Books Read 2019

What I’ve read this year.  I sample or skim some that aren’t included.  Happily, I have lost the compulsion or sense of duty to finish every book I start. 


Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen   2016 Vintage Books  funny, clever, strong opinions on current issues

Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn  1984 Scribner  
terrific read, created surfer noir

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt   2011 House of Anansi Press  singular, complex take on the Western  (book group)

The Tale of the 1002nd Night by Joseph Roth   translated by Michael Hofmann  c1939  first English publication 1998 St. Martin’s Press   exquisitely melancholy

Seventeen by Hideo Yokohama   translated by Louise Heal Kawai  c2003 first English publication 2018 MCD
engrossing suspenseful newsroom story

Scratchgravel Road by Tricia Fields  2013 Minotaur Books     modestly entertaining mystery, good characters in remote West Texas


Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada  translated from the German by Michael Hofmann  c1947 first English publication 2009 Melville House Publishing      moving, unforgettable WWII story, the inspiration and creation no less remarkable than the novel  (book group)

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis  2011 Knopf       bit of a slog in early chapters but utterly absorbing in the account of the three expeditions, fascinating details and analysis, exceptionally good with larger context of social and political events

Vienna’s Golden Autumn:  From the Watershed Year 1866 to Hitler’s Anschluss, 1938 by Hilde Spiel  1987 Weidenfeld and Nicolson

The Street by Ann Petry   1946 Houghton Mifflin                  bleak, relentless narrative, emotionally exhausting  (book group)

Danubia: A Personal History of Habsburg Europe by Simon Winder   2013 Picador   the richly informative and entertaining fruit of years of idiosyncratic travel and study

The Informer by Akimitsu Takagi  translated from the Japanese by Sadako Mizuguchi c1965  Soho Press        a procedural style mystery with psychological depth

What Now, Little Man? by Hans Fallada  translated from the German by Susan Bennett c1932 Melville House 2009         in 1932 Berlin a young couple holds on to each other as the society collapses, a sensational success at publication

A Stranger In My Own Country:  The 1944 Prison Diary by Hans Fallada  translated from the German  Pollity Press 2015


Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada  translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky  c2014  New Directions       ironic, surreal, odd;   musings on relationships, freedom personal and political, art and the creative life

Newcomer, A Mystery by Keigo Higashino   translated from the Japanese by Giles Murray  c2001  1st US edition 2018 Minotaur Books    smoothly told procedural develops an interesting portrait of a Tokyo neighborhood

Books For Life by Will Schwalbe   Knopf 2017        
essays about books that speak to moments in our lives and the importance of sharing those books

El Llano Estacado: Exploration and Imagination on the High Plains of Texas and New Mexico 1536-1860 by John Miller Morris   Texas State Historical Society 1997  fascinating analysis of early encounters with this singular environment, particularly the chapters tracking Coronado’s expedition

How Fiction Works by James Wood   Picador 2008                 insights from a critic who loves fiction and reading: what is style, what is good writing, how can fiction contain/convey “reality”


Almost Nothing: The 20th Century Art and Life of Jozef Czapski by Eric Karpeles   New York Review Books 2018                                                                                             beautifully written biography of a remarkable man and his extraordinary life

The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig   translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg  c1982  English publication 2008 New York Review Books
bleak depiction of lives crushed by poverty and the aftermath of WWI

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones  2018 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill           (book group)

Hot Water by P. G. Wodehouse   1932 Doubleday, Doran and Co.    exquisitely complex hilarity

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse   translated from the French by Alison Anderson c2009  English publication 2010 Europa Editions  
good bookish elements about the value of literature and bookstores in our lives, but too long and a bit too French for my taste

The Eye Stone by Roberto Tiraboschi  translated from the Italian by Katherine Gregor 2015  English publication 2015 Europa Editions        billed as a medieval noir, lots of atmosphere  (book group)


The Second Rider by Alex Beer  translated from the German by Tim Mohr     c2017  English publication 2018 Europa Editions   Vienna 1919 makes a perfect noir setting for this absorbing mystery story; good characters and plotting; hope another in the series will be translated

Tell Them of Battles, Kings & Elephants by Mathias Enard  translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell   c2010  English publication 2018 New Directions Books   historically grounded, richly imagined story of Michelangelo in Istanbul

The Golden Scales, A Makana Mystery by Parker Bilal  (pseudonym of Jamal Mahjoub) 2012 Bloomsbury            excellent thriller, Sudanese refugee in contemporary Cairo

