All the rest of the books I read in 2016
This is the second half of my roughly chronological wander through the titles of the books I read in 2016 as I (for once) kept a New Year resolution. The resolution was to read at least 50 titles during the year. I more than managed to do this. Which is why there are so many titles I have to publish this in two parts. (Here’s Part 1 in case you missed it.)
As you’ll see, comparing the two parts, I picked up the pace rather in the second half of the year.
I’m repeating the resolution for 2017, but maybe I’ll try to write about the different books more often during the year. So this time next year I don’t find myself clubbing you over the head with a small library. 🙂
Ifemelu emigrates to the USA from Nigeria and experiences several sides of the American dream. Her boyfriend from school, Obinze, attempts to emigrate to Britain. Things don’t go as well for him as they do for Ifemelu. The two are reunited in Lagos after many years by which time Obinze is a successful businessman in Nigeria and Ifemelu a successful writer in the States.
The things I liked most about this book were the Nigerian perspective on America and the UK, and learning about the importance of African hair. What I disliked was the way the story drifts from quite solid realism into romanticized clichés as the two scale their social ladders.
It’s one of my regrets that I never worked up the courage to contact David Masson at Leeds. I was a student at the University and an editor of Black Hole, the student SF Society magazine. It would have been great to interview him.
Although Masson retired as the University’s librarian in 1979, he was still in Leeds during my three undergraduate years. Of course he had a reputation for not wanting to talk about his science fiction. I let that put me off. This book collects all the SF stories he ever wrote – and I was both surprised and delighted to find it has been reissued in the SF Masterworks series. New Worlds science fiction at a very high level.
I picked this photobook up in the shop attached to the Royal Art Museum in Brussels. It didn’t take a lot of time to read – it’s photographs – but what photographs! Henk van Rensbergen is a pilot flying commercial aircraft. When he has time off between flights he likes to take a camera, seek out abandoned places and photograph them. Some amazing images (also on his website which you can reach from the link above).
Stylistically experimental. This was a tough read. I’d never heard of Lispector till the summer of 2015 when one of my Blogg52 friends mentioned her. (Waving to Eva Ullerud.) I read The Hour of the Star in 2015 and now The Passion According to GH. I’m pleased I’ve read them – both novels are thought-provoking and contain striking imagery. But I’m never going to be a fan.
This is a book of short stories each set on an island in Priest’s Dream Archipelago. Or rather, it’s a gazeteer and a guide to the Dream Archipelago. Or, no, it’s an SF novel and a mystery seen through a kaleidoscope… When it was published in 2011 one reviewer described it as “wonderfully fascinating, if occasionally frustrating, and entirely unforgettable”. I’ll go along with that.
This book, sub-title The Moral Lives of Animals, was another of Eva U’s suggestions. (Thanks Eva!) It explores the range of moral behaviours the authors (and others) have identified in various species of animals. It suggests that, like so many other things we have previously thought were unique to humankind, morality is an evolved trait that we share with other animals. A fascinating read.
This book (and two more that will appear later in the year) was gifted to me by a Twitter/Facebook friend, Savannah Ganster, in exchange for three of my favourites. Sebald was new to me (though I recognised his name and think I’ve probably read an extract somewhere). I thought this was a wonderful book and the beginning of a Sebald theme for me.
I bought this on an impulse after reading a review in The Guardian. This is a biography of the Prophet Mohammed originally written (I guess) in Kader Abdolah’s native Persian, translated to Dutch and now re-translated to English. It’s an account of Mohammed’s life as told by his adopted son. Interesting and not difficult to read, but I wonder how much the various translations have added or taken away.
And, yes – if you checked that Guardian link – I also bought Abdolah’s Koran. Which I haven’t managed to read. Yet.
This was a gift from a colleague of my wife’s. (Thanks Philip!) You know, I was convinced I’d read this. Such a surprise – and a pleasure – to find I hadn’t.
But this I had read before – the re-read was as much of a pleasure as Burmese Days, though of a very different order.
I read all the Moomin books when I was about 9 or 10. Week after week at my local library, scanning the shelves to see which books were there, which had been returned, if there were any new. And now here I am re-reading them as an adult (and in the original language) and seeing things in them I never saw as a child. For instance Moominpappa’s dreams and impracticality, Moominmamma’s escape into her painted garden.
Terry Pratchet’s last novel – Tiffany Aching become’s chief witch of the Discworld and defeats an invasion by evil elves.
My second book from Savannah G and another hit. A combination of memoir, art history, philosophy and the history and meaning of becoming lost. Beautiful.
It’s one of life’s pleasures, to switch on the radio and stumble onto a serialisation of a book you’ve never heard of by an author you’ve never heard of and think – I’ve got to read that! And when you get to the bookshop to ask for it, they’ve only just received copies from their wholesaler, haven’t yet priced it and have to sell it to you from the box in the backroom.
From Amy Liptrot’s Tumbler page (link above):
Writer in Orkney/London/Berlin.
Reformed trampolinist, outdoor swimmer, author of The Outrun.
Farming, birds, poetry, bass.
My Theme of Thrones continues…
I came across this book soon after the Brexit vote when I read an article in The Guardian. Thomas Harding explaining that he had applied for German citizenship. As a Jew and the child of Jews who had fled the Nazis, he now felt more secure in Germany than England. The House by the Lake was mentioned – so I tracked it down to read.
The history of Germany in the long 20th century told through the successive inhabitants of one house on the outskirts of Berlin. Fascinating.
A book of essays on feminism – among other things. The inspiration (though not the source) of “mansplainig”.
You say Alan Paton. I say Cry, The Beloved Country. I wasn’t aware of anything else by this South African author. Then Mrs SC came back from Harare with this in her hand luggage. The only book she’d found there to buy. Good choice though. It doesn’t seem to be commented on much on-line, but I feel this book owes a lot to John Dos Passos, especially thinking of the U.S.A. trilogy
Another radio inspiration. I heard Harrison reading some of his poetry on the radio, and then it was mentioned: as a student at Leeds Univeristy he edited Poetry and Audience. PandA – the magazine of the Leeds students’ Poetry Society. And I cried, Me too (ten years after)! Of course Tony Harrison has done more with his life in terms of poetry. (I was always torn between Poetry and SF … and so became a teacher. Insufficiently single-minded.)
Like Basho’s book I read this slowly and twice. I don’t like everything in here, some of the earlier poems leave me cold. But Harrison’s sonnets about his father are wonderful. Jewels. I sit here trying to read them aloud, putting on a Yorkshire accent to do so and glad there’s no one around to witness it.
Back when I used to read a lot, I read several of David Lodge’s novels and liked them. And then I read Therapy and was terribly disappointed. Now, I wonder if that was perhaps because I read it at a time when I was myself in need of therapy, and didn’t appreciate it’s humour.
Lodge has also written a number of books of literary criticism of which The Art of Fiction, comes back to me as a title I enjoyed. Still, I’d never associated him with short stories till I came across this little volume. Enjoyable but… modest is I think the word.
I like Rose Tremain. I’ve enjoyed several of her books. This novella about a hotellier in a small Swiss town and his unreqited love for a Jewish school teacher/pianist is well written, but I found it a bit of a disappointnment. It just didn’t gel for me. I kept asking myself: But why?
Yes, I know JK Rowling actually wrote five separate novels here. And I read them originally (at least the first four – Philosopher, Chamber, Azkaban and Fire). A friend, knowing I was going into hospital for an operation and would be laid up recovering for a while after, loaned me her full collection. This was the first time I had read them all in such quick succession.
I was impressed all over again, because reading them like this I get a much stronger impressionof Rowling’s organisation and structuring. And I do see much more clearly how the novels are written as part of a greater whole, not as individual stories conceived in isolation. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix I came to fresh, never having read it before and… see further below!
Sebald again. This is a collection of four essays – or four novellas – or four memoires – or some combination of the same. About four different men who were at one time or another emigrants. It’s fascinating and moving and different again from The Rings of Saturn, although obviously by the same author.
The fourth of Martin’s books in the Ice and Fire series (aka the Game of Thrones series). I wonder, if I read these slowly enough, whether I’ll get to the end of the published books in time for the publication of the one – or two – final volumes? Probably not.
I look on Dick Francis oevre in the same way as I look on comfort food. It fills you up, satisfies you temporarily, doesn’t challenge you, leaves you happy. Dick Francis wrote his first thriller in 1962 and then produced one a year for about 40 years. They are reliably entertaining, always written in the first person, told through the single p.o.v. of a youngish male protagonist.
I used to borrow them from the library, but you don’t see them much these days. When I saw this one on the English language shelves at MuntPunt (the Dutch language public library in central Brussels), well, I just had to borrow it.
This link will take you to an interview with the author published in The Bulletin of Brussels. Some parts of The Brontës in Brussels are quite interesting, but most of it is, I’m sorry to say, repetitious and a bit boring. It has the feeling of an essay bloated to fill a book. But it has inspired me to try to read Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. I learned from Helen McEwan that “Villette” is not – as I’ve always assumed – the name of a person, but the name of an only moderately disguised “little town”, i.e. Brussels.
There’s a lot happening in this book, and it happens at break-neck speed. If you’re a fan of forensic scientist Dr Kay Scarpetta, I should think you’ll really enjoy yourself with this. If, like me, you never before read any of Patricia Cornwall’s detective stories about her, perhaps this isn’t the place to start. It gripped me, I read it fast, I got lost in all the references to previous cases, relatives, colleagues, friends and enemies, I picked up the thread again and I followed it through to the end. But now I’ve forgotten who done it – and I don’t really care.
My fifth Jansson of the year. The theme continues…
Beautiful little novel about first teenage love in an Italian summer. I wonder whether Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale lay in the back of Esther Freud’s mind when she wrote this. See the next entry…
A “cover version” – a novelisation – of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Very good. Very readable. I read this and Love Falls parallel to one another. The similarities are striking. It seems Winterson’s “cover version” is the first of a several commissioned by Hogarth Press. See this review in The Guardian.
I’d never read anything by William Trevor when a radio programme introduced him as the short story writer’s short story writer – and a jewel in the crown of Irish literature. I picked this volume up at MuntPunt the following day. And, yes – damn good. I shall read more.
This concluded my reading of Harry Potter and the Original Series, allowing me to return the books to my friend Lena. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child still to come.
Humorous parody of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five for modern adults. Mildly amusing. Bought as a Christmas present for a friend who is actually alergic to gluten (rather than just fashionably intolerant). After reading, I decided this wasn’t for her.
Dylan may have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Patti Smith won my heart. People have been telling me to read this book for about six years – ever since it came out. Seeing and hearing her at the Nobel ceremony, I decided I wouldn’t put it off any longer. Damn this is a good book. And at the end it made me cry.
I wrote this entry for the #Blogg52 challenge.