Saturday, January 6, 2018

I'm back! With books read in 2017

I don't know how consistent I'll be about posting, but this is a start!  A long list of books read in 2017, with some commentary.


1.  Peter Ackroyd, The Trial of Elizabeth Cree  This has been sitting on my shelf for awhile, and I took it down because I'm seeing an opera based on it.  It's about a serial killer in Victorian England, and has quite the twist!

2.  Laurent Binet, The Seventh Function of Language  You don't have to be a semiotician to enjoy this book, though it doesn't hurt to know a bit about people like Michel Foucaut and Julia Kristeva.  Roland Barthes really was killed when he was hit by a laundry van after lunching with François Mitterand, but this turns the incident into (perhaps) murder, and is also rather a send-up of the French intelligentsia.

3.  Rita Mae Brown, Cakewalk  I was happy to see the return of the Hunsenmeier sisters.   Brown nobly resisted her tendency, notable in her recent Sneaky Pie mysteries, to put speeches into the mouths of her characters.  In this book, they have actual conversations.

4.  Mary Burns, The Reason for Time Historical fiction set in Chicago in 1919.  Read for the Cliff Dwellers book club

5.  James Byrom, Or Be He Dead  Mid-century British mystery novel

6.  Italo Calvino, Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore  In English, If on a winter's night a traveller.  I read this a few years ago in translation, and was happy that we chose to read it in my Italian lit class.  I love it just as much (if not more) in the original.

7.  Wilkie Collins, Armadale  Lengthy, convoluted Victorian mystery, with coincidences abounding.  Loved it.

8.  Maurizio de Giovanni, Glass Souls  A Commissario Ricciardi mystery.  This series is set in Naples during the Mussolini régime.  It's really good.

9.  Pablo de Santis, Voltaire's Calligrapher  Calligraphy, philosophy, and mysterious doings.

10.  Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely  Noir

11. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie  Not the nun-type sister, not by a long shot!   Another Cliff Dwellers book club read

12. Edna Ferber, The Girls  Why have I never read any Edna Ferber before?  I loved this book!   Three generations of the women of a Chicago family, changing as the city and the world changed.  There's a lovely passage in which the change is made evident in the contrast between an older woman's clothing (corsets, whalebone) and the youngest's (wisps of cloth).  Cliff Dwellers book club.

13. Joanne Harris, Different Class  This follows up on Harris' Gentlemen and Players, which would be good to read first, though not necessary. 

14 & 15. Susan Hill, The Small Hand and The Woman in Black  Two ghost stories by a master.   Very twisty, they remind me a bit of M.R. James.

16.  Anne Hillerman, Song of the Lion  An enjoyable mystery by Tony's daughter.  She continues the Leaphorn/Chee series, but with a lot more emphasis on Chee's wife, police officer Bernie Manuelito.

17. Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time  Nope.  Don't care if it is a "classic", it's thinly plotted, little characterization.  I was not impressed.

18.  Donna Leon, Earthly Remains   A Commissario Brunetti mystery, of course.   And, as pretty much always, nothing is "solved", because the corruption that allows the laguna to be polluted and destroyed is, perhaps, unsolvable.

19.  Penelope Lively, The Purple Swamp Hen and other stories  I had a good time with this varied collection.  Short stories are tough, and Lively knows how to write them.

20.  Gabrielle Lyon, Devin Mawdsley, Kayce Bayer, Chris Lin, and Deon Reed, No Small Plans  In 1909, Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett wrote the 1909 Plan of Chicago, a comprehensive approach to urban planning for the city.  A simpler version, called Wacker's Manual of the Plan of Chicago, taught the plan to eighth-graders in the Chicago Public Schools.   No Small Plans is a graphic novel inspired by that manual, launched by the Chicago Architecture Foundation with a Kickstarter campaign, and also aimed at Chicago teen-agers.   In three main sections, set in past, present and future, teens think about the design of the city they live in, what they think it should be, and how to make that happen.  Between these chapters are bits about Burnham, to make the connection with the city's history.

21.  Kenneth Mahood, The Secret Sketchbook of a Bloomsbury Lady   A hoot!  Great drawings, funny satire on the Bloomsbury crowd.

22, 23 & 24.  Dacia Maraini, La Lunga Vita di Marianna Ucría, The Silent Duchess, and Bagheria  The first two are the same book, but I read it both in Italian (for lit class) and in English.  Set in Sicily in the early 18th-century, it follows the life of Marianna Ucría, a deaf and mute noblewoman, through childhood, ridiculously (by our standards) early marriage to her uncle ("zio marito" she calls him), motherhood, widowhood.   Her inability to hear and speak (the reason for which we will learn) actually gives her an "out", a way to have a substantial intellectual life, particularly after she is introduced by an English visitor to the work of David Hume.   Bagheria is Maraini's memoir of life in Sicily, after her family returns there from Japan (they had gone to escape fascism, and spent time in a concentration camp there), and of her family's history.  

25.  Eric Charles May, Bedrock Faith  Another CD read.  Set in a middle-class African-American neighborhood on Chicago's south side (fictitious, but based on the area where the author grew up).   The community's quiet ways are disrupted when a young man returns after a lengthy stay in prison.  His odd behavior (he claims to have found God, but has he?) and the neighbors' reactions to him drive the story.  May creates varied, interesting and believable folks.

