Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Best reads of 2017

I'd say that 2017 was a welcome return to form compared to the somewhat disappointing reading adventures of 2016.  Perhaps this is because I spent a bit more time on the classics, though curiously enough the books that rose to the very top of the list were short story collections (or quite short novels).  I did sort of expect to wrap up Trollope's The Way We Live Now (though I suspect it would have still been just outside the top 5); however, it is a massive book and will spill over somewhat into 2018, just as Vanity Fair did last year.

In any event, the top 5 books from 2017 were:
Carr A Month in the Country
Gide The Vatican Cellars aka Lafcadio's Adventures
Margaret Atwood Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Lahiri Unaccustomed Earth*
R.K. Narayan Malgudi Days

The best book reread was a tie between
MacLennan The Watch That Ends the Night
Findley Not Wanted on the Voyage

Honorable mention
William M. Thackeray Vanity Fair
Steven Sherrill The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time (it's likely this would have made the top 5, except the ending is a total cheat -- as abrupt as The Sopranos)
David Bezmozgis Natasha and Other Stories (title story quite astonishing)
Rick Moody Hotels of North America
Isherwood A Single Man
Morley Callaghan The Many Colored Coat
Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky
Chigozie Obioma The Fishermen (felt a bit like Greek tragedy set in Nigeria)
Richler The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz/The Street (The Street was a bit better)

And a dead heat between two collections of stories set in Vancouver:
W. P. Kinsella Russian Dolls: Stories from the Breathing Castle
Nancy Lee Dead Girls

Probably the biggest disappointment of the year was Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis; rather than being the promised "rollicking adventure," it was a collection of dull, puerile antics by a woebegone lecturer at a minor university (or even technical college, I can't recall), who, at the end, gets a completely undeserved break to serve as a wealthy artist's personal secretary (though I wouldn't mind seeing the follow up of how he managed to screw that up...).  I did like Bradbury's The History Man better (than Lucky Jim certainly), though it almost read better as anthropology field notes of the 70s than as a novel.  How times have changed.  I was definitely hoping that the main character would suffer a much deserved fall from grace, as he was a thorough moral blackguard.  However, due to his exploitation of the mores of those sexually enlightened times, he was able to escape his predicament and turn the tables on his accuser.  Today of course, he would be terminated with prejudice.  I did find the ending to be too unsatisfying to place it in the honorable mention category.  I'm expecting to finally read some of David Lodge's academia-based novels, and I suspect I'll like them better than either of these offerings.

While the build-up wasn't nearly as big, there are quite a few reviewers praising Gerard Reve's The Evenings.  They do note that it is mostly a novel about tedium.  I think I could have lived with that, but what I can't stomach is an imbecilic narrator (Frits) going on and on about how he's dreading talking to so and so, and then the actual dialog is pretty mundane, and he'll think something like: "Well that's that then; not such a disaster.  Only one more hour to go before bed time."  There is plenty of the Dutch bluntness on display, particularly when Frits razzes his brother and a few other acquaintances for starting to go bald.  Charming...  Pretty much the entire novel is like that, and I would have to say it is a waste of time reading it.  It was probably the second biggest disappointment of the year.

* Oops, for over a year, I've mis-titled this as Unaccompanied Earth, not Unaccustomed Earth.  I do have to admit that the stories sort of have faded after a year (in general I can't recall short stories nearly as much as novels), so at some point I'll want to return to this book.

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