Saturday, December 19, 2009

Top 10 Books I Read in 2009

In no particular order, here are ten books I greatly enjoyed discovering this year:

1. Elective Affinities, by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Geometry infused with passion. A Mozartean book in which a tightly ordered structure of ideas is illuminated by sheer beauty of sentiment. Every word seems to count in this book, in an almost claustrophobic way. The story of four people who love and interchange lovers in accordance with scientific principles. Elegant and disturbing in its implications.

2. The Rainbow, by D. H. Lawrence

Lawrence's cross-generational epic of the relations between men and women. Observed with a coldly penetrating eye and sometimes hard to take, but revealed with such fire that you become caught up in the wonder and pain of it and experience excitement as the characters begin to discover themselves.

3. Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician: A Neoscientific Novel, by Alfred Jarry

An amazing title. Concerns the surreal odyssey of one Dr. Faustroll who, among other things, sails in a sieve with his baboon and visits a series of bizarre and satirical islands (all apparently located within downtown Paris) before transforming into an astral body and attempting to calculate the surface of God. Along the way he invents "pataphysics," which is described as "the science of imaginary solutions." It's all very Rabelaisan and loads of fun. (This is my own cover design, by the way. Just for fun)

4. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia, by Dennis Covington

Another irresistible title (particularly the subtitle). I started this one expecting a wild ride through Southern grotesquery and redneck madness. I got all that but so much more, as the book opens up into authentic spiritual territory and refuses to condescend or ridicule. Genuinely moving and profound, a real-life Flannery O'Connor novel.

5. Burning Your Boats: Collected Stories, by Angela Carter

Fairy tales, surrealism, puppets, axe-murder, Jan Svankmajer, feminism, werewolves, and reams of gorgeous prose. This is a book bursting with wonders. Carter was an amazing writer and I'll need to read some of her novels now.

6. The Driver's Seat, by Muriel Spark

A disturbing little book that has had a surprising staying power since I read it in the spring. A "metaphysical shocker," it concerns the holiday of Lise, a young woman whose grisly fate we are told of very early in the story. This lends an inexorability and startling amount of suspense to this bleak, harrowing, savage little tale. Could easily be called "Lise and the Devil," like the splendid Mario Bava movie I also discovered this year.

7. My Life, by Lyn Hejinian

A beautiful autobiographical prose-poem, and, like any life, a continuous work in progress and revision. The original book, written when Hejinian was 37 years old, contains 37 chapters of 37 sentences each. The revised edition (which I read) was written when she was 45, and contains 45 chapters of 45 sentences each. So not only are there 8 new chapters, but there are also 8 new sentences added within each of the original 37 chapters. A wonderful way to depict the way life expands forward and backward at the same time, and written with luminously evocative wordcraft.

8. Spring and All, by William Carlos Williams

I'm not sure how I made it into my mid-twenties without discovering William Carlos Williams. This is one of the most exciting books of poetry I've read in a while, and it really must be read as a volume. I never much cared for the brief snippets of Williams I had encountered in the past, but in context, strung out one after the other, the book is luminous and astonishing.  (It's contained in the volume "Imaginations," along with "Kora in Hell" and something else, if I remember)

 9. The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson

One of the most perfect books I've ever read. The story is about the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother and is suffused with the glories of the natural world, the humor and pain of childhood, and stripped of any cloying sentimentality. Tove Jansson was a really incredible writer, and this book sings. It's a book to celebrate, and to remind you that life is delicious and that the world is overflowing with wonder.

10. Robert Schumann: Herald of a "New Poetic Age", by John Daverio

A great biography and a fascinating appreciation of Schumann's work. Schumann was one of the great musical geniuses of the Romantic movement. Daverio is especially adept at pointing out the mastery in Schumann's often overlooked large-scale later works like "Scenes from Goethe's Faust" or "Das Paradies und die Peri", finding no loss in quality due to Schumann's supposed mental illness. Ear-opening and thought-provoking, delves into Schumann's literary interests (Jean-Paul, Hoffmann, Goethe, etc.) and illuminates the ways in which he endeavored to create a new musical-literary poetics. Made me think differently about the way I create art.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Books Read in 2009


Steve's 2009 book montage


Fairy tales of Wilhelm Hauff;


Collected Books of Jack Spicer

The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, Vol. 1

ROBERT SCHUMANN: Herald of a "New Poetic Age"

Mirrors of Venus; a novel in sonnets

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

Goethe Selected Poems

White Buildings

Christ in Flanders

Selected Prose

Klingsohr's Fairy Tale

The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa

The Summer Book

Kora In Hell: Improvisations

Spring and All

Imagist Poetry: An Anthology

Les Fleurs Du Mal

The Ubu Plays: Includes: Ubu Rex; Ubu Cuckolded; Ubu Enchained

The Koran

La Vita Nuova

My Life

The Blue Flower

Rock and Shell: Poems

Worstward ho

Geography III: Poems

The Driver's Seat

The Cherry Orchard

Elaine's Book

The Winding Stair And Other Poems

The Bridge: A Poem

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

The Lover

Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

Song of Myself

Fatal Interview: Sonnets

Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories


Benito Cereno

Saints and Strangers

Washington Square

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake-Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

Birds Beasts and Flowers

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders


Exploits And Opinions Of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician: A Neo-Scientific Novel

Revelations of Divine Love

The Quest of the Absolute

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos

Locus Solus

Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust

Holy Bible: King James Version

The Rainbow


Henry Von Ofterdingen: A Novel

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

The Nag Hammadi Library

Troilus and Cressida


King Lear

Chinese Whispers: Poems

Poems and Ballads and Atalanta in Calydon

City of God

A Voyage to Arcturus

Nightmare Abbey & Crotchet Castle

Collected Poems of John Wheelwright

A. R. Ammons: Selected Poems

The Triumph of Love

The Orchards of Syon

Glass, Irony and God

Elective Affinities

Moby-Dick: or, The Whale

The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats

The Complete Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley

So I've Heard: Notes of a Migratory Music Critic

Why Read the Classics?

Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers

Surreal Lives: The Surrealists 1917-1945

Strindberg's Ghost Sonata

After The Fire

Fast Food Nation

Hunting for Hope: A Father's Journeys

The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism

The Chamber Plays: Thunder in the Air, After the Fire, The Ghost Sonata, The Pelican, The Black Glove

The Figure in the Carpet and Other Stories

Cat's Cradle

A Book of Music

The Romantic Rebellion: Romantic Versus Classic Art

Political Self-Portrait

The Complete Works Of Michael Drayton V2


Venice Preserved

A Passion in the Desert

The Elixir Of Life

Pterodactyls Soar Again



The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel

The Days of Abandonment

Poems: North & South - A Cold Spring

Moderato Cantabile


The Complete English Works

Child of God

Aucassin & Nicolette

Arnold Schoenberg's Journey

Ariadne's Clue: A Guide to the Symbols of Humankind

Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds: Ways of Telling the Self

The Cloud of Unknowing and Other Works


Blue of Noon

Atta Troll. Ein Sommernachtstraum.

Much Ado About Nothing

Charlotte's Web

Thunder in the Air


The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

David and the Phoenix

The Finnegans Wake Experience


Lots of Fun at "Finnegans Wake"

Pig Tales: A Novel of Lust and Transformation

Black Ship to Hell

Collected Ancient Greek Novels

Little Kingdoms

The Continuous Atonement

Milton, A Poem


Steve's favorite books »