At first, I thought my 2018 reading was good but not great. But then I looked over my list and I kept remembering books that had left an impression. Maybe not a lot of books for all time, but plenty of high-quality stuff.
I read 126 books in 2019 (and abandoned a lot of others). Of these, 67 were by women and 59 by men; 99 were originally written in English and 27 in translation. 17 were audio books; 14 were re-reads.
Kapka Kassabova, Border. A book I keep coming back to, and if it weren’t for a certain gargantuan novel (more below) this would be my book of the year. Border, as I wrote for #BulgarianLitMonth, is “about the periphery, places where resistance to centralized authority often succeeds, though usually at the cost of poverty and marginalization.” Kassabova’s journeys through Thrace (the intersection of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey) is filled with indelible portraits; it is the rare travelogue that is more about the people the writer meets than the writer herself.
Phillip Marsden, The Bronski House: A Return to the Borderlands. Back in June I described this book as “a story about home and exile amid the violence of the 20th century. It is a meditation on the idea of return. And it is a portrait of a sweet and moving friendship that crosses generations, sexes, and cultures.”
Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13. I think about this book all the time, even though I listened to the (gorgeous) audio book way back in March. A novel about the passing of time as marked by the rhythms of the natural world. I’m considering adding it to my Experimental British Fiction class for its brilliant use of passive voice (except the last thing that class needs is another book by a white guy).
Laura Lippman, Sunburn. Brilliant noir that subverts the genre’s misogyny. (I think it’s a response to Double Indemnity.) At one point I made a few notes for an essay, abandoned for now, about what life was like before the Internet, when serendipity seemed to structure what we knew, and many things were hard to know. This book is set in the 90s, not just for the backdrop of the Clinton impeachment hearings, which it uses to good effect, but because not knowing, or barely knowing, or needing to find someone who knows what you need to know is central to the plot.
Alfred Döblin, Berlin Alexanderplatz. Michael Hofman’s translation is a triumph (his afterword is fascinating); he makes Döblin’s collage of idioms and styles live for English-language readers. Not a book to love, for me at least, but certainly one to admire. Even more fun than writing about it was reading what Nat had to say.
Nick Drnaso, Sabrina & Liana Finck, Passing for Human. My two favourite comics in a year of good ones. (Honourable mention to Jason Lutes, for his satisfying conclusion to the Berlin trilogy). At first glance, these books have nothing in common, but they’re both dark and troubling, and they use the form in such interesting ways. I wrote about Sabrina here. You’ll hear more from me about Finck.
Helen Dunmore, Birdcage Walk. Even though this book felt a bit misshapen and truncated (it was her last and I’m sure her health was bad as she was completing it), it’s stayed with me much more than I expected. I wrote a bit about it here. I’ll read more Dunmore this year, starting with The Siege. If you have other favourites, let me know.
Lissa Evans, Old Baggage & Crooked Heart—One of this year’s many blogging regrets is that I never made time to write about these two novels. I read Old Baggage (2018) on the recommendation of various Twitter friends, and then tracked down Crooked Heart (2014) at my local library. This reverse order turned out just fine, as Baggage is a prequel to Crooked; knowing what has happened to get the child protagonist to the situation he’s in at the beginning of Crooked makes the earlier book even more poignant. If you’re allergic to poignancy, though, don’t worry. Evans is funny (in real life, too—follow her on Twitter) and anything but sanctimonious or sentimental. Which could have been a real risk: each of these books, set in England during the 1920s-40s, describes a boy’s relationship with two older women, ersatz parents. Even though each is in her own way a social misfit, the women have a lot to teach the child, whether it’s how to make a speech or how to pull a con. I loved both books, but preferred Baggage because the child plays second fiddle to the indelible Mattie Simpkin, a former Suffragette leader who, in her declining years, challenges herself to galvanize a generation of young women who are taking for granted the gains made by their elders. (As far as they’re concerned, Mattie and her ilk are just “old baggage.”) What happens, Evans asks, when the movement you’ve devoted your life to fades away? As great as Mattie is, she’s not even the best character: that would be her friend and sometime amanuensis, nicknamed The Flea, so kind, so loving, so long-suffering, so surprising. Old Baggage is a quick read, but it’s packed with things to think about and enjoy. You’ll have to get it from the UK but it’s worth it.
