I've decided that the only way to read Dickens is to read nothing else while I have one in progress, and to just gulp it down. It takes me too long to shift from modern language into Dickens language if I have multiple books on the go.
1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: I am limiting myself to one Agatha for the purposes of this list, and this is the one, although it's not an easy decision. This book was a high wire act, and Christie pulled it off with apparent ease.
2. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers: How could I not pick this one? While nominally a piece of crime fiction, Gaudy Night is really a feminist examination of current society, peopled with brilliant women characters.
3. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow: while I am not personally a fan of courtroom drama, and I don't think that Turow ever again wrote anything that equalled this book, Presumed Innocent is brilliant and was groundbreaking in 1986 when it was published. It was a blockbuster that set the stage for Grisham's The Firm when it was published 4 years later.
4. Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell: published in 1990, this book is the first in the long-running Kay Scarpetta series, in which Cornwell really leveraged advances in forensic investigation in fiction. This book is incredibly suspenseful and truly scary, and I still remember reading it in bed, terrified out of my mind, unable to look away.
5. The Bride Wore Black by Cornwell Woolrich: a piece of noir mystery published in 1940, this book is riveting and literally unputdownable. The twist at the end is shocking for its cavalier brutality.
6. The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr: published in 1935, this is a near perfect locked room mystery, with one the best expositions on the appeal of detective fiction that has ever been put to paper. There isn't a word out of place.
7. Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey: a stunning tale of the return of the prodigal son. Is he an imposter or isn't he? There are so many different ways that this book could have gone that watching Tey make her narrative decisions is a master class in plotting.
8. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell: this was the book that started me reading Nordic Noir, starring Kurt Wallander, a tortured Swedish police detective. This isn't necessarily Wallander's best outing, nor is it Mankell's best story, but I read every single Wallander book I could get my hands on long before the series was a gleam in Kenneth Branagh's eye, and I cried finishing 2009's The Troubled Man, knowing that the Wallander series had come to an end.
9. The Alienist by Caleb Carr: I read The Alienist when I was in law school, and it's at least partially responsible for my long-running love affair with historical mystery. When I read it, I hadn't read anything quite like it, and it felt like it was made for me, with its early New York setting and it's dark, twisted aesthetic.
10. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle: what would a crime list be without Sherlock Holmes, who spawned an entire genre of detection fiction. The debt owed to Doyle couldn't be repaid in a thousand years, and this short novel is, in my opinion, the most atmospheric and compelling of his work, even if the mystery isn't the strongest.
I'm skeptical that I'll be able to winnow it down, but I may well need to add more. I also didn't make any effort to avoid books that are mentioned in 1001BtRBYD, because I was just thinking about my own "crime canon," and what it would include.
This is the fourth bookish memoir I've read in about two weeks - for some reason I am presently obsessed with them, and when a reading obsession occurs, one must simply give in.
This is by far the best of the four and I would venture a guess that I will have to look long and hard to find one that I enjoy more. Susan Hill is a writer, best known for her ghost story, The Woman in Black, who also writes a mystery series. She grew up around writers, went to Oxford, and has encountered men like T.S. Eliot and E.M. Forster at parties or in libraries.
There is a lot of literary name-dropping here, which might come off as conceited, except I was so enthralled by her voice that it didn't feel that way to me. She is extraordinarily well read, and lives in an old British farmhouse that is simply filled with books in every room. The sort of home that I have always wanted to live in. The sort of home I plan to create once I am actually retired. I've already told my husband that when we move into our last house, I want a library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a rolling library ladder. He is on board with this plan, so long as he can have his own tap room.
I think, actually, that Susan Hill might be living my life.
Anyway, I bought this from Abebooks for $3.75 and it was the best $3.75 I've spent on a book in donkey's years. I expect that I will return to it again and again during those times when nothing in my library really sounds appealing. If you're a fan of bookish memoirs, give this one a try and maybe you'll like as much as I did.
I'm knocking off one star because she prefers Dickens to Trollope, which is clearly an error. Trollope is the superior Victorian.
This was a very quick read - I think it took me about 2 hours from start to finish.
