Thursday, November 7, 2013

Books Of The Year - November Update

Occasionally in emails or tweets or blog comments I get asked what I'm reading at the moment or have enjoyed recently. It's an easy question for me to answer as I've been keeping a meticulous, nerdy, indexed (!) reading log that dates back to 1993. 
...
I have no reading plan or set books; I don't read for self improvement (I'm with Dr Johnson on this one); I read exactly what I want to read when I want to (except occasionally when I have to read stuff for the newspaper). This then (below) is what my 2013 log looks like so far without the cross referencing, notes and index. The list is in chronological order. The grades are highly subjective, provisional and change frequently as time passes (and as you can see I'm a pretty easy grader).
...
1. Plainwater - Anne Carson B
2. The Professor - Terry Castle
3. Just My Type - Simon Garfield B
4. The Generals - (audiobook) Thomas E Ricks A+
5. The Antidote - Oliver Burkeman B+
6. Why Does The World Exist - Jim Holt (began in 2012) B+
7. The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers (began in 2012) C+
8. Thinking The Twentieth Century - Tony Judt A
9. Our Times - AN Wilson B
10. The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara A
11. The Swerve - Stephen Greenblatt D
12. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again - David Foster Wallace A
13. The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton - Anne Sexton A
14. Desolation Island - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) B+ * 
15. The Fortune of War - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) B+ *
16. Daniel Deronda - George Eliot B+
17. A Town Like Alice - Nevile Shute D
18. TransAtlantic - Colum McCann A
19. The Old Ways: a Journey On Foot - Robert Macfarlane (audiobook) A
20. Hope: A Tragedy - Sholem Auslander B
21. The Crimson Petal And The White - Michel Faber A
22. The Far Side Of The World - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) A*
23. Socrates and a Platypus Go Into A Bar - Daniel Klein E
23. The Reverse of The Medal - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) A*
24. Inferno - Dan Brown (audiobook) C
25. The Thirteen Gun Salute - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) B+*
26. How To Live: A Life Of Montaigne In 21 Questions And An Answer - Sarah Bakewell B
27. Miami Blues - Charles Willeford A
28. Into The Silence - Wade Davis A
29. The Truelove - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) C*
30. The Finish - Mark Bowden B
31. The Wild Places - Robert Macfarlane C
32. Armchair Nation - Joe Moran A
33. The Wine Dark Sea - Patrick O'Brian (audiobook) A*
34. Harry Potter And The Chamber of Secrets - JK Rowling E
35. Wool 1-5 - Hugh Howey B
36. Sinead Morrissey - Parallax A
37. The Luminaries - Elanor Catton A
38. Red or Dead - David Peace A+
39. Edgelands - Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley A+
40. Longbourn - Jo Baker A
41. The Broken Road - Patrick Leigh Fermor A
42. Autobiography - Morrissey A


The books that have really stuck out for me in 2013 so far have been The Generals, Red or Dead, Edgelands and Morrissey's Autobiography, and the Luminaries was pretty good too. As you can see I've had a pretty amazing run of books in the last 2 months beginning with Sinead Morrissey's Parallax and ending (so far) with the Moz himself. In case this gets taken as a kind of my-books-of-the-year blog (which I'll probably be too lazy to actually write) I should also mention the new crime novels by Declan Burke (Slaughter's Hound) and John McFetridge (Black Rock) both of which I read last year in galley and both of which I rank A+. Additionally, I just got the new Ian Rankin yesterday and although I've only looked at the cover, that smells like an A too. 
.... 
* I'm working my way through the Patrick O'Brian audiobooks for the 4th time.

100 comments:

seana graham said...

An interesting list. My friends at the bookstore love Transatlantic as well. Your grading curve is higher than I thought it would be.

I'm of two minds about books like The Swerve, though. I haven't read it, and I believe you if you say that his premise is wrong, but if his facts are right, kudos to him for getting the average American reader to be interested in Lucretius and Giordano Bruno. And that's really what I think about all these popular histories. People are intimidated by historical tomes and want a catchy premise to dig in. I know there's a downside in not appealing to people who read history habitually, but I suppose it gives people a taste for it.

Alan said...

Adrian,This is quite a diverse list you have assembled.I did a bit or research and "The Antidote" by Oliver Burkeman seemed quite appealing to me.I am always amazed at the only slightly tarnished optimism that myself and many of my fellow citizens seem to share.Perhaps this belief in a Subconscious "Right To Happiness" is a product of never having a war on home soil nor directly experiencing either economic,social or physical extreme deprivation.Best Alan

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Yeah my feeling that it was a rather cynical exercise in obscurantism with the sole purpose of selling books. If he'd been serious he would have marshaled counter arguments or produced evidence but he wasn't serious. I was pleased that he got the Pulitzer Prize though because it confirmed my belief that these big prizes are handed out by the corrupt and/or the ignorant.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

A couple of months after I finished the Antidote I met Burkeman at the Adelaide Writers Festival and had a good chat with him. I told him I really liked his book but I felt that perhaps he gave stoicism a bit of an easy run and I felt that Montaigne should have featured in his book. Apart from that we were quite sympatico.

adrian mckinty said...

Oh I see I forgot The Hitman's Guide To Housecleaning which was on my audiobook page and which I gave a B+ to.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I have been tricked into thinking myself a pessimistic person because of-- Well, perhaps it would be best for my career that I not commit my thoughts on the matter to writing.
What it amounts to is that I am fairly optimistic as long as I can remind myself that professional optimists are liars or bullshitters.
You'd like at least one name on my best-of-the-year-so-far list: Jim Thompson's, for Pop. 1280. He joins Alistair Horne and Robert Musil, so I think it's a good list.

===============================
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com

seana graham said...

Peter, you are on the optimistic side of the spectrum and Adrian is on the pessimistic side. I am in a good position to judge because, as the daughter of an optimist and a pessimist, I am precisely in the middle.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Professional optimists i.e. those who write self help books with that premise have got to be either liars/charlatans or deluded fools. Thats probably the case with evangelists too.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I think maybe I'm a longterm optimist. I have reasonably high hopes that two or three hundred years from now humanity will have got its shit together and be well on the way to terraforming the solar system and providing a decent standard of care for its most vulnerable members. In the short term however I see nothing but trouble ahead for our miserable, narcissistic greedy species.

Peter Rozovsky said...

And a pessimist would say: Great! Humanity is going to prosper--and I'll be worm food.

One of my v-words is "perfect."

Yeah, right.

Peter Rozovsky said...

No, by "professional optimists," I meant "optimists in my profession"--that is, bullshitters.

Peter Rozovsky said...

" have got to be either liars/charlatans or deluded fools. Thats probably the case with evangelists too."

--And with management in most businesses, I would guess.

One of my-v-words this time is "abfolutely." Now, that's more like it.

seana graham said...

Well, you're both realists, so it's largely a matter of temperament.

"Abfolutely" should be coined and spread as widely as possible.

Right now, I'm watching the penultimate moments of the Amazing Race, which are set in Belfast. The Titanic features, of course. So far, the Troubles haven't. Which may be good or bad, depening on your perspective.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Yeah when things do get better we shall be long dead.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

Thats a good thing.

adrian mckinty said...

I dont know if I can be bothered to review it in detail but that Sholem Auslander book is highly recommended too.

Peter Rozovsky said...

"Yeah when things do get better we shall be long dead."

That's probably something to look forward to, at least for those of us in reasonably comfortable circumstances. Otherwise, when things got better, we'd say, "Is this what the big deal is about?"

seana graham said...

I have that Sholem Auslander book based on a staff members rec. But the cover of the hardback is off putting.

I know, one shouldn't be influenced.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

The hardback never made it to Australia. Only a rather cheerful pbk.