Jessie Greengrass, Sight. Smart novel/essay about the pleasures and pains of making the invisible visible.
Olivia Manning, The Levant Trilogy. Scott and I wrote about these wonderful books. Maybe not quite as amazing as their predecessors, The Balkan Trilogy, but there’s one scene in the first volume that is such a stunner.
Rachel Seiffert, A Boy in Winter. I hate almost all contemporary novels about the Holocaust. But Seiffert won me over, partly by emphasizing the Shoah by bullets (the murderous movement of the SS Einsatzgruppen across the Soviet Union in 1941-2), partly by focusing on victims, perpetrators, and bystanders alike, and complicating those seemingly separate categories, and partly by her thoughtfulness about the relationship between assimilation and survival. I even forgave the book for being written mostly in first person, a pet peeve of mine. (Long live the past perfect, I say.) I also read her first book, The Dark Room, also about the war years: also good, though not as light on its feet as Boy.
Brian Moore, The Mangan Inheritance. Seventies books are the best books.
Marlen Haushofer, The Wall, translated by Shaun Whiteside. This book is a wonder, so still and careful and joyous. It’s about a woman who survives some sort of apocalypse that leaves her trapped in a lovely, though also punishing alpine valley, with only various animals for companionship. I reveled in the details of the narrator’s survival and the suggestion that it might take a complete rupture for women to find their place in the world. John Self says the rest of Haushofer’s (small) body of work is good, too.
Émile Zola—Some of the year’s greatest reading moments came from the project Keith and I launched to make our way through the Rougon-Macquart cycle. We read three novels this year (at this rate, our kids are going to be in college before we’re done) and it was such a pleasure thinking about them with him. The Fortune of the Rougons was tough sledding, but The Belly of Paris and The Kill were great. I’m obsessed with Zola’s use of description, and how that tendency threatens to derail the aims of the naturalist project (if we in fact take those aims seriously; Tom cautioned me not to) and even the idea of narrative itself. We’re committed to continuing with Zola in 2019—maybe I can get my act in gear to read and write a little faster.
And my reading experience of the year: Jonathan Littel, The Kindly Ones, translated (heroically) by Charlotte Mandell.
I’m sad I never made time to write about this, the longest (900+ pages) book I read in 2018. I read 20-50 pages each day in June, and as soon as I finished we left on our long Canada vacation and the moment for writing about it passed. But I have thoughts! This extraordinary novel of the Holocaust is narrated by Maximilian Aue, an SS officer who experiences most of the significant moments of the war and the Final Solution: he’s in Paris in the summer of 1940, and at Stalingrad two years later. He’s with the Einsatzgruppen as they extinguish Jewish life in the Ukraine (including a horrifying set piece describing the events at Babi Yar), he’s in the Caucasus, he’s in Vichy France, he’s in Pomerania as the Red Army overruns the Germans. It’s amazing how Littel makes Aue’s peregrinations seem plausible rather than a Forest Gump-like gimmick. Early on, I found the novel so grim and distasteful that I could only read 20 pages at a time—I asked Mandell, always so gracious on Twitter, how she could stand to translate it, and she told me it was hard, and even worse when she started to dreamed about it. Aue is not a nice man, but he’s smart and erudite and a compelling storyteller. He’s so much more reasonable, though I shudder to put it this way, in his extermination of Jews and other so-called undesirables than most of the men he works with, and he has the decency to make himself sick over what he’s done that occasionally we forget what the hell is really going on and even look on him kindly. Quite a trick how Littel pulls us towards accepting or at least understanding the intellectual underpinnings of fascism while never letting us forget what a failure it would be to really be seduced. There’s an utterly engrossing lengthy section in which Aue and various other officials discuss whether the Mountain Jews of the Caucuses (descendants of Persian Jews) are racially or “only” ritually Jewish; that is, whether they ought to be exterminated or not. The cold-bloodedness and ethnographic hairsplitting of the conversation offer a powerful example of how men can set notions of decency or morality aside.
