The Best and Worst of 2022

Dear readers and friends, it’s been ages. What can I say? Work, obligation, and plain old fatigue. I’ve read a lot, but haven’t felt inspired to write about any of it. I haven’t read much romance, though a recent read, Mimi Matthews’s “A Holiday By Gaslight,” by no means stellar, but comforting in that finely-written-lovely-protags-way Matthews has, will see me mix romance into the reading pool again. I’m glad: I’ve missed its hope in life and love.

I read mediocre books, great books, and forgettable books: it’s been a good reading year, not a terribly good blogging one. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction, in English and French, novels, histories, and memoirs. You won’t see a best rom of the year because I needed a break from the genre, but hope to offer some romance reviews in 2023. Here are some of the books you might want, with holiday reading time hopefully at a maximum, to try. If you follow me on Goodreads (my sole SM indulgence these days, with the rom-fun Twitter days ne’er to return) some might sound familiar.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, a reread that was even better this third time ’round. As wonderful and perfect a novel as I remembered reading for the first time in grad school. Margaret and John are perfectly-matched in ethos and demeanor as two romance novel leads ought to be, fraught, attracted, and confused: his taciturn stoicism to her dignified virtue, his hidden virtues to her pride, and their palpable attraction in the middle of it. Gaskell’s secondary characters are as perfect (especially the union organizer, Nicholas Higgins) as her conflict, immersed as it is in questions of what kind of society we want to live in, how to serve justice and mercy, how to act for the collective good and express the self’s aspirations and desires. Rewatched the series too: didn’t do much for me, Armitage is marvelous, but Denby-Ashe is wooden (more “chin”, less gawping).  I’m presently reading Wives and Daughters and loving it (I’m also a fan-girl of Mary Barton and Ruth.)

Amor Towles’s A Gentleman in Moscow My GR reviews says it all and if you’d like to read further, the title links to the blog-post: “An absolutely wonderful book about a man who is both clever and kind, who navigates heartache with good cheer and happiness with élan. He is unflappable, adaptable, living by a code of conviviality and human goodness. When evil enters his life, as it does inevitably in everyone’s, he outwits it, not without price, one he pays willingly and without self-deception.” In retrospect, Towles’s novel is the only one to give me the feeling I get from great romance: hope in humanity and trust in love’s possibilities.

Tana French’s The Likeness  I’m grateful to have discovered French’s sophistication and originality in crime fiction. The disorienting brilliance of The Likeness brings into question what we think we know about the self. Read it. Again, the title links to the blog-post.

Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast A caustic novel of genius: what crime fiction does best, throw light on the innocent and bring justice to evil. It’s clever, engrossing, and deeply moral. My GR gushes: “Utterly superb, deceptively simple, incredibly complex…a true morality tale, on the scale of medieval morality plays; the good are rewarded; evil; punished. Yet the characters are not allegorically flat as in A=Pride. They’re fully-fleshed and worthy of our attention and care. There is a fascinating Christian-message undercurrent, a metaphor of the wedding guest answering the Master’s call to come to the wedding feast. But Kennedy is too good a writer to write in a “master”: there’s a call, there’s innocence, purity, and love and, for some, there isn’t. There are goats and sheep, but the meek do inherit the earth; there is even a redemption arc. Kennedy leaves just enough doubt that the ending isn’t as neat as at first appears. Don’t dawdle, read it now.

Laurent Binet’s HHhH and Eric Vuillard’s L’ordre du jour I didn’t lump these two titles together because they’re derivative, but because they represent something new: the perfect melding of history and novel. I absolutely loved them: one of my problems with lit-fic is its inability to express a discernible theme. Binet and Vuillard do this very thing, fearlessly, brilliantly, and in a hugely entertaining fashion. Binet also manages a self-deprecating humour, which places him, IMHO, a cut above Vuillard. My GR review of Binet: “A remarkable “novel”, though the narrator grapples with what makes a novel? What is history? My initial thought: best novel of banked anger I’ve ever read. Still processing, will write more on my blog eventually.” Never managed that blog-post, but the novel resonates. My GR review of Vuillard: “A remarkable narrative account (not a novel, not a history, something hybrid and original); Vuillard’s voice is suppressed anger over the machinations of the powerful over the ignorant and weak. Collusion between money and power was and is a historical scourge. To say I couldn’t put this down may be puzzling, but Vuillard’s voice carried me through.” I read Binet and Vuillard in French, but English translations are available. The HHhH title links to the blog-post, which includes a Tortoise and Hare review.

