Monday, January 02, 2012

2011 Readings

The following list of books I read last year is in order of merit.  The top five are outstanding; the bottom few are risible and an embarrassment to admit reading.

Last year was notable for my having read three Booker prize winners (the first, second and fourth on the list), whereas to that point I'd only read two others.  And I have to say the quality of those winners is clearly ahead of the pack.  The Sense Of An Ending is my clear favourite, notable for Julian Barnes' precise language, regretful tone, and reflections on past and history.  On the other hand, Barnes' earlier book, Arthur and George, has a similar precision, but is drier, being rather more devoid of the strength of feeling of his later one.

The Eco was a worthy re-read for the extra detail and insight gleaned this time around.  I have read later Eco books, but gave up as he got more and more self-indulgent.  While I appreciate the wealth of historical context in The Name Of The Rose, it can be said that the plot is one big post-modern dig at those who are seeking a plot, inasmuch as although the protagonist solves the mysteries, he fails to prevent the killings or bring to justice the perpetrator, and in the process is instrumental in the destruction of a library whose repository of knowledge he so highly values.

I read Q & A after first browsing a few pages and finding it compelling; it really is a good book, and provides a lot of insight into India.  It was the basis for the film Slumdog Millionaire, which I watched subsequently: although worth watching, it was a somewhat different work, and I found the book more worthwhile.  To get maximum enjoyment from both, watch the film before reading the book.

Most of the list below dates from May onwards, when I started noting down my readings.  A more complete list would include a number of Wodehouse books, the full Holmes canon (a re-read) and all Buchan's John Hanay books.  This had much to do with the fact that those ones were easy to access and read: being freely downloadable they were mainly read on my phone (!) at convenient moments.  Because of those, the list looks rather longer than normal.

The Freakonomics books were very interesting and entertaining, but got lower marks because where the authors wrote on subjects of which I had more knowledge, their attitude and coverage seemed a bit lacking.  The Buchan books were at best readable and competent (if often too fabulous to be believeable); at worst they betrayed a plethora of attitudes that were dying even at the time.

Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending
Graham Swift - Last Orders
Umberto Eco - The Name of the Rose
DBC Pierre - Vernon God Little
Vikas Swarup - Q & A
William Heaney - Memoirs of a Master Forger
Michael Gruber - The Book of Air and Shadows
Julian Barnes - Arthur and George
Orson Scott Card - Pathfinder
Levitt/Dubber - Freakonomics
Arthur Conan Doyle - The Valley of Fear
Levitt/Dubner - Superfreakonomics
John Buchan - The Thirty Nine Steps
John Buchan - The Island of Sheep
John Buchan - Greenmantle
John Buchan - Mr Standfast
John Buchan - The Three Hostages
John Buchan - The House of the Four Winds
Dan Brown - The Lost Symbol
Matthew Reilly - The Six Sacred Stones

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