2023 Books Read

I think I might have read more books by non-American authors than American this year. Countries represented below: Austria, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Ireland, France, Russia, Colombia. I revisited some old favorites, which I will continue to do in 2024. I read widely this year, and “met” some brand new (to me) authors, and feel enriched by the encounters. Lots of horror here though. The ravages of the 20th century as told by those who survived.

1. A Rage in Harlem, by Chester Himes
My nephew Cashel gave me this fantastic often-hilarious noir, set in Harlem, featuring a sequence involving a runaway hearse that made me laugh out loud. I read it in one setting on a rainy day in Memphis, when I stepped into a nearly-empty blues club on Beale Street to get out of the rain. I sat there, had a beer, listened to the music being played by a live trio up on the stage, and read. It was a great way to start the year. And now I have read Chester Himes. I feel sad I didn’t read him earlier but it’s never too late to meet a new author!

2. The Captive Mind, by Czesław Miłosz
A second time through. It’s good to hear from this particular front. I feel like it will bolster me up and sharpen my senses to recognize what is happening as it is happening. The times are so chaotic (I suppose every “time” is chaotic) it’s easy to lose your perspective. Miłosz went through it, and saw the effects of propaganda on a population – all the captive minds – and the different personality types that emerged under such pressure.

3. My Face for the World to See, by Alfred Hayes
I’m not sure how this one came into my sight-lines but I am so glad it did. It’s a little ice pick of a tale, a Hollywood story with a noir-ish vibe. While at a Hollywood party at a house on the beach, the screenwriter narrator (Hayes was a screenwriter real life) rescues a girl attempting to drown herself in the ocean. (Shades of Ida Lupino in Moontide, and a host of other stories.) The girl has been trying to “make it” in Hollywood and … yeah, things aren’t going so well. She’s lost. He’s married but the wife is back on the East Coast. The girl has been around the block, so the two start a little affair. He makes the mistake of thinking they’re on the same page. He can’t see the red flags. He thinks this fragile girl knows the score, he thinks she’s capable of having a casual fling. This is a slim little book, over in a flash, but it’s DEEP.

4. For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports , by Christopher Hitchens
There are these older collections of Hitchens’ essays, dating back to the 80s, and either they’re back in print or I somehow just never tracked them down. Some of it is tough going because he’s writing about some act of Parliament or some ruckus in Congress that seemed super important in 1984 and I have no idea what the hell is going on. I don’t read too many people JUST for the writing, the sentences, the references, how he puts a paragraph together. He’s so good at openers. I watch and (try to) learn.

5. Grand Hotel, by Vicki Baum
I can’t believe I never read this before. I practically know the movie by heart but never read the book. It’s a masterpiece.

6. Hell’s Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson
I love HST but I had never read this one before. I miss him.

7. This is Pleasure, by Mary Gaitskill
This made me uncomfortable and I loved it. It ruffled feathers. I love that too. Gaitskill is not known for playing it safe.

8. Aline MacMahon: Hollywood, the Blacklist, and the Birth of Method Acting, by John Strangeland
I adore Aline MacMahon (her name comes up here often!) and it was fascinating to learn more about her life in this recent biography. I always knew she was special, and worked in a different way than many of her peers. You can TELL. She was usually cast as a sidekick, in films, on the wisecracking periphery of events (the exception being the excellent Heat Lightning – corrected! Thank you Bill!!), although she was a leading lady on Broadway. She arrived in Hollywood and instantly got pretty substantial parts, maybe because she was clearly a grown woman already and not starlet-material. She was young and incredibly beautiful, but she seemed seasoned, mature. She “read” as older than she was. A great talent: she took her craft seriously. I loved learning more about her.

9. Hello, Molly!: A Memoir, by Molly Shannon
It’s wonderful. Painful, though. The tragedy of her childhood … my God.

10. The Pump House Gang, by Tom Wolfe
Talk about someone entertaining. I’d read some of these before. The Hugh Hefner one I definitely knew. But a lot of these were new to me.

11. Earthly Signs: Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922, by Marina Tsvetaeva
This was a very tough read. The pain, the poverty, the panic, the absolutely helpless situation … it’s even worse knowing what’s coming. Tsvetaeva was a celebrated poet, good friends with Anna Akhmatova, and the two shared similar(ish) fates. The years immediately post-Revolution were horrific, filled with violence and deprivations, famine and war, and Tsvetaeva found it impossible to find food. She had two children. She had to travel miles, by bus, by train, on foot, to get a bag of half-rotten potatoes. She was so desperate she ended up putting one of her daughters into an orphanage, thinking the daughter would have a better shot at survival there. Tsvetaeva was wrong. The daughter died. Her husband was lured back to Moscow from living in exile, promised a place in the new regime. It was a trap. He was executed. Tsvetaeva committed suicide in 1941. Some lives are just more difficult than others. It’s the luck of the draw: where you are born and, more crucially, what year. If you were a European or Russian, and you were born in the 1880s/1890s, you were fucked. Tsvetaeva was born in 1892. I am not familiar with her poetry (she published her first volume of poetry at age 16), but I picked this up because I’m fascinated by those years – the late teens and early 20s in brand new Soviet Russia. Total chaos.

12. Chess Story, by Stefan Zweig
He’s one of the very best. This novella is swift and disturbing, written very near the tragic end of his life.

13. The Burning of the World: A Memoir of 1914, by Béla Zombory-Moldován
An incredible first-person account of the summer of 1914 and Austria-Hungary going to war, as told by a young artist living a pampered idyllic life, called away from summer vacation to go join the army. One of the images burned into my brain is the part where the troops – after a couple of weeks of doing drills, marching, and looking left, all the pomp and circumstance – actually go into battle for the first time, using these out-moded antiquated tactics, completely inappropriate for the carnage awaiting them. Here they are, marching along, their long swords bumping against their calves, trying to follow protocol, as the world burned. It really shows just how ridiculous that empire was, how out of touch, how it was dead before it died. Fantastic.

14. Screen Tests, by Kate Zambreno
She came on my radar because of Cal Morgan’s posts about her – and this book – on Instagram. I inhaled it, reading it probably way too quickly, so much so I feel I could re-read it right now and discover things I missed. I loved her thoughts on Barbara Loden’s Wanda, but there was so much else to savor. Her writing makes me want to write. I mean, I write anyway, but her writing makes me want to write more.

15. A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising, by Miron Białoszewski
What a wild book. Apparently it was fairly controversial when it was published, because this first-person account shows the Warsaw Uprising not from the center of the action, but from the sides. The populace of Warsaw racing to and fro, trying to find escape routes, dodging bullets, scurrying through the sewer lines to the other side of town, avoiding certain blocks, etc. Not exactly a heroic account – or, at least, not explicitly. But it puts you there, on those streets. You feel the panic. There’s a street map at the beginning of the book, so you can literally follow the action, step by step. You take a left on this street, backtrack, go through a side street … and you can visualize it because of the detailed map.