Elizabeth Jenkins’s The Tortoise and the Hare Though I was enthralled with this at the time of reading, it hasn’t stayed with me as much as Kennedy’s Feast. Jenkins’s novel is more character study, though brilliant and definitely worthy to be on this list. My GR review is brief and not terribly helpful, but here it is: “As remarkable and enigmatic a novel as you’re ever likely to read.” I suggest reading the link to HHhH.

Jo Baker’s Longbourn Not as good in retrospect as my initial reading, but still a fine companion to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Thankfully, it doesn’t retell, but adds a narrative layer, putting P&P‘s aristocratic characters in the background and bringing its downstairs’ denizens into sharp and loving focus. Nevertheless, it is that final not-so-happy-glimpse of Lizzie and Darcy that haunts me. The title links to the blog-post.

William Golding’s The Inheritors Reading Golding’s novel was sheer torture and I slogged through it over several summer weeks. I may have even cheated and read some crime fiction to break up his relentless convoluted attempt to represent the Neanderthals’ pre-conscious state. Did he succeed? Could he have? I’m not sure. What I do know: his attempt is either laughably ludicrous, or brilliantly perceptive and important. I hated every second of it, yet can’t shake it off. My GR review: “Truly a remarkable book: I loved and hated it. The first half was dense and slow-moving, near-incomprehensible, at least for me, who has trouble visualizing descriptions, impenetrable. But I saw what Golding tried to do, attempt to put into words a people without language and what I guess we would call a pre-consciousness state. He succeeded and made Finnegans Wake look “easy”…not really, but I can see where they strangely intersect. I made it to the end of The Inheritors, however, which I can’t say for old Finnegan. My strategy was to get into the rhythm of the language as opposed to trying to understand what was happening. However, when the Neanderthal encounter Homo sapiens, things fell into place and, by the end, Golding’s familiar “lord of the flies” themes emerged: our sinful nature, our fallen-ness, our need to propitiate an evil that actually lies within, our inability to achieve redemption. The novel’s second half was compelling because things as they are NAMED appeared, albeit, in “riddle form”, as the Neanderthal perceive them (example, the Neanderthal see a “snake” disciplining a sailboat crew, which, one realizes, is a whip). The novel has twelve chapters, the first eleven of which we spend in the non-individuated, non-verbal Neanderthal “mind” (the final ironically twisted chapter, with echoes of Flies, we are, finally, in familiar territory: sticks are sharpened and our re-enactment of the Cain-Abel curse of murder and hatred is, sadly, all too close). Things click for the reader in this final chapter, because, ironically, “it’s just us” (as Simon says to the boys in Flies), jealousies, resentments, the evils of property and power, there they are, laid out in this strange encounter with innocence. Oh, this is not the Blakean “little lamb” business (which I love, btw, but it’s the bright tiger which makes for vibrant poetry). The Neanderthal are “innocent” because they are without norms because they are without the necessity of circumscribing behaviour, property-less, non-individuated, and non-verbal. It’ll be interesting to consider Golding’s novel when I read Rebecca Wragg Sykes’ Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art.” 

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Blue Remembered Hills: A Recollection As lovely and “easy” a read (because of my wallowing enjoyment) as Golding’s Inheritors wasn’t. Sutcliff’s memoir is warm and happy, despite her incredible challenges, full of life and possibility and enjoyment of the best things: beauty in nature, sensibility in reading, comfort, friendship, and purpose. I’m going to unashamedly “plug” the Slightly Foxed edition I read. My GR’s thoughts: “One of the loveliest books I’ve ever read in, except for my ancient pocket-hardback Oxford edition of Jane Eyre (bought, with great love and excitement, from a used book shop in St. Andrews), one of the loveliest editions I’ve ever possessed. Rosemary Sutcliff made me a reader. When my 6th grade teacher handed me The Eagle of the Ninth, I read it, obsessively and repeatedly, for the rest of the school year. I still yearn for that tiny hardback edition with its black-and-white illustrations. It moved and excited me; it was, simply, alive: Marcus, his wolf-dog, the budding romance, the quest, the reconciliation with the past, the living with diminishment. It taught me what life was: accomplishments and losses. I went on, to read many more books. Now, 50 years later, I read Blue Remembered Hills and was transported by Sutcliff’s remarkable sensibility. In her firm, quiet way, she tells us the story of her childhood and family, education, friendships, very few, therefore also of loneliness, a first and only love. If this was all, it would have been a beautifully written account indeed. It is more: Sutcliff confronted pain (physical and spiritual, of heart and mind) and then, moved it aside, ever present, not ever dominant. Sutcliff teaches us: if pain is a Gordian knot, purpose, joy, beauty, and integrity are the sword. How she defines herself, through childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood is a measured, subtle journey leading to her writing. Sutcliff’s memoir is about how a precocious child, with a loving, not always-easy family, becomes a woman of deep aesthetic wisdom, a great writer, and steers the lives of many, including me.”