26.  Margaret Mazzantini, Splendore  Another for Italian class

27.  Sharyn McCrumb, The Unquiet Grave  Yet another of McCrumb's Ballad Series, based on the true story of spousal murder, and a mother who claims her daughter's ghost told her how she died.

28.  Arthur Meeker, Prairie Avenue   In late 1800s Chicago, on "the sunny street that holds the sifted few" lived folks like Marshall Field, George Pullman, John Glessner, and young Arthur Meeker, who grew up to be a writer and wrote this novel about the people in his neighborhood.  His protagonist is a young boy who comes to live with the wealthy side of the family after his parents do a bunk, and, as an outsider (though very much treated as one of the family) has a clearer view of things.  A bit of a roman-à-clef, and very well written.  Not Meeker's only book, but the most well-known.  CD book club.

29.  Shion Miura, The Great Passage   "The Great Passage" is a dictionary, a dictionary literally decades in the making.   Young Mitsuya Majime is recruited from the publisher's sales department to join the dictionary department to work on the book.  He's a bit of an odd duck, and fits so much better there.  On the way to the final publication of this tome, he finds friendship, romance, and himself.  Just a lovely book, particularly for those of us who get excited about words.

30.  Audrey Niffenegger (ed.), Ghostly: a collection of ghost stories   A varied bunch, in age and (like most anthologies) in quality.  Audrey not only edited, she wrote one story and illustrated the book.

31.  Sara Paretsky, Fallout   A V.I. Warshawsky mystery

32.  I.J. Parker, The Dragon Scroll  A mystery set in 11th-century Japan, the protagonist/detective being a government clerk sent to discover why tax convoys are disappearing.

33.  Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess, The Painted Queen  The very last Amelia Peabody, begun by Peters and, after her death and at her request, completed by Hess.

34.  Ann Petry, The Narrows  Interracial romance goes very wrong in Connecticut.  I wasn't familiar with Petry, but this was a very good book, read on the recommendation of Eric Charles May (see # 25)

35.  Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve  British courtroom drama, beginning with the life stories of each of the twelve jurors (and quite a curious collection they are).

36.  Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage   Those of us who have been waiting not so patiently for Pullman's new trilogy will not be disappointed, if the first volume is any indication.  The events here precede those of His Dark Materials, and we learn more of Lyra's origins, and how she came to live at Jordan College.  Unusually for Pullman, the protagonist is a young boy (Malcolm, who rescues Lyra from the fire and flood and the Magisterium), not a feisty young girl, though there is one in the book.  Perhaps we'll see more of Alice later on.

37.  Michael Raleigh, In the Castle of the Flynns   What a marvelous book this is!   Daniel Dorsey is eight when his parents are killed in a car crash and he goes to live with his maternal grandparents, and a variety of aunts and uncles.   It's an extended Irish family on both sides, with drunks and nuns and brawlers and policemen, very Chicago!   Raleigh is a great storyteller, bringing his characters to life with vividness and credibility.  You feel like you'd know these people if you met them.   A CD book club read.

38.  Ugo Riccarelli, L'Amore graffia il mondo  Italian lit class.

39.  Robert Rodi, Edgar and Emma, a novel after Jane Austen  Rodi takes a four-page bit of Austen juvenilia and turns it into a full-fledged novel.  And, boy, does he have her down (to be expected from the man who wrote Bitch in a Bonnet!).  Every so often, we get something that seems a tad too contemporary, but then we're back in Regency England, at the manor house or parsonage, and all's right with the world. 

40.  Saki (H.H. Munro), The Toys of Peace and other papers   Saki's great, a wonderful satirist, with a sly sense of humor and a jaundiced eye on the world.  

41 and 42.   Alexander McCall Smith, The Bertie Project, A Distant View of Everything  A 44 Scotland Street story, and a Sunday Philosophy Club story.  Both as you'd expect.

43.  Colm Tóibín, House of Names  Tóibín's usual astonishingly gorgeous prose, in service to a re-telling of the Oresteia from differing points of view.  

44 and 45.  Anthony Trollope, Harry Heathcote of Gangoil, The American Senator   The first is set in Australia, unusually for Trollope, the story of a young man who goes out to make good.   The American Senator's descriptions  of the contrast between the former colonies and the "old country" in light of Trollope's mother's writings about the U.S.   But, as usual, the real focus here is on political reform and who's going to marry whom (and how and why).

46.  Jean Webster, When Patty went to College by the author of Daddy-Long-Legs and Dear Enemy, both of which had a lot more substance than this one, which is about Patty's senior year at a women's college.  Probably based, at least in part, on Webster's experiences at Vassar.

47.  Jeannette Winterson, Christmas Days  Twelve stories, many with fantastical elements about them, interspersed with recipes.

48 and 49.  P.G. Wodehouse, Hot Water and Full Moon  Well, it's Wodehouse!  Blandings, Jeeves and Wooster, what more do you need to know?

Okay, that's the fiction.  I'm leaving the non- for another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment