Art Garfunkel famously keeps track of the books he has read since 1968. As of writing this, the count is 1327 (he does not add a review). I thought I could do something similar but I am adding short reviews of books as I read them, and I rake my brain over what I read over the last decades. This is, evidently, a work-in-progress: there are 517 reviews so far. Titles marked with a * are particular favorites.
Douglas Adams: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
‘We solve the whole case’. Enough said.
Jussi Adler-Olsen: Fasandræberne
‘The Absent One’ in the US. Part of a larger series (of which I have read the first 5-6), hugely successful, several movies made, and so on and so forth. Yeah: pro plotting and adequate writing, making an effort to create believable characters. And yet, and yet: nothing here that has not been done before or after by other writers in a more compelling way.
Theodor W. Adorno: Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life *
Melancholy and poignant, Theodor’s elegantly formulated observations are as relevant now as they were then.
Alain-Fournier: Le Grand Meaulnes *
Someone congratulate me: I read this in French once! Later, I read it again in Danish to catch what I had missed. So, some will wag their high-brow finger at what is, on the surface, YA kitsch. But it is not: it is a deep and emotional yearning for a time and moment and place that was lost and is perhaps found again, in a different form. If you do not have time for Proust, just read this.
Isabel Allende: The House of the Spirits
A relatively well-written and slightly engaging novel from the second line of Latin American writers. Or, in other words: someone who lacquers a slight coat of exoticism over an otherwise quite bland story.
Lisa Alther: Kinflicks
Read it many years ago, and although it is a good story and so I wonder if it would not seem very outdated now? I mean: a lot of the interest was in the slightly racy sexual mores depicted – but that is hardly titillating no more. As a feminist manifesto, it fails, and also as a coming-of-age thing. Just not enough depth, and nothing to compensate for this lack.
Kingsley Amis: Lucky Jim
Sure, Kingsley is a miserable git, and this book shows it. But it is also quite funny, innit?
Benedict Anderson: Imagined Communities *
Classic and a frontal attack on originalism and nationalism and tradition. Dude: we all be mixed anyway. And the past is truly a different country.
Perry Anderson: Passages From Antiquity To Feudalism *
When I read this, I understood what a Marxist form of history writing could and should be (notwithstanding that you can argue specific points).
George Antonius: The Arab Awakening
A groundbreaking study of how bourgeois nationalism began manifesting in the Levant at the end of the 1900s.
Miguel Angel Asturias: El Senor Presidente *
So many firsts: dictator novel, magic realism. A long hallucination and meditation over what the dictatorship does to people, how the random violence and cruelty, in the long run, do not even need to be enacted anymore, and what circumstance can make somebody break out of all this.
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
I guess all that could ever be said has already been said many, many times.
Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things *
Auster is never really a ray of sunshine, but this one takes the darkness to a whole new level. Chilling and scary and depressing, and in many ways reminiscent of Coetzee’s dystopias.
Paul Auster: Leviathan
Complex, depressing, and utterly Auster.
Paul Auster: Mr. Vertigo
Classic Auster. The man just cannot write a dud.
Paul Auster: The New York Trilogy
The first Auster I read, and still books very much in his more theoretical phase, and before he starts being more conventionally entertaining. At least some of the writing is headache-inducing, but that is perhaps more a sign of how little challenge most other literature poses now?
Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove
Perhaps the cutest feel-good book ever? I adore it. The movie is not bad either.
Nicholson Baker: Vox
Phone sex? Actually, not ageing well.
Honore de Balzac: Eugenie Grandet *
Ah, Balzac. Strange to say that an almost two hundred years old book about somewhat ordinary people can be that exiciting?
Honore de Balzac: Father Goriot *
A very classic and central Balzac. Do not miss. Someday we can discuss if he was a realist or not (I wrote a paper once that argues — pace Adorno — that Balzac was quite a delusional and feverish fabulist).
Honore de Balzac: Lost Illusions *
Oh dear: another Balzac for the list and for the favorites.
Herman Bang: De uden Fædreland
Pretty much the same comments as for ‘Mikaël’. Almost like listening to a private joke you do not know what is about.
Herman Bang: Haabløse slægter
Most of Bang i very readable, and this one too. But the subject matter is not as interesting as in Stuk, and with being much more personal and oh-so-sensitive, it lacks the same icy-cold gaze upon the follies of greater society. Too maudlin for its own good.
Herman Bang: Mikaël
Not the most shining opus from this writer (who I normally like very well). Kind of a maudlin view of the lives of very sensitive and beautiful artistes who could have it all but instead waste away, suffering from lost loves and broken hearts. Very stiflin.
Herman Bang: Stille eksistenser
Some well-written impressionistic studies of Denmark and the Danish character, including the story Ved Vejen that every schoolkid in Denmark would know (perhaps not anymore?) The pure technical writing skills shown off in these short stories are dazzling; the subject matter perhaps less so.
Herman Bang: Stuk *
One of the all-time greatest Danish novels. There: I said it. It very, very convincingly weaves through the personal and the societal. with an embedded love story and a colorful – to say the least – gallery of persons. While Band pokes fun at the middle class and clueless wannabes, he also portrays the upper classes to a chilling effect. Actually: most other people, it seems, are not to Bang’s liking. And he sure is uncomfortable with the suddenly nouveau-rich Copenhagen he finds himself in.
Herman Bang: Tine
A quietly naturalistic and impressionistic view of a woman’s life amidst raging war and destruction.
John Banville: Snow
Banville now writes crime fiction under his own name, not as Benjamin Black. Perhaps his earlier belief that there is a qualitative gap between real and genre literature has mellowed? In any case, this is as good a crime story as you will ever read. Very atmospheric (he does that part so well) and OMG: the Catholic church is still the boogeyman and then some.
John Banville: The Book of Evidence
Definitely ‘high literature’. Not an easy read and one must ask oneself: once we scrape the layers of highfalutin language away: how much is really left?
Benjamin Barber: Jihad vs McWorld
Perhaps too dualistic and simplistic, but still a decent argument. But the world moves fast, so it is showing its gentle wrinkles here and there.
Julian Barnes: Pedant in the Kitchen
A jolly enough and rather short compilation of what I supposed started as newspaper columns, and all being around and about cookbooks. A subject dear to my heart. I applaud Mr. Barnes’ love of Marcela Hazan; but do not quite understand the reverence for Mme. David. I mean: yes, I also dipped my tooes into Frenc and Italian cooking guided by here, but here is an awful lot of “a handful of this” and “cook until done”. Not very precise, that. Sometimes you wonder if she even cooked some of the recipes first at all.
Brian Barry: Culture & Equality *
Truly a book I started reading and thinking I would find much to object to, and ending it has changed my views of a few things. Frames a vigorous defence of equality and enlightenment, and has little time for identity politics. Of course, it does not seem right now that Barry’s views are exactly the winning ones. But we shall march on, rest assured. There is no alternative.
Roland Barthes: Mythologies
Approachable and occasionally even entertaining essays that are absolutely not in the obtuse tradition of French academic writing. And many light-bulb moments in there.
Isaac Bashevis-Singer: Enemies
Strangely, it got bad reviews, at least in NYT. It has been a long time since reading it, but what I think I remember is the sensuality, the humor, and the unique insights into a culture of which I knew little. And New York: how can a book set in Brooklyn be completely bad?
Isaac Bashevis-Singer: The Magician of Lublin
A surreally strange tale of a culture that is now remote in time, a lost world. One of the Singer’s better, and also recommended if you like something such as The Books of Jacob.
Mary Beard: SPQR- A History of Ancient Rome
I have seen Ms Beard live and she does seem a very competent, funny, and engaging historian. This book, however, is slightly disappointing: it is very hard to figure out what the main argument is supposed to be, so in the end, everything is a little hazy, a little off.
Frans G. Bengtsson: The Long Ships
Vikings! So very funny. I probably read it when I was 10? Perhaps time for a reread.
John Berendt: Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil
Very gossipy entertainment.
Vilhelm Bergsøe: Fra Piazza del Popolo
Bergsøe was really an entomologist, moved to Italy, became a writer, and wrote this (among a few other things). This is of course over-the-top, heavily romantic, quite old-fashioned, and very entertaining. Being a wildly inventive set of stories-within-stories, it foreshadows Blixen, without the pink hats and affectation. The description of the poorer parts of Copenhagen in the year of the cholera is something else.
Louis De Bernieres: Captain Corelli's Mandolin
I know people are quite critical of this, but if you do not expect high literature and settle for entertainment, I see litle wrong with it.
Laurent Binet: Civilizations
Wonderfully inventive alternative history. A few alternate turns, and everything ends up different. It is a riveting read (though a slow part in the middle), but certainly worth it.
Benjamin Black: Christine Falls
John Banville’s crime-writing alter ego. Yes: interesting characters, and a grey and chilling portrait of a poorer Dublin, mired in fog and Haute Catholicism. It struck me that it would be rather good as an atmospheric TV series – and it turns out that it is, indeed (although casting the very good Gabriel Byrne as Quirke is quite funny as the Quirke in the book is a bit of a man-mountain). In the end, though, exactly what you would expect from Dublin Noir: not worse, not better.
Karen Blixen: Last Tales
You know: I never really bought into the whole Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen thing – or, as my old Danish teacher who despised her, called her: ‘The Baroness’. But, however reluctant that I am, she did spin some nice yarns and had a weird and vivid imagination. I could probably read more of her stuff if I did now keep hearing Meryl Streep donning her best Swedish-Bulgarian accent in that dreadful movie. This collection is somewhat different from the Gothic Tales, but very much worth it. I hate to admit.
Karen Blixen: Seven Gothic Tales
Of course: the Baroness. The strange flamingo in the Danish porridge. But also uneven, though the highest points are rather high.
Anders Bodelsen: Pengene og livet
Bodelsen used to be sneered at for not being ‘modern’ enough, seemingly stuck in an old-fashioned ultrarealism (famously, if his characters took a car ride, he would take this ride and time it so he knew exactly how long it takes IRL). But perhaps hyperrealism is nothing but one aspect of modernism, and although not being academically fashionable, I now tend to think that there are rich pickings here.
Andy Borowitz: Profiles in Ignorance
Every paragraph makes you giggle, grunt, or laugh out loud. Or roll on the floor and laugh. Whatever. But I would not expect anything less from Andy Borowitz. That said, if you have followed US news for some time, and have a modicum of historical insight, there is not a whole lot that is new, and there is not really any more profound analysis of the reasons for the epidemic of astonishing ignorance. It is a swift read, though, so perhaps worth it after all?
Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential
Overwhelmingly honest tale of what it is really like to work in a restaurant kitchen. Strange to see how unorganized some aspects are, how haphazard deciding on menus is; how much coke was snorted. Anthony was a mensch and a fabulous writer and he is sorely, sorely missed.
Anthony Bourdain: Les Halles Cookbook *
Although I rarely cook from this book, it is a testament to the great man and a New York that is probably fading away all too fast. Anthony’s New York was gritty and exciting: now the brasserie is gone as well. But he was a fabulous writer in his own way, and this cookbook has much great writing and reflection on things. And photos that perfectly catch the whole vibe. The recipes are OK, a certain style of what he says is not haute cuisine but the food of the little brasserie on the corner where they still do things the old way: you know, the place that we look for, but never quite find.
William Boyd: Stars & Bars
OK funny story about the cultural clashes a stuffed-up limey might encounter when visiting Klan Land.
Karin Boye: Kallocain *
Swedish dystopia written by an inside/outsider that predates Orwell and Huxley while having touchpoints with both. Why has this masterpiece not been made into a movie? On second thoughts: probably well enough that it has not been butchered.
Andre Brink: An Instant in the Wind
I remember it as being good, but I read it in a period when I did read a lot of South African writers, so perhaps my memory is a little blurred. But I do recall that it manages to be political without being preachy, and mainly relying on subtle ways of bringing the point forward.
Chris Brookmyre: The Jack Parlabane series
At least the first two. Did little for me.