Enjoyable Genre Titles (Crime/Romance Fiction)

Agatha Christie’s Murder At the Vicarage (My first Christie! Not my last. Never knew how witty, how caustic she could be.)

Allison Montclair’s The Unkept Woman (Thanks to St. Martin’s Press’ Minotaur Books for an e-galley, via Netgalley) (A favourite series and this may be the best one yet.) 

Mick Herron’s Slow Horses (First Herron, so clever. Have the rest of the series piled on the night-table.)

C. S. Harris’s When Blood Lies (Another favourite, one of the best of the series; glad to see some questions answered. Hero and Seb remain one of my favourite couples.)

Jennifer Ashley’s The Secret of Bow Lane (Thanks to Berkley Publishing for an e-galley, via Netgalley) (Another fave; also, best one of series.)

Jen Devon’s Bend Toward the Sun (Thanks to Macmillan Audio for an advance listening copy, via Netgalley) (An overlong, but surprisingly good romance.)

Betty Neels’s Britannia All At Sea (Can’t go wrong with Betty.)

Elly Griffiths’s The Locked Room (Many questions answered…who cares about the mystery. More Nelson, Ruth, and Kate, please. Sadly, this is the penultimate of the series. Loved the lockdown setting.)

Andrea Penrose’s Murder At the Royal Botanic Gardens (Thanks to Kensington Books for an e-galley, via Netgalley) (Enfin, happiness for this great couple in another favourite series.)

K. J. Charles’s Slippery Creatures (New-to-me author, other two of trilogy on the night-table. LOVED Kim.)

Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia forever, #2 wending its way to me.)

Mimi Matthews’s “A Holiday by Gaslight” (Matthews’s fine sensibility shines through, but I wanted more than a novella.)

Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club (Bit of a narrative mess, but I loved the characters; #2 is on the night-table.)

Deanna Raybourn’s An Impossible Imposter (Stoker and Veronica FOREVAH.)

Dorothy L. Sayers’s Five Red Herrings (Gosh, I love Peter Wimsey, also Scotland!)

Lesser Titles, Not Quite Mediocre, Not Quite Stellar, Definitely Flawed, Still-Worth-Reading

David Graeber and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (Bloated and implausible, but fascinating in places.)

Melissa Harrison’s All Among the Barley (So much material, such great nature writing, may we have a theme, please?)

Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House (A bloated snoozer, until the Katrina account and then, wowza.)

Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously (Great books commentary, too much uxoriousness and too many punk music references.)

Josephine Tey’s The Man in the Queue (Bit of a snoozer, slow plotting, but great detective and writing.)

Benjamin Labatut’s When We Cease to Understand the World (Great opening chapter; thought I found another Binet and Vuillard, then it all went to hell in a hand-basket.)

Audrey Magee’s The Colony (Technically great, but cold, detached. Here I am: writing an important novel.)

Sarah Moss’s The Fell (Slight, but a great voice.)

Betty MacDonald’s The Plague and I (Gave up to chuckles what could have been deeper.)

Olivia Manning’s The Great Fortune (I hated everyone.)

Ruth Klüger’s Still Alive: A Holocaust Girlhood Remembered (Relentlessly honest and brilliant.)

Andrew Sean Greer’s Less (Gave up to humor where this could have had some depth.)

Clare Hunter’s Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle (Singular conceit, becomes repetitive, but fascinating in places.)

Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet (See Magee comment.)

Books I Had to Grimace-and-Bear-It

Judy Batalion’s Light of Days

Deanna Raybourn’s Killers Of a Certain Age (Thanks to Berkley Publishing for an e-galley, via Netgalley)

Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders

Winifred Holtby’s South Riding

M. F. K. Fisher’s Serve It Forth

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent

Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Katherine May’s The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Woman’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home 

Books I Downright Hated

Julian Barnes’s Elizabeth Finch (Thanks to Knopf Doubleday Publishing for an e-galley, via Netgalley)

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s The Corner That Held Them

MY BOOK OF THE YEAR: Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast

Why? Because it has everything a novel should: memorable characters and scenes, love and hate, suspense and reflection; it’s clever, funny, entertaining, and horrific all at once, possesses an ethic, and resonates.

