So there’s this.
As I wrote just a couple of days ago, 2018 is the year I’m going to take the whole reading challenge thing a bit more easily.
I usually try to shoehorn 52 books into each year in some kind of book-a-week plan. Some years I’ve done more than 100 book per year. But mostly, I feel kind of hampered by there being a goal at all: I know I want to read more, and I know that how many books I read, I feel I should have read more.
So 2018’s goal is 26 books. Half of 2017’s amount. I think the page number should be roughly the same, because I’ve decided that I’m going to make an effort to read longer books. You know, the sort of things I might’ve read once years ago and have always meant to revisit, or things that I never quite have the time to get through.
This is more a wishlist than a must-do, but it’s not bad as something to shoot for. For those who can’t read my handwriting, here’s the goods, in no particular order:
- Bram Stoker: Dracula, Ali Rıza Seyfioğlu: Dracula in Istanbul and Vladimir Asmundsson: Powers of Darkness.
This is because it’s been too long since I read any Stoker, and because I’m interested in how texts change: the other two books are adaptations and translations gone wrong, creating very divergent texts from the original piece. Also, vampires. Expecting this to pair well with some revisiting of fanged film classics, too.
- Wu Cheng’en: Journey to the West.
As a kid, I loved watching Monkey! more than just about anything. I mean, check this out and tell me that doesn’t get you pumped for some pilgimage arse-kicking and flying cloud action. I tried to read the Penguin book of the same name, but it felt that something was missing, which of course it was: the unexpurgated four-volume version put out in English by the Foreign Language Press of Beijing is over 2200 pages long. So this is UNCUT MONKEY.
- David Foster Wallace: Infinite Jest.
This is something I’ve been carrying around since 1999. My copy is a massive fucking brick, and I’ve been told to read it for years. My lack of reading thus far hasn’t stopped me from making Infinite Footnotes cracks, but I figure I should actually plough through it because otherwise I’ve been transporting this doorstop to no real end. IT’S TIME.
- Herman Melville: Moby-Dick.
This was one I’ve always heard people complain about, but I remember absolutely loving it when I had to read it for study. I’ll be interested to see how it stacks up to my memory.
- Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote.
I’ve carried this around in every house move since about 1999. I’ve always been wondering when the right time would be to get into it: it appears that time is 2018.
- Homer: Iliad and Odyssey. Virgil: Aeneid.
I’ve read all these before. mostly as part of a Classical Civilisation course I took for a couple of years. I’m pretty sure I read the Fagles/Knox translations of all three, which I loved, particularly given that they seemed much less stuffy than the earlier translations I’d had a shot at.(That said, I did rediscover my copy of Lattimore’s Odyssey the other day, and might give it a whirl, too.) So I’m interested in reading different translations to see how they change the work. For the Homer, I’ll be reading Caroline Alexander’s Iliad and Emily Wilson’s Odyssey, while I’ll use David Ferry’s rendering of the Aeneid. I did a bit of reading on variant translations, and these three fitted best: I’m particularly excited for the Wilson.
- Paul La Farge: The Night Ocean.
I think I put this on because I was scrolling through my ebook purchases and became annoyed I hadn’t read it. It’s a book about HP Lovecraft and his circle, and I remember being excited about the previews I read, though I’m trying not to think much more about it so I go in clean.
- Dick Porter: Journey to the Centre of The Cramps.
Because really you can never know too much about Lux and Ivy’s destruction machine. Also, 2017 saw me read more books by and about musicians, so I’m keen to keep that up in 2018.
- More J.G. Ballard.
Pretty self-explanatory – he’s a writer I really like, and who I haven’t read enough of. I’ve read most of the shorter novels, but there’s some – mostly late – that I’ve not dipped into yet. I also have the two-volume compilation of his short work, which should prove suitably mindfucking.
- Russian SF.
Mostly Strugatsky and Zamyatin, if I’m honest. This is part of my plan to read more SF in general, as I’m not particularly keen on the genre. Or, rather, I have bullshit fatigue and want good SF. Though they’re not really linked at all, file Chinese SF under here, too: I have a lot of Liu to get through.
- John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance.
This is one of those books I have impressions of, but no real experience with. I have been carrying my copy since the mid-’90s and realise that as it’s the second in a series, I’ll probably end up doing Wolf Solent instead.
- Maurice Lever: The Marquis de Sade: A Biography.
