Saturday, 14 February 2015

Books read in the years of grace 2013 and 2014

Bold means I loved it and highly recommend it. * means I have read it before.


Not for Turning Charles Moore I reviewed it here.

The Ministry of Fear* Graham Greene I've read it three times. His best book. One of the best books about the Blitz and the war: surreal but also a ripping yarn. Reminiscent of Lewis Carroll, John Buchan and Michael Innes.

Mister Johnson Joyce Carey I loved this wonderful novel set in Nigeria. 

The Tao is Silent Raymond Smullyan

Dark Star Safari Paul Theroux - I reviewed it here - very good but I think my account of Ethiopia is even better

Notes from a Small Island Bill Bryson For a mass audience, but full of insights into England 

The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes* Conan Doyle was not a good writer, unlike Buchan, the stories are silly melodrama,  but Holmes and Watson are wonderful, peerless characters

The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford

Golden Earth Norman Lewis - he wrote very well about his journey to Burma in 1951


Burmese Days George Orwell (much) better than Thackeray. Great social comedy.

Around the World in Eighty Days Jules Verne I skimmed it - fun. 

Finding George Orwell in Burma Emma Larkin - interesting, though not well written.

The River of Lost Footprints - Thant Myint U absorbing history of Burma

The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh - unfinished, but a readable historical saga set in Burma

Greenmantle* John Buchan I reviewed it here. My comfort blanket.

Iron Curtain Anne Applebaum - I reviewed it here. Liberals do not write thick, satisfying history like conservatives or Marxists but she proves to be a historian, not just a journalist.

Romania John Villiers (ed.) - dull little collection of essays. Don't bother.

Selfish, Whining Monkeys Rod Liddle A big disappointment - I reviewed it here.

De Ce Este Romania Altfel? Lucian Boia Very, very good.

Dracula’s Bloodline Radu Florescu, atrociously edited but fascinating.

The Man without a Face Masha Gassen - MG is a Russian-American lesbian. She is a good writer too. Very informative account of Vladimir Putin and recommended. 

Everything is Illuminated - unfinished -  East European narrator's comic English was wearing

Riddle of the Sands Erskine Childers - unfinished: very well-written but too much yachting

Fragile Empire Ben Judah - I keep meaning to post my review.

Bloodlands Timothy Snyder - a good book, though very harrowing. I wrote about it here.

Cheating at Canasta William Trevor unfinished

The Beetle* Richard Marsh unfinished. I loved this 1890s occult novel when I was 26. Now disbelief cannot be suspended. A man turns into an Egyptian god and then a beetle?

The Perfect Spy John Le Carré unfinished - not enough spying, too much a novel.

The Classless Society Alwyn Turner - about John Major's Britain, not a patch on Andy Beckett's books about recent past in Britain, but it just about whiled away a plane journey.

Churchill:  The End of Glory John Charmley in progress

The Danger Tree Olivia Manning - a good novel. The Second World War now seems long ago. 

What a lowbrow list. My schoolboy self would be disgusted that everything I read was written after 1890, it includes four thrillers plus Jules Verne, no poetry and nothing literary, except The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford, which I hated. Ford reminded me of Henry James. Worse than that I cannot say.  

How very few books I read in 2013. The reason was my internet addiction. In fact I only read THREE cover to cover: the three novels. At least I read three novels. I usually only manage one or two. I do most of my reading online, though, these days, which is a great shame because books, even on a kindle, are so much more enjoyable. Books are absorbing,the net enervating.

In 2014 I started by reading more books in two months than in the year before, although most were connected to my holiday in Burma. I then started reading on my kindle but tailed off and The Danger Tree was the only thing I read in the last three or four months. It's the first novel of Olivia Manning's Levant Trilogy, the continuation of her Balkan Trilogy which I have read several times. I strongly recommend the first two autobiographical novels set in Bucharest in 1939 and 1940.

The Danger Tree is better than any of the Balkan Trilogy but I shall not read the remaining novels. Olivia Manning writes well but I do not care a jot about any of her characters. Still, it's a much better series of books than Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy (and I am a huge Waugh enthusiast). I am not sure how it compares with Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time.  ADTTMOT is probably better but I have only read the first and third volumes, many years apart. 

John Charmley's Churchill:  The End of Glory, published in 1993, is very good, though before starting it I had already come to accept his thesis and think that the conventional history of Britain's role in the Second World War is very misconceived. Dr. Charmley tells the heart-rending story of how Great Britain gave away her power and became the American satellite she is today. Cicero said
An unjust peace is better than a just war.
That is not always true, but true very often.

I have a big pile of books to read, I still intend to finish Gibbon, laid aside two years ago, but my priority now is War and Peace (about time) in preparation for my expedition to Moscow.


  1. You should try 50 book pledge ( as it has really helped me keep track of my reading and the variety of my reading too. Not as much review space as Goodreads but much easier to manage, I find. I've barely looked at Goodreads these last couple of years. Ps I also read the Amitav Ghosh in 2013: I finished it, the last 6th was all of a rush as if he was desperate io get to the end.

    1. Rebecca, I signed up for it but don't get the point of it. And nothing explains what it's about. Am I suppose to commit to 50 books a year? How can I also write one? I just want to read the Russians I intended to read in my teens - I always meant to read Dead Souls and am now reading War and Peace. Well I am at chapter 3 and am loving it. My favourite novel was Taras Bulba when I was 12 - then when I was 26 I gave the accolade to first the Red and the Black and then to the Charterhouse of Parma. If Tolstoy is even better than Stendhal then I am truly smitten. interesting that there have been no great novels since 1950 not any great men that I can think of. Western civilisation is in decline.
      After a long pause I decided Burmese Days was my best book read last year - there were times when i was bored by it and by things Burmese - I liked the second half more than the first half and it grew in my remembering as books sometimes do.

    2. This might interest you though I am sure you are not likely to read John Buchan. Yet he and Amitav Ghosh have things in common.

  2. I'll have a go at Burmese Days, I really enjoyed 1984! To the Kindle contraption!

  3. I like your list and especially like that you don't waste your time finishing boring books!

    1. Unfortunately I find it hard to continue with books even if they are not boring. When young I finished every book I started. I remember trudging through The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom completely bored and scarcely paying any attention to them but reading every word, and have no idea why I did it. I find it hard to read books when the internet is a constant distraction. I began recently The Goldfinch, incidentally, but have decided to read War and Peace instead and it is very good indeed. I love the Russians.

  4. I am currently reading novels about Russia, but not written by Russians!