Reading Highlights – 2011

Last year was a good year for me reading wise at least.  I read or listened to a total of 92 books.  To my surprise only two of them were non-fiction books.  This was even less than the year before.  In my defence I do read a lot of articles and reviews, not to mention blogs on politics, current affairs and history.  However I should read a few more books on these topics.

Of the 90 fiction books, 49 were crime novels, which have rapidly become a favourite choice for me.  Looking back at my reading challenges for 2011, I find that I have done pretty well.  I managed six books from Eastern Europe, but only one from Japan.  From my little exposure to Japanese literature, I have to say I find it rather hard going.  May take a break this year.  As usual there was lots of books from Scandinavia and I managed to read six books in Spanish and three in German.

As regards Highlights from the year – there were many, too many to mention them all.  However limiting myself to six choices, here are the six non crime novels which most impressed me in 2011.

  • River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh – this is the second in the projected Ibis trilogy, and is set mainly in Canton around the time of the 1st Opium War.  Brilliant and imaginative storytelling which seems to be pretty accurate history wise.
  • And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson – this is another great piece of storytelling, which broadly covers key moments in the history of Scotland since the 2nd World War.
  • The Calligrapher’s Daughter by Eugenia Kim – this is a lovely and sensitive tale of the experiences of a young girl growing up in Japanese occupied Korea.  Introduced me to a whole new world.
  • Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi – this is short novel about one man’s growing awareness of the insidious rise of fascism in Portugal.  An unusual writing stye adds to the mysterious quality of the novel.
  • Kim by Rudyard Kipling – my first experience of the great man of Imperial letters.  A terrific adventure, spy story, which to my surprise is very sympathetic in its treatment and portrayal of the various peoples living in India.
  • Death in Bordeaux by Allan Massie – this is the first in what is expected to be trilogy of books set in occupied France.  Though it looks like a crime novel, this is more an exploration of the conflicting pressures and emotions that affect people during times of stress – such as the 2nd World War.

For crime novels I have focussed on the writers as I tend to read more than just one book by my favourite authors.

  • Jo Nesbø – I have now read just about all his novels which have been translated into English, and have loved every one.   I read three of his works last year – The Redeemer, Snowman and The Leopard.
  • Peter Temple – I first came across Peter Temple with what was his latest book, Truth, in 2010 and have been working backwards ever since.  Nearly all set in Victoria state, Australia.  I read two novels last year – Broken Shore and Bad Debts.  Great writing.
  • Deon Meyer – the great man of Afrikaans crime writing.  Fast paced thrillers which also explore the tensions within multi-racial South Africa.  Only managed one of his books last year – Trackers.
  • Boris Akunin – one of my discoveries via the East European Reading Challenge. I managed the first two of his Erast Fandorin series, both set in the 1870s.  Colourful historical crime mysteries – The Winter Queen and The Turkish Gambit.
  • Louise Penny – another newcomer to me last year.  I have now read three of her novels to feature Inspector Armand Gamache of the Québec police.  Though the inspector is french speaking all the crimes are set in rural English speaking Québec.   Gentle, slow paced crime writing here.  The three I read were Dead Cold, The Cruellest Month and The Murder Stone.
  • Teresa Solana – a new discovery via my exploration of Spanish language novels.  She writes witty observations of rich Catalan society in Barcelona via the exploits of her twin sleuths.  I rad the first in the series – Un Crimen Imperfecto.  It’s also available in an English translation as A Not So Perfect Crime.
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