¡Feliz Año Nuevo! Isn’t it fabulous to be a fully reborn person with unwavering habits, unwavering willpower, and a rosy vision of the future? Oh, that doesn’t describe you? Me niether.
I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, but on January 4, I had the brilliant idea of microwaving a day-old croissant in the microwave for 20 seconds, and the result was transformative enough that I’ve vaguely pledged to do it again someday, so let’s call it my 2022 resolution and get to the books.
“Under the net” by Iris Murdoch
“After a while, I started to have the unpleasant feeling of being watched. I am very sensitive to observation, and I often have this feeling not only in the presence of human beings but also in the presence of small animals. Once I even traced the source to a large spider whose mysterious eyes were fixed on me. In my experience, the spider is the smallest creature whose gaze can be felt.”
I’m tempted to stop here on a simple note: “After reading the quote above, you should know whether or not you want to spend 250 pages with the architect of such a statement. But I will continue. The Observer’s name is Jake, and he’s a young schemer who tomcats around London causing trouble and forming a corner of a love rectangle. “Under the Net” was the first novel produced by Iris Murdoch, a confirmed graphomaniac and philosopher whose many books aren’t usually as concise and comical as this one – so if you’re curious about Murdoch, this is a good one. starting point.
Her novels vary thrillingly in quality, but all are interwoven with existential visions and devastating commentary on marriage, and they’re populated by characters who say things like, “To put it succinctly, my life has been ruined.” Also, in one book, a man’s hair is described as “the color of an unfaded chestnut.” I’ve been thinking about this one for years.
Read if you like: David Lodge, antics, courting disaster, “The Rachel Papers” by Martin Amis
Available from: Penguin Random House (also widely available at used bookstores!)
“The Latinist” by Mark Prins
Fiction, January 2022
Imagine an ancient Roman leaning angrily over a thin sheet of lead, inscribing on it a curse dedicated to his enemy, then rolling the sheet up like a taquito and depositing it in a well or in a tomb. This practice – the creation of “cursed tablets” – is a well-documented phenomenon, with photographs and translations of tablets available online. A characteristic example I have found, composed in the third or fourth century, contains two separate curses directed against a greengrocer named Babylas. The anonymous author of curses begs the gods to “drown and chill the soul” of the “lawless and impious” greengrocer, to fill him with “ill misfortune” and to murder all his livestock. (One must ask: what did Babylas do To do?!)
I learned about this ancient form of trolling through “The Latinist,” a novel about academic misbehavior among the Oxford classics. It would have taken me a single night to read the book, except that I kept pausing to pursue tantalizing nuggets of information, ranging from choliambic verses to amputation practices of yesteryear. This is a cleverly plotted adventure about an American college student who falls prey to the schemes of her malevolent adviser – a tale of passion, suspense and archaeology. (That’s what I call a “triple threat”!)
Read if you like: “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (book or film), “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, chess, campus novels
Available from: WW Norton
Why not you…
Experience the sensation of your brain exploding in RAINBOW CONFETTI with a memoir of unequaled novelty and virtuosity?
Slip into your woolliest cardigan and take on a FREEZING BREATH aphorisms and essays by EM Cioran?
start your AGATHA CHRISTIE career here, if you haven’t tasted the cozy delights of this mysterious master? Don’t read anything about the book before you start. Not a word. (A selection of Christie’s novels are also in the public domain to read for free.)
TIGHTEN EVERY MUSCLE IN YOUR BODY SIMULTANEOUSLY (not for medical reasons, but for suspense) while you join three teenagers in a jihadist training camp on the outskirts of Mosul?
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