End-of-year reading meme

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.

Male/Female authors?
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.

Least favourite?
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.

The Time by the Sea

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!


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2 Responses to “End-of-year reading meme”

  1. Steve Says:

    Hiya Gareth. You have read more books in the year then I have read in my 60 years! In fact counting everything, comics and the like, you will have still read more in the year. Fascinating. The most books I read was when I worked at Trago Mills, nr. Liskeard an out of town shopping deal that sells everything, cheap too! The staff room had a library, well, an assortment of books piled on a desk, and there for staff to borrow. I read about 5 during break-times in my 6 months stint there in 2008. A couple of Clive Cussler, And the most boring book I have ever read. Tried in vain to remember the name, and searched the net for any kind of reference. It involves Murder an English undercover detective and a Ghillie at a hotel in Scotland? Reading for me is enjoyable, but I never really have the time to sit and do that. I did read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings a few times. I used to read them to my children. Along with all the Ladybird books. Most read book would be The Wind in the Willows. Quickest book read, Bravo Two Zero, one sitting. Favorite Author, Alistair MacLean. I have all the Blue Peter Annuals 1-40. They stopped printing them a couple years back, as not really selling. I have never read Books like Alice in Wonderland or The Lion Witch and Wardrobe. It’s a class thing as only the better off kids in my Primary School read them, for the likes of ilks, it wasn’t for us. I really still dislike any reference to them to this day. They are up there with the Tin Tin novels, again only the ”posh” could afford them! Remember this was all in the days of the 11 plus and your destiny hanged on that. Even if I had passed I would not have been selected for Grammar, such was the power of class in them days. I know, hard to believe, and some will say ”I was from a working class family, and I went to Grammar” Of course you did, you were the ”Token Ones.” What has this got to do with reading, well, everything. You were not expected to be well read, you were destined to be a Blue Collar and manual labourer. That’s why Secondary Schools were thought up. When I became a Classroom Teacher, I always had a stock of books in the classroom for my tutor group to use (And anyone else) if they were at a loose end. I also made them all buy a dictionary! Reading is knowledge and we all know what knowledge is. Keep at me boy. Steve.

  2. Steve Says:

    That should be ”Secondary Modern School.”

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