2013 booklistPosted: December 26, 2013
[complete list] First, for the quick and dirty reviews. I end the year on a strong note with The correspondence of Paul Celan & Ilana Shmueli. The correspondence spans the last year and a half of Celan’s life, before he took his own life at 50. Shmueli is a childhood friend to Celan, they reunited many years later, when she lived in Israel and he in Paris. They became lovers and confidants. During this year and a half, they met on three occasions, once in Jerusalem and twice in Paris. They corresponded daily, and one can not help but notice how efficient airmail is, a 3-4 day turnaround time in 1969-70). The letters are beautiful and painful and raw. She is both needy and strong and all there for him at the same time. He in sinking into depression and manages to emerge and embrace her here and there. He sends her poems and they write about poetry and his depression and together provide great insight into love, art and depression.
Best fiction books of the year are Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, The Son by Philip Meyer, and Pow! By Ma Yan (2012 Nobel laureate in literature). All three books do a wonderful job in transporting the reader to another world, another existence, and justify a totally different moral framework. All three books made me more understanding towards the “other”. Adam Johnson’s The orphan master’s son, belongs here are well.
Notable mention, also in the fiction category, goes to Claire Messud for The Woman Upstairs.
Best non-fiction go to David McCullough’s The greater journey, Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve and The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. McCullough’s book on Americans in Paris between 1830-1900 was a great book to read as a backdrop for my visit in Paris. I learned so much about the state a medical training, or art and art trade, of sea voyages, of much much more. America was very backwards in many ways. Greenblatt’s The Swerve is another magic book. Concisely packed into 368 pages is the story of the recovery in the early fifteenth century of a Roman manuscript by Lucretius. And with that a history of literacy and the power of the written word, popes and anti-popes and the bloody wars between them (the Middle Ages certainly make you feel better about the 21th century), and Epicurean philosophy and More’s concept of Utopia (which was a bit lost on me).
The third book in the category is The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks, a book that was so well covered in reviews, it needs no introductions. Of course, of special interest (let’s face it, I’m not into biology) were the privacy and research practices that were taken at the time, or lack thereof, and to what extent this became a game changer. And if I were to predict, this game is about to change again.
What disappointed? First on the list is Just Kids by Patti Smith. I will not deny I read it through, but I found the writing to be rather plain. It has plenty of pace but little emotion or insight, and very little beauty. Another disappointment was Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. This time last year is was hailed on all the book shows as one of the best of 2012. I made it to about two-thirds of the book with a growing sense of discomfort, before deciding that these are all very twisted people and that I want no part in it.
And now, for the numbers:
I read a total of 22 books this year (down from 31 last year). Of these 12 (58%) were from the library and 10 were bought. I read more print (14) than kindle (8) books. Half of the books I borrowed from NYPL (6 of 12), were kindle books. Six of the books were in translation (from German, Swedish, Chinese, Portuguese) and three were in Hebrew.
I learned of 12 of the book from book or radio reviews, six were recommended by friends, and four were picked up while browsing in bookstores.
NYPL continues to be my first choice, although I can’t control the flow, and often end up returning books unread, or not even picking them up (The Goldfinch awaited me twice). My favorite bookstore continues to be Book Culture and Amazon plays an important role as well. I also buy quite a few children’s books as gifts, and for that Bank Street Bookstore is the only place to go (and they both need website makeovers).
Next year I’ll have 3-year cumulative data and will post aggregated stats with tables, and until than, I wish us all a great year in reading.