Sunday, January 27, 2008

Characters in Fiction

James Wood on characters in fiction:

Perhaps because I am not sure what a character is, I find especially moving those postmodern novels, such as Vladimir Nabokov's Pnin, Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie or José Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, in which we are confronted with characters at once real and unreal. In these novels, the authors ask us to reflect on the fictionality of the heroes and heroines who give the books their titles. And in a fine paradox, it is precisely such reflection that stirs in the reader a desire to make these fictional characters "real", to say, in effect, to the authors: "I know that they are only fictional - you keep on telling me this. But I can only know them by treating them as real." That is how Pnin works, for instance. An unreliable narrator insists that Professor Pnin is "a character" in two senses of the word: a type (clownish, eccentric émigré), and a fictional character, the narrator's fantasy. Yet precisely because we resent the narrator's condescension towards his fond and foolish possession, we insist that behind the "type" there must be a real Pnin, who is worth "knowing" in all his fullness and complexity. And the novel is constructed in such a way as to excite that desire in us for a real Professor Pnin, a "true fiction" with which to oppose the false fictions of the overbearing and sinister narrator.

Click here to read the rest of Wood's very thought-provoking article. It doesn't say so anywhere on the article, but it seems likely that this is an excerpt from Wood's forthcoming book How Fiction Works (to be released next week in Britain but, alas, not until the summer in North America). If so, I'm even keener than I already was to read it.

The photo with which I've headed this post is an entry from my grade six "Language Arts" notebook. I unearthed it in my parents' basement not long ago and thought I ought to hang on to it as it seems to me to represent the beginning of my formal literary education. Of course, the true beginning dates back some years earlier to when I learned to read or earlier still to when my parents began to read to me. In any event, Mr. Wood doesn't think much of E.M. Forster's distinction between flat characters and round characters so perhaps it wasn't the best beginning. But then, where else would you start? Incidentally, is it common practice to offer up insights from Forster's Aspects of the Novel in sixth grade, or was my sixth grade teacher ahead of the pack? I always liked Mrs. Hawkins.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Enduring Appeal of Robert Burns (on the Occasion of his 249th Birthday)

In a marvellous essay on Robert Burns in last week's Guardian, Andrew O'Hagan wrote:

… for all the epic Romanticism of Burns's life, his humanity and poverty, his passion and his genius, it is the sheer melodic truthfulness of the poetry that carries through the years. He feels and sounds like one of us, a modern person skidding constantly along the borders of the real and the imagined.

I couldn't have put it so well myself, but I whole-heartedly agree. To celebrate Robert Burns's birthday, which is today, I'm reproducing two of my favourite Burns poems below:

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Lines Written on a Banknote

Wae worth thy power, thou cursed leaf!
Fell source o' a' my woe and grief!
For lack o' thee I've lost my lass!
For lack o' thee I scrimp my glass!
I see the children of affliction
Unaided, through thy curst restriction:
I've seen the oppressor's cruel smile
Amid his hapless victim's spoil;
And for thy potence vainly wished,
To crush the villain in the dust:
For lack o' thee, I leave this much-lov'd shore,
Never, perhaps, to greet old Scotland more.

For more poems and songs by Robert Burns, visit this online archive which features a handy built-in glossary to assist the reader in deciphering the Scots words.

And don't forget to raise a glass to the Scottish bard tonight in honour of his birthday, whether your taste runs to "guid auld Scotch drink" or something less potent.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Defamation Law and Freedom of Expression

Those of you familiar with my legal academic work know that for some time now I’ve been engaged in a research project on defamation law that was prompted by my concern about the devastating effect that even the threat of a defamation suit can have on freedom of expression. You can imagine my distress then at the news that a friend and fellow writer has recently been threatened with just such a suit. Amy Lavender Harris has nicely summed up the whole affair and its disturbing implications here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

'The Most Fascinating Bookshop in the World'

More from Andrew Lycett's biography of Arthur Conan Doyle:

As far as his reading was concerned, he did not lack for material at home. But he also had access to a city renowned for its booksellers, and this was an opportunity impossible to ignore. Every morning, on his way to lectures, he passed what he called 'the most fascinating bookshop in the world'—undoubtedly James Thin on South Bridge. This caused problems because, at lunchtimes, he usually had thruppence for a sandwich and a glass of beer. But once a week he would forgo his meal and spend his money on something more cerebral from Thin's second-hand tub. He found himself devouring eighteenth century authors such as Addison and Swift. He also picked up a tattered copy of Macaulay's Essays, which became his favourite book, both for its subject matter (a series of vivid studies of historical figures) and for its style, which he would seek to emulate: 'The short, vivid sentences, the broad sweep of allusion, the exact detail, they all throw a glamour around the subject and should make the least studious of readers desire to go futher.'

The James Thin on South Bridge is gone now, bought out by another chain a couple of years ago I believe. But I purchased many books there myself on various trips to Edinburgh right through to the end of the 1990s. Is it possible that the store I visited in the 1990s is the very same one that Conan Doyle was so enamoured of more than a century before? I feel a strong sense of kinship with anyone who would forgo lunch in order to buy books (of course I'd rather have lunch and books, but forced to opt for one or the other, the choice is clear!). But to have shopped in the same bookstore as well strikes me as a very cool albeit random connection.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mission Accomplished

I had to go to five different bookstores today to find a copy of Andrew Lycett's Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. I’m not sure why it's in such short supply in Toronto bookstores. Certainly they weren't poised to take advantage of any interest whipped up by the enthusiastic review in this week's Globe and Mail. I arrived at the fifth store a few minutes after it was to have closed, breathless and limping from my mad dash over there. There was a salesperson posted at the door, I think for the express purpose of turning away latecomers like me. But she didn't. She recognized the title of the book I sought, nabbed a copy from a nearby display table, and hustled me into the line-up at the till with such cheerful efficiency that, before I knew it, I was on the streetcar home already immersed in my new purchase. A couple of chapters in, I can assure you that it is well worth the trouble it took to track it down. Here are a couple of snippets that the bookish among you (I know, that designation likely applies to all of you!) may appreciate.

On Arthur Conan Doyle's mother's love of reading:

Mary made full use of the [Philosophical] Institution's extensive library. At home her passion for reading became a joke: she always had a book in front of her whether she was knitting or feeding the children. Arthur later provided a fictional portrait of her as the 'quaintest mixture of the housewife and woman of letters … Always a lady, whether she was bargaining with the butcher, or breaking in a skittish charwoman, or stirring the porridge, which I can see her doing with the porridge-stick in one hand, and the other holding her Revue des deux Mondes within two inches of her dear nose.'

And his own:

As Arthur had begun to understand, such tales [adventure stories by his favourite novelists, R.M. Ballantyne and Captain Mayne Reid, that he read while at boarding school] gave him an escape from events around him. He later enthused about the vividness of his experiences on such occasions: 'Your very heart and soul are out on the prairies and the oceans with your hero. It is you who act and suffer and enjoy. You carry the long small-bore Kentucky rifle with which such egregious things are done, and you lie out on the topsail yard, and get jerked by the flap of the sail into the Pacific, where you cling on to the leg of an albatross, and so keep afloat until the comic boatswain turns up with his crew of volunteers to handspike you into safety: What magic it is, this stirring of the boyish heart and mind! Long ere I came to my teens I had traversed every sea and knew the Rockies like my own back garden … It was all more real than the reality.'

This biography is shaping up to be precisely the book that I have long wanted to read about Arthur Conan Doyle, and precisely the book I want to be reading right now. Funny, isn't it, the lengths some of us will go to, even with a house already full of books, to get our hands on just the right book for right now?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Weekend Book Pages and My Ever-Expanding TBR List

I began my day with what was, during a less frenetic time in my life, a Saturday morning ritual: reading the Globe and Mail’s weekend books section cover to cover. Here’s what caught my attention this morning:

Conan Doyle: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Lycett (reviewed by Clifford Goldfarb): I’ve long been intrigued by Arthur Conan Doyle’s early life in Edinburgh but, due to a dearth of documentation, previous biographies have had little to say about it. The situation has changed thanks to several hundred letters by Conan Doyle which have only recently been made available to scholars. Apparently Andrew Lycett has taken full advantage producing what Goldfarb pronounces “the best biography we have had” of Conan Doyle. I may have to dash to the bookstore immediately for this one.

