2010 Books Read

Round-up of the books I read this year, in the order in which I read them. I am nearly finished with one last book (a collection of stories by Miranda July, given to me by my sister Siobhan for my birthday), but I’m not done with it yet, so it’s not on the 2010 list.

1. The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell. Words can’t express how much I loved this book. She is such a funny writer, but her passion for her topic comes through. It was nice to read about Roger Williams, the father of my home state (and one of Pat’s ancestors was with Williams’ original merry band who left Massachusetts!) Love Vowell. My favorite quote in the book? “Seriously, Martha, bring that axe.”

2. Roman Polanski: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series)

3. The Gonne-Yeats Letters 1893-1938. I loved how entire worlds opened up in the footnotes.

4. Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde, by Thomas Wright.

5. Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, edited by Richard Ellmann. This was what I read throughout my stay on Block Island.

6. Beware of Pity, by Stefan Zweig. Phenomenal terrifying novel. My review here.

7. The Block Island Cookbook, 1962. Compiled by the First Baptist Church on Block Island. I read it cover to cover. It was awesome. Excerpts here.

8. Andrei Tarkovsky: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series)

9. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., by the great Ron Chernow. Incredible. My review here.

10. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin. I finally read this magnificent novel. My review here.

11. The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups, by Ron Rosenbaum. I am in love with every page of this book. I tore it UP.

12. A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving, and Their Remarkable Families, by Michael Holroyd. A book I had been dying to read, since I first heard rumors about it. I’ve read Ellen Terry’s autobiography (my review here, and of course Henry Irving plays a huge part, but to have a dual-biography about them and their fascinating families … Loved the book. Great information. Here’s one of the posts I wrote while reading the book.

13. Memoirs, Tennessee Williams. I have read these before. They’re haunting. One of my posts about it here.

14. The Wave Of The Future, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. With all of the Lindbergh books I have read (her diaries, all five volumes, as well as her books about their flights), I had never read this one – the only controversial thing she ever wrote. Basically the message is: The Nazis are inevitable, but something better will come after them, so we need to accept this wave crashing over us right now. She tries to twist it into something that it really isn’t – a more hopeful message – but what it’s really about is appeasement. She clearly wrote it to try to support her husband’s controversial stance during WWII, and it did NOT go well for her. It’s a creepy little book. You can feel her struggling to keep it under control: her theme and its implications are too big for her. Her personal writing (diaries, and in Gift From the Sea) is amazing. Here, not so much. Also, her motives were not pure. She was trying to protect her husband, explain him. Anyway, I had always wanted to read it – saw a second-hand copy somewhere and picked it up.

15. The Paris Review Interviews, I. Cousin Mike sent me the box set of four volumes of interviews with writers in The Paris Review. They go from Dorothy Parker to Stephen King. From Hemingway to Toni Morrison. Awesome. Thanks, cousin Mike!

16. Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for the FBI , by Robert K. Ressler. Awesome.

17. A Train of Powder: Six Reports on the Problem of Guilt and Punishment In Our Time, by the great Rebecca West. I’m a West fan, but I had never read this. It’s incredible. Some of my thoughts here.

18. The New Meaning of Treason, by Rebecca West. Another one of hers I hadn’t read. Her reporting on the many treason trials in England following WWII. She ends with the whole Profumo affair. She’s so awesome.

19. Memo from David O. Selznick : The Creation of “Gone with the Wind” and Other Motion Picture Classics, as Revealed in the Producer’s Private Letters, Telegrams, Memorandums, and Autobiographical Remarks. An amazing on-the-ground look at the relentless producer.

20. The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood, by David Thomson. For me, the book never lives up to the greatness of the first chapter, a description of Robert Towne’s obsession with water in Los Angeles, and how he saw it as a great trilogy (Chinatown being the first), but alas, it was not meant to be. I like some of it, and I like Thomson’s writing, but it’s really that first chapter that soars.

21. My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, by Chelsea Handler. This woman makes me laugh.

22. The Shark-Infested Custard, by Charles Willeford. A chilling book. My review here.

23. Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, by Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson. This book is so infuriating I felt like I was burning up from within as I read it.

24. Columbine, by Dave Cullen.

25. Final Cut : Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven’s Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists, by Steven Bach. I had read this before, a couple of times, actually. A riveting book.

26. The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson. Some of these stories have a way of insinuating themselves into your DNA, and ruining a perfectly nice day. She is a terrifying writer, and this is an amazing collection.

