“The Doom of the Griffiths,” a short story by Elizabeth Gaskell.
The Book of Tobit, a book of the Old Testament.
“Rappaccini’s Daughter,” a short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Life on the Mississippi, a memoir by Mark Twain.
The Book of Judith, a book of the Old Testament.
“The Ransom of Red Chief,” a short story by O. Henry.
Washington Square, a novel by Henry James.
84, Charing Cross Road, a collection of correspondence by Helene Hanff.
“Fifty Grand,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“A Simple Enquiry,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Pitcher,” a short story by Andre Debus.
“After Twenty Years,” a short story by O. Henry.
Happy Catholic, a non-fiction devotional by Julie Davis.
The Imitation of Christ, a non-fiction devotional by Thomas à Kempis.
“Paul’s Case,” a short story by Willa Cather.
Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, a non-fiction work of literary criticism by Prue Shaw.
The Book of Esther, a book of the Old Testament.
“Wee Willie Winkie,” a short story by Rudyard Kipling.
Fantine, the 1st Volume of Les Misérables, a novel by Victor Hugo.
“The Peach Stone,” a short story by Paul Horgan.
Some Do Not…, the 1st novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
First Book of Maccabees, a book of the Old Testament.
“Ten Indians, a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Wood-Sprite,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
The Shining, a novel by Stephan King.
How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization, a non-fiction work of sociology by Mary Eberstadt.
Second Book of Maccabees, a book of the Old Testament.
The Thorny Grace of It: And Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics, a collection of personal essays by Brian Doyle.
“Russian Spoken Here,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Greenleaf,” a short story by Flannery O’Connor.
"Sredni Vashtar,” a short story by Saki (H.H. Munro).
“The Gift of Cochise,” a short story by Louis L’Amour.
“A Canary for One,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“The Drums of the Fore and Aft,” a short story by Rudyard Kipling.
The Priest and the Prostitute, a novel by Victor S E Moubarak.
“The Gentleman from Cracow,” a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Style: an Anti-Textbook, a non-fiction book on writing by Richard A. Lanham.
Gerard Manly Hopkins: Poems and Prose, Selected and Edited by W. H. Gardner.
“Colorado,” a short story by Ann Beattie.
“A Scandal in Bohemia,” a Sherlock Holmes short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
“The Queer Feet,” a Father Brown mystery short story by G. K. Chesterton.
“Jacob’s Ladder,” a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
“The Letter to the Romans,” an epistle by St. Paul. NAB and KJV Translations.
“The Walk with Elizanne,” a short story by John Updike.
The Tempest, a play by William Shakespeare.
Mansfield Park, a novel by Jane Austen.
I’ve been behind on my posts. I should have posted this on the turn of the year. Here is my year end summary of my reads of 2014.
I had thought I had fallen short from my typical year’s reading—mostly as I’ve mentioned before because of the time devoted to the new pup—but as I look over the quantity it seems to fall right into the average of my past few years. Six novels, eight books of nonfiction, six books from the Bible, one book of poetry, one play, 24 short stories, and nearly half (fifteen Cantos) of Dante’s Paradisio. That’s almost the same as last year, and in total number of pages I probably exceeded last year. That’s fourteen books for the year, more than my usual one per month, though some of them were on the shorter side this year. I estimate the number of pages read to be over 4300. Not a bad year.