Bill Browder: Freezing Order
A speedy read, and not much new if you have followed Mr. Browder over the years. Still: if you want to have the names of all the Western enablers of Putin and Russia, look no further. Also worth noticing: German Spiegel found it in their hearts to bombastically claim that Browder’s account of the death of Sergei Magnitsky is “faulty”, but when you look at their claim it is but a minor detail. Even stranger: this is the sort of Russian disinformation that Browder in some detail looks at in the book. Weird.
Dan Brown: The Da Vinci Code
Cheating here: read 10 pages because somebody I knew was going all gaga over it. I want those minutes of my life back with the interest that is due.
P. A. Brunt: Social conflicts in the Roman republic
Wonderful and a pleasure to read.
Bill Bryson: I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away
Darker and slightly more bitter than his other back-to-America book. But trying to be polite and non-political in that very NPR way is stifling in something that could have been a dark omen of the years to come in America. It does not quite get there.
Bill Bryson: Notes from a Small Island
The first Bryson I read, and fun it is. It is absolutely one of his better efforts. The man can surely write: he does not always have subject matter that challenges him enough.
Bill Bryson: The Lost Continent - Travels in Small-Town America
The quest for the lost and forgotten America is epic: will they ever find that town hall square and the church with the spire and the white picket fence? OK, but don’t go out of your way to read it.
Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbling
Magnificent title. Good observations about a country slowly being bent out of shape by cars and conservative politics and lack of public transportation and so on and so forth. But not quite: it also has funny placenames and quirky characters, and it is, in the end, still somewhat jolly. Probably not worth reading.
Charles Bukowski: South of No North
Dirty old man. Wears it itself out quickly. The transgressions are not transgressive anymore, just slightly awkward.
Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
Read it for the second time recently. Still quite clearly an early clarion call of magical realism. Wonderful imagery of Moscow in the first years after the revolution: still hope, but we can see the darkness creeping in. And an astonishing imagination.
James Lee Burke: The Neon Rain
Slick and quick, but interesting because of it being set in the swampy swamps of Louisiana.
Dino Buzzati: The Tartar Steppe
Good — and many years after reading it I became aware that it is also a central and influential book in the 20th-century canon. But what I found interesting was also that something that is “modern” and “high brow” can also be entertaining and engaging.
Robert Byron: The Road to Oxiana *
A book that has not aged one bit for some 80+ years, and a book that blew the dust off the boring ‘travel book’ genre and create something wonderfully new and fresh and read-worthy. Even if you do plan to travel overland to Transoxiana.
Ernest Callenbach: Ecotopia
Meh. Kumbaya new-ageism, and severely dated.
Italo Calvino: If On a Winter's Night a Traveller *
Metafiction at its best. Calvino writes circles around the majority of the younger postmodernists. Very good.
Truman Capote: In Cold Blood
I found it exciting when I read it as a teenager, but thinking about it now I can see that perhaps there are a number of issues with the thing.
Peter Carey: Oscar and Lucinda *
Carey said, interestingly enough, that when he writes a “historical” novel, he writes the story first and only then researches (and changes what then must be changed). I had not thought about that before, but have (I realize) read a few books where the author did a lot of research and (Goddammit!) it will be fitted into this book. To hell with the story! Carey is the diametrical opposite. A wonderful book.
Alejo Carpentier: Explosion in a Cathedral *
Or, rightfully ‘The Age of Enlightenment’. A wonderful book about revolution, enlightenment, terror, love, Europe and Latin America, and much more.
Alejo Carpentier: Reasons of State
A very philosophical book – but, alas, I don’t really recall many details.
Alejo Carpentier: The Lost Steps
Exciting and exotic, Carpentier utilizes his musicological background, in a story that takes us deep into the jungle, and the past.
Caleb Carr: The Alienist
Thrilling and well-researched, and an accurate, fictional (!) portrait of New York anno dazumal.
Caleb Carr: The Angel of Darkness
More of same, but somehow less successful.
E. H. Carr: What Is History?
Prescribed reading at uni. Reviled by the very-very-lefty M/Ls in the day: leafed through it recently to find it cogent and well-written.
Matthew Carr: The Devils of Cardona
Well-researched historical crime fiction set in a Spain where we find the inquisition as well as secret Moslems. As good — or even better — than a lot of this sort of book, and as I did not know a whole lot about this period it was also factually interesting.
John le Carre: A Legacy of Spies
Diving deep into the past, it retells the stuff in ‘Spy Who In from the Cold’ from new angles, and we get a deeper understanding of the duplicity and cruelty of intelligence operations. It shows a by-now ancient writer at the heights of his powers.
John le Carre: A Perfect Spy
As always, Le Carre shows that genre is not important: this is a fantastic book, whatever genre it might be.
John le Carre: Our Game
Of the later Le Carre this one is perhaps the wildest and most traditionally exciting.
John le Carre: Our Kind of Traitor
This solved the old question: what would le Carré do once the state that Karla worked for disappeared? Fear not: turns out that the ensuing kleptocracy gives as much material. One could only wonder what inspired the currently ongoing war in Ukraine would have given him? Meanwhile: this is yet another wonderful read.
John le Carre: Silverview
The last, alas. And, for once, perhaps not completely up to snuff? The old spies finally face a world that has lost its lustre. Perhaps le Carré did so as well? (But even a middling le Carré is much better that the output of the other 99%).
John le Carre: Smiley's People
A classic Smiley. The Master does not make duds.
John le Carre: The Constant Gardener
Yet another from the master. But not among the very best, I think.
John le Carre: The Honourable Schoolboy
Actually, quite a while since I read it. I suppose it was OK?
John le Carre: The Night Manager
Le Carré doing what he does, and managing to sketch out a post-cold war plot that is still engaging. And, oh: le Carré does not much like the English establishment, does he?
John le Carre: The Russia House
In the top echelon of La Carre output.
John le Carre: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold *
Is any Le Carre more classic? Hard to not see the movie as you read it, though.
John le Carre: The Tailor of Panama
Yes, more satire than usual and influenced my Our Man in Havana. I am not so sure I really like this version of Le Carre.
John le Carre: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Very classic. I think I saw the TV series with Alec Guinness way before reading the book. Still. the book, of course, has time and space for many more nuances.
Raymond Carver: Where I Am Calling From
Much lauded and immensely influential for a certain generation and group of Danish writers, I actually find that watching paint dry would be a better use of my time.
Steve Cavanagh: Eddie Flynn
The series (most of). Seemed at first to be a reasonably interesting series with some new angles on the American judicial system and so forth. But in the longer run, yet another kind hearted-but-troubled attorney/detective that (and this is an irritating thing) turns out to be quite the improbable action hero? Jeez, Louise.
Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
Fun story: I went to the local library to get this book when I was quite young, and the rather maternal librarienne refused to let me take it out unless I could pronounce the title correctly. So — a nice yarn it turned out to be. Some would say the first (European) novel, and that is probably also almost the case.
Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay *
Chabon is an exquisitely professional writer that actually can apply his skills to very different subjects. So this is about the Holocaust, comics, magic, FBI, McCarthyism, and it is very good.
Michael Chabon: The Yiddish Policemens Union
What kind of warped mind came up with this mad plot and such a richly detailed alternative history? Chabon is a true pro who puts his considerable skills to many different genres. Perhaps, though, less gripping than, say, Kavalier and Clay as we always know it is a sort-of fantasy. Still.
Raymond Chandler: The Long Goodbye
All Chandler is worth reading, so it follows that this is, too.
David Chang: Momofuku *
Another cookbook that in words and photos (and food) catches a specific moment in time of a New York that we can now only mourn for as we walk past the boarded-up stores, the frozen yoghurt emporia, and the latest Gucci shop. David Chang is a fine writer in the Anthony Bourdain-school of writing, and the recipes are quite approachable and bang full of flavor.
Jung Chang: Wild Swans
Scary and worthwhile. Unique insight into what the “cultural revolution” really was when not filtered through benevolent Western supporters’ eyes.
Jung Chang: Wild Swans
A harsh but necessary tale. If this cannot cure you of fascination with Stalinism-Maoism, then what can? To even imagine this shit happened in my own lifetime, and that many, many people in the West that knew better directly or indirectly helped cover it up?
Bruce Chatwin : The Songlines
Wonderful and mysterious and surely worth reading.
Bruce Chatwin: Utz
A strange one about a porcelain collector. Well: not strange, but good. But strange considering Chatwin’s other books.
Bruce Chatwin: What Am I Doing Here
Damn good essays. ‘Gone to Patagonia’ indeed.
G K Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday
Not particularly funny or good or well written.
Eleanor Clark: The Oysters of Locmariaquer *
A fascinating book that is quite sui generis, or perhaps just invents a whole new genre? In some ways, it stands quite alone, but there are vague connections to something like The Road to Oxiana.
Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell *
Imagination, skills, research, fantasy galore: this is one heck of a book. Perhaps it really is this the best English fantasy since Tolkien? Who am I to tell? Entertaining, but it actually does make you think, too.
Susanna Clarke: Piranesi *
As the follow-up to her major breakthrough with Norrell and Strange, this book was not only very long in the making: it is also utterly, utterly different. Perhaps even different from most other books you have read? You only slowly realize what it is even all about, and then something makes you change that perception. As intellectual endeavour and novel writing, this is very, very highly ranked and recommended.
Jonathan Coe: Rotters' Club, The Closed Circle, Middle England
A broad sweep of English history of the last few decades, as seen through the prism of a small, and a somewhat oddball group of friends. Coe is an excellent writer and juggles between the comical and the deadly serious. But the books do lose steam along the way, and the characters are, in the end, not that captivating.
Jonathan Coe: The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim
A strange and wonderful idea this, and well executed, but perhaps the technique and the deft writing help hide that in the end, it is just not that interesting? Although it has many moments, not the least the relationship with the GPS voice.
J M Coetzee: Age of Iron
“Previously insulated from racial hatred, Mrs Cullen starts to realize that her neat little white world doesn’t match the reality of police brutality against black people.” One of Coetzee’s best books, and an especially forbidding and hard read. “Children of iron, I thought. Florence herself, too, not unlike iron.”
J M Coetzee: In the Heart of the Country
A very early Coetzee, and quite different. If this was the first of his books you picked, you might not go any further.
J M Coetzee: Life & times of Michael K.
An eerie and wonderful book, taking s through the world as experienced by an innocent and slow person. Things happen to Michael that he does not understand why happen, and yet he pushes on and perhaps finally gains freedom?
J M Coetzee: Life and Times of Michael K
More than wonderful in so many ways. It manages to show the horror of racism and Apartheid but also to departicularize it so we are not off the hook just because we are here and not there.
J M Coetzee: Waiting for the Barbarians
Confusing that the plot is more-or-less the same, in general terms, as in Dino Buzzati's The Tartar Steppe. But only so much that if you read Buzzati, you vaguely make the connection. Not that it matters. This is a more mature, still subtle, but immensely powerful Coetzee, who, as ever, talks about the politics of this world without talking about the politics of this world.
Leonard Cohen: Beautiful Losers
Actually, as time has gone by, this seems to be a highly regarded novel. Perhaps I should read it again? I guess I expected something else back then: something more like the romantic singer’s songs.
Leonard Cohen: Favourite Game
Vaguely remember this. Artists, starving, sex, and so on, I think.
Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone
Wonderfully entertaning Gothic crime caper.
Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White
Also wonderfully entertaining Gothic crime caper.
Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch, the series
Yes: I guess I read the whole lot (and saw the TV series — which, as it happens, diverge in subtle ways). While on one side, Harry Bosch is the quintessential troubled detective, he has many other layers and is in no way as one-dimensional as some of the brethren. Well-made plots, gritty streets, and jazz.
John Connolly: Charlie Parker series
One of the more “literary“crime writers, and this is a very long series of which I have but read the first few. Mixes a noir thriller with the paranormal, and does create visions that are actually very scary — but as the books progress, it also becomes clear that the underlying (and somewhat monotonous) theme is Catholic guilt.
Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim
Yes, an adequate book, but besides Nostromo, I have never really been able to figure out why Conrad is held in such high esteem.
Joseph Conrad: Nostromo *
Wonderful and multifaceted book about revolutions and capitalism and unlikely heroes and the Latin American reality. And a very thrilling read, and entertaining while still “literature”.