27. The Jaws Log, by Carl Gottlieb. A classic.

28. The Letters of Sylvia Beach – sent to me by the editor of the collection. I had been dying to read it (some posts here and here). What a life. It’s great to hear her “voice” in the letters, which was not at all what I expected. She had very little time to devote to correspondence, so the prose is rushed, funny, and self-deprecating. Humble, homey, honest – you can see why people wanted to hang out at Shakespeare & Co.

29. Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting, by William Goldman. Another classic.

30. Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors, by Peter Bogdanovich. This is a book I dip into constantly, and reference almost every other day. It’s huge. It took me months to finish it.

31. The Silver Swan, by Benjamin Black (or John Banville). Sequel to the noir Christine Falls, I had been looking forward to it. My review here.

32. Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Brilliant. Scary-modern. My review here.

33. The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A collection of personal essays, one of which being about his “crack-up”, one of the best descriptions of what “cracking up” feels like that I have ever read. I started to read the book last year, and had to put it down. It was too close to home. It is an incredible collection, so glad I finally finished it.

34. Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. It’s too brilliant for me to take in all at once. My review here.

35. The Lemur: A Novel, by Benjamin Black – this is NOT a “Quirke” book, like Christine Falls and Silver Swan. Not wacky about this one.

36. The Old Man and The Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. Naturally, I have read this before, but it was years and years ago. And this last time I was unable to see it as anything OTHER than a metaphor for writer’s block.

37. The Newton Letter, by John Banville. Early Banville. My review here.

38. A Handful of Dust, by Evelyn Waugh. More brilliance. My review here.

39. Kazan on Directing. Must-read.

40. Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3, by Annie Proulx. Had been dying for this collection to come out. Nobody writes like her. Nobody.

41. The Barracks, by John McGahern. God, that guy was good. My review here.

42. Boyhood of Grace Jones, by Jane Langton. One of my favorite books growing up. I haven’t read it since I was 10 years old, so I decided to re-visit it. It’s terrific, even better than I remembered it. I reference it here.

43. The Planets, by Dava Sobel. I’ve read all her other stuff. This one is a bit different, but I loved it.

44. Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford. It took me a couple of days to shake off the effect of this book. My review here.

45. The Paris Review Interviews, III

46. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. It was really fun to read this book again. The last time was maybe in college? Or post-college? I remember some sections almost word for word, but there was much I had forgotten.

47. Tell Me Everything: A Novel, by Sarah Salway. Amazing characters, prickly and odd, and beautiful writing. I love her stuff.

48. House of Stairs, by William Sleator. His book Into the Dream was one of my favorite books growing up and I still love it. Not too crazy about this one though. It didn’t have the characters I could click into. I don’t know, it fell kind of flat for me.

49. The Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten, 1960-1980, by Peter Bogdanovich. Reading this book was like pulling over to look at a car wreck on the highway. I almost felt bad about it. I wonder if he has had second thoughts about publishing this book.

50. Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, by Peter Biskind. What a book.

51. Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw;: A correspondence,. An incredible correspondence. I think they only met one or two times. They saved their intimacy for their letters. It was an intellectual love affair, I suppose. She was his favorite actress, and he was obsessed for years with having her do one of his plays. He thought she was wasted at The Lyceum. There are too many gems in these letters (a back and forth about Imogen in Cymbeline should be required reading to anyone playing that part).

52. Joan Blondell: A Life between Takes, by Matthew Kennedy. I went on a Joan Blondell tear this fall (posts here, here, here). This book was a big part of that.

53. Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith. Pretty amazing for a first novel. A murder mystery set in Russia in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death? Yeah, sign me up. Could not put this book down. Could not do it.

54. With Their Backs to the World: Portraits from Serbia, by Åsne Seierstad. I have owned this book for a while, but never read it until now. Many of the people I met in its pages will stay with me. She’s a terrific writer.

55. This is Orson Welles, by Peter Bogdanovich. I’ve read it before. It’s a go-to book. Full of too much awesomeness to even count. Fantastic. I love the interview format.

