Six of the best

Well, from a quick count it looks like I’ve read around 56 books this year, I should add a couple more before the new year yet though.

Still, that’s less than I’d have hoped, quite a lot less actually, but so it goes.

Anyway, I thought I’d make a short post linking to what were for me the discoveries of the year. To be a discovery it has to be something a bit obscure, not so well known. That’s not because obscurity equates to quality, it doesn’t, I just figure the better known books are less likely to need recommending.

So, these are my five six suggestions for books easily missed that are well worth checking out, even if they’re not what you’d normally read. They’re in no particular order:

First up, Jarmila, by Ernst Weiss. This was one of my definite finds of the year. A wonderful novella, really a masterclass in the art of that form. It’s an exquisitely crafted work that unpacks its meaning and symbolism long after you finish reading. Really, a masterpiece.

Next, Fraülein Else, by Arthur Schnitzler. A technical tour de force, it’s also gripping and beautiful. I’ve read another Schnitzler since, and have a third waiting at home that I hope to get to early in the New Year. A superlative author, and underappreciated I think.

Balthasar’s Odyssey, by Amin Maalouf. A wonderful novel about writing, humanity, superstition, the creative impulse and why we continue even when there seems no point to doing so. Astonishingly humane, and often very funny.

A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter. Salter shouldn’t be obscure, people have heard of him, but my impression is that he’s not nearly as widely read as he should be. Salter is an extraordinarily talented writer, anything by him is worth a visit. The Hunters, to be fair, may be a better place to start though than this particular novel (but I didn’t read The Hunters this year, so it’s not eligible for this post).

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery was another exceptional find, though not actually by me (it was a present from my wife). Beautifully written, eloquent and evocative, and full too of a profound empathy.

Lastly, Three to Kill by Patrick Manchette. French noir, expanding the crime genre by mixing it with Marxist theory and creating an indictment of a whole way of life. A fascinating novel, a shame Manchette’s better known The Prone Gunman wasn’t for me as interesting. Originally this post was going to be five recommendations, but I didn’t have the heart to leave out the Manchette.

Otherwise, I’ve read some excellent crime, but mostly fairly well known stuff. My big reading project of the year of course has been the Anthony Powell’s, that’s taken a fair bit of my reading time (and has been more than worth it). Where I’m a little surprised is how little SF I’ve read this year, I think not having read as much as I’d have liked it just got squeezed out, SF titles routinely run to 5-600 pages or more, which if you’re time-pressured can be a bit offputting.

Anyway, there’s lots here I haven’t mentioned, the Yates’ novels for example that I read this year, but both are very well known and hardly needing me to promote them. I wasn’t sure if Jean Rhys counted as obscure really, but whether she is or not she’s well worth reading. And on a less serious note, Somebody Owes Me Money was one of the more fun reads of the year. All that said, if I had to pick one well known book of the year that unexpectedly blew me away, it would be The Crying of Lot 49. I loved this work, and given how many people bounce off Pynchon I think it’s a shame more don’t try it, instead of leaping directly into Gravity’s Rainbow.

And, if you read this in time, Happy Christmas!


Filed under Personal posts

6 responses to “Six of the best

  1. Happy Xmas to you and Emma, Max.

    I have the Weiss and the Schnitzler here, bought after your recommedation. Now that I’ve admitted that, this means I’ll have to get to them sooner than later.

  2. Nick

    Happy Xmas and thanks for the good advice all year long.

  3. Great roundup, Max. I am going to have to pick up a few of these. The Ernst Weiss novella looks particularly intriguing. And Schnitzler..and….well, good list.

  4. Pingback: 2009 Reading Roundup. « Hungry Like the Woolf

  5. Thanks for the comments folks, I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on the Weiss and Schnitzler Guy. Kerry, if you pick just one, I’d make it one of those two.

  6. Pingback: My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: January 6, 2010 « Hungry Like the Woolf

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