Joseph Conrad: The Secret Agent
Funny enough (and better than Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday), but let us be clear: this is not peak Conrad.
Alan Cooper: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum
FYI: the ‘inmates’ are the techies and developers who are allowed to not only develop but also design all the interfaces we encounter in our daily life. Cooper calls them out.
James Fenimore Cooper: Deerslayer
At the very least got me interested in finding out more out the actual wild indians.
James Fenimore Cooper: The Last of the Mohicans
Wonderful. Said 10-year-old Henning.
Patricia Cornwell: Scarpetta
The Scarpetta books (I have read a few) are nice (1) because they have a female protagonist, (2) the forensic details are exact, (3) there is no three?. In fact, they are pretty boring in the long run.
Jim Crace: Arcadia *
Jim Crace is one of my favourite authors, and this is a major opus. He may be “old-fashioned” as much as he is certainly not a post-modernist but firmly rooted in the grand historical tradition of narratology. Tant pis if he did not get the meme about the end of the grand narrative: every book of his, one way or the other, proves that narrative, grand or petit, is very much alive and doing very well indeed. That his politics are close to mine is just another bonus. The subject of this book is, in its own way, the original accumulation, the rise of capitalism, the temporal and physical divide between rural production and late capitalism, and on and on. But it is, first of all, a very good story, and in no way a political pamphlet.
Jim Crace: Being Dead
Death, bereavement, afterlife (but not religious). A late work in the Crace canon, and a more introverted voice. As always: recommended, highly.
Jim Crace: Continent
His debut. In his own words: “a novel in stories about an invented continent struggling with the dislocations of progress”. Also: one of those books a budding writer would read and then say “Why did I not think of that?” And also: yet another book where Crace manages to say something historically and politically in an artistic way with zero preaching.
Jim Crace: Signals of Distress
Crace never lets you down, even if — as it seems to me to be the case with this one — the inspiration was not at peak level here.
Jim Crace: The Gift of Stones *
Yet again: Crace uses a precise historical moment —- the end of the Neolithic —- to weave a tale around social upheaval and change. He said himself that it could be a metaphor for Blighty under the rule of That Woman. But that is not even important to know for reading the book.
John Crowley: Little, Big
A big favorite of Harold Bloom’s, surprisingly. I am torn, but will perhaps give it another try, one fine day.
Kjell Ola Dahl: The Lazarus Solution
Wonderful and atmospheric and of course quite obvious: a spy and cloak-and-dagger story set among exiled Norwegians in Stockholm during WWII. They all have their agendas, and our ‘hero’ is not always sober … This is a book that just beckons to become a TV series.
J. M. Dalgliesh: Dark Yorkshire
I have read #1, The Divided House and #2, Blacklight, so far. Pure Yorkshire noir, with all the bells and whistles: a tired, jaded detective with drink & woman trouble; heart of gold, though; solves the crime. But the environment is interesting, there are twists and turns, and an OK way to spend a few rainy afternoons. Now: is there any dark and rainy place left that does not have its own Noir subgenre?
Will Dean: A Tuva Moodyson Mystery
Three of them: Dark Pines; Red Snow; Black River. So, an Englishman sets stories about a deaf, queer journalist in a Swedish smalltown in the middle of exactly nowhere, with pitch-black nights and icy cold winters and a cavalcade of sinister and nefarious criminals? Know what: it works.
Will Dean: Bad Apples
Strangely disapponting after the first three that I found excellent. For one thing: so many red herrings thar are just abandoned (if you show a gun in the first act …) And so many pages describing a tense situation that is quite similar to one in a previous instalment. And ending on a cliffhanger, almost like your typical TV series episode: stay tuned? Is the missing second half of this story coming out soon, perhaps?
Will Dean: Wolf Pack
Better than the previous installment, but perhaps we are entering a phase where only so much can happen in this Godforsaken town, and the characters only have so much more to give us (barring introducing something new next time. If there is to be a next time).
Daniel Defoe: Robinson Crusoe
An important book that can be discussed in many ways: the subaltern, the birth of capitalism, and so on. However perhaps not something you read just for the sheer sake of it?
Daniel Defoe: The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
A good story, but so much more. Really: this touches upon so many aspects of the genesis of capitalism, et cetera, that perhaps the fact that it is a good story is lost?
Sven Delblanc: Hedebysviten
A long time ago, but remember the books as being quite difficult, but rewarding enough that I finished all of them. Maybe time for a revisit?
Sven Delblanc: Speranza
Tackles big issues, such as slavery and freedom and personal responsibility. Strangely enough, it was made into a movie, while I thought that this was quite introverted and cerebral and not another action story. It reminds me, in degrees, of Carpentier’s magnificent Explosion in a Cathedral.
Don DeLillo: Underworld
The shot heard around the world… Yes, very American and very basebally. As a non-American I am sure I miss something and do not fully grasp all the cultural references. But writing this — and looking it up on Wikipedia — it occurs to me that maybe I should read it again?
Michael Dibdin: Ratking
The first of the Inspector Zen series, but the only one I have read (perhaps so far). Aurelio Zen is an interesting and well-formed character, and the book is (as good crime stories tend to be) a chilling portrait of an Italy riddled with organized crime.
Michael Dibdin: Ratking
The first of a series. Aurelio Zen is a different kind of detective and all-around Italian mother’s boy. The plot is spicy and exciting, and perhaps I should seek out some of the following volumes?
Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle
Actually, the premise is great and wonderful, but it peters out and does not live to what it could have been.
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
Swaahbucklingly good yarn, and quite an outlier in the oeuvre. This could have been, say, from the pen of Walter Scott, could it not? Or is it, gosh, a kissing cousin of the Red Pimpernel? Still. A nice light entertainment.
Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities
Interestingly, for being so relatively late in the Dickensian oeuvre, this novel is straight-up historical fiction, and could well have been written by somebody else. But as it stands, it is really fast-moving entertainment,
Charles Dickens: Bleak House *
Bleak, indeed. Not exactly your cosy Pickwick-Dickens. Convoluted and almost impossible to fully get a grip on — but that does not matter, after all: the essence is the dystopian and dismal world it paints a grey picture of. Not so Jolly England. And, also, one could and would argue that it is a precursor of the postmodern novel (calling Thomas Pynchon). Mutatis mutandis, of course.
Charles Dickens: David Copperfield *
Dickens somewhere between the comedic and the serious: and therefore exactly in the perfect spot.
Charles Dickens: Great Expectations *
A favorite among the many Dickensian faves.
E L Doctorow: Billy Bathgate
Doctorow sure does take a lot of flack, but I remember rather liking this historical-factual yarn. But perhaps there is some truth to the observation that he tends to use his literary skills as cover for stories that are, essentially, banal and sentimental?
E L Doctorow: Loon Lake
The Kirkus Review said: “Imagine a fair-to-good novel by Kurt Vonnegut in his more socio-economic, Mr. Rosewater-ish vein. Then imagine that it’s been scrambled, weighed down with self-conscious prose, and avant-garded up (Joycean) run-ons, blank verse, skewed tenses and pronouns) by someone intent on making a literary impression. That, unfortunately, is the general effect of this artful but lifeless picaresque novel – which follows the crossing 1936 paths of a very young vagabond and a somewhat older failed-poet, both of whom love a tormented beauty and both of whom wind up under the wing of a great tycoon.” Seems about right.
E L Doctorow: The Waterworks
If you have to mix history and fiction, this is a valid way to do it. While picturing a squalid and corrupt New York (no nostalgia here), and adding a feverishly mad medical plot, Doctorow creates a very readable story.
E L Doctorow: World's Fair
Doctorow, quasi-historical: well done, will not rock your world.
José Donoso: A House in the Country
More from the Chilean second-line Latin Americanism. Made no lasting impression.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment *
One of those books that could change your life when you read it. At least your literary life.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov *
Don’t know: only read it twice. Still growing on me.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Idiot
Yet another massive missive from the depth of the Russian darkness.
Arthur Conan Doyle: The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Classic, entertaining, and actually well written.
Roddy Doyle: Barrytown Pentalogy
All except the last one. They are, obviously, cinematically entertaining.
Andre Dubus III: House of Sand and Fog
So, so much better than the movie version.
Alexandre Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo
Ah, yes. More adventures and hi jinx, and so much more intelligent than most of what is published in this genre these days.
Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers
Yay: action, dangerous ladies, swashbuckling camaraderie, horses … what is not to like? Seriously: the majority of present-day action thriller writers could learn a lot here. A lot.
Lawrence Durrell: The Alexandria Quartet
Pretentious, moi? But if you forgot the pseudo-intellectual framework around this, it is actually not a bad story and an interesting glimpse of a still-Hellenistic world that is now utterly gone.
Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum
Overwrought? Not as good as the Name of the Rose.
Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
Of course, it is a fabulous book with many different levels of meaning. The movie probably makes people think it is less than it is.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed - On (Not) Getting By in America *
She walks the walk: living on minimum wage for a year with no backup or cheats. It paints a depressing portrait of a supposedly wealthy country that just does not give an f*** about anybody or anything.
T. S. Eliot: Waste Land and Other Poems
Besides Mr Eliot’s political and social positions, his poetry is both challenging and worthwhile. I guess the days when you would carry a copy around to earn points (when I bought it at the Uni bookshop, the clerk snickered …) but it does not change that what Eliot created is a bit of a monument in European poetry.
Bret Easton Ellis: American Psycho
Yo. I always thought it was mostly about a very unreliable narrator, a clear narcissist and perhaps more, and the murder scenes (and the very graphic sex) were fantasies of his? To the degree that it is also a story about the excesses of Wall Street and such, it does make points but does not throw any punches because it is set in a social and mental and political vacuum.
James Ellroy: The first LA quartet *
Sure, Elllroy is a big dick-swinging loony and so — but he is also a very good writer when it suits him. This major work is, on the surface, a crime story but in reality more like that great American contemporary novel that everybody else either wants to write or says can no longer be written. Ellroy does not care: he wrote it.
Michael Ende: The Neverending Story
Well: I am too old for it now — but I liked it way back when. I don’t think my boys did, though. Times change.
Otto English: Fake History
Yes, it is both informational, and funny, and it has a bite (Otto does not think Boris is the new Churchill — but then again: Winston was not all that, either). Perhaps it is sometimes too rambling, and some of the fake histories he has picked out are perhaps not overly interesting nor are they all equally grave. But the idea that whoever controls the narrative about the past controls the future gets some good foundations here. Hesitatingly recommended for your reading pleasure.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Europe, Europe: Forays Into a Continent
Versatile novelist/poet/cultural critic wrote a light-hearted collection of essays about various European countries. As a Dane, it of course amused me that he describes Norway as a ‘living open-air museum’.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Forsvindingens Furie
Poetry from German writer, polemicist, public intellectual, and much more. There are gems here, but not a book I pick up that often.
J. G. Farrell: The Empire Trilogy *
As historical (well: recent history) fiction goes, this is fantastic. The three novels share themes and most of all share a healthy scepticism about the British empire.
Elena Ferrante: The Neapolitan Novels
Oh, dear. I must confess: I only finished the first volume. I don’t know why it does not grip as it is supposed to as it really should have a lot going for it. Perhaps this is that rare instance where I should give the TV adaptation a try? Addendum: the HBO series is all that and then some. Up there with the best TV I’ve ever seen.
M. I. Finley: The Ancient Economy
A very well-written and rather heavy reading. I think I recall. Long time, no see.
Mark Fisher: Capitalist Realism *
A remarkable book from a remarkable person. A political manifesto and melancholy gaze at our predicament.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Bernice Bobs Her Hair
Fitzgerald’s shorts are good, but he remains, to me, a better novelist.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Tender is the Night *
The glamour, the ennui, the fall … I have always thought this is at the very least the equivalent of Gatsby. Of course, it is not exactly social realism, but would it all have to be that?
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Beautiful and Damned
Although he is often thought to be a one-trick pony, I do find that a lot of the lesser-regarded works are quite beautiful and sad.
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby *
Always been in awe of the writing, the sadness, the ennui, of how FSF caught the zeit geist.
