Reading – a year in review, 2016

2016 was a good year for reading. I discovered new authors whose work I enjoyed: Rick Moody, Alexis André, David Szalay, and Rachel Cusk. I continued my affection for authors with whom I had already been acquainted: Colm Tóibín, Tom Drury, Zadie Smith, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Strout, and Kazuo Ishiguro. I also wrote short reviews of each book I read this past year and posted them on LibraryThing, a few of which I re-posted here on this blog. I’m already looking forward to another great year of reading ahead.

Stats from my 2016 reading list:

  • 24 were borrowed from our public library
  • 11 have Canadian authors
  • 22 were chosen due to personal recommendations from friends
  • 4 are by authors who appear more than once on the 2016 list
  • 1 was being reread
  • 0 was read aloud by my wife and me
  • 13 are non-fiction
  • 0 are ebooks

Books read in 2016 (69):

  • Drury, Tom. The Driftless Area
  • Moran, Caitlin. How to Build a Girl
  • Cameron, Claire. The Bear
  • Grosz, Stephen. The Examined Life
  • Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace
  • Smith, Zadie. NW
  • Moody, Rick. Hotels of North America
  • Brautigan, Richard. Trout Fishing in America
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, At Last
  • Richtel, Matt. A Deadly Wandering
  • Alexis, André. Fifteen Dogs
  • Evison, Jonathan. This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!
  • Casey, John. Beyond the First Draft: The Art of Fiction
  • Coetzee, J.M. and Kurtz, Arabella. The Good Story: Exchanges on Truth, Fiction and Psychotherapy
  • Keret, Etgar. The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and other stories
  • Christie, Michael. If I Fall, If I Die
  • Modiano, Patrick. After the Circus
  • Tóibín, Colm. The Master
  • Russell, Bertrand. The Problems of Philosophy
  • Marcus, Ben. The Age of Wire and String
  • Alexis, André. Childhood
  • Cather, Willa. A Lost Lady
  • Alexis, André. Despair and other stories
  • Oyeyemi, Helen. What is not yours is not yours: stories
  • Wilson, Kevin. The Family Fang
  • Scott, A.O. Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth
  • Doerr, Anthony. All The Light We Cannot See
  • Strout, Elizabeth. My Name Is Lucy Barton
  • Beatty, Paul. The Sellout
  • Modiano, Patrick. The Occupation Trilogy: La Place de l’Étoile, The Night Watch, and Ring Roads
  • Moody, Rick. The Ice Storm
  • Millet, Lydia. Mermaids in Paradise
  • Gardner, Leonard. Fat City
  • Petersen, Alice. Worldly Goods: stories
  • Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Virgin Suicides
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant
  • Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain
  • Szalay, David. All That Man Is
  • Currie Jr., Ron. Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles: a novel
  • Barnes, Julian. nothing to be frightened of
  • Royle, Nicholas (Ed.) Best British Short Stories 2016
  • Bryson, Bill. The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island
  • Antrim, Donald. The Emerald Light in the Air: stories
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. Strange Weather in Tokyo
  • Coe, Jonathan. Number 11
  • McKenzie, Elizabeth. The Portable Veblen
  • Goncharov, Ivan. Oblomov
  • Alexis, André. The Hidden Keys
  • Bell, James Scott. Revision and Self-Editing
  • Link, Kelly. Get in Trouble
  • Cayley, Kate (compiler), Francis, Brian (compiler), Thien, Madeleine (compiler). The Journey Prize Stories 28
  • Beukes, Lauren. Broken Monsters
  • Diaz, Junot (ed.). The Best American Short Stories 2016
  • Barrett, Andrea, and Turchi, Peter (editors). A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on Their Craft
  • Winterson, Jeanette. The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold
  • Cusk, Rachel. Outline
  • Haslett, Adam. Imagine Me Gone
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited
  • Smith, Ali. Public library and other stories
  • McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian
  • Smith, Zadie. On Beauty
  • Edugyan, Esi. Half-Blood Blues
  • Svevo, Italo. Zeno’s Conscience
  • Smith, Zadie. Swing Time
  • Atwood, Margaret. Hag-Seed
  • Tesdell, Diana Secker (ed.). New York Stories
  • Adler, Renata. Speedboat
  • Tóibín, Colm. On Elizabeth Bishop
  • Luiselli, Valeria. Faces in the Crowd


The Sifnos Chronicles – tales from a greek isle by Sharon Blomfield

Writing is a way of life, they say. I think it is good one. They also say that the life of the writer is lonely. For many writers, I’m sure that’s true. Not so much for me. I’ve been pecking away at the keyboard for some time now. But for the past five years I’ve been sharing a portion of my output on a monthly basis with a group of like-minded poets, novelists, and life writers. We read each other’s work. We offer comment and criticism. And we stoke the fire of enthusiasm.

