Best reads of the last two years

2022-04-24 @Literature

A formidable challenge. For I’ve undertaken heavy variance. It was only 24 months back that I expanded from pure prose into poetry and drama. Tough to filter. Shall I appeal to the whatever-first-comes-to-mind technique? The gun-barrel-to-the-temple to conjure and respond?

Prose

James Joyce - Dubliners

More accessible than Joyce’s Ulysses that occupies me presently, Dubliners I value at at multiple levels: the raw, modernist prose (and preparation for the former), the stories themselves, as a window into middle-class early 20th century Dublin, and the fact the work still lingers in my mind long after.

Personal favourites:

Julio Cortázar - Rayuela

Another epic milestone on the journey towards Ulysses, it’s a sheer pleasure in every fragment in and of itself without much care for the overall argument. Tons of experimental narrative approaches intermingle throughout this opus offering multiple reading methods.

Julio Cortázar - Short stories

Anything but traditional approaches to storytelling. You’ll find it all: stream of consciousness, surreal, dream motives, labyrinthical, cyclical time, social satire, as well as boxing and Jazz references. Some of it falls in spirit with Borges, some with Poe (an inspiration for all).

Personal favourites:

  1. Carta a una señorita en París
  2. La puerta condenada
  3. Las Ménades
  4. La banda
  5. Después del almuerzo
  6. Axolotl
  7. La noche boca arriba
  8. Los buenos servicios
  9. La isla a mediodía
  10. Todos los fuegos el fuego

Jorge Luis Borges - Short stories

Unconventional, tough to place within a single genre. Infinity, randomness, quantum theory, combinatorics, immortality, literature meditations, magic realism, labyrinths, paradoxes, theology, Kaballah, Quran, metaphysics. Endlessly engaging.

Personal favourites:

  1. Pierre Menard
  2. Las ruinas circulares
  3. La biblioteca de Babel
  4. El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (Garden of the forking paths)
  5. El sur
  6. El Inmortal
  7. La casa de Asterión
  8. La busca de Averroes
  9. El Zahir
  10. La espera

Edgar Allan Poe - short stories

Beyond the beauty of language, Poe explored many genres and even pioneered a few: macabre, Gothic, sci-fi, detective, comic, satire, adventure, metaphysical. Heavy influence on subsequent authors.

Personal favourites:

  1. Shadow - a parable
  2. Silence - a fable
  3. The Island of the Fay
  4. MS Found in a Bottle
  5. The mask of the red death
  6. Eleonora
  7. King Pest
  8. A Predicament
  9. The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall
  10. The man of the crowd

Edgar Allan Poe - Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

A less spoken of sea adventure, it’s one of my favourites among the genre. An inspiration for Moby Dick, certain commonality is to be found across the two works, not the least of which is the scientific rigour. But beyond, it also fuses the dark, macabre, sci-fi horror.

Drama

Shakespeare

I covered most of Shakespeare’s dramatic opus, making it tough to pick favourites. But I’ll attempt anyhow.

Bernard Shaw - Saint Joan

I’ve enjoyed all of Shaw’s socially oriented dramas offering a heavily different approach to the Elizabethan theatre. More verbose for sure. If I must pick one, it would be the Saint Joan portrayal of such heavy contrast to Shakespeare’s Henry VI - Part I.

John Milton - Samson Agonistes

A closet drama in the classic Aristotelian sense, in the spirit of the Greek tragedians, yet read and enjoyed in the original, Miltonian English. Much in unrhymed verse, some catchy rhyme around the choral sections.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe - Faust

Or rather, Boris Pasternak’s Faust, that is, Pasternak’s 1950’s Russian poetic translation. Epic. Unique drama of the kind. Myth, politics, allegory, wit, mythology, theology, satire.

Poetry

Gregory Chaucer - Canterbury Tales

Opened the world into Middle English. Tales with a moral, allegory, fable, historical and ecclesiastic allusions galore.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

More obscure Middle-English dialect, I nevertheless found this alliterative poem powerfully evocative. One of the older sources into the world of King Arthur.

Beowulf

Semi-modern C. W. Kennedy alliterative translation of the old Anglo-Saxonic. Enticing story, gruesome, plethora of Kennings (compact metaphors), one of the most ancient preserved epics. Stellar.

T. S. Elliot - Wasteland

Unlike any poetry (or arguably prose) I’ve read until then. Modernist, ultra allusive, endless reread value.

Edmund Spenser - Faerie Queene

Some of the oldest Renaissance epic poetry, heavy multiple allegorical basis, chivalry, another glance into the (slightly fabricated) world of Arthurian legend, surreal spirit, elaborate landscape akin the modern Lord of the Rings, and all this written in beautiful, Spenserian stanza.

Samuel Coleridge - Christabel, Rhyme of an Ancient Mariner

Personal favourite of the Romantic poets. Likewise, personal favourites of the long poems of the period. Especially the former, Gothic and slightly controversial work.

Percy Shelley - Adonais

Add this dark, elegiac poem to the above list of the Romantic period.

Dante - Divine Comedy

Had I read the entirety of the 100 cantos in the original, Italian tercets (which I’d managed side-by-side with a translation for several cantos), rather than the Spanish translation in prose, this theologically-allegorical masterpiece would probably make the top of my list.

Edgar Allan Poe - Al Aaraaf

Poe wrote tons of poetry, among which I strangely prefer this longest, fairly esoteric poem for it’s lyrical splendor and allusive nature.

Alexander Pushkin

Руслан и Людмила marked my immersion into the world of poetry. Beyond that, some of my other favourites include Полтава and Бахчисарайский Фонтан.

Questions, comments? Connect.