What I Read in the Fall, 2014

fall2014

September

  • Olivia Manning, The Balkan Trilogy – Staying in Europe; now British ex-pats in WWII Romania and Greece. Three books, together in one 900pg+ volume. Probably the most boring book I’ve ever read but a testament to the Stockholm Syndrome theory of large novels. The weight and depth and scale is persuasive.
    • The Great Fortune (1960)
    • The Spoilt City (1962)
    • Friends and Heroes (1965)
  • Alan Hollinghurst, The Swimming-Pool Library (1988) – Edmund White says “I can think of no other book that is at once so literary and so highly sexed.” Gay men in London, in the 1980s and at the end of empire.
  • Michael Drummond, Renegades of Empire: A Tale of Success, Failure, and Other Dark Deeds Inside Fortress Microsoft (1999) – The secret history of our times.

October

  • James Wallace, Overdrive: Bill Gates and the Race to Control Cyberspace (1997) – And even more. What an incredible time; on the cusp of the internet.
  • Thomas Pynchon, Inherent Vice (2009) – What a terrific and hilarious and disorienting novel to read in the rush of an election campaign.

November

  • Joan Didion, The While Album (1979) – I could have read this in a day, several summers ago, but I spent two weeks with it and will still need to read it again. I still don’t know how to read during campaigns. I’ve had this waiting on my shelf for six years.
  • Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding (2011) – The slightest and least consequential 500pg novel I’ve ever read. The cover is full of voluminous praise – “triumphant” or “a universe unto itself” or “tender, funny, poignant” or “witty, intellectual, big-hearted.” I wanted a big novel to read after the election was done and gone and this was serviceable, ‘readable’ but totally meaningless. All that distinguishes this novel is its unnecessary size; it might as well be written for teenagers. From Value Village.
  • Robert Shrum, No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner (2007) – A reassuring book. Bob Shrum has lost more elections than I have and he kept on going for a very long time. This poor dude lost with Gore in 2000 and again with Kerry in 2004. It’s ok to lose an election. There are lots of reasons and lots of factors and that’s all fine. This is a marvelous secret American history.
  • Benjamin Black, Christine Falls (2006) – I read this on route to Port Townsend. Long and bleak and fraught.
  • Carol Shields, The Republic of Love (1992) – I read this teriffic, tightly-wound little novel in two days while we stayed at Manresa Castle in Port Townsend. A beautiful and humble little book.

December

  • Alan Furst, Red Gold (1999) – Better or worse? Maybe the least memorable but I read one of these every year and I am never disappointed. I read this on the Coho, heading back from Port Angeles.
  • Alison Owings, Hey Waitress!: The USA from the Other Side of the Tray (2002) – One of my favourite books of the year, found in a pile at Russell’s Books. Interviews with 35 different waitresses across the US. A wonderful secret history of our time.
  • Mark Leibovich, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus Plenty of Valet Parking – in America’s Gilded Capital (2013) – A real downer and difficult to read. It felt inappropriate to read; I’m just some dude in Canada – should I be reading this lurid stuff? I love the little story about Harry Reid though – “There are people who could be majority leader who could probably be better than I am. They’re smarter, they’re better-looking, they speak better. But they don’t have the job. I have the job.”
  • Alice Munro, Dear Life (2012) – I read this on a trip to Port Angeles.
  • Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion (1987) – Everyone’s favourite novel! I liked it but not as much as The English Patient or Anil’s Ghost, although I read the latter seven years ago and should probably read it again soon.
  • Laton McCartney, The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (2008) – A big but strangely decontextualized popular history of a terrific scam.
  • Lucy Moore, Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties (2010) – This provided some but not all of the context I was missing for The Teapot Dome Scandal.
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