The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.
“Give Me Your Heart,” a short story by Joyce Carol Oates.
“The Triumph of Night,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, a non-fiction memoir by Holly Ordway.
“Master Misery,” a short story by Truman Capote.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, a non-fiction book of theology by Pope Benedict XVI.
“Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” a short story by Herman Melville.
The Book of Job, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
“Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” a short story by Sandra Cisneros.
“The Portobello Road,” a short story by Muriel Spark.
Orthodoxy, a non-fiction book of philosophy by G. K. Chesterton.
“Queen of the Tyrant Lizards,” a short story by John C. Wright.
“The Key,” a short story by Eudora Welty.
“Extricating Young Gussie,” a Jeeves Collection short story P. G. Wodehouse.
Vol 2 of Les Misérables, “Cosette,” a novel by Victor Hugo.
“An Alpine Idyll,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell, a non-fiction work of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar.
“Henry Lee Remembers George Washington,” from Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, selected by William Safire.
“A Pursuit Race,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Today is Friday,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet, a non-fiction work by James Richards.
“Banal Story,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a novella by Stephen Crane.
Feline Catastrophe, a collection of short stories by Victor S E Moubarak.
“Now I Lay Me,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Sounds,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
Crime and Punishment, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
“The Quest,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“Tobermory,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope,” a short story by Saki (H. H. Munro).
“The Sisters,” a short story by James Joyce.
No More Parades, the 2nd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
Death in the Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Seven Words of Jesus from the Cross, a non-fiction work of theology by Richard John Neuhaus.
Comedy of Errors, a play by William Shakespeare.
“The Human Fly,” a short story by T. C. Boyle.
Robert Lowell: Collected Poems, an anthology of poetry edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
Psalms 1-50 from The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, a non-fiction book on writing by Virginia Tufte.
Let me start by saying that this was not a good year for my reading, though as I put together this summary it turned out to be not as disastrous as I had speculated. Here are the links to the various milestone updates I provided:
As you can see, there was no Third Quarter Update, which would have come sometime after the end of September. Between the end of June and the October was almost a black hole of reading, and so I did not feel a quarterly update was warranted. What happened? I started Crime and Punishment somewhere while I was on vacation in that last week of June, but after vacation my reading was completely sporadic. It had nothing to do with the novel—it was a great and intense read. I read it in spurts, which means I had gaps where I did not pick it up. In these gaps I did pick up a few less mind consuming reads, but I was kind of burnt out over the summer. I guess I can give excuses: we now had a cat to go along with the dog, which required adapting, this dog was and still is more time consuming than past dogs, Matthew was a year older and now needs more attention, the baseball season preoccupied me more than other summers, and I had one of those intense periods at work where a project was culminating. Sigh, I just couldn’t keep up with my plans.
In the end, though, I approximated my usual average number of reads. But it’s somewhat deceiving. Though the completion numbers were not far from average, the works tended to be on the shorter side, so if I were to calculate the number of pages read I don’t think I came close to average. But I don’t know what my average number of pages read per year would be. Last year I estimated I read somewhere over 4300 pages. This year I estimate I read about 3600 pages, a good 700 pages less than last year.
Perhaps I should start with what I had intended to read and never got done. The fiction works, I had planned to read were Dante’s Paradisio, Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Thomas Berger’s Crazy in Berlin, and D. H. Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gypsy. I had intended to have a German literature theme to the 2015 reads, but I only got a few of the German works I planned read. I am embarrassed to say that for the second year I did not complete the Adrian Goldsworthy Julius Caesar biography. I was about a hundred pages in at the end of last year and I read another 200 pages this year. 200 more pages to go: do you think I’ll finish it this year? That’s sarcasm. It’s a really good biography. I also didn’t finish my one work on writing that I read every year, this year being Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. I’m about 40 percent through, and it is fine work. It shows you how to use every element of grammar to craft fine sentences. I’m going to post a few times this year on various things that caught my attention from this book. I only read the first third of the Psalms. I have to say I got caught up on how I should analyze and categorize them, and wound up letting perfection tie me up in knots. I should have just read them. And since I didn’t finish the Psalms, I never got to the two Epistles to the Corinthians. Even under the best of conditions, I could never have completed all I planned.
