Hello. I hope the New Year is not too far advanced for me to justify a glance back at my books read in 2013, as done in previous years. I’m not quite into the 2014 spirit yet. I missed the opportunity to take down my mean Christmas decorations on Twelfth Night so have decided to leave them where they are until Candlemas. If I forget to take them down then, they will just have to stay put for the duration.
How many books read in 2013?
63/15. About the right balance, to my mind.
65.5/12.5. I’m afraid I’m getting worse. I love many female writers, honestly I do; it’s just that I seem to read mostly male ones. One of the books I divided between the two sexes in my stats because it was Jan Morris’s book about her gender reassignment surgery, Conundrum. She was a woman at the time of writing, and a man for most of the time chronicled by the book.
Favourite book read?
It’s been a good year, but Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton is one that stands out. I feel on the brink of emotional collapse just thinking about it.
Though it pains me to write ill of an acknowledged classic, Vanity Fair was a book that failed to meet my expectations. I don’t mind unsympathetic, even hateful characters, but perhaps Thackeray might have reined himself in a bit. It was a good 600 pages too long.
Oldest book read?
The older I get, the more often I turn to Shakespeare, and the oldest book I read was also my first of the year, Richard III. That was in anticipation of seeing Mark Rylance as the withered miseryguts in January at the now severely dusty Apollo Theatre.
Newest book read?
I read a couple of books published last year, firstly Japanese teenager Naoki Higashida’s thought-provoking memoir about his autism, The Reason I Jump, and secondly Ronald Blythe’s memoir of his life in mid-’50s Aldeburgh, The Time by the Sea, most of which I read sitting on the shingle beach in Aldeburgh in sunny, breezy September.
Longest book title?
While at university I read and disliked Gilbert Adair’s The Real Tadzio: Thomas Mann’s ‘Death in Venice’ and the Boy Who Inspired it. I reread it last year and disliked it all over again.
Shortest book title?
In 2012, it turns out, I read three books with titles of only five letters each. In 2013, the same: Jean Echenoz’s odd biographical novel Ravel, about the composer’s later years, Ibsen’s verse tragedy of fanaticism in the mountains, Brand, and Nick Abadzis’s graphic novel Laika, about the first dog in space.
How many rereads?
Ten. That doesn’t seem excessive to me. If a book’s worth reading once, it’s worth reading twice; of course, you have to read it once to find out if it’s worth it. In the case of the Tadzio book, I failed to heed my own recollection. I dare say I will make similar mistakes in the future.
Most books read by a single author?
I think Graham Greene beats Shakespeare on a technicality. I read three books by each — Our Man in Havana, The End of the Affair, Doctor Fischer of Geneva, Richard III, Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet (please work out for yourself who wrote which) — but I also read a book of essays about school life, The Old School, edited by Greene, which puts him a nose ahead. Tied on two books each: Alexander McCall Smith, Leo Rosten, Tony Kushner, Eugene O’Neill, J.M. Barrie, Henrik Ibsen, Alan Bennett and Harold Pinter. Evidently I’ve read quite a few plays.
Any in translation?
Several: Ibsen’s Brand and Little Eyolf, Echenoz’s Ravel, Higashida’s The Reason I Jump, Hergé’s Destination Moon, Antoine Laurain’s delightful The President’s Hat, Tove Jansson’s Finn Family Moomintroll, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Darius Milhaud’s autobiography Notes Without Music. Add to that a book of Peanuts cartoons in French, Snoopy Super Champion, and two shortish books I read in their original languages, Montherlant’s elegiac play La Ville dont le Prince est un Enfant and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig), both favourites of mine already, though I’d not read the Mann in its Originalfassung before.
How many books were borrowed from the library?
33. An increase on last year.
Best blog recommendation?
Taking part in Simon Savidge’s Greene for Gran project was a reminder of the joys that blogs and blogging can bring, and The End of the Affair was one of my books of the year.
I had no clue what was going on:
I regret that was sometimes the case with Thomas Mann. Try this sentence for size:
Aber es scheint, daß gegen nichts ein edler und tüchtiger Geist sich rascher, sich gründlicher abstumpft als gegen den scharfen und bitteren Reiz der Erkenntnis; und gewiß ist, daß die schwermütig gewissenhafteste Gründlichkeit des Jünglings Seichtheit bedeutet im Vergleich mit dem tiefen Entschlusse des Meister gewordenen Mannes, das Wissen zu leugnen, es abzulehnen, erhobenen Hauptes darüber hinwegzusehen, sofern es den Willen, die Tat, das Gefühl und selbst die Leidenschaft im Geringsten zu lähmen, zu entmutigen, zu entwürdigen geeignet ist.
I think there’s something in there about bitter rice, but all those abstract nouns are a bit much for me.
Favourite character encountered this year:
Probably Leo Rosten’s Hyman Kaplan (or, as he writes it himself, H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N). To borrow a chapter title from Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth, one of my rereads of 2013, he is quite ‘the most unforgettable character I’ve met’.
Here’s to another year of reading!