Friday, November 30, 2012

Books of 2012

The annual release of the "100 Notable Books of 2012" by The New York Times always gives me an opportunity to blog about books and reading, something as a writer I probably should do more often. Followers of bklynbiblio may recall my past posts about this list in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, all written right around this time of the year. Not surprisingly, as in the past, I haven't had a chance to read anything on this year's list, but keeping track of these lists is useful in helping pick up some works that I can put on my "future read" list and see how they hold up over time. The NYT list once again is divided between non-fiction and fiction/short stories/poetry. Of the fiction titles, only 2 also appear on Amazon's top 10 Best Books of the Year, which is the lowest number so far since I began comparing the two. It seems the gap between what's popular and what's respected is widening. That said, Hilary Mantel's Tudor-themed historical novel about Anne Boleyn and the Tudor court, Bring Up the Bodies, is on both lists, even appearing at #1 on Amazon's, so that may be worth checking out. From the NYT list in fiction, I know I will eventually read Toni Morrison's Home, as I do admire her writing about the African-American experience (Beloved was brilliant). In non-fiction, however, I've already had on my "to read" list Shooting Victoria: Madness, Mayhem, and the Rebirth of the British Monarchy by Paul Thomas Murphy, an account of the numerous attempts on the life of Queen Victoria over her 64-year reign, so I'm pleased to know that appears on the list.

Since last year's post on this topic, I've read 29 books (which, interestingly, was the same as last year). Among my noteworthy art historical reads were: Linda Bolton's take on the 19th-century modernist Edouard Manet, part of the History and Techniques of the Great Masters series (1989); Kate Culkin's biography of Harriet Hosmer, the 19th-century American lesbian sculptor (2012); and--rather surprisingly--Netsuke: Masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1982) by Barbra Teri Okada, an exhibition catalogue on the ivory- and wood-carved Japanese figurines that originally served the practical purpose of keeping an inro (purse) attached to an obi (sash) of a kimono. This last book was related to having taught an introductory course on Asian art this semester. I also read Karen Armstrong's Islam: A Short History (2009 edition). A former nun, she has written about a number of world religions with what seems like an open mind. In this book, her last chapter on religious fundamentalism in an age of terrorism is superb. Everyone should be required to read it.

A year ago, I was in New Haven on a fellowship at the Yale Center for British Art, reading for pleasure The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (2006). Sadly, it is my least-favorite of her novels. This year I did finally read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson (2009, English edition), which was on the NYT 2010 list, and I agree that it was the best of the books in the trilogy (the misogyny prevalent in the first two books is completely rewritten here). One of my other favorite novels of the year was Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym (1953), a novelist whose English tea cozy characters have greater depth than you'd ever imagine. A few other noteworthy novels I read this year were James Joyce's Dubliners (1914; short stories), Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence (1920), Agatha Christie's Nemesis (1971), and Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic (2011, on the NYT 2011 list). I am at present slowly reading 2 novels: The Pickwick Papers, the first novel by Charles Dickens (1837), which I started a long time ago but never finished; and History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason (2012), an ambiguous tale of a young man that starts in 1907 Amsterdam. With a painting by Surrealist René Magritte as the cover image, the book must be good!

1 comment:

pranogajec said...

Karen Armstrong is good. And one of the most ecumenical of religious writers today. Ideas along the lines of the great Desmond Tutu.