Reading Plans 2015

My reading for 2014 seems to have fallen apart in the last few months, so I thought it was time to extract myself from the wreckage and look forward to 2015 instead. (It’s always good to set these plans; it lets me later look back and see how I didn’t even attempt to fulfill them). I can’t even find anything worthwhile to say about books at the moment: I’ve tried writing posts on Joyce’s Ulysses, on the pseudo-Shakespearean Double Falsehood, and on the avant-garde rantings of Tom McCarthy (his Satin Island, out next year, is sure to be my highlight – if, that is, like C, I can happen upon a proof copy discarded in a local charity shop; Lee Rourke, on Twitter, has already called it “staggeringly good. A codex for our times. Like all great Literature people with either love it or hate it”; – perhaps I should offer a prize for the first person to suggest which French book he’s borrowed his ideas from), but none of it felt pleasing, or perhaps even true; so I gave up.

So, for next year then, I will:

  • Read more classic c19th realism (just to stick it to those avant-garde types): really, there’s lots of classics out there I’ve still never read
  • Read a lot of Italian literature (I was planning a month this year, like the Spanish month when I put everything aside and only read Spanish books – and since Amateur Reader claims he’s going to be reading Italian literature next year, and since I have so many interesting Italian books, I thought I’d join in)
  • Read more books in French (I always intend to, and always fail; – it’s just I’ve got so many interesting books now in French; the other week, for instance, I picked up a copy of João Guimarães Rosa’s Diadorim, which I don’t think I’m ever going to come by in English; – and I’m sure I don’t need to improve that much that it would be much more of an effort than English – frankly, even in English, I’m not that fussed about understanding every word)
  • Read my obscurer books. There’s nothing worse than having an obscure book for years, and not reading it, and then finding some damned imprint has brought out a new version and everyone’s now read it and discovered it and you can’t say, yeah well, I read it years ago, it was ok I suppose.
  • And, continuing a few projects: reading Faulkner, reading the complete works of Frederick Rolfe, reading Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage sequence, reading The Story of the Stone, reading all of Shakespeare (we’re getting close now) and plenty of other c17th / c18th playwrights – and whatever else takes my fancy.

Read McCarthy’s article in the LRB. It’s great stuff. He contends that fiction is not in fact “real” but just some stuff that people have made up and written down in words; that when we recount stories on paper, we don’t do it in precisely the same manner as the way our brain processes thought (though he doesn’t suggest why not); and that, when you look into it, some of those c19th realists were actually aware that they were making it up but still went on making it up anyway; – and they hadn’t even read Nietzsche, Deleuze, Blanchot, Derrida, Lyotard or Barthes; – almost as if it was something that just occurred to them while they were writing.

I’m reminded of the following excerpt of story-telling from Life of Brian, the final line of which often recurs in my head when I wonder about my own writing:

– Look, there was this man and he had two servants …
– What were they called?
– What?
– What were their names?
– I don’t know … and he gave them some talents …
– You don’t know!
– Well, it doesn’t matter.
– He doesn’t know what they were called!
– Oh, they were called Simon and Adrian! … Now …
– Oh, you said you didn’t know …
– It really doesn’t matter. The point is there were these two servants …
– He’s making it up as he goes along!

8 thoughts on “Reading Plans 2015

  1. That’s great stuff, the McCarthy article and the LoB bit. Writing is to create the universe bit by bit as we go along, or at least to create the illusion of the universe, even if it’s a clever illusion of a guy creating the illusion of the universe. All of it’s artifice, all of it’s metafiction.

    “Like all great Literature people will either love it or hate it.” Just like tapioca, then?

  2. It seems to me a fault of a man who’s spent too much time studying texts that he assumes that if another writer’s work doesn’t emphasise its own artificiality, then that writer must actually be unaware of it. (Perhaps it’s a mere irony that so far McCarthy’s own novels have failed to bear out any of his philosophical ravings. Will Satin Island prove anything other than the middlebrow realism of his last two novels? – McCarthy’s novels so far have shown no interest in form/style as a basis of radicalism; he seems to find his radicalism in content and symbolism, things which from a literary view I tend to conceive of as beside the point).

    – Or marmite, or peanut butter.

  3. What are you trying to do, having me look at that McCarthy thing. And I thought I was a bad name-dropper, lord. Although I did get to see the amusing idea that J. G. Ballard doesn’t know what he is doing (“a little disappointing,” gee that’s too bad).

    I do, though, think I will start capitalizing Literature. Impressive! Rourke does not know that almost everyone on earth is happily indifferent to great Literature, perhaps even ignorant of its existence, if it does exist? I usually think it does, but that capital letter is causing doubts.

    Yes, I am going to read Italian literature. I have a pile from the library and even bought a couple of books. If I successfully keep the idea narrow enough, you will likely read better Italian books than I will. You have, by the way, been part of the impetus in that I have been meaning to read Grazia Deledda, and now I will.

  4. I always think, people who feel the need to name-drop excessively, probably have little confidence in their own opinions.

    I’m sure in fact we’ll manage to keep entirely clear of one another in Italian literature: all I have to do, after all, is to avoid anything c19th; which shouldn’t be too hard. I’ll definitely be reading some Deledda though: I think I’ve got another 2 novels and a book of short stories to read.

    Which reminds me, another thing I was intending to do next year was to read more books by women.

  5. I read Deledda’s The Church of Solitude at the end of the year and was underwhelmed by it. It wasn’t bad–way better than the little of that McCarthy piece you tricked me into reading–but I’m not really curious about her anymore. Maybe I should dig up your old comments about her and see what I missed.

  6. I think maybe the subject matter of Deledda appeals to me: I’ve always liked books about people who for whatever reason repress their sexuality, and suffer on account of it.

  7. Funny – I read nearly all of that McCarthy piece just last night. I was amazed to get as far with it as I did. Poor old Ballard! If only he’d known what the hell he was at.

    Surely that Rourke maxim applies equally to Dan Brown?

  8. I’ll admit it’s not a particularly useful or exclusive aspect of great literature that people either love it or hate it.

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