Planning the pages: 2020 edition

OK, let’s do this thing before the month gets away from me.

At least the floor’s cleaner this year.

Here’s a list of books. This will be the third year I’ve tried to plan out what I’d like to read in the coming months. Naturally, I never really get through the whole list – or even half of it. That’s kind of the point, though: this is a selection of works that I use to spur me onwards: to remind me that there’s great things out there that I want to read.

I’ve set myself another Goodreads Reading Challenge for this year. I’ve decided 35 books is a doable number: I had 30 on deck for 2019 and managed to exceed that, so I figure mid-thirties is attainable without being the rod for my back that 52 books might turn out to be.

Here’s the list above, deciphered.

  • Clive James: Unreliable Memoirs. I read some of James’s criticism again last year and was reminded once more of his stellar turn of phrase. So in light of his death, it’s finally time to read about his life. I’ve just mentioned the first volume in the list, but I’m hoping to read all of them: his writing just floats off the page. I’d also like to read some of his poetry, particularly his rendering of Dante’s The Divine Comedy.
  • Proust. This is one of the big projects of the year. I’ve had a boxed set of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time eyeballing me from the shelves for years, and figured now’s the time to give it a whirl. Will it be as transformative as this video suggests? I’m hoping so! Relatedly, I’ll probably shoehorn in a reading of How Proust Can Change Your Life, as well, though I’m undecided as to whether it’ll be before or after.
  • Sokyo Ono: Shinto: The Kami Way. Another book I’ve had kicking around for a while. My interest in Japan includes religions: not that I necessarily want to convert to Buddhism or Shinto, or to become a Zen master, but because I’m interested in how they inform the mindset and behaviour of people in Japan. Shinto’s kind of interesting to me due to its animist overtones: I like the idea of everything having a spirit, of having value. Whether there’s much weight to it or not, I’d like to have a better sense of what the belief structure entails.
  • McKinney (ed): Travels With a Writing Brush: Classical Japanese Travel Writing from The Manyōshū to Bashō. Another one of those covetable Penguin collections. I pretty much bought this on the strength of this review, though as you might have guessed, a book of Japanese travel writing was always going to be something I could get behind.
  • Andrew McGahan: The Rich Man’s House. I’ve loved McGahan’s work since Praise and the knowledge that this is the last of his works meant it was a no-brainer addition. The fact that it is apparently also a thriller (!) adds to the appeal.
  • Various: Australian Gothic. When I first started checking out Kindle titles, this one caught my eye. It was (and is!) cheap, but the concept stuck: a bunch of creepy tales with an Aussie bent, with authors past and present. I’m expecting some nice gems in here, given that Fergus Hume and Guy Boothby both appear.
  • Wu Cheng’en: Journey to the West. Once more with feeling. The complete Foreign Language Press of Beijing version is on deck and I really need to start it. I mean, it’s only been decades that I’ve wanted to get through the full story of the wonderfully dickish Monkey King.
  • Norse Epics. See last year. Not sure which particular strand of mythology I’ll unpick first, but my God of War-sparked curiosity remains bright.
  • Victorian London ebooks. This series, curated (and sometimes written) by Lee Jackson, is something that’s been on my radar for a while. I’ve a real bee in my bonnet about London, particularly that of the Victorians, and so any series that includes chimney-sweep biographies and dog fights is probably a no-brainer. I’m also including Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor in here because hey, why not read more about the way the Industrial Revolution fucked over the workers?
  • Dead Mountain. This is an entry which covers two books: one fiction and one not. The first is The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, a locked-room mystery. The second is Donnie Eichar’s Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, which examines a freakish mountain mystery.
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin: We. I mean, why wouldn’t I want to read a totalitarian sci-fi classic that’s reputedly the basis for Brave New World?
  • Mark Fisher: The Weird and the Eerie. While Fisher is no longer with us – and I have a whole lot of his stuff to read – this book is, and it’s absolutely in my wheelhouse. It’ll be the source for future explorations in the world of the odd, undoubtedly.
  • Scott Lynch: the Gentleman Bastards. Another one from previous lists, this is one of those sets of books that I’ve been told that I should read, but never have. So why not? Naturally, I’m chucking Joe Abercrombie’s books in here as well.
  • Robert Kirkman: The Walking Dead. I burned out on the TV version of this, though I was very much a fan of the series of Telltale Games renditions. And now that the comic series has come to an end, I figure I might as well get the full version of the Rick-and-co. story.
  • Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall. Another holdover from previous years, I figured that with the final book in the trilogy due, it might be a good time to cue these up.
  • Text Classics. I’ve been a real fan of Text Publishing’s line of classics since I discovered them a couple of years ago. The uniform yellow of the spines pleases me greatly when I see them on my shelves – that same level of glee that a range of orange Penguins brings. It’s an excellent way to learn more about Australian writers I’m ashamed to know little about. The range is superb.
  • John Darnielle: Universal Harvester. I’m foremost a fan of John’s work with The Mountain Goats, because they are excellent. But I did very much enjoy his novel Wolf in White Van, and have been meaning to read his next one for some time. I guess it’s time for creepy videos, folks.
  • Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent. Another one I probably should have read years ago. The times mean it’s a thing that’s probably essential in terms of understanding what the hell’s going on. There’s also the video version, should I get stuck.
  • Walter de la Mare: The Return. I figure here’s as good a place to start as any with de la Mare creepiness. I’ll let you know if I was right.
  • Tricky: Hell is Round the Corner. I’ve loved Tricky’s music from the first moment I heard Maxinquaye. The interviews I’ve read with him have prepared me for some deeply fucked-up stuff in here, but I’m keen to learn what has led to his output. There’s a couple of other musical biographies I could add here as well: Szed’s Space is the Place on Sun Ra, and Anthony DeCurtis’s Lou Reed, both books about artists who I know pretty well musically, but not very well on an actual human level.
  • Gerald Kersh. Another writer I only know via others’ plaudits, most notably those of Harlan Ellison. Blurbs intrigued, and the ebooks were cheap, so this is someone I’m taking a punt on.
  • David Stevenson: 1914–1918. Purely because I’m trying to read more history. I don’t know enough about either World War, other than the broadest strokes. I’d like to rectify that, and this is somewhere to begin, at least.
  • Catie Gilchrist: Murder, Misadventure and Miserable Ends. More history, this time of a more local (and specifically morbid) approach. I should probably get on to David Hunt’s Girt and True Girt while I’m here, too: my knowledge of Australian history is fucking appalling.
  • Homer: Odyssey. As mentioned before, this is the new translation I’m excited about. Maybe this year I’ll even get through it! I’m certainly intrigued as to how it will differ from the Fagles/Knox translation with which I’m most closely familiar.
  • John Yates: The Mind Illuminated. Over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to work on my mental health, and to be more active in terms of meditation. This has a pretty good reputation as a manual to creating a decent practice, so I’m going to give it a go. Meditation also is fairly close to esoterica, so I’ll also be trying to read Christopher S. Hyatt’s Undoing Yourself With Energised Meditation and Other Devices and Daniel M. Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book, as they tend to be more on that side of the spectrum. I’m hoping that the quiet surrounds will imprint themselves on my mind, frankly.
  • Ludovico Ariosto: Orlando Furioso. I once tried to read this on a flight to the USA and discovered that it’s not exactly the sort of fare for airport consumption. However, I’m hoping it’s more in the teapot-and-armchair lane, as that’s where I’m wanting to spend more time this year. Another classic I’ve had kicking around for ages.
  • Russians. Yes, in general. Following on from my reread of Crime and Punishment, this includes everyone from Tolstoy to Bulgakov to Grossman. I’ve a couple of specific books in mind – classics mostly – but have been stocking up on current writers, too.
  • David Peace. Specifically the Red Riding Quartet. A series of noir-tinged books set between 1974–1983 which focuses on the Yorkshire Ripper amongst other things? Sounds delightful.
  • Hexadic System. Ben Chasny, the fevered brain behind Six Organs of Admittance, has a system for writing which appeals to me very much. I like the idea of limitation in creation, and Chasny’s system uses something similar to cartomancy to created both chords and progressions. Others (including Phil Legard) have used the system to great effect, and I feel it’s the sort of thing I could make good use of, what with my limited playing and all. There’s some resources here, if you’re interested.
  • Patrick White. This is an ongoing project. I finally replaced by housebrick-sized copy of David Marr’s biography with an ebook version, so I might actually get to it this year. I am always delighted when I read White’s work, yet I always feel I’ve not read enough of it. I do tend to default to rereading Voss, though I must branch out into some of the others I’ve not yet paged through.
  • Shakuhachi. My efforts at learning the shakuhachi have stalled, of late. So I’m making a stab at putting aside a couple of hours a week to work through some manuals and guides I have to ensure my basic skills are a bit better before I move towards lessons again. It’s an instrument I’m learning pretty much for myself: I don’t have visions of public playing, really. It’s difficult, and that’s the point, maybe.
  • Guitar. I’ve played guitar for years, but have remained a fairly untutored hacker. Playing in Rhys Chatham’s A Crimson Grail a couple of years ago made me realise that I could (and should) do a lot more with my playing, so I’ve picked up one of Berklee’s foundation texts for the instrument: William Leavitt’s A Modern Method for Guitar. The edition I have collects all three volumes, and it’s geared towards helping a guitarist read stave naturally, which is something I’ve always had trouble with. Upskilling, I reckon.
  • Endo. When I was in Japan earlier in 2019 I picked up a number of works I hadn’t seen in Australia. Chief amongst them was Wonderful Fool, a novel by Shūsaku Endō, whose Silence had already intrigued me. Another attempt to broaden my knowledge of Japanese literature a little.
  • Mishima. A recent viewing of the masterful film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters reminded me of the power of Yukio Mishima‘s work. I’ve a biography to read, as I don’t know enough about his life, and feel enough time has passed since I last read The Sea of Fertility tetralogy that I can give it another whirl. Mishima is an author I kind of get into a whirlpool of fascination with, so let’s see if I get to him this year.
  • …plus random pulp crud. This one’s pretty self-explanatory, I guess. Pulp keeps the brain defragged and functional. I’m counting golden-age detective stuff here, horrible Jane Austen-period gothic also-rans, and big-typeface 1970s horror schlock. It’s all deliciously bad.