Interestingly and not intentional, the novels I completed had a 19th century bias. Four of the five works were from the 19th century, and they were all what would be deemed classic novels: von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, Volume 2 of Hugo’s Les Misérables, “Cosette” (I’m treating each volume as a separate novel in this huge tome), Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Crane’s short novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Crane’s Maggie was a disappointment. I believe it was his first novel, and it showed. Though there were moments of brilliant prose, it was not up to his more well-known works. Unless you’re a Stephan Crane scholar or aficionado, I don’t recommend it. Goethe’s Young Werther was also his first novel, and though I could quibble with elements of the work, overall it was enjoyable and interesting. It was a huge international sensation in its day, one of the foundations of the Romantic era, and so an important work to have read if one wants to complete the important works of literature. Les Misérables and Crime and Punishment are also important works, but they are truly great works. Dostoyevsky’s novel just could be rated in the top five of the greatest novels ever written, which would give Dostoyevsky two of the greatest novels ever written. The one work not of the 19th century was Ford Madox Ford’s No More Parades, which is the second novel of his tetralogy, Parade’s End. This is a very modernist work (stream of conscious, time dislocations, psychological theories, disjointed narrative), and you have to enjoy modernism to like this novel. It’s difficult but worth it if you enjoy high artistry in literature.
I had made it a goal to read more non-fiction works in 2015, and I did; I read six, more than the novels. Three of the non-fiction works were theological works, all of them excellent: Pope Benedict XVI’s third in his series on Jesus of Nazareth, The Infancy Narratives, Richard John Neuhaus’ Death in the Afternoon, and Hans Urs von Bathalsar’s, Dare We Hope All Men Be Saved. I have to say that all three are great theologians, offering incredible insight. The Infancy Narratives focus on just that, the Christ child sections of the New Testament, Death in the Afternoon focus on the seven last words of Christ on the cross, and von Balthasar’s book delves on the possibility that salvation is universal, meaning that eventually everyone could be saved. Urs von Balthasar took a lot of criticism for this very controversial position. The Catholic Church, as most Christian denominations, do not support such a notion. I have to say that I have always been sympathetic to the notion of universalism, and this book reinforced my thinking. I’ve been meaning to write a detailed essay on the subject, but I don’t know if I want to be so controversial. I never planned at the beginning of the year to read the Neuhaus and the von Balthasar but things happen that inspire me to improvise.
Also as a non-fiction read was G. K. Chesterton’s brilliant philosophic work, Orthodoxy. Its central theme is that tradition and the western intellectual heritage is the proper basis philosophic underpinnings. It stands in complete opposition to modernism. This is a must read for anyone interested in the intellectual development of the 20th century, no matter which side of the issue you stand on, and it has all the Chesterton hallmarks of sharpness and humor. Holly Ordway’s Not God’s Type is a memoir conversion story of how Ordway went from being a fierce atheist to a believing Christian, and she did through her love of literature. It was a really enjoyable read. Finally since in May we found and adopted a little kitten, and since we had no experience raising cats, I read the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Cats. That was unplanned.
I did not read the entire tome of Robert Lowell’s Collected Poetry, nor did I intend to at the beginning of the year. I did read enough to sample through and enjoy his most famous poems. I posted on four of his poems throughout the year, and I think you would appreciate his work by reading those posts. At the end of December I snuck in William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, which is one of his earliest plays, shortest plays, and funniest plays. It was a play I had never read before, and so I have now read 27 of the 37 officially accredited plays to Shakespeare. I had not clicked off one in a few years. It’s one of my goals to read them all. As to my annual Biblical reads, I read the Book of Job (KJV) and the first fifty Psalms (KJV and Ignatius RSV translations). The Book of Psalms is so rich that I read it in two translations and I decided I wanted to learn them in a much more detailed way than just a read through. I tried hand copying each Psalm into a notebook, but after the first 19 I realize it would take forever. I did pick up a lot of nuance by hand writing down each word, nuance that you gloss over as one reads. Since that was too time consuming, I’ve decided to create a database of types, themes, length, and important images and phrases Psalm by Psalm. Perhaps that will be more fruitful.
