2017 Reads: A Recap of best reads

 

 

I didn’t keep very good track of what I read this year. I can’t imagine why, can you? It’s not like I was busy leaving one life and starting another, traveling and seeing the world – coming back to the States and starting everything all over again. Just no good excuse at all for my lack of record-keeping. It should have been right up there at the top of my list.

What was I thinking?

I am proud of myself for getting around to wrapping up my year in reading before Christmas has even passed, for having the wherewithal to assemble my thoughts and put together a blog post, no less. Last year I didn’t manage to sum things up until after the New Year; I’m so far ahead of the game right now I’m impressing even myself.

(Leave me my self-aggrandizing fantasies. At least I’m impressed with me.)

Busy as things are with the holidays and such, I don’t expect I’ll read any books better than my favorites of 2017. I reviewed a few books and covered some on Bluestalking, but unlike the old days when I kept track of everything from titles and authors to number of pages read – even breaking it down by gender and nationality of authors, and genres of the books – this year’s reading is a scattered mess. I ought to be ashamed of myself.

I’m not, but I ought.

Despite all the craziness and wonder, I managed to come up with this list (in no particular order):

TOP FIVE BOOKS OF 2017

 

Sebastian Barry – Days Without End 

Read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize shortlist – as I predicted, it was the winner. I hate to say I told you so…

That’s a lie. I’m more than happy to say I did.

This was a very un-Sebastian Barry novel. Set in the U.S. South, for the first third it lacked his trademark lyricism. It tackled issues of homosexuality as an  acknowledgement of his son’s real life coming out, simultaneously presenting a very different, more playful Barry. If you’ve read The Sisters Brothers or True Grit, it had a similar feel. Not as openly funny perhaps, but his characters wound up in oddly humorous and very American situations.

I could understand if readers who’ve loved his Irish novels didn’t like this one bit. You don’t have to be an American to appreciate what he’s done here, but I believe it helps.

Eventually he shifted back to the style that defines him, the book as a whole a strange and uneven display I wasn’t sure I liked at first. I started it, put it aside dissatisfied, picked it up to try again, and only then realized this was a truly great book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever Dundas – Goblin (my interview with the lovely Ever is here)

Oh, Ever Dundas. Such a heartbreaking novel you’ve written. So gorgeous, so rich and full. Addressing issues such as gender fluidity, Goblin is about a young girl on her own during the London Blitz, what she saw and a terrible secret she kept which came back on her in a way she could never have imagined.

Flashing back to the war in London and forward to contemporary Edinburgh, Goblin is a miracle of a book.

May 2017; Freight Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roxane Gay – Hunger

The only Best of 2017 book I read outside the UK, I’m realizing now this one non-fiction title is also the only book by an American that made my list. Roxane Gay is a black woman well-known in the states for her brutally honest stories about vicious childhood rape and the impact it’s had on the rest of her life.

In Hunger, Gay talks about how her obesity was a shield protecting her from unwanted attention from men. In wrenching detail, she outlines the reasons for her over-eating as well as the strain it put on her emotionally and physically. This is a hard book to read, emotionally speaking, but the message is important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Graham Swift – Mothering Sunday

Also read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize, this was my choice as runner up.

I refer to what I wrote in my previous review in regard to Swift’s novel (follow Mr Linky, above). It’s not as vivid in my memory, though I know I loved it. As with Barry’s novel, it took two tries connecting with it, but once I did it was a marvelous read.

Having a solid book journal to back up my reading would come in very handy here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose Tremain – Gustav Sonata

Again, read for the Sir Walter Scott Prize. I’m seeing a pattern here.

As with Mothering Sunday, please refer to what I wrote previously via the link. I remember the young boy in the tale, how his story broke my heart. I remember its beauty, precious little more than that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know I read more than the 15 I can come up with, and I’m frustrated I didn’t keep better track. All things considered, good enough.

For next year, I’m reverting to my old system. I’ve ordered a book specially designed for keeping track of books read that’s far more detailed and formal than my efforts in years past, when I kept religious track of every, single book read. I bought standard journals, noted titles and authors and general impressions so that, by year’s end, I could sit down and write proper “best of” lists.

I loved it, revelled in it. There’s a lot to be said for writing with pen and paper.

 

 

I had quite a collection of book journals, all of which I threw out when I left for Scotland, it saddens me to say. I’ll be starting fresh in 2018. Everything shiny and new.

Yes, it’s sad I don’t have the physical journals, but I do have Bluestalking and Goodreads, not to mention dozens of reviews peppered all over the place. I would say I have my memories of books read, but my recall is nowhere near what it used to be.

I can re-read old favorites and it’ll be almost like I’m reading them again for the first time. Indeed, every time you read a book you’ve read before the experience is different. Just as every time you think back to times past it comes with new perspective. You change and evolve; that’s life.

Let go of the expectation anything ever stays the same. I can’t express how much easier life becomes when you follow that bit of advice.

That’s my reading year, 2017. Not all of it, but enough to feel a sense of satisfaction, a closure of sorts.

You don’t always have the luxury of closure. Some things will never have an explanation. At least in this case, I’ve  managed to pull together enough I feel a sense of accomplishment. Controlling what you can is the very best you can do.

Next time I’ll reveal the books I’ve bought myself for Christmas. I’m not one hundred percent positive Santa’s finished shopping, but he’s made a very good dent in his list. A very good dent, indeed.

Until then, happy reading.

gender differences in reading, revisited

Tom-ay-to, Tom-ah-to

Tom-ay-to, Tom-ah-to

Waaay back in 2006 I posted thoughts on a list I’d seen in The Guardian, from an article about gender differences in reading. In the article, two lists were generated, one a Top 20 favorite novels of men, the other a Top 20 favorite novels of women. I’ve posted thoughts on the subject since but I don’t have links to those posts at hand and frankly don’t have the incentive to go diving for them. While doing onling blog cleanup and maintenance, I happened to stumble upon this 2006 post and found it still interesting. And that’s why I’m back on the topic.

Since that long ago 2006 post, there have of course been many, many other articles on the topic of gender-preferred reading, books which tend to fall into one of the two camps. Among them, this fascinating offering from Esquire, a periodical most decided slanted toward men, which lists 80 Books Every Man Should Read.

