Monday, June 20, 2016

STL #120: 2015 in Reading

Yes, I'm aware it is nearing the end of June 2016. Still in the sixth month window though! I actually made these lists on January 7th, so I'll transcribe them for posterity and add whatever remarks come to mind at this later date.

I have two lists because 2015 was crime-fiction intensive (by design). At one point, last June I think it was, I read 30 crime novels in 30 days (some of them graphical and some novella length. My first list is a list of writers who impressed, based on books I hadn't read before (I reread works by Hammet and Chandler, so that didn't seem fair). The second last encompasses everything that didn't fit the rubric of crime fiction.  I'll take advantage of the long view I've incubated to see about encompassing the best of both in a single list.

List One: Crime Writers

  1. Donald Westlake (Black Ice, Sour Lemon Score,  The Dame, The Damsel, Somebody Owes Me Money, 361, The Ax, The Cutie, Dancing Aztecs (also read his collected nonfiction). He's been a favorite for years now. I'm still in the middle of the re/read of Parker. The Ax is a classic and Dancing Aztecs  is a classic that just missed and is consigned to the "dated" category.
  2. Lawrence Block (first four Matthew Scudder novels and his three books on writing). Westlake's friend. I read and loved his Sacred Ginmill so went back to the beginning of his series. Right now, I'm on Eight Million Ways to Die. All enjoyable, none quite stand out.
  3. Agatha Christie (Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder in the Vicarage, Dead Man's Folly, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express). There are some charming moments in most of these (an accidentally erotic inner monologue at the Istanbul train station sticks in my mind), though they don't usually have much to do with the plots. A fun way to pass the time.
  4. Josephine Tey (Brat Farrar, The Daughter of Time)  I liked the former quite a lot, though the latter seems over-rated to me (and it has been rated the best mystery of all-time in certain circles).
  5. John D. Macdonald (Deep Blue Goodby, Cape Fear/The Mercenaries) Two great books. The latter more of a thriller.
  6. Chester Himes (Blind Man with a Pistol) Could be a transcendent commentary on being black in America in the late 60s. Doesn't really come together as a novel for me, but stays in the mind. 
  7. Daniel Woodrell (Tomato Red).  Loved the voice of this novel. I want more Appalachian noir!
  8. Sjo and Wahl (Roseanna, The Man Who Went Up in Smoke). Although clearly a step beyond in terms of intensity, reminds me of Maigret.
  9. Hakan Nesser (Mind's Eye). The winner of my contemporary Nordic Noir bracket. Most of the big names (Nesbo, Fossum, Mankell) I didn't really care for. 
  10. Don Winslow (The Cartel). A little pulpy. If that's a criticism. 
List Two: Works of (Non-crime) Fiction and Nonfiction
  1. Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I got into mindfulness theoretically, though struggle to practice. But to the beginner mind, that's okay. This is the best of several audiobooks I listened to. 
  2. Days of Rage by Bryan Burrough. So fascinated by the topic, I don't really have a take on the prose, one way or another.
  3. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. The inverse of the above. The prose is so spectacular, the topics don't really matter. 
  4. Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong. A big, serious book. The basic argument is that religion isn't the cause of violence, it is the agricultural state. 
  5. Saints and Sinners by Lawrence Wright. See #2, though I suspect Wright is the superior writer.
  6. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I recognize this as an important book and I am glad I read it. 
  7. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Transporting experience. The unofficial launch of a year of Westerns. 
  8. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. I'm not sure why I included this because I had a no-rereads rule in effect for other parts of the list. Jackson is a genius.
  9. The Tenth of December by George Saunders. Finally coming to this "new voice." And it is a new, perfect voice. 
  10. Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand. Good, but makes the list based on the fact that, as a mock 33 1/3 on a fictitious progressive British folk group's masterpiece album, it is targeted directly at me. Since I also read her black-metal murder mysteries, I should conclude I sure her sensibilities. 
List the New: How it looks half-a-year later
  1. Consider the Lobster
  2. Lonesome Dove
  3. Days of Rage
  4. Tenth of December
  5. Roseanna
  6. Deep Blue Good-by
  7. Brat Farrar
  8. Tomato Red
  9. The Ax
  10. Mindfulness for Beginners