The OF Blog

Sunday, September 21, 2014


Tomorrow marks the 265th day of 2014.  As of today, I have posted 111 reviews (86 of them being of 2014 releases) this year.  I have nearly 75 books already marked for review by year's end.  While this is daunting enough, I think I'm going to aim to outdo the grueling 40 in 40 review schedule I set for the days immediately preceding my 40th birthday in July and I'm going to try to review at least 89 more novels, poems, non-fiction, and story collections/anthologies by December 31st.  While doubtless some reviews might be shorter than others (particularly when I write short summaries of the 2014 Prix Medicis longlisted titles that I've read (four to date), I think it'd make for a nice challenging.  I know I'm planning on writing 1-2 reviews a day for November alone (might as well do a parallel challenge to the annual write a novel during that month challenge and review 30+ books or write roughly 30K review/quote words that month), so I think I can extend it through the remaining 100 days of 2014 and get close at least to 200 reviews if not equal or surpass it.

Granted that I have a backlog of reviews (roughly 20) to write, so reading time shouldn't be too much of an issue until at least mid-October.  But some works will be easier than others.  Writing about Thoreau's Walden, for example, should make for an easier essay-composing session than would reviewing something read in my second, third, fourth, or fifth languages.  But if I write roughly 6 reviews a week, roughly an hour a day/night for those corresponding days, I should be able to meet this challenge.  And for those curious about some of the books I want to write about, well, in a few hours, I'll post my commentary/review of the Latin translation of The Hobbit, called HOBBITVS ILLE, and later I'll write reviews of the translations (and well, thoughts in general on the English originals) of Tolkien's The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin.

I also plan on finishing reviewing the seven remaining Premio Alfaguara winners I haven't yet reviewed (another 2014 reviewing challenge was to finish reviewing all 25 of the previous/current winners of that Spanish-language award), at least four of the Prix Medicis longlisted-titles, most of the 2014 National Book Award shortlists, if not their entire longlists for poetry, Young People's Literature, and Fiction, and maybe a few classics that I own in Easton Press or Franklin Library leatherbound editions.  Also, if time permits, I'm going to look into resuming reading some of William Faulkner's work, most likely the not-yet-reviewed novels collected in four Library of America editions.  Add to this the books I haven't yet reviewed from my 2014 releases post and the total should be close to the requisite 89.

But if/when I accomplish this, don't expect a repeat in 2015.  I have a feeling I won't be reviewing quite as many books next year.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Franklin Library's 100 Greatest Books of All Time

Just now realized that I didn't have a corresponding list of The Franklin Library's 100 Greatest Books of All Time like I do for Easton Press's edition.  Since I own several Franklin Library books, thought I'd highlight those here, so whenever I do stumble across a Franklin Library edition in a local bookstore, I can make sure that I don't already own it in either this edition or the Easton Press version:

1.  The Iliad by Homer

2.  The Odyssey by Homer

3.  Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (own Easton Press edition)

4.  The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams

5.  Confessions of St. Augustine (own Easton Press edition)

6.  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

7.  The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

8.  Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

9.  The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

10.  Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

11.  Five Comedies by Aristophanes

12.  Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (own Easton Press edition)

13.  Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (own Easton Press edition)

14.  Stories of Guy de Maupassant (own Easton Press edition)

15.  Plays by Anton Chekhov

16.  Politics by Aristotle (own Easton Press edition)

17.  Selected Writings of Sir Francis Bacon

18.  Oresteia by Aeschylus

19.  Le Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac (own in separate Franklin Library edition)

20.  Tales From The Arabian Nights by Sir Richard F. Burton

21.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (own Easton Press edition)

22.  Analects of Confucius (own Easton Press edition)

23.  Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (own Easton Press edition)

24.  The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (own Easton Press edition)

25.  The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (own Easton Press edition)

26.  Songs of Innocence and of Experience by William Blake

27.  The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (own Easton Press edition)

28.  The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

29.  Plays by Euripides

30.  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

31.  Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

32.  Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (own Easton Press edition)