Lots of these listed are about war, many about rugged, outdoorsy settings as well as those featuring a great deal of violence, books by writers such as Cormac McCarthy, for example. Ernest Hemingway, Henry Miller, Kurt Vonnegut… Not exclusively in the male purview but leaning that way.

Interestingly, most of the books appeal to me and not just a little. Many I’ve read and many others I’d like to, soft confirmation of what I’ve been told before: I identify strongly with what I consider a masculine taste in reading.  What does this say about me? Nothing earth-shattering but more than once I’ve offered up lists of favorite books to be told that, without knowing my gender, the person studying the list would have pegged me for a male.

Scientific? Of course not. Interesting? I think so.

On the flip side for the purposes of this very unscientific, heavily biased post, there’s this list compiled by Huffington Post, listing the books every woman should read. Included in this list are books I’ve personally reviled, a few due to their overt sappiness, others for their bloated reputations and complete lack of literary quality, books such as:

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – Judy Blume (outdated; has not aged well)

The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (must I say it, really?)

The Help – Kathryn Stockett (the ultimate novel of white guilt)

Disappointingly, HuffPo also chose a disproportionately large number of self help books to round out the list. I consider this a cop out, not to mention a biased take on what serious female readers value. In their favor, a great number of heavily literary novels, like Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, did make the cut, the reason I chose this as my female-representative list. Even with its flaws, I feel it’s fairly well representative of books geared toward women, some I’d consider book group books but some, again, of high quality, as well.

Agree or not, it’s a fascinating topic, that of the reading differences between men and women. And I know, gender these days is a loaded term, complicated by the new need to consider gender identity. It’s not that I’m completely discounting that but rather I’m not a gender studies expert. Neither am I the sort to stop and ask with which gender do you personally identify. That’s on you, not me. I’m too busy, not to mention too old school, to make allowances for every possible combination of gender preferences.

The fact remains, there are two sexes, two ruling hormones: estrogen and testosterone. And, while not 100% of the makeup of our natures, this is a very heavy determining factor separating us. With each come certain characteristics which are very real, neither positive nor negative but, rather, different and complimentary.

Again, there is crossover. Please note I have said that.

The line is dashed, rather than solid, however, the line is there. And I could of course go far more deeply into the topic, delve into the research, comparing and contrasting hundreds more lists, examining characteristics of what makes a masculine or feminine read but this isn’t a treatise. This is an opinion post, based heavily on my own experience spent reading, no small feat.

Gender preferences in reading will always intrigue me. I will never stop reading the lists, considering the factors which make up masculine and feminine reading. So keep ’em coming. And if you know of lists, have thoughts or would like to weigh in, well, you know the drill.

 

nba longlist: a necessary rant, an inconvenient truth

NBA Longlist 2015

National Book Award Longlist 2015

National Book Award Longlist 2015

Not a word of complaint from this woman: Hanya Yanagihara (YES), Jesse Ball, Lauren Groff, Adam Johnson, Edith Pearlman, Nell Zink, T. Geronimo Johnson, Karen E. Bender, Angela Flournoy…

Oh, wait. Son of a bitch. Bill Clegg.

Nervous pulling of collar.

It’s like this: Did You Ever Have a Family is, how shall I put this… really awful. Bill Clegg is a big name literary critic. I do not question his credentials. However, having attempted and failed to read this novel the words “ungodly terrible” spring to mind.

Adjectives.

Cringe-worthy metaphors and similes.

Crawl out of your skin, teeth-gritting, primal scream of despair prose.

It’s a book in desperate need of an editor – in order to tell Clegg not to have published this book. Hate to resort to this harsh review, because it took my breath away for its candor,  but it’s the truth:

NY Times Review – Sept. 8, 2015

by Dwight Garner

“If you’re not willing to let this confident but shallow novel pour over you, as if you were a Belgian waffle, there’s no point to it at all. Unless you’ve got a funky old gas stove you need to tend to, right now.”

OUCH.

Look at it like this: Bill Clegg is a literary critic. His LinkedIn status is God. If you’re an author there’s an uncomfortable, squirm-in-your-chair with anticipatory angst chance he may someday be assigned something with your name on it. The risk of speaking with bald truth is the chance he’ll go Michiko Kakutani on your ass at some later time, leaving strips of skin stuck to a shirt saturated with your own blood.

While I can’t blame the raw fear, I despise the concept an author would let this stop him or her from honestly stating that which is fact: this book really sucks.

No one relishes facing someone about whom you’ve told an uncomfortable truth but above that, there is literature. There is truth. There is legacy. There is sleeping the sleep of artistic integrity. Knuckling under for fear of reprisal pimps what literature means, reducing it to the lowest common denominator of all:  ego.

Short story long: this is why Bill Clegg’s novel sits on the NBA Longlist, usurping a deserving book. As if we needed reminding: literature prizes are political.

This is a sad truth.

Summer books rising with the mercury

It’s yet another amazing summer for books. Major writers, major quality literary fiction.

Here are a few that have caught my eye:

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner)

Doerr has written short story collections, a memoir and two novels, all to great acclaim. His collection Memory Wall (2010) was his major break out with a mass readership.

His work has won four O. Henry Awards, been anthologized in several collections and I don’t have the energy to write out all the other awards and distinctions he’s won.You can find his essays here and here and a short story here.

 

“She walks like a ballerina in dance slippers, her feet as articulate as hands, a little vessel of grace moving out into the fog.”

– All the Light We Cannot See

 

blurb:

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

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The Casebook by Mona Simpson (Knopf)

Mona Simpson has studied poetry with such notables as Seamus Heaney, was editor of The Paris Review for five years and has won loads of prizes, including the Guggenheim (as did Doerr, by the way).

The Casebook is her sixth novel.

 

“We come into the world whole, all of us,but we don’t know that, don’t know that life will be taking large chunks out of us, forever.”

– The Casebook: A Novel

 

 

blurb:

Miles Adler-Hart starts eavesdropping to find out what his mother is planning for his life. When he learns instead that his parents are separating, his investigation deepens, and he enlists his best friend, Hector, to help. Both boys are in thrall to Miles’s unsuspecting mother, Irene, who is “pretty for a mathematician.” They rifle through her dresser drawers, bug her telephone lines, and strip-mine her computer, only to find that all clues lead them to her bedroom, and put them on the trail of a mysterious stranger from Washington, D.C.