The Kindly Ones is ultimately a flawed book: alongside the political/ideological explanations, Littel gives Aue another motivation for his actions—his incestuous love for his sister. (This is the strand that references the Orestia, the last volume of which gives the novel its name.) Littel never reconciles these political and personal strands, so that in the end all of his work at showing the all-too-human motivations for genocide is undone by the psychopathic aspects of this second strand. But the accomplishment here is tremendous. I don’t know if anyone less obsessed with the Holocaust than me could ever enjoy—well, let’s say value—such a book, but I was very taken with it, especially because the book wanted me to feel gross about feeling that way.
Some bests and worsts:
Best new (to me) series: Robert Galbraith (a.k.a J. K. Rowling)’s Cormoran Strike & Robin Ellacott books. A little bloated, but Galbraith knows how to tell a story. From the classic meet cute in the first pages of the first volume, Galbraith pushes my buttons and I don’t care. The plots are genuinely suspenseful, and the “will they/won’t they” storyline between the private detective and his temp-become-full-fledged assistant is catnip. I recommend the audio books.
Best Holocaust texts: Georges Didi-Huberman, Bark (beautiful essay on some photographs the author took on a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau); Molly Applebaum, Buried Words: The Diary of Molly Applebaum (the story of how Applebaum survived the war is incredible, as is the cognitive dissonance between that text and her postwar memoir, also included in this volume); Nechama Tec, Dry Tears (I will be writing about this memoir soon).
Best book by Dorothy B. Hughes: I read four Hughes novels this year. The Expendable Man, her last, was my favourite, and I think it’s a genuinely great book because it implicates readers in its cultural criticism. I enjoyed the more famous In a Lonely Place, but I preferred the first half of the earlier The Blackbirder. Hughes isn’t a conventional suspense writer: plot isn’t her strength. What she’s brilliant at is describing how people deal with threats they know about but can’t escape. That skill is evident from the first page of The So Blue Marble, her first and mostly utterly preposterous novel. Even though Hughes’s protagonists aren’t always women, she writes from a position women know only too well: being victimized not by some unknown person, but by someone close to them—someone the rest of the world is slow to suspect. This accounts for the atmosphere of desperation and fear that characterizes her work. I’ll hunt down more Hughes in 2019.
Best essay about prison libraries hiding inside what pretends to be a crime novel: George Pelecanos’s The Man Who Came Uptown.
Best crime discovery (I): Anthony Horowitz, who I’ve in fact been enjoying for years as a longtime fan of (a.k.a. total suck for) Foyle’s War. The Word is Murder is pure genius: Horowitz puts himself in the story, uses the oldest odd-couple idea in the book, and still makes it work. Clever and fun. Afterwards, I read the earlier Magpie Murders, similarly clever and fun, though not quite as genius as Murder, which, I am delighted to see, looks like it will become a series.
Best crime discovery (II): Lou Berney, who lives just down Interstate 40 in Oklahoma City and isn’t afraid to write about it. The Long and Faraway Gone was good, but November Road is great, and I say that as someone allergic to anything to do with the Kennedy assassination.
Book I had to stay up all night to finish: Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves. Indigenous Canadian dystopian YA—will follow her career with interest.
Best thriller—Lionel Davidson’s Kolymsky Heights, by a mile. His first, The Night of Wenceslas, is weaker, but the guy can write a chase scene.
Best SF-alternate history-who knows what genre this is and who cares: Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land. Tidhar hasn’t always been to my taste, but he’s always worth thinking with, and here he delivers a compelling story that imagines a Jewish homeland in Africa. (Modelled of course on one of the many such plans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.) A thoughtful book about borders, as sad as any book about that topic must be, and as such relevant to everyone.
Most vexing: P. G. Wodehouse, Thank you, Jeeves. It is delightful! But can it be delightful with a minstrelsy sub-plot?
Interesting, but I don’t quite get the fuss: Oyinkan Brathwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer; Anna Kavan, Ice. I wrote about my struggle to teach the latter.
