The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Snarkmarket Holiday Book Recommendation

Briefly: Yes, I agree: Read David Markson’s “The Last Novel.” It’s slim; it’s inventive in form but timeless in spirit; and it will shake you up.

What’s your recommendation? Stipulation: You only get one! (But you can tell us the runners-up if you want.)

November 21, 2007 / Uncategorized


Anyone can tell you what novels to read. Who’s going to tell you what books of literary criticism are worth your time?!?

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Imagine you’re a German-Jewish Romance philologist on the run from the Nazis. You wind up in Istanbul with the handful of books you can carry or beg/borrow from local libraries. So you write a nearly comprehensive history of Western literature, in the form of highly localized readings of juxtaposed single scenes or moments from the books you know by heart (half of which you retranslate), going all the way from the Odyssey and the book of Genesis to Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. You write a book that’s magisterial, illuminating, and highly readable all at once — in the name of defending the broad history of a culture that you’re watching destroyed before your eyes.

Gather the family around, and read them the story of Odysseus’s Scar. Way, way better than the football game. I promise.

I’m currently reading and would recommend A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature through History by Matt Cartmill. He takes a while to hit his stride. Tries to get into things in kind of a weird way in chapter 1, and then chapter 2 is a little too much classical mythology rehash, but after that I have found it fascinating. Endnoted up the wazoo too and has given me several leads on next books to read.

Passionate Minds: The Great Enlightenment Love Affair by David Bodanis. About Voltaire and the strangely non-famous Emilie du Chatelet, whose explored such topics as the masslessness of light well before her time. Duels, royal scams, illegitimate heirs, and letter-writing that changed history—about 3/4 done, and its a lot of fun. Makes me want to start a salon again.

Recently read and loved We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, which was just reissued by Penguin Classics and features a fantastic preface from Jonathan Lethem. Also highly recommend Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder, which brought me to tears. (Gotta qualify that recommendation somewhat, though. Other folks I know who’ve read it found it way too detail-oriented. I think Goldman certainly could have written a sparer tome that elided some of the minutiae surrounding the bishop’s murder and held to a purer narrative arc. But his goal is to make a case, to rebut claims made in an earlier book that the state had no responsibility for Goldman’s killing. That case could not be made without the details he includes here.) Also, What is the What really is as marvelous as everyone says it is.

Four books are on my to-buy list right now: The Exquisite, by Laird Hunt; The Indian Clerk, by David Leavitt; Legacy of Ashes, by Tim Weiner; and Homesick, by Lucia Berlin.

Matt: reread the directions… Haha, thanks for all the great suggestions. Anyone have a Beowulf translation suggestion other then Seamus Heaney?

I hear there’s a very faithful movie adaptation out… har har har!

Whatever, Robin’s stipulation was just for the suckas that follow rules. I march to the beat of my own drummer.

I definitely want to hear from whoever gives one of these graphic novel adaptations of Beowulf a spin.

The Howard Chickering translation of Beowulfis also well-regarded, but what’s wrong with the Heaney, Peter? I’m no expert in Anglo-Saxon, but I find it to be a sharp, fun, epic take on the poem. And it’s not like you don’t have the old English right there.

Nothing wrong with Heaney, I just wanted another option. You can’t listen to Beethoven’s 5th every day. Can you tell me a little more about how you would compare Heaney and Chickering?

Haven’t read the Chickering trans. myself, but I have a friend who teaches with it. I can ask & find out more.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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