End-of-year reading meme

The annual stocktake of what I read last year. It felt like a middling year for reading. Have I forgotten some gems? Let’s see.

How many books read in 2014?
78 (The same as last year. I made it to 100 once, but that was Dahl dissertation year so I read about 30 children’s books in as many days, which I do not recommend.)

59/19. That’s more non-fiction than last year. Still, a sensible balance.

Male/Female authors?
64/14. Still bad, isn’t it. Among the best books I read this year were titles by George Eliot, Muriel Spark, Madeline Miller, and I never pay attention to the author’s gender when I choose what to read, but I do seem to gravitate towards men. Plus ça change.

The Song of Achilles

Favourite book read?
Well, Middlemarch. That was a reread, though. My favourite new books are enumerated here.

Least favourite?
You’d imagine the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone would make any book bearable, but they can’t save Cecil Day Lewis’s dull and dated children’s book The Otterbury Incident. Avoid.

Oldest book read?
Henry V. It’s usually Shakespeare. This year I’ll try to go further back in time. Something Classical.

Newest book read?
Some books I read within weeks or even days of their coming out: Nina Stibbe’s Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life, Armistead Maupin’s The Days of Anna Madrigal, Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me, Susan Tomes’s Sleeping in Temples. (Of those books, the two by female authors are much more to be recommended.)

Love Nina

Longest book title?
And it’s Goodnight from Him … : The Autobiography of the Two Ronnies, by Ronnie Corbett with David Nobbs. I can’t espouse it unreservedly.

Shortest book title?
P.G. Wodehouse takes the honours here with Mike.

How many rereads?
12, of which 8 came in the last three months of the year. I’ve been in the mood recently to return to things I read years ago to see if they’re still any good; generally they have been, in the case of The Master and Margarita particularly so.

The Master and Margarita

Most books read by a single author?
Five Wodehouses this year, but seven by C.S. Lewis. I read the complete Chronicles of Narnia, never having done so before. And now I never need to again.

Any in translation?
Not many. Plays by Ibsen and Ionesco, Camus’ The Outsider (Laredo), Death in Venice (Luke), The Master and Margarita (Glenny), Roger Peyrefitte’s Special Friendships (Hyams), Poulenc’s book on Chabrier (Jolly). I read Malle’s screenplay for Le Souffle au Coeur in French. Those aside, it’s been a subpar year for literature not in the English language.

Le Souffle au Coeur

How many books were borrowed from the library?
24. Fewer than last year, but a good handful of the non-library books I read were ebooks, which don’t feel like they’re really ‘mine’. I like the Kindle, but I also don’t.

Best blog recommendation?
A message board associate recommended Elinor Lipman to me. I loved her novel My Latest Grievance and will read her again soon, I hope.

I had no clue what was going on:
I always have problems with works of theory or philosophy, so it wasn’t surprising to me that I struggled with Philip Kitcher’s book on Mann’s Death in Venice. My fault, I’m sure. I present this extract by way of a right of reply.

Some will suppose that justification only accrues to judgments of questions of fact and that the standards of justification are (broadly) scientific. Others will adopt a three-tier picture: most basic are the matters of fact we justify through undertaking the inquiries we label ‘scientific’; although these constrain our ethical judgments, the latter are also subject to further conditions, through the introduction of other people’s perspectives. Finally, there are ultimate endorsements about values, and these are required to be consistent with the facts and the ethical considerations (and perhaps subject to yet more conditions). The second of these views is an important advance on the first, but it overlooks the interpenetration of the levels it tries to separate. Significant ethical discussion cannot be divorced from consideration of what matters in human life; nor can factual inquiry, even rigorous scientific inquiry, be detached from the values we properly endorse. If our encounters with art and literature warrant us in endorsing or rejecting particular claims about what is valuable, the sort of justification they provide is not ‘second rate’ or ‘tacked on’ but interwoven with the searches for evidence we view as our paradigms of rigor.

Favourite character encountered this year:
Either Sam Weller (The Pickwick Papers) or William Stoner (Stoner).

Happy 2015 to you, and all being well I shall report back here in another year!


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