16. Black Swans, by Eve Babitz
She’s so deliriously entertaining, with piercing moments of sincerity, pathos, poetry. An avatar for all pleasure-seeking careless women everywhere, the women who don’t save up for tomorrow, who have no concept of conserving their energy for a rainy day.

17. All Will Be Well: A Memoir, by John McGahern
One of my favorite authors. He’s hard for me to re-read because he is so associated with my father. Dad was the one who pointed me in McGahern’s direction. Specifically, McGahern’s Amongst Women, one of my favorite novels of all time. McGahern didn’t write that many novels. I have read them all. Dad gave me McGahern’s memoir All Will Be Well for Christmas or my birthday. So. This was years and years ago. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it because Dad is gone, and it’s a little bit too poignant (and painful, since I won’t be able to talk with him about it). I finally decided to read it. It’s so good. What’s interesting is his childhood takes up the majority of it. 3/4s of it. He sums up his adolescence/young adult life in less than 100 pages at the end. They are, essentially, not important. Everything important happened to him as a child, and those events where what he wrote from. The relationship with his parents, his father in particular. I recognize the father – tragic, flawed, difficult, a little scary – in Amongst Women. In that book, as you can see from the title, it’s about the daughters’ connection to their dad, and the brother has fled to England, just to get away from the family home – which is exactly what McGahern did. And so it makes Amongst Women even greater, knowing it was written in an act of imaginative empathy, stepping into his sisters’ experiences, and why they chose to stay so close to this man, who was so difficult and hurtful and poignant. It’s more complicated than The Great Santini, although there are similarities. The perception of the child … finally understanding his father is a flawed person, and then – the electric moment – when the son realizes he can “take” his father. At long last. He will not be bullied anymore. This is a painful book, but beautifully written.

18. Last Times, by Victor Serge
As with most of Serge’s writing, Last Times, his novel of the Fall of France, was written on the run. Pursued by multiple enemies, Stalin’s minions and others, he ended up in Mexico, I think around the time Trotsky – also in Mexico – was assassinated. Serge needed cash. Badly. But because of the Socialist-leaning Russia-loving tendencies of the American press, nobody would publish him. Because of course an actual Russian person – a Russian revolutionary, no less – shouldn’t be listened to once he criticized Stalin – because of course American liberals knew more about what was going on in Russia than the actual Russian refugee. Don’t get me started. He wrote Last Times to be a best-seller, a crowd-pleaser. He needed it to sell. And it did. It’s about the fates of all of the citizens of one city block in Paris: what each one did, as the Nazis approached. So it’s an ensemble book, almost cinematic. Very different from his other books. I loved it!

19. The Culture of Lies, by Dubravka Ugrešić
She died this year. Her Museum of Unconditional Surrender is such an excellent meditation/evocation of the experience of living in exile, which she did for decades, being unable to return to Croatia, due to all the death threats she received. A major voice. We are lucky she’s been translated. So many others are not. And so these major voices may as well not exist to the English-speaking world. I decided to branch out and read her essays (there are multiple collections). This one is made up of her political essays. They are indispensable reading. She, in general, is indispensable.

20. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, by Milan Kundera
I decided to re-read the work of Milan Kundera this year. I didn’t get very far, but I enjoyed re-visiting this one. I haven’t read it since college. Kundera weaves personal stories with the political: even as deeply as he gets into the teeny moments making up romantic and family relationships, the real story is what it is like living in a country where memory is abolished. Where people can vanish. Where cancel culture is official government policy. Kundera is breathtakingly transparent in his exploration of these kind of cold lothario men, men with prolific but empty sex lives. Men who wreak havoc on women’s lives. He knows this terrain well.

21. Liquidation, by Imre Kertész
The Hungarian novelist, Imre Kertész, won the Nobel Prize in 2002. During WWII, he was imprisoned at first in Auschwitz and then Buchenwald. He worked as a journalist and translator afterwards and moved – kind of amazingly, all things considered – to Germany. I’m going to explore more of his work based on the power of this one. Hungary is haunted by the decades of Communism and the Holocaust, and this national history infected the population. It’s not like communism ends and then everyone’s like “Yay!!” It is a land of ghosts. Of horrible memories, personal and inherited. The novel starts with a suicide.

22. Partygoing, by Henry Green
My God, WHAT IS THIS BOOK. How have I never heard of this novelist? It is very very much “my kind of thing”. It’s not a long book, and it takes place in one room, as a bunch of people wait for a delayed train. But it’s DENSE. I had to keep re-reading passages just to make sure all the events landed and stuck. It was an exhilarating experience and I will tear through the rest of his work in 2024. I am hooked.

23. Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell
A re-read. I revisit his work often.

24. The Portrait of Mr. W.H: Uncover The Identity of The Enigmatic Dedicatee of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, by Oscar Wilde
I love Oscar Wilde but I had never heard of this. It’s a short story about a man who goes insane investigating “Mr. W.H.”, name-checked on the title page of Shakespeare’s sonnets. “To the onlie begetter of these insuing sonnets Mr. W.H. All happinesse and that eternitie promised.” Who is W.H.? The Portrait of Mr. W.H., like Dorian Gray, shows the inevitable end-stop of obsession: madness.

25. Prepared for the Worst: Selected Essays and Minority Reports, by Christopher Hitchens
More of earlier Hitchens. Published in 1988. I get some horrible flashbacks reading these older collections. It’s like flash-cards of national ridiculousness. Oh God, Iran Contra. etc. Snapshots of these major world events – like the fall of the Berlin Wall – written about in real time, the immediacy of response is essential reporting.

26. Memories of Starobielsk: Essays Between Art and History, by Józef Czapski
A couple of years ago I read the English translation of Czapski’s Lost time: lectures on Proust in a Soviet prison camp. Czapski was a Polish army officer captured by the Soviet Army and held in a prison camp for months and months. He was one of thousands. Basically the entire upper brass of the Polish military was held captive. Most of them were massacred in the Katyn forest (which the Russians blamed on the Germans, and that rumor “stuck” for 60, 70 years – until finally the truth was acknowledged, relatively recently, that yes, the Russian army killed 22,000 people and threw them in mass graves. 22,000 people.) It’s incredible that Czapski survived this. Very few people walked away from the Katyn forest. At any rate, while in prison, he gave a series of lectures on Proust’s 6-volume opus. The notes survive, and they were finally published. Of course these lectures he gave were completely from memory since he was in prison. I think his most famous book was Inhuman Land – which I’ll read in 2024 – but this book is a memoir of his time in the POW camp.

27. Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism, by Anne Applebaum
Depressing. But important.

