2011 In Review: Another Year of Books


Well friends, it’s that time again. Time to tally up the year in reading and take stock. Here’s what I read in 2011:

  1. The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise, Julia Stuart
  2. The Tiger in the Smoke, Margery Allington
  3. Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz
  4. Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson
  5. The Towers of Trebizond, Rose MaCaulay
  6. Ex-Libris, Ross King
  7. In the Shadow of Gotham, Stephanie Pintoff
  8. The Tempest, Juan Manuel de Prada
  9. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris, Graham Robb
  10. An Expert in Murder, Nicola Upson
  11. Nightingale Wood,  Stella Gibbons
  12. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
  13. Harry Potter: La Coupe de feu, J.K. Rowling
  14. Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  15. Harry Potter: Le Prince de sang-melé, J.K. Rowling
  16. Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows (UK ed.), J.K. Rowling
  17. Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  18. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling (re-read)
  19. The Secret of Chimneys, Agatha Christie
  20. Passenger to Frankfurt, Agatha Christie
  21. There is a Tide, Agatha Christie
  22. A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick
  23. Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh (re-read)
  24. Viles Bodies, Evelyn Waugh (re-read)
  25. The Disappearance at Père La Chaise, Claude Izner
  26. The Secret Wife of Louis XIV: Françoise d’Aubigné, Madame de Maintenon, Veronica Buckley
  27. Murder on the Eiffel Tower, Claude Izner
  28. The Heat of the Day, Elizabeth Bowen
  29. Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie (re-read)
  30. Out of the Silent Planet, C.S. Lewis
  31. Magic and Madness in the Library, edited by Eric Graeber

A bit leaner of a list than last year’s, but alas: these things happen. A couple of re-reads, a smattering of French, some non-fiction mixed in—I like to keep it eclectic. In keeping with last year’s declaration that a year in books is a very personal yet easily (by which I mean generally painless) shared window into the soul, let’s go ahead and ponder what the 2011 list reveals.

First, I have been expanding the mystery writers in my repertoire. Second, I decided to start reading Evelyn Waugh’s body of work in chronological order (sidebar: I also purchased his collected travel works, which are sure to be offensive but amazing). Third, I am embarking on the adult tomes by C.S. Lewis. Fourth, I read a very odd mix of non-fiction.

And the result? The recommendations for your newly born year in books?

  1. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. I started 2011 off with a hugely enjoyable (and highly anticipated) bit of non-fiction. As you may know from previous posts, I have a crazy dog and in general, I love the canines. I especially recommend Horowitz’s book for readers who have, or have ever had or even liked, a dog. The book is basically a reworking (read: making it readable for people who do not read dissertations for general joy) of Horowitz’s doctoral research on dog cognition. The tome is an incredibly enjoyable and hugely informative journey into dogness, features sections such as “Umwelt: From the Dog’s Point of Nose,” “The Vomeronasal Nose,” “Go Get the Green Ball!,” “…It Either Fits in the Mouth or It’s Too Big for the Mouth…,” “Don’t Bathe You Dog Everyday,” “Get a Mutt,” and “Anthropomorphize with Umwelt in Mind,” among many, many others. I grew up with a dog, I now have a “new” dog with whom—being an adult—I interact and experience quite differently, and I have to admit this book makes her make so much sense to me. For example, I now understand quite clearly that when she looks at me, looks at the food in my hand and then looks pointedly at the floor in front of her over and over again… yeah, she wants me to share that sandwich and she is telling me as clearly as she can—which is pretty damn clear if you think about it, but I never really had before. Maybe that’s just me.
  2. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose MaCaulay. I adore travel literature, and this is a brilliant faux travel lit from 1956, opening with the line “Take my camel, dear,” said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” Roughly, it is the tale of the narrator’s (Laurie’s) journey with her eccentric aunt and minister companion through modern Turkey, peppered with oscillating moments of hilarity and deep introspection. It’s one of those books that just cries out to be dog-eared and underlined. I stumbled upon it thanks to my favorite book catalog, Bas Bleu, and it was one of most fortuitous finds of my 2011. I recommend it constantly. A few choice excerpts I marked in my copy:

    “-Aunt Dot has always had her dreams. They are what take her about the world. She is an adventuress.
    About the world, yes. Tell me Laurie, does she love her country?
    -Not that I know of, particularly. Why should she? I mean, she usually prefers to be somewhere else, when she can. Most Britons do, I think. I expect it’s the climate. Besides, we’re a nomadic people; we like change of scene.'”

