Posts Tagged ‘Lists’

End-of-year reading meme

January 6, 2018

This bloody thing again.

How many books read in 2017?
121. An all-time record that will surely not be surpassed, and a sign that I’ve been reading far too fast.

Fiction/non-fiction?
82 fiction, 35 non-fiction, 4 a bit of both.

Male/female authors?
70 male, 47 female, 3 both, 1 neither.

Favourite book read?
A tough call, but let’s say Erich Kästner’s The Flying Classroom. I had something in my eye towards the end. I usually find, reading them as an adult, that children’s books lack magic; not this one.

Least favourite?
When you read 121 books there are bound to be some letdowns. The worst book I read was an abysmal fantasy novel written by someone I know and published through a vanity firm. It should never have seen the light of day. But authorial incompetence didn’t stop me enjoying it (rather enhanced my enjoyment, if truth be told), and there were certainly books I liked less. Emily Witt’s initially engaging but eventually tedious Future Sex, for example, or (though I don’t like to admit it) Michael Cunningham’s The Snow Queen.

Oldest book read?
Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II (1593ish), though a couple of Shakespeares weren’t far behind.

Newest book read?
I read five books published in 2017, namely A Distant View of Everything and A Time of Love and Tartan, both by Alexander McCall Smith, The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, and Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard.

Longest book title?
That honour goes to Michael Blakemore’s super Stage Blood: Five Tempestuous Years in the Early Life of the National Theatre.

Shortest book title?
Romain Rolland’s Dawn, though if you take its French title, L’Aube, it ties with Elmet.

How many rereads?
12, the most satisfying of which was André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, which I loved even more the second time than I did the first. A lightning bolt of a book.

Most books read by a single author?
8 (Margaret Stuart Barry, all of whose Simon and the Witch books I devoured during a bout of nostalgia in the summer), then 7 (Arthur Conan Doyle, most of whose Sherlock Holmes books I reread).

Any in translation?
30, including translations from Estonian, Hebrew, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Romanian, Slovak and Slovene. No books read in French or German, though, which may be something to address in 2018.

How many books were borrowed from the library?
62. Down on last year, partly because of having to buy obscure books in translation. At the end of the year I began to feel I was finally starting to make progress in reading books I’d owned for ages but not got around to, and I hope I can carry on with that this year.

I had no clue what was going on:
Perhaps it was foolhardy of me to read Mya Tannenbaum’s Conversations with Stockhausen.

Favourite character encountered this year:
I don’t know if you can count real people, but probably Mr Elliott. Otherwise, maybe Lilian Faschinger’s Magdalena.

What next?
I’m intending to read Proust in 2018, and have made a tentative start. I’ll have to go slow (the book count will be in double rather than treble figures this year, I fancy), and am looking forward to it. I hope to get around to rereading some favourites (Nabokov, Hollinghurst, Leavitt), and would like to get stuck into Edward St Aubyn too. Roald Dahl’s short stories as well, perhaps.

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End-of-year reading meme

January 1, 2017

This thing again.

How many books read in 2016?
102. Down on the previous year, but not by much.

Fiction/non-fiction?
57 fiction, 41 non-fiction, 4 either unclassifiable or a bit of both. Non-fiction continues to gain, but I don’t think it’d ever overtake fiction unless I started a PhD, which I’d like to do if I could think of something to study.

Male/female authors?
59 male, 38 female, 5 non-binary or a mix of genders. Again a decent handful of books by trans authors.

Favourite book read?
Let’s say David Garnett’s Lady into Fox, which I loved to bits.

Where his wife had been the moment before was a small fox, of a very bright red. It looked at him very beseechingly, advanced towards him a pace or two, and he saw at once that his wife was looking at him from the animal’s eyes. You may well think if he were aghast: and so maybe was his lady at finding herself in that shape, so they did nothing for nearly half-an-hour but stare at each other, he bewildered, she asking him with her eyes as if indeed she spoke to him: “What am I now become? Have pity on me, husband, have pity on me for I am your wife.”