28. Hotel Theory, by Wayne Koestenbaum
One of THE reads of the year for me.

29. The Banquet in Blitva, by Miroslav Krleža
Dubravka Ugrešić mentioned this book in one of her essays and it sounded amazing. How had I never heard of it before? Well, here we are again, facing the problem of translation. Miroslav Krleža is a massive figure in Croatian literature. I could just be ignorant and unaware (highly possible) but I had flat out never heard of him, despite my at-this-point lifelong interest in the region. So I bought it. It’s a satire, basically, a biting one – and eerily prescient. The Banquet in Blitva was published in 1939, a terrible year, and the book is clearly powered by the winds of evil blowing through Europe. Chaos stalking the land and etc. But the book is not just about 1939, or the years prior. It’s about a fictional little country called Blitva, caught up in the vice of totalitarian control. The lead character is desperate to get to the country next door, called Blatva, and once he gets there … it’s exactly the same. There is no escape. Krleža goes after everything: the ridiculousness of these little dictators, the passivity of the population, the bourgeois having their parties all as danger is unleashed, the artists, the censorship, the oppression … The Banquet in Blitva is a freakin’ masterpiece.

30. The Kingdom of Speech, by Tom Wolfe
Tom Wolfe goes after Charles Darwin. lol

31. The Little Blue Kite, by Mark Z. Danielewski
A gorgeously illustrated children’s book by the sui generis Danielewski, whose books – particularly House of Leaves – have gained cult status. I am a member of the cult.

32. Ulysses, by James Joyce
I re-read it this year! And this time I decided to do it with the assistance of Ulysses Annotated, this massive book detailing every single reference on every single page. I’ve had the annotated Ulysses for 20 years or something, but never used it. I read Ulysses for the first time flying solo, with occasional calls to Dad for clarification. (I wrote about my history with the book in this year’s Bloomsday post.) I just tossed myself into it and didn’t worry too much about what I “got” or didn’t get. I took my Dad’s advice: “Don’t take it too seriously.” I still think that’s the best way to experience the book for the first time. Don’t be too precious with it. Don’t be intimidated. It’s really not all that serious! Yes, you’ll miss a lot of stuff he’s doing, but the “stuff he’s doing” is … fucking around with language. Like, that’s the point. It’s great when you pick up on stuff on your own – you feel so smart – but referring to the Ulysses Annotated was fantastic and illuminating, even though it slowed my reading down to a crawl. Still: if you have the time or inclination I highly recommend reading it this way (not your first time, though; you’ll get bogged down). There were some revelations and discoveries. For example: I get what’s going on in the Aeolus episode, it’s not obscure, the language is obvious and everyday and recognizable, made up of all the different conversations going on in the newspaper office, interspersed with blaring headlines. So: the episode taking place in the newspaper office is written in the style of an actual newspaper. Got it. But the Annotated Ulysses showed me everything ELSE that was going on. Joyce using the “winds” episode as an excuse to weave in as many rhetorical devices as he could into the language. I hadn’t picked up on that at all in my first read. Getting into the rhetoric, the whole episode cracked open for me. I kept my eyes peeled and tried to find each device on my own, although my God there are 100s of rhetorical devices I’ve never even heard of. I wrote about it on my Substack.

33. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses, by Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman
See above.

34. Bing and Billie and Frank and Ella and Judy and Barbra, by Dan Callahan
Dan Callahan’s latest book is so good. I loved it so much! I interviewed him about it for Ebert.

35. The North Ship, by Philip Larkin
I decided to read Larkin’s four published books of poetry. I mean, what the hell else am I gonna do with my time. I’m going to be honest. He scares me a little bit. I know the famous poems but haven’t read it all in full so maybe I wanted to face my fears. There are poems about loneliness and then there’s Larkin’s stuff. His loneliness is – seemingly – chosen but it’s also existential – there’s no God, no respite – it makes me shiver a bit. It’s like a dead end. His stuff is NOT pleasant but it’s also perfect.

36. The Rub of Time: Bellow, Nabokov, Hitchens, Travolta, Trump: Essays and Reportage, 1994-2017, by Martin Amis
Speaking of crotchety Englishmen … I gave this to my brother for Christmas (he’s a huge Amis-head). The essays are excellent. He couldn’t seem to stop writing about Nabokov. All are worthwhile.

37. Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature, by Elizabeth Hardwick
I love Hardwick but I had never read this volume. It’s so thought-provoking. I’ve read all the books she discusses so that makes it even more interesting. She comes at things from such a unique angle and God, can she write.

38. Hope Against Hope, by Nadezhda Mandelstam
I FEEL like I’ve read this memoir because it’s referenced so often in all the other books I’ve read about Russia and Stalin and etc. But that’s a cheat so I decided to go to the source. It’s devastating. A shriek of outrage, a howl of pain, an indelible example of living life under unimaginable pressures, tragedy, and terror. A monument to survival.

39. Less Deceived, by Philip Larkin
Volume 2.

40. No One Is Talking About This, by Patricia Lockwood
I’ll read anything Patricia Lockwood writes. It’s hard to explain but this novel captures our Right Now in a way other more self-conscious “relevant” books do not. Lockwood captures the experience of being online all the time, the almost unreal nature of our bifurcated lives right now, things we don’t even question anymore, but … it’s a little weird if you actually start to think about it (particularly if you have memories of the Time Before). In the book, Lockwood (or the first-person narrator) doesn’t even call it “the internet”. She calls it “the portal”. Every day the narrator enters “the portal”. There are rules in the portal. It’s a place, not technology we use. The narrator is a woman with a big social media platform. She’s got “fans” all over the world. Then she gets “canceled” – although the word is never used. No One Is Talking About This (such a great title) is told from a woman so inside the portal it basically IS her personality, although some things are starting to get screwy. Does she have her own thoughts anymore or are her thoughts the portals? (It’s not natural to be in touch with all of humanity all day every day. We aren’t built for it.) Then something real happens. And it’s a huge challenge to adjust, to leave the portal. The portal feels realler than the so-called real world. Like I said, No One Is Talking About This is very Right Now without being cutesy or trendy.

41. Into the Dream, by William Sleator
I adored this book as a child. My brother did too. I have a copy – the same hardcover copy I had as a kid – with beautiful haunting illustrations. I think the last time I read it I was 11 years old. It holds up so well. I wonder if the Duffer brothers read it as kids. There’s a lot of Stranger Things here. Children having supernatural experiences and being chased by shadowy government forces. Published in 1979. It’s terrific.

42. The Whitsun Weddings, by Philip Larkin
Volume 3. He’s so upsetting. It’s like he expresses my deepest darkest fears. I don’t even want to look at it.

43. On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays, by A.S. Byatt
The fall was so busy I didn’t have time to mark her passing. One of my favorite writers. Very very important to me. I knew she was getting up there but I still was not prepared. Possession was the beginning of the love affair. It’s so fortunate she was so prolific. I got to look forward to new books by Byatt for decades. And the variety was stunning! Literary essays, re-telling of old myths, fairy tales, novels, short stories … I hadn’t read this volume, made up of different lectures she gave on storytelling.

