Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My 2013 in Books

Borrowed from The Little Professor and adapted, because I clearly don't read nearly enough detective/spy fiction despite really enjoying the genre. Hers is also better than mine because I really failed to read enough for pleasure this year. Something to aspire to in 2014. At the same time, I left out my heavy-duty academic reading because I'm too far in the thick of finishing my book manuscript for it to be fun in quite the same way. (I love my research, but...) I may update this a little bit throughout the day as there were a few other categories I was considering including. Anyway, happy reading in 2014, all!

Favorite academic novel:

The Evolution of Inanimate Objects: The Life and Collected Works of Thomas Darwin by Harry Karlinsky

Most disappointing petering out of a series of academic novels about German philologists:

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil by Alexander McCall Smith

Series that started out sublime but collapsed under the weight of its own metaphors:
The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis

Historical novel set in medieval Spain that could potentially be so bad that it's been sitting on my nightstand since I bought it but haven't quite been able to bring myself to crack the cover:

The Guide of the Perplexed by Dara Horn

Historical novels set in/reflecting on medieval Spain that I'm excited to swap into this round of my "Al-Andalus in Modern Fiction" course:
The Conquest of Andalusia by Jurji Zaydan; Days of Awe by Achy Obejas.

Historical novel set in medieval Spain that is sufficiently problematic that I've swapped it out of this round of my "Al-Andalus in Modern Fiction" course:
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Favorite novels by Arab authors:

ḤWJN by Ibrahim Abbas, Arabic, banned in Saudi Arabia; Guf sheni yaḥid (Second-Person Singular), Sayed Kashua, Hebrew.

Favorite graphic novel:

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins
(Also favorite book lugged back from the United Kingdom in my suitcase. Also-also favorite book about a giant beard that was evil.)

Graphic novel that most horrifyingly appropriates medieval characters to serve modern religio-political purposes that would have been antithetical to them:

Rabbeinu Shmuel Hanagid by Aryeh Mahr and Esteve Polls

Graphic novel with a surprisingly wonderful, nuanced presentation of religious history:

The Rabbi’s Cat, vols. 1-2, by Johann Sfar

Graphic novels I found on the give-away/book-swap table in the basement of my apartment building:

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel; Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan; The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey (There was one other, but it just ended up kicking around my apartment so I put it back and it was clearly so memorable that I've forgotten what it was...)

Best use of the ‘I found a manuscript!’ framing device:
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
(Also best reworking of Shakespeare. Also-also book I started reading almost fully two years ago when it first came out, misplaced my copy, and only just finished it now.)

Worst use of the ‘I found a manuscript!’ framing device:

A Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Cohello

Because somehow removing all references to detective fiction seemed wrong, given the original contents of the original list/Literary pop culture mass delusion in which I willingly participated:
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling

Books I read this year about museums I visited this year/Real-life obsessional private-eye tale/Best art crime book/Needed to include more detectives on this list:
The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Bossier

Books about famous books I've seen in museum exhibitions:

Thomas Jefferson's Qur'ān by Denise Spellberg

Books about books (general category):

In Praise of Copying by Marcus Boon; Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby; Fragments and Assemblages by Arthur Bahr; Textual Situations by Andrew Taylor.

History of Jews in random and unexpected places:

When General Grant Expelled the Jews by Jonathan Sarna; The Mauritian Shekel by Genevieve Pitot (nobody who knows me in real life is allowed to give me a hard time about having read this).

History of Muslims in random and unexpected places:
Prince Among Slaves by Terry Alford

Books currently in my bathroom that normal people don't keep in their bathrooms:
Maimonides: Life and Thought by Moshe Halbertal; Meditaciones del Quijote by José Ortega y Gasset

Academic book a student couldn't read because the title was so ridiculous:
Shards of Love: Exile and the Origins of the Lyric.  Or so the student informed me.  

Worst prose in any novel assigned for class:
The English translation of López de Gómara's General History of the West Indies. So impenetrable that I took mercy on my freshmen and told them to skip it.

Best novel reread for a course:

Don Quijote

I have not managed to stop this trend:
Argh! When I first read LP's list, I thought of something spot-on for this category, but it has since left my brain. I'm sure I'll think of it. Round about February. Clearly I have also not managed to stop the trend of me completely losing my mind.
Book I read in the theory-freakout fugue aftermath of the chair of my department telling me: “You're doing very theoretically sophisticated work, but you blanch any time anyone says the word ‘theory’ to you”:
The Monolingualism of the Other by Jacques Derrida

Works of theory that are more my speed that I read once stopped freaking out about theory: How to Do Things with Fictions by Joshusa Landy; On Literary Worlds by Eric Hayot; Against World Literature by Emily Apter; Dark Tongues by Daniel Heller-Roazan

Books I'm reading as I try to come up with a better answer for when people ask me what my academic discipline is:
The Logics of History by William Sewell, Jr.; Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts by Sam Wineburg. (See also: previous category.)

Groupings of books I'd like to write review essays of as blog posts, but haven't gotten my act together:
Grouping 1: Acting in the Night: Macbeth and the Places of the Civil War by Alexander Nemerov; Milton and the Manuscript of De Doctrina by Gordon Campbell, et al.; A Most Dangerous Book by Christopher Krebs; and the much-maligned The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.
Grouping 2: The Forgetting River by Doreen Carvajal; Al-Andalus Rediscovered by Marvine Howe; Abrahamic Religions: On the Uses and Abuses of History by Aaron Hughes; and Inheriting Abraham by Jon Levenson.

Best massive discounts from Amazon:
Cambridge Companion to Textual Scholarship; A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations

Most antiquarian acquisition:

Facsimile edition of the Sarajevo Haggadah

Out-of-print books acquired through ABE:
War Reporter by Dan O'Brien; The It-Doesn't-Matter Suit by Sylvia Plath

Book I was most relieved to remember that I own after I forgot I owned it, looked it up in the NYU library catalogue, and realized it was going to be seriously difficult to get my hands on a library copy by the time I needed to have read it:
Rethinking Medieval Translation, eds. Emma Campbell and Robert Mills

Largest single acquisition:
I inherited a large chunk of a former professor's library. Currently in boxes in my front hall. In addition to reading more for pleasure, my big book goal for 2014 is going to be to catalogue those and figure out where to shelve them.

Final book-listing task for 2013:
The bibliography for an article that's due tomorrow and will be submitted tomorrow, come Hell or high explosives.

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