Their amateur detective work starts innocently but quickly takes them to the far reaches of adult privacy as they acquire knowledge that will affect the family’s well-being, prosperity, and sanity. Burdened with this powerful information, the boys struggle to deal with the existence of evil and concoct modes of revenge on their villains that are both hilarious and naïve. Eventually, haltingly, they learn to offer animal comfort to those harmed and to create an imaginative path to their own salvation.

Casebook brilliantly reveals an American family both coming apart at the seams and, simultaneously, miraculously reconstituting itself to sustain its members through their ultimate trial. Mona Simpson, once again, demonstrates her stunning mastery, giving us a boy hero for our times whose story remains with us long after the novel is over.

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The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey (Bloomsbury)

from her website:

Maud Casey is the author of two previous novels, The Shape of Things to Come, a New York Times Notable Book, and Genealogy; and a collection of stories, Drastic. She is the recipient of the Calvino Prize and has received fellowships from the Fundación Valparaiso, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, Château de Lavigny, Dora Maar, and the Passa Porta residency at Villa Hellebosch. Casey teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, D.C.

 

 

 

blurb:

In a trance-like state, Albert walks—from Bordeaux to Poitiers, from Chaumont to Macon, and farther afield to Turkey, Austria, Russia—all over Europe. When he walks, he is called a vagrant, a mad man. He is chased out of towns and villages, ridiculed and imprisoned. When the reverie of his walking ends, he’s left wondering where he is, with no memory of how he got there. His past exists only in fleeting images.

Loosely based on the case history of Albert Dadas, a psychiatric patient in the hospital of St. André in Bordeaux in the nineteenth century, The Man Who Walked Away imagines Albert’s wanderings and the anguish that caused him to seek treatment with a doctor who would create a diagnosis for him, a narrative for his pain.

In a time when mental health diagnosis is still as much art as science, Maud Casey takes us back to its tentative beginnings and offers us an intimate relationship between one doctor and his patient as, together, they attempt to reassemble a lost life. Through Albert she gives us a portrait of a man untethered from place and time who, in spite of himself, kept setting out, again and again, in search of wonder and astonishment.

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Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

from his website:

Edward St Aubyn was born in London in 1960. He was educated at Westminster school and Keble college, Oxford University. He is the author of seven novels of which ‘Mother’s Milk’ was shortlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize, won the 2007 Prix Femina Etranger and won the 2007 South Bank Show award on literature.

His first novel, ‘Never Mind’ (1992) won the Betty Trask award. This novel, along with ‘Bad News’ (1992) and ‘Some Hope’ (1994) became a trilogy, now collectively published under the title ‘Some Hope’.

His other fiction consists of ‘On the Edge’ (1998) which was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize and A Clue to the Exit (2000).

 

“That was the wonderful thing about historical novels, one met so many famous people. It was like reading a very old copy of Hello! magazine.”

– Lost for Words

blurb:

Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels were some of the most celebrated works of fiction of the past decade. Ecstatic praise came from a wide range of admirers, from literary superstars such as Zadie Smith, Francine Prose, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Michael Chabon to pop-culture icons such as Anthony Bourdain and January Jones. Now St. Aubyn returns with a hilariously smart send-up of a certain major British literary award.
The judges on the panel of the Elysian Prize for Literature must get through hundreds of submissions to find the best book of the year. Meanwhile, a host of writers are desperate for Elysian attention: the brilliant writer and serial heartbreaker Katherine Burns; the lovelorn debut novelist Sam Black; and Bunjee, convinced that his magnum opus, The Mulberry Elephant, will take the literary world by storm. Things go terribly wrong when Katherine’s publisher accidentally submits a cookery book in place of her novel; one of the judges finds himself in the middle of a scandal; and Bunjee, aghast to learn his book isn’t on the short list, seeks revenge.
Lost for Words is a witty, fabulously entertaining satire that cuts to the quick of some of the deepest questions about the place of art in our celebrity-obsessed culture, and asks how we can ever hope to recognize real talent when everyone has an agenda.

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  Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen

cambridgekaysen (Knopf)

from Goodreads:

“Susanna Kaysen is an American author.

Kaysen was born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kaysen attended high school at the Commonwealth School in Boston and the Cambridge School before being sent to McLean Hospital in 1967 to undergo psychiatric treatment for depression. It was there she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She was released after eighteen months. She later drew on this experience for her 1993 memoir Girl, Interrupted, which was made into a film in 1999, her role being played by Winona Ryder.”

“It was probably because I was so often taken away from Cambridge when I was young that I loved it as much as I did . . .”
..

So begins this novel-from-life by the best-selling author of Girl, Interrupted, an exploration of memory and nostalgia set in the 1950s among the academics and artists of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, the precocious narrator ofCambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the locations to which her father’s career takes the family. She comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition.

Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the delights, fears, and longings of childhood.

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riseandfallgreatpowersThe Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman (Dial Press)

from his website:

Tom Rachman is the author of two novels, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers (upcoming in 2014), and The Imperfectionists (2010), an international bestseller that has been translated into 25 languages. Rachman, who was born in London in 1974 and raised in Vancouver, studied cinema at the University of Toronto, then journalism at Columbia University in New York. In 1998, he joined the Associated Press as a foreign-desk editor in New York, then became a correspondent in Rome in 2002. He has written articles from India, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Belgium, Britain and elsewhere. From 2006-08, he was an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Slate and The New Statesman, among other publications. He lives in London.

“People kept their books, she thought, not because they were likely to read them again but because these objects contained the past–the texture of being oneself at a particular place, at a particular time, each volume a piece of one’s intellect, whether the work itself had been loved or despised or had induced a snooze on page forty.”

blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Tom Rachman returns with a brilliant, intricately woven novel about a young woman who travels the world to make sense of her puzzling past.

Tooly Zylberberg, the American owner of an isolated bookshop in the Welsh countryside, conducts a life full of reading, but with few human beings. Books are safer than people, who might ask awkward questions about her life. She prefers never to mention the strange events of her youth, which mystify and worry her still.

Taken from home as a girl, Tooly found herself spirited away by a group of seductive outsiders, implicated in capers from Asia to Europe to the United States. But who were her abductors? Why did they take her? What did they really want? There was Humphrey, the curmudgeonly Russian with a passion for reading; there was the charming but tempestuous Sarah, who sowed chaos in her wake; and there was Venn, the charismatic leader whose worldview transformed Tooly forever. Until, quite suddenly, he disappeared.