The format is interesting. The first 50% or so of the book is a first-person narration by the suspect to a psychologist. There is a lot of psychology to unpack in this section, with a main character who develops a deep hatred of his wife, and who becomes infatuated with a young woman working in the local library. He is not a likeable character, with significant delusions about his own desirability coupled with a strange self-loathing. The classic "nice guy" who really isn't all that nice. He also claims to be having "black-outs" prior to the beginning of the book and there is never really explanation of this phenomenon.
The second half deals with the actual murder trial because he is accused of committing a violent murder. I'm not going to say who the victim is, because that's not revealed until midway through the book and it's a bit of a plot point. I feel like the book started to collapse a bit toward the end, and then there are some unsatisfying epilogues that are sort of intended to answer the fundamental question of "did he do it?"
It's interesting that I picked this up right now the heels of My Cousin Rachel, which ends is a similarly opaque fashion. This book is no where near the quality of du Maurier, however. I initially rated it 4, but upon further reflection, I'm calling it a 3 1/2. I did like it, and it's an engaging read, but it's a bit thin and a contemporary writer would've made much more of the psychology. I can imagine Ruth Rendell taking the premise and really digging into it, resulting in both a more modern and a more interesting book.
It does feel a bit prescient of that type of book, which is interesting and I think that Symons should get some credit for writing a book that is quite different from the average Golden Age Mystery whodunnit.
11. Read a book set in a coastal/beach region that you love, or would love to visit, or a book that has a beach or ocean on the cover.
Isn't that a gorgeous cover? I hope that the book lives up to its promise!
Novelty cards currently in my pocket: Robot
5/20/19: Beginning balance, $20.00
5/22/19: Palace of Treason, +$5.00
5/24/19: Family Matters, +$3.00
5/24/19: Pass Go, +$5.00
5/31/19: The Moonstone, +$3.00
5/31/19: A Fatal Inversion, +$5.00
6/2/19: The Division Bell Mystery, +$3.00
6/2/19: Pass Go, +$5.00
6/9/19: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, +$3.00
6/9/19: Below the Clock, +$3.00
6/9/19: A Local Habitation, +$3.00
6/11/19: A Passage to India, +$3.00
6/13/19: A Great Deliverance, +5.00
6/13/19: Pass Go, +$5.00
6/16/19: My Cousin Rachel, +$3.00
I finished My Cousin Rachel, and am gobsmacked
11. Read a book set in a coastal/beach region that you love, or would love to visit, or a book that has a beach or ocean on the cover.
Oh, this book. This book is crazy, intriguing, compelling, disturbing and unaccountable.
I feel like maybe I should just turn right around and read it again because I have NO IDEA WHAT JUST HAPPENED.
Dayum, can Daphne du Maurier tell stories or what.
I think that this was actually better than Rebecca, and it was for sure better than Jamaica Inn.
This is a call - over the next week or so, spend some time putting together a short list of your personal essential titles that are maybe a little bit out of the mainstream. Say, your top 25 or so that you think are representative or transformative of their era or genre, or are culturally important or especially significant in some way.
Not Pride and Prejudice or The Great Gatsby or the titles that show up on every great books list, that we all - as avid readers - already either have read or are on our radar screen, but stuff that is a bit more out of the way than that.
For example, my list would definitely include Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, South Riding by Winifred Holtby, The Hollow Man by John Dickson Carr, and Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Anything goes - genre fiction/literary fiction/out-of-the-way classics, etc.
More diverse is better. Not all dead white guys - not that I'm adamantly opposed to dead white guys, but they tend to saturate the lists. And I'm definitely not saying that they won't be on the list - just that they're so obvious we don't need to look for them, IYKWIM.
Oh, and I know that books that are shiny and new are fun, but I'm looking for titles that we really think will stand the test of time, and sometimes the only way to know is to give them time, so be judicious with books that were published in the last five years or so. Hard to know if they will make the cut at the end of the day!
I'm interested in everyone's ideas b/c we have some incredibly well-read people on this website.
Tag your posts with either "crowdsourced" or "essential books" so I am sure to find them!
And thanks in advance to everyone for playing!