44. Dubliners, by James Joyce
Read it start to finish, which is really the only way to read it. Each story works as a stand-alone, but the power of Dubliners is cumulative. I think of Joyce being in his early 20s writing these stories and can’t even believe it. Like … how?

45. Cary Grant’s Suit: Nine Movies That Made Me the Wreck I Am Today, by Todd McEwen
God, I loved this. I read it in a single afternoon.

46. High Windows, by Philip Larkin
Reading poem after poem in a row, all in one, for two months straight, was difficult. I don’t find him depressing. I find him unsettling.

47. A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet, by Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela
Horrifying and scary.

48. The Guermantes Way, by Marcel Proust
Volume III! Slowly but surely making my way through. Second volume was a vacation to the seaside. Third volume is equal in length to the other two volumes and it basically describes two parties. The entire book is made up of two parties. It’s an 800-page version of Truman Capote’s La Cote Basque. Proust describes a society that’s already dead – only it doesn’t know it’s dead yet. The elite thinks it is still vital and important. They are silly and shallow. From the likes of it this society deserves to die. Even more fascinating, the Dreyfus Affair is the background noise for the entire volume. It’s what everyone is talking about.

49. The Age of Skin, by Dubravka Ugrešić
Another essay collection by this great writer.

50. Lives of the Saints, by Nancy Lemann
This comical whimsical poignant Southern novel came into my life at the right time. There’s not much to it, really. It takes place in New Orleans. A post-college girl re-immerses herself in the crackpot environment of her family and old friends, whirling through New Orleans in one long crazy party. Everyone’s an eccentric, everyone is falling apart. The book is often laugh out loud funny. Lemann’s prose is so distinct (I was so influenced by it there were a good two years where my journals sound like Lemann. Or were an attempt to sound like Lemann.). I bought it right before I moved to Chicago when I was ready to shrug off my old life. Or … punch my way out of the trap. I was young. Life had been so serious for about two years, three years, when I was in my first relationship with an older guy who was at a different life stage. Lemann’s outlook is tender and hilarious, fragile and ribald. She expresses a mindset, an outlook on life, that – unlike my old circumstances – suited me. I didn’t realize I would write all this much but it occurs to me I’ve never really written about Nancy Lemann. I have incorporated my favorite quote from one of her books (The Fiery Pantheon) in a couple of different reviews (or, I think I have. I used it in my review of Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch. There might be more. I have to hold back from using it now). There’s more to be said about this book: when I bought it, why it hit me so hard, why it was important, why the “view” it expressed was so important for me and had an influence on how I approached my new life in Chicago. I bought the book at a little bookstore in … Oakland? Berkeley? Some place across the Golden Gate Bridge. I can’t remember how we ended up there. Did someone recommend it? Did we trip over it? I don’t know. I remember the bookstore layout vividly. It wasn’t a Barnes & Noble. It was independent owned. There was a big patio outside where people sat having coffee. I bought a couple of books there, based on the covers and the back cover copy. I went in with no prior knowledge, and had never heard of any of the authors before. The books were Joy Williams’ State of Grace, Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, and Lives of the Saints. The fact I picked these out randomly, on a whim, while in a desperate state of despair – like I was underground – just feels so fortuitous. Joy Williams is HUGE for me. Jeanette Winterson is even bigger. I have now had lifelong relationships with these authors. Unfortunately, Nancy Lemann hasn’t published in years. I keep hoping. Even just writing this little paragraph makes me feel like I want to write more. Having a comedic outlook on life dominated my 20s and it was very very important. I have enough distance now to see it as almost an inoculation (not quite, but almost) against the dark years that would follow. But I wanted to live in Lives of the Saints, I wanted hilarity and poetry and eccentricity and intense emotions. I got it. Claude Collier, the “hero” (or tragically attractive and dissipated anti-hero) of the book, was the initial way I interpreted/received M. (Window Boy). There were many differences – Claude wasn’t cranky like M. – but I felt in him that same tragically-attractive-dissipated-anti-hero thing – and he brought nothing but comedic good to my life. But I interpreted him as Claude Collier early. Almost immediately. I’m not sure if my perception of him as Claude-Collier-like was … one of the reasons why things went the way it did? i.e. became just what I needed? I mean, how many women have been wildly disappointed because the guy they thought was Mr. Darcy turned out to just be a dick? The opposite happened for me. I don’t know. It’s something to think about and maybe I’d like to explore this more. They are recent thoughts, which came out of this re-read. I realized I know a lot of this book by heart. All of her sonorous funny repetitive Southern sentences came flooding back with all these memories of those early years in Chicago, when the book was practically a guide for How to Live.

51. Conquered City, by Victor Serge
Another novel by on-the-run revolutionary Victor Serge, this time about the Bolshevik takeover of St. Petersburg in 1919-1920. Chaos and hopes: nothing working, trains not running, electricity shutting off, working class pride (they had no idea …), and storming all these government buildings from the Tsarist times (ended just a year earlier). It’s great.

52. Henry James: A Critical Biography, by Rebecca West
The only book of hers I have never read. It’s been long unavailable, and/or out of print. It was her first book. I think she might have been in her early 20s when she wrote it. Chris McCaffery, whose wonderful Washington Review of Books Substack I follow, brought out a small edition, which was available on Amazon. I snatched it up and read it in a day. Grateful!

53. Ms. Demeanor, by Elinor Lipman
Lipman is so great. I was turned onto her when my mother, randomly, gave me The Way Men Act for my birthday, years and years ago. I was instantly in love. I’ve been a fan ever since. She basically comes out with a novel a year, and her output is entertaining and reliable. Rom-coms may be dead in cinema but they are alive and well in Lipman’s books.

54. A Biography of Loneliness: The History of an Emotion, by Fay Bound Alberti
Sounded intriguing. But it was a bit of a bore.

55. Why Mariah Carey Matters, by Andrew Chan
Andrew Chan is a friend, an excellent writer, and editor at Criterion. He worked on my After Hours piece with me, and helped facilitate my call with Marty!, and he also worked with me on my piece on Elvis. I love his writing. He also writes about poets and poetry on occasion for 4 Columns, which I look forward to. His piece on Elizabeth Bishop was so damn good! This is his first book, a book he was BORN to write. He really knows music, and places Mariah in the proper context – vocally and culturally – while digging into her astonishing trajectory. There is also some analysis on why she hasn’t been taken as seriously as she should be (stardom notwithstanding). There’s a bias against her, and perhaps other diva-songbirds who specialize in dramatic ballads. I have some Mariah in my collection – and have a vivid memory of when she first appeared on the scene. Visions of Love. That album cover. The video. You have to have been there to know how huge it was. It wasn’t just a debut album of a new singer. It was like someone had ARRIVED. Very different experience. Her Christmas song is undiluted dopamine. I hadn’t really given her a lot of thought and Andrew is a great guide. I gave it to Siobhan for Christmas. She’s a huge Mariah fan. We went to her Christmas show together and had such a fabulous time.

