Planning the pages: 2019 edition

Another year, another list.

Buncha words. I still should mop the floor.

As I did last year, I’ve decided to try and remove a fair bit of the indecision that surrounds my reading. I’ve got a metric fuckton of unread books to go through, and I get paralysed with choice when I finish something. Which of the thousands – yes, literally – comes next?

So, I made a list. This one might be a bit more legible than last year’s one, but it’s probably just as unattainable, completion-wise. That doesn’t matter, though: the list provides some structure, and something that gives a good endorphin burst each time I can put a red read line through anything.

What’s on the list for 2019 is this:

  • Haruki Murakami: Killing Commendatore. I’ve been a Murakami fan for a long time, though have found a bit of his recent stuff a little eh. I’ve heard this one has problems, but am keen to see for myself.
  • Homer: Odyssey. As per last year, I’m excited about the Emily Wilson translation, which I think will be a blast.
  • Virgil: Aeneid. The Ferry translation, which I once again did not read last year.
  • Walter Isaacson: Leonardo da Vinci. Second appearance on the list, and still keen to learn more about the inventor/artist/oddbod.
  • Joanna Ebenstein: Death: A Graveside Companion. Morbid much? Hell, a memento mori is a good thing to see, on occasion, which is good as the book’s full of them. I dunno, there’s just something a bit beautiful and creepy about skulls.
  • Umberto Eco: On Beauty. A dissection, I hope. If anything can explain the modern view of what’s considered gorgeous, it’d be a book by a guy fixated with monks and such.
  • Umberto Eco: On Ugliness. A bit hard to do one without the other, really.
  • Dennis Covington: Salvation on Sand Mountain. I’d wanted to read this one for a while but hadn’t found a physical copy, so was glad to see it was available as an ebook. It’s a non-fiction tale of snake-handling, strychnine-drinking faith healers. Oh, and attempted murder.
  • Wu Cheng’en: Journey to the West. One more time around. Gotta get through it this year. It’s the unexpurgated version from the Foreign Language Press of Beijing and has thousands of pages and therefore, I assume, thousands of scenes where Monkey is awesome.
  • Peter Ackroyd. In general, really. I still haven’t made a dent on his History of England series, and so hope to get though some of those. Failing that, I’ve his history of queer London to read, and a reread of Hawksmoor to line up.
  • Matt Ruff: Lovecraft Country. I dug The Night Ocean despite its faults, and want to read more alt-Lovecraft stuff. This one seems well regarded, and has been on my radar for a while.
  • Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall. (Yes, and the follow-up too I guess.) Another historical blockbuster I appear to have missed, even though it seems right up my alley. So, let’s rectify that.
  • Hitchcock bio. I’ve a couple to choose from: Donald Spoto’s The Life of Alfred Hitchcock or Patrick McGilligan’s Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Lights. There’s also Dan Aulier’s Hitchcock’s Secret Notebooks and François Truffaut’s Hitchcock/Truffaut waiting to be read. I’ve also got a book of critical essays on North by Northwest that I’d like to get around to sometime.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment. This is one I’ve read before, and I remember it being gripping as hell, even though I was reading one of the cheapest copies I could find – and therefore probably one of the more elderly translations. I’m keen to read the Ready translation, as it’s been the recipient of much applause.
  • Kalevala. Sooooo I misspelled it on my list, placing me behind the eight ball before I’ve even started. I’ve an Oxford translation of this Finnish compilation of mythology and folklore and am keen to see what totems and gods are like with lots of umlauts.
  • Malcolm Lowry: Under the Volcano. I’ve no idea what current events could’ve made me want to read about British governmental failures, but here we are. It was a random pick from my shelf of orange-spine Penguin paperbacks and I’m pretty intrigued.
  • Indian epic. There’s a couple to choose from. But at hand, I have versions of the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyana that I’d like to get through. (Both will probably be a bit much in one year, though, as they’re pretty massive, even in abridged form.) Indian mythology is something I know precious little about, and I’d like to get past the stereotypes, frankly. Interest was sparked once more after last year’s THUG LIFE read.
  • Norse epic. I’ve a couple more of these to choose from as there’s a wealth of them in print. My desire to read was probably prompted by Kratos & Son, but I’ve always intended to learn a lot more about these stories. Not sure if I’ll get into the Edda or the Völsunga saga or something else, but I’m excited.
  • Robert Graves: The Claudius Novels. No, they’re not historically accurate. But I enjoyed the hell out of the TV adaptation – impossible to do otherwise with a Caesar like this, frankly – and I’m keen to get to the source. Well, not the actual source, as that’d be reading more Suetonius or something – but the pop-source.
  • Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso: 100 Bullets. I read more graphic novels last year than I’d intended, and got through a couple of bigger series. (They’re great for defragging between ancient tomes, frankly.) This pulp revenge tale has interested me for years, and when it came up cheap on Comixology, I had to nab it.
  • Julia Kite: Hope & Anchor. This one’s entirely due to a friend’s reaction to the book. I spent a couple of years in London – partially why I like Ackroyd’s stuff – and this mystery of frustration seemed to be something I could really get on board with.
  • Scott Lynch: the Gentleman Bastard series. Yes, he’s only written three out of the planned seven books (supposedly the fourth arrives this year), but I’ve put off reading this for long enough. Recommended by another friend, who was aghast that I hadn’t read them.
  • Gerald Murnane: A Million Windows. Frankly, it could be any of the Murnane I haven’t read, here. I’ve his collected short stories book, a vaguely autobiographical work, and a couple of others floating around on the Kindle. I don’t love everything he does, but he’s a singular voice and unashamedly odd.
  • John Cowper Powys: Wolf Solent. This is the first step on the way to getting to A Glastonbury Romance, and so I’m taking it. I’ve always been put off by the length and density of Powys’ work, so I figure a move to the country will provide the perfect place to dive in.
  • Michael McDowell: The Elementals. Stephen King and Poppy Z. Brite seem to think this is a bit of all right, so who am I to argue? Friends have also recommended this one, so any spookiness with multiple levels of recommendation is going to work out, I suspect.
  • Donald Richie’s The Inland Sea is something I’d wanted to read for quite a while, at lease since I saw the place in Japan on my last trip. I managed to read it before finishing this post and frankly it’s deserving of a healthy dose of Yeah Nah.
  • Yasunari Kawabata: The Izu Dancer. Largely because Kawabata was one of the first writers I read from Japan (other than Murakami) and I am very keen to read more.
  • Luther Blissett: QWritten in collaboration, free to copy non-commercially and full of weird survivalist protips. It’s strange enough to have sat on my shelf for years, so maybe now’s the time to get it knocked over.
  • Edmund MorrisThe Rise of Theodore RooseveltTheodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt. This three-volume biography – very well regarded and about a dude who was more interesting than most presidents, let’s face it – was an unexpected gift, and I want to be able to give it the attention it deserves.

