Reading List 2021

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.


Shadow Boxer by Eddie Muller, Scribner 2003
excellent follow up to the noir tale of reporter Billy Nichols, “Mr. Boxing”, in The Distance

Pastoral Song: A Farmer’s Journey by James Rebanks, HarperCollins 2020
thoughtful heartfelt insight into the degradations of agriculture and food quality, the “big picture” illuminated by the experiences of three generations of a Lake District (UK) farm; we need “policies to recognize that sound farming is a ‘public good'”

The Light of Day by Graham Swift, Knopf 2003
in deceptively spare prose a detective remembers/meditates on his life; (book group)

Making Nice by Ferdinand Mount, Bloomsbury 2021
satirical critique of celebrity PR driven politics and a modern Pied Piper

The Master Key by TOGAWA Masako, translated from the Japanese by Simon Grove; (c1962) Pushkin Press English edition 2017
secrets, sad and sinister, in a Tokyo apartment house unlocked by the master key; a tricky plot, unsettling atmosphere

District VIII by Adam Lebor, Pegasus Books 2018
a largely successful mystery story with a promisingly complex detective and setting in contemporary Budapest; the author packs a lot of history and cultural detail around his plot, interesting and necessary I’m sure for most readers but sometimes overwhelms the story flow

Old School Tie by Paul Thomas, Hachette 1994
first of the mysteries with Maori detective Tito Ihaka has everything that distinguishes the series; complex plots, large interesting cast of characters, violence, clever lively style, humor


The Sellout by Paul Beatty, Picador 2015
thoughtful humane cultural critique at the heart of this wildly painfully comic satire of American life

How To Read The Air by Dinaw Mengestu, Riverhead Books 2010
our lives as stories, as experienced and (mis)understood by ourselves and others; fine prose, perhaps overlong (book group)

Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest Of Europe by Adam Zamoyski, Harper Press 2008
the conflicts and political struggles continuing after the Armistice are largely forgotten; this is an admirably concise compelling account of the unlikely victory that stopped soviet expansion for a generation

Reading In The Dark by Seamus Deane, Knopf 1997
a boy growing up in 1950’s Belfast tries to learn the truth of family secrets, family troubles as part of the political Troubles of Northern Ireland; psychologically acute, deeply sad, told in such distinctive and beautiful language

Rizzio by Denise Mina, Pegasus Crime 2021
novella about the murder of David Rizzio, the private secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots

At Night All Blood Is Black by David Diop, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis; (c2018) Farrar, Straus and Giroux English ed. 2020
a complex mesmerizing narration by an African soldier in the trenches of WWI; familiar themes of war guilt and madness in a fresh context of African culture and issues of colonialism

Trial and Error by Anthony Berkeley, (c1937) Arcturus Publishing 2012
a wonderfully witty, clever story from the “Golden Age” of mystery writing

Kiss Myself Goodbye, The Many Lives Of Aunt Munca by Ferdinand Mount; Bloomsbury 2020
a genealogical excavation reveals a brazen, pitiful, stranger than fiction life

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark, Tor 2019
amusing fast-paced fantasy

Republic of Detours: How The New Deal Paid Broke Writers To Rediscover America by Scott Borchert; Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2021
a study of the Federal Writers’ Project to create the American Guide series of guidebooks to each state; the author tells good stories of many of the writers and political figures involved and shapes a guidebook of sorts to this complex, ambitious, improbably successful project

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks, Flatiron Books 2015
very appealing mix of memoir, daily farming diary, and the natural and cultural history of England’s Lake District

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington, (c1974) NYRB 2020
wildly imaginative doesn’t begin to describe this surrealist folk story celebrating eccentricity and the joyful exuberance of life

M. King’s Bodyguard by Niall Leonard, Pantheon Books 2021
entertaining thriller to foil anarchists plot at Queen Victoria’s funeral, a kind of fact-based origin story for MI5


These Women by Ivy Pochoda, Harper 2020
a literary mystery story focused on the women, largely disrespected and marginalized, of a poor LA neighborhood

