Reads

Art Garfunkel Lists 1195 Books He Read Over 45 Years. I am not quite there, and I am reconstructing my reading list retrospectively — where some entries go back a couple of decades.

  1. Don Winslow: City on fire

    The well-written first volume in what should become a trilogy about Irish and Italian gangsters slugging it out in Providence, RI. Interesting set of characters, and good insights into mob culture and the changing legal and cultural landscape in which the gangs operate, but ultimately young Danny Ryan is too one-dimensional. Winslow does not quite pull off the trick of making Danny a crook that we harbour some sympathy for, up to a point (à la Walter White).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 endeavor and novel writing, this is very, very highly ranked and recommended.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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 story teller and moral voice.

  11. 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 impropable action hero? Jeez, Louise.

  12. 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.

  13. Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone

    Wonderfully entertaning Gothic crime caper.

  14. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White

    Also wonderfully entertaining Gothic crime caper.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

    Wonderful and multifaceted book about revolutions and capitalism and unlikely heroes and the Latim American reality. And a very thrilling read, and entertaining while still “literature”.

  18. 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 gripiing than, say, Kavalier and Clay as we always know it is a sort-of fantasy. Still.

  19. 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.

  20. 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 quintessenial trouble 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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 out midst is predating Harry Potter and Susanna Clarke.

  24. Neil Price: The Children of Ash and Elm - A History of the Vikings

    A very intersting summary of what we know (and not know) about the Vikings. Indeed: interesting to see hoq queer and different they were, once you peel the Christian lens off and look at facts. And very well written.

  25. Patricia Cornwell: Scarpetta

    The Scarpetta books (I have read a few) are nice (1) becuae they a female protagonist, (2) the forensic detals are exact, (3) there is no three?. In fact, they are pretty boring in the long run.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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.

  30. Laura Wilson: The innocent spy & An empty death

    Ted Stratton is the unusual detective in an English crime novel: working-class, devoted family man, smart, painfully aware of the class society in which he has been cast. And the books are well-researched (they are set during WWII) and you can almost see and smell the darkened streets and the petty and not so petty crimes Stratton must deal with.

  31. 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 coziness. But as the series move 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.

  32. 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.

  33. Caleb Carr: The Alienist

    Thrilling and well-researched, and an accurate, fictional (!) portrait of New York anno dazumal.

  34. Caleb Carr: The Angel of Darkness

    More of same, but somehow less succesful.

  35. 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?

  36. 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).

  37. Italo Calvino: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

    Metafiction at its best. Calvino writes circles around the majority of the yonger postmodernists. Very good.

  38. Mick Herron: Slough House

    What is not to love about a farting, vulgar spy master partly in disgrace and surrounded by a number of mitfits and fiascos? And make it dark comedy, please? This is very entertaining and certainly worth it, and now also a TV series, it seems.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. Bill Bryson: I’m a Stranger Here Myself - Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away

    More dark and slightly more bitter than hin other back-to-America book. But trying to be polite and non-political in that very NPR way is stiffling someting that could have been a dark omen of the years to come in America. It does not quite get there.

  42. 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, at the end, still somewhat jolly. Probably not worth reading.

  43. Frans G. Bengtsson: The Long Ships

    Vikings! So very funny. I probably read it when I was 10? Perhaps time for a reread.

  44. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude

    The first “serious” novel that knocked me off my feet. Must have read 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 it own children, in the end? It is still a monument of literature.

  45. G K Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday

    Not particulary funny or good or well written.

  46. Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove

    Perhaps the cutest feel-good book ever? I adore it. The movie not bad eithet.

  47. 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.

  48. 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 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.

  49. Jon McGregor: Reservoir 13

    This is a brilliant. The stereotypical mystery: cute, blond girl disappears. Many suspects. Tension. And yet, and yet: that is not the point, at all. Wonderful.

  50. 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.

  51. Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian

    Quite possibly the single most terrying novel I have read. Perhaps you can understand a lot about the American mind and the prospensity for violende from reading it? It is, of course, utterly nihilistic and pointless what happens, but it stays with you for a long time.

  52. 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 virtuoustic stylistic experiment? Nevertheless, I should probably return one day and give it all another try Or maybe not.

  53. 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.

  54. David Mark: DS Aector McAvoy

    I read some of the series. Interesting characters: the Highland detective hooks up wth the sexy Gipsy girl. Reasoanbly 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.

  55. Denise Mina: Garnethill

    A very good trilogy: interesting and unusla chracters (to say the least), an intriguing environment, and inventive story lines. A very nice break from the common mould of these crime stories — but still also very Tartan Noir. Really recommended.

  56. 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 gve the TV adaptation a try?

  57. 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.

  58. Jim Crace: Arcadia

    Jim Crace is one of my favorite authors, and this is major opus. He may be “odl fashioned” is 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 books 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. This 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 no way a political pamphlet.

  59. Jim Crace: Being Dead

    Death, bereavement, after life (but not religoulos). A later work in the Crace canon, and a more introverted voice. A always: recommended, highly.

  60. Jim Crace: Continent

    His debut. 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.

  61. 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 metaphorfor Blighthy under the rule of That Woman. But that is not even important to know for reading the book.

  62. 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 literatr 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.

  63. 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 inspiration the currently on-going war in Ukraine would have given him? Meanwhile: this is yet another wonderful read.

  64. John le Carré: 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%).

  65. 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 is has a lot more to tell about than you cozy village murder caper does.

  66. 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 is does have a really, really exiting plot and plot twists: but it is 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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.

  70. Carl Hiaasen: Squeeze Me

    Standard 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.

  71. 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). Nevermind 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.

  72. Colson Whitehead: Harlem Shuffle

    Excellent. On the surface, almost a pastiche of somebody like Chester Himes, but given that Whitehead writes about the past, however recent, we must assume that he has picked out the themes of which he writes with 20/20 hindsight? Indeed, it is a sweeping social history in the guide of a crime thriller, or a crime thriller in the guise of social history. And he is some marvelous writer, always.

  73. 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.

  74. 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 slightl different perspecitve. Highly recommended and very entertaining while also provoking a through or two.

  75. 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, 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.

  76. 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 unlikley action and a lot of ready-for-that-movie-or-tv-series situations. And I imagine that Tapper at some point studier James Ellroy rather closely?

  77. 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: 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?

  78. Johannes Krause: A short history of humanity

    A nice and not too technical walkthrough of recent progress in using DNA in archeology and anthropology and thus widening our idea of where we came from significantly. Well written, and with a lot of humor that the stereotype says Germans do not have? Makes you wonder what Mr Krause’s DNA shows and whether he is really German?

  79. 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.