The part about random Gould’s books refers to some books I scored from the sale held when Newtown institution Gould’s finally quit their enormous space on King St. There’s some gems in there.  See?

(I’ll also be including some USyd book sale finds in there, mostly musical. Because… they’re both still in bags?)

I’ll probably read some Clive James as I recently read some of his travel writing – after a long time away from his work – and enjoyed it. His turn of phrase is pretty remarkable, and he was really a part of my childhood, curiously, so I want to read a little more, at least while he’s still with us.

And here’s some stretch goals for the year. I probably won’t get a whole lot of them read – hell, I probably won’t get all of my to-read list read if last year’s progress is anything to go by – but it doesn’t hurt to aim high.

  • Music texts, instructional. I’m currently trying to work on my piano skills, guitar playing and my shaukuhachi lameness (as ever). I’ve a couple of guides to each so I can start a more rigorous practice.
  • Music texts, theoretical. A different approach from the physical: this is about figuring out why music does what it does, with the ultimate aim of creating my own stuff on the stave. There’s a lot of books here – probably overkill, frankly – including several of Walter Piston’s works, Charles Wuorinen’s book on composition strategies, Read’s book on notation and so forth. It’s a lot to take in but I’ve got a lot of ground to make up – and I figure it’ll all percolate in the brain-pan until something good comes of it.
  • The Wellcome Collection-produced books The Smile StealersThe Sick Rose and Crucial Interventions. More morbidity at work, perhaps, but there’s a delightfully retro thrill to be found in these wonderfully-made books.
  • Dedalus and Valancourt books. Both publishing houses have a fairly grim cast, if seen from a particular direction. Dedalus has released translations of a lot of European classics – including Gustav Meyrink’s frankly excellent The Golem and The Angel of the West Window – and Valancourt has assembled some excellently Gothic titles. Both imprints seem an indulgent delight, which is probably why I’m drawn to them.
  • The Malcolm Lyons translation of The Arabian Nights, because I still haven’t gotten around to it.
  • You can assume that the other Chinese epics, Joycean tomes, Sax Rohmer embarrasssments, Mishima re-reads and poetic heavyweights I referenced last year are still on this list. It’s something that only grows each year, rather than diminishing. I’d like to add more history books to the list, too, as the older I get the more aware I appear to be of enormous holes in my knowledge.

I’m still not finished Copendium (as expected) but I did knock over The Penguin Book of Oral Poetry last year, so my bathroom reading pile has halved.

So let’s see how all that goes. Somewhere in the middle of the year – with luck – there’ll also be the tiny matter of relocating everything to our new house a couple of hours outside Sydney. I’m hoping that even in those frankly terrifying times, there’ll be plenty of typeset friends to see me through. Because I have to say, in the face of downsizing and shifting house, and the current vogue for freeing yourself from superfluous, non-joymaking possessions, this column covers how I feel about the forests on my shelves.

Success is, eventually, actually reading your unread books, or at least holding on to them long enough that they have the chance to satisfy, dissatisfy or dement you. Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure.

My future’s pretty bright, I guess.


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