To introduce this list with a brief summary of the year's reading, I scrolled back through my 2016 posts. The first January post not only summed up my 2015 Reading, but also expressed some hopes and curiosities about what I might read in 2016 and how my retirement might affect the way I put this list together -- whether I'd offer more detail here about the titles. Turns out, not so much, but there is a discernible effort here to make a few comments as I add a title to the list during the year.
Still, some books -- even ones I really liked, get nothing more than author and title, and I regret that. Generally, though, I'll tell you -- either right here or on the hot-linked post -- if I hated or was bored enough by the book to warn you off it.
Another big regret -- and I might try to write about this here soon -- is that I didn't manage to follow through with my intention, as declared in this post, to read more poetry this year. But that failure leaves me with the happy task of trying again. Figuring out how that's going to work will tie in with my current project of rearranging books on my new bookshelves. More later.
On the other hand, while it may have had mixed results and while the format could be improved, I'm really pleased that I followed through with the idea of a ReadAlong, and most of the posts from the year's last quarter demonstrate the rich collective potential of this blog as manifest in the readalong I hosted of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend-- I worried that "rich. . . potential" might sound self-promoting, but I mean us collectively, you, as part of this blog, just as much as me. Obviously, without my writing, the blog wouldn't be here, but it's equally true that it would neither continue to exist nor be nearly as interesting, without your engagement, your insights, and the wonderful conversations that develop among you. I hope to be able to try something else collaborative this year, although I'm going to hold off on committing for the moment.
As for Best Books. I'm never good at answering those "favourite books, favourite movies, favourite songs" questions. But I've highlighted the standouts of the year for me in Green -- to stand out, for me, means some combination of style/structure and content, but otherwise my choices might struck other readers as uneven, and while you might like some of my standout choices, you might be disturbed by others (the Marlon James isn't easy reading! Nor the Anthony Marra or Hanya Yanagihra -- and Knausgaard's content doesn't disturb in the same way, but his style is demanding).
I also highlighted my favourite mysteries of the year in aqua, but I found most of the mysteries listed here worth recommending -- especially the Donna Leon.
1. Gertrud Schnackenberg, Heavenly Questions
2, André Alexis, Fifteen Dogs
3. Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
4. Cynthea Masson, The Alchemists' Council -- Note that when I reviewed this book, I did so from a reading copy, and the book hadn't been published yet. It was released a month or so ago, and I'd love to hear from you if you should get a copy (available in trade paperback and in e-book version)
5. Donna Leon, Death and Judgment
6. Virginia Baily, Early One Morning
7. Paul E. Paolicelli, Dances with Luigi
8. Ian Rankin, Even Dogs in the Wild
9. James H.S. McGregor, Rome from the Ground up -- Still dipping into this, not finished but will before year-end. Added January 10th 2017, NOPE, not finished yet, although I'm still enjoying dipping....
10 Haruki Marukami, What I Think about when I Think about Running (began last year; finally finished)
11. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island -- still hoping to write something more about this someday. For now, here's a slight paragraph. . . I loved it! Delightful bit of respite in the series, perfectly placed to work retroactively against the earlier volumes
12. Paolo Giordano, The Solitude of Prime Numbers -- liked this very much, but never found time to review
13. Peter Robinson, Before the Poison
14. Emily St. John Mandel. Station Eleven
15. Hanya Yanagihra. A Little Life. I'm still thinking about this one. Thinking about how manipulated I was, emotionally, even as part of me registered incongruities of circumstance, character, coincidence. Wondering -- admiringly, I think -- how, precisely, the author managed that, what was going on stylistically, how deliberate was it. There's a play with stretching realism's possibilities that very much intrigues me in retrospect. But I do understand why some readers hated or resented the novel.
16. Michelle Gable. A Paris Apartment
17. Paul Kalinithi. When Breath Becomes Air
18. Patricia Cornwell. Flesh and Blood
19. Mary Karr. The Art of Memoir In the midst of moving, never managed to finish this before having to return it to the library. May try to borrow it again. . .
