Last Year’s Books, part I

Better late than never, posting for my friends who enjoy book lists. (MK, looking at you to post yours, too!). A round-up with quick takes on all the books I read in 2015. In order of their impact on me at the time.

12. The Folded Clock: A Diary (Doubleday, 2015) – Heidi Julavits


This book is a lot of fun, although the premise a bit gimmicky/misleading. Julavits clearly wrote this for publication, I wouldn’t call it a diary. There is still a withholding process, and the confessional feels bloggy, the last difficult veil is never pulled away. However, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and I loved the actual physical book – a soft, fabric-like cover. Highlights were her accounts of her obsessive friendships, and her relationship to the biography of Edie Sedgwick over time.

13. A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople: From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube (NYRB, 2005 ed., originally published 1977) – Patrick Leigh Fermor


Parts of this are delightful, and parts I was slogging through. The slogging could be owing to my relative ignorance about European history and architecture, as Fermor is a fiend on these two subjects, going very deep. Otherwise, it’s a charming account of his trek across Europe in the 1930s, sleeping in barns and castles, partying, reciting Shakespeare, meeting old counts, witnessing the coming dark times in Germany firsthand.

14. Just Kids (Ecco, 2010) – Patti Smith


A semiannual New Year’s tradition. The book offers permission to draw, collage, write, worship dead artists, without apology.

15. Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (Vintage, 1997) – Jeanette Winterson


Art-affirming insights, and it made me want to read all of Virginia Woolf. At times off-putting because of Winterson’s early onset crotchetiness (dismissing all pop culture) and defensiveness. I think she’s deliberately taking up Gertrude Stein’s voice (in the mode of proclaiming her own genius) and Virginia Woolf’s opinions (e.g., trashing Joseph Conrad for not being a native English speaker).

16. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids (Picador, 2015) – Meghan Daum, ed.


A big range of writers and views. I thought about a third of the essays were stellar (by Pam Houston, Sigrid Nunez, and Jeanne Safe), the rest a bit repetitive, the piece by by Lionel Shriver was downright offensive (I’m still drafting a rebuttal in my head). The hilarious piece by Geoff Dyer was my favorite. Terrible title, btw.

17. Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag (Riverhead, 2014) – Sigrid Nunez


Another angle, another glimpse of the fascinating, difficult and brilliant woman that was Susan Sontag. Her views, habits, influence. What an intense and strange arrangement, one that would have been difficult to resist in your 20s – sharing an apartment with your boyfriend and his mother, your boss, Susan Sontag.

18. Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (Imperfect Publishing, 2008) – Leonard Koren


This book is always popping up in arty bookstores. I was intrigued by the idea of wabi sabi (appreciating the process of disintegration, that which is made of earth, asymmetrical… it’s complicated). The book was much shorter and simpler than I thought, although it seems to presupposes some knowledge of the tea ceremony ritual. Feel justified in loving a crumbling wall, the skeleton of a leaf. How would this relate to text/words/poetry?

19. Goodbye, Columbus (1959) – Philip Roth


Roth was a gap in my reading. The worried aunt was my favorite character in this. Overall, its time seems to have passed (the little black kid at the library, the Jewish princess, the wise-beyond-his-years young writer – do we need them anymore?).

20-21. The Walking Dead, Books 1 & 2 (2009) – Robert Kirkman


I couldn’t get into this series. Perhaps I’ve absorbed the zombie thing via cultural osmosis, but it didn’t seem to offer anything new.


Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller (~20 pages)

An attempt to re-read this after hating it in college, because of the strong endorsement from Anais Nin. Not sure when I’ll  ever be in the mood, though.

Primera memoria – Ana Maria Matute (~50 pages)

Perhaps to return to, an account of the Spanish Civil War from an adolescent’s perspective.

Chéri – Colette (~30 pages)

Another “to return to”, was not in the right place for this world of courtesans and finery…

Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History – John Julius Norwich (~100 pages)

I purchased for a trip to Sicily and carried the damn heavy thing around, but didn’t get too far. I will return to it!