Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2016 Reading

January 10th, and although this cold or 'flu is still slowing me down, it is abating (slept right through last night without coughing myself awake!); I'm going to take advantage of gradually returning health to (finally!) post my 2016 Reading List -- only four days further into the year than I managed with my 2015 Reading List, assuming I manage to click on "Publish" today.

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).


  1. Interesting that we read 3 of the same books last year. I want to say only 3, but suspect that is more common than I would have thought. And you read several books that are on my list, that is more normal, as I think of you as getting to things ahead of me. So of course some of your 2016 books are going on my 2017 list, or being bumped up. We'll see if I get there.

  2. Oops, 4 books, how could I have not caught the Murakami! Have you seen his new book of conversations with Seiji Ozawa. I love reading Murakami's thoughts on music and these conversations.

    1. I find it interesting as well given that I think our aesthetic and intellectual and political, etc., standpoints and interests are not that different. I think that might say something interesting about the distribution and filtering mechanisms which guide us to our choices... An example right here with your recommendation of the Murakami-Ozawa book which, no, I hadn't heard of until now. Thank you!

  3. I always love to see what others are reading! And many thanks for recommending Jussi Adler-Olsen, Donna Leon, and Carol O'Connell. I'm enjoying all of them -- and love to find good authors who are prolific!

    1. Glad you enjoyed those writers' books, as I've enjoyed those of authors I've learned about from you and other bloggers. Missing the great booksellers from all those now-disappeared bookstores, we'll have to do our own curation, right?

  4. We definitely share a love of Donna Leon's and Peter Robinson. I'm trying to get hold of the Steve Burrows series from the library but they don't seem to have any, which is a shame. I gave up on Patricia Cornwell a while ago, but maybe I should give her another go. They just seemed to be getting samey. Will check out some of your other authors. Thank you. B x

    1. He's a Canadian writer with a UK connection, I believe, and Burrows' website quotes a claim by his publisher, Dundurn Press, that his work is being "embraced by birders in Canada, in the U.S., and also in the U.K." So perhaps eventually. . . As for Cornwell, I gave up on her for a while as well, not because they seemed samey to me, but because they seemed sloppy, flip, as if she was being held to a contract she had outgrown. . .

  5. Several of your favourite books were my favourites last year too: Mothering Sunday, Fifteen Dogs, and When Breath Becomes Air. I also enjoy a good mystery and read Donna Leon (forget titles just now) and latest Ian Rankin last year. I read the first two Ferrante books in The Neopolitan Series. I enjoyed the second more than My Brilliant Friend and I hear the third book is even better. I haven't read In Other Words but I love all of Jhumpa Lahiri's writing.
    Is Big Magic really worth skimming? I read Eat Pray Love many years ago and still regret those hours spent reading it.

    1. First, it's important to note that In Other Words is an absolute departure (and I mean that almost literally) from JL's earlier work.
      And only skim Big Magic if you can borrow it from the library. It's good for revving up the creative spirit, but could have been edited to a pithy essay.
      As for the Ferrante, I'd find it tough now to choose a favourite (nor could I see a good reason to -- I really feel compelled only to recommend them as a unit, honestly). There is definitely a different focus in each novel, and if you're more interested in the academic/intellectual/creative life than in Italian politics, or more interested in feminism or in female friendship or in male solidarity, etc., etc. then you might find one more resonant than another. I think it might be fair to say that the second, third, and fourth books benefit from the foundation that's been built for them in the earlier ones. I found it so worthwhile to go back and reread MBF with the other volumes in mind... Thanks for reading and commenting here. Sounds as if we share some similar tastes.

    2. Hello-love a good booklist! I read the Ferrante books and was glad I persevered through all four- it made so much more of a full picture. Have you read Commonwealth by Ann Patchett? I really enjoyed its slow unfolding of the story of two families.

    3. Hi Rosemary, No, I haven't read Commonwealth yet, but I'll keep your recommendation in mind. I loved her Bel Canto years ago...