Years later, Tooly believes she will never understand the true story of her own life. Then startling news arrives from a long-lost boyfriend in New York, raising old mysteries and propelling her on a quest around the world in search of answers.

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 Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter  Writing by Nina Sankovitch (Simon & Schuster)

Harper/Collins:

Nina Sankovitch launched ReadAllDay.org in 2008, and at the end of her year of reading, she was profiled in the New York Times. She continues to review books on ReadAllDay.org and for the Huffington Post. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and four sons.

 

blurb:

Witty, moving, enlightening, and inspiring, Signed, Sealed, Delivered begins with Nina Sankovitch’s discovery of a trove of hundred year- old letters. The letters are in an old steamer trunk she finds in her backyard and include missives written by a Princeton freshman to his mother in the early 1900s. Nina’s own son is heading off to Harvard, and she hopes that he will write to her, as the Princeton student wrote to his mother and as Nina wrote to hers. But times have changed. Before Nina can persuade her child of the value of letters, she must first understand for herself exactly what it is about letters that make them so significant—and just why she wants to receive letters from her son. Sankovitch sets off on a quest through the history of letter writing—from the ancient Egyptians to the medieval lovers Abelard and Heloise, from the letters received by President Lincoln after his son’s death to the correspondence of Edith Wharton and Henry James.

Sankovitch uncovers and defines the specific qualities that make letters so special, examining not only historical letters but also the letters in epistolary novels, her husband’s love letters, and dozens more sources, including her son’s brief reports from college on the weather and his allowance.

In this beautifully written book, Nina Sankovitch reminds us that letters offer proof and legacy of what is most important in life: love and connection. In the end, she finds, the letters we write are even more important than the ones we wait for.

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Whet your appetites for some great reading?

Hope so.

Reading 2013: Summing Up

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After months and months of good intentions, Bluestalking is still split between Typepad and WordPress, the bulk of it at Typepad. That certainly doesn’t help when it comes to assembling my yearly reading summary. Aggravating the situation, the power cord on my laptop – which I insist on using, since I can sit on the sofa with it – is broken, requiring that I stop typing every few minutes to wiggle the thing until the little “charging” indicator appears. All this so you know behind the scenes things are rough, despite how seamless and graceful it appears from your perspective. As far as I’ll admit, this is said without even the barest trace of irony.

The year being what it was, largely dispiriting with a touch of crushed dreams, the best I can do is list my top ten reads, in no particular order, adding only a few analytical observations:

The Traveling Sprinkler by Nicholson Baker (2013)

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield (2013)

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay (1956)

Harvest by Jim Crace (2013)

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (2011)

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker (2009)

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (2013)

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine (2014)

Shipwrecks by Akira Yoshimura (1996)

The One-Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (2013)

Four books by women, all Brits. Two by the same author: Nicholson Baker, who also happens to be the only American on my list. One author is Japanese, one Swedish, the last Lebanese- American.

All have dark themes, a couple relieved by moments of equally dark humor. Two are set in the U.S. Half were review copies. None could be technically classified as classics, unheard of for me a decade or so ago.

The oldest is Towers of Trebizond (1956), the latest An Unnecessary Woman (2014).

If I had to pick just one as the jewel in the crown… I guess that would be the book I just finished, likely the last I’ll complete in 2013, An Unnecessary Woman.

Pre-pub reviews are spot on:

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“Acclaimed author Alameddine (The Hakawati) here relates the internal struggles of a solitary, elderly woman with a passion for books…Aaliya’s life may seem like a burden or even “unnecessary” to others since she is divorced and childless, but her humor and passion for literature bring tremendous richness to her day-to-day life—and to the reader’s… Though set in the Middle East, this book is refreshingly free of today’s geopolitical hot-button issues. A delightful story for true bibliophiles, full of humanity and compassion.”—Library Journal

An Unnecessary Woman dramatizes a wonderful mind at play. The mind belongs to the protagonist, and it is filled with intelligence, sharpness and strange memories and regrets. But, as in the work of Calvino and Borges, the mind is also that of the writer, the arch-creator. His tone is ironic and knowing; he is fascinated by the relationship between life and books. He is a great phrase-maker and a brilliant writer of sentences. And over all this fiercely original act of creation is the sky of Beirut throwing down a light which is both comic and tragic, alert to its own history and to its mythology, guarding over human frailty and the idea of the written word with love and wit and understanding and a rare sort of wisdom.”—Colm Toibin

“The extraordinary if “unnecessary” woman at the center of this magnificent novel built into my heart a sediment of life lived in reverse, through wisdom, epiphany, and regret. This woman—Aaliya is her name—for all her sly and unassuming modesty, is a stupendous center of consciousness. She understands time, and folly, and is wonderfully comic. She has read everything under the sun (as has her creator, Alameddine), and as a polyglot mind of an old world Beirut, she reminds us that storehouses of culture, of literature, of memory, are very fragile things indeed. They exist, shimmering, as chimeras, in the mind of Aaliya, who I am so happy to feel I now know. Her particularity, both tragic and lightly clever, might just stay with me forever.”—Rachel Kushner

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2013 was a difficult year, the latest in a series of soul-crushers. On the personal front it was abysmal.

In reading I have little to complain about, aside from wishing I’d done more and gotten my blog settled. Quantity-wise it wasn’t great but the quality of each book was.

In 2014, I need to tighten up and streamline my life. I know better than to declare anything in sweeping statements but things must change: bit by bit, goal by goal.

Four days and a handful of hours to go in 2013.

Phew.

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Then we came to the end: Notable Fiction 2013

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The last day of November signals my reading year has begun powering down. Alas, 2013, I hardly knew ye. I take that back; I knew you and didn’t like you much. You came, you brought a few good things but mostly not, and now you’re nearly gone. Overall, I’m glad to see the tail end of you.  I’m ready to start writing 2014 on my checks. In fact, I almost relish it.

How was my reading year? Pretty good. I’ve had better and worse. It felt like an eventful year in books, though others have probably been equal and I’m just fixated on 2013. I haven’t had the opportunity to cogitate and digest the cumulative experience just yet, so I’ll reserve judgment a little longer.

A favorite part of my summing up is my tradition of culling “best reads” lists, comparing what I’ve read and how I felt about it, as well as what I haven’t read or feel should have been on the list. This year’s authoritative list, against which I’ve decided to compare my own reading, is The New York Times list of Notable Books for 2013. I’ve already looked over it and thoroughly depressed myself by how few of the best I read. I own a good selection of the fiction, and a little of the nonfiction but ’tis a somber truth I’ve read precious little. That would indicate my taste in buying (or receiving from publishers) is decent, it’s just my execution that’s lacking.

Mantra: I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and I accomplish enough. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and I accomplish enough.

Only the most serious, seasoned readers will care to read on from here; those with taste and normal reading appetites having stopped long ago, anyway. Now that they’re gone we can gossip about them! Whoa. Lame.

The NYTimes list is a honker, friends, which is why I am going to split this into two posts: fiction/poetry and nonfiction. Truth be told, I don’t actually read much poetry, which is code for “almost never.” So, here’s how my fiction reading stands up to the NYT’s list:

lineplain100 Notable Books of 2013 – Pt. 1: Fiction & Poetrylineplain

 

FICTION & POETRY

THE ACCURSED. By Joyce Carol Oates. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $27.99.) Oates’s extravagantly horrifying, funny and prolix postmodern Gothic novel purports to be the definitive account of a curse that infected bucolic Princeton, N.J., in 1905 and 1906.

Status:  Own, haven’t read. LOVE JCO. This one will definitely roll over to 2014’s list of hopefuls.

ALL THAT IS. By James Salter. (Knopf, $26.95.) Salter’s first novel in more than 30 years, which follows the loves and losses of a World War II veteran, is an ambitious departure from his previous work and, at a stroke, demolishes any talk of twilight.

Status: Nope and I haven’t read any Salter. I know that’s a travesty.

AMERICANAH. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. (Knopf, $26.95.) This witheringly trenchant novel scrutinizes blackness in America, Nigeria and Britain.

Status: Nope but it has a fighting chance.

BLEEDING EDGE. By Thomas Pynchon. (Penguin Press, $28.95.) Airliners crash not only into the twin towers but into a shaggy-dog tale involving a fraud investigator and a white-collar outlaw in this vital, audacious novel.

Status: Own, haven’t read. I haven’t made it through anything by Pynchon yet. Is he a genius or a poseur?

CHILDREN ARE DIAMONDS: An African Apocalypse. By Edward Hoagland. (Arcade, $23.95.) The adventure-seeking protagonist of Hoagland’s novel is swept up in the chaos of southern Sudan.

Status: Who?

THE CIRCLE. By Dave Eggers. (Knopf/McSweeney’s, $27.95.) In a disturbing not-too-distant future, human existence flows through the portal of a company that gives Eggers’s novel its title.

Status: Nope and the premise doesn’t appeal that much.

CLAIRE OF THE SEA LIGHT. By Edwidge Danticat. (Knopf, $25.95.) Danticat’s novel is less about a Haitian girl who disappears on her birthday than about the heart of a magical seaside village.

Status: Nope but I’m grabbed by the setting.

THE COLOR MASTER: Stories. By Aimee Bender. (Doubleday, $25.95.) Physical objects help Bender’s characters grasp an overwhelming world.

Status: Nope but I’m not big on short stories.

A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENA. By Anthony Marra. (Hogarth, $26.) Odds against survival are high for the characters of Marra’s extraordinary first novel, set in war-torn Chechnya.

Status: Nope. I believe I have a short story (!) collection by him, though. Maybe? Him, or someone with a mighty similar name.

THE DINNER. By Herman Koch. Translated by Sam Garrett. (Hogarth, $24.) In this clever, dark Dutch novel, two couples dine out under the cloud of a terrible crime committed by their teenage sons.

Status: Own, haven’t read. I’ve heard so much about it, mostly raving – in a good way. It had so much pre-pub praise I pre-ordered it from Amazon. Sometimes all that kerfuffle is a ruse, sometimes not. We’ll see. I’m intrigued it’s written by a Dutch author, being partly Dutch myself. I need to read more world literature.

DIRTY LOVE. By Andre Dubus III. (Norton, $25.95.) Four linked stories expose their characters’ bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses.

Status: Nope and I get this Andre Dubus mixed up with the late one. I’m assuming this is the son, not the father but I’m not really consulting any authoritative source. I’ve not read either Dubus. I know I should.

DISSIDENT GARDENS. By Jonathan Lethem. (Doubleday, $27.95.) Spanning 80 years and three generations, Lethem’s novel realistically portrays an enchanted — or disenchanted — garden of American leftists in Queens.

Status: Nope. I loved Motherless Brooklyn, though. How does this book compare?

DOCTOR SLEEP. By Stephen King. (Scribner, $30.) Now grown up, Danny, the boy with psycho-intuitive powers in “The Shining,” helps another threatened magic child in a novel that shares the virtues of King’s best work.

Status: Own, haven’t read. I can’t recall the last Stephen King novel I read, actually. Needful Things pops up in my mind but that was long ago now.

I have this one and Joyland, as far as his current stuff. When I was in junior high/high school I was enamored of him and have read and seen the film adaptation of Doctor Sleep‘s predecessor, The Shining. I’ve also been to Bangor twice and have some decent photos of his house. NICE. Irrelevant but nice. I wonder if he’s eaten at the Chili’s there? ‘Cause guess what? I have!

DUPLEX. By Kathryn Davis. (Graywolf, $24.) A schoolteacher takes an unusual lover in this astonishing, double-hinged novel set in a fantastical suburbia.

Status: Nope and holy wow, this woman’s written a crap ton of books. Most have a pretty low Amazon average, not that I should let that deter me on its own. Hell sounds promising:

 

This demanding and rewarding third novel by the author of Labrador (Farrar, 1990) and The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf (LJ 6/1/93) will delight all serious readers. Its sensuous prose and vivid rendering of the minutiae of everyday life propel the reader through three haunting tales woven together. They are the stories of two parents and two daughters in 1950s Philadelphia, a dollhouse whose inhabitants are not quite lifeless, and Edwina Moss, a 19th-century chatelaine of domesticity. The Philadelphia family’s story is narrated by the elder daughter, who, infatuated with literature, peppers her narrative with sly allusions to Wuthering Heights (shutters banging, wind sweeping across the moors) and A Girl of the Limberlost. Strained marriages, details of housekeeping, anorexic daughters (both human and not), and the mysterious conflation of two paintings of Heaven and of Hell combine to demand rereading. For all collections of literary fiction.?Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll., Bronxville, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

 

But Duplex, I don’t know.

