■ The Return of the Soldier (Rebecca West; 1918. Fiction.)
In May, when I finished Willa Cather’s Alexander’s Bridge (1912), I remarked that it was difficult to believe that was her first novel; it was so assured and true. West’s first novel is even more so — remarkable and memorable.
Even though I lay weeping at it on the dead leaves I was sensible of the bitter rapture that attends the discovery of any truth. I felt, indeed, a cold intellectual pride in his refusal to remember his prosperous maturity and his determined dwelling in the time of his first love, for it showed him so much saner than the rest of us, who take life as it comes, loaded with the inessential and the irritating. I was even willing to admit that this choice of what was to him reality out of all the appearances so copiously presented by the world, this adroit discovery of the dropped pearl of beauty, was the act of genius I had always expected from him. But that did not make less agonizing this exclusion from his life.
■ The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Thornton Wilder; 1927. Fiction.)
This was a reread.
The art of biography is more difficult than is generally supposed.
■ The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Leo Tolstoy; 1886. Trans. Louise and Aylmer Maude. Fiction.)
This, too, was a reread, my fourth time encountering Tolstoy’s novella. The first was in AP English, thirty-eight years ago. What do typical seventeen-year-olds take away from reading Tolstoy? Oh, I was more than capable of parroting a teacher (or a study guide) on Tolstoy’s biography, the key characters, the basic plot, the essential themes and symbols, but I’m not sure I had actually read The Death of Ivan Ilyich until my third encounter, in my forties.
“Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,” it suddenly occurred to him. “But how could that be when I did everything properly?” he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all of the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.
■ A Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry; 1958. Drama.)
I had planned to read this in Spring 2003 for the “One Book, One Chicago” program. Better late than never.
■ The Farm (Tom Rob Smith; 2014. Fiction.)
A run of so many terrific books rendered this meh novel even more mediocre.