Sunday, January 21, 2018

2017 Reading List

Three weeks into 2018, it's past time to publish my 2017 Reading List, incomplete and unsatisfactory as it may be. As you've surely noticed, I grumble regularly about my poor performance in these posts, frustrated that I don't manage to write enough here, that I'm always trying to catch up with my reading. But I'm patting myself on the back as I post this Annual Reading List, incomplete as it is, because it marks a full ten years that I've kept track of my reading publicly, online.  And scanty though my responses may be, at the very least I have a record of what I've read (and these days, as memory weakens, it's good to be able to check whether I've read a title already or not).

The other benefit of this blog, of course, is the small but treasured readership of readers that have coalesced around my posts. I thank you again for stopping by from time to time, joining in the conversation, making recommendations. I offer up this list of books I read last year with a deep hope that the conversation may continue. I've linked titles to the posts where I discussed (or even just mentioned) them earlier, and of the rest, I've tried to add a brief comment here and there or at least a link to an Instagram post that showed a worthy quotation from the book.

Ask me questions about any of the books I've only listed, and I'll try to fill you in a bit more, depending what I can remember these months later. . .

1. Michael Connelly, The Wrong Side of Goodbye
2. Dionne Brand, Love Enough
3. Hape Kerkelling, I'm Off then: Losing and Finding Myself on the Camino de Santiago.  Trans. Shelley Frisch
4. Ben Abramovich, Rivers of London
5. André Alexis, The Hidden Keys
5. Elaine Sciolino,  The Only Street in Paris: Life on the Rue des Martyrs
6. Patricia Cornwell, Chaos
7. Ian Rankin, Rather Be the Devil
8. Lawrence Hill, The Illegal
9. Karl Ove Knausgaard, Some Rain Must Fall
10. Jean-Christophe Rufin, L'Immortelle Randonnée: Compostelle Malgré Moi
11. Peter May, The Blackhouse
12. Ulrikka S. Gernes, Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments, trans. Patrick Fresen and Per Brask
13. Donna Leon, Willful Behavior
14. Peter May, The Lewis Man
15. Donna Leon, My Venice and Other Essays.
16. Patrick Modiano, Paris Nocturne
17. Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir
18. Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts
19. Ann Granger, Mud, Muck, and Dead Things
20. Donna Leon, Uniform Justice
21. Donna Leon, Doctored Evidence
22. Kyo Maclear, Birds Art Life
23. Michael Christie, If I Fall, If I Die
24. Peter May, The Chess Men
25. Roberta Rich, A Trial in Venice
26. Emma Donoghue, The Wonder
27. Lee Child, Night School
28. Tessa Hadley, The Past
29. Lauren Collins, When in French: Love in a Second Language **** Really liked this!
30. Ann Patchett, Commonwealth
31. Rose Tremain, The Gustav Sonata  *** Highly recommend!
32. Robert Moor, On Trails
33. Patrick Modiano, Les Boulevards de Ceinture 
34. J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy
Honestly, while I thought that Vance's memoir was enlightening about the geography and demography he came out of, I found his analysis of the current political climate and his recommendations for socio-economic policy to be facile and tendentious (the latter is fair enough, I guess, considering it's his book, but the former just gets boring).
35. Diana Athill, A Florence Diary
36. Lauren Elkin, Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London (IG post)
37. Fred Vargas, Quand Sort La Recluse (IG post)
38. Eden Robinson, Son of a Trickster 
If you've already read and love Monkey Beach as much as I do, you need to get your hands on a copy of this coming-of-age novel that mixes up First Nations indigenous beliefs and story-telling with the challenging and often hilarious realities of contemporary teen life. Robinson is such a powerful storyteller rooted in her Haisla/Heitsulk heritage and influenced by Stephen King. Really.
39. Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light: A Memoir
40. Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing (link is to IG post; here's another
41. Donna Leon, Blood from a Stone
42. Val McDermid, Out of Bounds (A Karen Pirie mystery)
43. John Farrow, Perish the Day
44. Tracy K. Smith, Duende: Poems
45. Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
 I left this comment, late in 2017, on a post at Mardel's Resting Motion:

"I see you read Arundhati Roy's latest novel but didn't mention it in your post. I get that. I read it, soldiered through to the end, and yes, found interesting characters but all in such devastating and difficult circumstances and such a disheartening image of geographies ruined by politics and greed, environmental horrors. All undoubtedly needs to be witnessed, and Roy surely writes brilliantly about it, but I couldn't easily recommend it to anyone that I didn't wish hours and hours and hours of trouble upon. And troubled as I've been by it, it's hard to see what positive action might come from my new knowledge and limited understanding. There are good reasons we turn to the lighter books from time to time..."

