a reader

an eudæmonistreading

2009

December

Philip Gourevitch. We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families. New York: Picador, 1998. [150]
An amazing book. Helped me to understand the Armenian genocide a bit better.
Kate Jacobs. The Friday Night Knitting Club: Knit Two. London: Hodder, 2009. [149]
Cute, but more improbable and soap-opera-like than the first.
Jean Rhys. The Complete Novels: Voyage in the Dark; Quartet; After Leaving Mr Mackenzie; Good Morning, Midnight; Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Norton, 1985 (1929, 1931, 1935, 1957, 1966). [144–148: it was a convenience of publishing that they were printed together, and I was tempted to log them seperately except I didn’t read anything else in the meantime.]
It’s the sort of book that I would pick up the library, let sit on the shelf at home for months upon months, renewal after renewal, until someone put it on hold and I couldn’t renew it any more and then I would take it back without reading it, intimidated by something I couldn’t quite pinpoint. But it was quite good, rich in feeling and characterization, subtle, blunt, chilling.
Kate Jacobs. The Friday Night Knitting Club. New York: Berkley Books, 2007. [143]
A charming little novel about friendship, relationships, betrayal & knitting.
Alexander McCall Smith. Morality for Beautiful Girls. New York: Anchor, 2001. [142]
And yet another.
Miles Harvey. The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime. London: Phoenix, 2000. [141]
About old maps, library security, and the aptly named Mr. Bland.
James Weldon Johnson. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. New York: Penguin, 1990 (1912). [140]
Story of a man who tries to decide who is, how he should live, and to understand how he is viewed in the world.
David Bornstein. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas. Oxford: OUP, 2004. [139]
Profiles of Ashoka fellows who are doing good work in countries around the world.
Alexander McCall Smith. The Kalahari Typing School for Men. New York: Anchor, 2002. [138]
And another.
Alexander McCall Smith. The Tears of the Giraffe. New York: Anchor, 2000. [137]
Another.
Alexander McCall Smith. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. New York: Anchor, 1998. [136]
A level and easy read.
Marcel Proust. Swann’s Way. In Search of Lost Time, vol. 1. trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff, Terence Kilmartin. rev. D.J. Enright. New York: Modern Library, 1998 (1913, 1981). [135]
Still digesting.

November

Wendell Steavenson. The Weight of a Mustard Seed. New York: Collins, 2009. [134]
About Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein and the through the American occupation. ‘Creative nonfiction’/journalism. Trying to grasp the ever-elusive human angle.
E. Annie Proulx. Accordion Crimes. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. [133]
Amusing biography of the people around an accordion over the course of a century or so.

October

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Wind, Sand and Stars. trans. Lewis Galantière. New York: Harvest, 1992 (1939, 1967). [132]
About flying and human character.
Alice Munro. Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. New York: Vintage, 2001. [131]
Short stories mostly about women who are dissatisfied in relationships.
Cheryl Townsley. Food Smart!. New York: Penguin, 1997. [130]
A slightly whiny paean to whole foods. Still too much about processed and pre-packaged foods.
Masato Mimura. Natural Home Gardening: A Practical Guide to Growing Vegetables for Macrobiotic and Natural Foods Cooking. Becket, MA: One Peaceful World, 1995. [129]
A simple book about vegetables.
Andro Linklater. Measuring America: How the United States was Shaped by the Greatest Land Sale in History. New York: Penguin, 2002. [128]
Overview of private property and measurement systems. Uneven in chronology with an oddly tacked-on feeling bit about the metric system today.
Malcolm Gladwell. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. New York: Back Bay Books, 2007 (2005). [127]
Breezy.
Fazil Iskander. Sandro of Chegem. trans. Susan Brownsberger. New York: Vintage, 1983 (1979). [126]
These stories about Abkhazia seem very familiar from our experience in Armenia. Whether this is due to Ottoman, Soviet, or general Caucasian influences is more difficult to say.
John Banville. The Sea. New York: Vintage, 2005. [125]
It seemed like it wanted to be Atonement or something by Iris Murdoch, but wasn’t, and isn’t.
Graham Greene. Stamboul Train. Moscow: Manager, 2004 (19–). [124]
Obviously something of an entertainment. Somewhere between Agatha Christie and Greene-land.
Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain. Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History Punk. New York: Grove, 2006 (1996). [123]
Mark Haddon. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. New York: Vintage, 2003. [122]
Richard Brautigan. Trout Fishing in America. New York: Dell, 1967 (1964). [121]
Karl Maier. This House Has Fallen: Nigeria in Crisis. London: Penguin, 2000. [120]
Christopher Robbins. The Empress of Ireland. New York: Scribner, 2004. [119]
Amusing reminiscence of the Irish film director Brian Desmond Hurst.

