Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Favorite Fiction--2016

Some favorite works of fiction I read during 2016,


Sarah Orne Jewett:
                  The Country of Pointed Firs
                   --my first reading of her masterpiece.  Why did I take so long to get to it?
                   --this is on my must reread list.

                   A Country Doctor
                   --this one is a bit weaker than the first, but still an excellent read. and better     
                      than 90% of the other works I've read this year.

Joseph Conrad:  Suspense
 --an unfinished novel set in the Napoleonic era.
 --a traveler gets involved with a plot of Napoleon's escape from Elba.

Ray Bradbury:         Farewell Summer
--the sequel to Dandelion Wine.  The tone is different in this one.  The boy resists growing up.

Graham Greene:    The Human Factor
--a spy novel.  The unmasking of a mole in the British secret service, told from the mole's point of view.

Nathaniel Hawthorne:: The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories
--a collection of some of Hawthorne's most well-known short works.
--decided to leave this in the First Reads grouping as there were several short stories that I hadn't read before.

Kazuo Ishiguro:   The Remains of the Day
--a great novel of repression and fear of commitment, set against the backdrop of WWII.   
--his master is a Nazi sympathizer and the butler refuses to go against his master for he  is the master.


Jane Austen:
                   Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon
                   Northanger Abbey
                   Mansfield Park
                   Sense and Sensibility
                   Pride and Prejudice

--as always, great reading.  This was my fifth? sixth? who knows how many readings I've had of her works over the years.  They are just as good, if not better, the fifth? time around as the first.

A. Solzhenitsyn:   One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
--the title says it all--one day in a Soviet Union era gulag in Siberia, based loosely on his time there.  I like to pair this one with Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead, his experiences in a Siberian prison camp during the reign of the Tsars.  Forced to make a choice, I would choose life there under the Tsars.  The treatment was cruel but  much more humane than under the commissars. 

Dostoyevsky:   "The Gambler"
--Dostoyevsky's great novella depicting the downfall of an gambling addict.
--great character study of numerous Russians traveling abroad. sometimes just for travel and sometimes to avoid debt collectors back home.  Comic figures trapped within a tragic story.

Evelyn Waugh:   Brideshead Revisited
--Flashback:  an English army officer finds his unit stationed  on one of the grand   
   estates and recognizes it as the one that had a great influence on him, beginning with
   his stay at Oxford.

--there's a great BBC TV adaptation of the book.  After watching it, I went out and 
   got the book.

Herman Melville:  “Benito Cereno”
--Melville's great novella regarding the slave trade and a very naive American ship captain.

Nikos Kazantzakis:   Freedom or Death

--his powerful novel set in Greece during the time of the Greek war for independence.
--as usual his characters come off the page at you.

Oscar Wilde:   The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray
--This is the first and censored version of Gray's novel.  To be honest, I can not see anything that
   would be more offensive than anything in the published version.  A classic example of changing
    tastes, I will includ this among the rereads for I have read this several times.

There were a number of enjoyable works that I read during the past year, but these are the ones that stand out.  While there  appears to be a large number of first reads, equal to the rereads, one should note that Bradbury, Greene, Hawthorne, and Conrad are all favorites of mine from way back when.  These are works by them that I've never read before.

Only two of the authors in the First Reads Section are new to me:  Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Orne Jewett and are now on my reread list.  Coincidentally, I read two books by both.  The other book by by Ishiguro will appear on my Favorite SF novels of 2016 list.

Forgot to mention, but if you have questions about any of the authors or books, please ask.  I may not know the answer, but it's worth trying anyway.


  1. Wow, re-reading all of Austen? I've made it through her novels only through sheer determination.

    I've heard good things about Graham Greene.

    1. Stephen,

      Rereading all of Austen is no problem: it's sheer joy each time. I just sit back and go with the flow.

      I haven't read that much by Greene, but he always comes up with a very readable book.

