Here is a list of books I read this semester when I probably should have been doing other things.
The Widow by Georges Simenon
One of Simenon’s “romans durs” (lit. “hard novels”). Bleak and succinct. A recently paroled drifter shacks up with a middle-aged widow in provincial France much to the dismay of her suspicious in-laws. A beautiful young mother, greedy relatives, and a terrible secret.
The Man from Beijing by Henning Mankell
A thriller from the author of the Kurt Wallander detective novels. Not my favorite read this semester, but very interesting in terms of its treatment of Chinese influence in sub-Saharan Africa. Euro crime writers are, in general, much more politically interesting than their American counterparts (barring James Ellroy, of course).
The Cultural Return by Susan Hegeman
For serious students of the humanities this is a short, very useful text which traces the recent history of the concept of culture. The title itself is a play on the notion of “the cultural turn” which many disciplines undertook in the 1990s.
The Witness by Juan Jose Saer
A great, short novel about a cabin boy sailing for the Americas in the 16th century. I might use it for HUM455 in the Fall.
Atlas of the European Novel by Franco Moretti
Moretti is one of our most original literary critics. This brief study of the geography of the European novel is fairly pathbreaking. At the very least it suggests new ways of thinking about space and narrative.
Aspects of the Novel by EM Forster
The classic study by the author of A Room with a View and A Passage to India. Based on his lectures at Cambridge University.
Embassytown by China Mieville
Mieville has already written some fantastic speculative fiction (The City & the City, Perdido Street Station) and is sometimes identified as an exemplar of the New Weird. Embassytown takes his game even higher by engaging with semiotic themes such as referentiality and signification.
Currently working on:
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
A thoroughly researched historical novel about the French Revolution by the author of Wolf Hall.
Pere Goriot by Honore Balzac
I’ll probably use this for HUM303 in the Fall. A young man from the provinces seeks entry into the upper reaches of Parisian society.
The Art of Fiction by David Lodge
A contemporary classic of lit crit. Short, conversational chapters cover the elements of the novel such as time, character, stream of consciousness, etc.
A People’s History of the World by Chris Harman
A comprehensive world history written by a Marxist. A necessary correction to the neo-imperialist histories of recent years (ex. serial offender Niall Ferguson)
Narratology by Mieke Bal
For humanities students seeking interpretive methods, Bal offers a rigorous set of structuralist tools.
I watched these over the course of the last three months. None of them sucked.
The coming-of-age film always risks preciousness. Submarine, I think, will appeal to even most jaded appetites.
What is a man’s life worth? Without consulting the VSL the makers of Rapt tell the story of a high-powered CEO whose kidnappers demand more ransom than his corporation is willing to pay.
The Other Conquest
The Spanish invasion of MesoAmerica from the pov of Aztecs.
Que Viva Mexico
Bunuel’s homage to Mexico. Very striking imagery.
United Red Army
A spate of “armed struggle” films have been released in the last several years, including The Baader Meinhof Complex, Che, and Carlos– all of which I can recommend without reservation. This film concerns young Japanese revolutionaries at war against the State.
The Nasty Girl
Probably not what you’re thinking. The German title uses “schrecklich”– which can indicate something or someone terrifying or odious.
All Jim Jarmusch films– even Coffee & Cigarettes– are worth watching.
Atlas Shrugged Pt. 1
Outside the Law
The cinematization of the Algerian Revolution.
A fairly fatuous 80s kids-flick about an LA high school as a savage ecosystem. See Robert Downey, Jr. in his teens! Marvel at James Spader’s sculpted torso! Savor the aroma of mousse and freeway exhaust!
A film about property. So French. Isabelle Hupert is amazing.