The Sifnos Chronicles by Sharon BlomfieldThe publication of a work by one of the writers in our group is an occasion of joy. Seeing something that you’ve watched gestate, develop, and mature over the years take wing and start flying on its own—well, it feels good. I imagine the only thing that would top it would be for a book of my own to begin its life on the book store shelves. Maybe some day I’ll find out.

Sharon Blomfield has written a lovely book about her encounters on the Greek island of Sifnos. It’s the kind of place you’ll want to visit immediately and return to as often as possible. Which she has. And each time her relationship with the locals, her knowledge of the island and its history, and her love of the place expands. I’ve been watching this book take shape over the past few years and am absolutely delighted that I’ve been able to purchase it today at my local independent book store, Words Worth Books.

It’s a beautifully produced publication. I’m looking forward to enjoying it all over again.

You can find out more about the book on Sharon’s website, and while there you might also want to visit her blog where her chronicles of life on this beautiful Greek isle continue.


Reading – a year in review, 2015

2015 was a good year for reading. I discovered new authors whose work I enjoyed: Willa Cather, Tom Drury, Edward St. Aubyn, and Jane Gardam. I continued my affection for authors with whom I had already been acquainted: Jane Austen, Elena Ferrante, Colm Tóibín, Richard Ford, and Elizabeth Hay. I also wrote short reviews of each book I read this past year and posted them on LibraryThing, a few of which I re-posted here on this blog. I’m already looking forward to another great year of reading ahead.

Stats from my 2015 reading list:

  • 29 were borrowed from our public library
  • 15 have Canadian authors
  • 12 were chosen due to personal recommendations from friends
  • 13 are by authors who appear more than once on the 2015 list
  • 3 were being reread
  • 1 was read aloud by my wife and me
  • 11 are non-fiction
  • 0 are ebooks

Books read in 2015 (80):

  • Birkerts, Sven. My Sky Blue Trades
  • Bausch, Richard. Peace
  • Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks
  • Koch, Herman. The Dinner
  • Snyder, Carrie. Girl Runner
  • Modiano, Patrick. Suspended Sentences
  • Ferris, Joshua. To Rise Again At A Decent Hour
  • Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven
  • Smith, Ali. How to be Both
  • Herbert, Frank. Dune
  • Crummey, Michael. Sweetland
  • Bechtel, Greg. Boundary Problems
  • Modiano, Patrick. Dora Bruder
  • Howe, Gordie. Mr. Hockey: My Story
  • Tóibín, Colm. Nora Webster
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Laughter in the Dark
  • Veronesi, Sandro. Quiet Chaos
  • Sedaris, David. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
  • Petterson, Per. Out Stealing Horses
  • Smith, Ali. There but for the
  • Ware, Chris. Building Stories
  • Li, Yiyun. Kinder Than Solitude
  • Ford, Richard. Wildlife
  • Davis, Lydia. Can’t and Won’t
  • Chast, Roz. Can’t we talk about something more Pleasant?
  • Grossman, Lev. The Magician’s Land
  • Drury, Tom. The End of Vandalism
  • Ayoade, Richard. Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey
  • McCracken, Elizabeth. Niagara Falls All Over Again
  • Franzen, Jonathan. Freedom: a novel
  • St Aubyn, Edward. Lost for Words
  • Flanagan, Richard. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  • Gardam, Jane. Old Filth
  • Oyeyemi, Helen. The Icarus Girl
  • Modiano, Patrick. Missing Person
  • Szabó, Magda. The Door
  • Baxter, Greg. Munich Airport
  • Smith, Ali. The First Person and other stories
  • Daoud, Kamel. The Meursault Investigation
  • Grant, Rickford with Phil Bull. Ubuntu Made Easy: A Project-Based Introduction to Linux
  • Blum, Richard and Christine Bresnahan. Linux Command Line and Shell Scripting Bible
  • Bradbury, Ray. Driving Blind: Stories
  • Gibb, Camilla. The Beauty of Humanity Movement
  • King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
  • Gardam, Jane. The Man in the Wooden Hat
  • Helm, Michael. In the Place of Last Things
  • Gardam, Jane. The People on Privilege Hill
  • Gardam, Jane. Last Friends
  • Bernhard, Thomas. Correction
  • Murakami, Haruki. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
  • Tyler, Anne. A Spool of Blue Thread
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. A Clue to the Exit
  • July, Miranda. The First Bad Man
  • Ferrante, Elena. The Story of the Lost Child
  • Eisenberg, Jesse. Bream Gives Me Hiccups and other stories
  • Cotterill, Colin. The Coroner’s Lunch
  • Oyeyemi, Helen. Mr. Fox
  • Egan, Jennifer (ed.) The Best American Short Stories 2014
  • Schofield, Anakana. Martin John
  • DeWitt, Patrick. Undermajordomo Minor
  • De Sa, Anthony (compiler), Rideout, Tanis (compiler), and Snyder, Carrie (compiler). The Journey Prize Stories 27
  • Bostridge, Ian. Schubert’s Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession
  • Oyeyemi, Helen. Boy, Snow, Bird
  • Wood, James. The Nearest Thing To Life
  • Rachman, Tom. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. On The Edge
  • Zentner, Alexi. The Lobster Kings
  • Hay, Elizabeth. His Whole Life
  • Cather, Willa. My Ántonia
  • Drury, Tom. Hunts in Dreams
  • Cather, Willa. Death Comes for the Archbishop
  • Drury, Tom. Pacific
  • Hardcastle, Kevin. Debris
  • Bicknell, Jeanette. Philosophy of Song and Singing: An Introduction
  • Fitzgerald, Penelope. Innocence
  • Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks
  • Cather, Willa. The Professor’s House
  • Berger, John. A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