Books I liked at the time but have sunk without a trace: Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend is a good dog book and a book about a good dog. As I recall, it seems to be suggesting autofiction is intrinsically good at portraying grief, which is interesting. But although I enjoyed it a lot at the time, I never think of it now. I should be the target audience for Maybe Esther (Trans. Shelley Frisch), Katya Petrowskaya’s investigation into and speculation about the fate of her family in the Ukraine during WWII. And it really has its moments (there’s a great bit near the beginning about a ficus plant). But somehow it didn’t add up for me. I might like it a lot more on a re-read—do you ever feel that way about a book?
Disappointments: Claire Fuller, Bitter Orange (not terrible, and on the face of it the sort of thing I like best—Gothic country house, unreliable narrator—but underwhelming; maybe Our Endless Numbered Days was a one-off?); Ian Reid, Foe (fair bit of buzz about this quasi-SF, quasi-philosophical novel concerning humans and replicants, but I didn’t think it was as smart as it seemed to think it was).
Lousy: Leila Slimani, The Perfect Nanny (histrionic); Emma Viskic, Resurrection Bay (overwrought); Arnaldur Indridason, The Shadow Killer (losing his way, I fear).
Reliable pleasures: Tana French (Witch Elm deserves a better fate: it’s typically gorgeous and tricksy, but for the first time French concentrates on an individual rather than a relationship; I’ve read some grumbling about it, and I don’t get it); Jeanne Birdsall (Penderwicks 4eva!); John Harvey (the new book is his last and it is very sad); Ellis Peters (check out Levi Stahl’s lovely piece); Ian Rankin (came back to Rebus after many years away, and am catching up—sometimes the writing is bad, but he’s good at weaving subplots, and at knowing when a book is long enough); Phillip Kerr (making my way through the Bernie Guenther’s and they’re evocative, suspenseful, and damn funny: hard to pull off).
My big regret for 2018 is that I wrote almost nothing for publication. I was tired after a few very busy years. And I was scared to pitch new venues after some of the journals I’d been most associated with folded in 2017. I’m aiming to write more in 2019. Here on the blog, I would love to write more frequently and less longwindedly, but I’m coming to realize that over-long, close-reading analyses are what I do best (or what I do, anyway). I’m going to try something new, though, as a way to say a little something about more of the books I read: at the end of each month, I’ll write a round-up post, something like Elisa Gabbert’s magnificent year-end piece. I don’t have her lightness or ease, but I think it will be an exciting challenge.
As always, I’ve loved reading and writing with friends this past year. For the first time I even included a post about a book I’ve never even read (thanks, Nat!). I’d love to have more contributions from other readers and writers. If you want to suggest something to read with me, just let me know. And if you just want a place to share your thoughts about a book, say the word. I do have one concrete suggestion: join me and others to read a long Danish novel about canals and Jews! And I know I will be avidly reading Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad when it comes out this summer. And I will make it back to Anniversaries, I promise. Other than that, I’ll probably keep reading as waywardly and haphazardly as always. Although a hedgehog in personality, I am a fox when it comes to reading.
Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting in 2018—I hope you’ll stick around for more in 2019. After all, the blog is turning 5 next month! And if you want to see my reflections on the last few years, you can read about 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2017.
Gorgeous roundup, and I am 100% with you on The Kindly Ones: what a tremendous achievement! My favourite part was the surreal Stalingrad fleeing scene.
Thank you! Yes, that is a crazy scene–rather like the one at the villa in France. I think he melds realism and surrealism really effectively; by contrast, though, I didn’t think the incest/sociopathic stuff merged as well with the detailed depiction of genocide.
Wow, what a fascinating and diverse list! So much to comment on here that I might have to do it in a couple of batches.
I’m so pleased to see Reservoir 13 on your list. Like you, I listened to an audio version of this (voiced by Lee Ingleby for Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime), and it really got under my skin. One of the few contemporary books I experienced in 2018 — as you know, most of my reading is mid-20th century — but it gave me hope that the current UK literary scene is still alive and well.
