Monday, October 24, 2011

New to My TBR Pile

While on our beach vacation, my family spent a bit of time in a wonderful independent bookstore just steps from the ocean: Browseabout Books. The store is large--full of souvenir/giftshop stuff on one side, but on the other a much larger selection of books than I expected from a beach bookstore.

I sat for a few minutes reading the introduction to the Penguin edition of Charlotte Bronte's Villette--a novel I have not yet read but now have on my nightstand. Since I had been thinking about Bronte all weekend, this novel seemed like a must-read.  Although Browseabout did not seem to have the Modern Library Villette, I'm eager to read A.S. Byatt's introduction to the novel in that edition. 

I then stumbled across a new edition of the plays of Sophocles, translated by Robert Bagg and James Scully.

Although I carried Bagg and Scully out of the bookstore before I have poked into it thoroughly, I'm thrilled to see that Christopher, who blogs over at ProSe, is quite pleased with this translation. After braving a bit of carsickness to have a peak at it on the way home from the beach, it looks fantastic.  (Have any of the rest of you looked at it yet?)

Incidentally, Christopher's blog was one of the first book blogs I found when I started searching for people who were committed to reading classic literature. I immediately loved the way he combined deep analysis of what he read with a discussion of his personal and emotional responses. (His passion for Thomas Hardy led me to read a little bit of that author before I started my project.) Then Christopher got busy and he took a bit of a blogging break. Then I did. Recently he's left some really thoughtful comments on some old posts here at the Lifetime Reading Plan. They've helped convince me that it is time for me to come back to the blog and begin to write about what I'm reading again--more frequently than once every week, or two...or three.

In one of those comments, Christopher let me know that Stephen Mitchell planned to release his own translation of Homer's The Iliad. Lucy Pollard-Gott, author of the fabulous Fictional 100: Ranking the Most Influential Characters in World Literature and Legend, was also kind enough to steer me towards this new translation.  Thank you both so much!

I'm so excited to read this edition!  Homer's The Iliad completely caught my imagination in a way I never expected, and I also adored Stephen Mitchell's introduction to the Gilgamesh epic. But before I allow myself to dive in (perhaps in early January?), I'm planning to complete some other reading projects--from some Greek drama to a couple of Victorian novels and even to a bit of 21st-century experimental poetry.  Stay tuned.

*  *  *

As much as fiction calls to me, there are times in my life when nonfiction takes over almost completely. I'm about halfway through Richard Heinberg's The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality about the current global economic and environmental crises. It is not an easy read--intellectually or emotionally--but it is both important and thoughtful. Some of Heinberg's writing (perhaps especially his Powerdown about possible responses to resource depletion such as Peak Oil) is really quite lyrical as well.

I'm also loving the work of Bill McKibben. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (about the links between social structure, environmental destruction, and resource depletion) is a wonderful place to start--although I first discovered McKibben's writings back in 1999 or so when I read his Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families right as my son was born.  I read it because I wanted to convince my partner David that we should have only one child--a decision I made for myself when I was eight years old.  I finished McKibben's memoir/study with a much deeper sense that my personal choices mattered.  Whether or not you agree with McKibben's specific argument about having smaller families really doesn't matter.  The book gently but forcefully calls us to live up to our ideals and think about our responsibilities to the world.  It was a life-changing book for me.

Like Heinberg, McKibben combines the skills of a visionary thinker with those of a careful and inspired writer.  Both require a great deal of attention, and both will leave you thinking for months.


  1. Slow, Plot-Driven ReaderOctober 24, 2011

    I've been thinking a great deal about Richard Heinberg and Bill McKibben as I've heard the news about the world debt crisis and the Occupy movement. I appreciated Deep Economy when I read it a few years ago and look forward to moving The End of Growth from your night stand to mine. I think our love of fiction helps us keep the non-fiction we read in perspective and context. And vice-versa.

  2. I really like Villette a lot-the parts set in the school are just wonderful-I would also enjoy reading the introduction by A. S. Byatt

  3. I've read Villette earlier this year as part of a read-along. I don't think I would have liked it very much if i read it by myself. Still, I really enjoyed the connections with Brussels (where I live now).

  4. Great to see what you're reading! And I do agree with Christopher, since I will enjoy even more of your illuminating posts on your current reading life! And thanks for mentioning his ProSe which I will certainly begin following as well.

    Thanks for your kind mention. I've started on Mitchell's Iliad, with my Lattimore paperback next to me for comparison, and I was quite beside myself with excitement. Mitchell's decision to use a 5-beat rather than a 6-beat line must have been inspired because his lines flow with grace, clarity, and power. I could think of more original similes of praise but I will leave that up to Homer--and Mitchell! What fun to really dive deep in Homer again.

    And speaking of fun--of the emotional Brontean variety--'Villette' makes perfect bedside reading. It took me many, many nights but so well worth it. And 'Shirley' is excellent too! I'm into Anne's novels now and her pain is even more acute on the page than Charlotte's. Enjoy Villette!

  5. Enjoy Villette! To me, it really is one of the monumental English works of fiction. It simply feels so autobiographical that it is almost painful to read--and to think that it was written shortly after the death of Anne, her last surviving sibling. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotional state in which Charlotte found herself.

    I am absolutely loving Mitchell's Iliad, and I agree with Lucy about Mitchell's structure of the poem--it works, and works well! I just began Book 23 this a.m. and will finish it this weekend. Interestingly enough, while in Santa Fe, New Mexico on business this week, I found another brand new release of The Iliad! This one is by Anthony Verity, and it looks fabulous too. So, I have another Iliad to read!

    Oh, and I can't wait to read about your impression of the Bagg-Scully translations of Sophocles' tragedies. I loved them!

    Thanks for the tip about Lucy's book, The Fictional 100.... Definitely sounds like something I'd enjoy reading. Have a great weekend! Cheers! Chris

  6. The End of Growth sounds fascinating. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. People, especially politicians, tend to forget that, though a very big place, the world is still finite,with space and resources to match.


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