The Missing American by Kwei Quartey, Soho Press 2020
exceptionally interesting setting in contemporary Ghana for this well written and satisfying mystery story

Blacktop Wasteland by S. A. Cosby, Flatiron Books 2020
plenty of thriller action for street cred, but it’s the noir tone of milieu and character development that gives it uncommon intellectual heft and interest

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, Harper 2020
compelling story, memorable characters and vivid prose create a truly wonderful novel (book group)

The King At The Edge Of The World by Arthur Phillips, Random House 2020
a remarkable feat of historical imagination and witty storytelling carries the philosophical speculation ever so lightly (book group)

Murder In The Age Of Enlightenment, Essential Stories by AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke translated from the Japanese by Bryan Karetnyk; Pushkin Press ed. 2020
a selection of stories by one of the foremost writers of early 20th century Japan

Outside The Box: How Globalization Changed from Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas by Marc Levinson, Princeton Univ. Press 2020
fascinating history and analysis of the expansion and changes of world trade from mercantilism to the present

The Mystery of Henri Pick by David Foenkinos, translated from the French by Sam Taylor; (c2016) Pushkin Press edition 2020
an entertaining comic mystery story, nicely blended satire and warmth in the portrayal of the world of writers, readers, and publishers


Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton, Putnam’s 2018
always readable mystery series, even with a serial killer story, but I hope McKnight stays in the UP for his next case

The Horizontal Man by Helen Eustis, (c1946) Library of America ed. 2020
a sharp, witty academic mystery; wonderfully entertaining

Dying Every Day: Seneca At The Court Of Nero by James Romm, Knopf 2014
very well written study; stakes are high for the philosopher Seneca in his role as tutor and mentor of the young emperor

Whiplash River by Lou Berney, Wm Morrow 2012
exceptional comic crime story, really really fun read

Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 by Michael Punke, Hachette 2006
a compelling story and skillfully set within the larger issues and events of the region and nation; outstanding popular history

The Corpse Bridge by Stephen Booth, Harper Collins 2014
one of a long-running series; solid plotting, good characters, richly detailed picture of a less familiar rural England

Human Acts by HAN Kang, translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith; c2014, English ed. Hogarth 2016
an extraordinary novel; tragedy conveyed in prose somehow, simultaneously, both brutal and poetic

Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths, Houghton Mifflin 2021
lively and amusing mystery as writers are murdered and red herrings prove abundant


Hokkaido Highway Blues, Hitchhiking Japan by Will Ferguson, (c1998) revised ed. Canongate 2003
following the cherry blossom bloom from one end of Japan to the other seemed like a great idea; the author’s very funny, affectionate and insightful look at the people and culture of Japan

A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames, Little, Brown and Co. 2021
LA mystery novel all about style, great opening page sets the tone
“Hadn’t rained this long in years, and LA had turned Irish green: the brown, scorched hills were soft with new grass, like chest hair on a burn victim.”

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix; Harper Collins 2020
entertaining YA fantasy, good characters and lots of book references

The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, translated from the German by Phillip Boehm; (c2018) English ed. Metropolitan Books 2021
originally published in 1938, newly edited and translated; story with the gripping immediacy of the author’s lived experience escaping from nazi Germany; the protagonist’s self discovery at the core of a literary thriller

Echo on the Bay by ONO Masatsugu, translated from the Japanese by Angus Turvill; (c2015) English ed. Two Lines Press 2020
an absorbing seemingly simple story in a small Japanese fishing village; echos of the past continue to shape and reveal contemporary lives

The Library of the Dead by T. L. Huchu; Tor 2021
dystopian fantasy set in Edinburgh, appealing heroine

Rescuing The Planet Protecting Half The Land To Heal The Earth by Tony Hiss, Knopf 2021
Plenty of anecdotes and inspiring accounts of good conservation work to liven the science


Baseball Haiku, The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game edited with translations by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura, W. W. Norton 2007
who knew that baseball haiku was even a category? very entertaining and a good introduction to the history of the Haiku form in Japan and America