Great to see Sunburn here as well. It’s already been recommend to me by another trusted reader, so I’m glad to know that you rate it very highly too. One for the list, I think.
Dorothy B. Hughes – well, you know what I think of her work, so no need for me to bang on about it again! The Expendable Man made my ‘best of’ list too.
Oh, and I’m sorry if I’ve asked you this before, but have you seen Cate Shortland’s film ‘Lore’ (adapted from one of the stories in Rachel Seiffert’s The Dark Room)? If not, it’s so worth a look. The cinematography is simply stunning.
Thanks, Jacqui! i haven’t seen Lore, though I can see why that would be the one of the three stories/narrative strands from the novel that was made into a film: it certainly has the most dramatic potential. She can make something as seemingly ordinary as fording a river riveting.
The Hughes I most want to read next is (I think( called Ride the Pink Horse. Do you know what one?
I think you would like Sunburn a lot. Worth maybe breaking the only-books-from-TBR-pile regime for.
Reservoir 13: so good. It seemed at once so English and so non-parochial. Just what England needs right now IMO!
Ride the Pink Horse is great, very compelling – maybe not as accomplished as Expendable or Lonely Place, but still worth reading. Do you have a copy of it? If not, I would be very happy to send you mine. Just DM me your address if you’d like it.
Oh, re: the TBR, I have been buying a few books every now and again, just not very many compared to my usual run rate. Maybe 8 or 10 over the course of last year? I don’t think I could stick to a complete book buying ban, that would be too harsh even for me!
As far as I am concerned, 8-10 books over a year is like buying no books. Such restraint!
Yes please, end of month roundups even if you don’t get to the reviewing, such a great list of books that have stayed with you, thanks for sharing and look forward to more in 2019. Happy Reading!
Thanks, Claire. I appreciate the encouragement! Happy reading to you, too!
I’ve read Reservoir 13 twice and loved it even more the second time. Talk about a book that breaks the rules of writing to great success.
Good to hear it holds up! I think it’s a really impressive achievement. It really does make you ask: What does a book need to be interesting?
And the answer to that question is: It depends on the book. 🙂
It would have been easy for Reservoir to have failed, yet it really captivated me.
Put this way, it looks like quite a pile of books, doesn’t it?
That Littell novel has developed quite an academic industry around it. I want to read it someday, although for some of the reasons you mention, I do not exactly want to read it.
Yes, I’ve had it on my shelf since it came out and always shied away from it. With good reason, it turns out. But it’s also kind of amazing. Not sure I would have read it if I didn’t teach Holocaust for a living, though…
Plenty of wonderful books here. The Wall is a marvel. I read it as a teenager and it has stayed with me. How often can you say that? I also tend to include books on my list that stayed with me. Sometimes I read a book and liked it a great deal and at the end of the year I have zero recollection of it. I liked Swimming Lessons but Bitter Orange was an odd beast of a book. Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs Westaway, which is more mainstream crime worked better although it has pastiche elements. I’m intrigued by many of the books on your list but try not too buy too many this year. Happy New Year.
Happy New Year, Caroline! Thanks for commenting. I know what you mean about not buying too many books, but I also know I am absolutely going to fail…
I should try Swimming Lessons. I thought Our Endless was quite good–it actually shares quite a bit with The Wall, though it’s nowhere near as good. I’m not sure why Bitter Orange didn’t work, but it didn’t, at least not for me. Good to know you felt similarly. I have never read Ruth Ware, but I should give her a shot.
Have you read other books by Haushofer? Why isn’t she a famous genius of German-language literature? I mean, I love Bernhard, but Haushofer is just as good!
She’s very famous here, you know. Btw, the movie is very good too. I’ve started another of her novels but didn’t get into it at the top me. It was good though. I’ll get to it again. My theory is that if a German book hasn’t won a recent prize or is about WWII the chances for it to be translated are minimal. Bitter Orange felt like reading something one has read a hundred times before.
I will fail too but I can’t buy Reservoir 13 as long as I have two unread novels by the author.
Definitely true what you say about WWII–that is the key for German books to be translated into English.