56. Everybody: A Book about Freedom, by Olivia Laing
Nothing can top Lonely City, but she’s always a good read.

57. The Storyteller Essays, by Walter Benjamin
As famous as his “mechanical reproduction” and “angel of history” essays – maybe more famous. I had never read them. He was so brilliant. It’s almost scary. He’s hard to excerpt because his essays are so all of a piece.

58. Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, by Laura Kipnis
A hot topic, which Kipnis obviously does not shy away from. The subject here is worth talking about, and she has personal experience with it, so it’s a dispatch from the frontlines.

59. My Misspent Youth: Essays, by Meghan Daum
I bought this collection – her first, I believe – after I read her essay about going into debt in The New Yorker years and years ago. Late 90s, maybe? It’s a more depressing and less privileged “Goodbye to All That”. Daum “tells on herself”. She is willing to paint herself in a bad light, although “paint yourself in a bad light” is a sketchy way of just saying “tell the truth”. None of us are perfect. She lived in a delusional dreamworld, attached to what her life should look like once she moved to New York. It had to do with the surface: a rambling pre-war apartment with hardwood floors, exposed brick, etc. She somehow missed the memo that New York wasn’t like that anymore. But she kept trying. She racked up debt, so much so she had to move out of the city. I was never in debt. I don’t have credit cards. I paid off my school loan (and it nearly killed me. I didn’t buy new shoes for like a decade. I never ever had enough money. It got really scary at times.) Even so, I never lived beyond my means. I don’t know why. I just never did. Her essay on debt is really scary. I’m not surprised it gained so much traction.

60. The Skin, by Curzio Malaparte
I was turned onto him because of The Kremlin Ball, his stories of hanging out with the Soviet “elite” (seemingly an oxymoron but apparently it wasn’t). I’ve been catching up with the rest of his work, out in English translation for the first time. This is his novel about Italy during WWII. He is basically the novelist of the Axis powers. It’s wild. His life seems too strange to even be true. His books read like autobiographies but … are they? Some of them read like evil fever dreams. He was a Mussolini supporter, then was imprisoned, got jobs as liaison to the Nazi brass, the liaison between American troops and Italians … all kinds of unsavory stuff, and then found himself an outcast/pariah in Paris after the war. He wrote these crazy novels (Kaputt, Kremlin Ball and this one) and they are grotesque and self-serving and unforgettable. I knew OF Malaparte because of his house on the Amalfi coast, featured, famously, in Godard’s Contempt.

61. Europe in Sepia, by Dubravka Ugrešić
It felt good and right to catch up with all her essay collections, in tribute to her the year she died.

62. The Faraway Years, by Konstantin Paustovsky
Okay, so the autumn was taken up with reading the three volumes of Paustovsky’s memoir (there are three more, but I don’t think they’ve been translated). The whole thing is called Story of a Life. Paustovsky was Marlene Dietrich’s idol. I bought this a while back, curious to read the experiences of this writer who survived the whole Soviet/Stalinist period (not many did). It’s as good as Marlene Dietrich said! His writing is incredible. There’s a Proustian element to it: he doesn’t describe his childhood. He imagines his way back into that time through sensory detail: nature, food, weather, music, the FEELING of it.

63. Light Years, by James Salter
I read this years and lives ago before I was ready for it. I read it maybe right after college. I was super young and way too young for this book about adults falling apart, quietly, ruthlessly. The emptiness of marriage, even with the trappings (house, yard, dog, kids). The way people come face to face with themselves and their failures. Life seen in a long view, taking place over decades. When you’re 22, you don’t look that far ahead. Or I sure didn’t. And Light Years provided a view I didn’t want. I was in a relationship. It was serious. I wasn’t happy. I resisted domesticity, I just didn’t fit into it, no matter how hard I tried. Light Years, in retrospect, gave me a vision of what life might look like if I continued on the path I was on. It made me shiver. I never read it since. I think of it with revulsion. (That being said, there were scenes I remembered vividly.) So I decided to gear up and re-read it. I’m able to see my life in decades now and it is unsettling – for different reasons, though. I didn’t submit to a life I didn’t want. I did not take the path of least resistance. I chose a hard way. It didn’t feel like a choice but … it would have been easy (in retrospect) to marry the boyfriend, and just … try to fit into that life. And it would have been a fucking disaster. My life was a disaster ANYway but at least it was mine. I wasn’t stifled by having to PRETEND. So yeah. I had a strong response to this book. James Salter is a gem of a writer. His sentences seem so simple. How does he do it?

64. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera
My Kundera phase began after I saw the movie adaptation (in a theatre in Philadelphia – I think? with the boyfriend). It made such a huge impression on me so I went out and read the book. Its mix of plot and politics helped clarify what I sensed in the book. I didn’t know much about the Prague Spring at the time. I learned about it from Kundera.

65. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
I re-read this every couple of years. It’s genius.

66. One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquezc
Just admitting up front I’d never read it. So I read it. During the last chapter, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, mainly because the greatness of the book – its sheer stature – was hitting me like repeat waves. It was like the last four paragraphs of “The Dead” where you become aware – it’s undeniable – why everybody reveres it, why it has the reputation it does. My God.

67. Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America, by Steven J. Ross
Fascinating! Working on something and this is a classic text. Really illuminating on the silent era, the teens and 20s, and the portrayal of class issues and labor issues in early films. And why such issues largely disappeared from the American cinema landscape, and remain disappeared today.

68. Restless Youth, by Konstantin Paustovsky
Volume 2 of Paustovsky’s memoir. This volume details his high school and post-school years, the breakout of WWI, all the different jobs he had, the places he traveled, the dreams he harbored of maybe someday writing something. Again, his prose is unforgettable. Granted, I read it in translation, so I suppose I should say it’s a hell of a translation and gives a real sense of the poetry of the original.

69. Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh
I read in preparation for reviewing the movie for Ebert. It’s one hell of a first novel. Holy shit.

70. Inglorious, by Joanna Kavenna
A first novel I read years ago, when it was first published. It knocked my socks off. Like Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment, Inglorious is an insightful and accurate blow-by-blow portrait of a woman cracking under pressure. The novel was funnier on a re-read, maybe because I’m far away from my crack-ups. I still fear them, I have to be vigilant to avoid them, but I have better tools now to manage all of it. At the time of my first read, Inglorious was validating. It is so hard to put such an experience into words, and Kavenna did. From the inside. You can’t get away from the narrator’s warped panicked thinking. Crackups are amusing, but only in retrospect: the freakouts are so out-sized! You are flipping out over something so small. But … once it starts it can’t be stopped. Excellent book.