34 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of 2022

  1. Thank you for this list. Because of your blog, I found so many books to enjoy, and now I intend to enjoy Margaret Kennedy’s The Feast. You have not steered me wrong yet, and I look forward to reading this over the winter break.

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  2. There are a few things I’d like to investigate – like the Tana French book, maybe the Mimi Matthew’s and oh yes! – a re-re-read (?) of North and South. May God bless you, Kay! I think of you often and pray for you and your dear Mama B! I hope the new year is kind and generous and fruitful for you and for her.

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    1. Hello, my dear, I think of you too very often and pray for you. It’s been a year, but it did feel rejuvenating to tap the old keys again. Tana French is AWESOME. I’m keeping all may digits crossed that I can teach a crime fiction course next year and it can’t happen without her. I would recommend starting from the first book, In the Woods and reading them all from there. I’m doing a bit of hoarding, but I’ll definitely read one over the winter break.

      May the blessings of the season be with you and yours and may the new year be filled with joy and good books! (Great to hear from you!)

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  3. I enjoy CS Harris and Andrea Penrose. I discovered Penrose this year and have read through the Botanic Garden. I’m waiting for her latest release to appear in the local library. I discovered CS Harris last year and binged on those books last year. I’m waiting for the next book to be released. You might like CJ Box’s Joe Pickett series. I like that series because he’s NOT a superhuman. He makes mistakes.

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  4. It’s so nice to hear from you again. Honestly, that in itself almost outweighs my pleasure in catching up on your reading, but that matters too: it does sound like a year with some real highlights. I’ve had The Feast on my “look into this one” list for a while and you inspire me to actually get on with that. I admit I’m surprised South Riding didn’t go over better, especially as you say you are loving Wives and Daughters. Anyway, you’ve been missed and I hope you are doing well as the year comes to an end.

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    1. And so good to hear from you! I do read your blog and think of you often. Hope you’re well and getting a good reading break over the holidays. I also, LOL, always follow the weather in Halifax; I’m, like most Canadians, weather-obsessed. Ours has been clement till now, but we’re getting a big old snow-dump tomorrow.

      Oh, I think you’d enjoy The Feast, might even add it to your crime fiction course. It’s isn’t crime fiction in the strictest sense, but for the pleasure of teaching it…it CAN be.

      It’s strange about South Riding: there were moments of brilliance, but overall, it was very uneven and I only found only one secondary character, mildly likable and sympathetic. But I do adore Gaskell!

      All the best for the new year!

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  5. So happy to ‘see’ you here again, my dear friend!

    I am glad you’ve been reading, and that there were so many good to great books in your reading year. I love that you found one of Dame Christie’s sharper books–she has many flaws, and some people criticize her characterization as ‘flat’, but for my money, she could plot and she could create a whole class of people with a few observations.

    Here’s hoping for a joyous and healthy and safe holiday season, and for many blessings to come your way with the new year. I hope you can be as kind to yourself as you are to those around you, because you too deserve care and kindness.

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    1. And wonderful to “see” you as well!

      Oh, I don’t think these characters were “flat” at all: Dame Christie is a satirist as much as mystery writer. I loved that about my first Christie. If not for the pesky weather delays in delivery, I would have read Miss Marple#2 as well.

      Thank you for your good wishes! May I extend my own heartfelt blessings of the season to you and yours: health, happiness, great books, comfort, good cheer, may you be surrounded by them all!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Welcome to the joys of Christie! That should keep you busy for awhile. 😉

    We shared a fair number of reads this year! I guess mostly because I read things you recommend, though I think “the Feast” was a coincidence. Have you read any of her other books? I’ve enjoyed them all.

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    1. If only that pesky Book Depository were faster at delivering them, I would have more Miss Marples under my reading belt. I’m going to do all the Marples before I launch into the Poirots…I have a Christie Plan!

      I would read Margaret Kennedy’s scribbles on table napkins. I haven’t, but I plan to!!

      Great to hear from you!

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  7. Thanks for giving us your year in books. I never read North and South but now I’m definitely intrigued. I think if I saw this title in the past, I assumed it had something to do with the U.S. Civil War, and passed right over it. There are some strange gaps in my reading. I’ve probably read all the Dorothy Sayers mysteries half a dozen times each, but never was interested in Christie. I finally read my first Mary Stewart book(Nine Coaches Waiting) this year, and I loved it.
    In the historical mystery genre, A.M. Stuart’s Harriet Gordon books have been my best find, sadly there are only 3 of them. I also loved Ashley Weaver’s Electra McDonald books and Victoria Thompson’s Counterfeit Lady series.
    Happy New Year and happy reading in 2023!