56. About Alice, by Calvin Trillin. His memoir about his wife who passed away.

57. The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt. A giant book, a giant accomplishment. She’s been coming out with short story collections for a couple of years now, and I had a feeling she was working on something huge. Not only is it huge in a George Eliot sense (one of Byatt’s idols), but it’s long and dense, with about 10 (maybe more) main characters. I struggled, in the first 100 pages, to keep them all straight – but eventually, they sunk in. Each character has his own journey to take, through Victorian England. The word “sweeping” comes to mind, but that would do the book a disservice. It is, true to Byatt form, a specific and deep excavation of a certain time, a certain place. I loved every page, and the last 2 pages brought me to tears. She has done it again.

58. The Paris Review Interviews, II

59. The Likeness: A Novel, by Tana French. Sequel of a sorts to In the Woods. I couldn’t put The Likeness down. There’s been an unsolved murder south of Dublin. Cassie, the homicide detective and undercover cop we had met in In the Woods is back, and she goes undercover to try to solve the case. And she goes so far undercover that you fear she will never come out. Ms. French can WRITE.

60. Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, by Richard Brookhiser. Wonderful. I knew some about him (mainly the story about Hamilton daring him to throw his arm around Washington in a familiar manner), but a lot of it was totally new to me. I really LIKE the guy.

61. Where Angels Fear to Tread, by E.M. Forster. Hadn’t read this one. The first chapter made me laugh out loud.

62. The Egotists: Sixteen Surprising Interviews, by Oriana Fallaci. Great stuff. Ingrid Bergman. Sean Connery. Hitchcock. Dean Martin. Nguyen Cao Ky.

63. Good Friday: The Death of Irish Republicanism, by Anthony McIntyre. I am friends with Anthony’s wife Carrie, and she sent me his book a couple of years ago and I am just getting to it now. When Allison and I went to Belfast, we stayed with Carrie and Anthony and their beautiful daughter (directions from Carrie to her home here), and they showed us around the area where they lived, a Catholic neighborhood famous in terms of its role in The Troubles. I will always remember their generosity in opening up their home to us. McIntyre is a journalist and writer, and he and Carrie ran the site The Blanket, a “journal of protest and dissent”. It is, granted, difficult to keep the politics of Northern Ireland straight at times, but McIntyre’s book, made up of his published essays throughout the years, is a great way to deepen your understanding, AND to hear the voices that have been crushed out of the “peace process”. It was a very sad book. McIntyre has a long history in Northern Ireland and spent 17 years in prison, and was part of the Blanket protest and had friends die on hunger strike, and his dismay at the sidelining of the republican voices during the “peace process” is palpable. He’s a marvelous writer.

64. Fred Astaire, by Joseph Epstein. Adored it.

65. The Same Man: George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh in Love and War, by David Lebedoff. I had been dying to read this, and a very nice blog-reader sent it to me for my 8-year blogging anniversary. Isn’t that so nice? I tore through it. Fascinating stuff. Knew a lot about Orwell, but not so much about Waugh (besides his novels), so that part of it was really interesting. And it seems that they only met once.

66. The Belle of Amherst: A One-Woman Play, by William Luce. Re-read as research for my piece on Fandor.

67. Reading in the Dark: A Novel, by Seamus Deane. Deane is a well-known Irish poet (my post about him here, and Reading in the Dark is his first novel, about the ghost-ridden childhood of the main character, growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the wake of WWII, up to the time of explosions of the late 60s and early 70s. Amazing book. One of the best novels I’ve read all year.

68. Memoir: My Life and Themes, by Conor Cruise O’Brien. A fascinating life, and boy does he feel the same way too! As my father would say, “what a puff-puff”. As in “hot air”. HOWEVER: the sections on his childhood are fascinating, and his time in Katanga and Ghana and all the rest during the civil wars of the 1960s is fascinating. The book is funny, too. I welcomed his self-deprecation at times, and his admission that he really could use a bit more humility. Indeed. But the childhood/young man sections are fantastic. What a family he grew up in. Right on the front lines, and along the fault lines, of the Easter Rising and the following civil war in Ireland.

69. George Washington: The Founding Father, by Paul Johnson. Part of the Eminent Lives series. I’ve read Paul Johnson’s massive A History of the American People. This is a slim volume, compared to that one, and I’ve read about 6 full biographies of Washington now, so there is nothing new here, but the elegance of his prose and his point of view is quite welcoming.

70. The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean, by Susan Casey. She’s quite a talented writer. She spends much of the book following Laird Hamilton around, but there is also research that takes her to Lloyd’s of London, and a top maritime salvaging company in South Africa, and tracking down wave experts wherever she can find them. Terrifying those giants of the ocean. I never want to see a 100 foot wave, thankyouverymuch, but I certainly want to read about those people who have encountered such a monster, and who not only survived to tell the tale, but, in some cases, are dying to see one again.

