Best of Self’s 2010 Reading List (So Far)

The best novel self has read (thus far) this year is by mystery writer Morag Joss: Half Broken Things. It has stayed and stayed and stayed in self’s thoughts and in her imagination, ever since she finished reading it, several months ago.

The next best novel self has read (thus far) is Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children.

2010 is the year when self was absorbed in reading non-fiction.  More specifically, book after book on war. The entire month of June was taken up by just two books: the Robert Fagles translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid and Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory (Self’s reading of the latter was greatly enhanced by the fact that the book’s margins are filled with self’s scribbled grad school annotations). In July, self read Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, and Sarah Waters’ novel of England during the blitz, The Night Watch. The first half of this month was spent reading Hugh Sebag-Montefiore’s Dunkirk: Fight to the Last Man.

(Last year was not like this. Last year, self read only two books about war: Vera Helm’s A Life in Secret: Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of World War II, and Irene Nemirovsky’s absolutely hypnotic Suite Francaise)

This morning, self gave up on Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres and returned it to the library. She got to page 115, which is to say: she missed all the book’s tragic events — the revelations of child abuse, the infidelity, the suicide, the sister attempting to murder another sister etc etc etc. Self knew these were coming because she assiduously reads the reader reviews on Amazon.com.

Wow, all that happens after page 115? Self never got past the “set-up” chapters, the ones that depict cheery scenes of domesticity, such as a scene where the family plays Monopoly, and much property and Monopoly money changes hands — apropos of what, exactly? The imminent dissolution of the family farm? That scene is perhaps the lamest example of foreshadowing in a novel that self has ever read.

Next up: Ayaan Hirsa Ali’s Infidel.

Stay tuned.

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