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December 31, 2018


Dang. From your illiterate friend.

Aww. Happy New Year, Bill!

Ah, I envy you reading 'The Leopard' for the first time, Beth! One of my favourite books (and the film, despite Burt Reynolds' terrible overdubbing, is not bad at all). Like you I read Daniel Mendelsohn's 'An Odyssey' this year but have not yet started Emily Wilson's translation of The Odyssey; I'm not sure I can usefully compare it to the E. V. Rieu I read at University, twenty-five years ago now. Which version did you read, and did you as a group reach any insights?

And I envy your trip to Greece. 'From the Holy Mountain' is a wonderful book, as are most of William Dalrymple's, although I recall it leaving me saddened even then at how the world was becoming more rigidly separated along cultural and religious lines.

My 2018 list is below (and thank you for continuing this tradition on your blog). There's a fair amount of fluff on there - nothing Phoenica published! - but my favourites are probably: 'Compass', a birthday gift from a friend, and a truly remarkable feat of storytelling with perfectly judged tone, and an education to me as it's so non-Angolphone-centric; 'Invitation to a Beheading' because I didn't know that Nabokov's Russian books were so good; 'A Fortunate Man' as nearly all Berger is great; and 'Music at Midnight' for being a window into a Jacobean world that illuminated what I already knew of Herbert's poetry.

This Will Never Happen Again, David Cain
Compass, Mathias Enard
Long Run, Catriona Menzies-Pike
Darling, Richard Rodriguez
Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright
The Brilliant History of Colour in Art, Victoria Finlay
The Second Body, Daisy Hildyard
Larchfield, Polly Clark
A Time to Keep Silence, Patrick Leigh Fermor
Hidden Nature, Alys Fowler
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, Elizabeth Smart
The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer
Invitation to a Beheading, Vladimir Nabokov
The Buddha Wonders if She is Having a Midlife Crisis, Luisa A. Igloria
Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar, Daniel Klein & Thomas Cathcart
James Ravilious: A Life, Robin Ravilious
The Accidental, Ali Smith
84 Charing Cross Road / The Duchess of Bloomsbury, Helene Hanff
The Fountain in the Forest, Tony White
The Pull of the River, Matt Gaw
Living an Examined Life, James Hollis
An Offering of Uncles, Robert Farrar Capon
The Owl Service, Alan Garner
Travels in a Dervish Coat, Isambard Wilkinson
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, Jaron Lanier
Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, Robert Louis Stevenson
To Travel Hopefully, Christopher Rush
How to Be Here, Rob Bell
The Lady with the Dog, Anton Chekov
Wish Lanterns, Alec Ash
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
Running Up that Hill, Vassos Alexander
The Reading Cure, Laura Freeman
The ZimZum of Love, Rob Bell
Bow First, Ask Questions Later, Gesshin Claire Greenwood
An Odyssey, Daniel Mendelsohn
Between the Monster and the Saint, Richard Holloway
A Fortunate Man, John Berger
Primate Change, Vybarr Cregan-Reid
Running Free, Richard Askwith
The Year of the Lord 1943, Alan Jacobs
Tell Them of Battles, Kings and Elephants, Matthias Enard
The Antidote, Oliver Burkeman
A Month in the Country, J. L. Carr
Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert, John Drury

Happy New Year!


Beth, I have the same urge as Piglia/Renzi to gather together all my notebooks/diaries (from age 9 onwards) but there's so much still to do in the present that going back over the past seems indulgent and wasteful...though I might still do it...inshallah!
I havent read the Renzi diaries -thanks for mentioning this.

Happy 2019 my dear.

Hah! I wonder how much of my understanding of classical antiquity (and everything else!) comes from Mary Renault: I read her right greedily at a very impressionable age.

It's rare any of my commonplace reading reaches even the foothills of your elevated endeavours. But I have read A Sort of Life, in which GG avoids writing an autobiography. And I wonder if Berger's The Sense of Sight is the same as his Ways of Seeing (which I have read and enjoyed) inexplicably re-titled for another audience.

Oh joy! Here's another: Heaney's Aeneid VI. Ever since seeing him at the Hay Festival - so gentle, so understanding, yet so witty - I've been a Heaney devotee. A sweet translation, modern but never jarring.

Huw, what a great list, and thanks too for your accompanying notes. (You did read a Phoenicia book -- Luisa A. Igloria's "The Buddha Wonders..." - thanks for that!) I have to tell you that I looked up Mathia Enard's "Compass" right away, on your recommendation, and downloaded it immediately -- I'm about halfway through and think it's one of the best things I've read, period. Plus, it's right up my alley with all the Middle and Near-Eastern references and places that are known to my from my husband and his family. Excellent writing, great story-telling. Happy New Year, and happy reading in 2019! Mine is starting off well, thanks to you!

