A Better Course

“thou hast councilled a better course than thou hast allowed”

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Review of books 2011

January 1st, 2012 · No Comments

In January of last year, I noticed that I’d only read books by women, and decided to make a project of this for the rest of the year.

This turned out to be a good project, for two reasons – firstly, I’d never really thought about how few books by women I read (proportionally), and secondly, it meant that I read Jane Jacobs’ The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, which I had been putting off for some years.

This set the scene for this project in a satisfying way, as a lot of the non-fiction I read by women was about the division between public and private space – the legal distinctions in Anna Minton’s Ground Control, and contrast between personal invisibility and a total lack of privacy in Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel And Dimed. I recommend both of these books very highly, incidentally – the Ehrenreich in particular resonates with the current political and economic situation. By contrast Bait And Switch, her book on jobhunting in the corporate world, felt somewhat hasty and conclusionless.

The best book I read this year – Marshall Berman’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air – is also the best book I’ve read in the last five years, easily one of my favourite books of all time. It’s a beautiful look at modernism through some specific and highly diverse lenses; it makes an abstract concept feel like personally lived history. I can’t recommend it highly enough, it’s wonderful.

On the topic of the personal and the universal, Daniel Miller’s The Comfort Of Things is also great – I know that I am late to this party, though. It’s a series of essays (not quite sure this is the word – they might be more like interviews or case studies) in which people who live on a road in South London talk about the things that they own. It’s very affecting, not least for the feeling of having been invited into these people’s lives – I feel like I would know any of their houses if I went into them.

Incidentally, I read The Comfort Of Things after Patrick Hamilton’s The Siege Of Pleasure and before Joanna Trollope’s The Best Of Friends. This was not intentional but the formal similarity of the titles together pleased me.

Last year I set myself the aim to try again with Ivy Compton-Burnett, and she is a woman, so I did that, and did not enjoy it. I read Pastors and Masters, and everyone in it is not only horrible but annoying; I just can’t get on with the way she puts words together.

Aims for next year are:

  • Join the library! This is not a direct reading aim but I read so well when I was last a member of a library
  • Read Gödel, Escher, Bach and King, Queen, Knave, the latter on Alex’s‘s recommendation. If you know of a third good book with a title taking the Noun, Other Noun, Third Noun form, that will also go on the list
  • Look Homeward, Angel – I got some Maxwell Perkins letters for Christmas, know basically nothing of Thomas Wolfe, and think I’d get more out of them if I knew more than nothing.
  • One last graph, just for comparison with previous years:

    …one more re-read than last year. All rereads other than The Sea, The Sea were F Scott Fitzgerald novels, it is Nabokov’s turn again next year.

    Previous years: 2010, 2009, 2007, 2006

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