September

Caryl Phillips. The Atlantic Sound. New York: Vintage, 2000. [118]
Thought-provoking book about diaspora and exile, and the difficulties of understanding the different aspects (factual, moral, psychological) of history.
Jared Diamond. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin, 2006. [117]
An important but repetitious book. Also had noticeable errors in copy-editing, which were irritating enough to bear mentioning. Probably just means I didn’t read it quickly enough, but haven’t had the energy for thorough skimming.
Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities. rev. ed. London: Verso, 2006. [116]
An enjoyable meditation on what makes nationalism tick.
Barbara Ehrenreich. Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. New York: Holt, 2006. [115]
Exploration of the Dionysian vs. the forces of order. Dionysus/Jesus/festivals presented more favorably than state/church/spectacle.
Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Knitting Rules!. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2006. [114]
Enjoyable and inspiring; results in increased desire to work (both work and craft).
Jeffrey Eugenides. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002. [113]
Better than expected, especially about diaspora communities.
Galway Kinnell. The Book of Nightmares. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1971. [112.1]
Less mysterious than I remember, more rooted in the present.
Jann S. Wenner & Joe Levy. The Rolling Stone Interviews. New York: Back Bay Books, 2007. [111]
A little light reading for a lazy Sunday.
Neil Postman. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin, 2005 (1985). [110]
Superfluity of information leads to superannuation of thought and public discourse. Perhaps. But so what? There are some good points, particularly about secular vs. sacred, but there is also a great deal of narrow-minded prejudice and elitism in the guise of populism, and a tendency to mistake complexity of (literary) presentation with complexity of thought. A frustrating work, but still well worth reading (though I’m glad I didn’t manage to get through it at 13 as I would have been an even more unbearable and tendentious little bore/boor).
Daisy Ashford. The Young Visiters. London: Chatto & Windus, 1973 (1919). [109]
The mind boggles. If it weren’t written by a nine-year-old it would be tremendously racy.

