Books, mainly fiction, I failed to read this year.

9780147712554_p0_v2_s260x420 Starting with a big fail – Homer’s Odyssey. I failed even to buy a really nice secondhand copy of the Penguin edition of the Fagles translation (I had no loose change that afternoon) and then spent several weeks awaiting another one turning up, which eventually it did, along with a copy (same series, same editor) of the Iliad (separate copies, indeed in different shops along the same street, not in the suspiciously mint boxset pictured above). Bought them both. Browsed introductions. Ploughed the wine-dark sea of the first four books of Od … then got distracted, probably by something like Pynchon Day. Thought one evening around then that I’d reread Inherent Vice (I kept seeing Bleeding Edge in nameless high street bookshops where I look at books but mainly refuse to buy them, and thinking I should buy it) so dug out my copy of the novel. Spent several evenings making some headway, but one thing led to another and a few more pressing things accumulated as Pynchon Day receded and the movie of IV suddenly became an option (not out here in the UK yet, but impending, so hey, let’s shelve the novel for the moment …). I did read ALL of Lars Iyer’s Dogma (I once examined a PhD with him so felt I owed him my full attention, and I really thought Spurious was very good, having followed it from its sort-of inception on Typepad). By chance I picked up around the same time a copy of Lee Rourke’s The Canal, which still sits on the bedside table, beckoning … I’m about halfway through it at the moment. Maybe I’ll finish it before the end of the year. I saw Iyer and Rourke do a joint reading in Manchester a year or two ago. Iyer signed my copy of Blanchot’s Communism for which he apologised, and I apologised back for not having actually read it. But back to 2014. I’m also currently trying to work through the Joshi Penguin selections of Arthur Machen (I managed to read all 30-odd pages of The Great God Pan in one sitting) and Algernon Blackwood (ditto The Willows, a bit longer but hardly a marathon). Both these are actually rereadings, or rather would be rereadings, of things I read in old paperback editions decades ago as a (yes, disturbed) kid. I managed to read most of (maybe all of, I mean without jumping a few pages here and there) William Gaddis’s short but dense Agape Agape, which kind of blew me away and made me want to stick with the more difficult contemporary-and-dead / recent-and-still-living writing (sorry William H Gass, I still haven’t finished Middle C yet, having started it when it came out well over a year ago, I forget when exactly). Ann Quin’s Berg was a started-so-I’ll-finish-later lost masterpiece of 60s angst, it says (that last bit, at least) on the cover. Anna Kavan’s Guilty (prompted in part by hearing bits and bobs about Maggie Gee’s work on Kavan) turned up one day in a charity bookshop, and now sits on the shelf next to Quin making me feel, well, guilty, for not making it beyond the opening pages, so far. Jenny Erpenbeck’s Visitation was more hospitable and I did make some progress here, about 70 quite enjoyable pages or so if I recall. The bookmark’s just fallen out of my copy so I can’t be sure, but I’ll get back to it soon, I’m sure. Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation and her Last Things were train-journey reading (I picked up the former in York, on the way back from an external examiners’ meeting, and browsed quite a lot of it as we wound our way back to Edinburgh, but I can’t say I actually read it, nor the latter, to fully-read completion). Christian Bok’s Eunoia seduced me into buying it (nice hardback! Nice title! Nice author’s name! Nice dustcover! Nice typesetting! Nice conceit!) but not, alas, actually reading all of it. Yet. I read a few blogs on Jose Saramago knowing he was an example of a more difficult contemporary-and-dead etc etc so I started hunting out his works. My preference for hardbacks, especially ludicrously rare ones, has somewhat hampered accumulating his works (it’s also completely stymied my efforts to get up to speed with Nobel Prize-winner Patrick Modiano) but I relented a few times and picked up paperbacks of Cain (not yet read, struggled with the first few pages in a hotel in London that evening) and Blindness, this last a few days ago in a nice Harvill paperback reminiscent of a Sebald novel. I’m about 30 pages into it at the moment and will have a bash over the coming weeks. Karl Ove Knausgaard came to Edinburgh to read at the festival in August so I accumulated hardbacks of the My Childhood trilogy and took them along, two-thirds unread, for him to sign, which he very kindly did. Haruki Murakami came to Edinburgh to read too but I missed him. I picked up a signed copy of his new one, Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki, which I dare not read because according to ABE books it’s virtually priceless. I did read some of his other books, the one about talking about running, and Norwegian Wood, but that was a few years ago now. John Calder came to Edinburgh earlier in the year to fulminate about publishing and I bottled getting him to sign my copy of the William S. Burroughs reader that he edited. Which I have, incidentally, read. Well, I’ve read everything in it, if not that actual edition. I picked up Oliver Harris’s new editions of Burroughs’ non-existent cut-up ‘trilogy’ and very much enjoyed Harris’s introductions and scholarly notes, particularly to The Soft Machine, which I reread most of. I did read some of J H Prynne’s probably unreadable Kitchen Poems, which turned up in a charity shop. All in all it’s been a great, even triumphant, year for unread, partially read, or unreread and partially reread, books. And another major triumph is that apart from the Murakami, I’ve managed not to unread or fail to finish, or even to start reading, anything actually published this year. I haven’t even got onto the shelfloads of theory and criticism (which, hey, isn’t for actual cover-to-cover reading, is it, it’s reference stuff) I seem to have accumulated in 2014 (by people like Henry Louis Gates, Graham Harman, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, bell hooks, Sarah Kofman etc, etc, etc), most recently Slavoj Zizek’s Absolute Recoil. So far I’ve read the first few fascinating pages of this, on Troilus and Cressida, a play I’m pretty sure I haven’t actually read.

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