From The Paris Review:
The sadness of thinking about a year in reading is how little of it endures! As I try to recover lost time by rereading the terrible handwriting in my journal I find so many abandoned or forgotten books, and even the ones that remained in my memory are now reduced to an image or a sentence or a feeling—but maybe this is universal, and therefore not so sad.
The book that stayed with me the most this year was Tove Ditlevsen’s The Copenhagen Trilogy, not just because of how moving it is and how it performs such relentless moves with doom as she details her struggles with external demons (family, class, addiction) but because I still don’t understand exactly how she accomplished this. Whenever I’ve tried to define it in conversation, I end up saying something hopelessly abstract, like, “The series invents its own authority.” This hopelessness made me want to come up with a corresponding new aesthetic category, something that would precisely and permanently define the compulsive.
In a very different mode: I keep remembering images from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s crime novels, which I read this summer in some of NYRB Classics’s reissues. My favorites, perhaps, were No Room at the Morgue and Nada, which aren’t so much noirs as rapid phenomenologies of politics. There are dense technical descriptions of guns and scenes of people waiting in dark rooms, but operating through these minute details is a sense of a larger system.
These, I’ve realized sadly, are the memories of reading I’m left with now. But maybe this awareness of forgetting has been prompted by an experience I loved at the beginning of the year—listening, online, to Alice Oswald’s lectures on poetry at Oxford. The first, from 2019, is called “The Art of Erosion,” and uses the seventeenth-century poet Robert Herrick as an example of a writer with a way of working that she admires. It wasn’t only her argument about poetry and erosion that I found both moving and invigorating, her idea that there is a poetry that builds up and a poetry that uncovers or erodes; it was the use of Herrick—someone so apparently outmoded and forgotten!—as her model for thinking through those subjects. Of course, I’ve forgotten many other aspects of those nighttime lectures. So much is already eroded at the moment of listening, or reading. How any writer makes something survive—even for a year—is still a mystery.
—Adam Thirlwell, advisory editor
Link to the rest at The Paris Review