33.  Essays of Michel de Montaigne

34.  Philosophical Works of René Descartes

35.  Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

36.  The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

37.  Collected Poems (1909–1962) of T. S. Eliot

38.  Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson (own Easton Press edition)

39.  Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (own Easton Press edition)

40.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

41.  Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (own Easton Press edition)

42.  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Franklin

43.  The Basic Works of Sigmund Freud (own in separate Franklin Library edition)

44.  The Poetry of Robert Frost

45.  David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (own Easton Press edition)

46.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (own Easton Press edition)

47.  Poems of John Donne

48.  Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (own Easton Press edition)

49.  Favorite Household Tales of the Brothers GrimmBrothers Grimm (own Easton Press edition)

50.  The Federalist by Hamilton, Madison and Jay

51.  The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy (own Easton Press edition)

52.  The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

53.  Jane Eyre By Charlotte Brontë (own Easton Press edition)

54.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (own Easton Press edition)

55.  A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

56.  Plays by Henrik Ibsen (own Easton Press edition)

57.  The Ambassadors by Henry James

58.  Nine Tales of Henry James

59.  Ulysses by James Joyce (own in separate Franklin Library edition)

60.  The Trial by Franz Kafka

61.  Poems of John Keats (own Easton Press edition)

62.  Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence

63.  The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (own Easton Press edition)

64.  Five Stories of Thomas Mann

65.  Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (own Easton Press edition)

66.  Eight Comedies by William Shakespeare (own Easton Press edition)

67.  Poems of William Shakespeare

68.  Six Histories by William Shakespeare (own Easton Press edition)

69.  Six Tragedies by William Shakespeare (own Easton Press edition)

70.  Political Writings of John Stuart Mill

71.  Paradise Lost by John Milton (own Easton Press edition)

72.  Seven Plays by Molière

73.  Four Plays of Eugene O’Neill

74.  Political Writings of Thomas Paine (own Easton Press edition)

75.  Pensees by Blaise Pascal

76.  Satyricon by Petronius

77.  The Republic by Plato

78.  Twelve Illustrious Lives by Plutarch

79.  Tales of Edgar Allan Poe (own Easton Press edition)

80.  Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

81.  Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais

82.  Six Tragedies by Jean Racine

83.  Political Writings of Jean Jacques Rousseau (own Easton Press edition)

84.  Three Plays by Bernard Shaw

85.  The Tragedies of Sophocles

86.  Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (own Easton Press edition)

87.  Nana by Emile Zola

88.  Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge

89.  The Red and the Black by Stendhal (own Easton Press edition)

90.  Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

91.  Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

92.  Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (own Easton Press edition)

93.  Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (own Easton Press edition)

94.  Walden by Henry D. Thoreau (own Easton Press edition)

95.  The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

96.  Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev (own Easton Press edition)

97.  The Aeneid by Virgil

98.  Candide by Voltaire

99.  Selected Poems of William Butler Yeats (own Easton Press edition)

100.  War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (own Easton Press edition)

13 of these editions owned, plus 3 more Franklin Library books in other editions and 43 Easton Press editions of the same or similar work isn't too shabby, I suppose.  But I'll resume occasional collecting in the near future, as I like the Franklin Library bindings just a little bit more (slightly thicker leather for many of these), not to mention the press is defunct, making these books scarcer than the Easton Press ones, which are still available for subscription order.  I also own a further 7 Franklin Library books that are not listed here.  That, plus the 77 Easton Press editions I own, makes my current leatherbound edition count exactly 100 at the moment.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Plans

Still a bit lethargic post-procedure, so I'm not sure how much of this will get done, but here are a few things I'd like to do through Monday:

1.  Finish reading Ben Lerner's 10:04

2.  Read Michael Pitre's Fives and Twenty-Fives

3.  Review at least one of the following:  John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van; Kelly Barnhill's The Witch's Boy; Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstuck & Other Stories; and/or Gail Giles's Girls Like Us.

4.  Write review/commentary on the Latin translation of The Hobbit and maybe a full review of that work.

Now back to bed.  Can't seem to stop yawning.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Back "procedures" suck, in case you never knew that

Well, after enduring six weeks of often excruciating back pain after initially injuring myself at work trying to keep a 6'5, 230 lb. young adult resident from running out of the room, I finally had a procedure done this morning to alleviate the pain.  It took nearly five weeks for the muscle spasms and strained muscles in my lower lumbar region of my spine (or about two inches above my waist/tailbone) to ease enough for there to be clear signs that I also had some nerve irritation.  Had an MRI done on Monday and it revealed some damage to one of my vertebral discs. 

It wasn't so serious that I needed back surgery, but it was bad enough that I was recommended to get an epidural steroid injection directly into that region of my spine.  So I had that done today.  One of the effects of the injection is that the numbing agent gets into your system, making your lower body number, making it unsafe to drive for any long length of time (not to mention it feels like you have your drunk legs all day).  This, however, does not stop the actual pressure pain from the injection site, which I was told can take up to four days before it is alleviated.  Thankfully, I did have some prescribed painkillers to help me endure this, even though this led to nearly a full night's night this afternoon.

On the bright side, before I was knocked out (much of this was done during the 45 minute drives to and from the clinic, along with the 30 minute wait at the clinic), I did manage to finish reading four recent releases that I hope to review in the next 3-4 days.  I read three National Book Award-longlisted books (John Darnielle's Wolf in White Van; Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck & Other Stories; and Gail Giles's Girls Like Us (YPL nominee) as well as Kelly Barnhill's The Witch's Boy.  Each of these were distinct in their prose and thematic approach and each will be receiving positive reviews whenever I have the time/mental focus to write them.

But for now, it's time to clear up this mental fog and see if the pain will subside some when I begin walking more next week (not to mention returning to work on Monday after a month's absence).  I'm past tired of sitting around the house not being able to do much else other than read and write reviews.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It seems someone goofed and revealed the 2014 National Book Award longlist for Fiction a day early

Not that I mind, as it gives me a headstart on reading for it, but the Fiction longlist for the 2014 National Book Awards was released this afternoon on Huffington Post and the New York Times webpage an afternoon earlier than the planned 8 AM EDT Friday announcement.  I was wondering how many of the nominated books I had already read/reviewed/scheduled to buy and it turns out that I had already read/reviewed four of them and had two others listed on my 2014 Releases post.  Of the remaining four, the titles seem interesting (two won't be released until October 7, Robinson and Smiley), so on the whole, it's a fairly solid list, although I can think of several alternate selections that would have also fit in well with this list.  Compared to the Non-fiction list, the Fiction nominees are a bit more balanced with five men and women apiece and while there a majority Caucasian writers on the list, there is at least some diversity in narrative form and content.  Anyways, here are the ten nominees:

Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman 

Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans

John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See 

Phil Klay, Redeployment

Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven

Elizabeth McCracken, Thunderstruck & Other Stories

Richard Powers, Orfeo 

Marilynne Robinson, Lila

Jane Smiley, Some Luck

National Book Awards longlist for Non-Fiction

The longlist for the 2014 National Book Awards for Non-Fiction was just announced this morning.  Yet I find myself somewhat disappointed in the selections, despite not having read any of them so far.  Maybe I'll be able to find some compelling tales and excellent histories here, but it seems less diverse and representative of what's being produced this year compared to the Young People's Literature and Poetry longlists.  Am going to read one at least, the Roz Chast, and maybe the John Demos, but uncertain how many of the others I'll read.  Maybe something from the shortlist, but this might be the category I don't really cover this year.  Anyways, here's the longlist:

Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (also a graphic novel)

John Demos, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes

Nigel Hamilton, The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941 – 1942

Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

Ronald C. Rosbottom, When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944

Matthew Stewart, Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic

Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence

Linda Bierds, Roget's Illusion

I will never contain the whole of it, he said,
the mirror too small for the long-necked lamp
floating swanlike near the angle of incidence.
Never, he said, stepping back from the lectern

and long-necked lamp, the mirror he held too small
for the swan.  To reflect the object entirely,
he said, stepping back to the lectern,
the glass must be half the source's height.