Zugzwang by Ronan Bennett (reviewed by Charles Foran): Certainly I’ve heard of Ronan Bennett but I have not yet read any of his novels. According to Charles Foran this latest novel doesn’t measure up to the best of his previous ones, but the description he provides of Zugzwang has me keen to read it all the same:

     With his latest, the setting is Russia in 1914. Dr. Otto Spethmann is a St. Petersburg psychoanalyst drawn against his every instinct into anti-czarist intrigue involving a cast of revolutionaries and reactionaries, along with their various henchmen. A high-profile Jew in a gleefully anti-Semitic society, Spethmann is vulnerable to attack even before he opens his office door to the patients seeking relief from their torments.
     Through that door walk Anna Petrovna, a beauty from the St. Petersburg aristocracy with a powerful shadowy father, the damaged Bolshevik leader Petrov, rakish Polish pianist Kopelzon and unstable chess genius Rozental, as well as various undercover cops and state assassins. Additionally, the widower Spethmann has a fiery teenager daughter, whose dalliance with a poet has gotten her father involved in the mess.

There’s no way I can resist psychoanalysis and poetry and chess in Russia in 1914.

Falsework by Gary Geddes (reviewed by George Murray): Although I’m a keen reader of poetry, my knowledge of the form is not very broad, and I always learn something from George Murray’s reviews, particularly from the deft fashion in which he sets each work in context. In this review, Murray assesses Gary Geddes’ Falsework as an example of the book-length sequence of poems, and also against Geddes own previous work. It’s not a rave review, but it’s piqued my interest all the same. Here’s the description that precedes the critical analysis:

Mixing verse and prose, Falsework presents a patchwork of character voices and narrative exposition that revisits the mid-construction collapse of Vancouver's Second Narrows Bridge in 1958, a disaster that killed 18 workers and left a traumatic scar on the psyche of the city, the province and the young poet himself.

André Alexis on Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: This is the second instalment in a year-long series for which the Globe and Mail has assembled an international panel of experts to select “the 50 Greatest Books ever written.” This was my introduction to the series as I somehow missed the first instalment last week (though I quickly flipped back to last week’s edition to check it out: Martin Levin (Globe Books Editor) on Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn). I don’t put much stock in such lists, but I do enjoy the discussion and controversy that attempts to compile them generate. And what I find particularly appealing about this rendition is the slow unfolding of the list over the course of a year in the form of a detailed exploration of each book. One of the limitations of newspaper books sections that is often remarked upon in the litblogosphere is their nearly exclusive focus on newly published books. I’m very much looking forward to the prospect of seeing half a page of the Globe books section devoted to a classic work, often from the distant past, each week. I will be following the series with interest throughout the year.

More reviews of small press short story collections: I did not fail to notice that this is the second week in a row that the Globe has featured group reviews of small press short story collections (this week A Grave in the Air by Stephen Henighan and Incidental Music by Carol Matthews reviewed by Marianne Ackerman, and last week three collections reviewed by Cathy Stonehouse, a link to which is unfortunately no longer available). I’m always happy to see more review ink devoted to small presses and short fiction. Of course, I’d be even happier if it was my short story collection being reviewed in the Globe and Mail, but you can’t have everything!

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my Saturday morning. Did the weekend book pages prompt you to add any new titles to your TBR list this week?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reading in Ottawa

I spent last weekend in Ottawa where I had the great pleasure of reading at the Dusty Owl Reading Series. I was aware that Ottawa has a very lively literary community, and it was a treat to get to experience a bit of it firsthand. I reunited with old friends, hung out in person with some online acquaintances, and met a bunch of cool new people as well. All in all, a very happy visit.