2009 books read
2008 books read
2007 books read
2006 books read
2005 books read

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37 Responses to 2010 Books Read

  1. Phil P says:

    I read The New Meaning of Treason many years ago and found it fascinating, especially the first chapter about William Joyce. I also recall the monomaniac obsessed with insurance companies not being allowed to invest in commodities, and who supported the Nazis because he thought them sound on the issue. At the time I thought that hilarious, although now that I know more about finance, I think he had a point (I don’t mean about the Nazis).

    Did you know West’s first book about was about Henry James? I’ve read it because unlike you I’m a fan of his. What amazed me was that she was all of 23 years old yet seemed to have read his complete works (including nonfiction) and wrote about it with amazing insight. It might have been the work of a 50 year old professor who had devoted her life to the subject.


  2. sheila says:

    Phil – I haven’t read that book! I should definitely check it out. She really was such a phenom, love her to death!

    Yes, those treason trials were fascinating. Chilling. And her perspective in particular … Wonderful book.

  3. Phil P says:

    I’m not sure why you would want to read the James book since you don’t like him (and I’m not trying to convert you!). She’s by no means an uncritical admirer – she’s enthusiastic about some books and scathing about others. That’s a curious thing about James I’ve noticed; a lot of people, including myself, have mixed reactions to his works but disagree about which parts are the gold and which the dross. But it makes it the more remarkable that she had read so much of him at such a young age – she must have been doing other things too! Of course they didn’t have the time wasters we have today.

  4. sheila says:

    I’m a fan of her literary analysis and book reviews in general (I have a copy of a lot of her earliest book reviews called Young Rebecca), and her literary taste is quite strange and very much her own. She has no interest in the “canon” – she grew up completely on her own, intellectually, with very little guidance (at least in terms of what she should and shoul dnot be reading), and therefore her responses to things are often very personal and unique.

    I’m interested in it because it’s she who wrote it. I love the way her mind works. It’s so unexpected!

  5. Lisa says:

    I just bought Carrie’s husband’s book. I used to read The Blanket all the time.

  6. sheila says:

    Lisa – Look for a cameo from yours truly. Because yeah, Anthony’s book is all about me. But our visit is mentioned and I felt oddly famous and flattered.

  7. sheila says:

    It describes our trip to Bobby Sands’ grave.

    We also drove by the Sinn Fein offices and saw Gerry Adams’ car. Then we went and had some Starbucks. Then we went home and watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and wept copious tears when the family saw their new house.

  8. Lisa says:

    Speaking of Ireland (SEGUE!), did you ever see The Wind that Shakes the Barley?

  9. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Re: West: Then I take it you’ve read *The Strange Necessity*?

    I don’t know her James book, but I used her study of St. Augustine for a paper on the Manicheans. In it, she called Manicheanism “less a religion than a work of art.”

    Here’s something you may not know about Evelyn Waugh and *A Handful of Dust*: the penultimate chapter, “Du Cote de Chez Todd,” which began as “The Man Who Liked Dickens,” was adapted twice for radio, first for “Suspense” in 1947 and then for “Escape” in 1952. The first version follows Waugh’s story up to Mr. Todd’s admission about *Little Dorrit,* and then…

    (Brace yourself)

    The rescue party fires off some guns — a farewell salute, I suppose — and Tony Last starts a fire, alerting them. The party returns and Tony’s brother Mark (more time for the cousins at the Stinkeries if there’s a brother Mark) rescues him, leaving Mr. Todd with a handful of ashes (original title!) and no one to read to him any more.

    (You may unbrace yourself)

    Happily, the “Escape” version does end where Waugh’s does, and it makes a slight improvement in the story. Waugh treats the gold hunter who gets the message out about Tony very cursorily; “Suspense” allows the gold hunter a word which sounds like a grunt (causing me to doubt that he’d understand what the man wants). “Escape” gives him a minute or two to speak and lets him ask a sensible question:

    “Why don’t you come with me?”

    The answer Tony gives is that to do so would be risking both their lives. The script is the work of John Meston, who later created “Gunsmoke.”

    In *The Speaker of Mandarin,* Ruth Rendell has Chief Inspector Wexford (who has daughters named Sylvia and Sheila — his favorite is Sheila) in China, where he’s brought a lot to read. Among the books is *Vanity Fair,* which he’s reading for the third time. Thus, two questions for you:

    First: How often do you re-read things? Friends gave me the complete works of J.K. Rowling recently, and I’ll re-read *The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone* and then continue on, but the last time I believe I re-read a novel was eleven or twelve years ago when I bought the Library of America’s second *Crime Novels* collection and I went happily through Jim Thompson’s *Killer Inside Me* again.

    Second: Why do you? When I read a tricky author whom I don’t like, I’m told to re-read him or her, and I can’t help thinking: “I shouldn’t have to read this three times to get the same thing I’d get out of reading someone else once. I should want to do it.” (Most often I don’t.)

    Willeford is also in the Library of America volume with *Pick-Up.* The Hoke Moseley books are very good, but my favorite of his is probably *The Woman Chaser.*

    Steeleye Span recorded “The Demon Lover” on their *Commoners Crown* album. I think I heard their version three or four times before I connected it with James Harris and the fragment of the Child Ballad with which Shirley Jackson concluded *The Lottery.* I don’t know whether that’s fair or right!

  10. dg says:

    Sheila, first of all, you are a machine. I guess last year will just go down as an off year for you. I recently read the first novel by Ms French and am looking forward to getting around to The Likeness. Were you somewhat disappointed with the outcome of In the Woods? I mean it was a two headed mystery and as far as I can tell only one of the mysteries gets resolved. I know many great books are left open ended but but when I go for a crime novel I want some
    resolution. Naive?

  11. sheila says:

    Charles – I haven’t read Strange Necessity. I haven’t read any of her novels either. She’s so dense for me, and difficult – I really need mind-space to tackle her. Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is one of the best books I have ever read, and I couldn’t digest even half of it, it was so brilliant.

    I haven’t read her book on St. Augustine either although she was quite interesting about that book in the Paris Review interview with her. What a mind, what a life. I love that she was one of the witnesses in Reds.

    More later.

  12. sheila says:

    dg – last year was definitely off. I stopped being able to read, at least for pleasure, sometime around February and March and that lasted for months. 6 months or something. I had a crack-up. And I was grieving a loss. Books lost their interest totally.

    Now about In the Woods: I know what you mean, but I can’t help but wonder if Ms. French held it back – that she will come back to that mystery in a later book. I think she always had a series in mind. Also, I think it gives the book kind of an uncertain oomph, that that one mystery is not resolved. But I also wonder if she has big plans for another book on that topic.

    I haven’t read the third one, but I’m hooked now, I’ll read them all!

  13. phil says:

    My worst year reading. The only one completed, taking most of the year, was By-Line:Ernest Hemingway, a wonderful book collection of magazine and newspaper articles.

    Is the George Washington book on your list the best, or would you recommend another first, sheila?

  14. sheila says:

    Phil – you mean the best book I read this year, or the best Washington biography?

    In my opinion, the best Washington biography is His Excellency, by Joseph Ellis.

    I am so busy right now – I wanted to compile a “best of the year” for both fiction and non-fiction and I will do so when I’m not working under a deadline.

    I read a lot of good books this year – I have many “favorites”.

    Best non-fiction is probably the Rockefeller biography. Best fiction? Ugh. Winter’s Tale, probably, although Children’s Book blew me away, and Brideshead Revisited was mind-blowing.

  15. sheila says:

    That Hemingway book sounds wonderful!!

  16. sheila says:

    Charles – I absolutely did not know that about the radio performance of Handful of Dust – that is so insane!

    Ever since I read the book, I think of poor Tony Last from time to time, and wonder if he’s gotten sick of reading Bleak House yet, out there in the vast jungle.

    so brilliant!!!!

  17. Tommy says:

    Wordy Shipmates was one of my favorites of the past year. I’ve gotten to be a big fan of Vowell’s. It’s a rare writer who makes me laugh out loud, but she can do it.

  18. sheila says:

    Tommy – totally. She’s a history geek like me, you can FEEL the nerdiness of her in her writing – and yes, she makes me laugh out loud too. “Seriously, Martha, bring that axe.”

  19. dg says:

    Sheila, ok let’s hope Ms. French revisits the case of Rob Ryan…I’m glad Cassie is back for the second novel. I found her character multi layered and well written. I was also looking at some of your readings from previous years(did you sleep in 08?) and noticed your comment about Dorian Gray being the gayest novel you’d ever read. I would pretty much agree with but then I noticed in the meantime you read Brideshead. The first part of Brideshead I would put right up there with Dorian Gray on the gay scale no? I believe Charles Ryder described his relationship with Sebastion as a love of the ancient kind.

