Category Archives: Lists

The best of 2009

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve now, so I guess it’s time to do my final wrapping-up post and list my favorite reads of the year. As always, this list is not about books published in 2009, although one or two from this year may appear here, but it’s about what I liked best and what stands out most in everything I read regardless of when it was published. Links are to my post on the book.

First, the stand-out books in fiction, the absolutely top-notch, amazingly wonderful books:

  1. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest.
  2. Nicholson Baker, The Anthologist.
  3. Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone.
  4. Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night.

Then other novels I really, really liked:

  1. Bernard Malamud, The Assistant.
  2. Ann Patchett, Bel Canto.
  3. Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
  4. Patrick Hamilton, The Slaves of Solitude.

And now some great nonfiction:

  1. Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions.
  2. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father.
  3. Anne Fadiman, At Large and at Small.

And one quirky, odd book I really liked: David Cecil, The Stricken Deer, a biography of William Cowper from 1930.

Happy New Year everyone!


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New Books

Did I say I was slowly emerging from the end-of-semester fog? Not sure what I was thinking there. My work load is beginning to decrease, true, but the stress of end-of-semester doings is still there and it’s significant. But I should be finished with everything by the end of the day tomorrow, so that’s something to look forward to.

So since I’m not feeling up to writing a book review tonight, I’ll post on what new books I’ve acquired or am about to acquire very soon. Did I write a post earlier on the possibility of not acquiring any new books for a while? Yeah, that didn’t work out. So here’s what I have:

  • Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness. Verbivore reviewed this one at The Quarterly Conversation, and when it appeared on Book Mooch, I grabbed it.
  • Lorrie Moore’s Anagrams. Finally I will get around to reading something by Lorrie Moore. I know she is most famous for her short stories, but I thought I’d start with a novel anyway and move on from there.
  • Joyce Cary’s Herself Surprised. A friend sent this one to me. It’s the first volume of a trilogy and was published in 1941.
  • And now on to some nonfiction. The same friend also sent me P.D. James’s Talking about Detective Fiction, which is “a personal, lively, illuminating exploration of the human appetite for mystery and mayhem, and of those writers who have satisfied it,” as the book jacket says. It will be perfect after all the mysteries I’ve read over the last couple years.
  • Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind. I’ll be reading this one with a group of people at work, and I have no idea if it will be good or not. It’s subtitled “Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.” We shall see.
  • And then there are some books I was able to get a great deal on thanks to Musings, including Hermione Lee’s Biography: A Very Short Introduction. A long introduction I wouldn’t want, but a very short introduction sounds perfect, as I do like to read biographies and I like to read about how they get written even more.
  • Dorothy Wordsworth’s Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals. I already have the Grasmere journals, but I don’t have an edition with both.
  • John Keats, The Major Works. I already own quite a lot of Keats’s work, but I don’t have many of the letters, and this edition has some.
  • And finally, Jane Austen’s Selected Letters. Being the Austen fan I am, I should own this.

I’m guessing I may be back in a week or so with another list of new books …


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The TBR challenge

It’s December 1st, which means it’s time to plan what books I want to read for Emily’s TBR challenge. These are books I already own that I am going to try to read over the next year and one month (finishing up on December 31st, 2010). I will try to stick to this list as much as possible, but I reserve the right to make substitutions as I feel like it.

First, there are books I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time. These are books that are near the beginning of my TBR list, since I add new ones to the end.

  1. Balzac, Cousin Bette. I’ve never read Balzac, and it’s time I rectified that situation.
  2. Samuel Beckett, Molloy. I’ve never read Beckett’s fiction either, and I’ve owned this book for perhaps a decade, or at least a lot of years.
  3. Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. I think this is the first book I got from Book Mooch — the first of many.
  4. The Bhagavad Gita. Seriously, I’ve wanted to read this book forever. It’s about damn time.
  5. Lawrence Weschler, Vermeer in Bosnia. This is an essay collection I’ve had my eye on ever since hearing an interview with him on NPR. At least, I think I heard an interview with him. It was so long ago. I do remember buying the book at a Barnes and Noble near my parents’ place one Christmas, but I can’t remember which Christmas that was.

And now for some books I’ve acquired more recently and won’t want to wait long to pick up:

  1. Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt. Since I never see this book in bookstores, I decided to order it online, and I found a cheap copy at Better World Books.
  2. Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I now have a signed copy of the book. I’m curious to see what I think of her when I read her writing on the page instead of listening to an audio book.
  3. Jane Gardam’s Old Filth. Like Rosalind Belben, this is an author I wouldn’t have known of if it weren’t for blogs, and I remember hearing about her from bloggers I admire, so I’m looking forward to it.
  4. Maureen Corrigan, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading. I know one of these days I’m going to get the urge to pick up the kind of nonfiction book that’s highly entertaining and where the pages fly by. This will be perfect.
  5. David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. Why have I not yet read this book? I have no idea.
  6. Jane Carlyle, I Too Am Here. This book is selections of Carlyle’s letters. I came across Carlyle in an Elizabeth Hardwick essay and have heard a couple references to her recently, so I think it’s time to try this one out.