However, trying to leave Ottawa on Monday in the midst of a fog of proverbial pea-soup thickness was not so much fun. I spent many hours in the airport getting bumped from one cancelled flight to another before Air Canada finally conceded that no flights were going anywhere that day. I then made a mad dash to the railway station where I had the good fortune of getting one of the few seats left on the last train home.

I dearly wished that I had brought my copy of War and Peace along. A 1200+ page hardcover didn’t initially strike me as a suitable airplane book, but if I’d realized my one-hour flight would extend into a twelve-hour journey, I might have given it a go. Of course, I wasn’t bookless. I’d finished the mystery novel I’d brought with me from Toronto (one of P.D. James's Adam Dalgliesh novels, picked up on the strength of recommendations from Danielle and Dorothy W., in case you were wondering), but I’d stumbled upon a well-stocked indie bookstore during my Sunday wanderings about Ottawa and replenished my supply with these purchases: The Year of Henry James: The Story of a Novel by David Lodge, Memoirs of a Novelist by Virginia Woolf, and Paris Café: The Sélect Crowd by Noël Riley Fitch (with marvellous drawings by Rick Tulka). It was Lodge’s book, which I’d been intending to pick up since reading an excerpt from it in the Guardian ages ago, that kept me well-occupied throughout all of the day’s delays—such a fascinating glimpse into the process of writing and publishing a novel.

The next time I go to Ottawa (and I hope there will be a next time soon!), I think I’ll just make it a train journey from the get-go, and, as ever, I will make sure to carry plenty of books with me.

(The above photo from my Dusty Owl reading was taken by Charles Earl. Check out his fabulous photo blog here.)

Friday, January 04, 2008

Short Story Favourites

I’m still mulling over which short story collections to include on my reading list for the Short Story Reading Challenge. In the meantime though, with the idea that it might provide some new possibilities for other participants, I've compiled a list of my all-time favourites from the short story reading that I’ve done up to this point in my life. I’ve broken it down into three categories: all-time favourite short story collections, short story writers whose entire collected works I treasure, and individual stories that stand out for me as masterpieces of the form. For the collections and stories listed below that I’ve previously written about on my blog, I’ve linked back to the relevant blog post. Of course, I freely admit that this is a very subjective and partial list. I’m hoping that this year’s short story reading prompts me to add several items to each category!

My All-Time Favourite Short Story Collections

Caroline Adderson, Pleased to Meet You (Thomas Allen, 2006);

Roberto Bolaño, Last Evenings on Earth (New Directions, 2006);

Bonnie Burnard, Women of Influence (Coteau Books, 1988);

Jackie Kay, Why Don’t You Stop Talking? (Picador, 2002);

John Lent, Monet’s Garden (Thistledown Press, 1996);

Lorrie Moore, Birds of America (Knopf, 1998);

Alice Munro, Who Do You Think You Are? (published in the U.S. under the title The Beggar Maid) (Macmillan, 1978);

James Salter, Last Night (Knopf, 2005);

Ali Smith, The Whole Story and Other Stories (Random House, 2003);

Guy Vanderhaeghe, Man Descending (Macmillan, 1982);

Thomas Wharton, The Logogryph (Gaspereau Press, 2005); and,

Michael Winter, One Last Good Look (The Porcupine’s Quill, 1999).

Brilliant Short Story Writers Whose Collected Works I Treasure:

Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov, John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Mansfield, and Jean Stafford.

Individual Masterpieces:

“Falling” by Caroline Adderson (from Pleased to Meet You);

“The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov (from Anton Chekhov’s Stories);

“The Dead” by James Joyce (from The Dubliners);

“In Dreams Begin Responsibilities” by Delmore Schwartz (from In Dreams Begin Responsibilities and Other Stories);

“The Book Club” by Ali Smith (from The Whole Story and Other Stories); and,

“Helping” by Robert Stone (from Bear and His Daughter).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Next Up at the Short Story Discussion Group

The votes are in, and the story selected to serve as the focus of the January short story discussion is Nikolai Gogol’s “The Overcoat.” Here’s what Frank O’Connor had to say about the story in his introduction to The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story:

     “We all come out from under Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’” is a familiar saying of Turgenev, and though it applies to Russian rather than European fiction, it has also a general truth.
     Read now, and by itself, “The Overcoat” does not appear so very impressive. All the things Gogol has done in it have been done frequently since his day, and sometimes done better. But if we read it again in its historical context, closing our minds so far as we can to all the short stories it gave rise to, we can see that Turgenev was not exaggerating. We have all come out from under Gogol’s “Overcoat.”