20. Patricia Cornwell, Depraved Heart
21. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Dancing in the Dark Another I still hold out hope I might find time to write about -- really enjoyed and would recommend. At least, I'd use this one (and Boyhood Island) as incentive/promise to encourage readers to stick with the first two vollumes in the series. Sort of an "It Gets Better" promise. . . .
22. Donna Leon, Acqua Alta
23. Chevy Stevens, Those Girls
24. Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic Didn't quite finish before I had to return it to the library, but I think I'd already got the gist. Several passages made the book worthwhile, and if you're looking to rev up your creativity, it's very much worth dipping into. But this is really a magazine article s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d into a book.
25 Sunjeer Sahota, The Year of the Runaways Very moving novel about intersecting characters, Indian immigrants both illegal and legal-but-precarious trying to make a better life in England but barely able to find a living day to day, never mind to get ahead. Timely reading for me, as I finished this not long before the Brexit vote and I was so alert to how much Britain's (and many other countries') economy depends on migrant workers such as these -- yet how exploited and mistreated they can be.
26. Jonathan Evison, This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance! Quirky, cute-enough novel that my daughter passed along to me, it's about a widow in her late 70s, adjusting to life without her husband and re-evaluating her life. At least, the narrator seems to be evaluating it for her, sometimes rather patronisingly. I wasn't quite sure how much I liked his tone, quite honestly. He (I couldn't think of the narrative voice other than as "he," although there's no concrete evidence for that assumption) provided context for the narrow safeties she'd Harriet had chosen throughout her many constrained, suburban, bourgeois life, but still seemed more judgemental than I was comfortable with. Still, I found it amusing enough with the appearance of her husband's ghost, trying to warn her about something she's soon to find out. No spoilers here, so you'll have to see for yourself. Let me know if you do. . .
27. John Farrow, Seven Days Dead. Just so good, this Emile Cinq-Mars series, and this latest is a juicy, big, ever-so-satisfying mystery full of interesting and entertaining characters and a dramatic setting (Grand Manan)
28. Steve Burrows, A Siege of Bitterns, Great fun, the first in a series of Birder Murder Mysteries. . . if you're at all interested in Birding, this is the mystery for you . . .
29. Francine Ruel, Petite Mort à Venise, Fun to practice my French via reading about three "women of a certain age" discovering Venice together. A charming novel, delightful armchair travel. . .
30. Julia Keller, A Killing in the Hills
31. Teju Cole, Open City Wrote a bit about this here and here
32. Steve Burrows, A Pitying of Doves. second Birder Murder mystery, at least as satisfying as the first, with very promising character development that augurs well for the future of the series. The brilliant, if unconventional, detective (a Canadian ex-pat working in north coastal England) longs to devote himself to his first passion, birding, but his talents at crime-solving make it unlikely he'll ever be allowed to do so. . . Great descriptions of countryside, of birds and their habitats, and of the sometimes peculiar behaviour of the birding community.
32. Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
33. Julia Keller, Bitter River
34. Donna Leon, Quietly in their Sleep
35. Tena Štiviçić, short story "The Truth about the Dishwashers," in London/33 boroughs shorts, Volume 2: West (London: Glasshouse Books, 2010) -- wrote a few words about this here
36. Anne Berest, Sagan: Paris 1954, trans. Heather Lloyd -- I quoted from this here
37. Denise Mina, The Field of Blood, will definitely read more by her -- great setting -- not just the physical descriptions of the city, but also the family and community, the sexism of the day...
38. Jhumpa Lahiri. In Other Words
39. Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. The Nest, this dysfunctional family might make you sigh with exasperation quite frequently, but there's also much to like, even admire, about many of the characters, and the resolution is neat, satisfying yet not tritely so. . .
40. Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday. Really loved this and would happily reread. Suggests a conversation with Downton Abbey, offering a more prolonged exploration of a young female servant's position in the social hierarchy of that day, just at a moment when it began to seem possible to break out of such rigidly defined class and gender roles. Lyrically written, psychologically sensitive and credible, deft observations about writing and identity and memory.