71. The Dawn of an Uncertain Age, by Konstantin Paustovsky
Here we go. Volume 3. Into the years of war and revolution and civil war. Just as Paustovsky evoked childhood with poignancy and detail, so he evokes the times of chaos. The wildness of the Bolshevik takeover, and the resistance to it, the Cossacks, the White Army, the total breakdown of society. He was in the thick of it. Unforgettable scenes and images. His travels through Russia, Ukraine, Crimea – the land of his childhood. Getting to Mariupol, a city name with horrifying resonance today. Separation from his mother and sister. Long train travels. Dodging bullets. Hiding. Complete pandemonium. In 2023 I read two other memoirs dealing with those years in Russia – by Marina Tsvetaeva and Nadezhda Mandelstam – and while the details differ, and each person faced their own challenges – the similarities are striking. Granted, both Tsvetaeva and Mandelstam were famous when the revolution broke out (or, at least, Nadezhda’s husband was famous and she was famous by association: she ran in a famous circle). Paustovsky was just a college-age kid, a 20something writing scraps of stories and poetry on pieces of paper, getting little jobs here and there in newspaper offices. Not famous at all. So his fate wasn’t the same as theirs. I do hope the final three volumes will make it into English translation. Paustovsky did run into trouble with censorship, and there were times when his books were suppressed but he survived. He lived. He made it through the Stalin years. Not many did. So I’d love to hear more about how he did what he did. This third volume is filled with the hope of what the Bolsheviks represented, an idea that far pre-dated them: the dignity of man (and woman), the hopes for equality, etc. Paustovsky was fired up. I’m not sure how he felt in the ensuing years as terror took over the land. I’d love to hear.

72. Sexuality in the Field of Vision, by Jacqueline Rose
I love Jacqueline Rose. Her Women in Dark Times has been very important to me. I read her Haunting of Sylvia Plath way back in college! So I decided to check out more of her work. I am going to keep it real and say: I could barely make heads or tails of this book. There were pages upon pages where I literally did not know what the fuck she was talking about. It’s written in academic-ese, and she’s steeped in Lacan/Foucault and … let’s just say I am not. That crowd use words differently. Words mean different things in their little belljar. Like “Signifier”. The way she used “signifier” made me think “Okay I thought I knew what ‘signify’ means but clearly they use it differently and I just don’t know what ANY of this means.” This is my fault, by the way, not hers. I just can’t grasp those concepts, I’m not trained enough. I didn’t “study English” at a college level (where this type of post-structuralist stuff was already in vogue). So I feel like if you’re in the academic world, you are versed in this language. Rose is an amazing writer – both Women in Dark Times and The Haunting of Sylvia Plath are totally easy to grasp (although the concepts sometimes aren’t.) A couple of times light broke through the clouds: I loved the chapter on Hamlet. I loved her observations on cinema. Her “brand” of feminism feels right to me. There are many brands. I don’t swallow any of it whole. Neither does she. She starts with Freud, and those chapters were just fascinating. Her views are against mainstream feminism’s rejection of Freud, and the general suspicion of psychotherapy – and she goes into why. These, to me, were grasp-able chapter. But then she goes into the “field of vision” stuff, and Lacan took over, and I completely and totally lost the plot.

73. The Nineties, by Chuck Klosterman
Siobhan gave me this for my birthday and I read it so fast I know I missed so much. I love Chuck Klosterman. Every single thing he wrote about in this book on the 1990s brought back so many memories. The third season of The Real World! Leonardo DiCaprio! AOL chat rooms. AIDS. Titanic. Ross Perot! The final years before the internet. Some people were on, but not everyone. I got my first email when I went to grad school. I was in my late 20s. We will be the last generation to bridge that gap. To have lived half of our lives in analog fashion before seguing over. Klosterman isn’t just writing a history. He’s writing history of a time he lived through. A fellow Gen X-er. He is interested in how things FELT at the time, not how people interpret it now. How things felt at the time is the REAL way to read history, to seek out sources, to ask those who lived through the times before what it was like. It was a hell of a decade. I started it in Philadelphia and ended it in New York, and in the years in between I lived in Los Angeles and Chicago, and lived off the grid – in my camper van – for months and months. And in the analog days, when you went off the grid you REALLY went off the grid. You could just be a person in your own little world. The wider world was there to engage in if you felt like it, but it was perfectly feasible to ignore it, if you wanted to. Now you can’t. We were a skeptical generation, some called us cynical. We “opted out”. At the same time, we were building this THING, this PORTAL, that would change the world forever, and in ways we still can’t understand. This book is indispensable social and cultural history.

74. Save the Last Dance for Satan, by Nick Tosches
Cashel gave this to me for Christmas. How did I not know of this? It started as an article for Vanity Fair, I believe. It’s a slim little book about 1950s rock and roll, disc jockeys, the Mob, and the payola scandals. This is a piece of real reportage. He tracked down a couple of the main players and interviewed them. These were Mob guys, racketeers, old guys hanging out at the Brill Building, working their schemes. Dirty business. Tosches uses words I don’t know and so I look them up and they’re labeled “archaic” or “obsolete”. lol only Tosches. Like “exundant”. He uses it twice in this book and it’s so beautiful. I want to use it now. Look for it.

75. On the Marble Cliffs, by Ernst Jünger
Published in 1939, often read as a metaphor for the rise of Hitler in Jünger’s native country. The truth is a little bit more complicated. Jünger was a conservative, a believer in an elite … so he wasn’t exactly against what was happening. But the terror and threat of 1939 is everywhere in his beautifully written and quite terrifying book about a fictional place, a peaceful place on the edge of the Marble Cliffs, where people lived in harmony, although fearful of the Head Forester, never seen, buried in the forest, sending his minions out to terrorize the peaceful.

76. Raise High the Roof Beam. Carpenters, by J.D. Salinger
Up there with my favorite Salinger story. It’s hilarious in that very Salinger way – the drum corps going by the car! – but also tender and sad. You know ahead of time the groom (Seymour Glass) would kill himself six years later. So the whole thing feels doomed. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is like a slightly madcap one-act by Chekhov.

77. Lighthousekeeping, by Jeanette Winterson
To be honest, I read The Passion to death. To shreds. Over and over. I don’t know if I can read it again! The others though … and there are so many … it’s fun to re-visit. Weirdly, I remembered nothing about this one except the lead character’s name (Silver), and the house built into a cliff on a diagonal so you have to haul yourself up to the kitchen hand over hand. Plus lighthouses. I guess I read it too fast back then? It was fresh and new to me, and fascinating – looping in Charles Darwin and Robert Louis Stevenson – with the sea/lighthouse connections – as well as Winterson’s typical romanticism and clarity. She’s just so damn GOOD. One of the most romantic writers writing today.

