It’s that time of year again. Or rather, I am slightly behind the times: it has been that time of the past year again, when people make lists of everything related to 2016.
Continuing my habit from 2015, I tracked all the books I read cover-to-cover and finished during 2016 (some were started much earlier). I am happy to report that the total number has gone up! There are twelve books that can be classified as fiction, and some real classics in my list. Only two in Dutch, a few in translation from Chinese (modern and pre-modern), Japanese, and I read one entire book in French (there’s a first!). Titles are linked to Worldcat.org NF = non-fiction; F = fiction.
Het is die tijd van het jaar weer. Of meer precies: ik loop een beetje achter op die tijd van vorig jaar: eindejaarslijstjes voor 2016.
Ik ging lustig verder met mijn gewoonte van 2015 om bij te houden welke boeken ik van kaft-tot-kaft las, en meer bepaald bij welke ik in de loop van 2016 eindelijke helemaal uitlas (een aantal heeft veel langer geduurd, een paar pagina’s per keer). Ik kan met veel vreugde aankondigen dat het er meer zijn dan vorig jaar! Twaalf boeken fictie, en enkele echte klassiekers staan ook op de lijst. Slechts twee in het Nederlands, een aantal vertaald uit het Japans of (modern en pre-modern) Chinees, en ik las zelfs één boek helemaal in het Frans. Klik op de titels voor volledige details via Worldcat.org. NF = non-fictie; F = fictie. Helaas geen tijd om ook nog na te gaan welke werken er ook in Nederlandse versie te verkrijgen zijn. Mail me, of laat iets weten in de opmerkingen en ik kan aanvullen op basis van jullie hulp.
- 1 Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy F
Very good read, but had to take it in small doses. I highly recommend you try and read this. Sterne plays around with the format and conventions of the novel, before it is really established as a genre. It felt remarkably (post?-)modern in many ways, and that for an 18th century book!
- 2 Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey F
Bundled in the same volume. Perhaps not as playful with the format, but a fun read!
- 3 Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi NF
I felt this could have been a lot shorter and more to the point. I couldn’t get away from the name dropping and there is lots of repetition of the main points (they do stick, I guess.) It was a quick read, as the main ideas are straightforward to grasp, and it gives some nice ideas about how to deal with stereotype/identity threat.
- 4 Pierre Marsone, La steppe et l’empire NF
History of the Khitan up to the death of Abaoji. My main bug bear would be that it is selectively critical of the sources- sometimes very keen insights, followed by just accepting whatever is in the Chinese materials. Nice to see that I can read an entire French book and understand it!
- 5 Mark E. Lewis, China’s Cosmopolitan Empire NF
Read this for the graduate seminar I taught, and we had good discussion about what would be a good history book (or use of this book) for teaching grads and undergrads. Quick read, but we settled on the idea of assigning single chapters as the best option to use this for teaching purposes.
- 6 Marion Stein, Schrödinger’s Telephone F
Quick read, not entirely sure what to make of the story (and I can’t remember how it ended up on my reading list, either), but I guess it’s an interesting take on mental illness in an unexpected way? As I said: not sure what I am supposed to make of it!
- 7 Howard Goodal: The Story of Music NF
Quick read about the development of Western music, both popular and classical. Requires some basic knowledge of music to really get all the details, but even without that still a good read. Interesting ideas about the divergence of “popular” and “classical”, and the importance of recording for our 20th and 21st century experience. Does not shy away from some of the more controversial issues (Wagner, appropriation of “native” music by “western” composers etc).
- 8 Anna Shields, One who knows me: Friendship and Literary Culture in Mid-Tang China NF
Great book about a topic that is hot now (Friendship, or how did people deal with life before Facebook), but Anna assured me the research started well before the rise of social media. Lots of translations and analysis, needless to say a must-read for anybody in Tang studies.
- 9 Mo Yan, Shifu, you’ll do anything for a laugh, translated by H. Goldblatt F
Collection of short stories by a writer I have grown to like. His descriptions are always drawing very strongly on smells and tastes, and work well with the semi-autobiographical aspect. I start reading these things to find course materials, yet am always drawn in by the little snapshots of daily life, often with a magical-realism twist to them.
- 10 Alan Bennet, The Uncommon Reader F
A great little novella about what happens when the Queen wanders into the mobile library parked around the back from the Palace…
- 11 Eliza Green, Becoming Human F
Picked this one up from my daily Bookbub e-mail, so it must have been free (or near enough). Could have done with a stricter editor to tighten the story and prevent some of the predictable elements of the plot, although the build-up to the big reveal has potential. I’m not sure if I will bother with the other two volumes in the series. Now I know what the basic premise is, it no longer intrigues me and the characters are a bit too flat to engage me sufficiently. I don’t care if Isla is alive or dead, or if Anton makes it safely back home…
- 12 Thomas K. Carpenter Fires of Alexandria F
Pretty quick read of “alt history fiction” around Roman Alexandria. Not the greatest fiction- again, missing development in characters, and it could have benefitted from some more editing. But nice to see a “barbarian” cast in a witty, intelligent and educated role, breaking down a few stereotypes.
- 13 Richard Sennett, Together: The Art, Pleasure and Politics of Cooperation NF
Loved it- What have Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors” and Montaigne’s cat in common? Here they both function as entry points into a deep study of cooperation, where it has gone wrong, and how we can repair it. Can’t wait for part 3 of the Homo Faber project, on city planning and urban spaces. A must read in these times of talk about echo-chambers and silos: cooperation is never easy and it can be painful but we MUST overcome those hang-ups and rebuild our society.
- 14 Bill Bryson, Neither here nor there NF
Well, the title says it all. It’s a cross-over between a memoir of a trip the author made in 1973 as a young and somewhat naïve adult, and a repeat of that trip in 1990. The description of Belgium catches some of the peculiarities of our country. Overall, I felt the book was hopelessly dated. Not because Europe has moved on or changed so much, but because I doubt that any editor these days would let their writers get away with the sheer amount of sexism found in this book. I could get past the hyperbole that drips of every page, the personal vendetta against the travel companion (mildly amusing at times) and the back-and-forth between past and present, if only it were done without constant reference to the women’s bodies and how they would or would not fulfill his fantasies of well…. whatever. Sorry, Bill. Loved your Notes from a Small Island back in the day, and Mother Tongue, and that’s why I picked up this one when it was on sale, but I was disappointed.
- 15 James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson NF
Turned out to be the perfect bedtime reading: no chapter divisions (so you can’t read till the end of the chapter), pretty sedate pace of narration, and nothing too exciting to stop you from dropping off to sleep, except here and there sprinkled throughout the 990 pages in this edition, there are those little gems of conversation and wit. A long read (took me years to get through it at this pace!), but a good read. Yes, I enjoyed it. And in response to the question “Why are you reading that?!”, which I got occasionally from friends: because this is one of those classics that shaped a genre.
- 16 Amy Tan, the Kitchen God’s Wife F
Great read- why did I not read this ages ago? Hard to put down, plot was nicely constructed with a few twists and turns, and despite all the misery the main character goes through, it’s not a downer. Highly recommended.
- 17 Guy Didelez en Patrick Bernauw, In het teken van de ram F
Jeugdboek over de politieke situatie in Duitsland in het jaar 1933, gebaseerd op historische feiten en de gaten gevuld met de fantasie van de schrijvers. Verteld vanuit het standpunt van de dochter van een helderziende, wiens relatie met Hitler nooit helemaal duidelijk was. Zeer vlotte lectuur, spannend!
- 18 Luc François (red.), De Boerenkrijg: Twee eeuwen feiten en fictie NF
Een collectie essays over de Boerenkrijg (wat het nu eigenlijk was) en hoe deze in de latere historiografie en verbeelding veranderde naargelang de noden en overtuigingen van de schrijvers die zich erover bogen. Leest nogal stroef. Best wel nuttig om eens alles op een rijtje te hebben maar de auteurs gaan uit van nogal wat voorkennis voor de lezer omtrent de Franse Tijd in de geschiedenis van de Nederlanden/ België.
