You don’t need a new year to set goals, but it can be a convenient milestone.
I spent my last post discussing some of my most memorable reads of 2018. Today I want to set some intentions for the coming year. I don’t really believe in establishing number goals, but I would like to continue reading a broad and diverse body work. To me, this means actively reading authors who are not simply male and/or white, come from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and have stories to offer that exist outside of what we consider a Western narrative tradition. Yet as I expand my reach into world literature, I also want to continue to work my way through classics that I believe are integral to understanding said Western narrative tradition.
Below are some of the books, authors and publishing houses I’m hoping to get to this year:
Ulysses by James Joyce
Ulysses is perhaps the great modern novel. Or perhaps the great novel. Joyce’s retelling of Ulysses (also known as Odysseus in Homer’s The Odyssey) set in twentieth-century Dublin is widely considered one of the pinnacle achievements of the modernist period and literature in general. Told primarily with a stream of consciousness narration, each section was carefully planned by Joyce to correspond with an event in The Odyssey as it follows Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom over the course of a typical day, June 16, 1904. Filled to the brim with symbolism, allusion and mythological references, it is experimental and allusive as it foregrounds the inner workings of the mind. Needless to say, it is not for the faint of heart.
Reading Ulysses has been a goal of mine for pretty much forever. I naively thought I could read it in high school when I found out existed. Wrong. I also believed I could conquer it while in university. Wrong. I then believed I could finally complete it last winter. Almost, but not quite. So wrong again.
But perhaps fourth time is the charm. After reading 100 pages last year I’m feeling good about my chances.
Despite having the same last name, I know very little about Baldwin’s writing. It’s unfortunate and I’m hoping to change this fact in 2019. An African American novelist and social critic, his books and essays explore questions of race, sexuality and class in the twentieth century. His best known works are perhaps Go Tell it on the Mountain, a semi-autobiographical coming of age story, Giovanni’s Room, that tells the story of a frustrated, bisexual American man living in Paris as he embarks on an affair with an Italian man and If Beale Street Could Talk, a love story set in Harlem that has been in the news this year with the release of a critically acclaimed film adaptation.
My biggest concern with Baldwin’s work is deciding where to start. If anyone has recommendations, please let me know.
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Readers have been devouring the Neapolitan novels for years and I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. Set in Naples, Italy in the mid-twentieth century, the first novel of the series My Brilliant Friend is a coming of age story about two young girls, Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo, as they navigate their rough working class neighborhood, intellectual pursuits, families and love interests as children and adolescents. Elena, the narrator of the novels, is drawn to Lila, fascinated by her boldness, intelligence and ferocity. Her curiosity and insight into Lila’s character and her own is what drives the story.
What I liked most about My Brilliant Friend was the way it focuses its attention on friendship. Most novels, and art forms in general, privilege romantic love over platonic love, and it’s too bad because it leaves a whole dimension of life unexplored. For many of us, rich friendships are some of the most meaningful relationships we have, and it’s exciting to see a talented writer like Ferrante scoop this up as subject material.
I’m currently in the middle of a couple other books, but I already can’t wait to get back to this series and follow Elena and Lila into adulthood.
World Editions Books
I recently got sent three books by World Editions, an independent publishing house that just expanded to North America. Salt on my Skin by Benoite Groult is a French bestseller that tells the story of an unlikely love affair between a Parisian intellectual and a Breton fisherman. Always Another Country, by Sisonke Msimang is a memoir of a young African woman as she comes of age while crossing borders, political climates and identities. Finally, The Storyteller by Pierre Jarawan follows a young man as he leaves the safety of Germany to travel home to Beirut in search of his father.
Bookmail is always fun, but I’m genuinely excited to read these books that present the common search for identity and belonging through unique voices. It’s unlikely I would have discovered these books had they not been sent to me, and I love finding works that are under the radar. Salt on my Skin, which will be published in early February, will be the first up.
I’m hoping that Gloria Steinem will be my Joan Didion of 2019. Going into last year, I had heard of Didion (I didn’t grow up under a rock) but I wasn’t familiar with her work. Fast forward a year later and I’d devoured four of her books, posted about her countless times online and become one of her biggest fans.
Other than knowing Steinem is a feminist icon and once posed as a playboy bunny for a story, I don’t know many particulars about Steinem’s role in the feminist movement or her political views. However, I did receive Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions for Christmas (I asked for it) so this should change in the near future.
There are a few books that have been sitting on my unread bookshelf for a while: Circe, Pachinko, All the Light You Cannot See, Call Me by Your Name and In Cold Blood. I see them constantly while browsing my corresponding Truths + Edits Instagram account, and all seem to have acquired rave reviews. In my eyes, they also seem to tick off boxes of what I want to read: Call Me By Your Name explores male sexuality, Pachinko is a family drama that explores Korean-Japanese relations, Circe appears to have a feminist bent as it retells the story of Circe from Greek mythology, In Cold Blood is a true crime classic and All the Light You Cannot See offers a unique telling of events from WWII.
It feels to me that I’m starting the year with a pretty good lineup of books to work through. Stay tuned and I’ll let you know my thoughts as I begin this year’s reading journey.