02 January, 2008

European poetry - and the last books of the year

Some of the first poetry I read as an adult was from the handful of Penguin Modern European Poets that my dad had - I remember Yehuda Amichai, Miroslav Holub, Alexandr Blok, Zbigniew Herbert, Paul Celan. They had wonderful sixties covers and were just the right size to carry around. I've just finished very slowly reading two fantastic anthologies which cover a lot of the same writers: The poetry of survival: post-war poets of Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Daniel Weissbort, and Against forgetting: twentieth century poetry of witness, edited by Carolyn Forché. Both borrowed from the wonderful Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall. [85] [86]

Other Christmas reading included my wonderful Christmas present of Nigel Slater's Kitchen diaries (a really beautiful book as well as a great read), and the Tales of Hoffmann, which entirely by accident turned out to be the most fantastic Christmas reading: spooky and gripping. I also finished a history book about twentieth century Germany - my German courses this year are on the Weimar republic, and Germany 1945-reunification; a children's book about 1940s Vienna and Nazi persecution called Emil and Karl; and Stefan Zweig's Confusion, a brilliant, sad short novel about closet homosexuality. [87] [88] [89] [90] [91]

So, 91 books this year, which is better than last year, and my best ever, I think. The discipline of trying to read a certain number of books is good for me, discouraging me from re-reading things I have read a million times before, and making me think about what I really want to read rather than just picking things up from the library at random. I haven't really been successful at most of my 2007 resolutions, although I've read more in French, and more modern German stuff.

Ten best books of the year, in no particular order:

Life and fate, Vladimir Grossman
Germinal and Nana, Émile Zola (really two books)
Civilisation and its discontents, Sigmund Freud
How I live now, Meg Rosoff
Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
Death in Rome, Wolfgang Koeppen
The bloody chamber, Angela Carter
A literature of their own, Elaine Showalter
Flight without end, Joseph Roth
Le chat du rabbin, Joann Sfar

There ought to be some poetry in there, as I've read a fair bit of poetry this year, but it always seems to be individual poems I really love, rather than collections or anthologies. Honourable mentions to John Cornwell, Billy Collins, Paul Celan and Keith Douglas.

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