August

Juliet B. Schor. The Overworked American: the Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: BasicBooks, 1992. [108]
Ultimate conclusion that people want what they get, and that Americans should realign their desires if they prefer leisure to money. Consumerism a vicious cycle.
Barbara Vine. A Dark-Adapted Eye. London: Penguin, 1986. [107]
A family mystery.
Gretel Ehrlich. A Match to the Heart. New York: Penguin, 1994. [106]
On being struck by lightning.
Michiko Yamamoto. Betty-San. trans. Geraldine Harcourt. New York: Kodansha, 1985. [105]
Japanese in Australia.
Muriel Barbery. The Elegance of the Hedgehog. trans. Alison Anderson. New York: Europa, 2008 (2006). [104]
Enjoyable dabble in Parisian apartment politics, with Japanese.
Gretel Ehrlich. The Solace of Open Spaces. New York: Penguin, 1985. [103]
Wyoming, Montana.
Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers: the Story of Success. London: Penguin, 2009. [102]
What makes people successful (and why some people who have talent aren’t).
Haruki Murakami. What I talk about when I talk about running. trans. Philip Gabriel. London: Vintage, 2008. [101]
Charming essay on why he runs.
Graham Greene. The Quiet American. New York: Penguin, 2004 (1955). [100]
Classic.
Eric Schlosser. Fast Food Nation. New York: Perennial, 2002. [99]
In the same vein as Michael Pollan.
Anthony Storr. Solitude: A Return to the Self. New York: Ballantine, 1988. [98]
It’s the place to dig, but not the digging.
Jhumpa Lahiri. Unaccustomed Earth. New York: Vintage, 2008. [97]
Short stories about human relationships; the intertwined final stories quite moving. Overall a bit cloying, or contrived.
Anne LaBastille. Woodswoman. New York: Dutton, 1976. [96]
A calming and simple book about living in the wilderness.
Lisa Jervis & Andi Zeisler, eds. Bitchfest. New York: FSG, 2006. [95]
Collection of essays on feminism and pop-culture, with the general notion that if you are a woman who is not a feminist, you’re stupid and haven’t thought things through. Don’t agree, but interesting collection even so.

July

Salman Rushdie. Shame. New York: Random House, 1983. [93]
All sorts of hijinx! Politics, nationalism, religion, virgins, monsters!
Azar Nafisi. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. New York: Random House, 2003. [92]
Makes one want to read more about Iran – which was probably the point.
Peter Hessler. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze. London: John Murray, 2001. [91]
Account of Peace Corps service in China during the mid-nineties. So much so familiar.
Paul Theroux. Fresh Air Fiend: Travel Writings 1985–2000. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2000. [90]
Collection of essays on various places and persons.
Chandler Burr. The Emperor of Scent: a True Story of Perfume and Obsession. New York: Random House, 2002. [89]
Amusing journalist account of the foibles of the scientific community. Not as clear as Chaos, but gripping as a thriller.
Gretel Ehrlich. The Future of Ice: A Journey into Cold. New York: Vintage, 2004. [88]
It’s frustrating that in several places she writes about wishing to ban automobiles, and then a few pages later mentions driving from California to Wyoming/Montana in a pick-up truck. Something doesn’t quite follow, there.
Marilynne Robinson. Home. New York: FSG, 2008. [87]
After reading Gilead, one has many questions; this book does not answer them.
George R. Stewart. Names on the Land: a Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States. New York: NYRB Classics, 2008 (1945, 1958, 1967). [86]
Delightful and slightly curmudgeonly account of fads and fashions in toponymy in the USA (including that abbreviation).
Kurt Vonnegut. Bluebeard. New York: Dell, 1987. [85]
Armenians everywhere.