I meant to read several famous speeches from history this year from Safire’s Lend Me Your Ears, but I only read one, Henry Lee’s eulogy of George Washington. I enjoyed it, and one gets to observe great speech craft, the art of oration. A speech is roughly the length of a short story. Another work I read that doesn’t easily fit into a category was Victor Moubarak’s Feline Catastrophe. You may have noticed that Victor is a frequent visitor to this blog, and I have now read a couple of his books. Feline Catastrophe is a collection of fictional vignettes centered on a house cat. The cat outwits the master at every turn. It’s hilarious, and well worth a read. It’s one of those books I needed to have as break when I was burnt out from intense literature. I think you can get it for free as a PDF at his website.
I read twenty-one short stories this year, which was only three short of my annual goal of two per month. But since the Henry Lee speech was approximately the length of a short story, then I was only two short. Still, these short stories were mostly on the shorter side which makes it look more impressive than it really is. There were a number of authors I had never read before: Wright, Spark, Wodehouse, Boyle, all very good writers with distinct styles. I hope in the future to read more of their work. The short stories can be classified as good, exceptional, or duds. There were three duds in the group that I would tell you don’t ever bother: Joyce Carol Oats’ “Give Me Your Heart,” Edith Wharton’s “The Triumph of the Night,” and Hemingway’s “Today is Friday.” The exceptional were Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener,” Spark’s “The Portobello Road,” Welty’s “The Key,” two by Hemingway, “An Alpine Idyll,” and “Now I Lay Me,” Nabokov’s “Sounds,” Joyce’s “The Sisters,” Boyle’s “The Human Fly,” and two by Saki, “Tobermory” and “The Secret Sin of Septimus Brope.” There were four stories by Saki in the year’s read and one could make a case that all four could make the exceptional category. It probably depends on my impulse of the moment. He’s that good a short story writer. “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “The Sisters” were both stories I had read in the past and are classics. It’s always good to re-read a few classics every year. You tend to see so much more. Throughout the year I posted analyzes on “The Portobello Road,” “The Key,” Now I Lay Me,” and “Tobermory.” You can find them by scrolling down the Labels list. I read five stories from Hemingway, as I make my way through his entire collection. I’ve now read more than two thirds. T. C. Boyle is one of the current top American short story writers and I really wanted to read one of his stories. “The Human Fly” does not disappoint, and I will try to do one of my analyses on it in the near future. “Sounds” is my third or possibly fourth Vladimir Nabokov short story that I’ve read. What is notable about all the Nabokov stories I’ve read so far is that they are perfection in form and style. There isn’t a word out of place; they are economic in delineation, and perfectly structured. He may be the most skilled fiction writer I have ever read.
So which of the stories gets the annual prize for best read story of the year? Of the exceptional listed above, I would say…drum roll please… Let’s Start with the honorable mentions and runner’s up: Muriel Spark’s “The Portobello Road,” and Ernest Hemingway’s “Now I Lay Me.” Both stories had nuance, depth, and created an interesting experience for the reader. The winner for 2015 is Herman Melville’s “Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” There’s a reason why “Bartleby” is a classic. The social implications, the psychological insight, and the religious connotations make it a profound story, and Melville’s prose is always sparkling.
Now one last thing, I have to apologize to one of my commenters who had a request and I didn’t follow through. A friend, Mary Sue, asked me back in the spring to write up specific posts for Melville’s “Bartleby” and Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I said I would and I worked up thoughts for both but never put pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard. Orthodoxy is just too large to do. When sometime in the future I read it again—and it’s worth another read—I’ll put together some sort of detailed post. Since I can’t renege twice to the same person, and since “Bartleby” won my annual best short study read, I owe it to Mary Sue to post an analysis of it. So stay tuned for that Mary Sue.
If there is anything that caught your eye in my 2015 Reads, let me know. I can discuss it further.