Sunday, July 3, 2016

What I Read, First Half of 2016

A friend pointed out to me the other day that, with the end of June, we were already halfway through 2016. The observation gave me pause. Pater and I have done so much already in these first six months of the year, having managed to prepare our house for the real estate market, list, sell, and move out of it, buy a new home in a very tough market, and begin a very different lifestyle in the city after more than twenty years on our little island.

And through all that, I was reading. . . .

I've often thought that I should post my reading list halfway through the year, and my friend's comment gave me the nudge I needed to make that happen.  You'll see that for some titles,  I've added links to earlier posts in which I've mentioned or reviewed those books.  For a few others, I've added a few notes about the book to the list I start making at the beginning of each year; the remaining titles don't even get that, and I wish I could do better. Maybe in the second half of 2016? (but probably not...)

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.
10 Haruki Marukami, What I Think about when I Think about Running Began last year; finally finished. Even if you're not a runner, you might enjoy this memoir/collection of essays about writing and running and ageing and life. Certainly, this is the most accessible introduction you're likely to find to Marukami's writing. Fascinating to read how his writing career began, apparently rather haphazardly. . . .(short shrift, I know, and this book deserves better -- read it and see for yourself!)
11. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Boyhood Island -- still hoping to write something about this. 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
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, just finishing this and very much enjoying practicing my French to read about three "women of a certain age" discovering Venice together. A charming novel, delightful armchair travel. . .

So there it is, my reading list for the first half of 2016. I've already got a big stack lined up for the second half. But if you have recommendations to make, I'll happily add them to my list. And if you want to share your response to any of the titles above, please do. I'm also curious to know if any of you keep track of your reading and if so, how? Interestingly, for me, I've just realised that this is the first reading list I've made in years that doesn't include titles I'm rereading. That will change this fall as I launch my first-ever Readalong on the Blog, a Read-along of Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend. More about that later, but I do hope you'll plan to join us. . .


  1. I am reading The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. It is botanical historical fiction depicting a period in botany from Captain Cooke's voyages to pre-Civil War. I'm hoping to visit Kew Gardens in September. I reserved some Anne Enright yesterday at your suggestion and then will start on Edna O'Brien. French classes begin on Tuesday at L'Alliance Française so I will have access to their library. I have also reserved Americanah, by Adiche after reading Purple Hibiscus. There are so many books to read and I'll be adding some of your suggestions to my reserve list.

  2. I read Station Eleven for my book club and it was my favorite of our picks so far for 2016. I'm currently reading Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account, which I would definitely recommend. I thought I would get through more fiction these past few weeks than I have because so many of my evenings and weekends have ended up being occupied.

  3. I've read some from your list,before,as Dona Leon,or after your recommendation.
    About the other ones I've read,I have commented here.
    I have made lists before and than stopped. This blog was inspiration for me to start again. I write it by hand,in a notebook (paper one),in an oldfashioned way! And the "to read list" on the opposite side
    I had the feeling that I didn't read a lot this year-but the list is not bad!
    I have found,for the first time,contemporary young croatian author with the book in english-only ,it is a play (played also on english in London National Theatre,as well as in our National Theatre in Zagreb). It is Three Winters from Tena Stivicic. I have seen the play,it was excellent and it deals with our complicated situation here in the family story through recent history.

    Georgia,thank you for Adiche,I did know that it was recommendation from here but didn't re-read the blog to find out whodunnit :-),I'm sorry,please,excuse me!

  4. Mme, I gave that Gilbert book to a artist friend who's also a botanist, and although I always meant to read it myself, I haven't done so yet. At your recommendation, I'll get it on the list!
    Raquelita, I'm making a note of that title as well (keeps making me think of Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh . . . )
    Dottoressa, I really like the idea of a hand-written notebook, and I would prefer it, in some ways, to keeping the blog, although I'm not sure I would keep it up the same way without the public accountability.
    Also making a note of Stivicic, and I'll have to see if I can find a copy of the translated play.
    Thanks, all!

  5. I think I'll post a half-year book list. You have inspired me to start writing about books again. I started "A little Life" and got about half way through. I loved the book, but I couldn't read it while my mother was visiting somehow. Now it has been long enough that I think I will start over. It will definitely be a second half of the year book. Other than that, I don't think we have any overlap except for Murakami's "What I Think About When I Think About Running", which I adore even though I am not a runner and probably never will be.

  6. Mardel, I'd be very interested to see your list -- fascinating that with such alignment/overlap in so many of our interests, aesthetics, etc., we have only a few shared titles right now. So pleased that you love that particular Murakami -- I tried to tell readers that you don't need to be a runner to enjoy it. And I'm not surprised you put A Little Life down. I have friends who hated it, others who wouldn't read it because other friends had found it "manipulative." I must say, for all I wouldn't disagree with those assessments, it's stuck with me. . .