June

Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005. [84]
Like how they observe that people often completely misjudge the danger of things, taking outrage and disgusting or disturbing outcomes for danger.
Barbara Ehrenreich. Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. New York: Owl Books, 2005. [83]
So it was hard to get or keep a job in the early 2000s. Shocker. Sounded painfully familiar except for the bothering to go to career workshops and such. Just settled for temping, which is I think what any person in the situation of ‘Barbara Alexander’ would have done. Complete failure to acknowledge that jobs are gotten from the inside of corporations and very rarely from external hires, and the quickest way of getting ‘inside’ is to swallow one’s pride and start temping. Bleh.
Tobias Wolff. Old School. New York: Vintage, 1993. [82]
Prep-school litterateurs.
Haruki Murakami. A Wild Sheep Chase. trans. Alfred Birnbaum. New York: Vintage, 1989 (1982). [81]
Strange and silly in a very good way.
Marilynne Robinson. Gilead. New York: Picador, 2004. [80]
Gentle and thought-provoking.
Anaïs Nin. Henry and June. New York: Harcourt, 1986 (1931–1932). [79]
Strangely reminiscent of Hemingway.
Barbara Ehrenreich. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York: Henry Holt, 2001. [78]
Slightly patronizing and impossible.
Haruki Murakami. Kafka on the Shore. trans. Philip Gabriel. New York: Knopf, 2005. [76]
The elements are all there, but it doesn’t seem to work somehow.
Michael Alpert, trans. Two Spanish Picaresque Novels: Lazarillo de Tormes/The Swindler. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969 (1554, 1626). [75]
Spent more time than I would like explaining why I would read a book described as ‘scatalogical’ – as though it needed explanation.
Umberto Eco. Baudolino. trans. W. Weaver. New York: Harcourt, 2002 (2000). [74]
Quixotic; looking for things that may or may not exist, including guilt and innocence.
Paul Coehlo. The Alchemist. trans. Alan R. Clarke. London: Harper, 2002 (1988). [73]
Morality tale where a picaresque would do.
Elif Shafak. The Bastard of Istanbul. New York: Viking, 2007. [72]
About confusions, history, and identity. Some odd Englishings.
Italo Calvino. Invisible Cities. trans. W. Weaver. New York: HBJ, 1974 (1972). [71.2]
A different book from the last time I read it; more melancholy and less dreamy.
Carlo Levi. Christ Stopped at Eboli. trans. Frances Frenaye. New York: Times,1964 (1947). [70]
Wouldn’t have read this if I hadn’t read about it in The Pillars of Hercules, but it was a richly enjoyable book, though a bit preachy on politics and political systems (the State being with a capital ‘S’ a bit too often for my taste). The sense of the outsider blurring at the edges of a place, though, was good, and pleasantly episodic. Rich loamy characters.

May

Unni Wikan. Behind the Veil in Arabia: Women in Oman. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1982. [69]
Really interesting anthropological account of Oman in the late 1970s. Also interesting to see how other readers had looked to the book to make sense of what they were seeing in Armenia, even though the similarities (such as they are) are superficial at best (if not specious).
Hannah Berry. Britten and Brüaut;lightly. New York: Metropolitan, 2008. [68]
Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. New York: Del Ray, 1982 (1953). [67]
‘Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there’ (156).
Joseph Roth. The Radetzky March. trans. Eva Tucker. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984 (1932). [66]
‘This age has no use for us. This age wants to form independent national states. People no longer believe in God. Their new religion is nationalism. Nations don’t go to church, they go to independence meetings instead’ (155).
John Steinbeck. Travels with Charley (In Search of America). New York: Penguin, 2002 (1962) [65]
‘One of my purposes was to listen, to hear speech, accent, speech rhythms, overtones and emphasis. For speech is so much more than words and sentences. I did listen everywhere. It seemed to me that regional speech is in the process of disappearing, not gone but going. Forty years of radio and twenty years of television must have this impact. Communications must destroy localness, by a slow, inevitable process’ (82)
Clare Boylan. Home Rule. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1992. [64]
Middling and lurid.
Paul Theroux. The Pillars of Hercules. New York: Fawcett, 1995. [63]
Of Paul Bowles: ‘His life was a masterpiece of non-attachment, of a stubborn refusal to become involved in anyone else’s passions. I could just imagine his blue eyes narrowing and his thin lips saying, I’m not moving’ (505).
Beryl Markham. West with the Night. New York: FSG, 1983 (1942). [62]
‘You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book, or shuffle a deck of cards, or care for a dog, you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds, nor to have crossed continents – each man to see what the other looked like’ (283).
Elie Wiesel. Night. trans. Stella Rodway. New York: Bantam, 1960. [61]
Just a thing to listen to, rather than really do anything about.
Paul Bowles. The Sheltering Sky. New York: Vintage, 1939. [60]
‘Whenever he was en route from one place to another, he was able to look at his life with a little more objectivity than usual. It was often on trips that he thought most clearly, and made the decisions that he could not reach when he was stationary’ (105).
Arundhati Roy. The God of Small Things. New York: HarperPerennial, 1997. [59]
‘It is after all so easy to shatter a story. To break a chain of thought. To ruin a fragment of dream being carried around thoughtfully like a piece of porcelain’ (181).