46. Hélène Gestern, Eux, Sur la Photo
A very sweet romance develops in this epistolary novel in which a woman tries to solve a mystery about her parents, about her mother's disappearance. I read it in French, but it's also available in English as The People in the Photo. I'd be curious to peek at the English translation just to see how the translator managed the subtle oddity of the continued use of the polite, respectful, but undeniably distancing "vous" even as the two correspondents become closer and closer and. . . well, no spoilers here. . .
47. Deirdre Kelly, Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreams.
Francophiles and fans of the city of light will enjoy this book, but also those fascinated by the world of dance, of theatre, of journalism. Kelly was a journalist who covered dance, style, theatre, celebrities, etc., for a Canadian newspaper, travelling often to Paris, seeing it through different lenses as she built her career, developed romances and dalliances and grand passions, and especially as she worked through a relationship with her mother.
48. Sara Blaedel, The Forgotten Girls (a Louise Rick mystery)
49. Sara Baume, Spill Simmer Falter Wither
50. Michael Finkel, The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit
51. Julia Keller, Last Ragged Breath (a Bell Elkins mystery)
52. Steve Burrows, A Cast of Falcons (a Birder Murder mystery)
53. Steve Burrows, A Shimmer of Hummingbirds.
54. Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being. (link is to IG post, not blog post)
55. Christopher Brookmyre, When the Devil Drives
56. Elly Griffiths, The Crossing Places (A Ruth Galloway mystery)
57. Georges Simenon, Le Chien Jaune (a Commissaire Maigret mystery)
58. Tracy K. Smith. Life on Mars: Poems
59. Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating
Haven't quite finished reading this to Paul as he cooks dinner for me, but we're both enjoying it very much. An American ex-pat living in Paris, cooking and eating. . .
60. Chris Bookmyre, Flesh Wounds.
61. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, The Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter
62. Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
63. Victor LaValle, The Changeling
an odd, but very readable fantasy, a sort-of Fairy Tale for/of the Modern Day -- set in contemporary New York. . .
64. Nicci French, Saturday Requiem
64. Georges Simenon, Maigret à New York
Loved this especially for the imagery of 50s New York, of the arrival by ship, the mid-century communication technology, the way hotels used to operate. . . and of course M. Maigret....
65. Sherman Alexie, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, 
I admire this work so much, and wish I'd found time to write about it -- a memoir of loss and love and alienation and troubled cultural connections that structure a writer's life. Alexie writes in beautiful and playful and moving prose, often rhythmic, almost singable, about his relationship with his difficult mother. He acknowledges her strength, mourns his loss of her, as mother, to death, as well as earlier, in life, because of their alienation -- but also mourns her loss as speaker of a dying language, a language that linked human to salmon to water to word . . .
66. Chris Brookmyre, Where the Bodies Are Buried
67. Elly Griffiths, The Janus Stone
68. Alison Watt. Dazzle Patterns
69. Cynthea Masson, The Flaw in the Stone
70. Christopher Brookmyre, Country of the Blind
71. Liane Moriarty, Big Little Lies
I haven't seen the TV show, nor have I read any of Moriarty's other books, but I will now. Thoroughly enjoyed this for airplane reading!
72. Sara Nović, Girl at War
A fictional account of effects of the civil war in Yugoslavia on a young girl living with her family in Zagreb. The story is told by the woman the girl becomes, moved to the U.S. after trauma ended her childhood. I found the novel engaging and moving and credible enough for someone who doesn't know much about Zagreb or that particular war, but would like to be better informed. Anthony Marra agrees with me, but Ooooh, this reviewer in the Irish Times cuts no slack at all. Just nasty.
73. Christopher Brookmyre, Quite Ugly One Morning
74. Donna Leon, Through a Glass Darkly
75. Gillian Flynn, Dark Places
76. Lisa Ko, The Leavers
A Reader recommended this, and I'm grateful -- a sad and gentle and loving look at immigration and adoption and cultural integration. A young Chinese-American boy whose mother seems to have abandoned him in New York City adjusts to a supposedly life in a small college town with his adoptive parents but . . .
77. Ali Smith, Autumn **** 
A friend recommended this, and what a book to end the year on. Set in a just-post-Brexit Britain, a clever and engaging tale about the relationship between a young girl (and the woman she becomes) and a much older neighbour. Stellar -- do read this one! Here's a link to my Instagram post of a quotation from the book.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

