Hats and things read in 2017

Some books and things read in 2017 (a mostly-complete list):

Alexander Pope "The Rape of the Lock"
Boethius The Consolation of Philosophy
Marcel Proust The Guermantes Way
H. E. Bates Elephant's Nest in a Rhubarb Tree and Other Stories
Henry James The Outcry
Anton Chekhov The Horse Stealers and other stories
Thomas a Kempis The Imitation of Christ
John Berger About Looking
Gene Sharp Power and Struggle
Percy Lubbock The Craft of Fiction: Critical Essays
Herman Melville The Confidence-Man
Reinhold Messner Fall of Heaven
Marcel Proust Sodom and Gomorrah
Karl Geiringer Haydn: A Creative Life in Music
Marcel Proust The Captive
Marcel Proust The Prisoner
The Major Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins
Marcel Proust Time Regained
Anton Chekhov The Witch and other stories
Gene Sharp The Methods of Nonviolent Action
Jane Austen Emma
Albert Camus The Fall
The Cambridge Companion to the Violin
Albert Camus Exile and the Kingdom
St John of the Cross Poems
Rebecca West The Judge
Anne Frank Diary of a Young Girl
Beverley Nichols Down the Garden Path
Orhan Pamuk The White Castle
The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
Virginia Woolf Jacob's Room 
Arthur Conan Doyle A Study in Scarlet
Bela Bartók Letters
Victor Klemperer I Shall Bear Witness, 1933-1941 
Arthur Conan Doyle The Sign of the Four
Arthur Conan Doyle The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Cesar Aira The Hare
Anita Brookner Hotel du Lac
Karolina Pavlova A Double Life
ZZ Packer Drinking Coffee Elsewhere
Thomas Hardy "A Mere Interlude"
Merivale & Sweeney (eds) Detecting Texts
Thomas Hardy "An Imaginative Woman"
Thomas Hardy "A Withered Arm"
Saint John of the Cross The Dark Night of the Soul
Alice Munro Open Secrets
Elizabeth Barrett Browning Sonnets from the Portuguese
Jeff Sypeck The Beallsville Calendar
Jose Eduardo Agualusa A General Theory of Oblivion

In 2017 I finished Proust's Remembrances of Things Past and began to plunder Mighty Reader's large collection of Virago Classics, reading authors to whom I had not been formally introduced. Both of those projects have been pretty satisfying. In 2018 I plan to re-read more Chekhov and Shakespeare, neither of whom are French or women. I'd also like to read Herodotus and that second volume of Euripides. And more poetry. The usual assortment of best-laid plans, I see.

Some writing done in 2017: 

At some point this spring or early summer, I finished the first draft of a novel called Nowhere But North, unless of course I finished it earlier than that. It's all a blur, frankly, and because I don't seem to have noted the completion of the draft here on the blog, I have no record of it. Anyway, that's one more novel drafted. I no longer see this as much of an accomplishment. There are tens of thousands of Americans rabbiting away on novels every day of the year; it's a popular hobby, is writing novels. Nowhere But North is the longest, biggest, grandest thing I've written. When I've revised it a couple of times, I regret to say that it will be even longer, bigger, and grander. It might also be worth reading. We'll see.

I've recently revised (fairly heavily, too) an older novel, something called Go Home Miss America. That's a religious novel, sort of mostly. It occurs to me that the flaws I see in the book result from the internal conflicts of my own theology and moral system. I don't think those conflicts are going to be resolved in time to make the novel a more unified work of art, but I don't think that's necessary. Go Home Miss America is out on submission with a couple of small publishers. I have no expectations regarding those submissions.

Uncharacteristically, I have not immediately jumped into a new project upon completion of Nowhere But North. I think that's okay. I am making occasional notes for a possible new book, a collection of stories about a fictional town on the American prairie, set circa 1977 or so. I do not know if I'll write the stories. We'll see.

Some blogging done in 2017:

The blogging, clearly, has slowed down considerably. And you may have noticed that I deleted and then restored the blog (a short comedy of errors and idiocy), resulting in a loss of many posts and comments, and all the posts from 2008 (or was it 2009? I forget, frankly) to 2011. Anyway, all that's gone as are about half the posts from 2011 to mid-2017. What fun.

I find I have fewer things to say about the books I'm reading, and almost nothing to say about the books I'm writing. As I say, at this moment I'm not working on any new projects. I'm revising finished novels and flogging them to agents and small presses and that is not very interesting to talk about. Most of the time I used to spend writing has been given over to reading or playing violin, both of which activities are quite interesting and satisfying. My vibrato has improved a good deal over the last couple of months. Remedial stuff, yes, but valuable. Though not so helpful in terms of blogging, I realize.

