Monday, December 18, 2006


The year in review

This is a time of year for taking stock. The solstice approaches, not to mention Christmas, also my birthday is imminent and I'm feeling like I got far too much accomplished this year. Although not everything I planned to - fate saw to that, as she usually does. Anyway, next year I plan to relax a lot more: beachcomb, gaze out to sea, take long looks at interesting tree bark, read a few hundred books purely for pleasure (though really, is there any other way to read?), bake a lot of pies, doodle with watercolors, and generally have my feet up on the desk at the bookshop a heck of a lot more often. Right now, however, I'm concerned with the ghost of Christmas past, so I'm taking a look back through my old journals from this year. Here are a few of the books I'm happiest to have encountered. Some of these I've blogged about this year, some not:

The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. Do I need to say more than that?

The Complete Stylist by Sheridan Baker. My friend Sue recommended this to me as a good basic writing guide. Paired with The Elements of Style, I couldn't ask for better. Bonus: a few illustrative passages in the text describe used bookshops.

The Eclogues of Virgil translated by David Ferry. "Time takes all we have away from us; /I remember when I was a boy I used to sing /Every long day of summer down to darkness, /And now I am forgetting all my songs;..." (p.75)

The Education of Henry Adams.

Anagrams by Lorrie Moore.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace.

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri. I read this every year. "We must paint only what is important to us, must not respond to outside demands. They do not know what they want, or what we have to give." (p.43)

U & I by Nicholson Baker.

Stop-Time by Frank Conroy.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby.

Table-Talk by William Hazlitt. "'Fine words butter no parsnips,' says the proverb." (p.198)

Book Business by Jason Epstein. "I am skeptical of progress. My instincts are archaeological. I favor the god Janus, who faces backward and forward at once." (pp.7-8)

Embers by Sandor Marai. The best novel I read this year. Could not put it down.

The Big House by George Howe Colt.

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Living Well is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins.

Dreamthorp by Alexander Smith (thanks, Dan, it is indeed beautiful).

You Can Go Home Again by Gene Logsdon.

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey.

Labels by Evelyn Waugh. "...Fortune is the last capricious of deities, and arranges things on the just and rigid system that no one shall be very happy for very long." (p.168)

I Remember by Joe Brainard.

The Letters of James Schuyler to Frank O'Hara edited by William Corbett. "I've been working on a sort of a thing but if I don't see any large, or any, design in it, I don't much care. As long as a fellow keeps up his plain-sewing and hem-stitching there's bound to be something in his hope chest some day..." (p.9)

Joe: A Memoir of Joe Brainard by Ron Padgett.

On Painting by Leon Battista Alberti.

The Joy of Reading by Charles Van Doren.

The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. Can't have a book list without mentioning him.

Ellis Island by Mark Helprin. Ditto.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver. "This I have always known - that if I did not live my life immersed in the one activity which suits me, and which also, to tell the truth, keeps me utterly happy and intrigued, I could come someday to bitter and mortal regret." (p.120)

Father and Son by Edmund Gosse.

England Have My Bones by T.H. White. I hesitate to add this, because it takes the cake as the strangest book I've read this year. It has so many beautiful, lyrical passages. Some of them happen to be about shooting rabbits in the head. I gritted my teeth and read on, and didn't regret it. One bit about this unclassifiable book: his and his brother's pet cats are named Chatsworth and Chatterley.

I've got to wrap this up. I'm in the middle of the Robert Fagles translation of The Iliad right now. Bloody and grim, but beautiful. I'm waiting for a copy of The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney to arrive in the mail. I hoped to finish the Pepys Diaries and didn't. This year I read many other books I haven't mentioned here, some memorable and some not, along with a ton or two of poetry, including books by Raymond Carver, Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, William Corbett, Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, and Anne Porter.

A few of the best bookish experiences this year were of course seeing Mary Oliver and Augusten Burroughs. My one great regret of the year was not finding out that Bill Berkson was speaking in Maine until a full month after his talk (at the Skowhegan School, only an hour or two away). Rats rats and double rats.

I'll end for now with a few goofy highlights from my journals in general: best bingo this year in a Scrabble game was Ryan's use of the word squishy; best two bits of junk mail received were the numerous credit card solicitations addressed to Sarah S. Books and a flyer for a seminar entitled "Dealing with Difficult People" (I received this on a day when I had been doing just that and nothing else); best book found for a buck was a scarce Stephen King first edition in dust jacket in the dollar book bin at the supermarket (Ryan found it, and says "Vigilance!").