A most impressive list, with a lot of titles to pursue! I am reading (and loving) Sara Baume's "Spill Simmer Falter Wither." Normally I am a very fast reader but I find myself deliberately slowing down to fully appreciate her rich language and unique imagery (and perhaps to delay the ending?)
As a translator I am intrigued by your comments on Hélène Gerstern's book and will have to look for it in both languages.
Just today there was a review on our paper of Ali Smith's latest book "Winter," but first I must read "Autumn." So many books...
My apologies, but I can't seem to put the titles in italics.
Frances in Sidney

Coastal Ripples said...

Always love your book lists. Reading 'Winter' by Christopher Nicholson. Tells the story of Thomas Hardy's last few years. Excellent. B x

Anonymous said...

A very nice and interesting list,Frances
We have a lot of overlapping (and I hope to be back here,more than once :-)),and I've found some very interesting books (as usual)and am looking forward to read them
But,you've got me on the number 72.-I didn't know about this book at all (or I decided to deliberately forget about it-because I still can't read books about our war,because everyone has the right to have one's own memory of the situation,as long as it is not deliberately hater's and directed to slur any of the sides,especially ours).But,the irish lady is so wrong about pure facts,not one's or other's perspective,that I'll think about reading this book (although I've started Pachinko,on Lisa's fresh recommendation) and have my review. Can't promise,but I'll try (and I have The Hired Man at home,too)
As far as I can remember,Tolkien also didn't live in Middle-earth ,so....but have to read the book first
Dottoressa

Georgia said...

You inspired me to track my incoming books (library and purchases) and I have done it for two years now. I do a LOT of rereading from my own bookshelves, more than I realized. My 2017 highlight was the first book I read last year, Jo Baker's 'A Country Road, A Tree'. Oh, and Mavis Gallant read in Paris; I mentioned that before I think.

D, I know this is not what you meant, but I wonder how much Tolkien DID have to 'live' in Middle Earth to create that detailed world? :)

Anonymous said...

Excelent!
Exactly my point,too ,Georgia(although I've said it completely different and very clumsy )-writers (and not only them :-)) have (and are allowed ) to live and "live" somewhere to write about it
And my answer :-) to your rhetorical question-maybe more than here (and what a fortune to us!). And to him as well,I hope
D.

Linda said...

Very interesting list for me - in that I have read none of the books on it, and haven't heard of most of them! Does the fact that I've heard Jean-Christophe Rufin give a talk on his Camino experience count? My inability to read current fiction continues undiminished. Wonder if there's a technical term for it - this almost pathological aversion? Not being able to take any sort of crime/murder fiction on the page or film certainly removes a swathe of current output. A year of Scottish history, culture, folklore, language, architecture, French and world wines, whisky, the science fiction of Ursula Le Guin, and British children's literature of the 60s and 70s, the diaries of Virginia Woolf - oh, and the Chalet School books - has been my happy diet. I am not in any way critical of your list, just marvelling at a capacity I lack!

materfamilias said...

Isn't it a book to linger over and savour? I've got her next on hold request at the library.
If you do find both versions of the Gestern, I'll be curious to see what you think about that translation. . . and I was told by a good friend whose literary opinions I trust implicitly that Autumn is the more enjoyable of the two. Still, I'm going to read all the seasons. And I can't do italics in the comments either. If anyone knows a trick. . .

materfamilias said...

Another "Winter"! I've already decided I'm going to pass on Knuassgard's for the moment, but hmmm, if you say Nicholson's is excellent. . .

materfamilias said...

I would be very curious to see what you think about Nović's book -- I thought that review was spectacularly ungenerous. Of course, there's always a problem about making art out of trauma, and a danger of exploitation, but I've been wanting to find out more about Croatia and I found the book offered a perspective that seemed credible and interesting to me, at least. And absolutely, re Tolkien!

materfamilias said...

