Thursday, December 29, 2022

Reading Oscars 2022

All along the year 2022, I crawled slowly further over the lines of Dante Alighieri's Commedia. One canto each evening before bedtime (if not distracted by something else).

By now, I finished the Inferno and moved on to the Purgatorio. Virgil is still guiding Dante, but I expect the elusive Beatrice any day now.

I am reading Dante's poetry from a beautiful bilingual hardcover edition in which every canto is preceded with a synopsis and followed by a detailed commentary.

This is necessary to orientate oneself within this large and strange medieval canvas. The Reader needs guidance to explain the figures, the politics, the hates and loves of the poet. I was able to put the Commedia in context thanks to two excellent and nicely illustrated works that I consult regularly: Dante in Love by A.N. Wilson and Dante's Divine comedy: a journey without end by Ian Thomson.

Still, I interrupt my Dante readings too frequently to plunge into other interesting books.

Recently, while trawling at book markets, I have been buying second hand "La Pléiade" editions of French and Classic works still missing in my library. With a bit of negotiating, one can buy these beautiful orphaned leather-bound tomes at a third of their actual prices. The beauty of these physical books encourages new readings.

So, it comes that I have made lengthy reading excursions within the collections of gems written down by the Greek tragic poets Aeschylus and Sophocles (The Persians, Prometheus bound, Agamemnon, Oedipus and a few more). Whilst not unknown to me, these mythical texts read in the spare surviving text is something quite different than all the modern versions one finds now. (Euripides is planned for 2023).

I have now started the "ordeals of Théagène et Chariclée" better known as the Aethiopica by Heliodorus of Emesa. An adventure story, playing out in Egypt and what now is known as Sudan, written 1800 years ago!

While reading these second hand Pléiades, I have also returned to old friends, heroes of my youth: Saint -Exupéry for instance with his deep Human "Terre des Hommes" and "Vol de Nuit". With nearly half a century gone since my first readings, it is a strange experience to reread those familiar books through older eyes. The remembrance of the text has been superseded by the remembrance of the experience of my first readings.

My dear Father passed away in the last days of 2021. While cleaning up the apartment where he and my mom lived, I have sifted through hundreds of his books and divided them with my sisters. The sheer number of volumes forced us to still give boxes filled away. Cleaning up the library of a loved one is a difficult process. Each book a memory, each quote a remembered moment.

 Still, I recuperated my part and lost myself in some of Dad's most beloved "livres de chevet". I could hear his voice quoting whole chunks of his books (what a memory he had) and laughed with the parts that I knew that had amused him.

Dipping in and out my Dad's best loved books: Histoire de France by Jacques Bainville,  Histoire de France et s'amuser, Les rois maudits by Druon

Totally different but a great experience nonetheless was the reading of the Anabasis by Xenophon. Especially experiencing it in the splendid Robert Strassler's Landmark edition. What a brilliant series! I can’t wait for THE LANDMARK Polybius which is expected for 2023.

Another Classic, as fresh as 2000 years ago was "The Poetics" by Aristotle translated, rearranged and introduced by Philip Freeman. Both books enthused me enough to write a review.

I also read two Herzog's this year. The Twilight World is a short story about Hiroo Onada, a Japanese officer hiding on the island of Lubang in the Philippines, who misses the end WW2 and remains in hiding until 1972. In the last days of the year, I rushed through Herzog latest memories "Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle: Erinnerungen. He fills in the last gaps of his biography, settles some scores and excuses himself for a few of the errors he made in his life. What a Man!

Heinrich Mann's ( Thomas' brother ), Professor Unrat ( Better known as the blue Angel ), I could not finish for the moment.

But I did finish Bartleby, the Scrivener by Melville, not the original book, but the story memorized and retold within the scope of the Art project "time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine" by Mette Edvardsen

I read another Harsch, Adriatica Deserta / Kramberger with Monkey and enjoyed it. I hope that with his Eddy Vegas book, now in an American edition, he can make his breakthrough.

Finally, two books that I read with a lot of pleasure: "The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts That Illuminated the Renaissance" by Ross King (2021) and "The Burgundians" by Bart Van Loo. Both books were very instructive. One about the history of Florence at the moment of the introduction of the first printing press. The other about a large chunk of history when the Kings of France competed with the dukes of Flanders about the hegemony of Western Europe.

First prize goes to Xenophon.

Once more a great reading year.