“The Overcoat” is available online in a number of places, including here.

As usual, the discussion will begin on the second Tuesday of the month: members of the group are invited to begin posting their thoughts on the story at the A Curious Singularity blog on January 8th. I’m looking forward to reading what everyone has to say about it.

If you're not yet a member of the group and you would like to join, please e-mail me. New members are always welcome! Of course, anyone can contribute to the discussion through the comments sections of the posts without officially joining the group.

Armchair Traveler Challenge Report

I finished my sixth book for the Armchair Traveler Challenge just under the wire on December 30th. The journey was not an unalloyed pleasure, but it was certainly an interesting one. Here are my snapshots:

1. Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1878 France): I confess that my contemporary sensibilities got in the way of my enjoyment of this one at the beginning. I couldn’t help but be horrified at the treatment of poor Modestine the donkey. I had to keep reminding myself that in that time and place it was Stevenson’s affection for the donkey that would have caused people to look askance, not his employment of a switch to urge her on. Ultimately, once we all settled into the journey, Travels with a Donkey proved to be the sort of travel writing that I like best—a new landscape illuminated by a writer who brings to the task a keenly observant eye, a sense of humour, and a good bit of humility. By humility, I mean that he never forgets that he’s a stranger in a strange land and, as a consequence, more often than not, the joke’s on him. I keep returning to one chapter in particular, “A Night Among the Pines,” which is absolutely breathtaking.

2. Jeremy Mercer, Time was Soft There (Paris): In this memoir, Mercer tells the tale of a year in which he fled dire personal and professional troubles in Canada and found refuge at fabled Paris bookstore Shakespeare & Co. I’ve been to that bookstore; indeed, working back through the dates, I think I visited it while Mercer was living there. But I was much more familiar with the history of the store from which it borrowed its name, the Shakespeare & Co. of Sylvia Beach and the lost generation, than with that of the current incarnation. Mercer’s book offers an extraordinary glimpse behind the scenes at the store and into the life eccentric owner George Whitman. This book works beautifully as memoir (Mercer’s own story), biography (Whitman’s story), and as social history (the story of Shakespeare & Co. and the community that built up within and around it).

3. James Baldwin, Another Country (1950s New York): This was my first foray into Baldwin’s longer fiction and I can’t say that I enjoyed it. The primary feeling that it provoked in me was exhaustion at the surfeit of words. Baldwin has a way of layering on sensory detail that is a very effective means of conveying heightened experience. For example, I’m not sure I’ve come across any other writer who can bring jazz alive on the page as effectively as Baldwin does. But I don’t think that you can keep your readers at that point of sensory overload for 400 pages straight, and that was how I experienced Another Country. And perversely the effect, once it works its way into everything, is not a visceral one, because every gesture, every encounter, in this novel is freighted with symbolic significance. I never had a sense of the characters interacting with one another as individual characters; every one of them seemed to stand for something or someone else. I guess that’s part of the point, that their world was so thoroughly determined by racism, sexism, and homophobia that they couldn’t interact as individuals. But, to my mind, compelling them to carry around the weight of their author’s intentions along with everything else made it all add up to less than it could have done. As for New York, certainly I saw bits of it in this novel that I’d never seen before, but only brief glimpses. The characters just never got out of their own heads long enough to take a proper look around. I suspect that I should stick to Baldwin’s non-fiction, which I admire enormously, though if there’s another Baldwin novel that you think I ought to try, I’m prepared to be convinced otherwise.