When Red is Black by Qiu Xiaolong, Soho Press 2004
one of an exceptional mystery series set in Shanghai, insights into the making of contemporary Chinese society that go far beyond the usual pleasures of “local color” in a foreign setting mystery novel

The Order Of The Pure Moon Reflected In Water by Zen Cho, Tor 2020
a bandit walks into a coffee shop… a fantasy story about finding your path in troubled times, with a little wuxia for fun

The Vanishing Valazquez by Laura Cumming, Scribner 2016
a delightful and exhilerating book; the poignant story of a man obsessed with one painting frames the larger study of Velazquez’s art and the author’s persuasive encouragement to us to engage with art, to really “see” it

A Stranger To Myself, The Inhumanity of War: Russia, 1941-1944 by Willy Peter Reese, translated by Michael Hofmann; English ed. Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2005
an extraordinary memoir, no battle accounts but uniquely personal and vivid fragments of the experience of war and soldiering

Ordinary Men, Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland by Christopher R. Browning, Harper 1992
both scholarly and gripping

The Distance by Eddie Muller, Scribner 2002
everything you’d want in a noir crime story, wonderfully entertaining and evocative picture of post-war San Francisco’s boxing world


Heida, A Shepherd At The Edge Of The World by Steinunn Siguroardottir, translated by Philip Roughton, (c2016) English edition John Murray 2019
interesting vignettes of life on a remote farm in Iceland, focuses on the political fight to block a plan to flood her valley for a reservoir

The Mao Case by Qiu Xiaolong, Minotaur Books 2009
another satisfying story in the Inspector Chen series; extreme care is necessary in a case with roots in the Cultural Revolution and linked to the Great Leader

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford, Scribner 2016
a vivid evocation of colonial New York City and homage to the 18th century novel; unusual twists to the story, a very showy entertainment

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, 1977 Knopf
wonderfully rich lyrical language; outstanding choice for return of Book Group

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, 2018 Penguin Books
well-written and moving account of a long-distance walk, the familiar metaphor of life as journey in reality

Bat Out of Hell by Francis Durbridge, (c1972) Arcturus Press 2012
fast, entertaining English mystery; the author turned his BBC thriller serial into a novel

Greenmantle by John Buchan, (c1916) Oxford Univ. Press edition 2008
further adventures of Richard Hannay (39 Steps); fast-paced tale of espionage and intrigue as our hero and colleagues foil a plot in the WWI Middle Eastern theater


Landmarks by Robert Macfarland, (c2015) Penguin Books 2016
a beautifully written slow-reading pleasure; reflections on landscapes and the language created through long intimacy of living within a particular place

China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, translated from the Chinese by Allan H. Barr, Pantheon Books 2011
completely fascinating; brave, witty, and shocking; Yu uses his life experiences as a prism to illuminate the elements of contemporary Chinese society


The Dry by Jane Harper; Flatiron Books 2016
well plotted mystery, strong on local color of drought-ravaged Australia

Cold Storage, Alaska by John Straley, Soho Press 2014
very appealing story, a kindlier example of the ironic/goofy style of crime novel

The Republic of Imagination, A Life In Books by Azar Nafisi; Penguin Books 2014
she shares her insights and love of literature; focus on books that illuminate the American experience

A Student Of History by Nina Revoyr, Akashik Books 2019
author is a fine stylist, but I was left feeling like the protagonist’s thesis advisor that the promise of the early chapters was unfulfilled

Earthlings by MURATA Sayaka, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (c2018) English edition Grove Press 2020
a deeply sad, surreally comic story, a harsh critique of society’s pressures to conform

Without Ever Reaching the Summit, a journey by Paolo Cognetti translated from the Italian by Stash Luczkiw; (c2018) HarperOne 2020
meditative trek in Nepal, a pure example of a trip that is all about the journey

Synthesizing Gravity, Selected Prose by Kay Ryan; Grove Press 2020
essays characterized by humor and insight, much on the act/nature of writing

The Big Both Ways by John Straley; Alaska Northwest Books 2008
depression era story with colorful memorable characters and setting in Northwest and Alaska

The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles, translated from the Greek by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald; Harcourt Brace and Co.