And now for some books I would like to get to for various reasons including book groups or because they are part of a series:

  1. Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper. This is the next Slaves of Golconda selection. My edition, very fittingly, has yellow paper.
  2. Mary Roberts Rinehart, The Yellow Room. This is the next selection for my mystery book group, chosen by Emily.
  3. Richard Holmes’s Coleridge: Darker Reflections. This is part 2 of Holmes’s Coleridge biography. I read part 1 last summer and have wanted to continue on ever since.
  4. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of the Island. I’m on a small Montgomery kick these days and want to continue my reread of the Anne series.
  5. Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. I’m slowly rereading Woolf’s major works, and this one is up next.
  6. Elizabeth George’s Payment in Blood. This is the second Elizabeth George book in the series; I read the first at some point this past year.

And now for a few random books:

  1. Miklos Vamos’s The Book of Fathers. I have a review copy of this one I need to get to fairly soon.
  2. Louise Gluck’s Proofs and Theories. I like her poetry, and I’ll probably like this essay collection as well.
  3. Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Hobgoblin bought this one a while back, and we both hope to get to it next summer. A nice, light summer reading, right?

As I wrote the list, I tried to find a balance between heavier books and lighter ones, although my tendency when coming up with challenge lists is to go for the heavier books — the challenging ones. But a mix is better.

I’m looking forward to diving into these!


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Dreaming about books

You will be relieved to know, I’m sure, that I took your advice seriously about not feeling guilty when I acquire books, and I will be acquiring a bunch more of them soon. I’ll tell you about that later. As I don’t have a whole lot of time to read right now, the next best thing is to think about what I will read soon, when I get the chance. So here’s what’s looking most interesting right now:

  • Richard Powers, The Echo Maker. I’ve heard lots of good things about Powers over the last couple years, and have heard about him recently from a friend, and I’m intrigued. He writes about science a lot, and I think I’d like that.
  • Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy/Tacy books. I just received a lovely edition of Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself in one volume from Kate, and the book is too lovely to let sit on my shelves for too long. I loved these books as a kid, and I want to see how I like them now.
  • Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge. I really loved Abide with Me when I listened to it recently, and so now I want to get to this one. Plus, a friend recently gave me a signed copy of the book, and that feels like a reason to read the book right there.
  • Wilkie Collins’s Armadale. With all the Collins posts appearing around the book blog world, he has been on my mind a lot. This is the book of his I have waiting on my shelves.
  • Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist. I’ve said I want this book enough times in enough places, that if it doesn’t appear under the Christmas tree, well, I’ll rush out and buy myself a copy the day after. Baker is one of my favorite writers, and this book is about a guy trying to write an introduction to a poetry anthology, so of course I will like it.
  • Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance. I’ve been hearing about Davis for a while and am intrigued. This is a book of short stories, a genre I haven’t read in a while and would like to get back to. Two very good reasons to read this book. I’m curious about the extreme shortness of many of these stories, and also about their poetic quality. I guess since I don’t read many short stories and have been known to complain about overly-poetic prose, this book feels like a challenge, and I wonder if I will like it in spite of my biases.
  • Anything by Lorrie Moore and Margaret Atwood, two writers I have never read, and really should.
  • Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room. I’m slowly reading through Woolf’s major works in chronological order (at the rate of a book or two a year), and here is where I’m at, into the more experimental work.
  • Louise Gluck’s Proofs and Theories. I love Gluck’s poetry, and this is a book of essays. I hope I like them as much.
  • Rosalind Belben’s Our Horses in Egypt. I look for this one in every bookstore I go to and haven’t found it yet. From what I remember hearing about it, it’s a good novel that does really interesting things with the writing. It seems to fit into the category “experimental, but not too much so” that I like a lot.
  • John Keats’s letters. I’ve heard these are great, and I need to find out for myself.

I haven’t had much time to read, but I did finish Brideshead Revisited recently, and I hope to write up my thoughts soon.


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Categories of reading

So I’ve been feeling a little … frustrated might be too strong a word, but something along those lines, maybe more like overwhelmed … at the fact that there are so many different types of books I’d like to read right now, and I can’t do it, even though I’ve got more reading time than usual at the moment. I’m not even talking about individual books; I’m talking about categories, within which there are dozens if not hundreds of individual books I want to read.

This is partly an issue of feeling pulled between reading widely and reading deeply, both of which I’d like to do, of course. But if I read widely, I will only read occasionally within each category, and if I read deeply, a lot of categories will get ignored. So what do I do?

I thought I’d compile a list of the categories that interest me at the moment, just for fun. This list might look entirely different on another day though. I won’t even try to make these categories mutually exclusive.

