This is an attempt to list the reading matter of 2009, that is to say, all the works of literature that I read during 2009, which means all works of literature of which I can say that I’ve read all, or at least most of the words of…
It does not list non-fiction (except when it falls under ‘literature’), theory, books browsed and/or read for less than one third, glanced-over pdfs.
… well, but what will I do with long excerpts that have been meaningful? Literary magazines read half? Poems? Euhh, new media literature?
(…) … it’s an attempt. Who knows there’ll be some insight.
- Jonathan Littell: De welwillenden (2008) (Les Bienveillantes (2006))
- AFTH van der Heijden: Kruis en kraai (2008)
nah — 4 good pages on Joyce, the rest AFTH-mythologizing, analogies, and ‘theory’ that rises just above, yes, enjoyable bar-talk after a beer too much. Sorry, I’m not a AFTH-fan, but the man is a real writer.
- Carlo Levi: Christus kwam niet verder dan Eboli (1990) (Cristo si Ã¨ fermato a Eboli (1945))
Classic, saw the 1979 Francesco Rosi-movie ages ago. Made a big impression. Somehow never read the book, until january 2009.
Jeroen Theunissen: Een vorm van vermoeidheid (2008)
Initially had some problems with the consistent use of the present tense in this novel. As if it made he book too easy, or not-involved. As if nothing happened. But persevered. A contemporary book about contemporary man.
Christian Kracht: Ich werde hier sein im Sonnenschein und um Schatten (2008)
Short novel. Very strange. Alternative history (70+ years of war in Europe, Switzerland = SSR, communist rule.) Many reminiscences to other novels — including those of Pynchon, Burroughs, Philip K. Dick.
Nickel van Duijvenboden: Plateau (2008)
Little book, published in both Dutch and English, by the Dutch artist Nickel van Duijvenboden. An artist publication rather than a work of literature â€“ judging by the publication channel â€“ I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing, and even more so by the eloquent exposition in narrative form of the different ways of capturing reality (art, science, data collection, first hand experience). The story concerns an artist and a scientist on a scientific base near the North Pole.
Enrique Vila-Matas: Bartleby & Co (2001)
Dutch translation of Bartleby y compaÃ±Ãa, ‘novel’ in the form of short texts about the question why (not) to write, as ‘answered’ by various authors of the Bartleby-type. Interesting for literature-fanatics like me. But to my taste not as compelling as BolaÃ±o’s fictitious writer-biographies (totally different in impact), not as compelling as Markson’s quotation-‘novels’. Excellent as short essays on the value of literature in life, the book isn’t radical enough for my taste.
Robert Pinget: Het oude deuntje (2008)
Dutch translation of La manivelle (1960), a very short text of Pinget, actually an outtake from a novel that he considered failed, maybe better known in Beckett’s translation as The Old Tune. Everything of Pinget is such a joy to read! This booklet is published in the nice Perlouses-series of Voetnoot: http://www.voetnoot-publishers.nl/; most Dutch translations of Pinget’s novels are published by IJzer: http://www.uitgeverij-ijzer.nl/, and they are all breath-taking.
Uwe Johnson: Karsch, und andere Prosa (1964) (1990)
The next stage of the long journey of reading all of Uwe Johnson’s books, immersing myself in his world. Every sentence of these stories is worth one’s time. Nothing is simple here. Love the only longer story (Karsch) — about the journalist who intends to write the biography of Achim (= TÃ¤ve Schur).
JÃ¼rgen Grabow: Uwe Johnson (1997)
One of those small writer-biographies in the RoRoRo-series. I generally like them for the combination of biography and some Literaturwissenschaft. Things might have been never clear in Johnson’s writing career, but this booklet did not deliver the elucidation that I hoped for. (Having read Gary Lee Baker’s Understanding Uwe Johnson at earlier occasions). I’m tempted to blame the writing, which I found cumbersome and at times hard to follow (for a book like this).
- Edgar Allan Poe: The Journal of Julius Rodman. Being an Account of the First Passage across the Rocky Mountains of North America Ever Achieved by Civilized Man (1840)
Unfinished serial adventure novel by Poe; read the six installments in the Dutch translation.
- Flann O’Brien: Tegengif (1939) (1974)
This is Bob den Uyl’s Dutch translation of At Swim Two Birds, O’Brien’s strangest and very funny work. Superb.