The Forger by Cay Rademacher, translated from the German by Peter Millar; (c2013) Arcadia Books ed. 2018
Final volume in the very interesting and satisfying mystery series set in Hamburg in the immediate post-war years


The Mountains Wait by Theodor Broch; 1943 Michael Joseph Ltd. illustrated by Rockwell Kent
memoir of life in northern Norway and the coming of WWII by the Mayor of Narvik

WHY WE DRIVE, Toward a PHILOSOPHY of the OPEN ROAD by Matthew B. Crawford 2020 William Morrow
engaging stories illuminate his critique of the dangers of big tech and bureaucracy to personal freedom and creativity

Patrick Melrose by Edward St. Aubyn Picador edition 2015
being a cycle of five novels: Never Mind; Bad News; Some Hope; Mother’s Milk; At Last comic and terrible, heartbreaking and hopeful, the boyhood to adult middle age of an upper class Englishman; brilliant dialogue, wonderful prose

Lord Grizzly by Frederick Manfred c1954 Univ. of Nebraska edition 1983
vigorous vivid story of the mountain man Hugh Glass, who famously survived a mauling by a grizzly bear

The Silver Branch by Rosemary Sutcliff c1957 Oxford Univ Press
one of the author’s engaging series of novels about Roman Britain

Tokyo Ueno Station by YU Miri c2014, translated by Morgan Giles Riverhead Books edition 2020
through the memories and reveries of a homeless man’s ghost we see something of the hardships of life for the poor in post-war Japan; poetic, dream-like prose

I Was Jack Mortimer by Alexander Lernet-Holenia (c1933) translated by Ignat Ivesy 2013 Pushkin Press edition
terrifically entertaining thriller set in Vienna

Inferno by Dante Alighieri, A New Verse Translation by Michael Palma
W. W. Norton 2002

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, Viking 2020
so much fun, a really witty clever warm-hearted mystery

The Vanished Library by Luciano Canfora, translated from the Italian by Martin Ryle; University of California Press 1989
scholarly sleuthing untangles references and allusions to libraries in the ancient world, particular focus on the great library of Alexandria


Journey to Britannia: From The Heart Of Rome To Hadrian’s Wall AD 130 by Bronwen Riley; 2015 Head of Zeus Ltd.
great armchair travel through time, landscape, and history

Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason; 2013 One (Pushkin Press)
comic mystery, bit overlong but entertaining – and there’s a great dog!

The Memory Police by OGAWA Yoko; translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder; (c1994) 2020 Vintage Books
mesmerizing speculation of a world in which first small, then intrinsic elements are “vanished” by a mysterious authority; what’s left when memories and stories are removed?

Soldiers Of Salamis by Javier Cercas; translated from the Spanish by Anne MacLean; (c2001) Vintage Books edition 2020
explores the boundaries of historical knowledge, the limits of memory and the unknowable human heart; wonderful novel of the Spanish Civil War and aftermath

The Willow King by Meelis Friedenthal, translated from the Estonian by Matthew Hyde (c2012) Pushkin Press ed. 2017
very intriguing and enjoyable dark fantasy of science tangled with folklore and superstition in Renaissance Estonia

Three Rings: A Tale of Exiles, Narrative, and Fate by Daniel Mendelsohn; 2020 University of VA Press
an essay and example of the technique of ring composition in literature illustrated by the interconnections between the great story of exile, The Odyssey, and the stories of three authors living as exiles

Blessed McGill by Edwin Shrake (c1968) John M. Hardy Pub. 2007
one of “50 best books on Texas” and a richly entertaining story; memorable characters, adventure, humor, and irony in Reconstruction Texas

The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre, translated from the French by Frank Wynne (c2013) English ed. 2015 Quercus
winner of the Prix Goncourt; France after the Great War, exhaustion, guilt, greed,and despair for those who survived; unforgettable characters, intricate plot is both thriller-compelling and emotionally rewarding

Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski translated from the Polish by William Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand (c1982) Vintage International Books edition 1992
the overthrow of the last Shah of Iran told with literary virtuosity and insight; a template and preview of the history of the past forty years

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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