Dale, yeah, she's so good, and brings you right into those worlds. I wish all young people would try those books.

Hi Robbie - yes, Heaney never fails to touch me, and the fact that we share this passion for classical literature has always made me love him more. Heaney came from an earthy, rural background like I did, too, and his poetry and translations always feel grounded there instead of in trying to impress people with his intellectualism.

Natalie, you and me both! When I think of all those notebooks and sketchbooks...but the prospect is pretty daunting, too. I wish you'd do it! Happy New Year!

I love it when people post their book lists! I don't keep track of anything, just read morning, night, and in-between. Now that I am happily retired from video editing!

When I first started to reply to your annual list Beth I tried to be comprehensive.
Not any more. It’s not possible with books everywhere in two different far apart locales, Alberta and Tahsis, Vancouver Island . Another trip to Ikea for bookcases is not far off but anyway why bother with comprehensiveness.
So some books from 2018
Grant by Ron Chernow. A doorstopper. I liked the military part the best. I quit after Lincoln’s assassination.
Final Solution:The Fate of the Jews 1933 - 1949. By David Cesarani. Another doorstopper about the greatest crime of the 20th century. Cesarani died after the book’s publication. It represents the culmination of a life’s work.i honoured that by reading it carefully.I will dip into it in the future.
Tad Borowski’s This way for the gas,ladies and gentlemen. A companion to Final Solution in a way. I found it in a Toronto used bookstore. Borowski a polish dissident writes of his time in Auschwitz. One of the most harrowing books I have read. Borowski committed suicide in 1950. Maybe like Primo Levi another holocaust survivor?
Kitchen Confidential and Meduim Raw by the late Anthony Bourdain,speaking of suicides. I loved the writing. Kind of like Hunter Thompson becomes a chef
Somme Mud by E P F Lynch, Undertones of War by Edmund Blunden, Stranger to myself: The inhumanity of war.Russia 1941-1944, by Willy Peter Preese. Three soldier accounts of war,two in WW1.
Boyhood: Scenes from provincial life,by C M Coetzee
Last Train to Zona Verde by Paul Theroux
Jungle of Stone: The discovery of the lost world of the Maya,by William Carlsen
Second thoughts on books,authors and the writerly life,by Navtej Sarna. I found this in a New Delhi bookstore. It’s by a guy who is I think India’s ambassador to the US.
Let’s take the long way home,by Gail Caldwell. Two women,different backgrounds,meet,become close friends,one dies. Very well written I thought.
Crossing Chiromo Road,by Michael Seaborn. A Canadian lawyer quits the Law, goes and finds work in a refugee camp in Africa. The guy grew on me.
Browse: The world in bookstores,ed Henry Hitchings
Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa, by Haruki Murakami. I have gone back to this a few times. As a classical music lover I was enchanted.
The Wolf by Nate Blakeslee and Educated by Tara Westover. Two great books read at Christmas.
Books I dipped into for enjoyment.
Ten windows: How Great Poems Tranform the world,by Jane Hirschfield found in a Kathmandu bookstore.
Creslaw Milosz: New and Collected poems 1931 to 2001.
Jack Gilbert : Collected poems
Joy: 100 poems, ed Christian Wiman
Ted Kooser : Kindest Regards
Well that’s part of it for 2018. Every year there are great books. So I keep buying

Hi Sharyn, always good to hear from you! I'm glad to know you're reading all the time!

Thanks so much, John! I'm always interested in your list. I should definitely read Jungle of Stone, and Murakami's conversations with Ozawa. We are probably going to be moving our studio this year, which will mean getting rid of more books, I'm afraid. So for me it's the opposite problem, sigh.

John, good to hear that you like the Ozawa / Murakami book: I was flipping through it in a bookstore recently and it looked interesting. Next time I'll buy it! And a fascinating and serious list (tangentially: have you read 'Escape from Kathmandu? I bought it in a Kathmandu bookstore and it's a ripping / ridiculous yarn).

Beth, I hope you continue to enjoy 'Compass' and glad that it's provided a good start to the year. I'm reading 'Out of the Silent Planet' which was a Christmas gift.

I loved "From the Holy Mountain" and its concept -- retracing the steps of John Chrysostom as he traveled to the monasteries he had felt responsible for. Along those lines, I'm rereading Needleman's "Lost Christianity." Most everything else on your list is new to me.

Honored to be in such good company inside your head, Beth. Thank you.

Hi Beth. Thanks for reminding me to have another look at Compass.

Two recent reading highlights:
- Elizabeth Hay's latest, All Things Consoled. A memoir about her relationship with elderly parents. Definitely rang a lot of bells, and very beautifully written.
- Miriam Toews's Women Talking.
With these two books, I really felt both writers had taken a masterful leap and done something far beyond their previous work.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.