One of the things I really wanted to do this year (which I did sort of do pretty well actually) is write about all the books I finished reading in some manner or another. I never feel like I've quite finished with a book until I have written about it. There were a number of really good reads, as a matter of fact, I wanted to write about this year but didn't get around to. Now so much time has passed that I think I won't be able to manage a proper post (though I have a few books still set aside that I am going to try and tackle in the coming week), but maybe just to feel like I am starting with a mostly clean slate let me tell you about a few reads that are worth mentioning.
First up are two NYRB Classics that I received from my year long subscription. The first goes all the way back to the last days of 2013! Alfred Hayes's My Face for the World to See was the freebie book I got for renewing my subscription. Thinking I was going to kick things off the right way, I read it before the old year was even out. (Too bad I wasn't as ambitious with the rest of the books I received on subscription--but no worries--thankfully books in my own personal collection have neither expiration dates nor due dates!). This is a Hollywood novel of the 1950s written from an insider's view. It's the story of an affair between two unnamed (perhaps morally bankrupt) characters. Slight in length but not in quality. Maybe I should reread this one and write about it as it deserves.
On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry by William H. Gass is another slight book, but one filled with lots of depth and meaning. I think Gass is a formidable writer. It was with lots of interest and happy anticipation that I approached a book on the color blue, but this was so much more than about a color. It's all the variations and permutations on the word and what it stands for. And so eloquently told.
"In a way I've used the words, yet I've quite ignored their content, and in that sense I've not employed them at all, they've only appeared. I haven't even exercised the form."
But don't worry, exercise he does. This is a book I did really want to write about but it was a little too challenging for me--I couldn't quite wrap my head around it all and in the end it defeated me. I have another chance to read him, however, since my subscription included a book of his short stories as well. I hold that book in reserve. (Mostly because it scares me in the way James Joyce scares me, if you know what I mean).
Although I am impatiently awaiting my first NYRB of 2015 (I renewed my subscription and am now waiting for my next freebie book as well as January's selection which won't be here for another week or so, I think), I decided to cancel my Art of the Novella subscription. It pained me to do so, as I love those cool Melville House novellas, but I am supposed to be on a budget and I have fallen far behind in reading all my novellas. I wrote about most of them (in the case of a couple, it was only teasers but close enough).
I think Henry James falls into that William H. Gass category of being formidable. I read The Lesson of the Master this year, which is a story of a young writer being befriended by a famous writer he has for long held in high esteem. I don't think I'll be giving anything away by saying the two will fall for the same woman and the twist at the end is quite illuminating. There is indeed a "lesson" here, but I wonder if it is the one the "Master" really meant to teach.
Antonia White's The Lost Traveller is the second in a quartet of books about Nanda Grey. I wrote about Frost in May here, and I plan on reading the next two books in 2015. It's obvious that White drew on her own life experiences to write the books, but after a seventeen year gap between the first and second she decided to fictionalize and invent more and so Nanda became Clara Batchelor. The story continues Clara's coming of age--her deep friendships much frowned upon in the convent, her difficulties with her parents--especially her father on whom rests so much of her feeling of identity and desire for love and approval. Perhaps so much so that she leaves school and home to work as a nanny and thinks she falls in love. What better way to please your parents, well, mostly your father, than make a proper Catholic marriage? This is the sort of searching Clara does--
"How do people become real? Does one just change as they get older? Or did something definite happen to you?" (She's asking her mother).
I thought I knew the trajectory Clara was bound for, but when I picked up the next book, The Sugar House, I think things are going to move in a different direction after all. Hopefully I'll find out sooner than later.
I had this idea of reading all of Molly Keane's (M.J. Farrell's) books in the order she wrote them. I don't seem to be making the best of progress, however. For so long Mad Puppetstown sat on my night stand that I think I must have started reading it at least three separate times. The third time was the charm, but it's a pity I didn't write about it right away. This novel, while not her best, is very much Molly Keane territory in that it is about a great house, and the Anglo-Irish family living there. In this case, Easter Chevington and her two cousins Basil and Evelyn. It's a house much loved but this is the period of the Great War and the Easter Uprising and life is tumultuous in Ireland, and so the three cousins flee to England leaving behind an old aunt who's not about to be put out of her beloved home under any circumstances. Things do come full circle, not without some drama and upheaval. Next up is Conversation Piece, which I hope to get to sooner than I did with poor Mad Puppetstown.
I can tell you right now that Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being is going to be on my favorites (forthcoming) list. It was longlisted for last year's Man Booker Prize. I can see why. It's an amazing read--multi-layered, well written, thoughtful, and filled with thought. It's a story within stories, told from varying perspectives in parallel times. And she pulls it all off perfectly and beautifully. I'm still undecided whether Ozeki means by the title--a tale for the time being, or a tale for the Time Being--as in a measure of time or someone who has almost magical mystical qualities. That play on words is just one example of how intricately this novel is structured. It's the story of a diary written by a Japanese schoolgirl who is being bullied and she sends her diary out into the world--it's found by a woman, a writer living on the Pacific coast of Canada. Just thinking about it makes me all tingly for what Ozeki did in this book--did I already say it is So Interesting? There is just so much to it, that even thinking about it months later leaves me with such a feeling of satisfaction and satiation. When I think of how I really need to read more Good Books, this is exactly what I have in mind.
So, this is it. Save for a very few books that I'll talk about soon, this has been my reading year, to be expanded upon in the next couple of days as I make everything all tidy for 2015!