  20. sheila says:

    dg – Yes, Brideshead is quite openly gay in that first section – but it’s the REVELING in it in Dorian Gray that made that book the gayest thing I have ever encountered, outside of a Bruce Weber photograph. Brideshead is more about the love – it’s quite tragic, isn’t it? Dorian Gray is about decadence and committing fully to the surface of things. Not that that is gay, per se, but I think the closet was so extreme at that point, so total, that the expression of gayness had to come out in extreme ways. There was no other way to even talk about the love that dareth not speak its name.

    It was the almost pornographic reveling in male beauty that really struck me this most recent time I read DG. Oscar Wilde was honest, man!!

    I am eager to read the third French book – the title escapes me at the moment – and I know nothing about it, I have avoided all reviews – so I’m eager to see which character she hones in on now.

  21. KC says:

    Great list. I see a few interesting titles here that I have, but haven’t read yet. I’ve got to get them out! Have you ever read Vile Bodies? That’s another good Waugh book. I might read that again this coming year.

  22. sheila says:

    KC – I love Vile Bodies, too! Hilarious and angry. Such a brilliant social satire.

    God, he’s the best!

  23. Thanks for reading Columbine. I hope you liked it.

    God, I wish I could read that quickly. Or had that discipline.

  24. sheila says:

    Hey, Dave! I was rushed in putting this list together, and unfortunately your wonderful and chilling book got the short end of the stick in terms of me writing about it. I loved it – I think I read it in 2 days, never wanting to put it down. Your research has paid off. Congratulations!

  25. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Re: West:

    Well, I think you have to expect that level of intelligence from someone who chose her name from the heroine of Ibsen’s *Rosmerholm.* (Not one of the more-performed plays, is it? Sometimes I think that Ibsen in New York is limited to the most celebrated dramas — I’ve seen *Hedda Gabler* twice, once with Kate Burton and once with Elizabeth Marvel, and *Ghosts,* *A Doll’s House* and *The Master Builder* once — which doesn’t allow time for *Rosmerholm,* *Little Eyolf* or {the one I most would like to see} *John Gabriel Borkman.*) I’m in agreement with you on *Black Lamb and Grey Falcon* — it is a remarkable book, although it is one I had to wait years to read. (My High School French teacher mentor recommended it to me at eighteen and I took it out of the library — and didn’t get very far. Twenty years later, I tried it again and was overwhelmed: or “knocked out,” as someone would say in “Tough Baby,” the language West names in talking to her husband.)

    I haven’t read any of her novels, either. As proof that she’ll always have some connection to H.G. Wells, though, I note that her first novel *The Return of the Soldier* is part of the Virago Modern Classics series, as is Wells’s *Ann Veronica.* (And so is, I’m delighted to note, George Gissing’s *Odd Women.* Gissing is my favorite first-rate second-rank Victorian author.)

    Re: Tony Last:

    Here’s a frightening thought: through the countless reading and re-reading, he becomes even more passionate about Dickens than his host, to the point that Mr. Todd wants him to leave.

    “The Indians have built a boat for you, Mr. Last.”

    “Leave you, Mr. Todd? Leave Dickens? No, where it was once hard cheese for me, it shall never be hard times for these times for you and me — I shall no more desert you than Mrs. Micawber would desert Mr. Micawber!”

    “To be honest, Mr. Last, I think I have had enough Dickens for a while.”

    “Don’t I read well?”

    “You read beautifully, sir, but perhaps it is time for another reader. I shall help you to Manao and you shall hire another man to read for me, as you offered. Yes, that is what we shall do. We will leave in the morning.”

    “There is nothing for me outside your settlement, Mr. Todd. I refuse to budge. Now, I shall resume with Richard Carstone’s meeting with Mr. Vholes…”

    “Mr. Last, if you go to Manao, you may replace my worn-out volumes with new ones and then we may resume our present agreeable life.”

    “I hadn’t thought of that!”

    “So, you see, it is only for the nonce, and soon I — we — shall return.”

    “Oh, jolly good! And as a way of variety, while we are in town, I shall see about laying in a stock of the complete works of Anthony Trollope for you!”

    “Trollope? Is he an author, too?”