41. Jen Lee and Tim Manley, The Ten Letters Project
42. Annie Proulx, Barkskins
43. Elena Ferrante, La Figlia Oscura
44. Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
45. Donna Leon. Fatal Remedies
46. Jussi Adler-Olsen, A Conspiracy of Faith
47. Susan Faludi, In the Darkroom
48. Carol O'Connell, Blind Sight
49. Dianne Hales, La Bella Lingua: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language
50. Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies
51. Michael Dibdin, Vendetta (an Aurelio Zen Mystery)
52. Donna Leon, Noble Radiance
53. Donna Leon, Friends in High Places
54. Yann Martel, The High Mountains of Portugal -- I loved this -- it defies easy genre categorisation, reminding me slightly (and its slightness would seem to deny the comparison, honestly) of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas in its generation jumping, in the thinness of the narrative thread that nonetheless holds together enough to amuse and engage. I bought the e-book to read via my Kobo app, and again I'm annoyed that such a purchase doesn't come with a discount for buying the hard copy -- this is a book to reread.
Especially interesting if human-animal interrelationships interest you, or creative grief and mourning, or landscapes -- northern Portugal, where the mountains are, it turns out, not so high. . . .In some interesting ways, I think I could argue it #readswellwith Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, although you'd have to be prepared to grant me considerable leeway. . . Also perhaps with Rebecca Solnit's Getting Lost or even any book on walking....
55. Ian McEwan. Nutshell Also bought this as an e-book. An amusing 21st-century rendering of Hamlet from the unborn Hamlet's in-womb position, eavesdropping on his Uncle Claud's intrusions onto his father's territory. . . Were I to go back and reread this, I'd want to look more closely at some slightly reactionary bitterness that bothered me -- was it character's or author's and did it creep close to proselytising, which I think best left out of literature. . . On the whole, though, engaging if disheartening (on technology, globalisation, refugees and migration and the failure of the Europe experiment, etc. etc.)
56. Georges Simenon, Maigret et le Marchand de Vin, mentioned here, and here, briefly. Thoroughly enjoyable to read this in French, in France -- wondering how it could be that I haven't read Simenon, met Maigret, before now. Impressive how fresh the mystery still seems some 40, nearing 50 years later, despite astonishing changes in technology. Human nature doesn't change so much, and what an observer Simenon was...
57. Donna Leon, Trouble at Sea
58. Lauren Groff, Arcadia. I gave very short shrift to this one here. I might add now that it would read well with Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven
59. Maria Semple, Where'd You Go, Bernadette. Charming book about an adolescent's quixotic search for her eccentric, brilliant mother who disappears after a series of erratic events.
60. Peter Robinson, When the Music's Over
61. Elena Ferrante, Frantumaglia, Another I couldn't finish within the allotted time for a high-demand library e-book -- I suspect my name only got to the top of the Holds list because of the holidays -- everyone else was smart enough to press Pause on their holds! I appreciated getting a chance to skim through this, and there were certainly comments about Ferrante's campaign to preserve her privacy (and her writing time) that resonated with me. In general, from the quarter or so of the book that I read, she makes her point well, demonstrating that her biography isn't nearly as interesting as her fiction -- at least not that which she's willing to divulge.
62. Diana Athill, Alive, Alive, Oh!
63. Tana French. The Trespasser
64. And, of course, I reread Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, for the pleasure of Reading Along with you. If you're only getting to this novel now, you might find our conversation interesting, even productive, as you sort out what the book means for you -- and keep in mind that the comments are automatically forwarded to me, so that even though the post might be stale-dated, our conversation about it can happen in real time...
So there it is, my 2016 Reading List. Let me know what you think or compare notes or ask me questions about any of these titles. I'm already two books into my 2017 Reading List, and I'm trying to get back to another intention I set out here earlier in 2016, to post more frequently, even if that means less comprehensively (at least, less comprehensively all at once, but with the possibility that comprehensiveness might build over several posts).