The Killer Is Dying by James Sallis  2011 Walker & Co.           odd  but involving crime/psychological drama in which the main characters never meet; lovely reflective language on themes of loss and loneliness

Coffin, Scarcely Used by Colin Watson c1958  US c1958 Putnam’s Sons         first in what promises to be a delightful classic British mystery series featuring the very model of an unassuming detective in a provincial town

The Banished Immortal:  A Life of Li Bai by Ha Jin      2019 Pantheon Books    wonderfully readable life of the still beloved poet with a generous sampling of his poems in their literary/cultural/political historical context


Is That A Fish In Your Ear? Translation And The Meaning Of Everything by David Bellos   2011 Faber and Faber      
attempts to define “translation” in a fascinating and lively exploration of language and its role in the ways we think and communicate

Zama by Antonio Di Benedetto   translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen  c1956  English translation 2016 New York Review Book    
stranded in a provincial town of colonial Paraguay Zama sinks into a despairing entropy; exquisite psychological portrait, existential loneliness in a lush/nightmarish colonial setting

Miss Buncle‘s Book by D. E. Stevenson          c1934 Farrar & Rinehart    
I reread this from time to time and am always charmed by the affectionate, lightly satirical tale of life in a small English village

Eline Vere by Louis Couperus   translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke  c1889  English translation 2010 Archipelago Books      
a splendid example of the 19th century novel with a large cast, a richly detailed physical and social world, and an exceptionally acute psychological portrait of the young woman at the story’s center


News of the World by Paulette Jiles   2016 William Morrow    
a lovely story of unlikely companions on a journey through the turmoil of post-Civil War Texas; with lyrical economy Jiles evokes the landscapes and people of west Texas, the truth of affection and loyalty in the midst of uncertain and painful times

Frontiers of the Roman Empire by Hugh Elton  1996 Indiana University Press        analysis of the concepts of different kinds of frontiers and what life was like for those living in them

The World Between Two Covers:  Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan  2015 Liveright Publishing Corporation   an enjoyable interesting account of a blogger’s project to read a book from every nation within a year; some book talk but mostly about the challenges presented by the nature of the English language publishing industry and lack of publishing opportunities for many writers, translation issues, and stories about the many people who helped her complete the project

Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe  2019 Doubleday       a history of the political conflict centered in Belfast, the intricacies of loyalty and betrayal, the terrible personal consequences for the perpetrators of violence as well as the innocent; utterly compelling narrative – the only reason I didn’t read it in one sitting is because I didn’t start early enough in the day

Border: A Journey To The Edge Of Europe by Kapka Kassabova   2017 Graywolf Press  the author returns to the forbidden borderland of her childhood in communist Bulgaria where Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey intersect; fascinating, moving stories of the borders in our personal lives, and of lives shaped by current political and economic stresses as a continuation of millennia of turmoil in this region “not quite Europe, not quite Asia”; beautifully written

Bai Ganyo, Incredible Tales of a Modern Bulgarian by Aleko Konstantinos    translated from the Bulgarian by V. Friedman, C. Kramer, G. Fielder, and C. Rudin  ed. Victor A. Friedman   c1895  English translation 2010 University of Wisconsin Press  
comic tales of a scruffy itinerant peddler who’s always looking for an angle or opportunity; satiric critique of the corruption and social confusion in the newly created state of Bulgaria

The Heartland: An American History by Kristin L. Hoganson   2019 Penguin Press   a heroic effort to blow-up the stereotypes and myths attached to the “heartland” concept by examining the history of Champaign County Illinois

The Catalogue Of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee   2018 Scribners
Hernando Colon bought books obsessively and created probably the largest private library of his time; his passion was to make their contents useful, what we would call “searchable”,  through organizing innovations like content abstracts, topical indices, a proto card catalogue, and upright bookshelves; much good context of Renaissance intellectual ferment and the printing revolution


The Fall Of Rome And The End Of Civilization by Bryan Ward-Perkins   2005 Oxford University Press    witty, scholarly, accessible to the general reader study of the the post-Roman world; a convincing picture of physical destruction and the steep decline in quality of life as the economic linkages of empire disappear

The Physics Of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov    translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel   c2011  English translation 2015 Open Letter    
a remarkable novel; a mesmerizing labyrinth of personal and family history based stories with side passage thoughts on philosophy, politics, literature


Moby Dick by Herman Melville  illustrated by Barry Moser  1979 The Arion Press (University of California Press)    
call me a fan    (book group)