- Ilja Leonard Pfeiffer & Gert-Jan de Vries: 500 gedichten die iedereen gelezen moet hebben. De canon van de Europese poÃ«zie (2008)
Thought I’d mention it in this list, not that I read every single poem in this fat anthology, but I’ve read quite a few. Dutch translations of classics plus Pfeiffer and De Vries’s choice. Sure, many gems, but overall a strange choice of poems. Many classics plus some deviations, but no real pushing forward of a view on what poetry is, or could be. I would’ve liked it much had the choice been more ideological/poetical. Any review of their choice has to go into details (… I mean, judging from this anthology Willem Wilmink is on of the most important Dutch poet – even if none of his own poems is chosen, yet many of his translations of Medieval songs are here). ‘Revelations’: I still do not like Peter Verstegens translations â€“ except his Emily Dickinson; and I was most struck by the musicality of Hooft and Vondel which makes one wonder again about what gets lots in translating poetry.
- Nanne Tepper: De lijfbard van Knut de Verschrikkelijke. Atonale schertsen (2009)
The remains of 10 years of writing â€“ or not-writing – from one of the greatest writing talents in the Netherlands. But even these sketches and occasional works are “wow”.
- William Marx: Het afscheid van de literatuur. De geschiedenis van een ontwaarding, 1700 – 2000 (2008) (2005)
Okay, theory, and I was not going to mention theory here… When published in France this book apparently caused a heated debate. Due to my meagre French I did not read it then. It is a good book – it shows how “Literature” first gaines importance, and then declines, a decline which it causes itself because by stating its autonomy, by cutting itself loose from the world, from its connections to the social. Lots of critique can be given to details, but in general the thesis of William Marx holds. What disappoints is that Marx is not telling a new story which bears on the contemporary world of letters and the future of Literature, but a well known story of the “End” of literature. Moreover his story is heavily dependent on a very French perspective (or even mythology) on the progression (euh, decline) of “Literature”. It starts with literature attaching itself to the world in the 18th century (Voltaire), then on to the high point where Literature states its autonomy, most radically in Rimbaud and Mallarme, which already contains its own death, and it ends with silence, nothingness, empty play in Beckett, Sartre and OULIPO. Yeah. That moment occured 50 years ago. No? Marx puts this also a bit in a sociological perspective (Bourdieu) but relates it hardly to changes in media, nor to the plurality of “literatures” which is apparent now (Africa, China, South America have a different literary dynamics I’d say). So it does not take into account most of the aspects that relate to literature now. The question I have then is: why have a debate about this book which is an eloquent statement of the obvious? (I know, I am exaggerating a bit here – it is interesting to have a debate about Marx’s narrative, and surely on for instance his take on Rimbaud and on OULIPO. But this is not a debate on contemporary literature, nor on the future of it. Yet I have become curious to read Marx’s most recent book Vie du LettrÃ© which if I understand well, is a portrait of the literary man through the ages.
- Roberto BolaÃ±o: Nazi Literature in the Americas (2008) (1996)
Short biographies of fictional right wing poets in the Americas – with so much that became part of BolaÃ±o’s later novels. BolaÃ±o really created a literary universe. This book both shows the all-consuming passion for literature, the importance of poetry for life, and the futility of it: every life just ends.
- Helmuth Kiesel: Ernst JÃ¼nger, die Biographie (2008)
660+ pages biography of Ernst JÃ¼nger, liked the first half: much context, much about his writing, no psychologizing. Made a lot clear about JÃ¼nger. Then my interest slackened. Can’t get into JÃ¼nger’s later writing â€“ tried to read Eumeswil several times â€“ either. Never could. Remember reading Auf den Marmorklippen when I was 17 or 18. It didn’t register with me. Yet he was a fascinating character. (Won’t write more on this, it would need half an essay at least. I’d rather be reading the new Sciascia-translation, or more Uwe Johnson in that time).
- Leonardo Sciascia: De dood van Raymond Roussel / Het theater van het geheugen (2007) (1971/1981)
Another Dutch translation of Sciascia, published by the excellent small publisher Serena Libri of Annaserena Ferruzzi. Joins Atti relativi ala morte dit Raymond Roussel and Il teatro della memoria, two of Sciascia’s stories based on ‘episodi veri di cronaca nera’. I love how in these detective stories Sciascia searches for the ‘real facts’, scrutinizes the available documents and shows both the (moral) necessity of this search, and the sheer impossibility to get to the bottom of the facts, and an evaluation of them. Again, this is a longer essay. Since two years I’m simply enjoying reading everything of Sciascia that’s translated in Dutch â€“ as my Italian is not up to standard anymore…
- Erich KÃ¤stner: Nota bene 45 (2008) (1961)
Erich KÃ¤stner? Yes, I was curious what his diary from 1945, surviving in Germany, would be like â€“ after reading Littell etc. KÃ¤stner being so… well: normal. And in a sense, that is what his diary is like too. (Read the Dutch translation that came out last year).
- David Foster Wallace: This is Water. Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (2009)
Just out. Actually, 1 hour after the post delivered it to my house (friday April 10th) I’d had finished it. The 137 pages contain about as many words as 3 pages IJ. It is Wallace’s public address to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. Reading it is a way of mourning DFW’s suicide â€“ maybe â€“ but as such it is a very depressing text. (And apart from showing DFW’s depression, it shows too the emptyness of contemporary American life, an emptyness that seems impossible to fill).
- Uwe Johnson: Zwei Ansichten (1965)
One of the least mentioned novels of Johnson. Two views on the separation of Berlin, immediately after the erection of the wall. Maybe not quite as gripping as Das Dritte Buch Ã¼ber Achim, not as concentrated as Karsch, still very good and still an example of the potentiality of the novel.
- Uwe Johnson: Heute Neunzig Jahr (1996)
Last unfinished prose project that tells the story of Heinrich Cresspahl chronicle-style. Published after Johnson’s death. Another way of diving into his narrative universe.
- Dirk van Weelden: De wereld van 609 (2008)
Booklet-long essay about the transference of culture; in fact a commissioned work about the building on Herengracht 609 and its inhabitants during the years. Characteristic Dirk van Weelden-style philosophy. I like it.
- Samuel Vriezen: 4 zinnen (2008)
Re-read, or actually re-re-read â€“ in preparation for my lecture on lecturing / speech. My favorite Dutch poetry of this moment. There’s an attractive rhythm, and a strangely attractive objectiveness / objectivity about Vriezens poems; they bring openness in my mind / brain; but then â€“ he’s a composer too.
- Georges Simenon: De zoon (Le Fils) 1957
After watching countless Maigrets (tv series on dvd, with Bruno Cremer as Maigret) I became curious what Simenon’s novels would be like. Quick stuff, aptly written, same outlook on life as that in the Maigrets.
- Uwe Johnson: Ingrid Badendererde / ReifeprÃ¼fung 1953 (1985)
Johnson’s first novel, written between 1953 and 1956, left unpublished till 1985. Took me a while to finish, only in the last third the text came to life.
- Michael Hofmann: Uwe Johnson (2001)
As I’ve mentioned the Grabow-book, I thought to also mention this little Reclam-book, a clear and useful introduction to Johnson’s work.
- Heinrich Heine: Die Nordsee (1826)
From the Dutch translation of Reisebilder, very enjoyable; what struck me most was how close Heine sometimes is to the satirical mode of Sterne (thought he tone and intent is different)
- Onsterfelijke wielerhelden (2008)
Just one of those coffee table books, beautiful black and white photographs plus written portraits of the heroes of cycling — with an emphasis on French heroes, as the book was originally French and is pretty well translated by translators who however do not know cycling as they’ve make a bunch of strange mistakes. Ah, read all of it, as a way of preparing my lecture on cycling and media.
- Uwe Johnson, BegleitumstÃ¤nde. Frankfurter Vorlesungen (1980)
The 1979 lectures of Uwe Johnson, about being a writer, how to become a writer and the all-importance of precision in writing. Okay, I skipped some pages in which he too meticulously describes what happened when in German history and its consequences, misinterpretations, etc.
- Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? (2009)
Hmm, this is not a book, but a thin and small booklet collecting three short and accessible essays by Agamben in English translation: on Foucault’s ‘dispositif’, on ‘friendship’ in Aristotle, and the ‘contemporary’ according to – mostly – Nietzsche. I read the first during breakfast, the other two in the train to Rotterdam. Elegant, straightforward and insightful; no new insights but a deep clarification of concepts – mostly through an archeology of terminology. (Would that be the right term?)
- Joris Luyendijk: Het zijn net mensen (2006)
Dutch beststeller about how the media represent the Middle East in the news, mostly trough Luyendijks own experiences. Good journalism. But nothing new for me (or, how cynical I’ve been for years about ‘the news’). Read during two trainrides after work.
- Uwe Johnson: Reise nach Klagenfurt (1974)
Johnson’s remembrance of Ingeborg Bachmann, through a visit to Klagenfurt â€“ exploring the (Nazi)-past of that city too.
- Uwe Johson: Skizze eines VerunglÃ¼ckten (1982)
Short story — or is this a short novel? — according to some one of Johnson finest works. I’d say it’s interesting first because of the (auto)biographical resonances. Read it after breakfast on a sunday morning in the sun on the balcony.
- Giambattista Vico: New Science
The English translation of Vico’s Principii di una scienza nuova d’intorno alla natura delle nazioni. Very important for Joyce’s FW, but also otherwise fascinating. (I just wrote a short article on Vico and FW. (So I reread bits of FW too.)
- Marcel Proust: Tegen Sainte-Beuve. Relaas van een ochtend (2009)
Marjan Hof’s (= Dutch translators Martin de Haan, Jan Pieter van der Sterre and Rokus Hofstede) version of Proust’s Contre Sainte-Beuve — one of those books: takes your breath, you wonder why the hell you ever spend time to read anything inferior to this. Slowing down the pace of reading to enjoy longer. Excellent, beautiful. This is why I love to read, this is why literature is so important in my life. Etc. After finishing I picked up the Recherche (Dutch translation, my French isn’t sufficient to enjoy Proust) again, to reread parts. Needs a small essay here.
- HonorÃ© de Balzac: Kolonel Chabert (1832)
Dutch translation by Hans van Pinxteren from 1996. Excellent tale. I like the shorter stuff of Balzac, the stories that you an read in one go (or almost). Have never read one of his longer novels as far as I can remember.
- Chantal Mouffe: Over het politieke (2008)
Dutch translation of her book from 2004. Read most chapters very quickly: a lot was for me a recapitulation of what I’s already read before, or were aware of through different sources. I agree with her on a lot of points, but am waiting for let’s say the next story, the next step. (Or should I finally read Stengers’ Cosmopolitcs?)
- Nora Chadwick: The Celts (1971)
A classic and outdated, as we have much more archeological evidence now than in the 1970s. Yet I thorougly enjoyed reading this book, and that has a lot to do with the emphasis on literary sources and Chadwick’s outstanding way of dealing with them. After finishing I got more recent introductory studies from the library: Barry Cunliffe, Barry Haywood, Simon James. Through the use of images and maps these books might get the story across faster and better, but the reading enjoyment of Simon James Exploring the World of the Celts (1993) and Barry Haywood’s The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World (2001) isn’t up to that of Chadwick. Reading Chadwick I become more aware of how we construct our view of the Celts â€“ I become more ‘critical’, ‘scrutinizing’ â€“ than browsing the critically presented evidence in Haywood and James. And yes, this is prepatory reading for the holidays.
- CÃ©line: Gesprekken met professor Y (1955)
Entretiens avec le professeur Y in the Dutch translation of Ernst van Altena (1983). Got this from the library â€“ as I am reading Noord â€“ and put it in my bag for a picknick in the Florapark. Finished it during the same summer evening. CÃ©line explains his style, which in his other books seems to be “stronger” brewed than in this shorty.
- CÃ©line: Nord / Noord (1960 / 1983)
Part two of CÃ©line’s German trilogy. After reading Littell’s novel earlier this year I became especially curious to read CÃ©line’s later works (well translated by Frans van Woerden). And wow, does it hit. Language. This is writing. It is ugly, false and revealing, It is dark, shows humanity (including CÃ©line) in its worst selfish state. CÃ©line’s writing â€“ and CÃ©line was certainly at the wrong side, and writes from within that worldview â€“ shows how flawed Littell’s novel is. (Ah, 2666 shows it as well in a different way). Etc.
- Barry Cunliffe: The Ancient Celts (1997)
Holiday reading. Excellent and accessible overview of the culture and society of the Celts — that is in so far we can know about that at all. Btw. immediately started reading Cunliffe’s 2008 book Europe between the Oceans, 9000 BC – AD 1000.
- Samuel Beckett: Mercier and Camier (1974)
Very funny. Here Beckett’s (absurd) slapstick comes through stronger than his (absurd) depressive side.
- element #4, exit, escape, exile (1997)
A small literary magazine from 1997, excellent in its editorial mix of texts and drawings — with texts by a.o. Aidan Higgins and Jaccottet. Picked it up in Carrick on Shannon.
- Samuel Beckett: First Love (1974)
More early prose Beckett. (Came out in 1974, written much earlier).
- Thomas Pynchon: Mason & Dixon (1997)
Well, actually a partial re-read, but substantial enough to be listed here. It’s sort of a holiday tradition to re-read some Pynchon, in this case the first and third book of Mason & Dixon, deserving my attention as in my previous reads of this novel I’ve always been way to eager to get to America… On coming home I find Inherent Vice is out. By now I’ve read and re-read enough Pynchon for long enough, a-and it has grown on me, uh, a-and also I’ve become critical of some of his stuff, that. hmm, I almost â€“ or maybe skip the almost â€“ feel ready to write well, like an appreciation of his art.
- Michael Hemmingson: William T. Vollmann. A Critical Study and Seven Interviews (2009)
A much too short critical study, an overview of Vollmann’s output focussing on the themes of freedom, redemption and prostitution. No new insights for me, except for the realization how close, as a reader, I am to Vollmann: due to the simple fact that I have read almost everything. (Okay, I did not really finish The Royal Family, nor Argall — which I have started to read again, now from back to front — nor every single bit of RURD). It leaves me craving for a longer study, with essays that try to tackle Vollmann’s weaknesses (his long windedness, the possibillity that the quality of his work strangely also depends on these weaknesses), and that more closely examine of how he deals with the narrative voice, perspective and the use of historical material, his method of dreaming and re-imagining the past. But Hemmingson’s study is certainly useful as an introduction, a start — and I devoured it — and also as an overview for those readers who have not had the time to go through all Vollmann’s work. I did not (re)-read the interviews yet, most of which are — in shorter versions — well known to the Vollmann-readership.
- Thomas Pynchon: Inherent Vice (2009)
Scorcher! Oh well, what’s the word in English? Couldn’t stop reading. Very, very funny. This might be Pynchon-light, or Pynchon-for-the-beach, basically a straightforward detective story (well, not that everything’s solved at the end) set in 1969 California, crazy as ever, beautiful as ever.
- Heinrich BÃ¶ll: Irisches Tagebuch (1957)
Because I was on Achill Island in the summer, where BÃ¶ll spent quite a few summers. Sure, this is very enjoyable literature, sketches of Ireland done in a very fine style; every sketch captures something which is characteristic of the country. Every sketch is almost a metaphor for something “Irish”, which makes the book artificial too (well: literary) – though everything has a source in BÃ¶ll’s own observations. I style quite a contrast to WTV’s painstaking attempts (doomed to fail, of course) to report the truth, to report lived reality.
- F.C. Terborgh: De meester van de LaÃ«rtes & De gouverneurs (1954)
Two longer stories by Dutch writer Terborgh, the style both archaic and lively, the landscape colorful and impressive, the characters loners, doomed.
- Thomas Vaessens: De revanche van de roman (2009)
In general I agree with the point that Vaessens makes. But there is a lot to add and a lot to comment on the idea of an attempt of contemporary novel writers to make the novel important, crucial and valuable again for contemporary society. The lack of an international perspective in Dutch critique, the issue of ‘realism’ (or: literature being to narowly defined as ‘fiction’), other authors that should’ve been included to strenghten the argument. Et cetera. But in general I agree with Vaessens.
- William T. Vollmann: Imperial (2009)
A flawed book, without doubt, a failed book, maybe, but certainly an important book too. Vollmann’s Imperial is a documentary about Imperial Valley, Southern California and the border area of Mexico. Vollmann’s characteristic ways and methods of reporting and research are evident on any of the 1121 pages: gathering of information by interviewing the poorest, and trying to understand their lives, knowing he will never really get there, however hard he tries. 200 pages of notes, a monstruous bibliography and a long list of interviewed people. The photographs are left out (you can find them in the seperate coffeetable size photobook). Imperial is excessive, even over-excessive. Vollmann never goes for the well chosen beautiful 3 sentences that contain metaphorically the essence of what he’s after: he only trusts sources. And in order to report on reality as honestly as he can, he has to give a voice to every source, and give the reader an idea of how he got at that source, what the lived reality is from which that voice is speaking. And this time he’s not only trying to get at what it means to be poor, he is trying to delineate the complete economical development and the history of agriculture in Imperial Valley, so we get water politics, citrus growing, irrigation, industrial-type agricultural business, and that sometimes gets boring, very boring. So what makes this book important: it is the documentation of illegal immigration, of the work of illegal immigrants, the documentation of environmental and ecological disasters, of pollution, the live of poor Mexicans, the maquilladoras and why Mexicans choose to work there. It is a hard picture, reality here is not beautiful, although there are always moments that make life worth living (in recording all the depressing evidence one never doubts that life is worth living, but well, that might also be that life just goes on). There are high points in the book, for instance Vollmann’s trip on the heavily polluted New River, his essay on Steinbeck, many portraits of illegals. Now one could say that Imperial would have been a much better work of non-fiction, or much better literature had Vollmann chosen to publish only those texts: to try harder to capture the essence metaphorically in a small number of emblematic texts and essays — oh and okay, add a few statistics to it and some funky infoviz. (Excuse for my mixing of terms). But I wonder if that is true. If this book is flawed because of its over-excessiveness and clunkyness, I also think (well: have the hunch) that it works thanks to that. I think this is realism of the 21st century, this is documentary literature, this is literature that connects us (the readers) to the world, that engages us (also because the reading is time-consuming). This is important. And if there is a future for the art of literature, it is to be found rather here – in the Vollmann-model. The honesty is almost difficult to believe. There is no irony that kills the seriousness. Though there is every reason for cynism — and Imperial doesn’t mask that — the cynism never wins, and amidst the squalor there is still life, still beauty. But well, after reading Imperial I do not think there is a long prosperous future for Imperial, apocalyptic SF scenario’s loom over it: The Drought.