Good to know Haushofer is as famous as she ought to be back home. A couple of her other books are in English, but she should be as well-known as Sebald or Bernhard IMO. Maybe the answer is straightforward sexism. That’s usually the answer.
Good to know about the movie. I’ve been curious, but leery. I don’t want it to ruin my experience of the book!
I would let some time pass before watching the movie. It might not spoil the experience but overlap. That happens to me sometimes and then with hindsight I’m not sure anymore which one was which.
Yes, sexism’s, sadly, is often a reason too. I’m just reading an interesting book about writers’ and philosophers’ inspiring moments, all through the ages, and there’s not one single woman in the book, although it starts with Plato and ends with Sloterdijk.
Good advice about the movie. My local library has it, so I am sure I’ll get to it eventually.
There is so much in this post it does make me wish you blogged more often, so I like the idea of your monthly round-ups! Your reading list is so different from mine, and you often like books (ahem, the Lippman) that I don’t or maybe don’t give enough of a try to that your explorations of them is always particularly interesting. Here’s to another good reading year in 2019.
Thanks, Rohan. I’m going to try the roundups. Max from Pechorin also uses them to good effect. I wish I had your ability to write short reviews that ask key questions of the book. I’m a bit hopeless at keeping things short, it is such a failing. I really admire how much you do in a relatively short space. Anyway, yes, here’s to more good reading and conversation in 2019.
Ha: I wonder how many of us imagine we would be “better” writers if we wrote like someone else, or what someone else writes — I read your deep, detailed posts and feel awed and kind of inadequate! Probably the truth is that you could writer shorter, not (as the joke goes) if you had more time but if you had to. i would like to write longer pieces again and hope to find my way to that somehow.
That is a generous way to put it. We are both pretty good at what we do, after all!
I hope you find your way to those pieces too!
You are one of my inspirations for trying to read more translated fiction in 2019, and I too would love to see short round-ups from you. Such an interesting list, and very different from what I’ve been reading (though I did enjoy Kolymsky Heights very much, thanks to you). I put Emma Viskic as a good discovery of the year, but I can’t disagree with your assessment. Perhaps I was in the mood for overwrought this year. I read Border and Reservoir 13 in 2017 and they were two of my very favorites that year.
Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series is fun, with a James-Bond style teen spy, if you have a reader of that age (I read some when my son was into them). I didn’t like his sherlock Holmes book, House of Silk, but I should try some of his other stuff.
Happy reading this year!
Thanks, Liz! It’s heartening to hear interest in round-up reviews.
I really liked Border when I first read it, but now I like it even more. I think about it a lot. I’m very curious about what she will do next. Her first book was less interesting; in fact I didn’t finish it.
I’m actually quite curious about Alex Rider (Horowitz talks about those books in The Word is Murder). My daughter won’t be ready for them for a few years: might have to just read one myself. I read Moriarty, which left me pretty indifferent. But give The Word is Murder a try.
Happy reading to you as well! Thanks so much for commenting!
It sounds like I should give the Littel a try, though I could have wished for a more ringing endorsement. And you’ve intrigued me about the Molly Applebaum too; will have to add it to the Holocaust diaries you recommended in an earlier post.
I too like the idea of monthly roundups, although I also get your point about liking to produce a more sustained commentary on a given text. This summary reminds me how many times I have begun reading your posts thinking “I would never read this book”, yet after reading your close analysis, have ended up thinking “I really need to read this book!” It does take time and effort to achieve that.
I would be especially curious what you make of Applebaum’d diary, because once she arrived in Canada she lived in Sydney, NS for several years! (She talks about this in the memoir added to the diary.) She makes it sound as though there was something of a community of refugees/survivors there in the first two decades after the war, which I would be curious to know more about.
Thanks for much for what say about the reviews, Nat. It means a lot to me that you would find them compelling. Right back at you (for example, Callaghan was *not* on my radar). Here’s hoping for more contributions from you this year!