  6. I'm in awe that you read so many books this year...and moved house twice, and travelled extensively. Gad! How do you do it? I've just started My Brilliant Friend... but I may have to return it to the library unfinished (even though I waited weeks and weeks on the holds list.) I think I need to be in a more contemplative frame of mind, maybe when we're camping or skiing or something. Right now I have no attention span to speak of...and am making lists like crazy for our South America trip. I'm reading Mothering Sunday at the moment too. What a lovely, quirky little book. I may have to go out and get my own copy when this one goes back to the library. Have you ever read Hotel du Lac? It reminds me of that a bit. So quiet.

    1. Nothing to be in awe of, except maybe that I survived, right? The book-reading, though, that's the escape I needed to keep on....
      I agree that MBF needs a certain kind of readiness, and you're ready for something else right now -- South America! Trip-planning!
      I haven't read Hotel du Lac, nor any Brookner really, for years (decades?), but I do remember that colour of quiet. I've got a copy on my newly arranged bookshelves -- should go thumb through with Mothering Sunday in mind. I loved the latter and glad you're enjoying it as well.

  7. I loved some of your choices here: the Knausgaard books – did you know the latest translation will be out in April? Ferrante, Tana French (I’m not yet as far along in the series as The Trespasser), Faludi’s In the Darkroom, which I think is the best thing she has ever written. I liked Nutshell a bit better than you did. As you know, I did not like A Little Life, even if the writer was playing with a kind of hyperrealism. I liked Paul Kalinithi’s As Breath Becomes Air, although it was, because of his circumstances, rather fragmented. As well, I loved Mothering Sunday. I look forward to reading Diana Athill, as I have read about her for years and have been meaning to jump in to her diaries. I am currently reading Zadie’ Smith’s Swing Time before the onslaught of marking hits. Brenda

    1. I didn't know Book 6 will be out in translation so soon! Still haven't read Book 5 and have been deliberating whether to buy it in hardcover or wait for the trade paper (which would match my other volumes on the shelf ;-)
      Thanks so much for recommending In the Darkroom -- I think it's an important book, in so many ways, especially as we seem to be rethinking gender these days and the body itself, but also in terms of European politics....And it was also you who recommended Mothering Sunday. Thanks! You will absolutely love Athill -- if we still lived close, I'd lend you my copies. She's a gem, and I really hope she makes it to December for her 100th -- and then has another few years beyond that!
      Funny, I haven't read Smith since The Autograph Man which left me a bit flat. Need to read her essays and then perhaps Swing Time -- you tell me if I should, okay?

  8. Hi Mater...I'm curious about the "incongruities of character" in A Little Life? I'm almost finished the book, a bit deflated right now and having a hard time getting to the end (about 80 pages left). This has been a difficult read and not sure if I feel manipulated or just sick and tired of the entire book. Lovely in places, heartbreaking but ultimately... I don't know.
    'Dogs in the Wild' wasn't my favourite Rebus. Have read the first Knausgaard and am ambivalent about finishing. Loved the first two of the Naples Quartet... loved less the last two. I think you're spot on about how our internal bias or interest will determine which of the books we enjoyed most...
    I discovered a new-to-me writer this year. Patrick Modiano. Have you read him? If not, I think you'd really like him. The stories are set in Paris and primarily revolve around a young man coming of age, meeting up with an elusive girl, falling in with a sketchy crowd and trying to figure out his identity. I can't do the books justice, but they're totally mesmerizing. I've read nine of his books this year and my three favourites were Honeymoon, After the Circus, and Villa Triste.

    1. It was the incongruities of circumstances and character. That is, the particular unlikelihood of the main character's childhood -- I can't say more without spoiling for future readers. When swept up in the narrative, I suspended disbelief, but once out of that spell, it's just so exaggerated that I've wondered if the author's playing with us a bit....
      Funny, I read Dogs in the Wild last January, and can barely remember it now, but I gave his latest to Pater for Christmas so it's waiting for me now (see how that works? pretty good, eh?)
      I haven't read Modiano, but now I'll check the library's website and put them on my virtual "For Later" shelf -- thanks for the recommendation!

  9. I am also in awe of your list. I hardly ever read an actual book these days. I listen to audiobooks on my phone while I'm exercising, driving, or doing housework. I'm in the middle of The Trespasser now. Tana French is one of my favorite authors. I also love Louise Penny. I hadn't realized that Carol O'Connell had a new book out. I'm hoping to find books by John Farrow or Steve Burrows.

    1. I've never tried audiobooks, generally too impatient (from childhood, I've always been a fast reader, and I always wanted to skip ahead when being read to -- and I'm a bit protective of my own reading interpretation, quite honestly, my own intonation, inflection of the words -- although I do love hearing some writers read their own work, and then I hear their voices in those words ever after). Oh, I hope you can find John Farrow's mysteries. Sumptuous evocations of Montreal, the first three. And yes! I was so excited to find O'Connell's latest -- I've loved Mallory for so long, and I can't understand why a movie version hasn't been made (and so relieved it hasn't!)

  10. So many! I will keep coming back to this. I am sure I'll read Tana French first, as I'm ready for a new mystery and I love her. And what after that? Hmm, such riches!

    1. It's so good, The Trespassers, although I hope some of the earlier members of The Dublin Squad will come back in future work.

  11. I love hearing Tana French's books. The various Irish accents (all done by a single narrator) are wonderful.

    1. Now that would be worth listening to the audiobook. And our library does have some...

  12. I've read G. Simenon's Maigret about forty years ago : (maybe in Kindergarten :-)!-I've got series of 6 Simenon's and 6 of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason books together-that was such a treat and fun indeed
    I have read all Donna Leon's Brunetti mysteries and liked them very much(the last one,The Fountain of Ethernal Youth,in 2016)
    Like and appreciate your book posts and lists-don't be so harsh on yourself-you did write quite a lot of reviews and than there was a beautiful Ferrante ReadAlong.
    So,beside ,obviously,above mentioned authors,we did have a lot of same books on the list,a lot of them suggested to me by you,Susan,Lisa,Hostess,Madame,Georgia.....-so,thank you all very much
    I've read and liked this year: Fifteen Dogs,A little Life (together with The Goldfinch-I needed a lot of good mysteries afterwards, to survive all the sorrow :-)),Fates and Furies (His part was so-so,but than Her part made the book),first two Birders Misteries (sooo good),Mothering Sunday(special book indeed),Americanah,Yussi Adler Olsen (love these books),Ferrante's Days of Abandonment,Victoria Hislop's The Return,Being Mortal,Louise Penny, Kate Atkinson,Agatha Chriatie's second part biography,Harper Lee's Masterpiece(and the other one),Zadie Smith's London NW,The Miniaturist,Eileen (couldn't decide did I liked it or not,a lovely The Diary of a Provincial Lady,Alan Benett and a lot more....
    I already have The Nest,Kalinithi,Semple...and there are more titles I would read too,this year or in the future.
    It is so nice to have a lot of wise and nice people here

    1. Ha! re the kindergarten comment -- I, too, am often taken aback when I do a calculation and realise how many years have lapsed since something or other that I did when I was already an adult...
      I've still got about 12 Donna Leon ahead before I get to The Fountain of Eternal Youth -- lucky me, right?
      Isn't this great, how many books we learn of from within the community here and have a chance to chat about -- I really must follow through and read some of Alan Bennett's, having finally (why so long?) put his name on my To-be-read list last summer after watching Lady in the Van--I think you recommended some of his books to me then)
      which is the one you're not sure if you liked -- The Miniaturist?
      And I absolutely agree: It is SO nice to have a lot of wise and nice people here, and you're one of the wisest and nicest! ;-)

    2. Thanks :-)
      I was half-sleeping while writing the comment,was actually afraid to read it now-I am not sure about Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh. I liked the atmosphere in Miniaturist
      Yes,lucky you,having Brunetti exclusevely :-)

  13. A couple of novels in not-too-difficult French: La Petite Tailleuse Chinoise and Trois Jours et une Vie; and two others that have stayed with me: Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland and Ian McEwan's The Children Act. (How have I never read McEwan before?!)

    1. That would have been a lovely novel to read in the original French, Elle, but I read it in English translation quite a few years ago. I'll check out Trois Jours et Une Vie... I'm going to get to The Children Act, did just read his Nutshell and have read quite a few titles in the past, but sometimes his work can leave me feeling obliterated. . . . always good though.