifty years, in books on all subjects; for variety is the salt of the mind as well as of life. Other people’s thoughts, like the best conversation of one’s companions, are generally better and more agreeable than one’s own.

To admit every cheerful ray of sunshine on the imagination.

Not to give the reins to constitutional impatience, for it is apt to hurry on the first expressions into the indecency of swearing. If one cannot be a stoic, in bearing and forbearing on every trying occasion, yet it may not be impossible to pull the check-firing against the moroseness of spleen or the impetuosity of peevishness.

To be always doing of something, and to have something to do.

Gentleman’s Magazine August 1785 vol. LV Part II
“Containing More in Quantity and greater Variety than any Book of the Kind and Price”
ed. by Sylvanus Urban, Gent.

baseball is…

Life? Quite possibly. Poetry? Most definitely. Poetry in motion, sure, but also as words on a page.

Empty baseball field
–A robin,
Hops along the bench

Jack Kerouac (threw and batted right-handed) composed this, the first American baseball haiku, in 1959. The first ever baseball haiku was written by Japanese poet SHIKI Masaoka (threw and batted left-handed) in 1890.

spring breeze
this grassy field makes me
want to play catch

More than two hundred delightful examples of baseball poetry are collected in Baseball Haiku, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura. A short informative essay introduces the major poets in the development of modern haiku in both Japan and America and suggests some of the natural affinity shared by baseball and haiku, each having a connection with Nature and a focus on the individual moment. Each of the poets is introduced with notes about his poetry and interest in baseball.

from Randy Brooks

carrying his glove
the boy’s dog follows him
to the baseball field

from SEI Imae

walking home
with his glove on his head
shrieking cicadas

from Tom Painting

bases loaded
a full moon clears
the right field fence

from Brenda Gannam

handsome pitcher
my eyes drift down
to the mound

The apparent simplicity of Haiku is notoriously tempting to the poetry rookie. Who can resist the temptation to try one?

game on TV
a roar pulls my eyes
up from a book

Book News – “The Passenger”

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz is another forgotten novel having a belated popular success. The Deutsche Welle news site gives an interesting back story to the novel’s creation and rediscovery.

https://www.dw.com/en/the-passenger-how-a-forgotten-nazi-era-novel-became-a-bestseller/a-57608623

One has to wonder at and admire the determination of small publishers everywhere who continue to bring fresh voices and viewpoints to the marketplace. How boring would it be to see only mass market titles in your favorite bookstore? Readers unite! Show your appreciation, take a chance on an unknown author. Go to that favorite (independent one, I hope) bookstore in person or online and buy a small-press book today!

https://www.dw.com/en/how-do-independent-publishers-in-germany-survive/a-48196635

but what about the cat?

When I really want to make time I take off my glasses and let the text blur as the pages flip by. Collating the scores of volumes of The Gentleman’s Magazine could absorb much too much time if I let my eyes stop at every intriguing heading or story. It was the original “magazine”, (the editor appropriated the French word for “storehouse”) founded in 1731 as a digest of everything an educated man might want to know about. Original contributions and excerpts from other periodicals and books cover the political, scientific, and military news, poetry and publishing, the stock market, births and deaths, natural history, letters from readers, engravings, etc. etc. Every issue is packed with temptation for the curious, and, of course, I often succumb.

My project is to review each volume for any damage or loss before offering the set for sale through my Library’s online store. A few years before my retirement, the Library decided to deaccession a huge number of old periodicals. Why many (like TGM) were ever made part of a public library collection remains a mystery, but I was determined to rescue as many as possible from the dumpster and put them into our store. Even the most intresting and historically important periodicals are a slow sell, though, and they mostly sat in storage waiting for attention – a classic someday project.

A grand project for a volunteer in other words. Now I can give them that time and attention, and there’s no guilt if I let myself get distracted from time to time by a report on the troubles in the colonies or an engraving of a very toothy hippopotamus or a funny news story.

from volume 47, 1777

Historical Chronicle
February 22

The ship Phoenix, from London to Gainsbrough, was unfortunately set on fire by a cinder’s falling on a cat in the cabin, and the cat’s running frighted into the half-deck, where was stowed a quantity of hemp, which instantly burst into a flame, and, more than 20 barrels of powder being on board, so intimidated the ship’s company, that they quitted the vessel, to preserve their lives, and soon after she blew up.

a poet on ‘memory’

I don’t think I can speak at sufficient length about the importance to the poet of avoiding or ignoring Kodak moments. If a poet seeks to make or keep memories, how will she ever know which ones contain true power, which would assert themselves on their own? Perhaps her very definition of memory would change if she didn’t get her Kodak moments developed. Maybe memory would not hold individual scenes at all; maybe it would have no detail; maybe it would not rise up–the pines of that morning in Yosemite scraping the interior of her skull; maybe it would be nacreous, layered regions of pleasure and attraction in the mind. Any sense of tint in the depth of the gleam would arise so slowly as to be imperceptible. I am speaking of the memory that might result from repetition. I am interested in the long ways of knowing, where the mind does not seek strangeness. We must be less in love with foreground if we want to see far.

from Synthesizing Gravity by Kay Ryan

Memory does not do our bidding, even when we are most intent on fixing a moment or an experience in our memory. Perhaps it’s just as well. Perhaps we should struggle less to make “perfect” memories. Perhaps we should fret less about all that we can’t remember. We must be less in love with foreground if we want to see far.

A word I’m pleased to learn: “nacreous” meaning lustrous, as mother-of-pearl. Nacreous gleams of memory, a wonderful image.