  • Eighteenth-century and Romantic novels, such as the Mary Brunton one I read recently, and also Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith, and Elizabeth Inchbald, plus earlier novelists like Eliza Haywood and Sarah Fielding;
  • Victorian novelists — more Trollope, Eliot, and Gaskell, plus Harriet Martineau, Margaret Oliphant and late Victorians such as Galsworthy and Gissing;
  • Contemporary fiction of all sorts, whatever strikes my fancy;
  • Lesser-known modernists, particularly modernist women of the sort discussed here (especially Stein, Larsen, Mansfield, and Smith);
  • Persephone and Virago books, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Antonia White, Radclyffe Hall, plus tons more;
  • Mysteries — for my book group, but also just for myself, including finding good series and reading them all the way through;
  • Random classics I’ve missed, such as Russians like Oblomov, Turgenev and more Chekhov, French writers such as Balzac and Zola;
  • Okay, nonfiction. Good literary criticism, especially of the novel. More books like Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, critical essays by people like D. H. Lawrence or Forster, and more contemporary criticism by people like Nancy Armstrong or Michael McKeon, also more philosophical stuff by people like Elaine Scarry;
  • Essays and more essays — Montaigne, Bacon, Lamb, Hazlitt, Woolf, Orwell, McCarthy, Wallace, etc. etc.;
  • Books on theology and spirituality, particularly ones that look at the subject from a comparative perspective;
  • Science books — Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, and others;
  • Biographies, particularly of writers, and most especially those by great biographers such as Richard Holmes and Claire Tomalin;
  • Quirky, unclassifiable nonfiction, such as the kind of thing Geoff Dyer and Jenny Diski write;
  • Poetry — Romantic and Victorian poets among the older things I’d like to read, and also contemporary poetry by writers such as Louise Gluck and Mary Oliver.

What would your own list look like?


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The 25 influential writers meme

I saw this over at Reassigned Time and thought it would be fun to do here. The instructions are to “name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. Then you tag 25 people.” I won’t be tagging 25 people, so if you want to do this, please do! I’m going to list names roughly chronologically (following my life).

  1. Authors of the Bible
  2. Laura Ingalls Wilder
  3. Maud Hart Lovelace
  4. Lucy Maud Montgomery
  5. Louisa May Alcott
  6. Jane Austen
  7. Charles Dickens
  8. George Eliot
  9. Virginia Woolf
  10. Mary Shelley
  11. Flannery O’Connor
  12. Michel de Montaigne
  13. Fyodor Dostoyevky
  14. Mary McCarthy
  15. Samuel Richardson
  16. Laurence Sterne
  17. Henry Fielding
  18. Sarah Fielding
  19. Mary Wollstonecraft
  20. Olaudah Equiano
  21. Dorothy Wordsworth
  22. Nicholson Baker
  23. David Foster Wallace
  24. Jenny Diski
  25. Janet Malcolm

#1-5 are about my childhood, pretty clearly, and then I read a lot of #6-8 in high school, which formed my taste for the Victorian novel (and the novel itself — this list is very novel-heavy).  #9-14 were college discoveries, and you can see the turn to the eighteenth-century I took in grad school in #15-21.  I could easily have added more authors here, including Boswell and Johnson. After that, I tried to think of authors I’ve been most excited about over the last few years; these ones I could possibly change up a bit, depending on my mood. The last few reflect my increasing enjoyment of nonfiction, which is why I like their presence there. I could also put Philip Lopate on the list, not because his writing has influenced me, but because the book he edited, The Art of the Personal Essay, has been so important.

It’s a pretty canonical list, isn’t it? But I suppose at heart I’m a pretty canonical kind of reader. Maybe it’s also true that people’s reading is often from the canon when they’re younger (at least English major types) and branches out afterward.  I haven’t read all of the canon, by any means, but I’ve read enough to feel that I’m ready to branch out more.

Anyone else want to try this?


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In lieu of a post requiring thought …

It’s Tuesday night, which means I’m exhausted.  So here’s a meme:

BBC Book List

1) Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you LOVE.
3) Star (*) those you plan on reading.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen X+
2. The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (totally not interested)
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte X+
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (read the first one, won’t continue)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee X
6 The Bible X (I’ve never read it straight through, but I’m sure I’ve covered it all at some point)
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte X+
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell X
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman X+
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens X
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott X+
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy X
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller *
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (Only some — maybe a dozen plays and some sonnets, and would like to read the rest)
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier *
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger – X
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger X
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot X+
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell X
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald – X
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens X
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy X
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh *
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky X+
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck X
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (can’t remember, maybe)
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy X
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis X
34 Emma – Jane Austen X+
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen X+
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis X
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden (these last few don’t seem to fit in.  Probably won’t read them)
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne X
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell X
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown (listened to it on audio)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez X
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving X
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins X+
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery – X+ (read multiple times!)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy X
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood *
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding X
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan (Listened to on audio)
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel (Audio)
52 Dune – Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen X+
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens X
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley X
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon X+
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck – X
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov X+
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt *
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas (Hobgoblin may convince me to read this some day)
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac X
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy X
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding (Audio)
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie X
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville X
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker X
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett – X+
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses – James Joyce X
76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath X
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome (Never heard of it)
78 Germinal – Emile Zola *
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray X
80 Possession – AS Byatt X+
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens X
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell X
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro X+
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert – X
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (Audio)
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White X+
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (highly unlikely I’ll read this …)
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Some of them)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad X
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams X+
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole * (maybe)
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare – X
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl X
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


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