78. Down Below, by Leonora Carrington
What a harrowing memoir. In 1940, Leonora Carrington, a Surrealist painter, was living in France with her lover, Max Ernst, in an idyllic little villa, a way-station for every Surrealist in Europe (and America: Lee Miller visited!) Then Ernst was arrested by the Nazis and put into a concentration camp, and Leonora was forced to flee. She went mad. She was put into a mental institution in Madrid, where the treatment was so horrific it’s hard to even read about. Her parents wanted to transfer her to another asylum in South Africa – and so she was transported, basically a prisoner, to Lisbon, to catch the boat. In Lisbon, she escaped, literally running out of the back door of a cafe. She went immediately to the Mexican embassy and asked for a man she had met like a month earlier, who had told her he would be in Lisbon. He was there and the two of them got married. ! It was a marriage of convenience and survival. The two got onto a boat for America, and they finally ended up in Mexico. Down Below is the story of her going mad, of her time in the asylum – and it is told from within the madness. She believed she was the reincarnation of Queen Elizabeth, for example. She was convinced the world’s fortunes/misfortunes all resided in her – that she could control them. She suffered from hallucinations and paralysis. She was given shots of Cardiozal, which induced epileptic seizures, and was strapped to a bed, naked, for days on end. This is 1940 in Spain. Like, don’t you people have bigger things to worry about than tormenting a poor suffering woman? Carrington actually wrote down her experiences, but lost the manuscript when she left Europe for America. In 1943, she dictated the story to someone, it was translated into French, and published. The memoir is only 67 pages long, and is an excruciating read.

A good way to end the year, no?

2023 tally (I count by books, not author. If the same author appears multiple times, I count the author each time)
31 fiction
4 poetry
43 non-fiction
28 books by women
51 books by men
13 rereads

Previously
2022 books read
2021 books read
2020 books read
2019 books read
2018 books read
2017 books read
2016 books read
2015 books read
2014 books read
2013 books read
2012 books read
2011 books read
2010 books read
2009 books read
2008 books read
2007 books read
2006 books read
2005 books read

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16 Responses to 2023 Books Read

  1. Bill Wolfe says:

    I love reading your year-end book summaries because it lets me know about books I’d like to read – ones that I’d otherwise never know about. There are at least four here that I definitely will seek out.

    One small note: I think the Aline MacMahon movie is called Heat Lightning.

    • sheila says:

      Bill – thank you – good catch! I corrected!!

      Curious to know which books you want to seek out!

      • Bill Wolfe says:

        The Dan Callahan book. Cary Grant’s Suit: Nine Movies That Made Me the Wreck I Am Today. (The title alone won me over.) Working-Class Hollywood. (What an interesting and – at least to me – original take on film history.) And the Tosches and Klosterman books.

        • sheila says:

          all excellent choices!

          // The title alone won me over // I know – me too!

          The author of Working-Class Hollywood is not a cinephile or film historian – he is a historian of the labor movement in America – and he somehow caught a whiff of this particular cross-section and it hadn’t really been covered yet. (The book was published in the 80s. If anything, the situation is even worse now!).

          But how early Hollywood looked at labor issues – and strikes – and class – I mean, pretty much up through the pre-Code era – addressing inequalities with frankness and often anger – political films – all stuff that Hollywood still shies away from.

          It’s a really good cultural history – really glad I read it!

          The Klosterman book made me weirdly melancholy. it’s nostalgia but … that’s not exactly right. we (gen x) are such a small generation – and of course we are all very different – but we do share this one HUUUUGE thing in common – and we have it in common ONLY with each other – so … no wonder people always leave us off of generational charts. The Boomers and Millennials are so obsessed with each other that we get lost in the shuffle, lol

          There were so many times when I thought “I wonder if he is going to touch on _____” and then of course he did. OJ Simpson. Of course. the Clintons. Eminem. Friends! Seinfeld! what TV watching was “back then” – almost incomprehensible to people now. the amount of people tuning in – the audience share for those two shows alone is mind-boggling. Must-Watch TV, Thursday nights. when a TV lineup really mattered.

          I already want to read it again.

          • Bill Wolfe says:

            Generations are such funny things. I was born in 1959, so even though I know I’m supposed to be a Baby Boomer, I’ve always felt like I was between two generations. Which I’ve always kind of enjoyed, since it allowed me to not feel like I had to live up to whatever characteristics had been assigned to each of those generations by whoever decides these things.

            It’s funny how much weight is given to decades and generations, since both are completely made-up things. (If the octopus were at the top of the evolutionary ladder, we’d have octades.) And I can attest to the fact that decades arrive in different places at different times. The Sixties, for example, in the sense that the term is commonly used, arrived in my little northeast Ohio hometown in 1971. In the 1970 high school yearbook, the girls have beehive hirdos and the boys have crew cuts and Buddy Holly glasses. In the 1971 yearbook, the girls have long straight hair and the boys have hair over their ears and wire-rimmed glasses.

            At least units of ten years do exist, however little inherent meaning they carry. But generations are completely arbitrary and artificial. They assume that people come in groups, each attached to the one before and the one after, but discreet, like a string of subway cars rolling by. The idea that people born in 1964, who grew up with the Vietnam War, assassinations, Watergate, and a declining economy had something fundamental in common with those born in 1946, who grew up in the most prosperous economy in history with one of the most trusted Presidents ever in Eisenhower, is plainly flawed, if not plain silly. But without the notion of generations, Time magazine would have lost a bunch of cover stories, which I guess is the really important thing.

          • sheila says:

            I mean, sure, if you want to put it like that. I have a joke about generations in my script. You can’t boil people down based on the year born. But in terms of experience – there is a shared experience based on the year you were born. WWII, or the Great Depression, or the Civil War – these events shape a generation, shape its art, its politics. And yeah, decades begin before/after the actual decade – which you can also see in the 90s. it began with the Berlin Wall falling – and ends with something else falling. :( But with Gen X a lot of it their experience is not shared by the gen before or the gen after – because of this “internet” business – which is why the 90s is such an interesting bridge. In the same way the teens of the 20th century into the 1920s was a similar bridge – or, more accurately, the bridge in some way collapsed. I can’t imagine a bigger generation gap than between the jazz babies and their Edwardian parents. Out of this generation gap came Modernism and all its children. Like, life is life, and being a 20something is vaguely similar no matter what era – we all go through the same shit – but as someone who was in my 20s in the 90s – it’s great to read a book about how much of a lost world it now is, and the changes have not been gradual. It was exponential!! Even to the little things like planning to meet up with people. You basically just trusted everyone to get there – and if you were a no-show you were a no-show. I went through almost my whole 20s not online. This is a difficult experience to translate or even explain to the kids who came after, particularly the really young kids who have never NOT been online. I am currently watching Stranger Things with my 14-year-old niece – she made me watch it because she loves it so much (it’s so good!) – and she is just blown away by the freedom those kids have, just roaming the neighborhood and harboring fugitives in their basement (lol) with the parents oblivious. We talk about these things. She’s noticing the differences and we talk about it. That world is literally just in our rear view mirror – and it’s already incomprehensible – even to me sometimes. I’ve been experimenting with being online less – particularly social media AND checking my emails. I check my email once a day. I’m not an organ-donation-transporter – nothing is THAT urgent it can’t wait 24 hours. It’s my own small way to create a zone of privacy, place to just be (as I type this on the internet). Bo Burnham’s Inside is a really great exploration of what it means to live right now -getting conscious of the huge changes humanity has gone through in the last 20 years and acknowledging the cost.

