Books get all the attention. What about those who labored over them? Here are the Masthead’s 2017 top picks by category for writers reviewed.
Well, all right: one of these categories is more negative than positive – read on.
All the Light We Cannot See
Oryx and Crake
The Beggar · The Thief and the Dogs · Autumn Quail
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Murder on the Orient Express
The Enchanted Wanderer (and other stories)
Twelve Angry Men
The Fellowship of the Ring
House of Names
The Woman in White
A Room with a View
Where Angels Fear to Tread
City of Thieves
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel García Márquez
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Garden of Eden
The End of Days
I started the Masthead in January as a space devoted to reading and writing. I had the aim to broaden my reading to include those areas I’d neglected – mystery, fantasy, contemporary, drama, dystopia, thriller (can you tell I’m not one for genre fiction?) – and authors I’d never read. I had never written a book review; I’d never written out more than marginal notes scrimped onto 3×6 notepaper that could double as a bookmark.
But the books never did stick with me for very long, no matter how much I loved them (I wrote a little about this here). For the love of books I did something more when I started the Masthead, and when I read over those reviews I’ve already written, the whole novel comes back to me effortlessly – the plot, yes, but everything else, too: its characters, its stylistic genius (or stylistic mess), the feelings I felt…I’ve even had an excitement to read it again (or, in two particular cases, strong reasons to purge it from my shelves…)
I started out easy when I wrote “Pity the fool,” a review of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I’d already read a lot of his work, so writing this one wasn’t much of a stretch.
But I was in new territory with my second review, “Diamond in the rough.” Not only was Anthony Doerr a new-to-me author and All the Light We Cannot See a book much hyped, but when I wrote the review for it I found myself on the other side of popular opinion. Doerr did not regale me as he had so many others.
Doerr aside, I’ve found myself taken with a few new-to-me authors and astounded by feats of ingenuity in prose. I’ve picked up books I may otherwise never have – I saw Hangover Square at another blogger’s site and ended up myself quite taken with it! You won’t find Patrick Hamilton at Barnes & Noble unfortunately, and no length of browsing would have brought him to me.
Sure I’ve read some favorites. This project’s to be a fun one and a year with no Hemingway or Rushdie would be such a sorry thing. So no, not everything’s been new, but I have read more from many of those genres I’d neglected and I’m excited to continue the venture in the New Year.
The Masthead has one more book review for you before its quarter ends (and its first birthday pops) on January 15, and the first two weeks of January will be full of end-of-year reflections, recaps and discussions because after all, we’re all here for the love of books!
The Masthead is closing out its third quarter! A quick look at the past three months:
Books reviewed: 7
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages: French and Spanish)
New-to-me authors: 4 (Forster, Benioff, Sijie and García Márquez)
Oldest book: Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)
Newest book: Benioff’s City of Thieves (2009)
Longest book: King’s It (1153 pages)
Shortest book: García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (120 pages)
A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since July 15:
A Room with a View, EM Forster
Please, just say what you think, not what your friends think! A novel that lambasts with humor our need to be exactly like everyone else (bonus: excellent views of Italy)
Deadeye Dick, Kurt Vonnegut
Copious amounts of guilt for stupid mistakes and twists of fate. This one lacks in substance until the end – a patient read, but stick with it.
Where Angels Fear to Tread, EM Forster
Do you keep your in-law’s burdens even when the blood relation dies and the in-law takes a new (and reproachable) husband? Scandal, prejudice and rue grow out of a humble Italian town and creep their way across the Channel into upright English homes.
City of Thieves, David Benioff
A compact story of Leningrad; emotive and original, adventurous and brutal, but brought down a notch by its gratuitous sex jokes and off-the-mark diction.
It, Stephen King
A tightrope walk along the “kid line” of horror and imagination
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
Simple prose delivers the irony in China’s re-education program with a cute (not cutesy, but cute) love story to boot
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel García Márquez
The townspeople – every last one of them it seemed – knew who was to be murdered and knew who the murderers were but not one of them did anything. A novel about passivity in the face of crime.
Because Sherlock Holmes without Watson just ain’t Sherlock Holmes. Here are eight of my favorite side characters from six of my favorite books: Continue reading
Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker
Dai Sijie, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Jenny Erpenbeck, The End of Days
Émile Zola, Thérèse Raquin
Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue
I’ve had too many books that I adored while reading them which now carry with them nothing better than that awful, says-nothing, lazy accolade: I enjoyed these books, sure I did! They were good books.
Good books, huh? Well, gee…
I don’t doubt there were a great many good books. But why they were any good escapes me now. You’d think it would be easy to remember the good ones.
That yellow rain slicker, the gray rapids of a flooded street…the little newspaper boat that floats toward the stormdrain…and then the carnival smell of popcorn and the shining silver eyes of Pennywise the Clown as he offers up a balloon to young Georgie Denbrough.
The first scene in Stephen King’s IT is one of my favorite openers of any novel. It’s been probably two years since I last read any King. A new IT movie comes out September 8th though, and the novel is out in a great new edition from Scribner, so…I’m getting back into it! Truth be told, I left this one 70 pages to the end last time I read it (really, 94% through the book and I left off!) I remember the story slowing considerably toward the end, but from what I’ve heard I was at the edge of something good.
Kurt Vonnegut who, when reading him is to do mental gymnastics, is hit-or-miss for me. Slaughter-house Five is a great book and Sirens of Titan amused me last summer, but this one – Deadeye Dick – is so far just a jumble of stuff that is kind of a chore to read. I’m only about a fifth of the way into it, and I hope he’ll come around to please me with the usual zaniness.
I’m nearly finished with E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View and want to publish the review by end of week. Forster was a bit like an English Edith Wharton: wry, compassionate and, at times, acerbic.
The Masthead is closing out its second quarter! A quick look at the past three months:
Books reviewed: 8 (6 novels, 1 book of short stories and 1 play, Rose’s Twelve Angry Men)
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages: Russian and Turkish)
New-to-me authors: 7: all except Tolkien were new for me!
Oldest book: Collins’ The Woman in White (1860)
Newest book: Tóibín’s House of Names (2017) *but…it’s the oldest story 😉
Longest book: Collins’ The Woman in White (672 pages)
Shortest book: Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (73 pages)
A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since April 15: