1995 Reading

Here are the books I finished reading in 1995.
Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine
I read this on the plane going to and from Japan around the end of November--it's great plane reading. This is about the 3rd or 4th time I've read this excellent account of the building of a competitor for the Vax at Data General. This time was fun since everything seems so antiquated now.... (12/20/95)
Christopher Durang's The Actor's Nightmare, Sister Mary Ignatius Explains it all for You and Beyond Therapy
I finally got a lot of books back from Indianapolis last night and this was one of them, so I reread parts of these three plays. I've seem all of them and read them many times, but had forgotten how hilarious Durang is. (10/19/95)
Alain Robbe-Grillet's Angélique ou l'enchantement
I'm slowly reading the ending of this novel (before reading the rest of it), which is one of the most remarkable passages I've ever run across (you need to have read The Voyeur to appreciate it fully, and it would probably be even better had I read the rest of this novel). Hopefully someday I can translate the whole thing and add it to the Robbe-Grillet page. (3/13/95)
I found out a couple week ago that this has apparently finally been translated and published by Riverrun Press. I special ordered it immediately, but haven't heard from the bookstore yet. (4/6/95)
I heard back a few weeks ago--apparently the Riverrun hasn't actually published it yet, nor do they have any definite plans to. So typical for R-G. (4/25/95)
I'm back to reading this again, just to get a feel for the overall structure. Most of it I can't understand, but the passages I can follow most of are amazing. (8/4/95)
I finally finished 10/13--the first R-G book I've read all the way through in French. Incredible. (10/19/95)
Marcel Duchamp (edited by Anne D'Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine) and The Writings of Marcel Duchamp (edited by Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson)
I got interested in Duchamp again recently, just in time to finally see The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even at the Philedelphia Museum of Art. Just incredible. It's probably my favorite piece of art now. (10/4/95)
I didn't "finish" either of these, but read all I'm going to for now. (10/19/95)
Cynthia Heimel's Sex Tips for Girls, If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?, and Get Your Tongue Out of My Mouth, I'm Kissing You Goodbye!
I started these books when visiting a friend in NY, and then checked out the latter two from the Palo Alto main library. Actually I haven't finished any of them, but I've read about all I'm willing to, save for the first book which is by far the best. Heimel's quality deteriorates rapidly the more recent the books are. (10/4/95)
Sam Shepard's Buried Child
Seeing Jean Coctau's Indiscretions (Les parents terribles) on Broadway recently got me into the mood to read plays again, something I haven't done in quite a while. I'd really like to read some things by Orton, but I don't have his complete works here, so I thought to reread this Shepard play, absolutely brillant and probably his best. It would be nice to see Shepard performed again sometime. (10/4/95)
Andromaque by Jean Racine
I've read this many times in Richard Wilbur's superb verse translation, and I finally picked up a copy of the original. It's in the Classiques Larousee series, a mere $6, and beautifully done with plenty of background information and notes explaining the 17th Century French. Still, the play itself is very tough to read and I hope I can recover my copy of Wilbur's translation which is otherwise unobtainable around here to help out. I normally don't like such old literature, but Racine is a superb writer--this play is the best account of obsessive love I've ever read, and being written in rhymed couplets (which Wilbur maintains in his translation) it is enormously fun to read. (9/5/95)
I bought found a copy of Wilbur's translation of both Andromache and Phaedra at Stanford soon after, and bought both even though I already have the former in a box somewhere in Indianapolis. I couldn't wait. I read it again right away--still wonderful. Now I've started memorizing the original in French, supposedly at a rate of a couplet a day, which means it will only take 2 years and 3 months to memorize the entire thing. We'll see how far I really get. I have learned all of Orestes' opening speech so far. (10/4/95)
Samuel Beckett's Endgame, Play, Rockabye, etc.
After Molloy, I thought I'd reread a few of my favorite plays by Beckett. All are still very enjoyable. (10/4/95)
Samuel Beckett's Molloy
I've read and enjoyed many plays by Beckett, but never his novels until I read this one a few weeks ago. Truly excellent. I'm not sure I'd rank it as one of my very favorites, but it wouldn't be too far down. (10/4/95)
Kathy Acker's Literal Madness
This is a collection of three novels, although the third (and weakest) one, Florida, is so short I wouldn't call it a novel. I've finished the first, Kathy Goes to Haiti, which I started reading in a bookstore and was completely hooked on after a couple pages. Fabulous style, very rhythmic--I loved it. I'm in the middle of My Death My Life by Pier Paolo Passolini now, which although more radical stylistically is not nearly as enjoyable to read. It did have a huge surprise, though: The "War" section is a warped translation of the beginning of Robbe-Grillet's Recollections of the Golden Triangle! She certainly has great taste in literature. (7/14/95)
I finally finished My Death My Life a few weeks ago. It was a real chore to get through. (10/4/95)
Jules Verne's Voyage au centre de la terre
I finished this several weeks ago, reading it nearly exclusively on the train. It's the first book I've finished in French, and it's also special because I never read it in English. There were a few parts I didn't quite follow, but overall the book was fairly easy and very enjoyable. (10/4/95)
Homer's The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald
I thought I'd read this again to accompany Ulysses. Fitzgerald's translation seems to be the popular one, and it seems fine except he romanizes nearly all the names in nonstandard ways. I'd read some children's version of The Odyssey when I was young and loved it, but then when I read the "original" in high school I thought it was terrible. Rereading it now, I like it a little more, but not much. Homer goes on for pages and pages about boring things and spends almost no time on the main action. I skipped a couple chapters toward the end which I could not stay awake through. (9/5/95)
Donard Barthelme's Paradise
Mindless fluff. Interesting for a while, but I got bored halfway through and skimmed the rest, which assured me I hadn't missed anything. I also read some of the stories in Sixty Stories and Forty Stories. Most were pretty bad, but a couple were decent, in particular "A City of Churches", which was similar in a way to Acker's Kathy Goes to Haiti! (8/14/95)
Jean Rouaud's Fields of Glory
Beautiful writing at the beginning, which falls to average around the middle. A nice, ordinary story, not spectacular but interesting in a way. I'm not sure why so much fuss seems to have been made over it. I got the French version for half price--Ralph Manheim's translation seems good, but is not even close to literal. (8/4/95)
Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses
I'd meant to read this quite a while ago, but somehow never got around to it. Recently, though, The Great Sternbergh sent me a passage mentioning Stanford that he'd used as his email signature while there. I liked it so much I started on the book right away, and I'm glad I did--this is the best book I've read in a long time. I'm about halfway through. (7/6/95)
Here's the passage:
'At your age,' Allie wept, 'you ought to be ashamed.' -- 'Well, I'm not,' the future Mrs. Boniek rejoined. 'A professor, and in Stanford, California, so he brings the sunshine also. I intend to spend many hours working on my tan.'
I finished this a couple weeks ago. The ending is rather weak, and I didn't feel the book fit together that well, but it was still excellent overall. (8/4/95)
The Rushdie File edited by Lisa Appignanesi and Sara Maitland; and The Rushdie Affair by Daniel Pipes
Very interesting background books on the controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses. The former is a collection of newspaper articles and so forth by various people. The quality varies, and the last chapter "Reflections" in particular bogs down.
The latter book is more interesting, although the writer has his own prejudices and makes his own mistakes. For example after pointing out how so many people quoted from The Satanic Verses out of context and misinterpreted it, he does exactly the same thing with a quote by Edward Said on page 114 and the footnote on page 119 (fortunately the context is provided in The Rushdie File, pp. 164-5).
But Pipes wins the prize for most ironic (if that is the word) statement for this incredible passage: "To presume that novelists agree with every word in their works wreaks havoc with literature, condemning writers of the past and circumscribing those of the future. (Ironically, Rusdie himself falls into this trap, referring in The Satanic Verses to `the racist Shakespeare.')".
I finished these a couple weeks ago. (8/6/95)
Kathy Acker's Obsession
An online story I found on the Alive & Free page. This link is a little better, though. Note also that despite what the story says, it's actually in Volume 3, Number 1 (September, 1992) of the journal. There's also another story by her in the first volume, titled Dead Doll Humility that I haven't read yet. Acker is a little, shall we say, gloomy, but her style is terrific. I'll have to read some other stuff by her. (7/7/95)
Addendum: I've since bought several books by her. "Obsession" appears as a section of the novel My Mother: Demonology. (7/14/95)
The Joy of Music by Leonard Bernstein
A mixed bag of essays and television transcripts. It would have been much more fun to see the original TV shows, but some were still enjoyable to read, in particular the one on conducting. I finished this a few days ago. (6/26/95)
Listen: Second Brief Edition by Joseph Kerman
A good overview of classical music and basic music concepts. I'd always deliberately avoided learning this before--I thought it would cause me to start trying to analyze music and thus lose my enjoyment of it. But I figured it would do more good than harm now. And this was a lot of fun to read. I got the first edition fro the library and liked it enough to buy the second edition and CDs. I've read the book and listened to all the CDs by now, but not necessarily at the same time, so there's still a lot that can be done. Incidentally there is supposedly a "non-brief" edition, but I've never seen it, not even at Berkeley where the author teaches. I finished this a couple weeks ago. (6/26/95)
Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
I finished this several weeks ago. Good in some places, tedious in others. Better than Invisible Cities, but I'm rather ambivalent about it. (5/22/95)
Claude Mauriac's All Women Are Fatal
I discovered this book several months before, as described in the deBerg story. I knew right away this would be one of my favorite novels, but that it would also require a lot of effort to fully appreciate, so I put it off in favor of other, easier books (like Proust!). To give an idea of the relative difficulty of this book and Norwegian Wood, the latter is easier to read in Japanese than the former is in English. But it's very worthwhile. (12/18/94)
This is my new train reading. It is indeed excellent, with some beautiful passages. (3/14/95)
I finally finished this a couple weeks ago. There is a lot of great stuff, but there's also a lot of tedium, so it was rather a chore to get through and I don't think I could put it among my favorites. But still much better than most novels, and I'm very happy to have found it. I'll check out his other novels after a while. (4/25/95)
Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City
A friend recommended this series to me a while ago, and I finally found a copy of the first book (tough to find in the libraries in this area!) in the Menlo Park library. It's an old copy, maybe first edition, with a nice cover that looks like a tourist map. The story itself is reasonably fun to read and mindless. (4/3/95)
I stayed up until 12:30 last night finishing this. Not a great book by any means, but fairly enjoyable to read, especially once Maupin has set up enough to get the intertwined stories moving. I'll certainly read the next in the series eventually. (4/6/95)
John R. Pierce's The Science of Musical Sound
I got this and The Science of Sound (see below) from the Palo Alto main library recently since I'm interested in music and sound these days. The latter is a textbook whereas the former is in the Scientific American book series. Both are terrific and complement each other well. (3/14/95)
Finished around the end of March. (4/3/95)
Alain Robbe-Grillet's La Belle Captive
I happened to find this, recently translated into English, at Kepler's in Menlo Park on Sunday, and read it that night. After the initial excitement of this coming out at all wore out, I have mixed feelings about the book. On one hand it's great to have this finally avaiable in English, but on the other hand it should have been done much better. The reproductions of Magritte's paintings are poor, and all in black and white. And the translation of the text is also not very good, inferior to Underwood's translation that appears in Topology and Recollections. I'll put a longer review on the Robbe-Grillet page in the near future. I also found an English translation of Angelique published by Riverrun in the new Books in Print, which I immediately special ordered. I can't wait! (3/20/95)
Vladamir Nabokov's Lolita
I finished this Saturday after less than a week, which is fast for me, but I had trouble putting this book down. The beginning was somewhat painful, having to wade through Nabokov's overly flowery language, but he settles down after a while and the novel becomes a real pleasure to read. The ending is too standard, but I really liked his essay afterward. I'm glad I finally got around to reading this excellent novel. (3/20/95)
Thomas D. Rossing's The Science of Sound
It's hard to believe I read this 600 page textbook in three weeks. Well, I did skip most of the section on the human voice, skimmed over other parts, and didn't do any of the exercises, but I learned a lot from this terrific book. (3/14/95)
Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions
Mindless reading at home. I tried unsuccessfully to get my wife to read this, my favorite book when I was in high school, and I ended up reading it myself. Well, it's easy and fun, but best appreciated by high school students I think. I finally finished this--actually it was enjoyable and funny in parts. (3/13/95)
Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound
I've seen this performed once or twice and have read it several times. My mother recently sent me most of my old books that were stored in Indianapolis, and seeing this one I wanted to read it again. It's short and still a lot of fun. (2/23/95)
Eric Tamm's Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound
This was also in the Indianapolis shipment. I hadn't read it, and in fact had forgotten I'd bought it. This is the guy's PhD thesis at Berkeley (!), and its amazing you can get away with something like this as a PhD thesis. It's more like a long book report. My train reading after Bibimba Paradise. Quite enjoyable. (2/23/95)
Kobayashi Ayumi's Bibimba Paradise
This was my train reading after Norwegian Wood. I bought this years ago in Japan but never got very far; now my Japanese is better. This is a nonfiction account of the author's experience in an international school in Seoul, Korea as a high school student. Surprisingly it's tougher to read in a way than Norwegian Wood. I finished it a couple weeks ago. (2/23/95)
Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities
Well, I cheated and skimmed through some of it since it got too dull. Calvino seems to be a guy with good ideas who lacks the ability to excecute them.
Murakami Haruki's Norwegian Wood
I'd read it a couple times before in English and this time tried it in Japanese. Surprisingly it was pretty easy. The English translation is really terrible, so it was nice to read it in the original, and now I don't think I could bear the translation any more. This time I also found the characters very unsympathetic for some reason--about the only ones I liked were Midori and Nagasawa. (1/13/95)
Paul Auster's New York Trilogy
Auster has a nice prose style and these three books are very easy reading, but the content was uninteresting. (12/23/94)
Kawabata Yasunari's Thousand Cranes
I read this recently for the third or fourth time. This is one of my very favorite novels ever, an incredible work, unique even among Kawabata's novels. It sort of floats along like a dream, and you never feel like you quite know what's going on. The prose is simple and very beautiful. This time I took a look at pieces of the original, and as I suspected Seidensticker's translation seems excellent. (12/26/94)