January 20, 2010

Trekking the apocalyptic path


The better part of January has elapsed yet it's never too late to draft a reading plan. The trek is never too steep when it comes to the written word. Writing lists is always a favorite activity, and when I review the end result, I will say, that looks fine. Months and years will pass, and I will say, I can't believe I even bothered. I've made a list of authors and titles for this, my Reading Plan. I'd rather call it that than "Reading Challenge." I feel it will intrude too much on my freedom to choose books from my pile if I rigidly constrain myself to specifics. In short, I shall deviate from the plan from time to time and pick out books from the pile based on a very definite criterion called "whim."

My wishful reading for the year includes the following books. They're mostly fiction in translation (from Japanese and Spanish) and some nonfiction science books.

1. Unfinished books from last year (includes Nineteen Eighty-Four; On the Road; War and Peace)

2. Rereads of a couple of books by Roberto Bolaño (includes 2666, Nazi Literature in the Americas, Distant Star).

3. The Murakami Q Reading Plan: The first 9 books by Murakami Haruki, in chronological order of their Japanese publication. The final book in this reading plan is The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a book I encountered before in hostile terms. I’m now into the 4th book, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. Six books more to go. (Actually seven; I might just read the two translations of Norwegian Wood side by side.)

4. The Murakami's Choice Q Reading Plan: More Japanese writers, mainly those Murakami identified as the modern period's "top ten Japanese writers of national stature." He made the list in his introduction to the Akutagawa collection Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories. For my reading plan, that means at least a book each by Soseki (Murakami's top writer), Ogai, Shiga, Tanizaki, Kawabata, Dazai, and Mishima. Seven writers. I don't have anything to read by Shimazaki Toson and Akutagawa. That's nine. Murakami came up only with 9 writers for his Top Ten, and the latter two (Dazai and Mishima) I think he included somewhat grudgingly. There are some obvious omissions. If I can, I will also try to squeeze in works by Kobo Abe, Shusaku Endo, Fumiko Enchi, and Kenzaburo Oe. And of course this excursion is not complete without the Other Murakami. I'll be thumbing through Ryu's 69. Reading Plan #3 and #4 will be my Japanese Express theme for this year. I'm perfectly sure it will carry over to 2011.

5. Some thick books that excite me just by looking at them! I'll be a servant for some time to Cervantes's Don Quixote, in the translation by John Rutherford. I specifically bought this as it's the one preferred by Margaret Jull Costa (the brilliant renderer of José Saramago and Javier Marías) over Edith Grossman's translation. I just read that Burton Raffel's version is okay too. Says The Millions: "[Raffel] has made a business of bringing overlooked 'great books' [including Don Quixote] back to life by recasting them in a contemporary American idiom." But I'm totally buying (and have already bought the book) the recommendation by Margaret Jull Costa: "If you don't know Spanish and have never read Don Quixote or are thinking of reading it again, then this is the English translation I would recommend, recreating as it does the novel's vibrant (and, to the modern sensibility, sometimes cruel) humour, and doing equal honour to its pathos.")

For thick books, I might also finally start Rebellion in the Backlands by Euclides da Cunha (trans. Samuel Putnam. There's an upcoming translation, Backlands: The Canudos Campaign, but I think the edition I have will do) and Life: A User's Manual by Georges Perec. My copy of Life is a beautiful edition but it's not the definitive version. Does it matter? Who knows. It does if I own the definitive version.

6. NYRB Reading Plan: At least 5 books published by New York Review of Books. I'd like to include here The Siege of Krishnapur by J. G. Farrell and Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang. Perhaps a Simenon and that book that was hard to read (it's pronounced as Mardu Gorgeous or something).

7. Books by Amélie Nothomb that I can lay my hands on. She's exquisite in Loving Sabotage.

8. Science books (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn; Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond; The Double Helix by James D. Watson; Gaia by James Lovelock). I've been pining for these books. It's now or ... later.

9. Essays (The Art of Fiction by David Lodge; Seven Nights by Borges, Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes; A Sense of Life by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

10. Anthologies of Latin American short stories (The Oxford Book of Latin American Short Stories) and novellas (Masterworks of Latin American Short Fiction)

11. Maybe I still have time for Boom writers (Blow-Up and Other Stories by Cortázar; The War of the End of the World by Vargas Llosa; Love in the Time of the Cholera). I realize I have two books now with "the end of the world" in their titles (see # 3). And cholera epidemic... I think I just found my theme for this year's reading plan.

The Year of Apocalyptic Reading.

Scratch that. It's not yet 2012.


If this is an ideal world, I'll finish some 60 books this year.

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