So that with his gazing on her and knowing her well, even in such a shape, yet asking himself at every moment: “Can it be she? Am I not dreaming?” and her beseeching and lastly fawning on him and seeming to tell him that it was she indeed, they came at last together and he took her in his arms. She lay very close to him, nestling under his coat and fell to licking his face, but never taking her eyes from his. The husband all this while kept turning the thing in his head and gazing on her, but he could make no sense of what had happened, but only comforted himself with the hope that this was but a momentary change, and that presently she would turn back again into the wife that was one flesh with him.

Least favourite?
I hesitate to name the book that infuriated me most, because I think its author and I have mutual friends and it’s not worth the upset it might cause. I didn’t enjoy Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince. It didn’t help that my reading of it was interrupted by an illness that rendered me incapable of reading for about a week, but I think it was mainly the book’s fault, dull and sordid and uninteresting. (Mostly.)

the-black-prince

Oldest book read?
At last, a properly old book. Homer’s Iliad, which was written about 2,700 years ago.

Newest book read?
Six books published in 2016: The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes; A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in a Skip by Alexander Masters; Stop the Clocks: Thoughts on What I Leave Behind by Joan Bakewell; The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith; Carols from King’s: The Stories of our Favourite Carols from King’s College by Alexandra Coghlan; and My Beloved Man: The Letters of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, edited by Vicki P. Stroeher, Nicholas Clark and Jude Brimmer.

Longest book title?
Also coincidentally the longest author name: Jessie Sarah Fleetwood Walmisley Coleridge-Taylor’s memoir, A Memory Sketch, or, Personal Reminiscences of My Husband, Genius and Musician, S. Coleridge-Taylor, 1875-1912. (I was singing Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast and wanted to do some revision.)

Shortest book title?
In December I read Mike by P.G. Wodehouse, Emma by Jane Austen, and Jack by A.M. Homes. If you don’t count spaces as characters, Cris Beam’s I am J would also qualify.

jack

How many rereads?
13, which seems to me quite acceptable, provided you’re not triskaidekaphobic.

Most books read by a single author?
3 by Wodehouse, and 2 each by Tove Jansson and Philip Roth, but no single writer has dominated my reading as in recent years.

Any in translation?
Happily, yes. No books read in French or German this year, but I did read four books translated from the French, two each from Italian and Swedish, and one each from Ancient Greek, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish. More of that next year (post to follow).

How many books were borrowed from the library?
75, or essentially three books of every four I read. I’d love to make inroads into the books I own, but I seem to be growing increasingly reliant on libraries, which is presumably a good thing. If you don’t use it you lose it.

I had no clue what was going on:
That would be Alejandro Zambra’s Multiple Choice (originally Facsímil), but it was a good kind of confusion and it’s a book you ought to read.

multiple-choice

Favourite character encountered this year:
Lois from Alison Bechdel’s Dykes to Watch Out For, or the central trio of Joe, Sammy and Rosa from Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

2016 foursomes

December 30, 2016

What a year it’s been. Bring on the nuclear holocaust, that’s what I say. But for some of us, whether we like it or not, life goes on, and so here is the annual trawl through the handful of things that have made me grateful to be alive in 2016.

Top 4 theatre
The year began and ended with exciting plays at the Hampstead Theatre – Tom Stoppard’s typically complex but fun Hapgood in January, with Lisa Dillon as the titular spymistress; and Tony Kushner’s irresistibly sprawling The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures in November, with Luke Newberry particularly catching the eye. The Helen McCrory-led production of Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre was more moving than I’d dared expect it to be. And the most fun I had all year was at the Theatre Royal Haymarket for Ayckbourn’s How the Other Half Loves, where Nicholas Le Prevost reduced me to helpless laughter (as he has in the past).

ayckbourn

Top 4 student theatre
I’m very lucky to live in Cambridge. The Marlowe Society’s production of Measure for Measure at the Arts Theatre in February was outstanding in many respects, not least the speaking of the text. I’ve sat through enough bad productions of Shakespeare to notice the difference when the actors really understand what they’re talking about. Alexandra Wetherell’s Isabella and Tom Beaven’s innately funny Lucio were two of many standout performances. At the ADC, a gripping production of David Hare’s Murmuring Judges in March has stayed in the memory, and Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art was very well done in October, as good a production as I can imagine of this ingenious, frustrating play. Outside Cambridge, the Eltham College production of Merrily We Roll Along that I wrote about here was super.

Top 4 albums
This year I have been mostly listening to popular music from the 1920s, but there’s none of that here. Still, I advise all readers to dig out some Roger Wolfe Kahn, zip up their cocktail slacks and get frigging. Quite a catholic selection this year. In April I bought the 17-disc box set of the studio recordings of Marcelle Meyer, a pianist of preternatural elegance and taste. I love her way with French repertoire especially, and not just the expected Ravel and Chabrier but also Rameau and Couperin. Try her Scarlatti. The original Broadway cast recording of A Chorus Line has afforded me considerable pleasure. It’s a joy to find there’s more to it than simply ‘One’, catchy though that is. Joni Mitchell’s Blue I already knew, but it wasn’t until this year that it got under my skin and became an obsession. The single album that’s been most in my ears, though, is Prefab Sprout’s From Langley Park to Memphis. I’ve loved the Sprouts for years, but have only recently begun to explore their back catalogue in depth. They really are the most harmonically inventive pop group of their era, and every track on this album is a jewel, from old favourites like ‘The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and ‘Cars and Girls’ to the less familiar. Give it a try.

Top 4 books
It’s been another busy reading year (more on that anon), but if I had to whittle it down to four… I read Harold Pinter’s Betrayal early in the year and it dazzled me, all the more for being quiet and reserved in tone, without the aggression of something like The Birthday Party, though there’s a great deal of surface and below-surface tension. It’s more straightforward, more ordinary than his other plays, the non-straightforward thing being the play’s reverse chronology, which is just the sort of thing I love. It never feels gimmicky. I listen to music backwards too. I’ve been making my way through Anthony Trollope for about ten years now, and The Last Chronicle of Barset tied up a lot of loose ends in the most satisfactory ways imaginable. Bishop Proudie’s revolt, a very long time coming, is the most exhilarating thing I’ve read in yonks. David Garnett’s short novel Lady into Fox was an unexpected delight, a whimsical story of metamorphosis, an unorthodox but touching story of trans-species love. And I can’t omit Angela Carter’s wildly fun and funny Wise Children, the deliciously gossipy theatrical memoir of 75-year-old Dora Chance, owner of the only castrato grandfather clock in London.

It was all right until Grandma fixed it. All she did was tap it and the weights dropped off. She always had that effect on gentlemen.

Top 4 new films
The cinema used to be a second home to me. Well, not really, but I used to go to it more often than at present. I thought Spotlight, a good old-fashioned procedural drama about Boston journalists trying to uncover a sex abuse story, was fully deserving of its Best Picture Oscar, smart and tense. Alice Munro’s short story collection Runaway impressed me early in the year, and Pedro Almodóvar’s adaptation of its three interlinked stories, Julieta, was just wonderful, romantic and mysterious and beguiling, with Rossy de Palma’s standoffish housekeeper stealing the show. How wise Almodóvar and Munro are about the dynamics of human relationships. Ira Sachs’ Little Men was a poignant offering, about how the relationship between two boys in early adolescence is threatened by a dispute between their families. Like last year’s Carol, it felt to me more than anything else like a love story, a film about falling in love, and about growing up. Fourth and lastly, I’m not a horror aficionado, but I was thrilled by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy. It looks sensational, shot in a palette of greens and greys, and works an eerie kind of magic. Two twin boys live in a remote house with their mother, who is recovering from facial surgery. Her behaviour to them since her surgery feels changed, and they begin to doubt her authenticity. What it lacks in subtle commentary on power relationships it makes up for in creepiness. I was a bit freaked out.

Top 4 old films
Or, the ones I watched on TV. Not an old film, but Sean McAllister’s documentary A Syrian Love Story is a very great piece of work, more eloquent on the subject of displacement than a thousand news reports. It follows a Syrian family of two parents and three boys over the course of several years and several different homes, as the changing political situation forces them to leave Syria and alter their expectations of life. Thomas Vinterberg’s revenge drama (of sorts) Festen was electric, epic in scope, Shakespearean even (I don’t think it was just the setting that made me think of Hamlet), making the self-imposed limitations of Dogme 95 seem a virtue more often than not. My film of the year, without a doubt, was Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple, made when the director was still a teenager. Based on a true story with (mindblowingly) the protagonists playing themselves, it’s about a father who keeps his two daughters confined to their house, and the efforts of members of the village to liberate the girls. Enigmatic, humane, endlessly fascinating. Last of all, Manhattan. I could easily get into Woody Allen if all his films were this warm and funny and beautiful. I loved every frame. A proper, grown-up romantic comedy that makes you smile.

Top 4 New York
Watching Manhattan was a prelude to going to New York in October. I suppose I’d always assumed that going to America was something done by other people, people I had no desire to emulate, but when my brother said he intended to go I suddenly realised it was the one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. It didn’t disappoint. The National September 11 Memorial made me emotional in a way I hadn’t expected; the views from the Empire State Building were spectacular; seeing the Tom Harrell Quartet at the Village Vanguard made me think I ought to start going to jazz clubs in the UK; and, on our final day, Brooklyn’s beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery, where I paid visits to people like Gottschalk and Bernstein. I hope to return one day.

new-york

Have a happy New Year, and I’ll see you on the other side.

Desert island muffs

March 23, 2016

In spite of overwhelming public demand, here are the top 10 occurrences of the word muff in pre-20th-century English-language novels.

***

I put down my muff on the stile, and went up to the tall steed; I endeavoured to catch the bridle, but it was a spirited thing, and would not let me come near its head.

[Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre]

***

“I came about him. I wished to know whether he were alive, and that you have been able to inform me: and where he was; and that you have not been able to inform me.”

“Why, you’re a regular muff!” said the bishop.

[Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil]

***

The flap of the bureau chanced to be open, and in placing her muff upon it her eye had caught a document which lay there. “Oh — only a — funny surprise!” she said, trying to laugh away her cry as she came back to the table.

[Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure]

***

“Anne Pearson showed me the bullet in the chamber-door,” remarked Caroline gravely, as she folded her mantle and arranged it and her muff on a side-table.

[Charlotte Brontë, Shirley]

***

She was wrapped in the very sables which Robert Audley had brought from Russia, and carried a muff that the young man thought seemed almost as big as herself.

[Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret]

***

“You have got a new muff, Elizabeth,” he said to her one day quite humbly.

“Yes; I bought it,” she said.

[Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge]

***

“What have you to do with me?” Isabel went on.

Madame Merle slowly got up, stroking her muff, but not removing her eyes from Isabel’s face. “Everything!” she answered.

[Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady]

***

She listened to him with the closest attention; only interrupting him now and then with little words, intended to signify her approval. He, as he told his tale, did not look her in the face, but sat with his eyes fixed upon her muff.

[Anthony Trollope, The Last Chronicle of Barset]

***

“Why, ma’am,” answered Mrs Honour, “he came into the room one day last week when I was at work, and there lay your ladyship’s muff on a chair, and to be sure he put his hands into it; that very muff your ladyship gave me but yesterday. La! says I, Mr Jones, you will stretch my lady’s muff, and spoil it: but he still kept his hands in it: and then he kissed it — to be sure I hardly ever saw such a kiss in my life as he gave it.”

[Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling]

***

Lucy found it very difficult to keep up a conversation with Mr. Crawley — the more so, as Mrs. Robarts and Mrs. Crawley presently withdrew into a bedroom, taking the two younger children with them. “How unlucky,” thought Lucy, “that she has not got my muff with her!” But the muff lay in her lap, ponderous with its rich enclosures.

[Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage]