Another Year of Reading
A number of friends, real and virtual, on Facebook have listed the books they most enjoyed or profited from reading this past year. I was surprised how many were books about books, that is, tertiary rehashings of movements or developments for which there are superior first-hand sources. De gustibus etc, but why read a modern work on ancient education until you have at least made it through Aristotle and Quintilian? It's like gushing over Ayn Rand without reading Nietzsche or Mandeville.
When I consider how much time I have spent on frivolous mystery novels, I am a little embarrassed. I'll only name a few of the authors--in most cases I have rave several novels: George Bellairs, Michael Innes, Gladys Mitchell, Cyril Hare, F.W. Crofts, Patricia Wentworth, Colin Dexter, John Rhode, Michael Gilbert, Rex Stout, et al.
I also read a good deal of Fredric Brown, both his science fiction and his detective series. I recommend the first Ed and Am novel , Madball, and Night of the Jabberwock. I also reread Hammet's The Glass Key and The Dain Curse. Most of this I read before turning the light out and on nights of insomnia, that is, several times a week, early in the morning on Audible. As low as detective novels get, they are still first-hand attempts at grappling with reality, while "nonfiction" works that make the bestseller lists today are like college survey courses in one volume. If you have no knowledge of the events and personalities and ideas that are being dissected and repackaged, you are merely a slave to the author.
I enjoyed most of the mysteries I read, but I put Georges Simenon in a separate category, partly because I enjoy his prose and partly because of his deep understanding of human weakness. Also in French I read some Balzac and have been making forays into Henri Bergson, whom I read in English back in my teens. There may well be too much science in Bergson, but there are also powerful examples and telling insights.
I did not do much in Italian literature, though I read some Pirandello, both stories and plays and the "gialli" of Augusto de Angelis. I don't know if this counts, but I also read an Italian translation of a detective novel by the Greek Petros Markaris.
In serious English literature and history, I reread Gulliver and some other pieces of Swift, some of Pope, biographies of Queen Anne, Pope, Robert Walpole, William III, and James II, Freeman's History of the Norman Conquest, and perhaps half of Kinglake's marvelous but incredibly long history of the Crimean War.
In ancient and Medieval literature and history, I reread Procopius and Boethius, Zosimus' History; dipped in and out of Xenophon's Hellenica and some Plato, Venantius Fortunatus, Sidonius Apollinaris, and Babrius. I also read several histories of Ravenna, Sweeney's History of Troy, Breasted's old history of Egypt and the two volumes of John Romer, and lots of the New Testament. We also reread, together, Eusebius' history and Gibbon's Autobiography. I read book swatches of Hodgkins' volumes on the History of Italy and Her Invaders.
But, sorry, no Jordan Peterson or any of the innumerable derivative writers who recyle, in drab prose, the thoughts of more original minds.
All in all, a dismal performance for a one-time serious reader. I recall Proust saying somewhere in his great novel that most of us spend our mornings reading gossip in the newspaper and once or twice a year take down a leather-bound volume of Pascal. He suggested that we get newsprint editions of Pascal and other classics and several times a year dip into the news in an expensive leatherbound edition.
What did I most enjoy? Perhaps Simenon, Xenophon, Bergson, Swift and Pope, though it was fun to read Venantius and Sidonius, though they are far from great poets.
My only New Year's resolution is to read less of The Daily Mail and my daily mysteries and "take Plato and Plotinus for my friends."
I invite readers to name their favorites of the year/