A quick round-up of the books that I got through last year. A lot of the time that I had to read, I spent reading books that were necessary for my MA, so they wouldn’t have necessarily been my first choice. I also didn’t get through anywhere near as many books as I’d have liked. Going to try a little harder this year.
These aren’t in the order that I read them; I can’t remember that. They’re also not in any sort of appreciable order. Just have at it, I guess.
Sorry this is such a hefty post. Just skip down the headings and read the ones that interest you!
Oh, and I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts about any of these books, or you want to share a book recommendation based on what’s here. Actually just come talk to me about books in general.
Coriolanus by Shakespeare
Pretty good, once you get into the analysis, but until I started looking a bit deeper, it wasn’t my favourite Shakespeare. I haven’t read or seen very much, but I preferred Macbeth and Hamlet.
Orality and Literacy by Walter J. Ong
About the differences between cultures that are primarily oral versus primarily literate. I confess, I didn’t finish all of it, but it was very, very interesting. It’s hard to imagine what life would be like without writing. Imagine if we didn’t have dictionaries. If you and your culture forget what a word means, perhaps through disuse, it ceases to be a word, and is solely a sound. Going to revisit this one.
Specimens of Bushman Folklore by Bleek and Lloyd
A collection of folklore from the /Xam people in south Africa, translated in the 1800’s by the philologist Willhelm Bleek and his sister-in-law Lucy Lloyd. It’s a fascinating product of a nearly unique situation; the people who Bleek and Lloyd interview lived with them in their house, but not always voluntarily: they were transferred from a South African prison for the purpose of studying their culture. Really interesting look at an amazing culture (which is still struggling to be recognised today!) and at the same time colonial relationships.
The War of Art by Stephen Pressfield (Re-read)
A great book on the reasons that we don’t make art: Resistance. It’s a nice, motivational personification of all the things that we use as excuses not to do the thing that were ‘put here to do’. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and even I can’t get behind all of it, (angels? Nope), but still worth a read.
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
One of the best modern fantasy novels (or perhaps historical urban-fantasy?) I’ve ever read. It has great atmosphere, love-hateable characters and a wealth of world building. Go and read it now.
Giant Days Vol. 1 & 2 by John Allison, Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin
Excellent slice of life comic that follows Esther de Groot and other characters that Allison created in Scary Go Round. He has a knack for writing strange or fantastical scenes and occurences and making them seem highly real, aided by Treiman and Sarin’s lively artwork.
The Sandman Slim Series by Richard Kadrey
I’ve written about these in another Books Wot I Read, here. Again, if you like urban fantasy, give them a go.
Who’s Who in the Ancient World by Betty Radice
This one is actually a non-fiction reference book, an encyclopaedia of personages from the classical world. It was vital during my study of Paradise Lost, and gets a hearty recommendation for anyone who is starting to study classics and needs a quick pointer on who Prometheus or Belerophon is.
Bushmen in a Victorian World by Andrew Bank
Unfortunately, another partial read, but well worth it. It provides the biographical and historical context of Specimens of Bushman Folklore, trying to re-humanise the /Xam who were interviewed by Bleek and Lloyd and their interlocutors themselves. If you’re not up for reading Specimens, then I’d read this.
Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling
A good collection of Kipling’s short stories, and you can see why he had such a reputation of being a master of the short story. Like all of his work, however, the historical context is incredibly important. It’s important to remember that he was an imperialist and an orientalist and it’s important to take those things into account.
Dusklands by J.M. Coetzee
An interesting read, about a man researching the Vietnam war for the government and the explorations of Coetzee’s ancestor in South Africa. I wonder if the form of the novel, linking two seemingly unrelated stories, had any influence on David Mitchell when he wrote Cloud Atlas or if it was coincidental.
Paradise Lost by John Milton
Not overly enamoured, honestly. I really, really struggle with epic poetry. Wrote about it over here.
How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
On the surface, it seems like a hokey self-improvement cash in. ‘How eating only avocado makes you shit rainbows’, or ‘Write Like Hemmingway: Become a Genius’, (which suggests buying a typewriter, writing standing up, and if that fails, reporting on the Spanish Civil War). Once you get past the cover, however, it’s an interesting meditation on how Proust’s life and work demonstrates what he thought living a good life meant.
Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall
I have to confess, I did read quite a chunk of this, but clearly it didn’t stick; I can’t really remember it. I plan to revisit it this year.
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
As a writer, I like Kipling, even if his views are incredibly problematic. Kim is just a ripping good yarn, if you ignore it’s context, but that’s nearly impossible to do. The book seems to have a contentious response amongst critics; is the lama a sympathetic figure, or a fool duped by Kim into being his beard? It’s kind of hard to sum up my feelings about Kim in a short space; you had probably best read it yourself. I found the ending dissatisfying.
Something of Myself and Other Autobiographical Writings by Rudyard Kipling
Provides some needed context on his writing and his life, at least in part because of what he chose to leave out: he focuses on his work and leaves out the fact that he sometimes had a strange, or extraordinary social life. I confess, I didn’t get through all of it, because I had to put it down and start writing an essay on Kim!
Rudyard Kipling: A Life by Harry Ricketts
Like Something of Myself, another one that provides context, except that this goes a little further and provides information on the things that Kipling left out of his autobiography. I really like Rickett’s writing because he doesn’t try too hard to make judgements, but instead tries to present what he knows based on evidence and if he does make a theory, he does it from previous evidence. Another one that I didn’t finish because of the Kim essay.
The Lion and the Lotus: Buddhism and the British Empire by J. Jeffrey Franklin
Interesting non-fiction criticism book about the way that British society and literature viewed Buddhism during the nineteenth century and why. Another one that I’d like to revisit.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I can’t believe it took me so long to read this, and even though I already knew the story inside out and backwards, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It features one of the best opening lines in Christendom.
‘Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.’
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