I like to hear that you're turning to your own bookshelves for rereading -- this is part of my intention for retirement as well. I've done plenty of rereading in the past as part of teaching and scholarship (and scholarly teaching!), but there are many titles I haven't read in years and if I'm going to bother letting them take up space, I need to make them work for it ;-)

materfamilias said...

OH, I wish I'd heard that talk -- I think it's the one (was it on BBC?) that led our friend in Bayonne (from Bordeaux before that, for many, many years -- she's a friend of L's) to buy his book -- and then she happened to point it out to me in a bookstore one day. . .
Well, my doctoral dissertation was in contemporary (Canadian) literature/fiction, so I'd have a big problem if I couldn't read the current stuff. Plus I'm a magpie in almost anything I do, so . . . (Ursula LeGuin is current, wouldn't you say? Or do you only like her early stuff?

materfamilias said...

Oh, and just back to say that I never imagined you were being critical of my list. Our reading preferences are all so personal, aren't they?

Linda said...

Popping in to say I am currently listening to a podcast on North State Public Radio, N. California, http://mynspr.org/#stream/0 about the environment of Laura Ingalls Wilder 'a plant and environmental journey'. Thought it might be of interest to you as a gardener.
Jean-Christophe Rufin talk was in person at the Institut Français in Edinburgh, during the Edinburgh Festival a couple of years ago.
Oh I like all Le Guin. What I don't seem to be able to read is anything based in the contemporary world. A bad case of 'The world is too much with us'!

Linda said...

Waking up today to the news that Ursula Le Guin died on Monday and shedding tears for the sense of an ending, but also of gratitude for her voice and the worlds she created.

Marie said...

I had the same reaction to Hillbilly Elegy as you did, Frances. I haven't read many of the books on the list, so this is a great source of reading material for me. I also saw a list of Obama's favorite books of 2017, and I have several of those on my list, mostly non-fiction.

I love (some) mysteries - can't stand the grisly or terrifying ones or the badly-written ones. My favorite mystery authors at the moment are Louise Penny and Sara Paretsky. I used to love Elizabeth George, but some of her later books are terrible, and in one book she killed off a character and I have not forgiven her. An author I love who may not be familiar to any of you is Emma Lathen, a pseudonym for two women who wrote mysteries some years ago. The main character is a NYC banker, a widower in his 60's. The plots all revolve around business, which usually doesn't interest me, but they are so interesting, and the characters so wonderful, that the books are among my favorites. Very witty, too.

materfamilias said...

I think you'd love John Farrow's mysteries -- City of Ice is the one to start with, set in Montreal. Superlative on setting and character -- and I love the ongoing commentary on good and evil, on hermeneutics, on relationship, etc. . . Not at all ponderous but there's some solid thinking to chew on.
I'll look for the Emma Lathen books -- always keen for good new mystery series. I'm still an Elizabeth George fan, but I know she lost many readers with that moment when "he shot her." Personally, I found Careless in Red, with Lynley's meditations on grief as he walks the Cornwall Coast very moving, and I have really enjoyed the development of the Bernice Havers storyline that past few books, especially her trip to Italy. . . but I know how individual our responses can be, how something can turn us off in a series and then it's hard to go back. . .

Marie said...

Oh, I still read every one of EG's books, and I also enjoy the Barbara Havers character. She's just fallen from the top of my list. I will try John Farrow, thanks!

Mardel said...

Fascinating list. I think we are more or less in agreement on the few books we've both read and you've offered many ideas for things I need to read here. Now I wonder why I still struggle with book posts, and I didn't post a list last year, but then I didn't actually write or even list books during the year very often either. Rethinking.....I am always rethinking..

materfamilias said...

Your reviews are so often much more comprehensive than mine and I can see why you struggle -- they take time!! As for the listing, I have reservations about the aspect of this that can seem competitive or goal-oriented, or whatever. But I do find the record useful and refer back to it when memory needs a boost (too often, that is!)

materfamilias said...

This made me chuckle! It's like me with Cornwell's Scarpetta books and Lee Child's Jack Reacher, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. . . Do let me know what you think of those Montreal books by Farrow. . .