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai  translated from the Hungarian by George Szirtes  c1985  English translation 2012 New Directions Books     singular, intense,compelling novel; where black comedy and black despair mingle

The Shell by Mustafa Khalifa  translated from the Arabic by Paul Starkey  c2006   English translation 2017 Interlink Books  
there is a cinematic flow to this harrowing story of a young man’s long years in a Syrian prison that makes it impossible to look away


The Murderer In Ruins by Cay Rademacher   translated from the German by Peter Millar  c2011   English translation 2015 Arcadia Books   excellent crime thriller with good characters and plotting, remarkably vivid depiction of life in the harsh winter of 1947 in war devastated Hamburg

Slow Horses by Mick Herron    2010 Soho Press  
very entertaining thriller, intricate layers in the world of British intelligence operations

Better by Atul Gawande  2007 Picador    
memorable stories of his experiences across a wide sample of medicine/healthcare practices; insights into how anyone can ‘do better’ in  any kind of endeavor

Walking On The Ceiling by Aysegul Savas   2019 Riverbed Books   a delicate novel about memory, its elusive and malleable nature, its power to shape the self and relationships, the meanings created when memory is told as story

Homeland by Fernando Aramburu   translated from the Spanish by Alfred MacAdam  c2016     English translation c2019 Pantheon Books  
powerful novel of two families in a Basque village in last years of ETA

The Capital by Robert Menasse   translated from the German by Jamie Bullock   c2017  English translation 2019 Liveright Publishing   winner of the German Book Prize  
a very funny, very serious novel about the idea of the European Union and its fragility, about the sad scrambled botch of human lives and history

The Library Book by Susan Orlean  2018 Simon and Schuster   enjoyable history of Los Angeles Library, the Hollywood version of many city library histories  (book group)

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville  2009 Soho Press   terrific premise and story; IRA killer haunted by ghosts of some of his victims and his efforts to give them justice


From The Shadows by Juan Jose Millas   translated from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead & Daniel Hahn  c2016  English translation c2019 Bellevue Literary Press  
a story bizarre, hilarious, and disturbing pretty much at the same time

The Churchgoer by Patrick Coleman   2019 Harper    
fair California noir but too long, protagonist ultimately tedious

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab  2015 Tor    entertaining, well-written classic style fantasy

Falcon by Emma Bull   1989 Ace    
well written sci fi, enough story to have made a series

After The Banquet by Yukio Mishima translated from the Japanese by Donald Keene c1960 English translation c1963 Knopf
fascinating character portraits and presentation of Japanese society transitioning to modern world; beautiful evocative language, acute psychology, an intensely pleasurable and rewarding reading experience


Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tabley Takemori c2016 English translation c2018 Grove Press (book group) memorable satire, winner of Akutagawa Prize

Job, The Story of a Simple Man by Joseph Roth translated from the German by Dorothy Thompson c1930 English translation c1981 Overlook Press
story of a Russian Jew who emigrates to America; conjures a lost world through the power of Roth’s imagination and language

A Primer for Forgetting: Getting Past the Past by Lewis Hyde c2019 Farrar, Straus and Giroux a collection of short pieces musing on the kinds of forgetting, their meanings and usefulness in personal and community life; genuinely thought provoking and insightful

Fabulous Monsters: Dracula, Alice, Superman, and Other Literary Friends by Alberto Manguel c2019 Yale University Press
a reader’s look at the ways literary characters stay with us through life

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth c2013 Graywolf Press
remarkable, engrossing, powerful work of the imagination; Kingsnorth created a kind of ‘Old English’, what he calls a “shadow language”, to conjure the last days of Anglo-Saxon England

Not All Bastards Are From Vienna by Andrea Moleskin translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar & Patrick Creagh c2010 English Translation c2015 Grove Press winer of The Campiello Prize for Literature
well-crafted story of WWI set in a village in the highlands north of Venice

What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading by Leah Price c2019 Basic Books a lively survey that packs a lot of information and commentary about book history, reading, libraries and other book sharing systems, books as tools and as autobiography, and more

Author: abookwomansholiday

The perfect holiday for a lifelong reader is one with a stack of books and few distractions. Retiring after three decades as a bookseller, I look forward to reading my way through the stacks and shelves and lists of books waiting for me. This blog will be something of a grab bag or commonplace book of reviews, quotations, notes on the history of books, the contemporary book trade, and anything connected with books and language. Reading is a great pleasure. Thinking and talking about books multiplies and intensifies that pleasure.

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