On rereading Sense and Sensibility slowly and with immense pleasure, as befits this beautiful Belknap Press annotated edition edited by Patricia Meyer Spacks, I am awestruck by Austen’s maturity and delicacy in this her first published novel. The opening two chapters which set the scene with the death of Henry Dashwood and then set the plot ticking with the magnanimous ungenerosity of the sole heir, John Dashwood, toward his step-mother and his three step-sisters are so finely polished that you might imagine Austen writing and rewriting them for years on end. Indeed, much of the first volume is near this level of concentrated effort. The second volume, less so, and the third more sprawling still. But by then the reader hardly notices being so caught up in the all too real lives of Elinor and her sister, Marianne. And the horridness of John Dashwood and his wife is equalled, or possibly surpassed, by the self-serving self-love of the faithless Willoughby.

Apart from the mixed characters of Elinor and Marianne, who partake of both sense and sensibility in different measures, the reader is struck by how generous Austen is with the less than perfect men, Edward and Colonel Brandon. These are specimens not on a par with Mr. Knightley from Emma, though clearly gentlemen. They are sad men, stunted in some ways. And it isn’t until their happiness is realized at the end of the novel that the possibility of their being more than they seem can even be considered. Or take a character like Mrs Jennings, who is comic in many respects yet in Austen’s hands becomes the very essence of generosity, kindness, and fellow feeling. These are characters who are determined to think well of and do well by others. If only the same could be said of all of us.

The lengthy opening essay in this edition by Patricia Meyer Spacks is wonderful. After an entire career teaching and writing on Austen and related authors, Meyer Spacks still writes with verve and economy and real interest. Proof, if any could be given, that Austen’s novels have enduring charm and bear repeated readings. By all means, if you are planning to reread Sense and Sensibility, do consider this lovely edition.

See also

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante

Once again, Elena Ferrante brings the intimate friendship of her principle characters, Elena and Lila, to life, though much of what occurs in this final novel in her Neapolitan series is harmful to their friendship. Elena rushes into her relationship with Nino Sarratore, all the the while trying to suppress her suspicion of Lila’s disapproval. Indeed, much of what Elena does and thinks and even writes in her growing career as a novelist and intellectual is shaped and conditioned either by Lila’s explicit critique or by Elena’s imagined version of what Lila might say. And so Elena acts both for and against her childhood friend, desperate to attain some form of autonomy even whilst she foregoes it in her anxiety. Elena has moved back to Naples, though not the old neighbourhood, with her two daughters. And it is motherhood that comes to dominate the themes here as first Elena and then Lila herself become pregnant. Their shared condition is emblematic of just how entwined their lives have been throughout whether they were conscious of it or not.

Eventually Elena moves with her now three daughters into the flat above Lila’s in the old neighbourhood. Here the ties with the past are strong. But so too are the ties with elements from the earlier three novels. Ferrante weaves the stories together so tightly that everything in the current novel feels as though it might have been there in the very first one, just hidden around a corner. The lives of Elena and Lila, their lovers and children, and their friends from the old neighbourhood breathe with fire. And once that fire catches you, it is nearly impossible to put the book down.

Ferrante’s Elena narrates the whole of this volume but she is not spared. Even when she is most critical of her friend, the reader sees through her fears to the self-doubt at its root. While not an unreliable narrator, we come to see her view as slanted, as given to jealousy and pettiness as any other, and so she becomes, unsympathetically, even more believable. It is a remarkable balancing act. By the end, I found myself reading ever more slowly, fearing with each page the inevitably loss of this brilliant friendship. Fortunately, I can start again almost immediately, which is surely one of the great blessings of novels as fine as these. Highly recommended.

See also