THE END OF THE POINT. By Elizabeth Graver. (Harper, $25.99.) A summer-house on the Massachusetts coast both shelters and isolates the wealthy family in Graver’s eloquent multigenerational novel.

Status: Nope and I’m not big on the “multigenerational” novel, which I associate with chick lit, for better or worse.

THE FLAMETHROWERS. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $26.99.) In Kushner’s frequently dazzling second novel, an impressionable artist navigates the volatile worlds of New York and Rome in the 1970s.

Status: Own on Kindle, haven’t read. My confidence as far as how much I’ll like it isn’t terribly high but I have it, so I’ll get to it eventually.

THE GOLDFINCH. By Donna Tartt. (Little, Brown, $30.) The “Goldfinch” of the title of Tartt’s smartly written Dickensian novel is a painting smuggled through the early years of a boy’s life — his prize, his guilt and his burden.

Status: Own, haven’t read. They had me at Donna Tartt.

THE GOOD LORD BIRD. By James McBride. (Riverhead, $27.95.) McBride’s romp of a novel, the 2013 National Book Award winner, is narrated by a freed slave boy who passes as a girl. It’s a risky portrait of the radical abolitionist John Brown in which irreverence becomes a new form of ­homage.

Status: Own, haven’t read – NEED TO IMMEDIATELY, if not sooner.

A GUIDE TO BEING BORN: Stories. By Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead, $26.95.) Ausubel’s fantastical collection traces a cycle of transformation: from love to conception to gestation to birth.

Status: Who? Nope and short stories. This description doesn’t grab me, either, even if it weren’t short stories.

HALF THE KINGDOM. By Lore Segal. (Melville House, $23.95.) In Segal’s darkly comic novel, dementia becomes contagious at a Manhattan hospital.

Status: Who? Nope but what a premise! It’s pretty new. Published in October. This may be how it snuck in under my radar. But then, the praise she got for this book, the fact she’s been called someone who “could write the Great American Novel” makes me gag. That’s what you call a load of crap. She’s barely written anything. A couple books. Three, including what seems to be a nonfiction piece on the novella. Overblown and over-hyped.

I WANT TO SHOW YOU MORE: Stories. By Jamie Quatro. (Grove, $24.) Quatro’s strange, thrilling and disarmingly honest first collection draws from a pool of resonant themes (Christianity, marital infidelity, cancer, running) in agile ­recombinations.

Status: Who? Nope and short stories. And unappealing themes.

THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS. By Andrew Sean Greer. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99.) A distraught woman inhabits different selves across the 20th century in Greer’s elegiac novel.

Status: Yes! We have a yes! It was okay… I question if it was really best of 2013 caliber. The plot was too smooth, the time travel too easy. Everything conspired too conveniently.

THE INFATUATIONS. By Javier Marías. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. (Knopf, $26.95.) Amid a proliferation of alternative perspectives, Marías’s novel explores its female narrator’s relationship with the widow and the best friend of a murdered man.

Status: Nope but it’s a definite maybe.

THE INTERESTINGS. By Meg Wolitzer. (Riverhead, $27.95.) Wolitzer’s enveloping novel offers a fresh take on the theme of self-invention, with a heroine who asks herself whether the ambitious men and women in her circle have inaccurately defined success.

Status: Nope but this description’s a bit dull.

LIFE AFTER LIFE. By Kate Atkinson. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $27.99.) Atkinson’s heroine, born in 1910, keeps dying and dying again, as she experiences the alternate courses her destiny might have taken.

Status: Yes! Another yes! And it was masterful. Masterful!

LOCAL SOULS: Novellas. By Allan Gurganus. (Liveright, $25.95.) This triptych, set in Gurganus’s familiar Falls, N.C., showcases the increasing universality of his imaginative powers.

Status: Own, though it’s short stories, because it’s Gurganus. But haven’t read. Of course.

LONGBOURN. By Jo Baker. (Knopf, $25.95.) Baker’s charming novel offers an affecting look at the world of “Pride and Prejudice” from the point of view of the Bennets’ servants’ hall.

Status: Nope and I hate spin-offs from classic novels. H A T E.

LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH. By David Rakoff. (Doubleday, $26.95.) Rakoff completed his novel-in-couplets, whose characters live the title’s verbs, just before his death in 2012.

Status: Nope but how intriguing.  And sad.

THE LOWLAND. By Jhumpa Lahiri. (Knopf, $27.95.) After his radical brother is killed, an Indian scientist brings his widow to join him in America in Lahiri’s efficiently written novel.

Status: Own, haven’t read. MUST.

THE LUMINARIES. By Eleanor Catton. (Little, Brown, $27.) In her Booker Prize winner, a love story and mystery set in New Zealand, Catton has built a lively parody of a 19th-century novel, while creating something utterly new for the 21st.

Status: Read via NetGalley free ebook. Read! Baffling, so it must be genius.

MADDADDAM. By Margaret Atwood. (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $27.95.) The survivors of “Oryx and Crake” and “The Year of the Flood” await a final showdown, in a trilogy’s concluding entry.

Status: Nope but I haven’t read the first two in the trilogy, so I don’t know when or if I’ll get to it.

A MARKER TO MEASURE DRIFT. By Alexander Maksik. (Knopf, $24.95.) Maksik’s forceful novel illuminates the life of a Liberian woman who flees her troubled past to seek refuge on an Aegean island.

Status: Who? I first read the description as “Librarian” woman. What a letdown.

METAPHYSICAL DOG. By Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) To immerse oneself in these poems is to enter a crowd of unusual characters: artistic geniuses, violent misfits, dramatic self-accusers (including the poet himself).

Status: POETRY, so nope.

OUR ANDROMEDA. By Brenda Shaughnessy. (Copper Canyon, paper, $16.) In these emotionally charged and gorgeously constructed poems, Shaughnessy imagines a world without a child’s pain.

Status: POETRY, so nope.

SCHRODER. By Amity Gaige. (Twelve, $21.99.) In Gaige’s scenic novel, a man with a long-established false identity goes on the run with his 6-year-old daughter.

Status: Who?

THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. By Elizabeth Gilbert. (Viking, $28.95.) In this winning novel by the author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a botanist’s hunger for explanations carries her through the better part of Darwin’s century, and to Tahiti.