To reflect the object entirely – the lamp,
or a swan, or my figure before you – 
the glass must be half the source's height.
Unlike thought, which easily triples the whole.

– from "On Reflection," p. 60

Although for generations of benighted English/literature students he is most well-known for his thesaurus, Peter Mark Roget was a multi-talented person of science who also invented the slide rule and who wrote an 1824 paper on the illusion of forward-moving wheel spokes seeming to spin backwards.  It is this illusion of backwards forwardness that is both the title and major theme of Linda Bierds' 2014 National Book Award-longlisted poetry collection, Roget's Illusion.

Divided into three parts, each prefaced with a "Roget's Illusion," the majority of the poems in Roget's Illusion are akin to that found in the excerpt from "On Reflection" quoted above.  Breaking down the beginning half to "On Reflection," we encounter a narrator who is convinced that he is unable to position things just so in order to capture an image of the whole in a reflection.  The mirror, apparently "too small" for the swan-like lamp casting light, is itself a reflection, as seen in the second stanza, where the lamp has apparently become the swan, and the reflection/mirror has to be half the source's height in order for it to work.  But then there is another element, thought, that comes into play and which destroys and amplifies the reflection/illusion through its treple quality.  If the mirror, as the narrator goes on to claim, is "bound by harmony," then what is thought but a transformative quality that reflects back perceptions and appearances, until it is lost in the impossibility of never quite being able to "contain the whole of it."

This is a deceptively complex series of metaphors transpiring within the simplicity of a lamp, an image, and a source.  Utilizing Roget's theorems on distance and light casting illusive images, Bierds here has made that disorienting sense of backwards forwardness palpable, eloquently presenting the artifice before the trick, catching us thinking of it all, only for us to complete the illusion in its totality in our minds.  Yet despite seeing just how it all unfolds, despite it all being explained to us, there is still magic in the event.  There is a similar quality to discussing Bierds' mechanics here, as she lays out her approach for the reader to discern, yet in considering the wires and framework, the reader still gets caught up in the thrill of the unfolding image, seeming spinning backwards as it moves forward in poetic space.

Although this seemingly paradoxical quality is explored in several of Bierds' other poems, they are not refracted in the same fashion.  Take for instance "Details Depicted:  Insect and Hair," which begins with these lines:

In the prison of an unnamed century,
on paper coarse as sackcloth,
someone has written No reason exists 
and the innocency of my actings
in the midst of the late revolutions. 
Then stopped – and circled two perfect artifacts,
caught years before in the damp plup:
in the margin beside his curving s
a single fly wing, dried to a gauze,
and far down the page, an arc of amber beard hair. (p. 73)

Here is another natural object, a single fly wing, to serve as a point of comparison to another intruder, a strand of amber beard hair.  As the narrator continues to write his political tract, he circles back to that singular wing and that solitary hair, seeing in their placement a sort of transcendence of order.  It is this illusion of placement, of how chance is turned into an engine of order, that creates the illusory effect here.  There is a slight echo of Frost's "The Road Not Taken" here, at least in the sense of how choice's tryanny comes to hold sway over us all and how we often wish it were not so, but Bierds' take centers more on the illusion of that control, as the political screeds embedded here serve as a reminder of how ethereal it all really is if we were but to provide a Johnsonian kick to this metaphorical rock.

These two poems serve as exemplars of Bierds' concerns and her ability to manipulate image and rhetoric to create these illusions.  The rest of the collection is largely on par with these two and it was a delight to consider each of them at length.  Roget's Illusion is a powerful collection, one that can surprise readers with its depth and artifice, and it certainly is well-deserving of its place on this year's Poetry longlist.

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