April

Dov Lynch. Engaging Eurasia’s Separatist States: Unresolved Conflicts and De Facto States. Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace, 2004. [58]
Reads like an overly long undergraduate paper; he’s covering the ground but not really pointing out anything new. All the information gathered from interviews has been covered in other texts (e.g. Black Garden). Could focus more on Russia as the loose cannon; could also consider the role of black or gray economies in sustaining the de facto states. An amuse bouche.
Doris Haddock & Dennis Burke. Granny D. New York: Vallard, 2003 (2001). [57]
Combination of memoir and account of her walk across America to support campaign finance reform (!). Fits in with the inchoate general feeling supporting public service and stewardship.
Ivan Brunetti. An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, & True Stories. New Haven: Yale UP, 2006. [56]
These editors that try to avoid criticism in their introductions are beginning to annoy me, especially when they are wryly coy about it.
Robert Pick, ed. German Stories and Tales. New York: Washington Square Press, 1955. [55]
A solid little collection, with some oddities and some classics.
Jane Smiley. A Thousand Acres. New York: Ballantine, 1991. [54]
Rather better than I had expected from the premise.
Vendela Vida. Let the Northern Light Erase Your Name. New York: HarperPerennial, 2007. [53]
Atmospheric with curves in the plot rather than twists.
A.R. Luria. The Man with a Shattered World. trans. Lynn Solotaroff. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1972. [52]
Michael Chabon. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. New York: Harper & Row, 1982. [51]
An eighties movie of a novel; half-baked and narcissistic, but amusing in its way.
Jhumpa Lahiri. The Namesake. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 2003. [50]
More practiced and rehearsed than The Interpreter of Maladies; clearly put some of the experience from those stories into this novel, though the whole is smooth and coherent enough.
Joan Didion. The White Album. New York: FSG, 1990 (1979). [49]
Specific to a place and time and sort of person.
Stendhal (Marie Henri Beyle!). The Red and the Black. trans. Lloyd C. Parks. New York: Signet, 1970 (1830). [48]
Odd and indefensible.
Edward C. Stewart & Milton J. Bennett. American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1991. [47]
As it sounds.
Raymond Carver. Short Cuts. New York: Vintage, 1993. [46]
The word affectless comes to mind, but that’s not quite accurate, somehow.
Maya Angelou. Gather Together in My Name. New York: Bantam, 1993 (1973). [45]
Narrow escapes.
Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam, 1970. [44]
Don’t have anything to say about this book; the entire story seems to have entered the (American) public consciousness and so seems cliche.
P.G. Wodehouse. Ring for Jeeves. London: Penguin, 1999. [43]
Without Wooster Jeeves lacks some of his sparkle, his ability to shimmer through a novel. He just seems a rather sinister fiendish leech.