            So yeah, sure, generations aren’t monoliths and we don’t align on everything – but experientially there are shared experiences (“where were you when …” every generation has one or two moments where every single person – regardless of where you were born, who are you – know where they were then) … and the 90s are unique because it was the end of a lot of things – and … maybe somewhere we knew it.

        • sheila says:

          It’s funny, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life this past month – just because – and that working-class Hollywood book was fresh in my mind and I found myself thinking – this is one of the angriest frankest commentaries on class in America I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood film. and it’s perfect – PERFECT – that Potter isn’t punished.

          Potters will always be with us.

  2. mutecypher says:

    Didn’t know there was an Aline bio, I’ll check that out. The Oscar Wilde book sounds very cool.

    Thanks for the warning about Jacqueline Rose’s Sexuality in the Field of Vision. I really liked her Women in Dark Times and might have been tempted to read it.

    That Kundera/Shelley/Marquez arc – just great books. I rewatched The Unbearable Lightness of Being, what an excellent movie.

    I just found that Tolkien wrote a long essay called A Secret Vice on his love of inventing languages. That’s the new thing I just started on.

    Kipnis’ book … she’s fearless. I’m in awe of her commitment to go so far as to watch My Little Pony with the brony prof – who sounded naive and screwed over. There’s the von Clausewitz comment that war is the continuation of policy with other means, I think cancel culture is the continuation of status climbing with other means.

    • sheila says:

      I don’t want to put you off Jacqueline Rose’s book – you might not find the language difficult. I have a feeling this was written for a more academic audience.

      and yeah – the Wilde story is really just a short story – but it was published as a stand-alone. I can’t remember who mentioned it, who put me onto it – I was shocked I hadn’t read it or even heard of it before! It’s a little literary mystery.

      It’s been a long time since I’ve read Kundera – it’s amazing how much of it has stuck in my head. Like, it feels like I read these books just yesterday!

      that Tolkien essay sounds fascinating!

      and oh God My Little Pony. lol yes – he was VERY naive and also very screwed over. You’re kinda like “dude, come ON.” He seems like a disaster waiting to happen. But STILL. The culture of informing on each other is straight out of the totalitarian playbook. It’s so damn effective. Get people to be okay with doing that and 75% of the job is done.

  3. James says:

    Ooo, I’m taking this as the nudge I need to finish A.S. Byatt’s Frederica quartet. I didn’t see Children’s Book in your ASB shelf – have you read? I’d recommend.

    Love lists like these!

    • sheila says:

      Hi! Children’s Book is there – it’s at the very end of the row – it picked up the gleam of the light so you can’t see the spine.

      I was thinking of re-reading the quartet – one after the other, in sequence – since I basically read each book as they came out, so there were years in between. They’re SO good. I remember there was a gap of some years when Byatt didn’t seem to have anything new coming out – rare, for her – and I wondered if she was busy working on something huge – and voila, suddenly Children’s Book appeared – her last really huge novel. It was so exciting!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  4. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Sheila, don’t know if I am ending the year with you, or beginning the year with you. I really must go to sleep. Well, never mind. I love your round-ups. Movies. Books. But it is hard to face that I’ve only read 6 or so of your chosen books. Better than some years! I mostly read mysteries, Scandinavian “noir” pref. I also read too many newspapers and opinion pieces. I fall down rabbit holes on line all day long. The pleasures of retirement. The only thing I miss is being able to catch your activities when you visit the city. Would DIE to have caught you with Peter Saarsgard. “Center of the World” was my intro to him too! Many blessings in the New Year.

    • sheila says:

      Center of the World!! Yes! Nobody even remembers it. I love 90s movies – where a little two-hander like that could sit at the Angelika for a month and a half. I should re-watch that. I love Molly Parker too. It was so great to get to talk with him – he was so nice and really proud of this film as he should be. The audience was so into it, so intrigued. It’s a very painful subject and I loved the filmmaker’s approach. Not sure when Memory opens but keep your eyes peeled for it!

      Happy new year!!

  5. Ted says:

    A rich reading year! As always, I read your sum-up and promptly added three books to my TBR list! I received the Paustovsky vols 1 – 3 from my in-laws for christmas. Also, just reading The Island of Extraordinary Captives (another gift). I think you would find it fascinating – a history of the internment camps Britain set up on the Isle of Man during WWII for 16 – 60 year-olds of German origin (regardless of their politics). One more ugly chapter in UK history, but there were so many people of extraordinary talents collected there, they created a university behind barbed wire. Oh, and I read A Strange Uneventful History (on your recommendation) as my penultimate book of the 51 I read in 2023 – loved that crazy family! It read, at times, like fiction. Happy reading in 2024.

    • sheila says:

      Ted!! I love that your inlaws gave you Paustovsky’s memoir!! It’s so good – long but a page turner. There’s one thunder storm he describes that has really stuck in my memory – it’s about two pages of buildup to the storm, and then the storm itself. Just beautiful attention to detail. The whole thing just comes to life.

      The Island of Extraordinary Captives sounds amazing – and something I don’t know anything about, which is also a good thing.

      Strange Eventful History!! So good. An acting dynasty! I would love to go back in time and see some of those Lyceum Theater productions. Much Ado and Macbeth most of all.

      Curious which books you’ve added to your list?

      I’ll be coming down to NY in January a couple times – would love to get together, will text you.

  6. Dear Sheila,
    Thought you might want to know that in addition to my chapbook, Escaping Lee Miller https://www.ethelzine.com/escaping-lee-miller, Ethel Zine and Micro Press also published Surrealist Muse,https://www.ethelzine.com/surrealistmuse about Leonora Carrington. My other two Ethel chapbooks are Frida https://www.ethelzine.com/frida
    and, most recently, Being Ruth Asawa https://www.ethelzine.com/being-ruth-asawa. Surrealist Muse quotes from Down Under. I also LOVE Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet.
    Best wishes,

    Anne Whitehouse
    PS the hyperlinks don’t embed on the blog, so I included the URLs.

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