Of course, there’s other stuff that I thought of after I’d written the list. I’ve been meaning to read Acute Misfortune, the Adam Cullen biography which inspired the film of the same name, for some time. See also other artist bios: Whiteley and Smart. There’s Martin Gayford’s examination of Bacon and the London Painters. Then there’s the new Penguin collection of Oulipo oddities, one man’s multi-volume evisceration of his life, Brian Catling’s art-inspired forest surrealism, Olga Tokarczuk‘s brain-bending award winners, Tokyo crime novels, Tasmanian gothic, Clavell doorstops and Seabury Quinn flashiness.

(Honestly, the more I think the more comes up so I’m gonna call a halt here.)

It probably should go without saying that pretty much anything which appears on previous editions of this post are fair game, too. Just because something isn’t on this list doesn’t mean it’s dropped off. More likely, it means I’m embarrassed about having not managed to read it yet.

I’m hoping I get to read a lot more this year because I’ve finally made the move to the country. Part of this move involved the packing of all my books into boxes; to eliminate the need to unpack all of them straight away, there’s two boxes of “just in case” reading material sitting in the room that will become my library.

How many needs will be covered? LET’S FIND OUT.

The good thing about the new house is that there’s a lot of places to sit and read. It’s comfy, and there’s great light out here, so I’m looking forward to spending more hours lost in words.

(I’ve also begun to use Bookly to track my reading as well, which is neat as it’s the first reading timer that I’ve found to fill the gap left by ReadMore. Not so thrilled by the idea of a subscription model but still…)

I won’t get through them all, but it’s good to have goals, right? Between this and the list, I reckon I’ve some good times coming up.


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