Two side notes.
One. Vollmann still has not gotten rid of his unhealthy fascination for street whores (at the end of Imperial he explains this fascination). Many Vollmann readers (and I am one of them) are put off reading his books when this fascination begins to override all the other concerns or subjects. Believe me: it’s not all that bad in this book.
Two. A note for psychoanalists. Of course Vollmann’s work can be analyzed from the perspective of his bad-eyesight and the fact that he does not have a driver’s license in a country which is made for cars. Add to that the fact that he does not have a television. His hate/love for the USA, and for the world can be sufficiently explained from the absence of these two media in his life-world. He is kept out of the rich world of cars and televisions because of his bad eyesight and threfore he rebels and identifies with the poor. Duh.
- Gijs IJlander: Geen zee maar water (2008)
Well written novel, a page turner dealing with contemporary politics; you sometimes wish it to be a parody (the sketch of politics) but you know it’s nearer to realism. Simply a good novel.
- Georges Perec: EspÃ¨ces d’espaces / Ruimten rondom (1974 / 2008)
Actually a re-read. A classic. Excellent translation by Rokus Hofstede. Enjoyed it more than the first time. When read too fast (or when read in one go), Perec’s observations can seem a bit tedious. But when read at the right speed (and I do not know which speed that is), they begin to, well, ‘reverberate’, they touch you. (Well, especially in the light of the last observations of course).
- Han van der Vegt: De Paladijnen (2008)
Complete re-read of this narrative poem written in hexameters. Everything I’d try to say about it would have to lead to an essay. On the 16th of October I’ll interview Han van der Vegt at Perdu after a performance of the whole ‘thing’. Preparation leads to taking several books of the shelves: Parzival, Nibelungenlied, Orlando Furioso, Slauerhoff, Van Bastelaere, et cetera, and long strolls on the internet.
- Lucy Fallon & Adrian Bell: Viva La Vuelta!: The Story of Spain’s Great Bike Race (2005)
Another great book about cycling published by the Mousehold Press. I know that a Dutch translation is available, but that one is much more expensive (and has more photographs). The history of the Vuelta, the tour of Spain. It should have been twice as long… (this book is already 300 pages). I mean, I do want to know everything about the KAS-team in the seventies, about Miguel Maria Lasa, Francisco Galdos and all those other names from the past, that I only know from small print on the sports pages, and about Julio Jimenez, about LoroÃ±o, about OcaÃ±a.
- Koen Peeters: De bloemen (2009)
The new novel of Koen Peeters. I have a very soft spot for his prose, ever since I picked up Bezoek onze kelders by chance, his prose so light, so almost too simple, too much about small world lives — yet, these small world lives are connected to history. This one is about family, and I was a bit sceptic at first, but I loved it again.
- Heinrich von Kleist: Michael Kohlhaas (1811 / 2009)
New Dutch translation of this classic. I read Kleist’s stories in German when I was 18 or 19 and found them quite difficult to follow. This translation is very welcome therefore, this story – and the other ones (I’m reading the rest now) – comes across stunningly modern, still. Update: also re-read Das Erdbeben in Chili, Die Marquise von O. and Die heilige CÃ¤cilie oder die Gewalt der Musik
- Dirk van Weelden: Een maand in Manhattan (2009)
The cover suggests this is just sort of a supplement to the television documentary on the history of Manhattan that was recently shown on television. It is ‘just’ a report of four weeks in New York, working on that documentary, yet with Dirk this means that you get a lot of small essays – on the soul, on running, on the city, the cosmopolitan spirit, enthousiasm, friendship, writing. And it contains his remembrance of Martin Bril, who died when Dirk was in New York. I think this is literature, it shows what writing is now. (Possible forms). Ah, but this time, to buy ‘the new Van Weelden’, go to the travel section in the bookshop. Sigh.
