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December 26, 2019


Not much overlap, but I did read and very much enjoyed Warlight early this year. I also read Pachinko and found it interesting as I too knew little of that history. I just finished Elizabeth Strout's Olive, Again and thoroughly enjoyed it. Before that, Ann Patchett's The Dutch House, which was good, especially after a couple of false starts with other books I gave up on - I felt I could relax in the hands of a good writer and storyteller. Also a very pleasurable read was Penelope Lively's How It All Began - had never read her before.Also a couple of nice reads by the Southern writer Solar House. And finally got around to Kate Grenville"s historical novel o f the colonization of Australua, The Secret River. Peter Cunningham's The Trout set in Ireland, quite well written. So settings in London, Ireland, Korea and Japan, Maine, Kentucky, Florida, and Australia, to name a few!

Silas House. Damn autocorrect. Although I suppose Solar House makes sense!

I must read more Antonio Tabucchi, and reread Compass. These were the books that stood out for me this year:
1. Fanny Howe, The Wedding Dress
2. Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers (t. Willa and Edwin Muir)
3. Maria Gabriela Llansol, The Remaining Life (t. Audrey Young)
4. Maria Gabriela Llansol, In the House of July and August (t. Audrey Young
5. Ricardo Piglia, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: Formative (t. Robert Croll)
6. Reading Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle end to end (t. Don Bartlett)
7. Moyra Davey, Moyra Davey
8. Roberto Bazlen, Notes Without a Text (t. Alex Andriesse)
9. Thomas Bernhard, The Loser (t. Jack Dawson)
10. Jon Fosse, An Angel Walks Through the Stage and Other Essays (t. May-Brit Akerholt)

No overlap between your reading and mine but a few I'll look up from your list and try to read in the new year, including the Teju Cole one :)

Am in transit in Vancouver at the moment off to see if Macleod's is open, so can’t access my books for my list yet. From your list am a fan of both Fermor and the poet Nye so those would be worth a look. Some other interesting looking books as well. Read a Saramago a few years ago but subsequently read somewhere he joined the communist party during the time of the crushing of Prague spring. I am afraid I can’t separate the literature from that act, particularly in remembrance of my visit to Prague in 1969.
An influential book for me in 2019 that I do remember is Don Winslow’s The Border, the last book of his Mexican cartel trilogy. The trilogy itself is powerful and impressive and The Border is a more than worthy conclusion. In fact the book made me look at the Mexico/ US immigration issue again more sympathetically .How often does a book make you re-examine your beliefs and cause you to see more clearly?. Books that should be treasured

Dear Beth,

Thank you for sharing your always interesting reading list. There is great pleasure indeed in finding a theme and following its thread to see where it leads. What did you think of 'O Sing Unto the Lord' as it often calls to me when I'm browsing the shelves of Foyles at the RFH? I struggled with PLF's 'Mani' and 'Roumeli', failing to finish either, but the 'A Time of Gifts' trilogy (?) is a masterpiece, and 'A Time to Keep Silence' is often re-read at Easter. And on that theme, interesting to see you also read Rohr's 'Falling Upward'. I wasn't sure what to think of it - I feel there's probably much more to it, and him, than the book conveys. 

Of my list the highlights were the C.S. Lewis Cosmic trilogy which I'd never read before; the Thoreau biography was a great education about a slice of American history I knew little of; 'A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings' proved an unexpected delight; 'The Gift' was clever and marvellous and very Nabokov; 'The Garden Party' I think you might like, I loved it; and I'll read anything by Robert Hass who has such a wonderful voice: warm, erudite and interesting. I have 'The Idiot' awaiting me for the start of 2020!

Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
At the Strangers’ Gate, Adam Gopnik
The Heart of Dart-ness, Ned Boulting
Now & Then, Robert Hass
The Art of Life Admin, Elizabeth Emens
Quarantine, Jim Crace
The Happy Runner, David & Megan Roche
Henry David Thoreau: A Life, Laura Dassow Walls
Perelandra, C.S. Lewis
Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport
My Year of Dirt and Water, Tracy Franz
Keep Going, Austin Kleon
In Pursuit of Spring, Edwards Thomas
The Return of the Soldier, Rebecca West
That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis
Talking to My Daughter, Yanis Varoufakis
Here is Where We Meet, John Berger
The 4 Pillar Plan, Rangan Chatterjee
A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings, Helen Jukes
Walking, Erling Kagge
Lost in the Cosmos, Walker Percy
My Midsummer Morning, Alastair Humphreys
The Writer’s Map, Huw Lewis-Jones
The Life and Rhymes of…, Benjamin Zephaniah
The Longest Journey, E.M. Forster
The Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
The Gift, Vladimir Nabakov
Time and How to Spend It, James Wallman
What Time is It?, John Berger & Selçuk Demirel
Commonwealth, Ann Patchett
Bluets, Maggie Nelson
Movement Matters, Katy Bowman
Cyclogeography, Jon Day
The Photographer at Sixteen, George Szirtes
Code Name Habbakuk, L.D. Cross
The Aviator, Eugene Vodolazkin
The Afterlife, Anthony Wilson
The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography, Alan Jacobs
White Mule, William Carlos Williams
Stealing With the Eyes, Will Buckingham
Farewell My Lovely, Polly Clark
Teach Your Children Well, Madeline Levine
The Garden Party, Grace Dane Mazur
What Light Can Do, Robert Hass
Advent for Everyone: A Journey Through Matthew, Tom Wright

Thank you to everyone who sent me their reading lists and thoughts about the past year in books, both here and by email. Such great lists! So much fun to read what you've been reading, and discover new authors and possibilities. Thank you!

Oh dear, so little overlap between these elevated slopes and my unambitious cabbage patch. Middlemarch - ah yes. I first read it when feminism was beginning to flex its muscles in the UK and always felt this great novel should be held up, not in any sense as an instruction manual but as an exemplar of what an unrestrained woman - an unrestrained anyperson, in fact - could achieve. Yet Mary Ann was restrained and still triumphed. Were society's cruel exactions one of the reasons why Middlemarch is so satisfying, so whole?

W&P: I never understood why many readers struggled so. Durrell: He seemed so brilliant at the time, as the novels appeared, yet I've never dared go back. Heaney: A late discovery triggered by seeing him in gentle action at Hay; I received one of his slenderest collections ever as a table present at Christmas (Death of a Naturalist; 44 pages). Saved for the dank hopeless days of February.

What am I reading? May I mischievously proffer The New Science of Strong Materials, written by J.E.Gordon and published by Penguin (always a reliable list). It is about our world, both the physical entity and the intellectual construct. The world you see when you walk downtown. That tranquil skyline and the careful arguments which support its existence. Why it should not let you down. Yes there's a certain amount of maths, as there is in a Dowland score.

Be not afraid, say unto the cities of Judah: Behold, your God.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.