Status: Own, haven’t read. I’m not highly confident about it, so I’m not sure why I bought it, but I did, so it’s moot.

SOMEONE. By Alice McDermott. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Through scattered recollections, this novel sifts the significance of an ordinary life.

Status: Own, haven’t read. Charming Billy was okay. I didn’t get all the hoopla.

THE SON. By Philipp Meyer. (Ecco/Harper­Collins, $27.99.) Members of a Texas clan grope their way from the ordeals of the frontier to celebrity culture’s absurdities in this masterly multigenerational saga.

Status: Nope but I’ve read good things about it. Again, though, “multigenerational” isn’t my favorite theme.

THE SOUND OF THINGS FALLING. By Juan Gabriel Vásquez. Translated by Anne McLean. (Riverhead, $27.95.) This gripping Colombian novel, built on the country’s tragic history with the drug trade, meditates on love, fate and death.

Status: Nope and the drug trade isn’t a draw for me. I’ve read enough in the headlines, thanks.

SUBMERGENCE. By J. M. Ledgard. (Coffee House, paper, $15.95.) This hard-edged, well-written novel involves a terrorist hostage-taking and a perilous deep-sea dive.

Status: Nope and it sounds too action adventure for me. Terrorist, hostage and deep-sea dive have no interest for me.

SUBTLE BODIES. By Norman Rush. (Knopf, $26.95.) Amid dark humor both mournful and absurd, former classmates converge on the hilltop estate of a friend who has died in a freak accident.

Status: Nope but it’s on my radar. I read an article about the writing of this book, how Rush promised his wife it would be a short, sweet project and it turned out to be anything but. I’ve read nothing by Norman Rush. Should I start with this one? Something else?

TENTH OF DECEMBER: Stories. By George Saunders. (Random House, $26.) Saunders’s relentless humor and beatific generosity of spirit keep his highly moral tales from succumbing to life’s darker aspects.

Status: Own – review copy of finished hardback – and have partially read, though, okay, short stories… If I can’t break my rules, who can.

THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE. By Ayana Mathis. (Knopf, $24.95.) Mathis’s deeply felt first novel works at the rough edges of history, within a brutal and poetic allegory of a black family beset by tribulations after the Great Migration to the North.

Status: Own – publisher sent me the paperback. But no, haven’t read it. It attracted Oprah’s attention, which kind of turns me off.

THE TWO HOTEL FRANCFORTS. By David Leavitt. (Bloomsbury, $25.) In Leavitt’s atmospheric novel of 1940 Lisbon, as two couples await passage to New York, the husbands embark on an affair.

Status: Nope but intriguing…

THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT. By Amy Tan. (Ecco/HarperCollins, $29.99.) This wrenching novel by the author of “The Joy Luck Club” follows mother and daughter courtesans over four decades.

Status: Nope and nope. Not really an Amy Tan fan.

WANT NOT. By Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Miff­lin Harcourt, $26.) Linking disparate characters and story threads, Miles’s novel explores varieties of waste and decay in a consumer world.

Status: Who? And the interest isn’t there.

WE ARE ALL COMPLETELY BESIDE OURSELVES. By Karen Joy Fowler. (Marian Wood/Putnam, $26.95.) This surreptitiously smart novel’s big reveal slyly recalls a tabloid headline: “Girl and Chimp Twinned at Birth in Psychological ­Experiment.”

Status: Nope. I don’t associate Fowler’s name with literary fiction. I’m not actually sure if I’ve read anything by her before ??? Don’t think so.

WE NEED NEW NAMES. By NoViolet Bulawayo. (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown, $25.) A Zimbabwean moves to Detroit in Bulawayo’s striking first novel.

Status: Nope but I need to.

WOKE UP LONELY. By Fiona Maazel. (Graywolf, $26.) Maazel’s restlessly antic novel examines the concurrent urges for solitude and intimacy.

Status: Nope and I’m not sure how I feel about the description “restlessly antic.” Could be really good or really bad. When in doubt, I often believe the latter.

THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS. By Claire Messud. (Knopf, $25.95.) Messud’s ingenious, disquieting novel of outsize conflicts tells the story of a thwarted artist who finds herself bewitched by a boy and his parents.

Status: Nope but I like the sound of it. “Disquieting” is good, also “thwarted artist” and “bewitched.” Have I read Claire Messud?

Yes, I sometimes let short blurbs determine my level of interest, when I know nothing else about the book. There’s a lot riding on those few words. On the title and cover art, too. I’ve been drawn to buy/read books for all these reasons so, so many times.

What do I find interesting for the fact the NYT excluded it from their list? Why, I’m glad you asked. I’ll think about it and poke about a bit. I’ve only just begun reviewing 2013 in writing trends, books and authors. So much to do… So much to do…

For now, I’m going to go read. If you have thoughts on any of the books above, I’d sure love to hear them.

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Hey, Lisa! How many books has Art Garfunkel read since 1968?

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List of books Art Garfunkel has read since 1968

Nope. No joke. Dude’s a major big reader

How many books do you share in common with Mr. G.? My answer: an awful lot. Because I’m far too lazy/busy to actually count, I left off at 17 somewhere in the 70s. But I am uber-impressed with his taste; it so closely resembles mine.

A much less interesting list of books “famous” people read in college (Slate)

Gardiner Public Library (Maine) – Celebrity Reading Lists (much more interesting)

J. Peder Zane – The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books

J. Peder Zane – Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading

Ronald Rice – My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop

Leah Price – Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (Unpacking My Library Series)

Hans Weyandt – Read This!: Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores

Had enough?

Me neither!

But hey, if you run out of books about book lists just let me know. Always glad to oblige.

Wait, one more:

Lionel Shriver – The Book Lovers’ Companion: What to Read Next

Such a struggle coming up with titles to read, isn’t it (not)?

All my love,

The Book Whore

P.S.: Know of any more reading lists, especially of writers, other artists, celebrities who aren’t cheap and trashy? BRING ‘EM ON.

Another book list. What qualifies as “well read”?

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Just when you think it’s safe to feel fairly confident about what you’ve read, along comes another one. This list is from BookRiot (an intense bookish site if ever there was one) and is in answer to the question “What qualifies as “well read”?

I’ve bolded the books I’ve read:

  1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front by Eric Maria Remarque
  4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Klay  by Michael Chabon
  5. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  8. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  9. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  11. Beloved by Toni Morrison
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  14. Brave New World by Alduos Huxley
  15. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  16. The Call of the Wild  by Jack London
  17. Candide by Voltaire
  18. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  19. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
  20. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  21. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  22. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  23. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  24. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
  25. The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe
  26. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor 
  27. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  28. Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  29. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
  30. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  31. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
  32. Dream of Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
  33. Dune by Frank Herbert
  34. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  35. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  36. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
  37. Faust by Goethe
  38. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  39. Game of Thrones by George RR Martin
  40. The Golden Bowl by Henry James
  41. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  42. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  43. The Gospels
  44. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  45. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  46. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  47. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  48. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  49. Harry Potter & The Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  50. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  51. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  52. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  53. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  54. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
  55. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  56. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  57. if on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
  58. The Iliad by Homer
  59. The Inferno by Dante
  60. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  61. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  62. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  63. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  64. The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  65. The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint-Exepury
  66. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  67. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  68. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  69. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
  70. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  71. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  72. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
  73. The Odyssey by Homer
  74. Oedipus, King by Sophocles
  75. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  76. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  77. The Pentateuch
  78. Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen
  79. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  80. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  81. Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare
  82. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  83. Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut
  84. The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner
  85. The Stand by Stephen King
  86. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  87. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust
  88. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  89. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  90. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  91. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  92. Ulysses by James Joyce
  93. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
  94. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
  95. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
  96. Watchmen by Alan Moore
  97. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  98. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  99. 1984 by George Orwell
  100. 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James

So, do I qualify as well read? Maybe mediumish read.

Where do you stand? And don’t tell me “In the corner, when I’m naughty.”

Any of these books surprise you? They sure did me. 50 Shades of Grey? Why? And The DaVinci Code? Even Gone Girl.

Does being trendy in your reading count you as well read? Methinks not.

That’s CRAZY TALK.

But all lists are subjective. They’re just fun to read.

Drumroll, Please… Bluestalking Reader’s Top 10 Books Read in 2006

Top10 2006

 

Verrry difficult this year, as it is every year, but the more I looked at my list of books read in 2006 the more clear it became. Though I read a lot of really great books, the ones that stood out as stellar were really pretty obvious choices.

The books I chose as my “best of” were the ones that most likely blind-sided me by their sheer brilliance. A book that turns me inside-out, then rips out my heart for good measure, is very likely to make my Top 10 List. Also, a book that has deep, never-ending empathy, forcing me to look at things in my own life I may or may not be comfortable with thinking about but which I need to address, is a strong contender. Then there are the classics, those books that set the standard for what  a good story is, or should be. These stand the test of time, and often multiple readings, and every time I read them I find something entirely different within the very same pages (often the same edition) I’ve held in my hands before.

So, without further ado, here is:

Bluestalking Reader’s Top 10 Books Read in 2006:

(Not necessarily in order, mind…)

10.  The Barracks by John McGahern

I’d never read any McGahern before, and he completely blindsided me with his brilliance. His prose is so quiet, in some ways, yet so full of often very torturous emotion. Just a gorgeous, gorgeous book.

9. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

This was a re-read several times over for me, and every time I read it I think it more brilliant. It’s funny, frightening and wonderfully tender. Though not one of his masterpieces, it’s nevertheless a great book.

8. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

All the Booker-nominated reads impressed me, but this one has stayed with me the longest of all of them. Tales influenced by the Cain and Abel story tend to interest me, and this is one that’s beautifully done. Mary Lawson’s an author to watch.

7. A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

Books that force you to look at things in a different light, and force you out of your comfort zone, do what fiction was meant to do. No light or easy read, not to mention not a comfortable one, A Lifetime Burning addresses some very controversial subject matter. Yet, Gillard finds the absolute perfect line to tread, not condoning the actions of the characters but still presenting them as fallible yet worthy human beings. A truly skillful novel, and one that deserves a much wider audience.

6. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

Amazing what a writer can do with sparing prose. Hrabal touched so many chords in my book-loving heart with this one.

5. The Stranger Next Door by Amelie Nothomb

Ah, Amelie! Without Dovegreyreader would I ever have found you??  Very likely not, and huge thanks go out to her for that. I loved all the Nothombs I read this year (and I read several), but this one really stood out for me. It was so grotesque and engrossing, at the same time.

4. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Speaking of grotesque, this is quite possibly the most disturbingly brilliant book I’ve ever read. I’ve read it twice to date, and may not ever have the emotional wherewithall to read it again. It’s astonishing, and very, very dark, but the power of the prose is impressive. Definitely a modern classic.

3. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Another Booker-nominated work that I just loved. These sorts of coming-of-age tales can either be very, very good, or very, very trite and overdone. This one is in the former category.

2. TIE: The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan by Claire Tomalin, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams

I love Charles Dickens, and though I’d heard the vague story of Nelly Ternan in the past I didn’t know the whole story. Tomalin took care of that quite neatly. Kate Williams likewise covers her subject with skill, and in a way so accessible and interesting I felt I was reading a novel. These two are among the very best biographies I’ve read, ever.

1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Another re-read made my Top 10 List, but I’ll defend that by saying this is another book destined for future classic status. There’s so incredibly much in it, and like the classics I could read it endlessly and not come to the end of all of it. Brilliant stuff, and very emotionally complex.

 

Honorable Mention Status:

1. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

2. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

3. Mother’s Milk by Edward St. Aubyn

4. Blaming by Elizabeth Taylor

5. The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls

N.B.: For the record, everything I read by Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine remains in its own special, separate category of books I read selfishly and with utter abandon, but which didn’t quite make the cut for the hallowed list. To her I tip my bonnet with humility and respect, and I’ll give her the title of the Writer Least Likely to Disappoint Me When I Need a Really Good Creepy Read. Without Rendell/Vine I don’t know how I’d fill this very vital (to me) void.

Last, but certainly not least, heartfelt thanks go out to everyone I’ve chatted with on all matters bookish, or whose blog I’ve read over the year, and to all who’ve given me such outstanding recommendations for books I simply MUST READ. You’re all completely invaluable to me, and I only wish there were some way I could mention all of you to repay your incredible kindnesses. Humble thanks to all of you, and long may we all continue to enjoy this free, open community of like-minded souls communing and sharing our thoughts and feelings on the subject nearest to our hearts…

 

BOOKS!

 

Here’s to more of the same in 2007. Onward and upward, don’t spare the horses!