My Notable Twenty-Five
Posted November 28, 2006on:
Two years ago I began to keep track of the books I read ever year. I usually average between 50-60. My own personal library grew by leaps and bounds since I moved to Canada. I borrowed from the campus and local library; the latter truly dazzled me. I was astonished that you could order new books through the library, that it had a DVD and VHS collection and virtually the entire backlist of all my favourite romance authors. I went nuts, truly nuts. The late fees went nuts on my wallet. Prudently I decided to save for purchases only. I preferred the freedom of owning my own books, anyway.
The year is not yet done and there are perhaps three or four more books I could complete before the year is out. But for now here is my Notable 25, listed in a not entirely random but nonsensical order with no care for whether one is a fiction or non-fiction.
Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (Alfred A. Knopf) This was my first Murakami. I have read most of his full-length novels (save one) and find that it stands well among them. Most of his fans seem to think otherwise.
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley (Broadview Press) It was completely different from the campy image that has permeated pop culture. WTF? How did that happen?
Kingdoms of Elfin – Sylvia Townsend Warner (Chatto and Windus, London) The best fairy stories ever. It is not a collection for little Bobby, he will get nightmares.
Atlas – Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Anthony Kerrigan ( Dutton, New York) My first Borges. It was time and global travel.
Lolita – Nabokov (Everyman’s Library) My first Nabokov. I now have a volume of his Library of America collection. The language in this novel is improbably superior to almost every author’s I have ever read.
Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind – V. S. Ramachandran (HarperCollins) An excellent book on neuroscience for the general public. I find the ones at the very least co-written by academics superior to anything written by science journalists from…I don’t know Newsweek or some other equally horrid publication.
The Engine of Reason, The Seat of the Soul – Paul M. Churchland (MIT Press) The book that made me a mild neuroscience nut.
The Unknown Masterpiece – Honoré de Balzac (NYRB Classics) My second Balzac. Very inspiring.
A High Wind in Jamaica – Richard Hughes (NYRB Classics) What an absurdly vicious tale. He is one of the few authors I would like to sit and chat with. (Yes, I know he’s dead.)
Manservant and Maidservant – Ivy Compton-Burnett (NYRB Classics) Why is this novel not a part of the classical canon taught in schools? It is incisive, horrifying, amusing and quite different. Really, why isn’t it?
Defence Speeches – Marcus Tullius Cicero, translated by D.H. Berry (Oxford University Press) An excellent edition in general: great translation with clear, helpful notes.
Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen (Penguin Classics) The most splendid Austen I have read all year.
Fairy Tales – Hans Christian Andersen (Penguin Classics Deluxe) This guy was something else. At times so sweet and poignant then bam! he goes all doom and moral gloom on me.
An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom – Marcus Tullius Cicero* (Penguin UK) I laughed ’till I cried.
Old Goriot – Honoré de Balzac (Penguin Red Classics) I hated the Guardian praise branded on the cover–“A blockbuster!”–but I cannot disagree. I wish they had kept the introductions that are usually featured in their regular Classics line. The masses are not afraid of a bit of education, you know.
The History of Reading – Alberto Manguel (Penguin USA) I fully expected it to be a bore. Who knew?
Other Electricities – Ander Monson (Sarabande Books) Immediately after I read the last page I was prepared to become Monson’s love slave. I have wavered since…
Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway (Scribner Classic) Best.Hemingway.Ever
Cicero on the Emotions: Tusculan Disputations 3 and 4 – Marcus Tullius Cicero, translated by Margaret Graver (University of Chicago Press) Another excellent edition, with enough background given on the various philosophy schools Cicero refers for beginners to manage.
Dreamtigers (El Hacedor) – Jorge Luis Borges, translated by Mildred Boyer & Harold Morland (University of Texas Press) Wow. Just…wow.
Possession – A.S. Byatt (Vintage) Another wow. Who knew that academia could be so exciting? This book was a veritable orgy, hitting all my sweet spots: West European mythology, literature, poetry, a bit of metaphysics here and there…the POETRY!
Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel (Vintage International) The image I associate with this book is satellites. Which leads me to Cowboy bebop.
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin (“) Crazily good and more openly…political? I don’t know if that’s the word I want.
South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami, translated by Philip Gabriel This book makes me think of jazz…which makes me think of Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things” even though that belongs with “Kafka on the Shore”. Nat King Cole comes instinctively after, who knows why.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World – Haruki Murakami, translated by Alfred T. Birnbaum Best.Murakami.Ever.