I’ve had this since university and have never read it. I picked it up when I’d read a couple of his books, because I figured there must be something more exciting about the guy than his literary output, which is some of the clunkiest aristo-porn I think I’ve ever read. Not that that’s a particularly wide field, I guess, but anyway.
- Philip Meadows Taylor: Confessions of a Thug.
Probably for the same reason I have a whole bunch of Sax Rohmer waiting to be read.
- Peter Ackroyd.
I love Ackroyd but haven’t yet had a run-up at his history histories. His fiction features a lot of this kind of stuff – I loved Hawksmoor – but I haven’t read much of the non-fiction beyond London Under. I’m hoping to make a dent in his History of England series, but I’ll take any of it, really.
- Walter Isaacson: Leonardo da Vinci.
This is on the list because I know I’ll probably never read bloody Vasari. Also, it looks great, and I got it for Christmas.
- Christopher Tyerman: How to Plan a Crusade.
Because I am shockingly ill-informed where history is concerned. There’s other books I want to read about this time period, but you can’t fight a snappy title.
- Norman Davies: Vanishing Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe.
I’ve a couple of other Davies books to plough through – this was the year I upgraded from the doorstops to Kindle versions for both his European and UK histories – but I am quite taken with the idea of places so ephemeral now that they seem invented.
Because it’s been too long since I read Life a User’s Manual, the book I have probably bought as a present more often than even Oscar and Lucinda. Also, the author has excellent hair and loves cats.
A query. I reread Ulysses every couple of years, my Liffey-decorated version becoming more ragged-arsed every time around. I’m thinking it might be that time again. The tales of its difficulty are vastly overrated, as long as you accept that it’s a book designed to be heard aloud (in an Irish accent, no matter how dodgy your own might be), and to be consumed again and again. Lots of stuff won’t come through on a first reading, but the ride is wonderful. It’s a joyous shaggy-dog monstrosity that I really look forward to getting into again. I might upgrade this part of the challenge by adding on Finnegans Wake, which I have never read, perhaps because it features zero scenes of dodgy beach-perving like its Odyssey-aping bro. (Though maybe it does: like I say, I haven’t read it.)
So that’s the list. But there’s more to come, spied as I sit here typing. Here’s some things I’m considering that aren’t written on the paper, and are here as early notes for 2019, perhaps:
- Thomas Pynchon (particularly Against the Day and Mason & Dixon).
- Henry Miller: specifically The Rosy Crucifixion series, most likely because of Creeper Max Cady in the remake of Cape Fear.
- Matt Ruff: Lovecraft Country, as a ride-along with the La Farge above. See also S.T. Joshi’s I Am Providence biography of Lovecraft, plus Nick Mamatas’ book of the same name.
- More Kindle purchases. I have a backlog there, as I often buy digital rather than physical to stop my tendency to hoard. There’s some good stuff in there, begging to be read.
- The Foreign Language Press versions of A Dream of Red Mansions, Outlaws of the Marsh and Three Kingdoms.
- Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx. I’ve read it before, but it’s a delightful stab at the Dickensian epic. Absolutely massive, but it flies by – and yes, that dramatis personae in the back is completely necessary. Victorian popcorn!
- Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. Blame Assassin’s Creed Unity, really. Though I am intrigued by Christine Donougher’s translation, based on reviews. In the same vein, I am also keen to get into Eugène Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris.
And then, someday, I’ll go back there.
- More fantasy in general. I’ve a list of names I want to get through – Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy – but the longterm goal is to get some kind of canonical coverage, as per this list.
- Malcolm Lyons’ translations of The Arabian Nights, because like A Journey to the West this is a long narrative cycle that’s suffered from being sliced, diced and Bowdlerised.
- More poetry. I want to finally get through the complete Blake I have, as well as knocking over some ole faithfuls: The Canterbury Tales and Paradise Lost as starters on a very long list.
- See also: lots of Penguin black-spined historical, mythic and philosophical works.
My efforts to continue bog-reading Julian Cope’s tome of reviews and the Penguin Book of Oral Poetry will continue: I’m looking forward to making the usual slow progress on both.
(I’m currently reading Dave Graney’s Workshy, as predicted. Easing my way into the year, right.)
I suppose this is as close as I’ll get to writing any resolutions, given that everything else I’d do needs to be filed under daily self-care rather than shit you write about once and then never do again. So I’m hoping I’ll be able to come back to this at the end of the year and cross a bunch of entries off.