2016 in Books

I’m a fan of Goodreads, the site that lets you track your reading and share books recommendations with others. They make a really pretty end-of-year summary of reading.
untitled1I’m always startled by how little I’ve read, mainly because an enormous percentage of my reading is scholarly articles, chapters from books, individual poems and short stories, and selections from larger works, none of which shows up on Goodreads. This year is especially skewed, because even though I read more books than any other year, my non-book reading was even higher. I read thousands of pages of scholarly articles just for one class alone. But anyway, it’s still fun to see how many books I read from cover to cover.

untitled2And there’s something more important going on with these Goodreads end-of-year charts than just personal bragging rights. There’s a message about the enduring power of literature to bring connection and consolation. Check out #YearInBooks on Twitter or any other social media site; you’ll get a sense of excitement, of positivity, and of community with other book lovers. In a year of highly-publicized, widely-mourned celebrity deaths; terrorism around the world; and a divisive, nasty U.S. campaign season, it’s nice to reach back into timeless literature and join those who love sharing ideas through reading.

untitled3There were several communities in which I participated by my reading this year; you can see my full list here. I continued reading works by the Inklings, especially for Doug Anderson’s Signum class The Inklings and Science Fiction. These novels were eye-opening! While some of them (The Worm Orouborous, Voyage to Arcturus) were painfully tedious, others (Last and First MenChildhood’s End!!!!, Rendezvous with Rama!!!!!!!) were revelations.

I tried to keep up with my Charles Williams chronological blog-through and curated the Taliessin Through Logres poem posts, but besides that, my Baylor work rather took over my reading.

Indeed, it did. You can see a big increase in 20th-century Irish works on my list, especially those of Lady Gregory, Yeats, and Joyce, since I took an intensive seminar called “Yeats and Joyce in their Irish Context.” Lots of these were short plays, so they pad out my reading list a bit! But I made up for this with my biggest achievements this semester: reading Ulysses and writing a 421-page “Reading Notebook” about Irish mythology, Yeats, and Joyce. Ulysses is a doozey of a book, isn’t it? How many of you have read it? I really loved it most of the way through, but it doesn’t know when to stop, and Molly’s monologue disgusted me. But still, it’s an important, hilarious, brilliant book, and I hope and plan to teach a course on it soon. untitled4In fact, I’m tentatively planning to teach a class on Tolkien and Joyce. Yes, I know, that seems an unlikely pairing — but they have a surprising amount in comment. Both myth-makers, writers of sprawling works that encompass everything that mattered to them, affirmers of human dignity and importance and love, modernists who were reacting to what they hated in the modern world, great intertextual writers using vast bodies of previous literature as sources, and so on.

There were two other communities I joined with my reading this year. The first was the field I had thought I would do my PhD on: The Canterbury Festival. From 1928 onwards, with breaks for the war and economic difficulties, Canterbury Cathedral has hosted a dramatic festival. I wrote a paper about the first 20 years of this Festival for one of my classes; Charles Williams, T. S. Eliot, and Dorothy Sayers each wrote Canterbury plays (Sayers wrote two of them), and so I was hoping to use my Inklings knowledge as a base from which to work on these plays. However, I think I’ve changed my mind, because the plays just aren’t as good as I’d hoped they would be, because the existing scholarship on the Festival is quite comprehensive, and because it’s frustrating to study plays without seeing them in performance. I tried to arrange for performances of them, but with little success.

And finally, I read Stephen King for the first time. I read The Green Mile and The Stand. WOW. Amazing. What a gifted writer, with such a vast and penetrating vision! I feel very blessed to have his whole body of work yet before me. It’s great to know there are years and years of reading pleasure before me in just that one author’s work.

But The Gunslinger will have to wait for summer vacation. This semester, it’s Shakespeare and Victorian poets!

What did you read this year? What were the most important books for you? What new reading communities did you join?

 

 

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."
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12 Responses to 2016 in Books

  1. Stephen Barber says:

    Well done on Sorina on finishing Ulysses. The first time is the hardest. I think that reading it when i was 15 was possibly the single most important reading experience in my life. It helped turn me from a student of science to a literary student and also led me to the other modernist writers who were at the core of my reading for some years. I was greatly helped by Edmund Wilson’s Axel’s Castle, an old book now, and by various other critics and scholars. After all these years i can see faults in it, but i would not want to discuss them except with someone who has been as impressed by it as i was. Part of its quality is copiousness, and I don’t think Molly monologue is disgusting though it is certainly explicit about her sexual fantasies.

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    • Fifteen!! Whoa! You must have been a prodigy. I must say, the sexual content would have driven me away at that age even if I could have understood it, which I couldn’t.
      I have a hard time with such a shallow-minded female character written by a man. It’s much along the same lines as C. S. Lewis’s “The Shoddy Lands.”

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      • Stephen Barber says:

        No, I was no prodigy. But I had been well brought up with plenty of myths and fairy stories, also Bible stories, lots of adventures stories including the Odyssey in translation and so on. We didn’t have a television when I was a child and films were seen only rarely at the cinema. So I had a more literary education than children tend to nowadays. I had heard from somewhere that Ulysses was an interesting book which took place in a single day and thought I would explore it. I used a Christmas book token present to buy it. As for the sexual content – what do you think teenage boys think about?

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  2. Tom Hillman says:

    It’s how well you’ve read, not how much.

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  3. tess says:

    LOL Sorina I don’t think I told you that my first experience with “Yeets” was reading The Stand in my late teens! What a fabulous book– I just reread it this summer again, which felt like a neat synchronicity with all the Joyce/Yeats stuff. Happy New Year!

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  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    “How many of you have read it?” Is that a Lodgean invitation? A 22 July 2008 Grauniad (pardon: Guardian) note on David Lodge includes:

    “Lodge invented a literary parlour game called ‘Humiliation’ in Changing Places, which remains popular at dinner parties. Players name classics of literature that they have not read, the winner being the one who exhibits the most woeful literary lacuna. In Changing Places, Lodge’s obnoxious American academic, Howard Ringbaum, admits that he has never read Hamlet – and thus wins the game (but loses his job). Lodge himself owns up to War and Peace.”

    I haven’t read Ulysses: do I Ringbaumianly win? I remember Dame Helen Gardner saying she had never read Finnegans Wake and probably never would. As I draw nearer the Mosaic three score and ten, I suspect I will never read either… (Did I just up the ante?)

    Enthusiasts including Anthony Burgess and Harry Blamires (and William Bedell Stanford) tempt me – perhaps I should now add the encouragements of Sørina and of Stephen Barber – and David Jones and Dwight Macdonald, who got me to sample bits of Finnegans Wake – yet the prospect remains largely… unattractive? (repulsive?)

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I say that as a great Dubliners fan (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, not so much: give me Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog!)…

      I heard John Gardner controversially say Joyce had regretted the turn from Dubliners and Portrait, at the end of his life – but that may have been mere mischievous provocation (or wishful thinking?)…

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Just learned there was a 2012 BBC radio play version of Ulysses five-and-a-half hours long)! – by seeing a Guardian review quoted, which also included: “In 1982 the whole book was broadcast by the Irish radio station RTE, but this lasted 29 hours and 45 minutes. In the same year, an obscure musical version written by Anthony Burgess called Blooms of Dublin was broadcast by Radio 3”!

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  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    For a taste of Charles Williams’s The Descent of the Dove as part of your general 2107 – or, indeed, Lenten – reading, it is worth noting that Fr. Aidan Kimel has been posting selections since 9 March at his blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy.

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