I bought this reference probably 5 years or so ago, and scanned through it at the time I purchased it. I took a second look at it last night.
Any list of this sort is going to have deficiencies, and this one definitely does. It is extremely heavy on "contemporary" fiction, particularly fiction published in the 1990's and 2000's, and some of the choices are really strange.
For example, there is only one Willa Cather selected - My Professor's House - and the compiler completely ignored My Antonia, Death Comes For the Archbishop, and her Pulitzer Prize winning WWI novel, One of Ours. There's one Agatha Christie - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which is a great one, but not And Then There Were None.
And my edition has 7 entries by Paul Auster. I don't know who he bribed, but that's ridiculous. There is no way that he has written 7 books that are worthy of inclusion in a list that purports to be 1001 of the greatest books ever written.
I think that perhaps we need a BL crowd-sourced list. What do y'all think?
"For God's sake, come to me quickly. She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment. If you delay, it may be too late."
OMG, that is an EPIC line.
My husband's Cub Scout Den was called Den 8, and they would chant:
"Den 8, Den 8, Den 8 is really great"
at their meetings, so I couldn't help but adopt the chant for my 8th roll.
Anyway, I landed on:
7. Read a book that has a house on the cover, or that is related to something unique about your community (for example, if your community has a strawberry festival, read a book with strawberries on the cover).
and I have decided that I a going to read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier - my edition has a (rather large) house on the cover.
OB's reviews of the first three books in the Inspector Lynley series have compelled me to reread them - I initially read them around the time of publication, which in the case of this book was 1988. I think that I probably read it in the early 1990's, maybe 1994 or so. I have a very distinct memory of reading one of the first entries into the series on a cruise ship balcony. I don't recall if I had picked up the book in one of those terrible cruise ship libraries that are the sad depository of musty Barbara Cartlands and poorly-written thrillers, or if it was one of the carefully curated stack of books I packed, long before the invention of the kindle meant that I could carry an entire library in my purse.
I forgot how good the beginning of this series is. This is really just an outstanding mystery - disturbing, emotionally resonant and horrifying. Tommy Lynley feels a little bit underdeveloped, but we're already getting deep into Barbara Havers, who is by far the best character in the series. In fact, tbh, George probably should have called it the DI Barbara Havers series.
I just placed a library hold on book 2. I can't remember when the books start to decline, but I do remember THAT BOOK. The one that all of you other series readers will also remember - where George goes completely off the fucking rails and takes a wrecking ball to everything that she has spent a dozen or so books building.
I have a bit of an ongoing love-affair with reading memoirs. I've read a few others, and there are still more on my TBR.
Over the last few weeks, in an effort to work through what was an incipient, or possibly present, reading slump, I managed to finish three of them. Well, not quite finish, actually. I'm still reading Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, but I am far enough along to know where it will sit in my ranking of the three.
I have one more on its way to me, as well - I bought Howards End is on the Landing, by Susan Hill, for $4.00 on Abebooks. I expect it to show up in the mailbox one of these days.
So, in order of preference:
My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul was my favorite of the three. I think that this is because Ms. Paul and I are, in many ways, both contemporaries and kindred spirits. We both had bookish childhoods. Many of her reminisces were very similar to my own reactions to books and the role that they played in my life. I am, of course, an literary underachiever, having not reached the exalted heights of editor for the New York Times Book Review, but, still, I suspect that she and I would be able to have a delightful time sharing a bottle of wine and talking books.
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller takes second place. Mr. Miller and I, unlike Ms. Paul and I, would likely not be friends. I found him to be a bit of a git, to be honest. But, I liked the books he chose, and I liked the format of his book and his "List of Betterment." In a lot of ways, his approach mirrors my participation in both rounds of the classics club, and reading TYoRD is responsible from the creation of my classics club, round 2, list of books.
Tolstoy in the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovich was (is) my least favorite of the three, although I am still enjoying it. But I don't like the premise as much as the other two - which is focused around a year in which Ms. Sankovich reads a book a day. I feel like some of the bookishness is actually lost in the gimmicky nature of the premise.
Do any of you have a favorite reading memoir that I haven't mentioned? Hit me below, if there's something that you think I would enjoy!