Wow, now I definitely need to track down that book. It does not surprise me that a community of survivors would have sprung up at the time as this was once a booming community, and one of the first ports of call in North America. And there was certainly a thriving Jewish community here, although it has now dwindled to almost nothing. When I first came here, I went to a talk by a survivor named Philip Riteman (and subsequently bought his book) so I was aware of some local connections, but didn’t know how extensive this community was. It’s definitely something I should try to find out more about.
Thanks for the invitation; I will certainly let you know the next time I am struck with the urge to write something!
Yes, she arrived in Halifax but shortly thereafter was resettled in Sydney. After a few years she moved to Toronto.
My reading in 2018 only crossed over a couple of times with yours. Sabrina – awesome; I love graphic novels and this is by far one of the best I’ve read. Sight – a beautifully intelligent novel and more crucially unashamed of its intelligence and not smug either. I saw Jessie talk about it at Waterstones in Islington just after it came out. She is so bright and lovely with it.
I’ve been a long term fan of Jon McGregor and Reservoir 13 was one of my favourite books of 2018.
I haven’t read Sunburn, but my husband has and he didn’t enjoy it. In fact I’ve just double checked with him and all he said was “crap’ ah well! I’ll probably give it a miss. That’s the beauty of books; everyone has different tastes and a view such makes for interesting conversation. Thanks for this round up. Berlin Alexanderplatz is a book I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time but somehow always put off because I should read it in German. Will seek out some of the others.
For a long time I too thought I should read Berlin A in German, but honestly it’s just too hard for me, and I do think the translation is pretty inspired.
Agree re: Sabrina. I only read 5 or 6 graphic novels last year but it was probably the highlight.
I really love what you say about Sight: “a beautifully intelligent novel and more crucially unashamed of its intelligence and not smug either.” Really well put–lucky you to have been able to hear her.
I’m baffled anyone wouldn’t like Sunburn. I thought it was so clever, plus super suspenseful. I’m so curious what he didn’t like about it!
At any rate, thanks so much for commenting. Do you have any reading plans for 2019?
I’m probably planning to do more monthly roundups myself in future, as you mention above in the comments. It seems a reasonable compromise.
Anyway, great list. I often find that when I start to think about my reading year it feels disappointing, but then when I actually think further I find it hard to narrow down my list. Nice to see I’m not alone in that.
Reservoir 13 is already very much on my TBR pile. More Manning too obviously. Interesting to see the Haushofer made your list.
I have the Lutes’ Berlin trilogy/compendium. Glad to see you think it ended well.
Berlin A is an interesting one. I read and really enjoyed the older translation (review at mine), but by all accounts this translation is better and there was room for improvement (through passage of time mostly, I actually don’t think the older one deserves its negative reputation, particularly given how few others had given a go at translating it).
Sunburn also sounds interesting, and of course Jacqui has already put Dorothy B Hughes on my radar. So many books…
Look forward to reading your thoughts as the year progresses.
Hofman is quite complimentary about the Jolas translation, and he used it (i.e. copied it) for most of the songs. I’ve never read the earlier translation, but I bet it is just fine. I found Hofman’s really approachable, though.
So much good stuff on your list, too, Max. I hope to get to a few of them this year. I actually think you might have firsdt given me the idea for monthly round-ups, come to think of it. Sorry I didn’t acknowledge that. I think it might be a good happy medium.
Thanks for commenting–happy 2019, and enjoy both your new job and lots of good reading.
You did mention me in respect of monthly updates – that’s what reminded me to comment on them. It’s not original to me though so no need for any credit. I think I got it from Tony’s Reading List or possibly David Hebblethwaite.
Glad to hear Hofman rated the Jolas. I still may give his a go though. Berlin A is just extraordinary after all.
Ha! Can’t even remember my own post! You are right, both Tony and David use that format too.
Berlin A is a damn good book.
Oh, I knew I forgot something. I have Tidhar’s Central Station. If I get along with that I might try Unholy Land given your recommendation.
I thought Central Station was ok. Unholy Land was a big step up IMO.
That’s not so bad. I don’t mind starting with the weaker one (assuming it’s not actually bad, which it doesn’t sound from what you say) and stepping up to better.
It is not bad: worth reading
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