    He looked through my passport, turning the pages with covetous inquisitiveness, as if he suspected them of obscenity.
    ‘Profession,’ he then said, very loudly and angrily. ‘Why have you not written it here? You have written independent.’
    -‘Yes, I couldn’t think what else to put.’
    -‘Independent, you have written.’
    -‘Yes,’ I agreed. The conversation seemed rather repetitive.
    -‘You know what means independent?’
    -‘Yes, I think I do. It means no one pays me regularly for working.’
    ‘Independent,’ he said, turning the word over on his tongue in some disgust. ‘That means spy.’
    -‘No,’ I said, ‘Not in English. Spies aren’t independent. They get wages.'”

    “Still the towers of Trebizond , the fabled city, shimmer on a far horizon, gated and walled and held in a luminous enchantment. It seems that for me, and however much I must stand outside them, this must for ever be. But at the city’s heart lie the pattern and the hard core, and these I can never make my own: they are too far outside my range. The pattern should perhaps be easier, the core less hard.”

  3. Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris by Graham Robb provides a history of Paris through a mixture of obscure and well-known vignettes in the city’s history, ranging Napoleon Bonaparte’s first sexual encounter (with a prostitute of the Palais-Royal) in 1787 to Madame Zola’s personal trials, Marcel Proust’s issues with the métro, Hitler’s singular early morning tour of the city in 1940, on to and beyond Mitterrand’s Affaire de l’Observatoire. Being of the vignette sort, it’s another good read for those looking something to be read over time, bit by bit. It’s perfect for the collector of odd histories and random facts, and, of course, all the many lovers of Paris out there. Endless tomes compile vignettes about the City of Lights (and I own a lot of them), but unlike many of the others, I actually read this one without getting bored and leaving it to sit unfinished for weeks on end. Also, it has some pictures. I love a historic photograph.
  4. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. As I mentioned above, I returned to Evelyn Waugh this year. I first read Waugh back in high school when a copy of Scoop drew my eye at the bookstore (remember those?). I own about half of his works, including that recent compilation of non-fiction. Vile Bodies was his second novel, continuing with some of the characters introduced in his inaugural work, Decline and Fall. Vile Bodies is a bitingly satirical swipe at the youth of upper society in London between the world wars: the ‘Bright Young Things.’ It involves a car race begun humorously but ending horrifically wrong, a party in an anchored dirigible, a cast of singing evangelical angels who aren’t angels (reminiscent of Anything Goes), and a terribly embarrassing event at 10 Downing Street. I am a big fan of Waugh, satire, sarcasm, and of British literature of the period in general. If you have never read Waugh, this one might not be the place to start, but it is brilliant and if the style happens to be your cup of tea… it is very ‘delight-making’ (a phrase construction that will mean more to you if you read Vile Bodies) before a sobering descent into various looming realities that ruin the best of parties.
  5. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis. I have always meant to read “adult” Lewis, and when a Christmas order from Amazon needed a couple extra dollars-worth to qualify for free shipping, I decided it was finally time to make it happen. Out of the Silent Planet is the first volume of the Space Trilogy, a science fiction series to which I am now committed. Lovers of the Narnia books will be happily familiar with Lewis’ creation of a new world (you eventually find out to which planet the hero is abducted), verbally painted to vivid perfection. It is a brief read, full of geeky academic-y jokes relating to being on term leave and the sorts of things in which a philologist (the protagonist) is interested. Of course, as should be expected, there is a lot going on beneath the bare surface of the plot.

1 Comment

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One response to “2011 In Review: Another Year of Books

  1. Pingback: Savoy Cocktails of the Week: Mr. Manhattan & a Mississippi Mule | Words to Bumble

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