Saturday, December 19, 2015

a reading year.

before 2015 is out, i am embarking on the 45th book this year, atul gawande's 'being mortal'. i never read as many books in a year. this is thanks to a prolonged sick leave, long flights and airport waits, and also to the availability of not only physical books, but kindle e-books, and audio books. i don't find any essential difference among these formats, save for the difficulty of note taking while listening to an audio book.

when it comes to genres, fiction slightly leads in favour of non fiction: 25 to 20.

after remaining utterly exhausted but unrewarded by 'bag of bones' back in 2005, i told myself i would never ever read another stephen king novel. this year i broke the promise and read two. 'revival' attracted my attention for its psychopathological religious theme, but it was too far-fetched to have expectations of it. on the other hand, returning to 'carrie' for the same reason was very fruitful.

there were several other underwhelming experiences, though unexpected. first of all 'goldfinch' by donna tartt, which i loved for about 400 pages, but completely lost the zeal during the remaining two or three hundred; then 'gilead' by marilynne robinson, which i wrote about in my previous post. the same happened with two ian mcewan novels, 'on chesil beach' and 'child in time', but i loved 'enduring love', 'black dogs', and 'the children's act'. the italian classic 'the gold-rimmed spectacles' by giorgio bassani, which i got as a present with warm recommendations, also left me cold, as did the booker runner 'did you ever have a family' by bill clegg. 'girl at war' by sara novic was probably the greatest disappointment.

my reactions were lukewarm to several other exceptional books: 'arthur and george' by julian barnes, 'onitsha' by jean-marie g. le clezio, 'middlesex' by jeffrey eugenides, 'zuckerman unbound' by philip roth', and 'all my puny sorrows' by miriam toews.

the following novels managed to thrill me much more: 'honeymoon' by patrick modiano, 'passport' by herta muller, 'the good son' by paul mcveigh, 'slaughterhouse 5' by kurt vonnegut, 'alone in berlin' by hans fallada, 'moby dick', and 'lolita'. the only book of fiction, however, that i rated with five stars was 'don quixote', which i read integrally for the first time this year. it is a world in itself, not a book.

on the non fiction side of things there have been many more five star books, books that have shook me profoundly and enriched me enormously. in no particular order, they include the following: the autobiography of oliver sacks titled 'on the move', which poignantly allowed me a glimpse into his private life, and make him an even greater hero than he had been; the biography of huston smith 'wisdomkeeper' written by my friend dana sawyer, which discloses the gigantically intricate spiritual legacy of one of the greatest world figures in the sphere of religion; theodore millon's seminal work 'personality disorders in modern life', which subtly and comprehensively encapsulates all psychological perspectives to offer a very humane depiction of personality disorders; henry marsh's 'do no harm' account of a lifelong career, successes and failures of a neurosurgeon, shot through with intimate family episodes; and 'the examined life' by stephen grosz, probably one of the most sympathetic and personal series of psychotherapeutic cases that opens up new questions about well known themes.

i also admired non-fiction books on the themes i have a great interest in: teaching in north korea ('without you there is no us', suki kim), apostates from scientology ('beyond belief', jenna miscavage) the norwegian psychopathic killer ('one of us: the story of andreas breivik and the massacre in norway', asne seierstad), personal accounts of mental illness ('my age of anxiety', scott stosell), london ('londoners', craig taylor), prison libraries ('running the books', avi steinberg), classical music and neurology ('musicophilia', oliver sacks), psychology ('interpersonal treatment of personality disorders', lorna smith benjamin; 'personal intelligence', john d. mayer), franklian logotherapy and literature ('existential journey', micah sadigh), religion ('a medieval mystic', vincent scully), psychopathic parents ('not my father's son', alan cumming), or emotional roots of health ('the healing path', marc barasch). the only non-fiction book i wish i hadn't read was 'i'll never write my memoirs' by grace jones, because it spoiled my image of her and even of her music. it has to be said she was honest, had some extremely good points, but on the whole she was showing off her unpalatable narcissism, which is a great furn-off for me.

2015 was a good year. i stand in awe of all those people who give us so much. they are the salt of the earth.