    “Oh, yes.”

    “And did he write as many books as Dickens?”

    “He wrote three or four times more than he did!”


    “Aren’t you pleased?”

    “I am overjoyed, Mr. Last.”

    “I can well understand that, Mr. Todd. So what time shall we leave in the morning?”

    “After breakfast.”

    “That will allow time for another chapter of *Bleak House* then.”

    “On second thought, we shall leave at daybreak and eat on the boat.”

    *Vile Bodies* ends with a war breaking out, and Waugh would look at the Second World War in *Put Out More Flags* and the *Sword of Honour* trilogy. Do you know those?

    I read *Sword of Honour* in the shadow of the *Third Movement* of Anthony Powell’s *Dance to the Music of Time* and thought it neat that two such eminent British authors framed their trilogies in the light of the first act ending with the fall of France, the second ending with the invasion of the Soviet Union and the third wrapping things up, although Powell didn’t get to 1951 as Waugh did. (Waugh had high praise for *Dance,* which he likened to Proust’s *A la recherche du temps perdu,* while adding that it was quintessentially English — and much funnier.)

  26. Jen W. says:

    I was despairing a little while ago about how I couldn’t find anything that I was interested in reading, but that problem is now solved. I love these lists and your thoughts about them. Thanks!

  27. I’m am so very happy that you enjoyed the book (#66 ahem). My life currently is based in Chapter-style books and The Chronicles of Narnia, such is the life of reading with a youngling. I so love that my 6 year old has the similar passion of reading that both you and I share. It was so funny reading this post because Caleb has been writing in his journal when he finishes a book. LOVE IT!!

    Again, glad you enjoyed the book.

    All my best,

  28. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Erratum: It’s *Rosmershol,* not *Rosmerholm.*

  29. Charles J. Sperling says:

    Erratum encore: the correct title is *Rosmersholm.*

  30. Carrie says:

    So happy you got to Anthony’s book! Always wondered what you would think of it.

    Child 44 was great, and the sequel to it is pretty good, too.

    Tana French – loved her Likeness, very gothic, be interested what you think of her latest, The Faithful Place. I won’t say anything til you’ve read it.

  31. sheila says:

    Carrie – Please tell Anthony how much I loved it, won’t you? Granny Josie, as I think I told you, totally has stuck with me. I loved the on-the-ground immediacy of the pieces – many of the local news stories which really didn’t make it across the Atlantic, at least not in any pervasive way.

    Yes, looking forward to sequel to Child 44 – I mean, come on: “The Secret Speech”?? Because of my nerdiness, I already know what that will refer to. 1956, Kruschev, et al, and I can’t wait!

    The Likeness was very gothic – how sucked into that weird house she got, the intricate relationships, the insistence on “no pasts”. Very much looking forward to the next one.

  32. Lisa says:

    I’ve got too many books in my library queue to read the third one, but I feel *much* better after reading an interview with Ms. French re: the mystery in the 1st book. I was not totally satisfied with the relationship part of the 2nd book (even thought I LOVED the mystery part) but I think she’s got something up her sleeve. I know I’m intrigued enough to keep reading what she writes, which I guess is the point. :)

  33. Therese says:

    I always look forward to your end-of-the-year reading list. It’s a good reminder for me of books to add to my queue, and it’s fun to see if there’s any cross-over with stuff I’ve read. I’m excited for Benjamin Black’s Elegy for April to come out in paperback so I can devour that one next. Quirke makes a comeback, so I hear. And Seamus Deane’s Reading in the Dark is one of my favorites. Haunting stuff. Thank you for another wonderful year of reading here on your blog. All the best to you and yours in the new year!

  34. sheila says:

    Therese – I’m waiting with baited breath for Elegy for April to come out in paperback too! I love Quirke so much!

    Next year Bloomsday? Is it a date? Same time, same place? I’ll see you there!

    Happy new year!

  35. Kate says:

    Sheila – love your annual list. I read a disturbing book at my Mom’s house which claimed that Anne Morrow’s sister, previously Lindbergh’s girlfriend before Anne, accidentally killed the baby claimed to have been kidnapped and the kidnap was a coverup the family was complicit in. I hadn’t heard this theory but like many conspiracy books, it was strangely convincing and compelling.

  36. sheila says:

    Kate – I read that book years ago – I can’t remember the name. I don’t really buy it. But I certainly don’t think that they executed the right man for that crime.

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