I liked this beginning to chapter 8

"The sun was in the sky like a something. The breeze blew like a whatever."

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'll be content to live as long as Enoch. From the Bible. Not Powell, the racist.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Ah, you just want to walk with God.

seana graham said...

The hardback has a picture of a fawn crossed out. Not great.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I see Enoch lived 365 years, an interesting number.

Peter Rozovsky said...

"The sun was in the sky like a something. The breeze blew like a whatever."

That is a wonderful opening. I shall explore the book.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, abfolutely: Typo, or naughty tmesis?

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Hope A Tragedy is not a laugh riot but you will definitely laugh.

seana graham said...

I'd say more a clever concision.

Gavin said...

I'm not quite halfway through "Daniel Deronda," but I can't see it getting a B+ from me. I loved "Middlemarch," to which I'd give an A/A+, but I'm not enjoying "Deronda" nearly as much. (For me, "The Mill on the Floss" would get a B+).

adrian mckinty said...

Gav

I'm with you on Middlemarch but The Mill dragged for me. The sentimentality was not my cup of tea either. Not quite as horrific as Dickens when he starts layering it on thick but still...

Brian Gendreau said...

I've read sevearl of the books on your list and would give them more or less the same ratings, though I am puzzled by the D for The Swerve. I have reservations about the author's main thesis, but it is well-written and it did get me to read Lucretius which is something I assure you would not have happened otherwise. What, may I ask, did you dislike so much about the book?

James Franklin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
adrian mckinty said...

Brian

Scroll down a few blog entries and you'll see the post I did on the Swerve outlining in detail my problems with the book.

I think it was posted in the first week of March.

seana graham said...

Or just put Swerve in the search box at the top and it will pop right up.

Picklenose1 said...

Since you listen to books occasionally I am going to suggest one. The book is called "This book will save your Life." by AM Holmes. I doubt I would have ever chosen it on my own but my wife had checked it out from the library and I wanted something to listen to while I made a set of shelves for the sun porch. The narrator sounds like Christopher Walken and that is the perfect voice for off kilter, slice of life novel with strange but likable characters. I don't think I would have enjoyed reading it, but listening to that reader made it fun.

adrian mckinty said...

Pickle

You're the second person to mention that book to me. I shall definitely check it out...Thanks.

aikenhead said...

I really liked the audio of O'Brian, too. Great way to pass the time on the bus. Did you like the Patrick Tull recordings, or are you a Simon Vance man?

Did you think the character of Kilrain in Killer Angels was a bit of a sterotype? Whenever that character opened him mouth, I heard Barry Fitzgerald in my head.

adrian mckinty said...

Aiken

Tull for his Maturin and his Killick.

Kilrain was the only bum note in the whole thing, but the sentiment was so thick I almost didnt mind it.

Peter Rozovsky said...

On this second read, I am surprised more than anything by how high you grade Dan Brown.

Alan Buckingham said...

Adrian,
Your reviews and suggestions have proved to be an incredibly effective and lazy way of finding great books to read and TV shows to watch over the years.

I worked out a while ago that we have similar tastes and so thank you for:

Fortress of Solitude
The Cold Six Thousand
The Stuart Neville books
The Old Ways
Blue Highways
Borgen
Breaking Bad
etc etc

God, you save me lots of waster time...

Alan

Alan Buckingham said...

Oh and if I might suggest one book worth listening to (it's beautifully read): The Worst Journey in the World by Cherry-Garrard. I'm sure you will know of it. Surely the most fabulous account of Travel, endurance, pain, and loss?

Alan

Deb Klemperer said...