- Andiamo! Een eeuw Giro d’Italia (2009)
100 years Giro d’Italia covered by a mixed bag of articles, some already published, not all equally good. (Some cash in a bit too much on the romantic tales). But the text by Benjo Maso on the first Giro is excellent, as well as some of the photo material.
- Richard Powers: Generosity (2009)
Good, in terms of being a traditional novel that presents a topical issue, (genomics and chemical manipulation/design of character/mood, the public outreach and reception of science, formation of issues on the web etc.). Most of Powers’ novels manage to capture my attention over hundreds of pages, but with this one my concentration faltered after 150 pages, even though there is a layer to the novel which reflects on writing a novel. Did finish it, but don’t quiz me on the finer details of the plot.
- Roberto BolaÃ±o: The Skating Rink (2009 / 1993)
One of the earlier small novels. Beautiful, detective-like story.
- B.S. Johnson: The Unfortunates / De ongeluksvogels (2008 / 1969)
Famous, because it consists of 27 loose bits that the reader can read in whatever order, only the first and the last are numbered. The Dutch translation was published last year. B.S. Johnson was on my reading list since whenever â€“ the surprise of this book: that it is actually quite conventional, readable. A stream of consciousness of a football reporter who remembers a friend who died of cancer. It has all the dreariness of 1950s England.
- Theo de Rooij: Bezield (2009)
The self-published story of Theo de Rooij’s career as a professional cyclist and sports director of professional cycling teams. Actually a much better book then you’d expect, given the format. I’m not so interested in the story of managing a team â€“ I suppose any manager would find it interesting – but I even read that part. In the 1980s De Rooij was amongst my favorite Dutch riders, and I thorouhly enjoyed De Rooij’s own story about those years. A good view from the inside.
- Herman Chevrolet: 8 seconden, de Tour van ’89. Het einde van de wielerromantiek 2009
Number two in a row of books to read in the train on days when you’re tired. This one falls more in the category ‘serious books about sports’. I liked it for its view on 1980s cycling â€“ for me it’s about remembering those days of Hinault, Fignon, Lemond, Herrera, Roche and Kelly. The book is much more than a retelling of the 1989 Tour de France â€“ it culminates in those famous 8 seconds with which Lemond won the Tour. It covers a lot of the changes in 1980s cycling: the arrival of the Colombians, of the Russians, of the American (Hampstean next to Lemond), Fignon against Hinault, the isolation of Italian cycling, the start of the “scientification” of cycling (read: the arrival of Conconi). After 1989 the EPO-years start. It is a good book, but if I’d be critical I’d say it just falls short of being truly a serious history of 1980s cycling. Not only does it not quite get across that 1989 was the end of ‘wielerromantiek’ (I also would contend with that idea), it has just a bit too many sweeping statements, incorrect or just too general interpretations. Also we get to read some well known stories that have no significance for the subject – for instance the well-known story about the first time that the Tour went over the Pyrenees. Nice to tell, but why here? I would have loved to read that really serious study on 1980s cycling, one that would’ve dug just one layer deeper and would’ve been just a bit more critical. But that book would take a few years to write. There are many interesting moments in the 1980s indeed: the Russians, globalization; the Colombians; Moser and Conconi; the Americans; LaVieClaire; medical preparation; new cycling material. Now it’s a great book to read on the train when you’re tired, a great book to remember the days of Fignon, Hinault and Lemond.
Julio CortÃ¡zar: De achtervolger (El Perseguidor (1959)
One of my favorite stories, a thinly disguised portrait of Charlie Parker. Also the first story I ever read of CortÃ¡zar. Re-read it on the 31st of december. It’s part of Las armas secretas, but long enough to count as a whole book â€“ so I can end this list with a favorite.
