Monday, January 1, 2024

2023 Reading Highlights

Some reading highlights from last year:

Shirley Hazzard/The Transit of Venus

After reading Brigitta Olubas' biography of Shirley Hazzard (also pretty great!) I reread Hazzard's The Transit of Venus. I had some idle thoughts about blogging about it, but never did. But it is definitely her masterpiece and it was just as good reading it the second time as the first.

Two Australian sisters get to London after World War II...and live their lives. And once again I'm not really going to manage say anything about it. It's great.

Henry James/The Wings of the Dove

I a bit dread the late Henry James novels for their difficult prose style, and while I've had a copy of The Wings of the Dove for years, I had never read it. Until the awesome power of the Classics Club Spin Machine™strongly suggested I read it in January. It knew whereof it spun. Four young people, with the occasional interfering elders, and different possibilities of lovers. 

The prose is challenging, but maybe, just maybe, Henry knew what he was doing, and wasn't just doing it to be difficult. 😉

It got its own post here.

Hafez/Faces of Love and the Poets of Shiraz (tr. Dick Davis)

Hafez is the best-known poet in this volume of Shirazi (Iranian) poets of the 1300s, but the other two (Jahan Malek Khatun and Obayd-e Zakani) were no slouches. I've read some Hafez before, but never the other two. I thought the translations, by Dick Davis, were lovely. 

I drew it out for quite a while to savor the pleasure.

"Come here a moment, sit with me, don't sleep tonight."

Olga Tokarczuk/The Books of Jacob

Jacob Frank (1726-1791) was a Polish-Jewish mystic who proclaimed himself the Messiah, and this is a 900+ historical novel about him and his circle. Tokarczuk, of course, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018. 

It's nice when something so large and so heralded actually turns out to be so good, too.

"Nevertheless it is written that any person who toils over matters of Messiahs, even failed ones, even just to tell their stories, will be treated just the same as he who studies the eternal mysteries of light." Even just to write blog posts about them?

Rebecca Solnit/Orwell's Roses

(Though I read her Faraway Nearby this year as well and it was just about as good, but Orwell's Roses, still the most recent of her books, was the one that got the post.)

Solnit goes to see the cottage where Orwell lived, as cheaply as he could, with his first wife in the 1930s. She goes, because Orwell had written in his journals that he'd planted some fruit trees and some rose bushes, and she wondered if they were still there. The roses were.

It's about Orwell and roses and political writing then and now, and why so politically committed a writer as Orwell would even think of planting roses and climate change and volcanoes in Iceland and rose-factory-farming in Columbia and Mexican Marxist painters and probably a few other things I'm forgetting about at the moment. And it's not very long. So much fascination and so much insight.

A bunch of pretty fun mysteries made it on to the blog, too.

Happy New Year to you! May your 2024 provide great reading and lots of other great things, too!


  1. The Wings of the Dove is one of my most favorite of Henry James' novels. I'm glad you ended up liking it. :D

  2. For awhile I was reading one James novel or novella every June. But I think it was Wings of the Dove that did me in. (I'm only partly kidding: I admired it but it took a toll, focus-wise.)
    Congrats on a great reading year!

    1. Thanks! And happy new year to you!

      I was surprised how much I liked it. Princess Casamassima was the late one that did me in for James for a long while, and with The Ambassadors, I kept thinking this would be better if it were less squirrelly prose. (Shameful thinking, I know...)

      I don't think this replaced something like Washington Square for me, but I genuinely did like it.

  3. I so loved Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit, and need to read yours, and more.
    I read a great historical novel....on the transit of Venus!:
    Happy new year of reading!

    1. Wanderlust is one of hers I haven't read, but I'm definitely in the middle of a binge, so it could be soon!