“I can’t read everything” I wail

I tried reading Ulysses once, the beginning and a random part in the middle and somewhere near the end. And once I read the woman’s monologue, which might have been the end. Or not. I think that’s all the energy I’ll put into Ulysses, happily accepting that it’s my loss.

Marilyn Monro reading Ulysses

Marilyn Monro reading Ulysses

This line of thinking was set off by a list of one hundred books that one should have read in order to be “well-read”. As I fancy myself to be in that category, I couldn’t resist checking the list, to find I’ve read 56 of the hundred. I’m not sure of the credibility of the list, though, which includes Fifty Shades of Grey, The Da Vinci Code and Atlas Shrugged (two of which I have read). That’s along with Henry James, Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen and so on. The list is here. http://bookriot.com/2013/12/26/go-zero-well-read-100-books/

The compiler of the list had a rationale for his choices, which you can read in the comment preceding the list. It includes a loose description of who the list is for. He is less of a book snob than I am.

All of which feeds in to my constant pondering about what to read next. There are always plenty of choices, like a to-be-read pile of twenty-plus, a list of books I’ve noted that I’m interested to read, three public libraries within reach, and all those I want to read again. So it feels a bit of a relief to decide on a few books to not read, along with Ulysses. The remaining novels of Charles Dickens (I’ve read three) for example, and Vanity Fair.


Early January, for the record, is shaping up to be a re-reading time, of David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. In both cases this is because I’ve read a lot about both of these books since first reading them (two years ago and last September respectively) and that has made me want to read them again. It doesn’t happen that often.

Joining the lists

Best books, worst books, under-rated books, ’tis the season for writing book lists. I did a count in my reading journal and find I’ve read fifty-three books so far this year, when I include the current one, so I’ll make fifty-four or five by the end of the month. Many of these I’ve written about in this blog.

One of the places where I read.

One of the places where I read.

I decided to make my list consist of all the books I read this year, in the order I read them, without extra comment  apart from a double-star (**) for those I found particularly memorable.

A lot of my what-to-read decisions are a result of choices by my book group members, reviews and online comments, so most of the titles listed are worth reading.  I’ve added a + to titles I was re-reading and a – to those I didn’t finish (Which maybe shouldn’t be on the list, but I gave them all a good try).

Another reading place.

Another reading place.

I read six books on my iPad, via Kobo or ibooks, (I do my very best to not use Amazon) mostly on holiday in Niue, thus reinforcing the usefulness of ebooks for travelling. I still much prefer reading a printed version, and suspect I always will.

Fourteen got the **. I notice that more than half of these are set in times and places other than those familiar to me. I do think a lot of, but not all, the most interesting current fiction – and my reading is weighted towards fiction – is written from outside the contemporary English/ American arena.

I’ve got seventeen items on my “want to read” list. You will no doubt hear more about those next year. Here’s what I read this year:

Franz Kafka, America –

Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story

John Green, The Fault In Our Stars

Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother


**Rose Tremaine, Merivel

**Katherine Boo, Behind The Beautiful Forevers

Glenn Colhoun, Jumping Ship & Other Essays

**Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Cory Doctorow, Homeland

David Vann, Dirt

**Toni Morrison, Home

Val McDermid, The Last Temptation –

**Aorewa McLeod, Who Was That Woman, Anyway?

Carne Ross, The Leadership Revolution

**Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel

Virginia Woolf, Orlando +

**Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master’s Son

**Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For the Time Being


Naomi Alderman, The Liars’ Gospel

Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

Michelle Roberts, Ignorance

Kate Atkinson, Life After Life

**David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest +

A M Homes, May We Be Forgiven

Stella Rimmington, At Risk –

**Karen Green, Bough Down

Tèa Obrecht, The Tiger’s Wife

Thrity Umrigar, The Space Between

Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl

**Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

Anita Brookner, Latecomers –

James Salter, All That Is

Margaret Atwood, Surfacing +

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

Lore Frank, My Beautiful Genome

**Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries

Margaret Atwood, Surfacing +

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behaviour

Thrity Umrigar, The World We Found

Noviolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names

Tao Lin, Tai Pei

A M Homes, This Book Will Save Your Life

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita –

Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns

Olivia Laing, The Trip To Echo Springs

The Golden Notebook2 2

Julian Novitz, Little Sister

**Alexsander Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle

David James Duncan, The Brothers K

**John Le Carré, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold

John Le Carré, The Looking Glass War