These are by no means all of the books I read this year that I found enjoyable or good, but they are the ones that, when thinking back over the year, stood out to me as some of the better ones – or at least the ones that were the right books for me at the time I read them.
- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments – such charm the man has. If I had to pick one book of all the books I read this year as the book of the year, this would be it.
- Antal Szerb, The Pendragon Legend / Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo. Where There’s Love, There’s Hate – self-conscious mysteries that both send up and savor the absurdities of the genre. The Pendragon Legend was thoroughly delightful, light and delicate, though as a soufflé slightly fallen by a hasty ending; if called upon to describe Where There’s Love, There’s Hate, I would say that it is Lolita meets The Benevent Treasure, which is as nonsensical a pairing as one could desire.
- Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction – such a thoroughly enjoyable book. There were a few chapters where the sociology wore me down (as also the Frenchness), but it set me to a good deal of thinking, which I cannot regret.
- Catherine Clément, The Weary Sons of Freud / Sarah Manguso, The Two Kinds of Decay – two ways of dealing with grief.
- Simone Weil, The Need for Roots – a troubling book; Weil diagnoses social ills with an acute eye, but her remedies are unpleasantly authoritarian.
- Jessica Anderson, Tirra Lirra by the River / Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm – richly rewarding reading experiences. Anderson’s book felt like revisiting an old, familiar book, though I had never read it before, while Gibbons’s book gains in richness each time I read it, either because I become a better reader or because I become ever more alive to the absurdities of the human condition.
- Cornelius Nepos, Vitae Cum Fragmentis – pleasant, easy Latin, comfortably proportioned. The life of Atticus was well worth the wait.
- Jessa Crispin, The Dead Ladies Project / Mary McCarthy, Memories of a Catholic Girlhood / Olivia Laing, Suite for Barbara Loden – good examples of the essay as memoir, exploring the meaning of place, identity, and solitude. Also good examples of the ways in which books and/or films shape one’s thinking and being.
- Emmanuelle Pagano, Trysting – what can I say, I’m a sucker for aphoristic and/or fragmentary novels. The other day, I looked at the bookshelf and saw Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, which I have not read, and I asked PF (who had just read it) what it was like; he began to describe the biblical ‘Song of Solomon’: two (or more) lovers describing and praising and longing for each other in a confused way, with no clear sense of who is doing the talking and why…. While that is probably not a good description of Morrison’s book, it is an excellent description of Trysting.
- Mikhail Shishkin, Calligraphy Lesson: The Collected Stories / Grace Paley, The Little Disturbances of Man – good, moody short story collections. Very different, of course, but each good in their own way.