Top Ten Tuesday is a feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Here’s a subjective summary of the top ten best books I have read so far this year. For full reviews of each of these titles, check out my Goodreads account.
- Hannah Arendt The Banality of Evil
Blurb: Sparking a flurry of heated debate, Hannah Arendt’s authoritative and stunning report on the trial of German Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann first appeared as a series of articles in The New Yorker in 1963. (…) A major journalistic triumph by an intellectual of singular influence, Eichmann in Jerusalem is as shocking as it is informative – an unflinching look at one of the most unsettling (and unsettled) issues of the twentieth century.
If you haven’t read it, go ahead and do so now. It is an incredible book.
- Joseph Conrad Under Western Eyes
Blurb: First published in 1911, Under Western Eyes traces the experiences of Razumov, a young Russian student of philosophy who is uninvolved in politics or protest. Against his will he finds himself caught up in the aftermath of a terrorist bombing directed against the Tsarist authorities. He is pulled in different directions – by his conscience and his ambitions, by powerful opposed political forces, but most of all by personal emotions he is unable to suppress. Set in St Petersburg and Geneva, the novel is in part a critical response to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (…) Through the ‘Western eyes’ of Conrad’s English narrator, Razumov’s story forces the reader to confront the same moral issues: the defensibility of terrorist resistance to tyranny, the loss of individual privacy in a surveillance society, and the demands thrown up by the interplay of power and knowledge.
A great book. Basically Conrad arguing with Dostoevsky “So you think you know what a moral dilemma is? Seriously? Let me show you how it’s done.”
- Christopher de Hamel Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts
Blurb: This is a book about why medieval manuscripts matter. Coming face to face with an important illuminated manuscript in the original is like meeting a very famous person. We may all pretend that a well-known celebrity is no different from anyone else, and yet there is an undeniable thrill in actually meeting and talking to a person of world stature(…)
Part travel book, part detective story, part conversation with the reader, Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art in our culture which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible. At the end, we have a slightly different perspective on history and how we come by knowledge.
It’s a fascinating read for all those with a soft spot for the middle ages,
4.Marlon James A Brief History of Seven Killings
Blurb: Seven gunmen storm Bob Marley’s house, machine guns blazing. The reggae superstar survives, but the gunmen are never caught (…) Spanning three decades and crossing continents, A Brief History of Seven Killings chronicles the lives of a host of unforgettable characters – slum kids, one-night stands, drug lords, girlfriends, gunmen, journalists, and even the CIA. Gripping and inventive, ambitious and mesmerising, A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of the most remarkable and extraordinary novels of the twenty-first century.
A beautifully written tale of drug-wars, gangs and twentieth-century Jamaica. Marlon James is one of the most important voices in contemporary fiction.
5.Virginia Woolf’s Selected Essays.
Blurb: According to Virginia Woolf, the goal of the essay ‘is simply that it should give pleasure…It should lay us under a spell with its first word, and we should only wake, refreshed, with its last.’ One of the best practitioners of the art she analysed so rewardingly, Woolf displayed her essay-writing skills across a wide range of subjects, with all the craftsmanship, substance, and rich allure of her novels.
‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’, which is an essay about the art of seeing and observing everyday life in London, was my particular favourite.
- Margot Lee Shetterley’s Hidden Figures
Blurb: Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets and astronauts into space.
Among these problem solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation.
Some people prefer the film to the book, but I am not one of them. An inspiring and meticulously researched account of the African American women working in the US Space programme.
- Henry James The Awkward Age
Blurb: Making her debut in London society, Nanda Brookenham is being groomed for the marriage market. Thrust suddenly into the superficial and immoral circle that surrounds her mother, the innocent but independent-minded young woman even finds herself in competition with Mrs Brookenham for the affection of the man she admires. Only an elderly bachelor, Mr Longdon, is immune to this world of greed and scheming, and determines to rescue Nanda from its corrupting influences out of loyalty to the deep love he once felt for her grandmother.
To be savoured for Henry James’s remarkable gift for dialogue.
- Kate Fox Watching the English
Blurb: In “Watching The English” anthropologist Kate Fox takes a revealing look at the quirks, habits and foibles of the English people. She puts the English national character under her anthropological microscope, and finds a strange and fascinating culture, governed by complex sets of unspoken rules and byzantine codes of behaviour. The rules of weather-speak. The ironic-gnome rule. The reflex apology rule. The paranoid-pantomime rule. Class indicators and class anxiety tests. The money-talk taboo and many more…
It features plenty practical tips for dealing with the English. Good for dipping into, not as good for a linear read.
- Zośka Papużanka On
A story of an autistic boy growing up in socialist Kraków, filled with allusions to Polish literature a culture. Probably untranslateable, but if you do read Polish, check it out.
- Elżbieta Cherezińska Harda Królowa
As yet untranslated into English, this is a historical fantasy saga about Sigrid the Haughty, daughter of the Polish Prince Mieszko. She struggles between love, family duty and an overwhelming longing for power. The book features a charismatic heroine and a fascinating historical background. It needs to get a translator, and possibly its own Netflix series. It’s a version of ‘Game of Thrones’ set in medieval Europe.