Frau Kohlehydrat has sent me a meme, or as the Germans call it ein Stöckchen, or as the Austrians including Frau Kohlehydrat call it, ein Steckerl: to list the ten books that are gathering dust on my shelves because I bought them but haven’t read them.
I don’t usually do these, but this one seems highly suitable as I have even more than ten unread books. And for years, when I was teaching, I used to buy all sorts of books just to imagine how nice it would be to have time to read them.
She lists her ten books, then says: “I am now supposed to pass this Steckerl on… If they wish then, to: languagehat (but I’m sure Steve has read all his books)…”
Ah ha ha ha ha! I am closing in on 5,000 books (though to be fair the list includes a couple of hundred maps and some other non-book items), and I’m quite sure I haven’t read anywhere near half of them. I long ago came to terms with the fact that I’ll never manage to read all my books, but I love having them anyway, and I never know which one I’ll suddenly decided I have to read. Anyway, I like the idea of listing a few, so below the fold are ten books that I’m really glad I own and I will definitely get around to reading… really!
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Age of Jackson (1945)
My brother was deaccessioning this book and I grabbed it. It’s a classic work on early-19th-century U.S. history, and even though I know going in that Schlesinger is far too favorable to that murderous bastard Jackson, I’m looking forward to reading it.
Otis Cary, From a Ruined Empire: Letters—Japan, China, Korea 1945-46 (1975)
I gave this to my father for Christmas over 20 years ago, and now that he’s no longer with us I’ve retrieved it for my own reading. My father went to Japan as part of the occupation not long after the period covered by this book and I was born there, so I have a personal interest in the impressions of such men as Wm. Theodore de Bary and Donald Keene back when they were young servicemen who had studied Japanese language and culture and saw the ruined empire with knowing eyes.
W. Bruce Lincoln, In war’s dark shadow: the Russians before the Great War (1983)
Lincoln is one of my favorite historians, both a good scholar and a good writer, and I recently acquired his trilogy of books on the history of Russia before and after WWI and the revolutions of 1917. This will probably be the first of these books that I get to, and after I read it I’ll go on to Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians in War and Revolution 1914-1918 and Red victory: a history of the Russian Civil War.
Elias Canetti, Crowds and power (1962)
I found this in a bookstore in Providence, RI (I can always remember where I bought books); it’s a book I’ve known about for many years, and it’s one of the ones I’m sure I’ll actually read. One of these days.
William Gaddis, J.R. (1975)
A daunting modern classic, but if I can handle Joyce I’m sure I can handle Gaddis.
Dmitrii Bykov, Orfografiya [Orthography] (2003)
I wrote about it here.
Leonid Girshovich, Subbota Navsegda [Saturday Forever] (2001)
Another difficult modernist work of the kind that intrigues me. This review (in Russian) says it’s “built on allusions to world culture, with a remarkable interweaving of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish works and symbols. The pages of the book are rich in quotes from various works of world literature, at times in the original languages. Girshovich aids the reader by scattering the complicated text with a multitude of footnotes.” Laugh if you will, but that sounds good to me!
Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon (1999)
Songdog not only highly recommended this book to me, he lent me his personal copy. What’s another 900+ pages to an omnivore like me?
Seth Lerer, Error and the academic self : the scholarly imagination, medieval to modern (2002)
Discussed here (with table of contents).
Halldor Laxness, Independent people (1946)
This book got Laxness a Nobel Prize, and ever since I read Brad Leithauser’s proselytizing rave in NYRB over a decade ago I’ve wanted to read it. (That review is what got this guy started on Laxness; go there for help finding his books.) I found a copy (ex-library, but in good shape) of the original U.S. edition at The Odyssey Bookshop recently and snatched it up.
I’m not going to “pass on the meme,” but if anyone feels like doing a similar list, please link to it in the comments; I always like a peek into other people’s book collections!