March

James Gleick. Chaos: The Amazing Science of the Unpredictable. New York: Vintage, 1987. [42]
Very readable scientific history, with clear explanations of the main ideas involved.
John Hodgman. The Areas of My Expertise. New York: Riverhead, 2006. [41]
A creeping gleeful shame wraps me in a too familiar embrance when I find this book amusing. Pat tells me I shouldn’t be ashamed, as the humor is good, but still, the embarassment lingers.
Lawrence Durrell. Mountolive. New York: Dutton, 1958. [40]
Much more enjoyable than Balthazar – mostly because it has an omniscient third person narrator instead of the rather annoying Darley, who it becomes increasingly clear is meant to be an unreliable narrator.
Raymond Chandler. The High Window. New York: Vintage, 19–. [39]
A middling mystery; reminds me of one of those ones written by that guy, that were good but somehow not excellent – the one set in the vague Southwest and maybe Mexico, read them in 2005 I think. Enjoyable though
Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Dell, 1968. [38.1]
First assigned in highschool, don’t remember which English class; it’s a much better book now. Looking back I think it might have been the first time I had ever heard of Dresden.
Craig Storti. Cross-Cultural Dialogues: 74 Brief Encounters with Cultural Difference. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1994. [37]
A good appendix to The Art of Crossing Cultures; the explanations of the dialogues are quite helpful. Also useful was the guide to writing dialogues at the end – thought-provoking.
Helene Hanff. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street. New York: Avon, 1973. [36]
Reading this I am reminded of Strether in The Ambassadors who has a famous chat with a young man wherein he concludes that (and I paraphrase) ‘some things must come in time if they come at all’ and it seems to me that this London trip did not really come in time and perhaps it had been better if she had stood in bed.
Peace Corps. Sources of Free Periodicals and Databases & Sources of Donated Books. Washington, DC: Peace Corps Information and Collection Exchange (RE007; RE003), 2005?. [35]
These were surprisingly useful; I wish I had known about them two months ago. Also, I am counting them in the same entry because they are very small, but they were so interesting that I felt I had to count them. Also, they were among the first books I read in March, which is turning out to be a meagre month, bookwise.
Helene Hanff. 84, Charing Cross Road. New York: Penguin, 1970. [34]
New York woman too lazy to go to bookshop orders book by post from London and carries on correspondence with bookseller there. Charming example of the epistolary form.

February

Armistead Maupin. Tales of the City. New York: Harper, 1978. [33]
The famous. The brevity of each tale is very attractive, as is the interweaving of different characters.
Sarah Erdman. Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village. New York: Picador, 2003. [32]
Peace Corps memoir from late 90s Ivory Coast. Telescoping time, collection of characters.
Raymond Chandler. Playback. New York: Vintage, 1988 (1958). [31]
Curtains for Philip Marlowe.
William Saroyan. The Man With the Heart in the Highlands & Other Early Stories. New York: New Directions, 1989 (1936, 1937, 1938, 1944). [30]
Less self-consciously annoying than The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, but that is probably because it is someone else’s selection of his stories, a culling rather than a collection.
Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. trans. Clifton Wolters. London: Penguin, 1966 (14th century). [29]
Vivid and strangely cinematic in its details.
Boris Akunin. The Winter Queen. trans. Andrew Bromfield. New York: Random House, 2003 (1998). [28]
Rollicking and silly historical spy novel.
Graham Greene. Our Man in Havana. New York: Viking, 1958. [27.2]
Still an excellent entertainment. This time through, though, more aware of construction, and the annoyingness of the daughter.
Maxine Hong Kingston. The Women Warrior. New York: Vintage, 1989 (1975). [26]
Clash of cultures, cross-cultural upbringing, etc.
Barbara Kingsolver,et al. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. New York: Harper, 2007. [25]
Yet another family tries this whole live off the land and don’t eat processed food thing. Interesting and readable, and nice because it includes more voices than just the instigator’s.
Bret Harte. The Outcasts of Poker Flat and Other Tales. New York: Signet, 1961. [24]
Always wondered why Bret Harte’s name appeared on the benches at Multnomah County Library, and now, well, I still don’t know, but at least I’ve read some.
Jane Smiley. The Age of Grief. New York: Ballentine, 1987 (1977, 1981, 1984, 1986). [23]
Finickity, mostly miss-ish short stories. Middle-American.
Åsne Seierstad. The Bookseller of Kabul. trans. Ingrid Christopherson. New York: Little, Brown, 2003 (2002). [22]
Somehow disappointing ‘creative nonfiction’ that would have been excellent journalism, had the author been so moved.
Voltaire. Zadig/L’Ingénu. trans. John Butt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1964 (1747, 1756). [21]
Good stories with moral edges: watch out!
Lawrence Durrell. Balthazar. New York: Dutton, 1961 (1958). [20]
A rather schizophrenic novel, without being exciting or particularly interesting.
Craig Storti. The Art of Crossing Cultures. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1990. [19]
An interesting and thought-provoking essay about living and working abroad.
Bruce Northam. Globetrotter Dogma. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2002. [18]
From this book I learned that I am an unpleasant and hypercritical person.
Thomas Hardy. Two Wessex Tales: The Three Strangers, The Withered Arm. Boston: International Pocket Library, 1919. [17]
Two good short stories. Hangmen.
Anne Tyler. The Amateur Marriage. New York: Ballantine, 2004. [16]
About a marriage, its troubles &c.