Partial and abandoned reading: Edgar Allan Poe: Alle verhalen (New Dutch translation of all of Poe’s stories; re-read a few); Jaap Scholten: Heer en meester (Reports about living in Hungary, well-written, nice to read a few, not all in one go); Wladimir Arn: Jealous Guy (sort of experimental Dutch prose; had to try, but no; seems fake somehow); Vasily Grossman: Leven en lot (after 60p. did not feel pushed to embark on the project of reading this novel); Frank Westerman: Ingenieurs van de ziel (travelogue/essays, interesting subject but skipped a lot); Friedrich HÃ¶lderlin: Gedichten (Dutch translation of Ad den Besten â€“ should I mention this type of reading here? Another attempt at understanding a few of HÃ¶lderlin’s long hymns?); Lucretius: De natuur van de dingen (Dutch translation by Piet Schrijvers, excellent bilingual publication, read the first book, hope to have a chance to read the rest later); Bruno Schulz: Verzameld Werk (another example of a book I borrow from the library, read pages here and there, plus the afterword, to conclude that it’s not my thing, regardless of the literary quality); Sebastian Brant: Het Narrenschip (new Dutch translation, was just curious, read the introduction plus a few chapters). A Tour of the Darkling Plains. The Finnegans Wake Letters of Thornton Wilder and Adaline Glasheen (Bought cheap in Dublin, enjoyable letters from the great amateur-age of Finnegans Wake interpretation. An age impossible after the WWW and Google); Jan van Loy: De Heining (hmm, not bad, but so-so); Jan van Loy: Alfa Amerika (first story, better); Leonardo Sciascia: De context / Il contesto (re-read first 50 pages); Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim (re-read first 40 pages); Joseph Conrad: Under Western Eyes (first third, excellent, but sometimes I just can’t stand this ‘Russian gloom’); Christian Weijts: Art. 285b (hmm, good read, there style, some funny and strong observations, and no ‘content’ but clichees and wet dreams about girls, a real Leiden-university novel, didn’t feel like finishing; Pfeiffer is much better); Jean-Marie Leblanc: De waarheid van een Tourbaas (sufficiently well-written, not too well translated, much on organizing, one has to be even deeper into cycling than me to appreciate this — or be into managing); John Stape: De vele levens van Joseph Conrad (I’ll get into Conrad some other time again); Aleksandar Hemon: De dagen van Lazarus (good novel, sans doute, but no inclination to finish it); Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire (Dutch translation; I am an anti-Nabokovian reader; his style is perfect, the idea of Pale Fire is entertaining for 2 hours — but why, but why? — read foreword, part of the poem, the first but of commentary and the last 25 pages. Quite enough. For me). Read some pages from Thomas Mann’s Koninklijke Hoogheid (for another time), reread some Joyce, some Flaubert. Gave WF Hermans’ essays another try (but no, that’s not for me); Aidan Higgins A Bestiary, I thought I was going to read all of it, the first pages of Donkey Years were impressive, but it’s too much (742 pages of what is basically Higgins’ autobiography) not all of it is equally focussed and interesting, so I decided to first read some of his early stories; Finnegans Wake — reread a.o. 429 – 450 during the holidays; the last 50 or 60 pages from William T. Vollmann’s i>Argall; the first 3 chapters of Hans Henny Jahnn’s Das Holzschiff; some Steinbeck, like his story The Vigilante (now that is returning to the roots of literature: when I was 15 read Steinbeck); Jeroen Olyslaegers: Wij (read all of his other books, but couldn’t get into this one); Marcel Mohring: Dis (brilliant command of language, read about 150 pages, enjoying it, then stopped); Allard SchrÃ¶der: Amoy (hmm, read half half, seemed quite sloppy qua narrative and style, not interesting compared to Terborgh); Middeleeuwse verhalen uit de Lage Landen (‘translations’ of Dutch medieval stories that I’d prefer to read in ‘the original’ if only I could, read af few in the train, enjoyable, plus an excellent introduction by Herman Pleij); Fred van Slogteren: Op z’n Raas (bio of Jan Raas, of whom I was never a fan, written by a good journalist who’s not my favorite sportswriter, read till halfway, as I’m not interested in Raas’ career as a manager); bits of Renard’s diary; re-read some Arno Schmidt (Sommermeteor), and some Uwe Johnson; not quite all of K. Michel’s In een handpalm; Proust (quite a bit actually, about 100 pages); BolaÃ±o (some stories); CortÃ¡zar (stories, a bit from A Certain Lucas); Thomas Mann (a bit from Der Zauberberg in Dutch); tried Javier Marias’ Koorts en Lans but didn’t like it enough to embark on that journey; HH ter Balkt (some Anti-Canto’s); HC ten Berge: Het vertrapte mysterie (actually I ‘read’ all of those pages, but some very fast, so I guess that doesn’t really count as having truly read it).
Not mentioned: all the reading I did for Sonic Acts XIII, The Poetics of Space.
Started in 2009 and still reading (awaiting a mention in the list for 2010): Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic. Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth Century America; Barry Cunliffe: Europe between the Oceans, Themes and Variations: 9000 BC-AD 1000, Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly, Les diaboliques and HonorÃ© de Balzac: Les illusions Perdues / Verloren illusies.
One conclusion: I’ve hardly read poetry in 2009.
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