Back in October when I was reading Cesar Aira's novel The Hare, I took a lot of notes and thought I'd write a long bit about that book, but when I finished the novel I realized that I was happy to be shut of it and could not face trawling through my notes and marginalia merely to cobble up an essay pointing out what a piece of stink The Hare turns out to be. "Language and meaning are relative, as is interpretation of the world itself." Well, okay, Mr Aira, that's fine, but you beat that slim idea bloody for 300 pages of poorly-written adolescent adventure. Aira here has the same problems Kafka had in his novels: the comedy and the (fairly unsophisticated) philosophy are the primary concerns, and the writing itself is clumsy and seemingly slapped together, ugly and tripping over itself, but fans will overlook that because the (fairly unsophisticated) philosophical claims of the book strike some readers as being deep and thoughtful and enlightening. But it ain't. Like Kafka's (unfinished) novels, Mr Aira's The Hare has some good passages, but you must slog your way through a lot of dull comedy to get there, and in truth many of these good passages really only stand out when compared to the crawling dullness with which they are surrounded. And it's this very sort of screed I don't want to be writing, so I am blogging a great deal less because my tolerance for shallow thinking and poor craftsmanship has gone way way down. I enjoyed Mr Aira's Ghosts a great deal. The Hare was a disappointment. I'd love a novel to excite me so much I can't contain my excitement and am compelled to tell everyone (well, the five people who read this blog) about it. I find that I become a more difficult audience as I age. I regret this.


When Mighty Reader and I were in Amsterdam, we stumbled into a fine hat shop near the Old Church, past the Red Light District. I bought a fine gray Stetson fedora that I don't wear nearly often enough. On our trip to Banff, I wore my Bailey's of Hollywood lined winter wool fedora, a fine hat for cold weather. Mighty Reader found a whimsical stocking cap topped with an enormous (faux) fur ball at the Hudson Bay Company in Banff. A pretty good year for hats, though we each left a straw hat behind on the island of Texel, forgotten as we rushed from a restaurant in Den Burg to catch our shuttle back to the wee village in which we were staying.


  1. I am impressed and envious, especially as 2017 for me has been a forgettable vacuum. I have higher hopes for 2018, new blogging address, and reading plans.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Tim, hope is the most important thing! Reading plans are good, too. Happy new year to you and yours!

  2. sometimes i make mistakes and deeply regret them... i hope in the new year things might become better... a very interesting post and echoes my own experience, especially the difficulty of finding readable books... as i get older, unjustified pontificality becomes more wearing and simpler expressions, like haiku, assume greater meaning...
    i just wear my old gas company hat; things just are what they are and no statement by me will change them; i've been getting the most satisfaction lately from bicycle rides; the old hips don't like walking so much any more...

    1. I have loads of regrets but I try to learn from them. Or at least I tell myself that I try to learn from them. Results are mixed. But yeah, I don't want to be preached at, and I don't want to be the audience for someone talking about how great they are.
      We went riding yesterday. It was so cold, but good to be back out on the road. Tonight, I hope, I'll see about that treadmill in my basement. I hate running on a treadmill, but it's just too cold to run outdoors.

    2. i've looked into those bike trainer roller things; but i'm afraid i'd fall off and reinjure my shoulder(s)...

  3. I approve of the hats.

    It is only natural to be more demanding about other people's novels when you have written so many of your own. Because now you know too much.

    Somehow I am doubting that you think of making novels as a hobby or a habit... You'll feel better after the next one is picked up. Of course, a religious novel has certain qualities that make it a more difficult sell, being a meaningful made thing and not a trendy thing. Read Joseph Epstein's essay on "Gimpel the Fool" and you'll feel better. (See, I'm into feeling better here.)

    Your list is quite good and better than mine. Mine has a lot of oddball research and books read because I was either paid or promised. And I'm glad you read H. E. Bates.

    1. I try to separate the creative impulse from my own pride, but I get confused easily. It's hard to know with certainty if I have a worthy offering or if I just want attention. But you're right that I don't really think of writing as a hobby. I am merely discouraged but I remain hopeful. Thank you for the encouragement!

      During lunch today I realized that almost every one of my novels is a religious novel, with the exception of The Astrologer and one called Mona in the Desert, which is about literature and myths.

      The Bates was a great find. I'll read more of him!

    2. I also doubt you really "just want attention." My suspicion is that you want your books to be read. Perfectly natural impulse after writing one!

      Don't forget to read the Epstein essay on Singer. It will hearten you, I expect.

    3. p. s. It's online. "What Yiddish Says."

    4. That's pretty good, that Epstein essay. Thanks for pointing me at it.

      "for lots of intelligent people who cannot find their answers to life's deepest puzzles in philosophy or science"

      I've just begun reading a section of St John of the Cross's "Ascent of Mt Carmel" where he proposes four distinct types of knowledge, much as Kant does later. John is completely unconvincing when he attempts philosophy, but riveting when he talks about the spirit.

    5. Glad you liked it!

      Have not read St. John of the Cross. Perhaps should!

  4. As writers who read (or readers who write), I think we all want to encounter that book that blows us away and makes us want to tell our whole world about it. Definitely keeps us reading.

    I'm really humbled by my inclusion on your '17 reading list. Thanks for taking a chance on my little book! Here's to a happy, healthy, and prolific 2018.

    1. Your calendar was a year-end treat; thanks for putting it together for us lucky readers. Happy 2018!