Okay, readers and friends, what books were your favorites during the year just past? Bookish experiences? Anyone actually read the new Pyncheon novel? What have I missed?

Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your wonderful and eclectic list.

My favorite books read this year include Trollope's Barsetshire novels, the novels of Elizabeth Gaskell, Period Piece by Gwen Raverat (thanks, Sarah!), Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders, and Diary of a Provincial Lady (thanks, Sarah!) by E.M. Delafield.

On a more modern note I LOVED Small Island by Andrea Levy and I enjoyed Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, as well as Old School and This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff. The Plot Against America by Philip Roth was chilling and brilliantly written!

I also fell into The Far Pavilions (thanks, Sarah!) by M.M. Kaye and was happily lost for days.

I am looking forward to seeing more lists!
Some of the good books that I read this year were:

Lost & Found by Carolyn Parkhurst(a novel about folks on a Amazing Race type of reality show,very well done)

The Yellow Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsey(the book that's the basis for the current Showtime series)

This is Chick-Lit,edited by Lauren Baratz-Logsted

A Respectable Trade by Philippa Gregory

An Alphabetical Life by Wendy Werris

I'm also reading for next year and so far Lalita Tademy's Red River and Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games are captivating me quite nicely.
the birthday thing is going around...March must be a very cold and boring month. 44 and counting.
Vicky, I looooove Tobias Wolff. "In Pharaoh's Army" is also so good.

I must read "Small Island" - you've mentioned it to me already. I'll be on the lookout for a copy. I don't know if I can bring myself to read Philip Roth - is that wrong?

Hi LT, I loved Vikram Chandra's big book from around a decade ago, "Red Earth and Pouring Rain" - so this will be interesting... Great list, thanks for checking in!

Heeey Joyce - Sagittarians are simply natural-born book nerds. As are others (we celebrate with the spirit of inclusiveness here at Sarah's Books), but really, we have it bad, don't we. I'll be 39. Going on 89. Happy happy.
My favorites this year were:

Defining the World- Henry Hitchings (Dr. Johnson's dictionary)

A Writer's Notes on His Trade and Disenchantment- C.E. Montague

On Reading Shakespeare- Logan Pearsall Smith

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell- Susanna Clarke

Lord Byron's Novel-John Crowley

Books In Black Or Red- Edmund Pearson

Fatal Interview- Edna St. Vincent Millay

The House On Nauset Marsh- Wyman RIchardson

The Outermost House- Henry Beston

As I Walked Out One Misty Morning- Laurie Lee (thanks, Sarah)

The Riddle of the Traveling Skull- Harry Keeler

John Mistletoe- Christopher Morley

A bunch by Terry Pratchett and a bushel basketful of Angela Thirkell

By the way, have you read Kilvert's Diary? The David Godine edition is beautiful and I found the book spellbinding.

Hey Dan, thanks for checking in! I also read "A Writer's noes on His Trade" - I picked up an old Penguin copy at a library sale this summer (after you recommended "Fiery Particles"). Thick with ideas; great prose style.

I do have a copy of Kilvert at home, but I haven't read it yet. It's on the list - and on the shelf with other published journals and diaries yet-to-be-read. I think my copy is pre-Godine, from the forties? Little, Brown?

Thanks for your list - I've GOT to read Keeler one of these days...
Thanks for this varied list, some of which are genuine 2nd hand books -- a dealer who reads them is the best kind. Brat Farrar is a stunning book, possible based on the Tichborne claimant, and was made into a strange film with Oliver Reed ('Paranoiac') Also having bought a bunch of TH White - some under his pseud James Aston- it is good to see that he is still read. Nigel
Hi Nigel - yes, I love T.H. White and in fact sell every copy I can find of his Arthurian titles and "Mistress Masham's Repose"... I started "England Have My Bones" because of its diary form (I do love to read diaries); I finished it because I also have a fondness for English pastoral description. GOOD English pastoral description, that is. Terrific book.

I hadn't read "Brat Farrar" before - you're right, what a stunner of a plot. I tore through it.

Thanks for stopping by -
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