Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Five Books I'll Read This Year

It seems like most years I read somewhere between 20 and 30 books. At any given time, I have a more than that many books on my "to read" shelf, and only a few of the books I actually read each year seem to come off that shelf, the rest are more a matter of impulse. Admitting that, I thought I'd try to come up with a list of just five books that I've been wanting to read for at least some time which I'll commit to reading this year, somewhere among the others that are more impulsive reads.

Of course, while I like to be alone while reading, there's nothing I like more than talking about books, so please feel free (indeed, encouraged!) to provide your own short "will definitely read" list in the comments or in a post linking back here.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965
 I read the first two volumes of William Manchester's magisterial biography of Churchill a while back, and I was saddened to read that his health (and later death) had made finishing the final volume impossible. Paul Reid, to whom the project was left by Manchester, has now brought forth the third and final volume and I'm very eager to read it.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy
I read another of Rumer Godden's novels this last year (Kingfisher's Catch Fire) and although I found the main character somewhat frustrating, it reminded me how much I enjoy Godden's adult writing (This House of Brede, China Court, etc.) I couldn't quite bring myself to order the new Loyola Classics edition since it features an introduction by Joan Chittister, so I ordered a used hardcover copy.

Lord of the Rings (surely no one needs a link to this one)
 I've read LotR at least half a dozen times over the years, but I think it's been a good five years since I last read it. Each time I've re-read it, I've felt like I've come away with new things.  I've been feeling more and more lately a need to re-read it again as I feel like I've changed a fair amount over the last five years (in my reading tastes, among other things) and so I want to experience it again.

Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I
 I've had a number of books relating to the Great War (whose hundredth anniversary is upon us next year) on my "to read" list for a while, and this one dealing with the outbreak of the war is one of them.

France and the Great War
Another from the Great War list: Leanard Smith has emerged as one of the key modern scholars writing in English about France in the Great War, helping to overturn a too-long-held consensus view about the French in the war which has arguably been formed more by 1920s and '30s anti-war writing than by the actual history of France in the war.


Les Miserables
When I was young, my mother had a slender antique volume of Les Miserables -- the second volume. I read it, of course. Years later, while babysitting, I started the first half, and was surprised to learn that 100 pages in, we hadn't moved past the good bishop. I used to know large portions of the Les Mis soundtrack by heart, but until seeing the movie last week I hadn't heard the music for years. Now it's time to go to the source and get the original story from start to finish.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy
When Darwin said that he was going to include a Rumer Godden novel on his list, this was the title that immediately leapt to my mind, because I'd been wanting to read it too.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight
South African journalist Rian Malan's essays on the state of his country. I received this for Christmas and was grabbed immediately by Malan's fierce, funny, and scathing writing about his beloved and infuriating homeland. The piece referenced by the title is a masterpiece of investigative journalism in which Malan unravels the tortuous history of the song "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and its prodigious royalties, almost none of which made it back to its original South African singer Solomon Linda and his family.

Jesus of Nazareth
To which of Pope Benedict's three volumes of this name am I referring? Any of them. I'd like to finish at least one of them this year. His writing is so rich, I find it hard to digest more than a paragraph or two at a time.

The Book of the City of Ladies
Once I was walking through a bookstore when a display of the Penguin Great Idea series caught my eye. The thick paper covers were so aesthetically appealing, so beautifully embossed, that even in my straitened circumstances I snapped up the two least expensive. I've tried several times to make it through Thorstein Veblen's Conspicuous Consumption and been drained by the dryness of his prose, so now it's time to turn to the other lovely volume, Christine de Pizan's The City of Ladies. Written in 1405, this work features the author in dialogue with Reason, Rectitude, and Justice about a city where women are free from the slander and prejudices of envious men. I am already captivated by a book which begins, "One day, I was sitting in my study surrounded by many books of different kinds, for it has long been my habit to engage in the pursuit of knowledge."


Literacy-chic said...

Ooh! The City of Ladies sounds like a great idea!

Eric M. said...

Mr. Darwin, I'll think about coming up with my own 2013 reading list and link back to your post.

