At the start of 2014 I noted down the novels read over the course of the year to see what it might reveal to me and anybody else about my reading habits. That said, I was already aware that the list would not be that extensive. During my PhD years I used to read a novel every two weeks, sometimes more, but these days I get through a novel about once every month. This is the list of my novel reading in 2014.
It is clearly less extensive than, for example, Stuart Elden’s voracious novel reading as he wonderfully documents on Progressive Geographies. But I do like the idea of listing the novels one reads, as a note-to-self of the books themselves and the thoughts, places, and politics they may evoke regardless of the pace of that reading. I just wish that I had adopted the habit of noting down my novel reading sooner!
In the order in which they were read, my 2014 list of novels was:
- Cormac McCarthy, The Border Trilogy [All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain] — third reading
- Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
- Cormac McCarthy, Child of God
- Cormac McCarthy, The Counselor
- Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian — third reading
- John Williams, Butcher’s Crossing [read twice, consecutively]
- John Williams, Stoner
- Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon
- Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road — third reading
- Stefan Collini, What Are Universities For? [non-fiction] — after tidying up the office, realised this was missed in my initial list as yet to take my notes from it but the message that “not everything that counts can be counted”, matters more than ever in a REF year!
- Glendon Swarthout, The Homesman
- Francisco Goldman, The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle [non-fiction]
Clearly, Cormac McCarthy dominates in this list and, indeed, has done in my reading since 2013. I hope to be blogging more on my interest in McCarthy’s literature in the future, so will refrain from expanding on that for the moment. However, one bugbear of mine is that such a brilliant novelist, to my mind, has never been so poorly served by his publisher in terms of book covers. Is it strange and puerile to comment on book covers? I don’t think so. I always enjoy consulting the feed at Just Seeds, called Judging Books by Their Covers, and do believe that Picador have done such a bad job in terms of the design of Cormac McCarthy’s novels that a re-think is needed.
In contrast, New York Review of Books Classics has done a fantastic job in publishing John Williams’ work. Between the popular Stoner and the less well-known Butcher’s Crossing, the latter was very much my favourite Williams novel. For The Conversation, I have blogged on ‘The Ideology of Nature in Butcher’s Crossing’ that, to my surprise, received strong readership on such a niche interest. I look forward to pursuing that interest more in 2015.
For me, The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout directly evokes Butcher’s Crossing on two counts. First, on the ideology of nature by referring to Ralph Waldo Emerson — note how the lead female character, Mary Bee Cuddy, thinks ‘if only she had Mr Emerson to read’ as company on the trek eastwards. Second, by linking the ideology of nature to femininity and women as the ‘virgin field’ — note here Gro Svendsen’s representation of his wife’s childlessness thusly, ‘How could a field, a virgin field, ploughed and planted now uncounted times, fail to yield a crop? What poison was there in the soil? She must be at fault. Had he not done his duty? Why should she not do hers?’. Note also how George Briggs, the lead male character, experiences ruination—not dissimilar to the denouement of Butcher’s Crossing—rather than the pioneering success of Manifest Destiny. In sum, both books, Butcher’s Crossing  and The Homesman  evoke the ideology of nature (and its links to the ideology of femininity) as well as the frailty of the American Dream and its pioneers. I look forward to trying to watch the movie adaptation of The Homesman in 2015.
Finally, my 2014 reading finished with the non-fiction title by Francisco Goldman, The Interior Circuit, which was read during my time in Mexico in December. This book is a fascinating window on contemporary Mexico that pivots from issues of personal loss to the public panorama of death and violence linked to the war on drugs in Mexico and its narco-contested politics.
Recall that on 26 September, 2014, 43 male students from the Raúl Isidro Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa were kidnapped in Iguala, Guerrero, and handed to the local Guerreros Unidos cartel, with official complicity; all presumed killed. With some prescience and an echo of Ayotzinapa, Goldman states that, ‘recent Mexican history was full of such high-profile cases, which drew a lot of attention for a while but were never solved’.
It is with a view on 2015 that justice may be established for the Ayotzinapa 43 (and so much more) as the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) restores and renews its specific logic of authoritarianism and violence at state and sub-state scales across Mexico.