4. Terry Teachout, City Limits: Memories of a Small-Town Boy (Sikeston, Missouri): In this memoir, Teachout brings to life his hometown in the 1950s and 60s in loving detail. In so doing, he manages to honour the specificity of that town but at the same time to tell a tale to which I'm sure many readers from very different places will be able to relate, that of loving but needing to leave (in his case, ultimately decamping for New York) the places that formed us in order to become fully ourselves.

5. Mary Morris, The River Queen (the Mississippi river, from Wisconsin to Missouri): When Morris sets off down the Mississippi in a less than luxurious houseboat with river pilot Jerry and mechanic Tom (both strangers to her before they embark), she’s grieving the death of her 102 year-old father with whom she had a very complicated relationship, and coming to terms with her 18-year-old daughter’s recent departure for college. To begin with, I found Morris altogether too inward-looking. It’s unreasonable, I know, to fault a memoir for being self-absorbed, but the Mississippi is new territory for me and I wanted a good look at it. Of course Morris did intersperse her personal musings with descriptions of the terrain that they were traversing, but it seemed almost perfunctory. How could the river span so much ground and yet seem so unchanging in her initial accounts of it, I wondered. But before long the river woke her up and she began to weave her inward and outward journeys together nicely. Jerry and Tom emerged as the characters that they clearly are and so too did the Mississippi. The emotional heart of the book and the strongest part of it comes very near the end when Morris goes looking for her father’s boyhood home in the Mark Twain theme-park that Hannibal, Missouri has become. By then, I didn’t want to leave the river any more than Morris did.

6. Virginia Woolf, The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life (London): This is a gorgeous little book, but the content proved a disappointment. It was written as a series of bi-monthly columns for the British edition of Good Housekeeping in 1931 and, perhaps constrained by the intended audience, Woolf is not at her essayistic best here. There are memorable turns of phrase but these essays rarely rise above clever description; they simply don’t have the wit and whimsy, in short the magic, of the best of Woolf's essays. The one exception in this book is the essay titled “Great Men’s Houses.” On its own, it’s not worth the price of the book, but it's certainly well worth seeking out and reading.

Thanks to Lesley for hosting this highly enjoyable challenge!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Reading Plans

I’m not going to freight my reading plans with the weight of the word “resolution.” But I do have some plans and this might be the year that I bring them to fruition.

Big Books

I’m a great fan of the Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky translation of Chekhov’s short stories, so the recent publication of their translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace seems like reason enough to embark on it at this juncture. I already cracked it open earlier today and I’m excited about spending a good bit of this winter inhabiting this book.

I had intended to read Don Quixote last year along with a group of fellow bloggers but I never got past the prologue. This spring I’m going to give it another go.


Only after I picked up a copy of Anthony Powell’s Books Do Furnish a Room at a book sale last year did I realize that it was part of his 12-volume “A Dance to the Music of Time” series. I recalled having come across several glowing mentions of this series by Terry Teachout and OGIC at About Last Night, and I decided that I ought to read the whole series in order rather than beginning in the middle. I’ve borrowed the first book (A Question of Upbringing) from the library and I’m ready to begin.

In 2005, after a six-month campaign sponsored by the Scottish Book Trust, Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s A Sunset Song, the first volume in his “Scots Quair” trilogy, was voted the best Scottish book of all time. It’s past time that I read it, and the rest of the trilogy as well.

Scottish Literature

I regularly read a lot of Scottish books, but now that I’m armed with Robert Crawford’s Scotland’s Books: the Penguin History of Scottish Literature, I’ve taken a notion to explore Scottish literature a bit more systematically. I’m not entirely sure yet what form this project will take, but I expect this year I’ll take some steps in this direction. Perhaps I’ll even resume my Scottish Gaelic lessons.

World Literature

Last year, I dramatically increased the number of works in translation that I read and in so doing encountered some marvellous writers. I plan to continue to expand my reading horizons; in particular, I plan to seek out more works by writers from outside of North America and Europe.

I'm looking forward to all of it.