ms_bracken (ms_bracken) wrote,

Vincennes Review of Books 2009

I read a total of 36 books this year - 32 new, 4 re-reads - which is slightly disappointing. For those of you who think that this is not a bad total, here is a graph to illustrate why I am slightly disappointed. New books are pink, re-reads are blue.

This year, I re-read The Great Gatsby, Lolita, and Wonder Boys, which are the books I would describe as my three favourite books ever. And The Complete Yes Minister, not in my top fifty but always fun.

Last year started with one young adult book - Twilight, a plague and a pox on society and all it touches - and ended with another - Holes, which is essentially My First Prayer For Owen Meany and which I enjoyed a great deal. (Technically, the last book I read in 2009 was Freakonomics, so imagine that I am talking, here, about the last book with content that I read last year)

2009 was the first year since 2005 that I have read three Iris Murdoch books in a single year. This is a lot of Iris Murdoch books. The last one I read, The Unicorn, felt sort of monged off, which might be an unfair judgement based on the fact that I was pretty in tune, by that stage, with how the plot was likely to unfold. This means that I have now read exactly half of the novels she has written, so let's take a look at the Iris Murdoch runrate to see when I am likely to have finished reading the complete works.

You will note that doing this before I am 30 will involve reading five of her books this year, working up to six next year, and then one before my birthday in 2012. There is no way I am going to do this. It would be a fairly miserable exercise. 2016/17, based on current averages, seems reasonable.

I finally read Metamorphoses, and do not know why I delayed that so long - it is terrific fun, way easier than I thought it would be, and made me want to read more Ovid. On the other end of the spectrum, I did not expect to like The Devil Wears Prada as much as I did, although that was me literally judging a book by its cover - I love books that are set in offices and moderately well written, and this is both of those.

By contrast, I expected to love Possession, and it ended up being a bit of a slog - I think the turning point was when it is noted that the "bad" character's numberplate was [something] 666 (why not just give him horns as well, AS Byatt) and it ended very, very abruptly given the 475 pages of what was, basically, just buildup.

Also worth noting is Nabokov's Laugher In The Dark, which works superbly as a precursor to Lolita - if you have not read the latter, read it and then read Laugher In The Dark, if you have, re-read it and then read Laugher In The Dark (I can lend either or both, obviously). It's a lot like reading the story of a minor character in Lolita, specifically the prostitute with whom Humbert sleeps at the start of the book - Margot's story in Laugher In The Dark could easily have been Monique's backstory in Lolita. It's good in its own right (Nabokov didn't think so, but ignore him), although more interesting as part of the canon that also includes Pale Fire and Pnin.

To read this year -
i) 2666 - I enjoyed The Savage Detectives a great deal! I am told this is better!
ii) Moby Dick - because I haven't read it before. awesomewells and slightlyfoxed - both of whom have read it - screwed up their faces like socks when I stated my intention to read this, but I own it now and should not wuss out.
iii) More Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square was great.
iv) More Lee Child, I've let that slip recently and could, actually, read all the Jack Reacher books before I'm 30 if I want to.
v) Also, sort of want to reread Anna Karenina, it is lovely and it's ages since I last read it.
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counterweight opinion: I've read Moby Dick and I think it is both brilliant and great fun to read.

Which Metamorphoses did you read? The Ted Hughes one/other?
Or in the original LATIN maybe?
Not the original Latin! I read this edition, although having done so would be interested to read the Ted Hughes version.

Thank you also for the Melville encouragement! I hope to let you know what I think of it within the next year...
I find this post inspiring! This year I will read more books*! I really must actually take Lolita off the shelf and read it, since Pale Fire was so good...

* as well as everything else I've resolved to do
Yes yes read Lolita! It is beautiful and funny - if you got on with Pale Fire, I'm very confident you'll enjoy.

You read Infinite Jest in 2009! This is an excellent reading achievement. On the reading more books thing, though, I've tended to pick a theme for a quarter (e.g. "read more classic sci-fi") when I've felt low on inspiration about what to read next, which helps with the feeling you get when you finish a book and have nothing specific lined up for afterwards.


9 years ago

I have to confess I've not read Dick - I went to a seminar on why boredom is an essential part of the experience of reading it (in short, because whaling is boring) so I decided to skip it.

Patrick Hamilton's The Bell is brilliant and remorselessly awful - I don't think I still have my copy of it, I had to get rid of it. It's horribly insightful about people who think they can write, but can't. It's the first of three novels stuck in one volume as Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky, and I could probably face the second one about now.
Did you know he wrote Rope?
I did not know that! And had The Midnight Bell in mind to read next. Maybe I could catch up and we could support each other through vol.2.

because whaling is boring

Part of my concern here is that I found The Old Man And The Sea to be a bit too much about fish, and that has, what, 16 pages?
I resolve that all of my 2010 lj posts SHALL HAVE GRAPHS!!! :)
As soon as you start doing posts with GRAPHS you will find it hard to stop! They are very useful.
I read far fewer books last year than I wanted to...pretty much entirely down to Mason & Dixon tbh. And Jared Diamond's Collapse, which wasn't difficult to read as such but not conducive to burying yourself in for a week (this is why I don't read a great deal of non-fiction).

The Great Gatsby is definitely one of my favourite books ever too! Have you read Nabokov's King Queen Knave? Love that too...

I have yet to read any Iris Murdoch or AS Byatt.
This is why I'm a bit concerned about 2666, I'm either going to have to be really motivated about reading in the evenings or not read anything else for about three months.

Nope, not read King Queen Knave, thanks for the recommendation! Never sure which of Nabokov's translated novels to get, probably because I knew someone who was incredibly sniffy about most of them and I want to get "one of the good ones"

Obviously I'd recommend Iris Murdoch, but think you'd enjoy as well - The Black Prince is my favourite, and probably the best to start with as well. Vast melodrama in tiny lives is the general theme. They are also quite funny.

You also read The Drowned World this year, right? That was another of my favourites, that awesome reveal when you find out they are in London - sometimes when I think of Leicester Square I think of the Drowned World version rather than the one I know is actually there...
Thank you! I am surprised by how motivated the first one is making me, I really want to be able to draw an increase next year.
Do you have any of the Murdochs, or do you borrow them when required? I think I've not read these ones (Felix Vine is an aging schoolmaster who becomes infatuated with a young novice nun like I can remember) and wouldn't say no to a loan, although I still have your Saint Augustine:

The Flight from the Enchanter (1956)
The Sandcastle (1957)
The Italian Girl (1964)
The Red and the Green (1965)
The Time of the Angels (1966)
Bruno's Dream (1969)
An Accidental Man (1971)
Henry and Cato (1976)
Nuns and Soldiers (1980)
The Good Apprentice (1985)
The Book and the Brotherhood (1987)
The Message to the Planet (1989)
Jackson's Dilemma (1995)
I have these ones -

The Flight from the Enchanter (1956)
The Red and the Green (1965)
An Accidental Man (1971)
The Good Apprentice (1985)
The Book and the Brotherhood (1987)

- and am happy to lend at any time! I'm reading The Red and the Green now, it's brilliant. And The Flight from the Enchanter is the first one I read, so you can read a copy from my old school library.

Actualol at Felix Vine, by the way.