  2. an eclectic selection; i recently read a bio of Jane A. that was inspiring, but i still haven't got up the desire to read her yet... maybe sometime... my readings in "16" were diverse as well, ranging from Georgette Heyer to Lord Dunsany and including Sacheverell Sitwell, V.S. Pritchett, Sue Grafton, Charlotte Bronte, and lots of others: 183 all told; so far this year i've read 32, featuring Primo Levi, Jack McDevitt, Lord David Cecil etc. as usual, i'm all over the board; i guess i like a complete change of venue between books... interesting to see where one's been and where one seems to be going; that, in light of our comments on your last post...

    1. Mudpuddle,

      My reading list tends to be all over the place, partly because many of the works are selected by various reading groups that I belong to. Of course, I belong to these groups because I enjoy reading their selections.

      Others are spur-of-the-moment selections based on comments by others or accidental discoveries while searching for something else.

      Occasionally I do make a decision and decide that I will concentrate on a specific type or author in addition to the others. I haven't done this in a awhile, but this year I decided to read everything by Lawrence Durrell I can find, in my library and elsewhere. He's a favorite writer of mine, and I've sadly neglected him recently. As you can see by the progress chart in the column to the right, I haven't gotten very far yet. I may not finish this year, but I will finish.

    2. Mudpuddle, 183 leaves me gobsmacked and dazzled! Color me impressed!

  3. Fred, I am envious of your persistence, range, and success. I need to somewhat belatedly set some 2017 goals. Your posting and comments persuade me to do more about staying focused in the final 80% (more of less) of the year. In particular, I should return to one of my earlier (but abandoned) goals: short works by Hawthorne and Melville. Yes! I'm going to do it! Those are my companions for the foreseeable future. I hope you will "keep me honest" by commenting upon my readings/comments and correcting my misreadings/comments. What, by the way, were your favorites among the Hawthorne stories? And, again, thanks, Fred, for being the catalyst I needed for 2017.

    1. Tim,

      Some of my favorites in the collection were "Rappaccini's Daughter* (should be titled Rappaccini's Garden"), "Wives of the Dead," "The Celestial Railroad," "The Ambitious Guest," "The Minister's Black Veil," "Egotism or the Bosom Serpent," "Roger Malvern's Burial," and "The Birthmark."

    2. Thanks, Fred. When I begin the Hawthorne excursion remains an open question.

    3. Tim,

      No rush. Hawthorne will wait.

  4. I've read both the Jewett books. It must be close to twenty years now since The Country of Painted Firs but I still remember it as being charming. The Country Doctor was more recent and a surprise, but I did end up liking it.

    Graham Greene is one of those authors I've always thought I should try, but haven't gotten around to yet.

    1. madamevauquer,

      I know what you mean. I have several authors on my OOTD List, and who knows. . .?

  5. This is a great list.

    It is interesting that you read through the Jane Austen Catalogue over the course of the year. I have been doing the same over the course of the past few years but for me it is only the first time. I am currently in The middle of Mansfield Park. These books do call for multiple readings.

  6. Brian,

    Once I get in tune with her writing, it just flows. It might be a bit difficult the first time around since her style is quite different than today's relatively flat prose. _Mansfield Park_ is the longest, and to me, the most complex of her works.

    I can't but help agree--multiple readings are a necessity (and a definite antidote for today's aliments).

  7. Glad to see that you reread, and enjoyed, Benito Cereno. I love that work. 1 of my favourite Melvilles.
    And Jane Austen is great. I haven't touched her works for some time, but the other day I saw a 5-year-journal with Jane Austen quotes (1 quote/ day) and was reminded of why I admired her so much.

    1. Di,

      Yes, there's a lot of Melville to love. Another favorite is Bartleby the Scrivener.

      Tell me more about this 5 year journal with Jane Austen quotations. I've never heard of it, and it sounds fascinating. What is the title?

    2. And of course Moby Dick.
      This is the book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Day-5-Year-Journal/dp/0307951715
      I saw it at Waterstone's, my favourite bookstore in Leeds. There isn't much space to write in, but it's not meant to be a real diary anyway.

    3. Di,

      Thanks for the information. And I agree, I would be far more interested in the quotations.