Here is 90% of what I read in 2014. I hope the list and my thin annotations will be useful to someone. I have no reading strategies. Although I have strong preferences, I try to read just about anything anyone hands me; I also buy books with price reduced to $7.99 (as a way of supporting my local bookstore even if meagerly) after sampling the first few pages. I read many lit. reviews but then I forget to buy the relevant books. I have stolen books from hotels and once, from a park bench.
In 2014 I published – with Vanity Press (ah, ah!) – my memoirs I Used to Be French an Immature Autobiography . It’s available from me at isuedtobefrench@#gmail.com for $22, mailing included. It’s also available on Amazon Kindle.
Also on Amazon electronic (Kindle+) – and only there – I also put up in 2014, my thin collection of stories and essays in French: “Les pumas de grande-banlieue: histoires d’emigration”. It’s only two dollars or two euros. Come on!
I am currently putting together a collection of stories featuring women. My mother is in it – in a small way – so, don’t get excited! (Dec. 2014)
Books I read:
Hitchens, Christopher. 2010. Hitchens 22: a Memoir.
Twelve (Hachette) New York. (Paperback edition.)
A very engaging book but also flawed. The late Hitchens is a great raconteur in the traditional way. I would like the book even if I were not interested in the author’s political journey. I am and I am a little frustrated. His transition from firebrand left radical to conservative spokesperson is not well explained. Perhaps, he did not have time before he died. The most curious aspect of the book is Hitchens’ continued homosexuality. He treats it as one would treat, say, a love of fast cars. It’s part of him but in a seemingly superficial manner. At times, it almost seems driven by laziness: In certain British milieus, it appears, it’s easier to take another man to bed than to do the necessary to have sex with women. You wonder what his wife thought of his proclivity. (He had children with her.) Author is a terrible name dropper. With all this, I like it. I am a little envious of both the book and of the life it describes.
Maybe I should re-read the late preface to the paperback edition I read.
De Sade D.A.F. 1973  “Justine ou les malheurs de la vertu.”
Livre de Poche. Paris.
It’s difficult to perceive through this book the bases of the cult of Sade among the French intellectuals and the avertis whose native tongue is English. It includes many long pseudo-philosophical monologues that I found unbearable. Even the many sex episodes are boring. This, for two reasons: The ill-sex treatment to which the heroin is subjected are pretty much the same in every episode; they center almost exclusively on sodomy. I can’t help but think that I might do better and, perhaps, I will. Second, the victim’s frame of mind when subjected to ill treatment is not described, or not much. Hence, something is missing for real “sadism.”
Sade’s popularity may be linked to the fact that his life frames the Revolution. He was imprisoned by the Old Regime, and again by Napoleon, both times on trumped up or grossly exaggerated charges. So, his life illustrates pretty well the horrors of arbitrariness.
Vincent, Edgar. 2003 Nelson: Love and Fame Yale U. Press
A well made book but a little tedious as biographies of famous men often are. Nelson was short in stature and hungry for glory but genuinely brave and inspiring. He was a hopeless romantic. The end of his life, on forgets – corresponds to the dawn of the romantic era. Book shows a useful if not well delineated contrast with Revolutionary France: Huge privilege but also kindness.
Wyden, Peter. 1992. Stella. Simon and Schuster. NY
A disturbing document about a Berlin Jewish Gestapo agent. The most disturbing part is not the betrayal but the intimacy between executioners and some of their victims. Their common culture as Berliners sometimes seems to trump deadly and brutal persecution. Last chapter about the achievements of survivors makes up for everything.
Shirer William L. 1960. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Simon and Schuster: New York.
A stupendous work of scholarship allied with the best of old-style journalism and story telling. All the details are there of this appalling story. It’s impossible not to see the parallels with contemporary history namely the incipient fascism of the Obama administration.
Neitzel, Sonke and Harald Welzer 2013 (2011) “Soldats: combattre, tuer, mourir: proces-verbaux de recits de soldats allemands”. Gallimard: Paris.
Une traduction competente (mais pas brillante) de l’ouvrages “Soldaten” par les meme auteurs. Une sorte d’ethnographie de la violence. Peu de commentaires et des commentaires superflus. Les combattants allemands prisonniers pris sur le vif a leur insu. La guerre comme metier, sans etat d’ame. Decrit une indifference, le caractere impavide des actions militaires. Le meilleur document pacifiste possible.
Ce livre m’a ete donne par Antoine Casubolo de Paris
Read in the past couple of months. This reading log was interrupted by the final preparation of my book, I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography.
My own reading wasn’t much though.
Shirer, William. 1984. The Nightmare Years – 1930 – 1940 – A Memoir of Life and the Times. (Vol. 2) Bantam Books. Toronto.
This a companion book to both The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and to The Collapse of the Third Republic. It does double duty with both but it’s a different book because of the interweaving of the political narrative with Shirer’s own life. (I learned that he married during this period an anti-Nazi Austrian woman.)This book give a close view of the fabric of Europe in these catastrophic times. I would recommend this book in preference to the others for readers not enamored of heavy reading.
Lebert, Norman and Stephan. 2000. My Father’s Keeper:Children of Nazi Leaders – am Intimate History of Damage and Denial. Litton Brown: Boston.
A father and son team’s work. The desire to document in minute detail this rare report of the post WWII period makes this book seem a little plodding. Or, maybe it’s the translation. Wouldn’t be the first time a mediocre translation cuts off the feet of a good narrative. Irreplaceable because of its rarity.
Collier, Richard. 1971. Duce! – a Biography of Mussolini. Viking Press: New York.
A poorly woven narrative that describes well neither Mussolini nor Italy at the time. It makes Mussolini appear like a weakling, which fails to explain how he took over Italy. Not enough coverage of the fateful interventions in Ethiopia and in Spain. Still a good read because I am not aware of any other biography of that major European player and model to Hitler.
Mc Intyre, Ben. 2012. Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies
Crown: New York.
Great story! The apparent ease with which the UK turned German agents contains a story that was not sufficiently teased out. Idem with the facility with which spies for Britain deceived German Intelligence.
Wolfe, Tom. 2012. Back to Blood. Little, Brown: New York
A masterful novel by a master . It’s worth waiting for Wolfe’s spaced novels because they are very well done down to the almost last word. His research is painstaking and perfect in detail except that, like all English-language novelists, he can’t get his French phrases straight. Quality entertainment. I learned there a delightful bit of Cuban Spanish, “cajita China.” I hope it’s real. I plan to use it when I can.
Gillam, David R. 2012. City of Women. Berkeley Books. NY
A very good first novel, an action and psychology novel, set in Berlin around 1943. Seems very well researched.
Naipaul, V. S. 2002. The Writer and the World. N.Y:Knopff
Naipaul is a love of a lifetime for me. I had read several of the stories in this volume twenty years ago or more. They stand up to a re-reading. This is Naipaul at his journalistic best with fine-grained observations and deep analysis that is also daring. That’s the way some journalism should be. None is except sometimes, rarely, in the Wall Street Journal. Naipaul has influenced my writing, in the broadest sense of the term, more than I ever acknowledge. I wish I had written this fact into I Used to Be French….
Twain, Mark. 1869. Innocents Abroad. Signets Classic: N.Y.
Curiously, I had never read this great model of good travel guides. If I had, it would have influenced my writing. As it is, it justifies much of what I did in I Used to Be French..., including many side-observations and stories perpendicular to the main thread, going off on tangents, in other words. An unconscious model, perhaps.
Herring, George C.2002. From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Policy Since 1776. Oxford U. Press
This a is a part of the Oxford History of the United States Series. In spite of this quality label, this is a flawed book. I couldn ‘t even finish it although when I tried, I was in Mexico, doing mostly nothing. I became irritated every third page or so by one or more of three following features of the book: 1) The author’s ignorance of basic economics, of matters a good undergrad with a major in Econ. would know well. He sounds often like a leftover poor version of a 1975 Dependency theorist (The more foreign investment, the poor the country becomes. Yes, you read this right!); 2 ) a general lack of general culture. Author stumbles on very small items. For example, he misuses the term “ugly American;” not acceptable for a university professor; 3) Often , he shows ill-humor toward historical figures without ever saying why as if he assumed that his readers share all his prejudices. This is a thick book trying hard for full coverage and failing. It undermined my faith in Oxford U. Press.
I gave the book to a friend in Mexico after specifying that I did not recommend it. (I have a reputation to preserve!)
Pynchon, Thomas. 2013. The Bleeding Edge. Penguin, N.Y.
A kind of replay of Pynchon’s classic Gravity’s Rainbow (published in the 70s) but set in the Internet age. I did not enjoy it as much as Gravity Rainbow or his a other previous big book, Mason and Dixon. Perhaps it’s because I am mostly ignorant of the social geography of New York City where the action is set. Pynchon remains the absolute master of paranoia in fiction.
Marita, Wolf. 2005. Sudden Rain. Scribner, N. Y.
A good book about relationships by a female author. Again, it’s a good one in spite of its topic. The strange story is that the author was dissatisfied with it when she finished it in 1972, or the author did not wish to perform the obligatory publicity tour. She kept it in her fridge for thirty years. It was published posthumously.
Tells the marital adventures and misadventures of a handful of couple over a five day period. She pulls it off. I am surprised the book was not squashed by feminists because it exposes artfully the vapidness of ordinary women. In particular, it describes pitilessly the superficiality of the conversations women have with women.
Towles, Amor. 2011. Rules of Civility. Viking, N.Y.
A very good picaresque novel about two single girls in New York in the thirties. Quality escapist literature. Written by a man.
Diamond, Jared. 2012. The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? Viking. N. Y.
See my posting entitled: “The Best book I Have Read Recently.”
Troost, Maarten. 2004. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific. Broadway Books: N.Y.
A charming book about living abroad in a poor country. Well written, joyous, full of good imagery. Also a cliche buster.