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Books Read 2013


  • 22   Joseph HellerCatch-22
  • Read this one in the Dominican Republic. Not the worst beach read ever, very funny, but halfway through I thought “Vonnegut would be done by now.” But the recursiveness is part of the point and it won me over–or wore me down–before it ended.

  • Marie WinnRed Tails in Love
  • Loving portrait of the oddballs who bird Central Park. The most famous Red-tailed Hawk in the world, Pale Male, is at the center of the action. Makes a great companion piece to the beautifully-done HBO documentary, “The Central Park Effect”.

  • Cormac McCarthyAll the Pretty Horses
  • The first novel of this author’s “Border Trilogy” and a gritty tale of the American Southwest north and south of the Rio Grande. Often brutal. Reading McCarthy–Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men before this–I am sometimes put off by his idiosyncratic use (non-use) of punctuation and unusual words (non-words), but the power of his storytelling is undeniable.

  • 37   Virginia WoolfMrs. Dalloway
  • I am not a big fan of her style and I had the same reaction to reading this one as I did reading Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man: some good stuff, but a bit of a slog. I wasn’t in the mood for a slog.

  • 28   Philip K DickUbik
  • I am a Johnny-come-lately to the science fiction of Philip K Dick. Weird and strangely-compelling stuff in this one.

  • 21   Raymond ChandlerThe Long Goodbye
  • A very enjoyable re-read. The only thing not to like about Philip Marlowe is that Chandler didn’t write more of him. Irrelevant trivia: I just read that Lou Reed used the alias “Raymond Chandler” to register in hotels.

  • Joe GaspardGiff
  • The debut novella of a friend. See my blog post Giff.

  • Kenneth SlawenskiJ D Salinger
  • A generally well-received 2011 biography. Salinger was unique, there is no doubt about it. I think his reputation outstrips his work by a considerable bit, and this book clears up some of the mystery of that for me. I found the story of his World War II experiences particularly compelling.

  • 2   J D SalingerCatcher in the Rye
  • A re-read. I blogged about it here in Catcher in the Rye.

  • W Somerset MaughamThe Moon and Sixpence
  • Blogged about this one, too: Accidental Maugham. This novel is loosely based on the life of the painter Paul Gauguin.

  • 14   8   Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird
  • You can read my appreciation of this novel here: To Kill a Mockingbird.

  • 2   F Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby
  • This generated another blog post, Gatsby. An update: I did see the Baz Luhrmann film. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, but I was not a big fan of its anachronistic soundtrack.

  • Bill OddieBill Oddie’s Little Black Bird Book
  • Bill Oddie is an Englishman, a birder and an oddball. This is a humorous account of the English world of “twitchers.” His account of watching distant seabirds left me in stitches.

  • 2   1   George Orwell1984
  • A re-read. I’m not a big fan of this book. That it finished second (tied) on my list of 113 Great 20th Century Novels and first on my list of 45 Great 20th Century SciFi/Fantasy Novels says something about the process of collating critical and popular opinion, and what it says is not good. Someday I will get around to finishing my “Dystopian Travel Guide” post, featuring this, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle.

  • Arthur Conan DoyleThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • A re-read. These stories never get old to me.

  • J D SalingerNine Stories
  • This collection of stories is uneven, enigmatic, and often beautiful. For me, “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor” and “Down at the Dinghy” stand out. I am not so enamored with the closing story, “Teddy,” as some are. I can’t get past Teddy’s unnatural precociousness. Neither could Salinger.

  • ShakespeareHenry V
  • Re-read prior to seeing it on stage in Winona. Apart from a couple of its celebrated speeches, it is not a great favorite of mine to read. The GRSF’s stage production was excellent as always.

  • 8   Salman RushdieMidnight’s Children
  • There is a lot to like about this book, but it is a bit over-long and over-fantastic for my taste. I read quite a bit of this while on a cruise ship on the Baltic Sea. Probably should have gone with something lighter.

  • Ake EdwardsonNever End
  • Fourth of Ake Edwardson’s five Eric Winter novels available in English. I have read them all now and hope to see his next two available soon. I do like me some Swedish crime fiction.

  • Franz KafkaThe Metamorphosis
  • Re-read. I don’t care what Joseph Epstein says, I will continue to read and marvel at the fiction of Franz Kafka.

  • Ake EdwardsonFrozen Tracks
  • Too impatient to wait for Sail of Stone and Room No. 10 (see above), I re-read this one.

  • 5   Ursula Le Guin The Dispossessed
  • A new science-fiction writer for me. See my blog post The Dispossessed.

  • Khaled HousseiniThe Kite Runner
  • A bit melodramatic toward the end, but a good read. One very difficult but essential scene caused considerable controversy when a film based on the book was made.