- 19 Simon Winchester, Atlantic NF
A decent read, which uses the Atlantic and it’s history (and in particular the human interaction with this ocean) as a neat way to weave together all sorts of different stories. I found the writing at times a bit unnecessarily complex, but I guess it compensates for a lot of interesting tidbits I picked up along the way.
- 20 N. Harry Rothschild, Wu Zhao: China’s Only Woman Emperor NF
The book is aimed at a more general reader, and does a great job of introducing the Tang dynasty and Zhou interregnum to the non-specialist. Yet there are some issues: the introducion and conclusion point out the problematic bias of all surviving source material, and how we should not accept everything in these sources. But then in body chapters some of these anecdotes surface, not always critically examined and that may leave those not trained in “reading Chinese history against the grain” with an image of a rather weird and wonderful medieval Far East. It contains a very handy overview of secondary sources, mainly in western languages, and that may prove very useful for teaching purposes.
- 22 Jun’ichiro Tanizaki (tr. Seidensticker), Some Prefer Nettles F
Slow-paced novel about a couple in early twentieth century Japan, as they drift towards a divorce. No cathartic ending, but goes into quite a lot of psychological detail of the main characters. I liked it a lot!
- 23 Six Yüan Plays, tr. Liu Jung-en F
I read this in search for teaching materials (that worked alright), and the stories were entertaining. Perhaps not to everybody’s taste with the repetition and the moralizing aspects. But then reading western opera librettos without the staging or the music does not give you the full experience either, so use your imagination…
- 24 Natsume Sōseki I Am a Cat (translator?) F
A fun little collection of stories set in early 20th century Japan (during the Russian-Japanese war), narrated by a stray cat who gets adopted into the house of a Japanese teacher of English. The stories explore the tensions of modernization through satirical narration of everyday mini-dramas.
- 25 Patricia Crone Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World NF
This should be my cup of tea, and it was in part. But like all books that try to give sweeping, generalizing overviews of history, my knowledge of history gets in the way of the experience for the intended reader. I keep getting hung up on exceptions, and on alternative ideas. Still, a good read if you’re not sure how to make sense of what separates us now from what came before. The pre-modern experience was diverse, but the differences with the modern world give it some distinct sense of unity from our present vantage point. I think this will be useful for teaching purposes.
- 26 Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran NF
A memoir of life under an increasingly authoritarian regime, structured around some of the key texts the author taught while in Tehran. Dr. Nafisi began to invite students she taught at university in Tehran, to a “secret book-club” at her home. The power of literature to fight back against (or rather “think against”) authoritarian states is clearly demonstrated here, and the book shows why such regimes are so keen to censor arts and literature. And if, like me, you’re behind on reading the classics, this may well whet your appetite for further exploration.
- 27 Barbara Demick Nothing to Envy NF
Weaving together the stories of six defectors from North Korea, this book gives an insight in life in the DPRK before 2000. Well-crafted, a smooth read even if the contents is harrowing at times.
Handy starter guide for those who want to get beyond just the surface of a story. Not much new in here for me, but I am actively considering where I can insert this in my reading recommendations for students, when we are dealing with literature and want to get beyond that basic plot line rehashing in discussions.
- 29 James C. Scott The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia NF
Ah! We’re back into the list of “things I was recommended ages ago and should have read way back when”. Lengthy but highly informative alternative history of the “civilized versus barbarian” boundaries. Scott focuses on the reasons and strategies employed by peoples who do not want to be encased in a state. There were a few “Aha-Erlebnisse”, suddenly a lot of premodern Chinese history makes a whole lot more sense to me.
And that was 2016 in bookform for me! What did 2016 look like in books for you? Leave a note in the comments!
En dat was 2016 in boekvorm voor mij. Hoe zag 2016 er uit voor jou in in dit formaat? Laat iets weten in de opmerkingen!