An interesting list. Have only read 16, 17 and 21. I have just now taken down my 3 volume 1878 cabinet edition of Daniel Deronda, wiped the dust from it, and started re-reading it.. Shall I go for DD or TransAtlantic on the train tomorrow ? I liked ATLA when I read it aeons ago.. It made me want to go to Alice, which I did many years later. the Crimson Petal and the White I thought was excellent, and agree with a reviewer that it might have been what Dickens would have written had he been freer to do so. The author's bio reads a little like yours Adrian. Did i ever say that I was once the cleaning lady for a Professor who was transcribing some of Dickens' notes? The Prof's study was a place of wonder, I would tiptoe in there with a duster in my hand (the professor was ill, so rarely working in there), and feebly flap at the acres of books.. There were so many books that the room had book case corridors, as if it was a public library. I was always drawn to the desk, it was piled high with books and handwritten sheets. I would stand staring at the chaos, and wish it was my desk. Dickens' notebook lay in the middle of the paper pile. I wish now I had noted down what lay in the pages. I was starstruck, if that is the correct term for admiring ink on paper!

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I've listened to worse audiobooks.

seana graham said...

Great story, Deb. Why don't you go for Deronda as you'll probably read Transatlantic now anyway.

adrian mckinty said...

Alan

thanks for that, I love passing on stuff that I love in the hope that someone else will dig it.

Yeah I've been a bit of a champion for The Worst Journey in the World too

http://adrianmckinty.blogspot.com.au/2011/05/worst-journey-in-world.html

Love that book. Its a tough sell though in this distracted age of ours.

seana graham said...

The only Colum McCann I happen to have is Zoli. Does anybody have any thoughts on that one?

adrian mckinty said...

Deb

I think Dickens would have had more stuff happening. Crimson Petal and the White is always on the verge of being a Victorian melodrama but its got a decidedly modern approach to action in that there isnt much of it.

Not that I thought that was a bad thing as you can see.

Definitely read DD.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I havent got to that one.

Incidentally the Montaigne biography is a must read for everyone.

seana graham said...

Oddly enough, I actually have that one. But of course haven't gotten to it yet. I'll have to dig it out.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

If you're after fun, interesting and breezy its the one.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you may tip me into looking at the Montaigne book, as well. I generally wince at cutesy titles, but Montaigne's had to be one of the most interesting lives anyone has ever lived.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

She's well read, engaging and has a crisp non cutesy prose style. I should say though that I'm a sucker for anything to do with Montaigne.

seana graham said...

Of course, I can't actually find that Bakewell book when I want it. But I did find a Ken Bruen I'd been looking for, so the news isn't all bad.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Me, too. I first read Montaigne (not all the essays) when I was 15, and I have several editions of the essays now, including one that offers a selection in French. (His French is exceedingly difficult.)

That great man was a liberal and a conservative, self-absorbed but a man of the world, a lover of tradition who had shockingly modern opinions. And I think of him when I think of Château d'Yquem wine. His name was Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, after all, and he did serve as mayor of Bordeaux.

I once nominated Montaigne as a whimsical suggestion of a historical figure who might make a good fictional detective.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I like how opinionated he was too. For years I thought Cicero (who would be another great fictional detective (he did write a book on murder trials after all)) was a model to be emulated but then I read Motaigne's demolition of Cicero and was quite convinced that stoicism was not the way to live.

I mentioned this to Oliver Burkeman at the Adelaide Writers Festival - he was a pretty big advocate of the stoics in his book The Antidote but he confessed that he hadnt read Montaigne - hopefully thats been rectified by now.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Montaigne loved pleasure, and Cicero was a lawyer.

My favorite essay remains "On Cannibals." If someone wrote something like that today, we'd think he was being ironic or trying to trap us in our own contradiction. Or something. With Montaigne, it was all breathtaking common sense.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, has some wiseass written an essay a la mode de Montraigne called "On Cannabis"?

seana graham said...

I have to admit that I haven't read very much Montaigne, but what little I've read I liked. So maybe I should just go buy a copy of the essays.

When I was a freshman in college I read an essay of his about whether animals think or not, and particularly remembered what he said about foxes:

When the Thracians want to cross a frozen river, they first let a fox loose on it. The fox brings its ear close to the ice to see how near to the surface the current is running, and in this way estimates the thickness of the ice. Would it not be right to think the same reasoning passes through its head as would pass through ours – that it thinks and draws consequences with a natural intelligence similar to our own? ‘That which makes a noise is moving, that which moves is not frozen, that which is not frozen is liquid, and that which is liquid bends under weight’. Attributing this just to the foxes supersonic hearing is ridiculous. I thought he had a point. My roommate thought I was an airhead. But she apparently forgave me for that, as we are still friends to this day. And I still pretty much agree with Montaigne about foxes.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that essay might make interesting reading side by side with Darwin on animal reasoning in The Descent of Man.

Sheiler said...

Hey Peter, maybe abfolutely was Blogger's nod to English in the 1700s. You know: old school.

My first job in Boston was inventorying headstones from the oldest burial grounds that were in disrepair. A lot of Fs on the headstones where the Ss should have been. I can't think of an example off the top of my head but it was all the thing for dead people.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, printed English used an elongated s that looked like an f, but only in medial position--that is, not at the beginning of the end of a word. Interesting to learn that engravers did the same. So you could be abfolutely right.

tom ricks said...

Hey I got an A!
Thanks,
Tom Ricks

adrian mckinty said...

Tom

I gave the Generals a full review, here. I thought it was very powerful stuff. An important book.

Richard Sohmer/rsohmer@mac.com said...

What about yr fellow Ozzie Peter Temple's "The Broken Shore" and "Truth"? Those are in my top 10 reads. He's promised the third of the series for way too long — I've had to re-read them 3 times to get my fix.

My brother and I (voracious readers despite being usAmericans) love yr books — only a dumb or dead could not. Good to hear you've got a new one coming out. (I'm pre-ordering from Amazon.)

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Peter Rozovsky said...

I have not read the Socrates/Platypus book, but I have a visceral reaction against childish names: Grammar Girl, Eats Shoots.. But I am enjoying the Montaigne book despite its arguably gimmick subtitle.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I liked it but I think in my original post I gave it an A rather than B because it just hasn't really stayed in my consciousness the way some of the other books have.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Yep, I was surprised after reading your first discussion of the book that you gave it just a B. I've read the first four chapters, and I think Bakewell is especially good on the shift in Montaigne's writing after he stopped working so hard to welcome death.

Meanwhile, I have some good reading lined up. I bought the new book of Hammett stories and HHhH today. I also watched a bit of Miller's Crossing while eating dinner. I'm surprised you don't consign the Coens to hell based on Gabriel Byrne's accent.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I loved HHhH. I loved it so much I nearly went to see the author speak in Melbourne a few weeks ago. Nearly.

Gabriel Byrne is doing Gabriel Byrne. Whats the big deal. He always does Gabriel Byrne. You should look at him Excalibur doing Gabriel Byrne.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, don't make that argument, because it plays into the standard anti-Coen brothers criticism that they're all schtick and showing off without substance.

Meanwhile, I'll go watch more of the movie now, which I decided to watch again this evening because I've been reading Hammett the past couple of days.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The lack of substance argument carries no water in my house. Millers Crossing is an art movie. Like Days of Heaven or Apocalypse Now its not about the plot. The plot is irrelevant. Its about the sublime and the beautiful. Its about pleasing the eye. And occasionally the ear (with His Girl Friday dialogue and Carter Burwell's improvisation on Lament For Limerick). And occasionally both with Finney and Danny Boy.

Where does Millers Crossing take place? When? It takes place in a world made out of other movies in a time that exists only in our own imagination with characters who inhabit only that world.

Millers Crossing is one of the Coens three or possibly four masterpieces. There's really no question about it I'm afraid.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, the business with the hat didn't bother me this time. And I like The Big Lebowski. And I enjoy all the references to Red Harvest and The Glass Key.

Peter Rozovsky said...

Did you notice the Rear Window reference in Miller's Crossing?

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Conor said...

Desolation Island an A+ man!*

*all opinions subjective etc.

Alex Smith said...