  • Nick HornbyFever Pitch
  • I am a big fan of Nick Hornby’s novels. To fill in the lull since 2009′s Juliet, Naked, I picked up this memoir about his life of football (soccer) fanaticism. It was a disappointment. Maybe this is because I do not understand the fascination with soccer. If it had been about basketball, on the other hand …

  • 3   Patricia HighsmithThe Talented Mr Ripley
  • Re-read. Blogged about it in Ripley and the Talented Ms Highsmith

  • 29   Albert CamusThe Stranger
  • Re-read it and didn’t like it much. Wrote about it in the cleverly-titled blog post The Stranger.

  • 91   41   John le CarreTinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  • My first le Carre novel. I enjoyed it very much and wrote about it in Tinker.

  • Andrew Wilson Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith
  • My second major literary biography of the year. In my estimation, J D Salinger enjoys a reputation greater than he deserves while Patricia Highsmith suffers from the inverse. She is largely relegated to the disparaging category of “crime novelist,” but her psychological thrillers, from Strangers on a Train to “The Ripliad” to The Price of Salt (said to have influenced Nabakov) transcend the genre. That she was a quite unpleasant person with some unpopular and even offensive views, does not help her reputation. This very thorough biography does as good a job as I can imagine possible to shed light on an unhappy genius.

  • Simon ShamaA History of Britain, Volume 1
  • Re-read volume one of this three volume history over a long series of breakfasts after my daughter mentioned she was using YouTube to watch an old BBC series based on them. You can watch them too.

  • 35   Jean RhysThe Wide Sargasso Sea
  • This postmodern novel is a “prequel” to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I did not know that going in and found it interesting on its own merits. I hope to re-read Bronte’s novel before giving it to another go.

  • Albert CamusThe Fall
  • I am just not quite cynical enough to enjoy the novels of Albert Camus. Then again, surely they were not written to be enjoyed. See also my note above about The Stranger.

  • Matt GaffneyGrid Lock
  • I ran into this book only after I’d created four crossword puzzles and posted them on my blog. I’m not sure I would have created any if I had read it beforehand. I certainly know now how poorly constructed mine are. The book does not do much to glamorize the construction process and it doesn’t make the subtitle’s “Mad Geniuses” come alive in the way Stephen Fatsis’s Word Freak did Scrabble players.

  • 13   Daniel KeyesFlowers for Algernon
  • A quirky little short story later turned into a full-length novel. Both won awards (the Hugo for the short story and the Nebula for the novel). I enjoyed this, but am undecided about reading the novel now. It seems to me that the short story (perhaps it is better described as a novella) probably tells the story just as effectively as a longer work might. (Technically, this should not be flagged as #13 on my sci-fi/fantasy list, since it is the novel that is listed on it, not this novella.)

  • 73   Graham GreeneThe Heart of the Matter
  • Read my blog post at Another Affair Ends Badly.

  • 5   Ursula Le Guin The Left Hand of Darkness
  • For my thoughts on this novel and for some irrelevant musings about the chances we will detect signs of extraterrestrial life anytime soon, see my blog post at Ursula Le Guin and the Drake Equation.

  • Stephen J. GouldRocks of Ages
  • An attempt by one of my favorite writers to foster peace and goodwill between what he calls the magisteria of Science and Religion. Sadly, some fourteen years after its publication, it does not seem to have had any affect.

  • 26   Philip RothPortnoy’s Complaint
  • Re-read this very funny account of Alexander Portnoy, who suffers from the titular disorder in which “strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature.”

  • Carl SaganPale Bue Dot
  • The book’s subtitle, “A Vision of the Human Future in Space,” describes its focus. Thought-provoking but dated musings: much of what we knew when this was written in 1994 has been superseded. The book was inspired by a famous photograph of Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft.

  • Patricia HighsmithThe Tremor of Forgery
  • This book, probably my seventh or eighth Highsmith novel read, was a major disappointment. After having just recently read her biography, I should remember whether or not she may have been inspired by Albert Camus in the writing of this novel. It seems to me she must have been. That is not a good thing, in my view. Despite my generally very high opinion of her writing (see above), this was the worst book I read this year. Oddly, a writer I much admire, Graham Greene, considered this her finest work.

  • 48   Kingsley AmisLucky Jim
  • A very funny book! Has Amis been compared to Charles Dickens? I would imagine so. If no one else has made the comparison, I will. I click “like” on this one.

  • 50   James DickeyDeliverence
  • Maybe you, like me, have never seen the movie based on this book but are familiar with it and can even picture Ned Beatty being told to “squeal like a pig.” Don’t know how faithful the movie is to the book, but I don’t think I need to see it. The book paints a vivid and unforgettable picture.

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