I'll probably also reread "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." Mrs. Darwin's idea of working through Pope Benedict's "Jesus of Nazareth" trilogy is also intriguing, in addition to finally starting "Introduction to Christianity."

Admittedly, what makes composing a book list for me difficult is that the number of books I'd like to read usually far surpasses the books I actually will pick up and read. Sometimes it feels like I'm fighting a losing battle with a never ending to-do list...

Brandon said...

The Book of the City of Ladies is well worth reading; I'm very much a fan of Christine de Pizan, and have been since college, when I took a seminar in Oxford one summer on women in late medieval literature (also looking at Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, and Chaucer's Wife of Bath). I have the Earl Jeffrey Richards translation on my shelf. I've dipped into it a lot (which is easy to do, because it consists of story after story of virtuous women), but I've never actually read it from cover to cover. Perhaps I'll try that at some point this year.

rhinemouse said...

The Book of the City of Ladies is one of those things I keep meaning to read in my copious free time. Unfortunately I already have a to-read list a mile long for 2013...

The full, unabridged Les Miserables is simply marvelous (and so much better than the musical, much as I love it). Just be prepared to learn more than you ever wanted to know about (a) Victor Hugo's views on convents, and (b) the Paris sewer system.

..oh good grief the Paris sewer system...

Anonymous said...

What ever happened to that 2nd volume of Les Mis. Is it still on the bookshelf?

Joseph M said...

This is a good exercise. Finally getting back to reading a double-digit number of books per year, after 20 years of children leaving me little time or energy for reading. So:

Tacitus - just need more Roman history;

Divine Comedy - read this a zillion times, but not for the last couple years. Like to start it during lent and finish in Paradise at Easter.

The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War - heard about this edition, which includes detailed maps interspersed in the text illustrating the battles and movements, and have wanted it since.

Finally, several works by modern Catholic SciFi writers Johns C Wright, Mike Flynn and Gene Wolf.

That ought to do it.

Jenny said...

I'm honestly not sure if yall sleep. 20-30 books a year?! I feel inadequate.

MrsDarwin said...

I don't know what happened to the single volume of Les Miserables. It never made it to my house. I bet it's probably on the shelf, if it wasn't lost in the fire.

My translation of The City of Ladies is by Rosalind Brown-Grant. The opening paragraphs are so clear and simple that I'm wondering now how it would work as a readaloud for the girls. This line particularly enchants me: "Yet I had scarcely begun to read it when my dear mother called me down to supper, for it was time to eat. I put the book to one side, resolving to go back to it the next day." Life as I've known and lived it, from both sides!

MrsDarwin said...

Wait, is The Book of the City of Ladies complete? I'm beginning to suspect that my beautiful volume is only excerpts, although it says nowhere that it's abridged. Whole chapters are omitted. Oh, I'm so disappointed, and in rather high dudgeon.

Brandon said...

Looking around, it looks like that edition is getting two major kinds of comment: lots of people are saying that Brown-Grant's translation is excellent, but lots are also complaining that it's not the full work (one comment I saw says that it's about 1/5 of the full thing). So the two features about it that struck you seem to have struck other people, too.

Brandon said...

Just for comparison, my edition has 48 chapters in Part I (Reason), 69 chapters in Part II (Rectitude), and 19 chapters in Part III (Justice).

MrsDarwin said...

I sat down comfortably to start reading my little volume (it felt so perfect in my hand -- really, it was a glorious physical reading experience) and made it pleasantly through chapter 2. Then it skipped to chapter 10. So I started flipping through, and sure enough, large chunks of text are just not there. What the Sam Hill? How can a publisher claim to put out a Great Ideas series without publishing the whole idea?

And I really wanted to read chapter 3. Snuff.

Brandon said...

That's a strange set of chapters to skip. In Chapters 3-8, the Ladies introduce themselves and explain the city that they have started building, and enlist Christine to help them. Then in Chapter 9, Christine starts digging the foundation, i.e., asking Lady Reason questions, and those questions set up the whole background of the rest of the book.