Monday, December 31, 2018

'Any Desire Ever to Read at All'

Somehow, good books still get written and published. For readers who are willing to search, treasure can be salvaged from the landfill that is contemporary literature, even poetry. Here are ten books published in 2018 worth finding, reading and rereading:

Questioning Minds: The Letters of Hugh Kenner and Guy Davenport, edited by Edward M. Burns, Counterpoint.

Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov, translated by Donald Rayfield, NYRB Classics.

Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975 by Max Hastings, Harper/HarperCollins.

The Ideal of Culture: Essays by Joseph Epstein, Axios.

Sentimental Tales by Mikhail Zoshchenko, translated by Boris Dralyuk, Columbia University Press.

Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard by Cynthia L. Haven, Michigan State University Press.

The Hanging God by James Matthew Wilson, Angelico Press.

Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition by Roger Scruton, All Points Books.

Churchill: Walking with Destiny by Andrew Roberts, Viking.

The Elegies of Maximianus, translated by A.M. Juster, University of Pennsylvania Press.

I’m always tempted to agree with William Hazlitt: “I hate to read new books. There are twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again, and these are the only ones that I have any desire ever to read at all.” Taken literally, Hazlitt’s declaration would be dishonest and self-punishing, as the titles above suggest. I note only two works of fiction on the list, both from the distant past. Of course, most of my reading this year has been from that remote yet ever-present era. I spent days reading and rereading the work of Turner Cassity and Charles Gullans. Among my “twenty or thirty volumes” were Chekhov, Shakespeare, Nadezhda and Osip Mandelstam, Gibbon, Lamb, Sisson, Swift, Larkin, Dr. Johnson, the Bible and Henry James. Most of our true contemporaries died years ago.


Unknown said...

Thank you very much for the recommendations. I was uncertain about the Vietnam book but i'll give it a go now

Baceseras said...

Thank you, Mr. Kurp, for another year of Anecdotal Evidence, of my being sure every day of finding at least one thing worth reading in the internet welter.

I've read scarcely any newly published books this past year (out of God-knows-how-many I opened the covers of). In 2019 I should start to make a dent in the crop of 2018 - including practically everything on your list.

p.s. The best "new" book I did read was actually published the previous year: Traces of Vermeer by Jane Jelley (Oxford UP, 2017). And the best thing I read all year was when I re-read Melville's The Confidence-Man - way back in January.

Tim Guirl said...

I have read no books about the Vietnam War since I served there 46 years ago. Maybe it's time I read one. I have Max Hastings' Vietnam on order.