I have to say I really enjoyed all six of the novels read. It takes a certain acquired taste to enjoy a Henry James novel, and while Washington Square does not rank with the best of Henry James, one sees the craftsman on every page. In Catherine Sloper, James creates a character of sensitivity and fallibility, and in her father, Dr. Sloper, a character of insensitivity but seemingly infallible. We want Catherine to be right and her father to be wrong, but alas it doesn’t work out that way. “Fantine” is the first volume of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables but each of the five volumes that make up the tome is about the size of a regular novel. I’ve committed myself to at least one volume per year until I complete it entirely. In this way I won’t have to spend a good part of a single year getting weary with a single novel that’s over 1400 pages. I wonder if I would have gotten weary because so far Hugo keeps a reader’s interest up on many levels: intellectually, emotionally, and narratively. I don’t think I’ve read anything by Victor Hugo before. I’m doing a very similar thing with Ford Madox Ford’s tetralogy, Parade’s End as with Les Misérables, that is, breaking up the large work into sub part annual reads. With Ford’s work it’s actually more sensible since each of the four parts are identified as novels. The four novels center on the character of Christopher Tietjens, an upper class official who’s noble ideals conflict with his service in the Great War (WWI) and his failed marriage. I really love the title of the first of the four novels, Some Do Not…. It characterizes Tietjens wonderfully. I had not planned it this way, but I recently realized I started the novel on the hundredth year of the start of the war, a rather nice coincidence. I’ve considered Ford to be one of the best, if not the best, prose writers in English of the 20th century and a great developer of characters. He does not fail; I love all the characters in this book and can’t wait to get back to their lives. Mansfield Park is an outstanding novel by Jane Austen. Don’t believe the commentary that this is a lesser of her novels. It’s as good as any of them. I think that the critics diminish this work because it might be the most conservative of her works. Who says that women writers must all be against the “patriarchal society,” or whatever nonsense they call it. Jane Austen is clearly a conservative in the Edmund Burke tradition. I read this at the very end of the year—I might have finished it on New Year’s Eve—when my old computer was going fluky and I couldn’t post on it. I intend to follow up with a post on this work, which I read on its 200th year from publication. I mentioned I had never read a Stephan King novel before, and so I picked up The Shining. Was it great literature? Nah, but it was well done for what it is, and also very enjoyable. He’s really good at creating characters and complicated plots. I think I had promised I was going to post on it, but unless someone really wants me to, I’m going to have to back out of that promise. So I read Henry James, Victor Hugo, Ford Madox Ford, Jane Austen, Stephan King, and Victor SE Maubarak. Victor who? LOL, Victor Maubarak is a blogger friend who stops and comments here, and so I read his mystery novel, The Priest and the Prostitute. It was well done and a joy to read. It brought a smile to my face in almost every chapter. I do hope he follows up with another adventure of his central character, Father Ignatius.
I notice that my nonfiction reads divide into three groups: the personal, the devotional, and the discursive. The personal comprises of a memoir by Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, an exchange of letters (84, Charing Cross Road) between a New York City writer, Helene Hanff and the staff at her favorite bookstore in London in the post WWII decades, and a collection of personal essays, The Thorny Grace of It by Brian Doyle. Mark Twain’s prose is always a pleasure to read, and this memoir focuses on his apprenticeship as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River and his return to a riverboat excursion many years later. Brian Doyle’s essays center on the quirks of Catholic life, and as I reflect on it now, his witty prose is very Twain-esk. That’s a huge compliment. Helene Hanff’s letters with the staff of Marks & Co. and they capture nuances of the time and places. I can’t speak for British side, but Helene’s persona is so New York City—blunt and jazzy, but in an endearing sort of way. I had not realized it until I just looked at the Wikipedia entry, but the letters were dramatized for stage, television, and film. I’ll have to seek out the film.
My devotional reads span the centuries. The Imitation of Christ, the most read religious work after the Bible, by Thomas à Kempis, dates to a 15th century Dutch monk while Julie Davis’ Happy Catholic was published a year or two ago. The works are about as different as you can find, à Kempis’s work an interior methodology for spiritual discipline, while Davis’ work a joyful display of epiphanies culled from everyday life and culture. Both have their place.
Prue Shaw’s Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity is a discourse on Dante’s Divine Comedy and received immensely positive reviews when it came out last year. The reviews were so praiseworthy that against my better judgment—positive reviews of literary criticism almost always fall short for me—I went and bought and read it given I had been reading Dante for the past couple of years. And as my gut told me, the reviews inflated its value. If you’re completely new to Dante, you’ll get something out of it, but if you have some background, the lengthy introductions from some of the scholarly translations are superior. If I remember correctly, Shaw did a good job explaining Inferno, a so-so job on Purgatorio, and a very poor job on Paradisio. How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization by Mary Eberstadt presents a counterintuitive argument on the relationship between the family and belief in God in western society. The intuitive argument is that the loss of faith led to a breakdown of the traditional family structure; Eberstadt’s argument is that the fragmentation of family is what has led to today’s pervasive loss of faith. It’s an interesting argument, and through statistics she is fairly persuasive. Whether you agree or not, it makes for a good read if you’re into that sort of sociology. The third discursive work of nonfiction was my annual read on writing, this year, Lanham’s Style: an Anti-Textbook. This is an excellent book on the nature of prose style, also presenting a counterintuitive argument, this to a clichéd understanding of writing style. I had started a fairly lengthy essay on the subject, both at times agreeing and disagreeing with Lanham, but it’s on my old computer, and when I finally transfer it over, it’s one I intend to post.
My survey read through the Bible took me this year through some of the Apocrypha books, which I must admit was a pleasure. The Old Testament Books of Tobit, Judith, Esther, First and Second Maccabees are great stories. You can almost consider them short stories. But what made them doubly pleasurable is that other than Esther, none of the rest were in the King James translation, and so I was free to read them in a contemporary translation, the New American Bible (NAB). As I’ve mentioned, I’m trying to read book by book the entire Bible in the King James translation, and contrary to conventional notions I dislike the KJV. It’s awkward and unnatural English, even unnatural for its day. When reading something that I want to understand, I prefer clarity over aesthetics. So why do I insist on reading the entire Bible in KJV? Because the KJV has had a significant influence to the development of English, and being one who wants to absorb every development of the language I feel I compelled to read the entire thing. I’m also reading the New Testament, and this year I read Paul’s epistle to the Romans. With the New Testament I read both translations, KJV and NAB.
My annual poetry read this year was with Gerard Manly Hopkins. He’s a great poet, and I posted on several of his poems. I didn’t get a chance to do a concluding post where I wanted to provide my thoughts on how Hopkins fits into modernism. Let me just succinctly say, I don’t think he does. The general notion is that Hopkins was a sort of proto-modernists. There are echoes of modernism in his work, but frankly everything he does is in sympathy with Tennyson, Swinburne, or Browning. I think Hopkins falls squarely into the Victorian tradition. For a drama I reread Shakespeare’s The Tempest as a sort of personal reevaluation. I’ve felt it a somewhat overrated work. But I take that back. Now that I fully understand its totality, it is a great work. It’s one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, which makes it feel like it lacks a bit of gravitas. But that’s just a superficial perception. I do want to post on it because I have a thought about it that might not be as widely considered.
And so finally the short stories. I was able to squeeze in my two per month average. Most of the ones I read were good, a few were exceptional, and a small handful were duds. The duds were O. Henry’s “After Twenty Years,” Ann Beattie’s “Colorado,” (which was supposed to be one of her best), Hemingway’s “A Simple Enquiry,” and surprisingly the Father Brown mystery story, “The Queer Feet.” I tend to enjoy Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries, but I didn’t get this one. Of the exceptional stories I would include Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand,” Debus’ “The Pitcher,” Cather’s “Paul’s Case,” Paul Horgan’s “The Peach Stone,” O’Connor’s “Greanleaf,” Saki’s “Sredni Vashtar,” Kipling’s “The Drums of Fore and Aft,” and Singer’s “The Gentleman from Cracow.” Every year I announce my prize for the best short story read during the year and before I do, let me give a side bar note to two stories. My analysis of “The Ransom of Red Chief” has skyrocket to third place of my blog’s most hit on post. Every week it keeps climbing and it will surely overpass the leaders. For the life of me, I can’t understand why that post. Another honorable mention should go to Kipling’s “Wee Willie Winkie,” a good story in it’s own right, but what makes it memorable is that I took the framework of that story and told it, abbreviated and improvised, to my son as a bedtime story. He loved it! He identifies with Willie. Now for the annual prize. Drumroll, please… Third place: Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Gentleman from Cracow.” Second Place: Flannery O’Connor’s “Greanleaf.” And the winner: Paul Horgan’s “The Peach Stone.” Who you may ask is Paul Horgan? A two time Pulitzer Prize winner in history, but who also wrote fiction. I didn’t get a chance to post on “The Peach Stone,” but what a magnificent story of a tragic death of a child and the mother’s acceptance of the loss. Reading the story felt like I was listening to a quartet ensemble playing a chamber music piece. It was so good a story I may still post on it this year.
As to the works I intended to read but fell short, I will start the New Year with them. I did readjust under a quarter of Adrian Goldsworthy’s biography, Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus. And I never did get to von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Actually I’ve already completed Goethe’s novel here in January of 2015, and I’ll make a focused effort to complete the excellent Caesar biography. The other work I didn’t complete was Dante’s Paradisio. As I said I made it through the 15th Canto. It will definitely be a 2015 priority. More on that in my upcoming post outlining my reading plans for the new year.
One last word. I didn’t post on all of my reads, if not most of them. There just isn’t time in a life to do that. If I did post on it, you can locate it from the tag list on the right side bar, either by author or by title. If I didn’t post on it and you’re interested in my thoughts on a particular work I’ve mentioned, let me know. If I can accommodate, I will.