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary *
Why a story about a neurotic woman stuck in the sticks still fascinates is hard to explain in but a few words. But there it is: as hypnotic now as it was then.
Bent Flyvbjerg: How big things get done
I must say this: ‘This a very well-written book’. Also, I must say that I had high expectations. And, finally, it is a bit of a letdown. Sure, the author pounds his chest and keeps telling us how clever he is with projects – but he never really gets into detail. Planning good, yeah yeah. Gehry good, yeah yeah. And ad nauseam. Actually, I do not doubt that Mr Flyvbjerg does have a lot of information that is clever and useful, but he somehow fails to tell what it really is. Perhaps a lack of planning?
Frederick Forsyth: The Day of the Jackal
Well. Fast-moving, violence, sex.
John Fowles: Daniel Martin
Disappointing. I know Fowles likes to try his hand at different genres, but this one is not really engaging.
John Fowles: The Ebony Tower
Carefully crafted and interrelated stories. A pity that few of the characters are somebody you would actually want to hang out with.
John Fowles: The French Lieutenant's Woman
The perennially postmodern metafiction. Or something. Probably overrated.
John Fowles: The Magus
Boring, overwrought, and lacking any redeeming features. Very much a child of its time, and now seems antiquated when it tries to be edgy. Sad.
Neil Gaiman: American Gods *
I don’t really like comics and sci.fi or fantasy. I like this one, though. A strange and weird story, but ends up being quite gripping, even with the slightly off-kilter and not realistic ensemble of characters.
Neil Gaiman: Neverwhere
Wonderful thought experiment: what an angel actually does live under the Angel tube station. And so on and so forth. Very entertaining, and also worth noting that the idea of a parallel world in our midst is predating Harry Potter and Susanna Clarke.
William Golding: Lord of the Flies
Junior high reading. But the crux of the matter is that the book is way too pessimistic: the few real-life instances of a similar situation have shown that we are actually not atavistic sadists but rather kind and altruistic.
William Golding: The Spire
Boring. Paint drying is a better use of your time.
William Goldman: Marathon Man
Ok: but in this case, the movie is probably better.
Meïr Aron Goldschmidt: Arvingen
One of the more interesting Danish mid-19th-century writers. Not only an outsider because of his Jewish background, but also because he did develop a habit of sticking it to the man in his satirical writings. This, however, is one of his more outlandish efforts, a true forerunner of Blixen, and even – dare I say? – some shades of magical realism? Very entertaining.
Meïr Aron Goldschmidt: Ravnen
This is an absolutely wonderful, crazy, and entertaining story, more related to Blixen that I would care to admit. It is one on those things: had Goldschmidt been writing in, say, English, he would be quite well-known even today. Alas, he did not.
Stephen Jay Gould: The Mismeasure of Man
The scientist as a blisteringly hot polemicist, quite brutally taking down a whole genre of pseudoscientific racist mumbo-jumbo. They don’t make them like Stephen Jay anymore.
Sue Grafton: A is for Alibi
Guilty as charged: I read a few of the Milhone alphabeticals. Airport lit if there ever was. Not really written for posterity (although casting a woman as a hardboiled detective is, of course, refreshing. But hardly original.)
Günter Grass: Cat and Mouse
I read it when I was too young to understand it: it seemed to be a plain story about some kids diving — but it is probably a lot more. Perhaps time for a reread?
Günter Grass: The Flounder
Wonderful magic realism.
Günter Grass: The Tin Drum *
Hard to decide which Grass is the better — but I dare say it is probably this. Who can ever forget the wee Oskar?
Robert Graves: I, Claudius
It is, still, very funny and entertaining — but do keep in mind that it is ‘historical fiction’ and not ‘history’.
A. C. Grayling: The Meaning of Things
A light and thought-provoking collection of short, sharp takes on a lot of central concepts of our existence. But, alas, people will rather read, say, Jordan Peterson as he gives the answers you want: Grayling just wants to make you think for yourself.
Graham Greene: Brighton Rock
Greene’s books are all different I guess, and this early one is also one of the first I read. Lots of Catholic guilt and glimpses of a now very distant England.
Graham Greene: Our Man In Havana
Versatile scribe does a comedic spy thriller. It is, actually, entertaining.
Graham Greene: The Quiet American
You would think that a 1950s novel about American policy in South East Asia is dated — and you would be wrong. Uncannily precise about the failed and failing politics the USofA has pursued in the region, always tone-deaf to the hilt.
John Grisham: The Firm
Quick and entertaining but skin deep.
John Grisham: The Pelican Brief
Light legal entertainment.
John Grisham: The Rainmaker
Light legal action.
John Grisham: The Runaway Jury
Slick legal action. But it does have a fantastic plot twist that I doubt anybody could see coming.
David Guterson: Snow Falling on Cedars *
Oy. A prose so mellow and misty that you can smell the trees and feel the rain and the melancholy. And a riveting story line.
H. Rider Haggard: King Solomon's Mines
Exciting if you are 10; has a funny racist and/or imperialist smell later. Kipling, at least, is a better writer, if you must.
Alex Haley: Roots
Duh. Was riveting when I was a wee one and read it, but later (as I am a historian) tickled by why Haley insists it is based on ‘facts’ when it is clearly not (and has no reason to be). Odd.
Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon
Stylistically, Hammett is a master and much more than pulp fiction, hard-boiled hack. Like Simenon, he is a bleakly modernistic writer if you care to look closely.
Knut Hamsun : Hunger *
Hamsun’s major work, as far as I am concerned. A feverish look at the life of a struggling artist.
Peter Handke: A Sorrow Beyond Dreams
Yes, yes: Handke is currently persona non grata. This, though, is heart-breakingly sad and true.
Peter Handke: Short Letter, Long Farewell
A Western, of sorts, but still in the early phase of Handke. Somehow same mood as in the Alice in the Cities movie.
Thorkild Hansen: Arabia Felix - The Danish Expedition of 1761-1767 *
This is a fantastic historical novel. True: it is in the guise of a historical monography, but the author is not a historian, and you can poke a few holes in it. But as ‘fiction’ it works marvellously, and Mr Hansen was a very talented writer.
Yuval Noah Hariri: Sapiens
Yikes. Libertarian hogwash being sold to the same people who believe Malcolm Gladwell is ‘deep’. Sad. Also so full of holes that you could rip every-single-page apart with a modest effort.
Jonathan Harr: A Civil Action
Really good legal/courtroom drama, based on real events. Creates, for a change, a very positive image of a lawyer!
Robert Harris: Archangel
Harris does historical fiction, and then also alternative history. This is a what-if: what if Stalin had a son that was sequestered away? And what if sinister forces want him foisted upon the world? Now that I consider it again: perhaps it is not as far-fetched as it seemed to be when it was first published?
Robert Harris: Fatherland
Marvellously well done alternate history,
Thomas Harris: Red Dragon
Scary and such. But pulp, basically,
Thomas Harris: The Silence of the Lambs
Yes: very, very scary. But, in the end, what for? What do we learn here, if anything?
Wolfgang Fritz Haug: Kritik der Warenästhetik
Was a revelation all those years ago: using Marxist methodology to write something that is actually contemporary and engaging. Wonder how it holds up today?
Paula Hawkins: A Slow Fire Burning
Darker and more convoluted than the train girl, and a tour de force of a number of unreliable narrators, protagonists, and witnesses. Let’s us look into a dark and seedy London, where very little is exactly what it seems.
Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train
Perhaps even the title is a cliche now, but the book was actually interesting enough as a crime novel and a quick read. Actually, it is a notch up from your bog standard cozy crime stories.
William Heinesen: De fortabte spillemænd *
The Lost Musicians in English translation. This Faroese larger-than-life author wrote quite a few good books, but this takes the crown. All revolving around the joy of music, the not-joy of established religion, boze, and friendship. And a fabulously good yarn as well as stylistic pleasure.
Agnes Heller: The Theory of Need in Marx
A difficult text that probably could stand to be read again. I was, after all, just too young and unknowing to get the most out of it. Is it important, still? A Kantian Marxism?
Joseph Heller: Catch-22 *
Should be required reading. So powerful.
Joseph Heller: Closing Time
A less slapstick and a more despairing sequel to Catch-22. So now we finally know what happened to Milo etc.
Joseph Heller: Good as Gold
“Once when Gold was visiting in Florida, his father drew him across the street just to meet some friends and introduced him by saying,“This is my son’s brother. The one that never amounted to much.” Oy, veh. A very hilarious American Jewish book. I always thought that Gold was more than a little inspired by Kissinger, but I may be wrong.
Joseph Heller: Something Happened
A chilling view of the emptiness of corporate life.
Mark Helprin: Winter's Tale *
Little did I know when I first read this that I am not supposed to like Mark Helprin: he was, after all, a speech writer for Reagan ad is also very, very pro-Israel. Not things that get you a lot of cred with the popular crowd, and add to the fact that it seems to me that his output is quite uneven. Nevertheless, nevertheless: this book is a triumph of magical realism (yes!) and a deep love for New York. Approved.
Mark Helprin: Winter's Tale
I know that Helprin is politically tainted beyond repair and should be held at a very long arm’s length — it does not change the fact that this is a major New York-novel, heavily influenced by magical realism. And very good.
Ernest Hemingway: A Farewell To Arms
Like The Bells, a romantic war story, written by a still young person. The optimism, even under the circumstances, is adorable.
Ernest Hemingway: A Moveable Feast *
A lifelong fascination of mine with Paree possibly started with reading this. Although this Paris is long, long gone.
Ernest Hemingway: For Whom The Bell Tolls
If you read it at a certain age, there is so much romance. Perhaps too much if you read it later — and too little about the canvas where it all unfolds.
Ernest Hemingway: The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories
Papa doing what he does.
Ernest Hemingway: The Sun Also Rises *
I guess, then, that this is the Hemingway you grow up to appreciate. Oh, the ennui, the hidden wound. The world has lost its color.
Mick Herron: Bad Actors
Of course, there is a lot of loud farting involved when Jackson Lamb and his motley crew of slow horses show up. Nevertheless, as always a fantastic read and an interesting plot – and you are left with the feeling that Mr. Herron has quite a dislike for Mssrs. Cummings and Johnson, no?
Mick Herron: Slough House
What is not to love about a farting, vulgar spy master partly in disgrace and surrounded by a number of misfits and fiascos? And make it dark comedy, please? This is very entertaining and certainly worth it, and now also a TV series, it seems.
Carl Hiaasen: Squeeze MeStandard Hiaasen: funny, odd, Florida. And it is about Trump and his ardent, elderly supporters (Pussies for POTUS). And it is a fun, quick read on a lazy summer day when you happen to be housebound with a sore back (and a G&T at the ready). The ultimate fast food of crime stories. Not that that is a bad thing: we can all use some fast food occasionally.
Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley
Where high-brow meets crime. She is a fabulous writer, and Tom Ripley is one complex character.
Oscar Hijuelos: The Mambo Kings
Sex, mambo, sex, booze, sex. And so on.
Nathan Hill: The Nix
One of those books where can only say: why did I not think about writing something like this?
Tony Hillerman: Leaphorn-Chee series
Actually a great series: unusual setting, nice, interesting detectives that we care about, not dependent on gratuitous violence for plot.
Chester Himes: A Rage in Harlem
The exploits of Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones are wildly entertaining, and the portrait of New York from a black POV is relevant and refreshing.
Angelo Hjort: Patrioterne
Part of series of which I have read most. Entertaining social realist story from Denmark during the German occupation.
Homer: The Iliad
Dragged us through this in high school. Am eternally grateful, though.
Homer: The Odyssey
Dragged us through this in high school. Am eternally grateful, though.
Peter Høeg: Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow
I have to beg to differ: this is not a very good book. Entertaining and fast, and having all the ‘correct opinions’ about this and that — it still is bog standard and not nearly as intelligent as itself (and large parts of the reading public) would like to believe. No depth, really. I see that Høeg is somewhere being compared to Dan Brown. He would probably not like this, but there’s a thought.
Andres Michael Hurley: The Loney
Gothic, Catholic, definitely weird and different. Well worth it.
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World
Of course. That and 1984 were hard to avoid back in high school.
Florian Illies: 1913
Sounds all so promising, but in the end, it is just a collection of factoids that are never really put together in any meaningful way.
Arnaldur Indridason: Reykjavik Murder Mystery
Also known as the Detective Erlendur series. I read them all (there are more available in Danish than in English). Said detective is about as far from you modern action man as can be, but he is a thoughtful but very lonely person, alienated from his more-or-less dysfunctional family. Iceland Noir indeed: a bleak, dark, and cold landscape, full of strange and perhaps supernatural beings, and an overarching theme of reconciling the distant past and your own impending death. For what little that actually happens, strangely fascinating, perhaps because the writing is so very good.
John Irving: The cider house rules
What a wonderful, humane, and ultimately morally complex story. Irving does really can create believable characters when he wants to, and Dickensian-scale stories. Not hi-brow, I guess, but to-my-mind probably a finer read than some that pretend to be.
Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
I guess we all saw the movie, but the book is also quietly fascinating.
J. P. Jacobsen: Digte og Udkast *
Poems, for of course a writer such as Jakobsen would write a couple of the best novels, the best short stories, and for completeness’ sake: the best poems in the Danish language, and then die of tuberculosis.
J. P. Jacobsen: Fru Marie Grubbe
J. P. wrote a seminal Bildungsroman with his ‘Niels Lyhne’. Here, you could claim he created a feminist book with one of the first strong female characters in Danish literature. And Marie also goes through a sort of journey, although it is all downhill. Or is it? Does she save her soul, doing what she does? The jury is still out.
J. P. Jacobsen: Mogens og andre Noveller
Most Danish school kids were (then, but still?) pestered with having to read one or more of these short stories. Some of those kids would later realize just how good this writing is.
J. P. Jacobsen: Niels Lyhne *
This is probably Jakobsen’s best. The writing is languidly colourful and even erotic, and the theme of this Bildungsroman is typically Danish for this era: decay rather than growth.
Roy Jacobsen: Just a Mother
A fourth instalment in the series where little happens and yet everything happens. Led by Ingrid Barrøy, it is, most of all, a feminist epic about the Norway that was and the Norway that is becoming. Electricity! Who would have thought it possible? The stoicism of the islanders when facing unspeakable tragedy is really something, as well as the slow, deep thoughts of Ingrid who, for sure, never rushes to decisions, but decides she does, in the end. A triumph of a series of books.
Roy Jacobsen: The Unseen *
Norwegian trilogy (De usynlige, Hvitt hav, Rigels øyne), read in Danish (and apparently only volume one in English so far). Not a lot happens, except that everything happens. Set on a small, wind-swept and poor island off the coast of Nothern Norway in the years before, under, and after WWII. A society almost outside the modern world, and — interestingly — inhabited by strong and strong-willed women as the men tend to disappear and die on the ocean. Wonderful, and I was reminded of this from Hugh MacDiarmid’s poem ‘Island Funeral’: “While this thing lasted / It was pure and very strong.” A poem that is also about a seemingly uneventful life on a remote island, but a life that has a deeper meaning than we can easily understand today.
C L R James: The Black Jacobins *
Opened my eyes to C L R James and the fact that you can be a sports fan and a revolutionary at the same time. And a well-written monograph about a both uplifting and shameful episode in Caribean as well as European history.
Henry James: Portrait of a Lady
Slow going. Some books, perhaps, do not age well? Or perhaps I am an insensitive brute.
P. D. James: Devices and Desires
Classic Dalgliesh. Slow, literary, polite, and all mind games.
P. D. James: Shroud for a Nightingale
Detached, cool Adam Dalgliesh solves a crime. James is a wonderful writer, and Dalgliesh a welcome and different kind of detective.
P. D. James: Shroud for a Nightingale
Detached, cool Adam Dalgliesh solves a crime. James is a wonderful writer, and Dalgliesh a welcome and different kind of detective.
P. D. James: The Children of Men
If you only know P. D. James as the creator of Adam Dalgliesh, this is certain to surprise you. A dystopian fantasy that is chillingly realistic.
Johannes V. Jensen: Kongens Fald *
A high-water mark in Danish literature. In the guise of a historical novel (probably not over-researched) taken as a somewhat harsh verdict on some specific parts of ‘Danish character* — but most of all, it is a precise and wonderfully written story, no matter what is also is.
Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat
James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Dear me: as a realist or naturalist, Mr Joyce shows a remarkable technique.
James Joyce: Ulysses
A monument, and quite funny (if you allow it to be). But for some reason, I could never really warm to it.
Franz Kafka: The Castle *
Feverishly nightmarish and claustrophobic and a shot across the bow for 20th century litt.
Franz Kafka: The Trial
Of course, it is fabulous — but for me, personally, I find The Castle a notch better.
Erich Kästner: Emil and the Detectives
It was very exciting when I read it at age, oh…: 9?
John Keats: Poems
Not all of them, of course. But the great hits.
Daniel Kehlmann: Tyll *
I wrote a longer review of this, but, briefly, this (and perhaps also Wolf Hall) are what any historical fiction should strive to be.
Garrison Keillor: Leaving Home
Short, sharp, and witty texts from the Wobegon universe. Funny that a man who can write so lovingly apparently was a bit of an arse in real life.
Lars Kepler: The Hypnotist
Initially, I was positive, but the violence is just too exaggerated.
Jack Kerouac: Desolation Angels
Wild and romantic, but it seems to me as if Kerouac’s star is fading with each year that goes by.
Jack Kerouac: On the Road *
Thorn about this: yes, reading it at a young age is certainly inspiring and such. In the long run and as literature alone: well… Still, for that first impression, it gets to be a favorite.
Philip Kerr: Bernard Gunther, the series
As historical fiction goes, splendid. Kerr obviously researched a bit. The early parts, the ones I have read, show more insight into the Third Reich than many other more ‘historical’ histories.
Ken Kesey: Sometimes a Great Notion
A big old epic, but rather strange that the beatnik dude wrote a story that is, basically, anti-union libertarianism. Or perhaps not strange at all.
Stephen King: Billy Summers
Yay. King with a straight-up, non-paranormal thriller. And it is not a chilling portrait of an America that has lost its way completely? Say what you will about King — and I don’t like many, or even most, of his books — he is a mercurially gifted writer and storyteller and moral voice.
Stephen King: It
Yikes. Never have been able to look at clowns quite the same way again.
Stephen King: The Stand
It tried very hard, and it almost succeeds. But it is very long — too long — and sentimental, and gets carried away with itself. Borderline if worth spending the time on.
Stephen King: The Tommyknockers
OK for a wee scare, and also: King, as always, manages to poke some fun at authoritarians and other assorted nitwits.
Rudyard Kipling: Kim
I think that when I was very young and innocent, I read this twice or so and found it to be probably the most exciting story I ever read! Of course, I later learned that Kipling was a very naughty imperialist and should be avoided at all cost, and I should probably somehow rinse myself of this experience. Still, though: it remains a fabulous yarn, give or take.
H. D. F. Kitto: The Greeks *
The writing is as clear as the water from a cool mountain spring on a hot summer day. ‘Popular history’ writing does not come any better than this.
Heinrich von Kleist: Michael Kohlhaas
Oh, dear. He brought down the whole state, did he not?
Jean Hanff Korelitz: The Plot
Widely successful and very well written at the ‘technical level’. It pulls off a plot within a plot and keeps you on edge (although, I must add, I guessed the second plot resolution quite early). That said, I also feel that it is more a metaliterary exercise and quite cerebral than a heartfelt story. Nothing is wrong with that, but you do not end up having many feelings about the characters who are mainly moved around like pawns in a chess game. For all the psychological aspects, we do not know anything about the characters.
Johannes Krause: A Short History of Humanity
A nice and not too technical walkthrough of recent progress in using DNA in archaeology and anthropology and thus widening our idea of where we came from significantly. Well written, and with a lot of humour that the stereotype says Germans do not have? Makes you wonder what Mr Krause’s DNA shows and whether he is really German?
Tom Kristensen: Hærværk *
Or ‘Havoc’ in English, into which it has been translated. The intro from NYRB: “A longtime cult classic in Denmark, this novel about dissolution and despair has been out of print in the US for over eighty years until now.
Ole Jastrau is the very model of an enterprising and ambitious young man of letters, poised on the brink of what is sure to be a distinguished career as a critic. In fact, he is teetering on the brink of an emotional and moral abyss. Bored with his beautiful wife and chafing at the burdens of fatherhood, disdainful of the commercialism and political opportunism of the newspaper he works for, he feels more and more that his life lacks meaning. He flirts with Catholicism and flirts with Communism, but somehow he doesn’t have the makings of a true believer. Then he takes up with the bottle, a truly meaningful relationship. “Slowly and quietly,” he intends to go to the dogs.
Jastrau’s romance with self-destruction will take him through all the circles of hell. The process will be anything but slow and quiet.”
Tom Kristensen: Livets arabesk
Rather strange but very entertaining. A Copenhagen right after WWI, full of anarchists and communists and police and upheaval and losing focus and aim. In some ways, clearly a forerunner for ‘Havoc’, but in a less realistic setting and with much more avant-garde ambitions linguistically. Does it get all the way? Perhaps not. Worth trying, though.
Hari Kunzru: Red Pill
I wrote a longer review of this somewhere else here: in short, not overwhelmed.
Hanif Kureishi: The Buddha of Suburbia
Yes: funny, frothy entertainment. Kureishi has done much better.
Jens Lapidus: Stockholm Noir
Nah: much flash and violence; not enough meat.
Philip Larkin: Collected Poems *
Right. Larkin was a miserable misogynist, a racist, a drunk, and a general nuisance. He was, however, also the one who wrote some of the best English poems of that century, poems that manage to straddle the fine line between being generally popular and, actually, being ‘high literature’.
Stieg Larsson: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest; The Girl Who Played With Fire; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Well done, well researched, intereresting characters – but they are just a tad too black-and-white. The plots are something else, though.
Palle Lauring: I Denne Nat
Danish historian (well: at least a ‘popular historian’ on TV) wrote an OK historical novel.
D. H. Lawrence: Lady Chatterley's Lover
Haha: found out when I was a young ‘un that my parents has this, but that it was somewhat hidden on the shelf. What a disappointment to find out that the much-talked-about sex scenes are quite unexciting and not very graphical.
Halldor Laxness: Iceland's Bell *
If you have to write “historical fiction”, do it as Halldor did. Does not get much better than this.
Ursula Le Guin: Earthsea 1-3
Probably YA, but enough depth to be read at all ages.
Ursula Le Guin: Malafrena
Of all Le Guin, I think I like this the best. She applies her powerful fantasy to a sort-of historical fiction, set in a sort-of Slovenia, set in sort-of revolutionary times. And the result is great.
Ursula Le Guin: The Dispossessed
A scifi that even I can accept — perhaps also because Le Guin is that rare beast: a leftist scifi, and not a libertarian nutter.
Elmore Leonard: Get Shorty
Funny, smart, fast. Elmore can always make a rainy afternoon over before you know it.
Elmore Leonard: Get Shorty
As always: hi jinx and hilariousness and fast moves. Not bad at all.
Elmore Leonard: LaBrava
Fast moving, fun. As always,
Jonathan Lethem: Fortress of Solitude *
Some of Lethem’s oeuvre is cartoonish for my taste, but this strikes a perfect balance of the fantastical, the historical, the sociological, and much else. And a story of a deep and enduring friendship.
Jonathan Lethem: Motherless Brooklyn
Good, but not as good as Fortress of Solitude.
Jonathan Lethem: You Don't Love Me Yet
Alternative musical comedy and a sharp portrait of certain aspects of counter-cultural existence. But not overly serious.
Primo Levi: Survival in Auschwitz *
There is not much more to say than: do read it.
Astrid Lindgren: Den Store Emil Bog
What to say? Classic.
David Lodge: The Campus Trilogy
Yes, the campus trilogy. Very funny, and early stabs at the woke fellow-travellers, you might say.
Federico Garcia Lorca: De døde har vinger af mos *
Selected poems from the ultimate master in excellent Danish. There is so much to wonder at here.
Alexander MacCall Smith: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series (the first 8-9)
So cute, So very cute.
Clare Mackintosh: The last party
Welsh Noir, maybe? Cunningly close to the ‘cozy thriller’ genre, but then again: not. There is the Agatha Christie-aspect: a closed room (well: a closed community), and just about everybody is lying and scheming. Who to trust when even the cops seem to have secrets they would rather not have be known? Solid entertainment.
Clare Mackintosh:: The last party
Welsh Noir, maybe? Cunningly close to the ‘cozy thriller’ genre, but then again: not. There is the Agatha Christie-aspect: a closed room (well: a closed community), and just about everybody is lying and scheming. Who to trust when even the cops seem to have secrets they would rather not have be known? Solid entertainment.
Alistair MacLean: Guns of Navarone
Sure. Don’t judge: I was young. He can spin a story and create a plot, though.
Alistair MacLean: Where Eagles Dare
Sure. Don’t judge: I was young. He can spin a story and create a plot, though.
Ivan Malinowski: Vinterens HjerteVinterens Hjerte
Wonder poems that manage to be poetic and political without either aspect having the upper hand.
Hector Malot: Sans famille
I was howling when I read this at 10 or so.
Henning Mankell: The Wallander series *
Hard not to see this as a magnum opus in Scandi litt – and not just crime stories. The most beautiful thing is that Wallanders grows and ages and changes his views. As people do, but fictional characters do not always.
Thomas Mann: Buddenbrooks
Essential reading. Especially here in the North.
Thomas Mann: Thomas Mann
Oh, so elegiac and beautiful. And almost as deep as the beauty of a Swedish teen. Nevermind.
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall trilogy *
Indeed worthy multiple prize winners. Historical fiction and probably quite well researched —- but Ms Mantel’s genius stroke is to make those centuries-old characters alive and modern without betraying their remoteness and the fact that lived in a much more savage time. Amazing it is that you haste through the story to see where it is going when you do know exactly where that is the whole time.
David Mark: DS Aector McAvoy
I read some of the series. Interesting characters: the Highland detective hooks up with the sexy Gipsy girl. Reasonable plots and twists, and thankfully free of some of the worn-out cliches that the genre encourages. So: somewhat recommended, but not exactly essential reading.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
Not the very best, vintage Marquez, but he is a writer that does not make many mistakes. Perhaps, though, this is leaning a bit towards the more facile Latin American literature of a, say, Isabel Allende.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories
Has much of the late autumn sadness that 100 years has. The end of something, the new yet to appear. But not for the colonel, of course.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude *
The first “serious” novel that knocked me off my feet. Must have read it tree times or so? Never forget the ice cream, nor when you are older and ‘wiser’ and see the circular structure and that perhaps the revolution eats its own children, in the end? It is still a monument of literature.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The Autumn of the Patriarch
A darker, more moribund mood than in the exuberantly colourful major opus.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The General in His Labyrinth
A late entry in the Latin American caudillo canon. OK, but not more than that.
Peter May: The Enzo Files
The whole bunch of them. Enzo Macleod is a lovely and loveable, but flawed, character. May, however, is too good a writer to make Enzo a mere cliche. And Enzo gets older and frail. And there are wonderful descriptions of life in France which is always a plus for an old Francophile such as I. It is also a bonus that the forensic science involved is realistically described.
Peter May: The Lewis Trilogy
Atmospheric and strange, the story leads us into a premodern world we hardly knew still existed.
Alexander Mccall Smith: Espresso Tales
Cute: he does have a knack. Also skewers certain, ahem, styles of new-age parenting.
Alexander Mccall Smith: The World According to Bertie
Bertie is one cute and funny sax player.
Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian *
Quite possibly the single most terrifying novel I have read. Perhaps you can understand a lot about the American mind and the propensity for violence from reading it? It is, of course, utterly nihilistic and pointless what happens, but it stays with you for a long time.
Cormac McCarthy: Border Trilogy
I definitely remember reading All the Pretty Horses, but am in doubt about reading the two other tomes. I don’t think I did. I guess the writing is supposed to be a virtuosic stylistic experiment? Nevertheless, I should probably return one day and give it all another try. Or maybe not.
Cormac McCarthy: No Country for Old Men
The book and the movie are equally morbidly scary.
Val McDermid: 1979 & 1989
The latest two books seem to start a new series from the master of Tartan Noir. Relatively little outright violence and gore, so many more close observations of Great Britain and the media industry and the changing mores and attitudes. And, also, Ms McDermid really does not like Robert Maxwell and his daughter. Really not.
Ian McEwan: Black Dogs
I saw it got reasonable reviews while I found it unfocused and — in the end — not very catchy.
Patrick McGrath: Spider *
Perhaps the most unreliably unreliable narrator like for ever? Chiling and scary, and a masterpiece of plot and of language.
Jon McGregor: Reservoir 13
This is brilliant. The stereotypical mystery: cute, blond girl disappears. Many suspects. Tension. And yet, and yet: that is not the point, at all. Wonderful.
Jakob Mchangama: Free Speech
A well-written comprehensive overview of the history and status of free speech, depicting the ups and downs. Perhaps weaker towards the end where we reach modern times, and there is not enough discussion about identity politics, cancel culture, illiberal subcultures, and so forth (debates in which the writer otherwise gets publicly involved in). Recommended, though.
Liam McIlvanney: The heretic
This is a very good book. Young Liam is clearly his father’s son, but while the literary standard is the same, Liam adds more action, believable action, and even more dark psychological insight. Top of the Tartan Noir.
Liam McIlvanney: The quaker
Perhaps as good a writer as the father, maybe also different. The style is more straightforward and does reach the contemplative depths and tortured philosophy of the old man, making it all faster and more approachable (sort of like how Ian Rankin is clearly an heir of the older McIlvanney but also quicker and different.) Anyway: a story inspired by a real-life serial killer roaming the streets of a Glasgow that is still dark and dangerous, and in the midst of it all: the good old boys and the new kid on the block, only that the new arrival has dark secrets he would rather not his fellow officers knew about.
William McIlvanney: Laidlaw *
The original tartan noir, and what a start. Although Sjöwall and Wahlöö had already started the saga of Martin Beck, this must be one of the first crime books where the detection itself is not as important as the societal comments. In this sense, the crime/detective/police procedural of this ilk becomes the contemporary literature, filling out the space left behind by ‘serious writers’. Not that this is not serious, or not ‘high literature’. McIlvanney’s prose is lyrical and gritty and tormented and can stand its ground.
William McIlvanney: Strange Loyalties
Remarkably, the crime and the solving of it are not central here: but a crime there was, and a long time ago. The detection lies in finding out about the crime and what it did to the parties involved, and in the process realize that you never really know someone, even your brother. Laidlaw finds out a lot about himself, the world, and the elusive love. In fact, perhaps he finds out that it is not possible, for him. Yet another triumph of Scottish writing – no, this is not ‘genre’. It is literature, period. And if not pigeonholed as ‘crime’, perhaps even more widely acknowledged as modern literature of the highest order.
William McIlvanney: The Papers of Tony Veitch
As the Laidlaw books progress, there is more and more introspection and emphasis on the duality of the Scottish character, and also on difficult questions about good and evil, or the caring and the merely indifferent. Much later, Harry Bosch has the tagline: either everybody counts, or nobody does. It comes from here, from Jack Laidlaw.
Wiliam McIlvanney and Ian Rankin: : The Dark Remains
Confusingly, this is based on a script left behind and is sometimes touted as “Laidlaw’s first case” — which it is not. But it is a case earlier in the timeline that in the three Laidlaw books McIlvanney finished. So: how is it then? Well: Ian Rankin is probably not the worst person to finish a script by his idol, but you can also see some differences from the regular Laidlaws. Here, there are less of the philosophical musings and more straightforward police procedural. But that is OK: when McIlvanney sadly could not finish this himself, we still do get a valuable addition to the canon. A good read for the Tartan Noir devotees among us.
Adrian McKinty: Sean Duffy books
I read the series so far (the first six books). It is a wonderful setup: a Catholic member of the RUC, living in a heavily Proddy neighbourhood. Trouble is bound to occur. And also a perfect setting for social commentary, as the Troubles are present in the background and occasionally take centre stage. Shameful that this series did not become McKinty’s breakthrough as it has a lot more to tell than your cosy village murder caper does.
Adrian McKinty: The Chain
Sadly — well, not really but still — this and not the Sean Duffy books became McKinty’s big break, including the ever-important American market, and the elusive movie contract. Not that it is a bad book, and it does have a really, really exciting plot and plot twists: but it does not have the atmosphere and the political background he does so well in the other books. Sadly: that is what the “market” wants. Not sadly: McKinty can now make a living off his writing.
Albert Memmi: Racism
Interesting, but I did not know enough to fully evaluate his argument at the time when I read it.
Stephenie Meyer: The Chemist
Hmmm. I realize it is some kind of bestseller, and it is well-researched, and has twists and turns. But, man: they all be superhuman superheroes. Really? And strap a syrupy happy ending on, and there you have it. It is also too long for its own good.
China Mieville: Bas-Lag series
I am not, normally, a fantasy or S/F person. True: I like Tolkien (or did, as a YA — which is when you should read heroic stuff like that). Never mind that: I always found life too short to get into that kind of pulp fiction. But I did read this, mainly because there was a learned discussion about it on a blog I like and frequent. Of course, while quite a few high-profile fantasy and S/F authors are fairly libertarian or reactionary, Mieville is anything but, and this is probably also what made me read through all three tomes in this epic. It is an okay read, sometimes frightening (!) and always weird, and more informed by Marxist politics than you would know – Luxemburg and Trotsky in particular.
Denise Mina: Garnethill
A very good trilogy: interesting and unusual characters (to say the least), an intriguing environment, and inventive storylines. A very nice break from the common mould of these crime stories —- but still also very Tartan Noir. Really recommended.
David Mitchell: Black Swan Green
A good and humane story about … stammering? And the travails of being a teenager.
David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas
I think my feelings about has cooled: it is a tour de force, but does it have actual depth?
David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Ponderous and over-researched. Way too long for the story it tries to tell.
David Mitchell: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
Not nearly as good as many of the other Michell books. Boring, even.
Patrick Modiano: Missing Person *
I have to admit that I had not heard of Modiano before he won the Nobel prize (or maybe I had, but not loudly enough to seek out any of his books). So, this was a first and a very pleasant surprise. You could easily say that Kafka meets Robbe-Grillet around here.
Elsa Morante: Arturo's Island
Quite different from the major opus, and does not scale the same heights. But then few novels do. Good on its own premises.
Elsa Morante: History *
Up there, probably, with the best 3-4 books I have ever read. An enormous achievement.
Jan Morris: Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere
Vaguely disappointing and much too idiosyncratic.
Toni Morrison: Song of Solomon
Dizzying magic realism with important themes throughout, and well worth a read. Perhaps, for me, even a reread as I was quite young, perhaps too young when I first read it.
Walter Mosley: Devil in a Blue Dress
I only read a few of the first Easy Rawlins books, but realized that perhaps I should endeavour to do some more?
Haruki Murakami: After Dark
This makes you wanna go to safe, nocturnal Tokyo so badly.
Haruki Murakami: Norwegian Wood *
Perhaps an outlier, thematically, in the Murakami canon, but a sweet story, drenched in bottomless yearning and nostalgia.
Haruki Murakami: The Windup Bird Chronicle
More mainstream Murakami, and a classic already.
V. S. Naipaul: A Bend in the River
Say what you will about Naipaul (and he may well be a brute in his private ways): he is one contemporary writer who actually still gives a fuck about the world outside his own boudoir. A modern-day Conrad, perhaps. Here, the fear and heat and humidity and fear creep under your skin. And the pointlessness of it all.
Jo Nesbø: Harry Hole (1-8)
Sure: entertaining, and some clever and genuinely exciting plots. But making Harry Hole a physical superman (and adding all that senseless violence) gets old along the way.
Henry Nielsen, Hans Siggaard Jensen, Keld Nielsen: Skruen Uden Ende
For being a ‘story of Western technology’, actually (1) good on images, (2) good on short articles but (3) bad on a larger narrative. What is the ultimate purpose of putting a considerable output into this book, and then having this outcome?
Anais Nin: Delta of Venus
So racy, oh la la. I suppose that once you get over the titillation, then it could be interesting to ponder if there is a specifically female voice here?
Henrik Nordbrandt: Egne Digte
Middle-bro Danish poet, very popular. Accessible and has his hearft inthe right place. As for the poems: I am not totally -whelmed in either direction, but there are gems. And a lot of fluff.
Donald Norman: The Design of Everyday Things
As it says: interesting observations about good and bad design.
Ben Okri: The Famished Road
Actually a very tough read, and I am not sure I ‘got it’.
Jussi Adler Olsen: Department Q (1-6)
Cute plots, but end being repetitive and slightly boring. For some reason, the characters never really grow: all are flat, none round.
Jan-Olof Olsson: De Tre Fra Haparanda
So much promise (and it is actually rather good), but does not make it all the way.
Michael Ondaatje: In the Skin of a Lion *
For my money, this is a better book than the English Patient that came after it. Perhaps because instead of a somewhat soapy romance, we here have an almost angry social realism.
Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
I know that some people disparage Ondaatje for his flowery language. I don’t, but I also think that the prequel — In the Skin of a Lion — is the better book.
George Orwell: 1984
The original dystopian novel. Not much to say. It is just as good as people say.
George Orwell: Animal Farm
Oh, didn’t we all read this in school? Nevertheless: Comrade Napoleon never disappoints.
Richard Osman: The Man Who Died Twice
Yes, another quite cozy murder story. He sells well, and he is a gifted writer. Perhaps his straddling of the comical and the gory does not always succeed 100%?
Richard Osman: The Thursday Murder Club
Cozy tea-and-doily crime caper. But perhaps a notch up, and with a little more interesting characters? OK way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Nicholas Ostler: Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World *
An excellent scholarly but accessible book about, eh, languages — or how language can dominate and then disappear again. It is interwoven with the social and political history of the regions where it happens.
Charles Palliser: The Quincunx
Hard and convoluted, and not sure I ‘got it’ all the way. But as meta-historical meta-Dickens quite effective. The craftmanship is unbelievable.
Jakob Paludan: Fugle Omkring Fyret
Slightly more interesting than ‘Markerne Modnes’, but still: ‘Jørgen Stein’ is the beast.
Jakob Paludan: Jørgen Stein *
One of the three canonical Danish Bildungsromane (this, ‘Lykke-Per’, and ‘Niels Lyhne’), and a book that gets to the painful core of Danish existence, or any existence.
Jakob Paludan: Markerne Modnes
Nice that Mr Paludan was not a one-trick pony. On the other hand: with the standard he set for himself with ‘Jørgen Stein’, maybe he should have been?
Alan Parks: Bloody January
A new (to me) writer in the school of Scottish crime writing. Clearly, in the mould of McIlvanney and Rankin, and why not? That is a crowd to run with. Harry McCoy is a ‘rather bent’ copper, except he is not, not really (well: perhaps some, though) — but he is very troubled and travels in a dark and scary Glasgow, full of hard men and heavy drugs and barrels of booze. And pervy aristocrats and truly bent coppers and sad prostitutes. Yeah: the tradition continues and we have a gifted newcomer.
Alan Parks: Bobby March Will Live For Ever
Actually, McCoy does get under your skin, so I spent time during the summer rains (and the TdF being over) to continue the adventures of the ‘rather bent copper’. This one is about dead almost-rockstars, ex-partners you did not really know, corrupt police officers in high positions, and so on. Who can Harry trust? And a missing girl. Perhaps it is the case that not everything is tied up neatly as with, say, Agatha Christie, but it paints a dark portrait of a dingy, grimy, scary city with much rain and many pints of heavy.
Alan Parks: February's Son
I just had to proceed to the second entry in the series about troubled Harry McCoy. This one is just as fast-moving and utterly bleak as the first one as we follow McCoy stumbling through the alleys of Glasgow, drunk and high. But, you know, he solves the case. Sometimes even permanently. Still recommended, but do I note a slight lack of evolution? Will this end up being a series of ready-mades?
Alan Parks: May God Forgive
Alan Parks continues his impressive series. Glasgow: still gritty and dark. The crimes here are pretty gruesome, and — yet again — Parks and his detective are not very fond of the church, Catholic and otherwise.
Alan Parks: The April Dead
American sailors who are perhaps not what they seem to be, home-spun terrorists, corruption in high places, a McCoy beginning to feel the effects of a truly Scottish lifestyle, sectarianism and the dread of the ‘normal people’ when yet another instalment of The Old Firm brings Papists and Prods to the streets. McCoy has the ethos of many other lost detective souls — Harry Bosch, Jack Laidlaw, John Rebus — where while they themselves cut a corner or two, they do sincerely believe that either everybody counts, or nobody does.
Alan Parks: To Die in June
McCoy is becoming more and more of an isolated warrior for justice for all, even the ones nobody cares much about. And wherever he looks (and sometimes decides not to look) there is corruption and betrayal. Including, one might add, in his own dubious relationship with one Cooper is more and more indefensible.
Louise Penny: A Fatal Grace
Sure, I read the first 6 or 7 Inspecteur Gamache books. Lots of brie and baguette consumed, and lots of cosiness. But as the series moves on, things do get darker, and Ms Penny is not afraid of letting a good person really be a baddie. But perhaps they are also too monotonous in the longer run.
Sarah Perry: The Essex Serpent
Like: wow. What a debut. Gothic, spooky, Freudian (a serpent, hint-hint), and atmospheric.
Ellis Peters: Brother Cadfael series
Read a couple of the early volumes. Nice change of pace, and reasonably well researched. But really more Midsummer cosy than Medievally gory.
Robert M. Pirsig: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
It is something you typically read as a teenager or YA and do not really understand. Now I am not sure what there is to understand? But, hey: Pirsig and this protagonist are technical writers!
Henrik Pontoppidan: De dødes rige *
One of my favourite Danish novels. True: perhaps a doomed love story, but also a tapestry of Danish society just after 1900, where the author’s disillusion with what was accomplished by the final introduction of parliamentary democracy shines through. Dark and pessimistic, surely the work of an ageing, dispirited writer.
Henrik Pontoppidan: Lykke-Per
One of the three canonical Danish Bildungsromane, and from a writer I value very very much. But wonderful as this book is, I cannot help but think that ‘De dødes rige’ is the better book: more pessimistic and dark, and written by an older, resigned writer.
Jan Potocki: The Manuscript Found in Saragossa *
The whole story being this book is wild; and the yarn it spins is sublime. Hard to believer how old it really is. And how clever.
Terry Pratchett: Discworld
I tried. I guess I will never be a fan (read the first 2-3 volumes).
Terry Pratchett: The Colour of Magic
Well: my reading of Discworld ended after one volume. I guess life is too short?
Neil Price: The Children of Ash and Elm - A History of the Vikings
A very interesting summary of what we know (and do not know) about the Vikings. Indeed: interesting to see how queer and different they were, once you peel the Christian lens off and look at facts. And very well written.
Thomas Pynchon: Gravity's Rainbow
A book that makes Ulysses seem like a breeze. Not sure it is worth the effort, but the vision and the techniques are grand indeed.
Thomas Pynchon: Vineland
When Pynchon wants to be less esoteric, we get something like this. Sure, it is good, and if by any other writer it would be highly rated. But it being a Pynchon, we would expect a bit more.
Ian Rankin: A Song for the Dark Times
The beautiful thing about this — and any other instalment — of this Tartan Noir series is that the flawed hero gets older, fatter, and sicker and that the stories themselves follow the times and topics. (And this note also reflects that I have read every Goddamn tome in the series …) The best detectives do not spring into this world fully formed, they rather develop and mature and change, just like real human beings (also, think Wallander, Beck, and so forth). This one is as good as any other in this Magnum Opus of crime writing that is really social commentary only ever-so-slightly camouflaged. Also: not a whole lot of action. Rebus is just not in shape for that sort of thing.
Ian Rankin: Heart Full of Headstones
Latest (2022) part of the Rebus story. As we start this book, John is older, frailer, and not in a good place. I cannot really say a lot without spoiling it, but rest assured that the writing is as sadly poignant as ever and the plot sharpish. But that is not even the point, as you shall see if and when you go here.
Ian Rankin: The Rebus books *
What can I say? The Rebus books may be “police procedurals” but in reality, they are some of the finest realistic looks at life in Scotland.
Derek Raymond: He Died with His Eyes Open
Holy-moly: talk about a depressing read. But painfully well written.
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front
Did not know at the time that this is not considered very high-brow. But it is a strong anti-war statement and an interesting enough story.
Erich Maria Remarque: Arch of Triumph
So very sad and romantic. Also: makes you want to drink a lot of calvados.
Klaus Rifbjerg: Den Kroniske Uskyld *
The Danish ‘Catcher in the Rye’. Coming-of-age, with snakes in the paradise. A firm part of the canon.
Klaus Rifbjerg: Vejen Ad Hvilken
One of many. Probably fine, but do not remember clearly.
Graham Robb: The Discovery of France - A Historical Geography
Quite a conundrum. Clearly, Mr Robb has some experience with France, but it does not seem to be a loving affair. Judging from this book, France was — up until the years just before WWII — an underdeveloped swamp, populated by swarthy and barely literate midgets. It is a strange book. Postscript: My view is vindicated, it seems: Bicycle History — although, it seems, the “popular press”, especially in Blightey and the Anglosphere, liked it well enough: The Discovery of France. Hmmm: perhaps it simply certifies the prejudices they had anyway?
Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Erasers
Read it when I was just a wee one, and although I admired it, I don’t think I grasped the finer points.
Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Voyeur
Sort of a pastiche crime story, and as such probably very influential if you care to look. A fun read (strange thing to say).
Kim Stanley Robinson: Red Mars
As I don’t normally like SF as most f the authors seem to be male, libertarian nutters. Robinson is anything but, so I gave this a shot. Know what: it is still just SF. I mean: I admire the details and the research that clearly went into this. But it is, to me, numbingly dull.
Hans Rosling: Factfulness
Torn here: Rosling states what should be obvious, and gets abused by the Right (who cherry-pick) and ostracized by the Left (who read him wrong). But it sort of gets around to not much at all.
Philip Roth: American Pastoral *
Very inventive and so many twists and turns and general, American craziness and it is all there, and even in his dotage, Roth can write rings around most other writers — including a few Novel Prize winners.
Philip Roth: Goodbye, Columbus
Great fun, and a view into the neuroses of middle-class American-Jewish living that I would not have otherwise.
Philip Roth: Portnoy's Complaint“a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor,”. Who can get forget that piece of liver???
J. K. Rowling: Harry Potter series
Of course, I read the whole series.
Juan Rulfo: Pedro Paramo
For such a small book it sure has made a big impact. Central to the whole magical realism-thing.
Salman Rushdie: Midnight's Children
An incredible, kaleidoscopic, and slightly mad story. Not just a wee bit inspired by magical realism.
J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye *
Surely established in the canon of 20th-century litt — for very good reasons. Brillant.
Ole Sarvig: Den Sene Dag *
The elder statesman of Danish 20th century poetry. I don’t care much for the increasing level of religion that pops up across this career, but as a modern poet, he has few equals in Danish.
Hans Egede Schack: Phantasterne *
A rather odd person, and a rather strange book. Or maybe not: the author was a civil servant, engaged in liberal politics of the early phases of Danish democracy, and yet this book (only one published during his short lifespan) is not immediately political or realistic. It is an odd story: a trio of young men live a rich fantasy life, and some of the fantasies are fairly wild. It is also, perhaps, a story about how our youthful aspirations sometimes turn out. It surely provokes a lot of different opinions among reviewers.
Benito Scocozza: Feudalismen
My old lecturer at uni. A book about ‘feudalism’ from an awovedly Marxist-Leninist pont-of-view. What that that phrase again: ‘The poverty of theory’. There is little discernible theory here, and no engagement with the whole debate around feudalism, so, actually, a piss-poor book. But he was a nice chap.
