Definitely that was too many challenges. Spending the last quarter reading books that fit challenges, basing the choice on which fit the most challenges and later had the least number of pages — not a good way to choose what to read, I think. I was short one chunkster and could have done it with more discipline, but never mind. I managed most of them and read some interesting stuff. The last two I finished yesterday:
History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth translated by Aaron Thompson with revisions by J.A. Giles. Found it free, here: http://www.yorku.ca/inpar/geoffrey_thompson.pdf At first it wasn’t bad, livelier than I expected, but then it rather grinds on. A is king and things are going along when B decides he should be king. War. One of them wins. Then comes C. And so on. For centuries. None of which was very memorable, except the part about Leir, or as we know him King Lear. And Hengist and Horsa, because I’d heard of them, too. And the bits on Arthur which, with the exception of the long tedious Merlin prophecy, lacked much of anything that couldn’t have happened. In other words, except for his fighting giants, it was fairly realistic. Also, his lance was named Ron. Who knew? It’s a short book, yet tedious. It did make me want to know more about what really happened. This book filled my second Arthurian book and my first (and only) pre-printing press book.
Letters from Iceland: a book which has suffered from years of bad covers. This is the only one of Auden’s photos reproduced in this edition.
Then there was Letters from Iceland by W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice two poets who went to Iceland in 1936. A very odd travel book, a sort of crazy quilt of bits and pieces: a lot of poetry including a 5 part poem to Lord Byron about Auden and life and everything but Iceland; letters to friends written in sort of diary; quotes from other travelers’ writings about Iceland; a tongue-in-cheek last will and testament poem in which they leave all sorts of things to all sorts of people, and I didn’t get a single joke in it. You would never guess after reading MacNeice’s letter titled Hetty to Nancy that he’s the straight one. This diary-like letter in which he’s Hetty and Auden is called Maisie and Nancy is, of all people, Anthony Blunt – yes, the art historian and Soviet spy, last of the Cambridge four – to whom ‘Hetty’ writes “Now don’t you go and get political, because that would be the last straw.” Sound advice. A pity he didn’t take it. Along with the fun, gossipy and yet quite good view of what it was like to go around the Langjokull by pony, other sections I liked included the letters of Auden to his wife (married to help her escape from the Nazis.) The book is full of poetry, which is not my best thing, so I may not be the best critic to read this. Overall, it is quite a unique travel guide, which I believe they were going for, highly idiosyncratic and reflective of their personalities, but also self-indulgent and obscure in parts, perhaps more so now than then, and surprising it was published at all. I read this to fulfill the postal challenge and the travel goal of Lucky No 14, though I’m not entirely sure it meets the criteria.
And so endeth another year. A year filled with odd, sometimes interesting books. Thinking about a top ten, I just can’t do it at the moment. As I read The Goldfinch, for example, I thought it was excellent. But then All Quiet on the Western Front came along and sort of shamed everything that came before: entertaining, but shallow, Supernatural Enhancements; strange, trippy Moby-Dick; strange, trippy Hangsaman; chock-full of colorful characters Bleak House; virtually plotless, yet oddly stirring at times, House of Seven Gables; absurd, but entertaining, Seven Keys to Baldpate; the feather-light, but Byronic Eugene Onegin. A truly odd assortment of books all quietly blown out of the water.
2014 was unique in that I didn’t read anything that I’d started in an earlier year. In order to count for the various challenges, I only read books I’d started on or after 1/1/2014. Now I will go back to my old ways and take up the laid aside books, at least those that haven’t been forgotten and I will count the darned things when their finished no matter how many years I’ve been reading them. I will probably join a challenge or two, but certainly not 52 books in 52 weeks. Not that it was so hard to do, but I was always aware of it and I think stayed away from longer novels and non-fiction, because of it. It seems to me the important thing is to read what you really want to read, along with some classics which you might not want to, but will usually be worth it. And now with a fresh, shiny new year free (or nearly free) of self-imposed challenges, what should I read first? I will probably finish The Book Thief, which I started as my would-be sixth chunkster for the year, but then what? I feel rather paralyzed by choice. So many possibilities, how can I narrow it down to one? Or even a few? Still, not a bad problem to have. Happy New Year, everyone!