The best book of 2018

Soon I’ll offer up my longer lists for fiction and non-fiction, but let’s start at the top.  My nomination for best book of the year is Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey.  It is a joy to read, the best of the five translations I know, and it has received strong reviews from scholars for its accuracy and fidelity.  I also would give a top rating to the book’s introductory essay, a mini-book in itself.

Normally I would say more about a book of the year, but a) many of you already know the Odyssey in some form or another, and b) this spring I’ll be doing a Conversations with Tyler with Emily Wilson, and I’ll save up my broader thoughts for then.  I’ll just say for now it is one of the greatest works of political thought, as well as a wonderful story.  In any case, a reread of this one is imperative, and you will learn new and fresh things.

There you go!


You have 10 seconds to justify translating polutropos as "complicated", go.

Literally, "polutropos" (or "polytropos", in the standard Ciceronian transliteration of the Greek into Latin alphabet) means "of many turns". So "complicated" seems pretty much on the mark.

The question of whether the word polytropos contains the idea of a moral ambivalence of Ulysses, as for instance the hateful criticism in the Guardian argues, is irrelevant, as "complicated" may or may not carry this idea.

I would, but it's complicated.

It might be decades or a century yet before any gifted poet writes some sonnet "On First Looking into Wilson's Homer" . . .

Meanwhile and until then: contemporary celebration of Wilson's translation of this ancient epic raises legitimate questions about the status of extended prose narratives (novels, not epics) today: a close survey of English-language works since the career of James Joyce concluded might show that the novel has become a thoroughly dead literary form over the past century (the novel being the explicit literary form that Joyce helped murder in his effort to help a beleaguered and exhausted West recover whatever its native poetic sensibility might these days consist of).

Feminism has not only destroyed The Novel (who gives a fuk about the inner experiences of career-women?), it shits upon the entirety of all art and literature from throughout the entire history of mankind.

Someone who is totally not triggered, talking sense.

Novels have been overrated for a few centuries now. Many of the world's great civilisations have produced no great works yet they functioned quite well in their day. If anything novels are a more self-indulgent form of media than even Netflix. I am no fan of Mr. Trump but it is clear he has read maybe a handful of novels at best in his seven decades of life, even so I doubt it, and yet he thinks more clearly about certain issues than even the most erudite, classical scholars versed in Homeric Greek or Russian literature that populate the hallowed halls of the Ivy League.

Take that, people who know things and are smart!

Why is that people who say things like "I am no fan of Mr. Trump" always turn out to be his least critical apologists?

We have a winner.

AMAZON says the best book of 2018 is:
"Educated: A Memoir" by Tara Westover

("Tara Westover didn't see the inside of a classroom until she was seventeen, but it was an experience that dramatically changed the trajectory of her life. This stirring memoir chronicles how she survived her survivalist upbringing, eventually earning a PhD from Cambridge University")

with well over 300,000 new U.S. books published in 2018 ... seems rather dicey to choose a best-list

To paraphrase Tyler - “this is the list he wants to have...”

I hope Wilson will some day make a translation of Joyce's Ulysses, which otherwise remains for me the giant boulder in my path to reading all two dozen or so of the books often listed as the greatest.... sigh.

Listen to it. It was written to be read aloud. There are plenty of recordings.

Over the years, I have read the Odyssey in Rieu, Butler, Lattimore, Fitzgerald, and Fagles. (Latttimore and Fagles more than twice, each). I have read, in all one book (of the 24) in the original Greek.

It worries me that one reviewer says Wilson's is closest to the Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald translation felt stilted, Edwardian, anachronistic.

But surely you are right, and I am due a re-read of the Odyssey.

Peter Green! Ffs, yes.

"... it has received strong reviews from scholars for its accuracy and fidelity"

Then again, the Guardian's reviewer writes that Wilson "has produced a translation that exposes centuries of masculinist readings of the poem". Being a charitable interpreter, I'll refrain from reading it as a really cliched recommendation, and instead take it as a clever Straussian warning to stick to older translations unless you're the type of masochist who actually enjoys being beaten with mind-numbing feminist malarkey.

After re-reading Tyler's post again, I noticed the word political italicised in the second paragraph, so I have to agree.

I was wondering if the "political thought" came from Homer himself or from this translator

If Tyler wanted to subtly criticize Emily Wilson, he wouldn't have given her translation of The Odyssey its own post, called it the best book of 2018 and the "best of the five translations I know", and invited her onto his podcast.

The face value explanation is far more plausible than the Straussian one.

What translation of The Iliad is on par with this?

Depends on your standards and expectations, I suppose. I found a translation of The Illiad by Caroline Alexander. I read the first few lines... about as dry as a translation from 200 years ago.

I’ve seen comments here that dismiss the Wilson translation as if they haven’t read it and merely want to react to the PR line about it being done by a woman. Wilson’s translation really is good, lively, and laudable. I think if it weren’t for the generally reactionary political climate, this whole PR focus on “first female translation in English” would be overwhelmed by reactions to just how damn good her work is.

The Odyssey was a feature of my boyhood, in that people would say to me "You are a bright boy; you must like reading the Greek and Roman myths". Nope. Nor did I much like various other things that apparently I ought to have: astronomy was another. I didn't much care for chess. It would have been bad manners to discuss religion, which is just as well given my views on the bible, which were quite well developed by the time I was twelve.

I also suspected that museums were over-rated, though I wasn't certain of that until I visited the Smithsonian.

The enjoyment of museums and Roman myths requires a healthy amount of imagination which you may be forsaking with profuse contrarianism. Your use of "over-rated" in an absolute sense also denotes a lack of empathy for other mindsets which may legitimately derive more joy from those activities. Lastly, it betrays an unjustifiably high opinion of yourself.

How repulsive "dearieme" is in real life?

My favorite book as a pre-teen was Tanglewood Tales - for some reason it really resonated with me. I have always had an interested in Greek and Roman myths since. Tried to get my son to read it, but although he was a big reader he wasn't interested . Eventually I lived for a while in Tanglewood in Houston.

I'll borrow it from the library, and I look forward to the upcoming CWT with Wilson as well as the best books of the year lists.

The interesting parts of the Iliad and most of the Odyssey were probably composed by a woman -- the domestic god-comedy and the interactions between, e.g., Hector-Andromache, Hector-Helen, Hector-Paris seem very female-reported (how smart women see the world -- as a network of personal interaction driven by "feelings" -- and only a woman who identifies with Penelope could want all of those slave-girls in the Odyssey to be killed for fooling around with the suitors. Iliad and Odyssey (along with the Shakespeare-plays, which also express the mentality of an intelligent woman) have to be exceptions to my rule of not reading books by women, then. But I'm sure not going to read a translation by a woman, even if it's a translation of a book by a woman, unless I know for sure she's a mother of multiple children and would be nice to me if I began conversing with her in the line at Trader Joe's. Or if she belonged to me -- then I'd read her translation in order to express my fondness for her and to show her that I approve of her existence.

>I’ll just say for now it is one of the greatest works of political thought

This, from a man who has never had a coherent one.

I'll pass thanks!


Homer is just Marxist cr**p. Stop reading social justice warrior propaganda written thousands of years ago.

Wilson's translation is pretty, ahem, prosaic. The first commenter noted the use of "complicated" in the first line. I've enjoyed Fagles, Fitzgerald, and Mitchell, but there are many, many other good translations out there. Wilson's won't be remembered in 5 years.

I just want to comment to say how insufferable and up your own arses you all are.

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