It’s December, month of retrospectives and best-ofs and year-in-reviews. My contribution to the conversation is a look back at the unbroken spines and not-yet-dog-eared pages of my 2014 reading list. These are books that I picked up, began to read, invested myself into, and, for reasons of laziness, lexical ineptitude, or lethargy (probably the same as laziness) abandoned. I’ll try to accompany each title with a brief, non-spoiling synopsis, a diagnosis of my history with the book, and a prognosis of my future with it. You will note that a number of these books weren’t even published in 2014 and may in fact have little to do with 2014’s belletristic scene. It was that kind of year.
Middlemarch, George Eliot (née Mary Anne Evans) (1874) – People who know books love this book. That’s why I started this book. I’ve stuck with it because of its piercing social commentary, witty, complex characters, and dazzling sentences:
But there was nothing of an ascetic’s expression in her bright full eyes, as she looked before her, not consciously seeing, but absorbing into the intensity of her mood, the solemn glory of the afternoon with its long swathes of light between the far-off rows of limes, whose shadows touched each other.
PROGNOSIS: I have two weeks to finish one of these books in the 2014 calendar year. At this point, Middlemarch is definitely my best shot. Stay tuned.
F, Daniel Kehlmann (2014) – This and a host of others fall into the German-books-I-was/am-really- into-but-lack-the linguistic-fortitude-to-read category. This category is reserved for German-language books I started in moments of perfect German clarity, when inverted word order and separable prefixes made perfect sense. Five trips to the German dictionary later, I sighed, overcome by pangs of linguistic Weltschmerz.
The problem is with me, not the books. Like all of Kehlmann’s novels, F is fast-paced, accessible, and able to address serious topics—death, divinity, free will—with quick dialogue and sarcastic humor, a rare trifecta for a German-language author. (There’s also an English translation!) F is a novel about a faithless priest, a deceptive banker, and a fraudulent artist, three brothers, each caught in his own lie. I should read this book. I really should.
PROGNOSIS: To be paged through intermittently in moments of extreme confidence in my German or when needing vocabulary words.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (2013) – An important concession is necessary here. I didn’t read a word of this book. Instead, I read many words about it. The Goldfinch is one of those cases. For a stint the most talked about and reviewed book in my Twitter feed, Donna Tartt’s third novel, I gathered, was also the most talked-about book at highbrow Manhattan parties—admittedly, I’m never invited.
By all accounts, The Goldfinch seems like a great read. There’s art thievery, sadness, and loss, all in the course of 773 pages. A more industrious or socially plugged-in reader would have finished by now. I am not that reader.
PROGNOSIS: To be read, indefinitely or before next highbrow Manhattan party.
When Hitler Took Austria, Kurt & Janet von Schuschnigg (2012) – In spring of 2012, I started seeing banner ads for this book plastered across the tops and sides of my most-frequented websites. It was then that I knew that advertising analytics were an effective and terrifying thing. It was also then that I knew my father, amateur World War II historian and budding Austrophile, would be giving me this book for Christmas.
Two years later, I’m about halfway through When Hitler Took Austria. I started reading this on my flight home from Austria and was gripped. Don’t ask me why I stopped reading. I don’t know. I’m still gripped. When Hitler Took Austria is a memoir about Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg’s resistance efforts from the perspective of the Chancellor’s son and his wife. I’ve written before on this blog that Austria hasn’t fully reckoned with its relationship to World War II and the horrors of National Socialism. This is true. It’s also true that there were Austrians involved in the resistance movement who deserve recognition. This book gives a riveting account of one such recognition-worthy family living at a time when Austria was perhaps the most interesting place in the world.
PROGNOSIS: Must be read.
Here’s to a few more turned pages in 2015.