I've never read Patrick O'Brian but if you managed to listen to its books 4 times I thing it's time to give it a listen :)

Alex Smith said...


I've never read Patrick O'Brian but if you managed to listen to its books 4 times I thing it's time to give it a listen!

Arwynn said...

Conor

For some reason that one just didnt connect with me.

Arwynn said...

Alex

Start with Master and Commander and make sure you've got the edition read by Patrick Tull.

Adrian said...

Conor, Alex

Oops both those replies were by me not Arwynn.

Peter Rozovsky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Rozovsky said...

Yeah, I thought those comments were a bit precocious, even for a daughter of such parents as hers.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Although she has just started a book review blog

Arywnn's Book Blog

which I'm hoping that she'll continue with. Although I do wonder if blogging isn't just a bit old hat to anyone under 20. Twitter and Instagram and YouTube seem the way to do things now.

seana graham said...

It's old hat for all of us, yet we're still doing it. I see her top post is on How I Live Now. I really enjoyed that book, and she did a good summing up of it. But we knew she could review from early days here.

Not sure if you know that Bookwitch and Meg Rosoff are fast friends...

seana graham said...

Also, Twitter itself is old hat to anyone under 20, or so I hear. If you start down that road, you'll never stop.

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I didn't know that about Miss Witch and Miss Rosoff. I suppose I could wangle that connection to get an autographed copy for the offspring but thats so not me...

I havent read How I Live Now but Arwynn loved it and has recommended it to her more mature friends (some of it, apparently, is pretty shocking).

seana graham said...

It's really good. I'm not the kind of person who reads a huge amount of YA, but this would work for a lot of kinds of readers. I can't guarantee you'd like it, but I can say that it is dystopian enough for you...

adrian mckinty said...

Seana

I'll probably read it. Its in a nice Penguin Classic edition just like Morrissey.

Peter Rozovsky said...

So, what about the Rear Window reference in Miller's Crossing? Did you spot it?

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I'm guessing there was a massage scene I cant remember?

Peter Rozovsky said...

Next time you watch the movie, keep your eyes open when Tom goes to Drop Johnson's apartment.

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adrian mckinty said...

Peter

I dont own the movie but I remember that scene quite well. The boxing posters on the wall, the cereal bowl, the little hat. I'm not getting it...

Peter Rozovsky said...

One of the names on the boxing poster is Lars Thorvald. Even if Hitchcock (I don't remember if the name is in Cornell Woolrich's story) took the name from somewhere else, it says here that the Coens intended a tribute to Hitch.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Ahh, that's a pretty good one. Dont think I would have spotted that. Although I did catch the homage to The Third Man at the end.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I didn't notice a Third Man tribute, so keep me on tenterhooks for a while, then tell me what I missed.

adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Not hooks necessary. Its a straightforward pastiche. The ending of Millers Crossing is more or less exactly the same as the ending of The Third Man.

The scene before the end, incidentally, proves, at least to me, that this is a movie about movies not a movie about real people. In a movie about real people Tom has no motive for shooting Bernie, but in a movie about movies its what the screenplay needs to achieve balance after the first scene of forgiveness.

Peter Rozovsky said...

You mean, Tom shoots Bernie just so he can say: "What heart?"

Even the Coens' detractors' would admit this is a movie about movies. I've liked some movies about movies, but for some reason...well, you know the standard gripes about the Coens. Maybe I sneer at what I can figure out too easily.

One thing I could have done without: using the same (or virtually identical) sounds for creaking wooden floors, and swaying trees in the forest. I'm sure the Coens were trying to make a point, but I say they tried a bit too hard to make that one.

One thing I will say about the Coens: despite the schtickiness of some of the performances, their casts are pretty damned talented.

Peter Rozovsky said...

In the real world, Tom might have a motive for being awfully pissed at Bernie, if not for killing him. Bernie has repaid his kindness, after all, by lying to him and putting the screws to him. But you could be right.

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