Except for the DNFs, of which there were many, because I couldn’t concentrate and/or didn’t know what mood I was in from one minute to the next.
With minimal commentary. But you have to start somewhere when you’re trying to get back into blogging!
- Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project. (Man Booker shortlist–turns out the one book on the longlist I had already read,Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, was the winner. I still plan to get to a couple more off this list). The portrait of the way a bully terrorizes a small Scottish village was hard to read.
- Elaine Showalter, The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe. This biography focuses on the way marriage and motherhood constrained Howe’s ambitions.
- Patricia Wentworth, Miss Silver Comes to Stay. Classic mysteries have been this year’s comfort reading.
- Nina Stibbe, Paradise Lodge. A follow-up to Man at the Helm, a coming-of-age story set in a nursing home. Rather dark humor but also sweet, with interesting relationships between the teenage protagonists and the elderly residents.
- Patricia Wentworth, The Catherine-Wheel. More Miss Silver. Has a young lady who thinks this about her suitor: “Jeremy had all the makings of a trampling bully, and she had no intention of being his door-mat.” (Things work out fine).
- Ruth Scurr, John Aubrey: My Own Life. DNF only because I ran out of time; eventually I’ll check it out again and finish it. A biography of a 17th century antiquarian and naturalist woven together from lightly-edited fragments of his own writings, so we learn about him in large part by seeing what interested him. He could seem like a failure: born into the landed gentry, he went bankrupt and in old age survived on the kindness and patronage of friends. But he won many friends, and was interested in many things. Made me think about what “success” really means. A strange and engaging book.
- Agatha Christie, Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories (audio)
- Kate Summerscale, The Wicked Boy. The true story of a Victorian boy who murdered his mother and was sent to Broadmoor. Summerscale tracks down his surprising fate, which I don’t want to spoil, but this is kind of a redemption story and turned out to be surprisingly hopeful.
- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy (audio, read by author). Stevenson’s account of his work helping Alabama death row inmates, and more broadly on excessive sentencing and an unequal justice system, overlapped with the Summerscale in surprising ways. Stevenson insists that we are all more than the worst thing we did. This is partly a legal thriller (I had to Google the outcome of the case at its center so I could bear to keep reading), part memoir, part political argument. It filled me with outrage and despair but ultimately I found it comforting reading, because Stevenson himself is so humane in his perspective, and because he’s out there doing this work. At the end of this year, I very much needed reminders that such people exist, and will go on fighting.
- Ann Patchett, Commonwealth. I enjoyed the masterly way this novel about an extended/blended family cut back and forth in time, so that the significance of events slowly unfolded. Who owns family stories? Who should we tell them to? How do they shape us? I like Patchett’s voice a lot, and I preferred this to State of Wonder, whose Heart-of-Darkness style plot made me uncomfortable.
- Christie, The Moving Finger and Parker Pyne Investigates (audio).
- Cathy O’Neil, Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy (audio read by author). I thought the subtitle seemed a bit alarmist, but O’Neil convinced me. A very readable and, it turned out, all too timely book on the many ways algorithms are used.
- I will go back to Blanche Wiesen Cook’s biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, which I started listening to looking for inspiration.
- Betty Neels, Fate Is Remarkable. A tonic. Nothing much happens but there are nice people who take to long to be honest with each other and lots of clothes and food and travel descriptions and a happy ending.
- Christie, The Third Girl, The Secret of Chimneys [favorite of my recent listens], The Harlequin Teaset and Other Stories, Mystery of Mile End House, The Seven Dials Mystery (audio). Problem, what problem?
In Progress (Too Many Things):
- Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals. I dug up this childhood favorite because Rohan mentioned her bookgroup was reading it. Corfu, nature description, animal stories, eccentric family stories. Yes please! (Actually, 10-year-old Gerry reminds me a bit of John Aubrey in his enthusiasms and genius for making friends).
- Stephen Burt, The Poem Is You. 60 contemporary American poems with short critical essays. I’m ending a year with a kick to my (reasonably successful) resolution to read more poetry. Good for dipping in and out of, accessible without being dumbed-down.
- Jill Leovy, Ghettoland. Like some of my other recent reading, this isn’t as depressing as a book following homicide detectives investigating the too-frequent murders of young black men in South LA might sound, because these detectives do care; as one of them says, every victim is “some daddy’s baby,” no matter what he might have done. Leovy clearly admires the men she writes about (one of whom will eventually investigate the murder of the other’s son) and her deep reporting gets at their complex attitudes to the neighborhoods they try to serve, and those neighborhoods’ complex attitudes to the police and the justice system. The reporting for this book predates the upsurge in attention to police killings of young black men, and that is something of a blind spot in Leovy’s story, perhaps. But her book indirectly illuminates that issue too, I think.
- Christie, Cards on the Table (audio). Why stop when you’re on a roll?
- Sherry Thomas, A Study in Scarlet Women. Maybe I’m done with Holmes pastiche, or maybe it’s that I don’t much like Kate Reading’s recent audiobook narrations (I find she’s gotten more plummy and emotive, though I still like her on older books) but I’m not loving this the way many others I know have. Perhaps it’s that non-fiction just seems to suit my mood better these days.