We’re well into another year and I haven’t shared my plans for the coming year. Actually I’ve already started. I’ve completed one novel that was planned for last year and didn’t make it. It’s from the great German writer, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe. It’s his first major work, published when he was just 23 I think, the novel that catapulted him to fame, The Sorrows of Young Werther. Started from last year and making them a priority at the beginning of the year are Dante’s Paradisio and Adrian Goldsworthy biography of Julius Caesar. For Dante’s Paradisio I am going to do what I did back in 2013, that is read two different translations simultaneously. I have already read the first fifteen cantos using the fine husband and wife team Robert and Jean Hollander, but because I enjoyed Anthony Esolen’s Purgatorio translation a year and a half ago, I’m going to read his Paradisio as well. Plus it was on sale and inexpensive.
For novels I am going to pick up where I left off in two lengthy works. I’m going to read Volume 2 of Hugo’s Les Misérables, “Cosette” and the second novel, No More Parades, in Ford’s tetrarchy, Parade’s End. On my desire list for the past three years has been Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and, come hell or high water—I love that expression—I am going to read it this year. I am going to continue on a German theme this year. In addition to Goethe’s Young Werther, and Goethe being the greatest German novelist of the 19th century, I am going to read a novel from Thomas Mann, arguably the greatest German novelist of the 20th century. Now my impulse had been to read Mann’s Magic Mountain, but my German friend Barbara recommended Mann’s Buddenbrooks. I think she said it was her all-time favorite novel and when I saw Hemingway listed Buddenbrooks in the top five or ten greatest novels of all time, well that convinced me. So I have an early German novel, an early 20th century German novel, and I’m thinking of picking a contemporary German novel, perhaps by the recent winner of the Nobel Prize, Herta Müller. I haven’t picked one out yet, but I think it will get me rich in German literature.
I haven’t read that many comic novels, and so I decided to try reading Thomas Berger, who’s prose style has been lauded. Berger just died over last summer. I could have gone with one of his more well-known novels but when his first novel, Crazy in Berlin, came on sale on Amazon I grabbed it. It’s a satiric novel of an American stationed in post WWII Germany, and so it fits with the Germany theme of the year. I promised another friend, Belinda (who blogs at Bii’s Books) that I would provide my thoughts on Virginia Woolf’s great novel, To the Lighthouse. I also placed two novellas on my list, Stephan Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and D. H. Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gipsy. Crane’s work continues my progression through American novels and Lawrence’s work came up in a conversation on a Lawrence group that I belong to. I did my Master’s thesis on D. H. Lawrence, so I’ve kept a links to scholars who study him, and this is a work I’ve never read.
Besides completing the Julius Caesar bio, I have a few other nonfiction books I plan to read. I’m already reading one of Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI’s sequence of books on Jesus. I belong to the Catholic Group at Goodreads, a book discussion site, and as a book club we’re reading Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth books are an exegeses on Christ’s life and the Biblical text. I’m a good thirty pages and really impressed. Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria, is another German connection to this year’s reads. For lent I’m finally reading G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, a work of Christian apologetics. And also on my list is conversion memoir, Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, by Holly Ordway. This came highly recommended, and I enjoy conversion stories. I’ve read a number of conversion stories of scientific oriented people—I can relate to that journey since I’m an engineer who also went from atheism to Catholicism, but Ordway is a Literature professor who goes from atheism to evangelical Christianity and ultimately to Catholicism. So I assume she writes well. This year’s book on writing will be Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style by Virginia Tufte.
My poetry read this year will be Robert Lowell’s Collected Poems. I’m not going to read all 1000 pages or even most of them, but I’ll poke around his life’s work to get a good feel. He’s got a very distinct style, a difficult one. But I have like the several poems I’ve read of his in the past. My Shakespeare read will not be exciting. I’m going to read on of his first plays, The Comedy of Errors. There aren’t that many plays I haven’t read yet, and I want to get to where I’ve read them all. As to Bible reads, I’m up to Job and the Psalms, which is going to be fantastic. I’m going to have to read the Psalms in both King James and NAB translations. And for the New Testament read, I’m up to Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians; I’ll try to get both in.
I’m not going to overly plan my short story reads, but I’ll aim for the same two per month average. I have bought some collections of writer’s short stories that I’ve been dying to read, Muriel Spark for instance and Evelyn Waugh. I’ll continue my survey through Hemingway’s collection; I’m not up to any well-known ones, but perhaps I’ll be surprised. Last year I started through Vladimir Nabakov’s collection, and I want to continue that since I really want to absorb his prose. I already completed a short story by Edith Wharton, “The Triumph of the Night,” and I have Truman Capote’s “Master Misery” ready as the next one.
One new feature I want to try this year and that's post on a famous speech. I think fine oratory is the epitome of great rhetoric, and rhetoric I define as the application of words to a medium. What I’ll do is highlight a speech from William Safire’s compendium of great speeches, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History and break down its construct.
And who knows what else I'll impulsively add into the mix as the year goes along. Should be another great year for reading.