Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

This past year involved a few wonderful things —I’m speaking strictly of small personal events and a handful of excellent books and not of the series of horrific world events that I find overwhelmingly preoccupying—but, sadly, the last twelve months did not involve nearly enough good reading. I think I actually read less than forty books this past year. This depresses me. I feel the most alive when I am reading and thinking about books and how they work. So I am desperately looking forward to 2015 and a series of reading projects I have planned.

First, however, a short list of the books I read and loved in 2014 (even if they were not published in 2014):

  • To Hell with Cronjé, by Ingrid Winterbach, tr. Elsa Silke
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson, tr. Anne Born
  • August by Christa Wolf, tr. Katy Derbyshire
  • Orkney by Amy Sackville
  • The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, tr. Shaun Whiteside
  • A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Nay, Rather by Anne Carson
  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

I’d love to discuss any of these books with you – and recommendations based on them would also be very welcome.

My reading in 2015 is off to a good start, however. I rang in the New Year with a jetlagged midnight re-read of Clarisse Lispector’s Near to the Wild Heart. I enjoyed this book when I first read it, but I read it too closely to a read of Agua Viva and The Hour of the Star. This was too much Lispector at once and I did not appreciate it in the way I could have. I was entranced with this re-read a few nights ago – highlighting, taking notes, pausing to re-read paragraphs. Although I find this comparison a little troublesome, Lispector affects me in a similar way to Woolf – she asks me to engage with a complicated and fast-moving interior world, one that feels achingly familiar at times and wholly alien at others. You know that early scene of Joyce’s in A Portrait of the Artist, when he situates Stephen within the vast universe for the first time? That is what Lispector does again and again and again – she situates the mind of her character in relation to the universe, to others, to herself. She is constantly periscoping outward and inward and it can be dizzying but it is always illuminating and provocative.

The second book I’ve started for 2015 is Shirley Hazzard’s 1970 novel The Bay of Noon. This is one of the books that takes some warming up to. But I am about halfway through and looking forward to see how Hazzard pulls it all together. It is a short little book but formal—I mean formal in the way the prose feels, and structurally as well. Here is one of several lines I keep going back to:

That is something one does not foresee in wishing to elude one’s traditions: that the threat, once its fangs are drawn, may become transfigured into intimacy, a frame of reference.

Last but not least, a haphazard (because still in the planning stages) list of the reading projects I plan to move ahead on in 2015:

I have started reading Beckett finally, an author I have been meaning to read for some time. Anthony of Time’s Flow has piqued my curiosity with his many discussions of Beckett’s work and journals. I have begun with Molloy.

In 2014, I discovered Muriel Spark and plan to read as many of her novels as I can find this year. Her humor is very welcome, as is her biting social commentary.

I am about halfway through my start-to-finish Virginia Woolf read. I hope to finish this year.

Several authors I plan to read as much as possible of this year – Anne Carson, Nabokov, Coetzee and Clarisse Francillon. All extremely different writers, much to look forward to.

More poetry! More poetry!

One of the things I’d like to work on this year is non-fiction/philosophy/essay reading. I am still compiling a list of writers and books and will write more about this later.

Finally, some friends of mine and I recently engaged in a recommendations game. We are all serious readers but with quite different tastes. We gave each other a list of our “perfect books” and the reasons why. Based on these lists we then gave each other a single book recommendation. It was a great bit of fun, and I received the following three books to read: Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac, David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Janice Galloway’s The Trick is to Keep Breathing.  So those are now added to my list.

And last but not least, I have a rather random pile of fiction waiting for me. I’ve collected these titles from reviews and recommendations from readers I trust:

  • A Life with Mary Shelley – Barbara Johnson
  • The Hum of Concrete – Anna Solding
  • A Town of Empty Rooms – Aimee Bender
  • Project for a Fainting – Brenda Shaughnessy
  • The Fountains of Neptune – Rikki Ducornet
  • My Mother: Demonology – Kathy Acker
  • Nightwood – Djuna Barnes
  • The House of Breath – William Goyen
  • All the Birds Singing – Evie Wyld
  • We are the Birds of the Coming Storm – Lola Lafon

So that’s it – anyone have a burning recommendation for me? The very best book you read in 2014 and would love to pass on to my ever-growing list? Please don’t hesitate!

One Response to “A new year”

  1. Michelle

    Hi Stefanie – I’ve been meaning to read A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I have a copy but the time just hasn’t felt right. I feel like I need to have time to read it all in one sitting. But maybe I should just dive in. (And I’ll note the Ali Smith, too Thank you.) Happy New Year.

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