21 Feb 2013

A good read: books of the past year

I tend to read episodically and mostly when travelling, at least as far as spending hours with a book goes. Maybe I need to get rid of my TV to push up my reading capacity? But there is rarely a day that passes without my dipping into some book, even for a few minutes. I also tend to read several books simultaneously, and of different natures. Not novels: these I read one at a time, but non-fiction of different kinds plus a novel. An acquaintance of mine who also has a blog (in French) recently published a list of the books he had read over the past year, with comments on each of them. I was impressed and thought I might do the same. However this list will not include comments on each work as, for many of these I have already written articles on this blog, and, if you are interested, you can find these in the section names "Read on".

I will try to separate the titles into categories. They are not in any specific order by the way and in no way indicate a preference. I am also quite certain to have forgotten some of the books read in the past year, including ones I have really enjoyed or which have taught me things, as I don't write them down as I go along. Maybe I should in the future...


Siri Husdvedt: Living, Thinking, Looking (essays)
This I am currently reading, in bursts and in an excellent French translation published by Actes Sud. Very thought-provoking, often brilliant, and sometimes quite hard to follow, at least in the essays that dip into neurology and pychoanalysis.

Etienne Klein : Discours sur l'Origine de l'Univers 
Also very hard to follow for a non-scientific, but the concepts make one dizzy as he approaches Planck's wall and discusses the varous theories of the origin of the universe, and even the concept that there was an origin.

Michel Serres : Petite Poucette (essay)
A bit drawn-out and chatty. He has a point but he labours it too much and I couldn't finish this, short as it is

Benjamin Lewin, Wine, Myths and Reality 
Good, well written and clear. Debunks some things, explains many more. Very wide ranging and takes into consideration the markets for wines and their influences through history on the wines produced, an essential point totally ignored by most books on wine.

Martin Gayford: A bigger message, conversations with David Hockney 
Fascinating. I have already written about this here, and discussed Hockney's work which I greatly admire.

Gustav Herling : Un Monde à Part (memories of a Polish prisonner in Stalin's camps)
See article. Horrifying, obviously. Makes one admire human endurance also.

Steven Clarke: 1000 years of annoying the French (history revisited with humour)
Indispensable for anyone living between the two cultures of England and France (see article)

Fiction (crime etc)

Michael Connelly: The Black Box
Masterly: see article. I am pretty much a Connelly unconditional but this has to be one of his very best.

Jo Nesbo : The Leopard
First and only book I have read so far by this Norwegian crime writer. Very impressive (see article)

Philip Kerr: The Berlin Trilogy (March Violets, The Pale Criminel, A German Requiem)
Excellent dip into the murky past of nazi Germany and the suite of that war. He must have researched this extensively. There are another four in the series out and I will surely get to them some day.

James Lee Burke: ???
Read one book by this author of the US's deep south and loved it but I cannot for the life of me recall the title. I will return to Burke soon!

Fiction (other)

Albert Camus: L'Etranger
Re-read this short, relentless masterpiece in French after a 40 year interval. Indispensible

Sébastian Faulks : A Possible Life
Very good, with an unusual structure that sets up questions (see article)

Philip Roth: The Human Stain
This has to be one of the greatest novels I have ever read (see article)

John Fante: The Brotherhood of the Grape
Maybe not the best Fante but still a good read. Clearly very autobiographical

Julien Barnes: The Sense of an Ending
Moving and beautifully written in a low-key style (see article)

Denis Lehane: The Given Day
Brilliant "historical" novel that taught me a lot about aspects of US culture and early 20th century history (see article)

Sarah Blake: The Postmistress
Not indispensible. Has its moments though (see article)

Branimir Scépanovic: La Bouche Pleine de Terre
How fate and misunderstanding leads to horror. Short and pitiless story from this author from Montenegro, read in a French translation (see article)

Jean-Michel Guenassia: Le Club des Incorrigibles Optimistes
The best French novel I have read this past year.

Read on...


  1. I tend to read a lot myself, and the more so when I’m stressed or want to avoid/postpone other tasks – like now, finishing all my accountancy duties. One book we share in common is your Scépanovic thing: thank you, a useful hint. I, for one, rediscover Denis Diderot: what a clever man, what a beautiful writer, what an interesting era they lived in ! And he was a libertine too.
    What a pity I’m too old, and sugar-loaded, or else I might want to start and write an encyclopaedia.

  2. You give me an idea Luc. I have never read Diderot and will start as soon as possible (ie, when I have finished the 4 or 5 works I have on the boil right now)

  3. Thank you. Will try some. I've already bought the Faulks novel. In exchange, here are two authors I like these days: Jean Contrucci (Les Nouveaux Mystères de Marseille,a series of detective stories depicting the life in the Marseilles of the early 1900's et Robert Merle's Fortune de France (also a series, history seen through the eyes of a Périgord nobleman and his valet from Charles IX to Louis the 13th).