Top titles from a year of reading
Hend arrives in the US having fled Egypt and a failed relationship. With her is her eight-year-old son, along with her literary ambitions. As the boy begins to rebel, Hend feels increasingly old – she is in her late 30s – and invisible. The theme is displacement, and the tone is one of candid vulnerability.
By Will Self (Bloomsbury)
A London postmodernist novel that makes as many nods to Thomas Pynchon as it does to Joyce and Woolf, this a fun book, endearingly self-satisfied. It is difficult not to enjoy its tricks and bravura flourishes.
Tell the Wolves I’m Home
By Carol Rifka Brunt (Macmillan)
The candid debut by this New York-born, Devon-based writer, about a young girl’s relationship with her dying uncle, is told with such beguiling intimacy that you can anticipate her thoughts and be genuinely concerned about the outcome.
Caspar David Friedrich
By Johannes Grave (Prestel)
Aside from being a majestic-looking volume, with superb reproductions, Grave’s insightful monograph offers an intense scholarly reading of the work of one of the towering figures of German Romanticism. He responds to the paintings with restrained passion and a sense of the cultural traditions that shaped Friedrich, including the friendship with Goethe that he later rejected.
Roads to Berlin
By Cees Nooteboom, translated by Laura Watkinson (MacLehose Press)
A prevailing literary presence in the Netherlands, Nooteboom writes fiction with a metaphysical allure, and his travel writing and essays are invariably insightful. Roads to Berlin is a series of essays chronicling his lifelong engagement with German culture.
The Book of Barely Imagined Beings
By Caspar Henderson (Granta)
Here is the key to nature’s secret cupboard, featuring the animals that have eluded our gaze. Seek no further for the dream gift.
More Lives Than One: A Biography of Hans Fallada
By Jenny Williams (Penguin)
This outstanding study of Fallada is essential reading for anyone with an interest in a complex German master. First published in 1998, it has been revised and updated by Williams, who has had subsequent access to a further 6,000 letters. Fallada had many problems in life, many of his own making, but he has been fortunate in his biographer.
Portrait of a Novel
By Michael Gorra (Norton)
The US literary scholar traces the path that led Henry James to the publication of The Portrait of a Lady, in 1883, and beyond. Gorra’s admiration for one of James’s most beloved works makes this slightly novelistic study irresistible.
The Golden Age of Botanical Art
By Martyn Rix (André Deutsch and Kew Gardens)
This spectacular, informative and important book combines a history of the evolution of botanical art with the riches of the Kew library collection of prints.
Cézanne: A Life
By Alex Danchev (Profile)
The author of Georges Braque (2005), Danchev looks to Cézanne in this scholarly, hugely engaging study of an artist known for his direct approach in dealing with people. Cézanne the individual strides out of the pages, attitude and all – as does his art.
A Journey to Nowhere
By Jean-Paul Kauffmann, translated by Euan Cameron (MacLehose Press)
An allusive personal quest tracing a lost romance develops into a seductively exciting historical exploration of a country that no longer exists. Dominated by empty manor houses, Courland is now part of Latvia, and Kauffmann is the ideal literary detective.
The Old Ways
By Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton) Macfarlane follows ancient tracks and forgotten roads in a magical book that travels through cultures and histories as well as the physical world. Edward Thomas is present, as is a very powerful sense of England. But so too is the influence of WG Sebald.
By Kathleen Jamie (Sort of Books)
Less self-aware than Macfarlane, Jamie responds to the natural world with an individual, often humorous approach.
The Dirtiest Race in History
By Richard Moore (Bloomsbury)
In an exciting investigation, Moore provides an insider’s guide to the ugly reality of Ben Johnson’s 1988 Olympic disgrace and the wider travesty of drug abuse in sport.
By Elizabeth Gille, translated by Marina Harss (New York Review Books)
An unnervingly enlightening and revealing study of Irène Némirovsky written as the imagined autobiography she never wrote, by a stranger who was also her daughter. Gille was five when her mother died.
The Scientists: An Epic of Discovery
Edited by Andrew Robinson (Thames Hudson)
From Copernicus to Hubble, Linnaeus to Darwin, this fascinating book resounds with those words Isaac Newton once wrote in a letter to Robert Hook: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” This is a book of – and for – life.