January

Jhumpa Lahiri. The Interpreter of Maladies. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1999. [15.1]
Stories richer, but somehow less stylish than I remember them being.
Vladimir Nabokov. The Defense. trans. Michael Scammell & V.N. New York: Putnam, 1964 (1930). [14.1]
An odd duck.
Sir Thomas Browne. Religion Medici and Other Writings. London: Everyman’s Library, 1945 (1926, 1635ff.) [13]
An interesting stylist, with a smooth and somewhat odd flow between subjects. The volume includes: Religio Medici, Urn Burial, Garden of Cyrus, and Christian Morals.
Nikolai Gogol. Dead Souls. trans. Pevear & Volokhonsky. New York: Vintage, 1996 (1842). [12]
‘This class of people has a very strange habit. If you ask one of them directly about anything, he will never remember, nothing will come to his head, and he will even say he simply does not know, but if you ask about something else, then he will spin his yarn and tell such details as you would not even want to know’ (199). Soft-boiled boots.
Heimito von Doderer. The Waterfalls of Slunj. trans. E. Wilkins & E. Kaiser. Hygiene, CO: Eridanos, 1987 (1964, trans. 1966). [11]
A curious novel, not quite sure of itself or of what kind of novel it wants to be. Authorial intrusions at odd (and increasingly frequent) intervals. Leitmotif construction. Buddenbrooksian. Boots.
W.G. Sebald. The Emigrants. trans. Michael Hulse. New York: New Directions, 1996 (1992). [10]
I like how Nabokov keeps appearing in various guises – as the man (or boy) with the butterfly net, as a passing reference to his autobiography. Makes one wonder how much the narrator of these stories is Sebald himself and how much he is a construction of the author.
Eric Hansen. Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea. New York: Vintage, 1991. [9]
Some good local color and all that, but it would have been a bit more enjoyable if there wasn’t the lingering sense that Mr. Hansen felt himself a better person than the average traveler.
J.F. Powers. Morte d’Urban. New York: Image Books, 1967 (1956). [8]
Like that Randall Jarrell book, except for Catholics instead of universities.
Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1961 (1918). [7]
A curious girdle.
John Mortimer. Rumpole Misbehaves. New York: Penguin, 2007. [6]
A light read, though I must say I hope any novels I shall write in my 80s will be as good.
Arthur Hughes. Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: CUP, 1989. [5]
An overview of how and what to test when testing for knowledge of a foreign language, with special emphasis on testing EFL.
F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Notebooks of F. Scott Fitzgerald. ed. Matthew J. Bruccoli. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1978. [4]
Writer’s notes, some of them more interesting than others, and all with the nagging sense that there was something behind them that the reader does not know and the author does not want to explain yet.
William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage, 1964 (1930). [3]
Odd, puts me in mind of Flannery O’Connor, but without the clarity. Best chapters Cash and Peabody.
Alain-René Lesage. The Adventures of Gil Blas de Santillana. trans. Tobias Smollett. 2 vols. London: OUP, 1928 (1715, 1724, 1735; 1748). [2]
Picaresque.
Jane Jacobs. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage, 1961. [1]
Thought-provoking, with great attention to the mundane details that make living in a city interesting and worthwhile.

(last revised: 27 November 2014)

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