Walter Scott: Ivanhoe
At least more and better calories than your standard pulp. Never a dull moment.
W. G. Sebald: The Rings of Saturn *
Very different from most other books you will read. Actually: hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about. But beautifully written, and you may want to read Thomas Browne and take a long walk.
Hubert Selby Jr.: Last Exit to Brooklyn
Probably the bleakest and most hopeless set of stories I can remember reading. Well, maybe not: but certainly bleak and depressing. And very well written.
Henryk Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis
Yadda, yadda. I was young and can be excused.
Henryk Sienkiewicz: Quo Vadis
Ouch. Reader, I read it. You don’t have to.
Robert Silverberg: The Book of Skulls
Sure, Silverberg is — it seems — a loony that used to be close to L. Ron. Neverminding that, this is a really worthwhile and slightly crazy read.
Georges Simenon: Maigret and the Headless Corpse
Because classic. And had not read for so long. Maigret is most certainly not an action hero, nor is he a hard-drinking loner with woman trouble. Quite au contraire. Welcome to a slower world, a grittier Paris, days of fog and rain, and very cheap white wine in dive bars in parts of Paris that are now flush with money and pretty things. Plus que all that changes.
Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö: The Martin Beck novels
They planned to write 10, and they did. Although not really Scandi noir, hugely influential as they made politically charged crime novels very visible and successful. All are good.
Tage Skou-Hansen: Den hårde frugt
Now, Mr Skou-Hansen has a rather peculiar place in Danish literature. Of the same generation, roughly, of a host of good writers that all started out after WWII, but being a provincial outsider and not ‘literary’ enough, so not remembered in the s<me way – which is a shame. This book is one of a loosely connected series but can easily be read on its own. The conversations and confrontations between the older well-intentioned lawyer and the young hothead rebel go places where much later Roth’s American Pastoral ventured.
Amalie Skram: Constance Ring
The woman who walks in circles constantly? Early feminist work, read it for a uni class.
Jens Smærup Sørensen: Mærkedage *
The author has been a constant in modern Danish literature for decades and he is still very relevant. At the beginning of his career, he did some experimenting with genres, but has settled into being a magnificent chronicler of Danish history and landscape, seen from a position in the hinterlands, and capable of creating coherent, sweeping vistas that run through several generations of characters.
Ali Smith: Autumn
I have only read this part of the quartet. It left me rather unimpressed and feeling that it is sleekly superficial. It ticks a lot of fashionable items, but there does not seem to be much emotional impact; on the other hand, it is not coldly intellectual, either. But I, at least, was not very engaged.
Martin Cruz Smith: Gorky Park
The first of a series, as it turned out, of Arkady Renko books. Well researched, believeable plots, and an atmospheric look at life behind the then curtain.
Jørgen Sonne: Natten i Rom
A school teacher, a translator, a graphical artist, and a poet, and slightly outside the in crowds of Danish litt. He wrote some novels, including this, which is a sensual and exciting book set among artists in Rome in the early 1800s. I remember it as being quite good — but it has been a long time.
Wole Soyinka: Aké
Warm description of a nice and safe childhood. And the food … makes you hungry.
John Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men
Required in junior high. But OK, and appeals to sensitive teenagers.
John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath
A perennial classic, and of course more for the contents than for being a path-breaking work of modernism.
John Steinbeck: The Winter of Our Discontent
I read it at a young age, and am not sure I fully understood it — other than it being somewhat pessimistic and bleak.
Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash
Although I am not at all into this genre, this story does have some merit to it; and the writing is exquisite: you most of all feel like you are being hurtled through a dark corridor, not knowing where you are heading, and why. And this is a good thing.
Robert Louis Stevenson: Kidnapped
Boom: action, swords, heroes, heroines. Good yarn.
Robert Louis Stevenson: The Black Arrow
There is something about old action stories such as this being so much better on the literary level than today’s crappy majority.
Robert Louis Stevenson: Treasure Island
Was so wonderfully entertaining and slightly scary when I was but a wee one.
Clifford Stoll: Cuckoo's Egg - Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
So long ago. Remember it as a cute real-life thriller, although Mr Stoll is a little full of himself.
Peter Straub: Ghost Story
Straub is, if anything, a professional writer. Wonder what he could do if he found the right material?
Peter Straub: Mystery
He is a good writer, but eternally in search of material that would flatter his talents.
August Strindberg: Det røde værelse *
A debut, no less. Breaking ground with realism and – most of all, perhaps – exquisitely modern language, Oh, and a band of very interesting characters. For a debut, surely a work of international class and standing.
August Strindberg: Folkene på Hemsö
Ok: the dear August. This is perhaps a more lightweight offering than some of his work, but it is, clearly, a humorous and realistic yarn. Note that it offended a lot of critics with being too much, too proletarian, too this and that. Today, it is just generally loved, and the basis of movies and TV series.
Michael Strunge: Unge Strunge
Yeah, OK: the early works of a central 1980s poet. Some good, some less so, and most interesting. Some revere him as a god, I am perhaps a little more reserved. And I was even there, then.
Graham Swift: Out of This World
No lasting impression. I have been more impressed by some of his other books.
Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels
Read it as a child and found it amusing. Probably did not really understand the finer points.
Jake Tapper: The Devil May Dance and The Hellfire Club
Yes, Mr. Tapper can write and he can think up interesting plots. But other than the various salacious titbits about actual, historical persons, there is a lot of unlikely action and a lot of ready-for-that-movie-or-tv-series situations. And I imagine that Tapper at some point studied James Ellroy rather closely?
Donna Tartt: The Goldfinch *
Fantastic. If you survive the first 50 pages you are in for a major treat.
Donna Tartt: The Secret History
Exciting and wacky, but not at the level of the goldfinch.
Hervé le Tellier: The Anomaly
Perhaps not “hi-brow” as such, but beautifully inventive and has a nice surprise at the very end that puts everything in the story in a slightly different perspective. Highly recommended and very entertaining while also provoking a thought or two.
Paul Theroux: The Mosquito Coast
I remember it as being entertaining — but not Earth-shattering. Theroux is certainly an accomplished writer, but sometimes you might wonder why he is writing?
Dylan Thomas: Collected Poems
Of course, I did not read every single one, but hits are really hits in old Dylan.
Dylan Thomas: Collected Poems
Of course, I did not read every single one, but hits are really hits in old Dylan.
E. P. Thompson: The Making of the English Working Class *
As history writing goes, this is path-breaking and breathtaking.
Hunter S. Thompson: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
If nothing else, very entertaining in that over-the-top way.
Søren Ulrik Thomsen: City Slang & Ukendt under den samme måne *
The voice of a generation: these two rather slender tomes restarts Danish poetry.
Søren Ulrik Thomsen: Nye Digte *
An audacious title for a watershed of a book in Danish poetry and in Mr Thomsen’s career: after this, his slide into some form of religiosity makes him much less interesting to me. The best poems in this here volume are crisp, taut diamonds of the Danish language.
Rupert Thomson: Air and Fire
Set in the blazing heat of Baja, a complex story about engineering, and love, and trust, and such.
Rupert Thomson: Dreams of Leaving
A remarkable alternate story: slow-burning, but as you realize what is going on, it gets quite creepy.
Rupert Thomson: The Five Gates of Hell *
In my mind, Thomson is vastly underestimated. While he is a magnificent wordsmith, he also tackles deep and troubling issues. As in this American dystopian necropolis.
Kirsten Thorup: Baby
An early one, not set in a semi-rural locale like some of her later, but in the harsh reality of Vesterbro in Copenhagen, many years before gentrification. A view from the bottom.
Kirsten Thorup: Den Lange Sommer
Continuing ‘Lille Jonna’ and again showing that ‘social realism’ in the hands of such a skilled writer can be lucent and beautiful and illuminating. All at the same time.
Kirsten Thorup: Himmel og helvede
Wonderful, semi-magic realism (!) set in the Vesterbro neighbourhood of Copenhagen long before natural wine bars and small plates. As a monument over a now-vanished grey and gritty city, it is immensely valuable. But more importantly: all that as a side-effect of just being a really good story.
Kirsten Thorup: Lille Jonna
Warm and sweetly nostalgic realism about a girl growing up in the outlying areas in the 1970s. But if that is all you got out of it, you may want to try one more time?
E. M. W. Tillyard: The Elizabethean World Picture
Erudite. I read for a class but ended up writing my paper about something else.
Olga Tokarczuk: The Books of Jacob *
Enormous, erudite, and intriguing. You will want to walk the streets of Smyrna in the evening in the summer heat and drink the strong wine and hear Jakob talk and talk and talk. Time moves slowly, very slowly, and then accelerates. This Polish-Jewish-Catholic-German-Whatever world is ever expanding and full of promise, and death, but Yente is probably still around. My advice? Read it, and see for yourself.
Alice B. Toklas: The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook
Well, it is cookbook but it is not just a reference work. Sure, it is dated but that is part of the charm: it captures a lost and more innocent world, and the fine but not pretentious cooking of well-to-do French homes around 1900-1950. And, of course, Ms Toklas is not only an excellent writer of recipes as well as of anecdotes: she rubbed shoulders with the clever and beautiful people of the period, so she had a few things to blather about.
J R R Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings
What to say? Read as a young teenager, read again later. Sure: flawed, sentimental, maybe racist, surely conservative. Also heroic and entertaining and a damn good yarn.
J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit
A fine prequel. In some ways — because it is shorter and more concentrated — at least the equal of the Rings.
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina *
It is very long, and there are a lot of characters, and in essence, it is ‘just’ a tragic love story. It is also among the finest novels ever written.
Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace *
Probably the best novel I ever read (as in more than once). Stiff competition from the Brother, but in the end: there is little more to say. I shall read it once again soon.
John Kennedy Toole: A Confederacy of Dunces *
One of the funniest books I ever read. Laugh-out-loud stuff (so take care where you read it. Or not.) Strangely: when I wanted to read it again some time after my first round, it seemed funny — I expect the novelty has worn off.
Michel Tournier: The Golden Droplet
Some of Tornier’s other books are quite inventive: this one is slightly pedestrian.
Scott Turow: Presumed Innocent
The first in a now seemingly endless series of well-done legal thrillers. No better nor worse than anything else in this genre.
Leon Uris: Exodus
Why did I actually read this? I was young, so that must be my excuse.
Erik Valeur: Det Syvende Barn
Very long, very professional thriller with a twisted plot and speedy writing. But very long, as I said, and not something that has not been done a million times before.
Jonathan Valin: Harry Stoner series
For some obscure reason, I read a couple of these. Very, very dated; and speckled with obscure right-wing outbursts.
Fred Vargas: Commissaire Adamsberg series
Eccentric detective, weird stories, and good writing.
Mario Vargas Llosa: Captain Pantoja and the Special Service
Cute, light-weight, titillating.
Jules Verne: Around the World in 80 Days
Was a very riveting read for a young teenager. Wonder what I would feel today?
Gore Vidal: Hollywood
I know I am supposed to find Vidal brilliant — but he just does not do much for me.
Christopher Vogler: The Writer's Journey
So, Vogler wrote the memo that made Disney use a framework based on Joseph Campbell-s hero journey and later expanded the memo into this. For a certain form of fiction (and perhaps even other narratives) it is clearly a useful and successful framework. Whether it is universal and cross-cultural is another matter.
Christopher Vogler: The Writer's Journey
An interesting adaptation of Joseph Campbell’s theories. Proven success in the movie business, so there is that.
Jacques Werup: Tiden i Malmø
Well-known Swedish musician and poet. There are good things here.
Kjell Westö: Tritonus
We follow famous conductor Thomas Brander as he struggles with ageing, his #MeToo-past catching up, living alone, his fraught relationships with neighbours and offspring, and so on. Wonderful to read a novel that takes classical music seriously, and for that alone, I would recommend it. On the other hand: Brander is not exactly that interesting so there is that.
Tara Westover: Educated - A Memoir
I think Prez Obama recommended this? Anyways: a thrilling memoir of growing up against all odds in a family that belongs to a Mormon splinter group. Absolutely crazy things happen, and if you ever wondered where the cray in America is: look no further. Perhaps it also explains where the MAGA voters came from.