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    1. Wasn’t there a television series called North and South, about the US Civil War, eons ago? I think it was the same “era”, I be old, of Rich Man, Poor Man…loved that, with Nick Nolte.

      I’m working on re-reading all the Sayers: Have His Carcase is next. Oh, if you like Nine Coaches, you may want to try Madam, Will You Talk? It is absolutely marvelous. My next Stewart will be My Brother Michael, looking forward to it. And I have Singapore Sapphire on the wishlist, keeping my fingers crossed. The Electra McDonalds are up after I finish the latest Wrexford and Sloane. So many good series, so little time!

      Nevertheless, we do get quite a bit of good pleasurable reading done, don’t we?

      Always great to hear from you, all the best of the season, a happy, healthy new year, and of course, more and more great books and the time to read them for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi, Miss Bates!
    So nice to see this year-end round-up from you. So much goodness here, so much to digest!
    I have ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ ‘sitting on my library table and ‘The Feast’ on my ‘buy soonest’ list. As you know, we’ve read a goodly number of the same historical mysteries, and we are both waiting, impatiently!, for the next C.S. Harris and the next Allison Montclair. I have ‘Where Blood Lies; and ‘The Unkept Woman’ on my Best of 2022 list.
    My favorite of the year, the one I just did not want to leave, was Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘All the Seas of the World’. The one that just lifted me up and made me feel good was Sarah Addison Allen’s ‘Other Birds’. She is a master of magic realism; I’m so happy she is writing again.
    Wishing you, and Mama B, a Happy Christmas and a healthy New Year.
    Take care of yourself, and stay warm!

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    1. And a hello to you too!! I think Gentleman will give you the many many feels. I haven’t yet met anyone who’s read and not loved it and remembered it for months/years afterwards.. You have Where Blood Lies and The Unkept Woman exactly where they should be, on a “best of list”. Hurrah!

      I feel like a bad Canadian for not having read Kay: I shall have to remedy that one of these days. I read a little of the opening to Other Birds and I’ll just, doggoneit, have to add it to the wishlist…I’m not a fan of “magical realism”, but this sounds like it has a bit of humour too. This I approve of.

      A wonderful holiday season to you and yours and a new year full of joy, health, and great books!

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  9. So good to hear/read your voice! The way you write about books always makes me want to read them. (I will note that Roy loved THE YELLOW HOUSE, but he is from New Orleans, which may have helped.) Wishing all the good things for you and Mama B!

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    1. Oh my dear, how wonderful to hear your “voice”! I hope you and Roy and the children (probably giants by now) are well and happy?! Blessings to you and yours for the holiday season!

      P. S. The writing about NOLA was the best part of The Yellow House and the last third was masterful. Had she pruned it…!!

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  10. Miss Bates! I have also pretty much given up on SM, and am trying to figure out where to lurk around about books. I may have to pick up The Feast and Longbourne based on your gushing (and maybe also finally read North and South?).

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    1. Great minds and all that!

      Giving up SM has meant a lot more reading, hopefully, now that I’ve had a good break and survived one half of the school year…maybe more blogging? Really, Smut Report is one of my inspirations to keep going: it’s intelligent, doesn’t take itself too seriously, well-written, and more often than not, gives me a laugh and thought. Congrats!

      You MUST read Feast and Longbourn: you will have NO REGRETS and many good reading memories. And you’ll give me a chance to do a little crowing too…

      Happy holidays! All the best to the Smut Team for the new year!

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      1. I’m blushing! I hope you know that your blog was very inspiring for me when I started as a baby blogger—your reviews are always so thoughtful. And since I know that I can always trust your recommendations, I am putting some books on hold at the library at this very moment.

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  11. Hello from too long away, Miss B! It’s lovely to see this post. Finally, someone else who thought the Vuillard was excellent! I haven’t read the Binet but I have his subsequent book and got halfway through. I was enjoying it, so not sure why I didn’t go back to it. You’ve inspired me to do so because I agree with your assessment of his writing.

    I loved N&S when I read it a couple of years ago, finally. I liked the Tokarczuk much more than you did, also Less, but the world would be a boring place if we agreed on everything. 😉 My best to you and MamaB in the New Year.

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    1. And heartfelt greetings to you!! The Vuillard was absolutely excellent and I’ll be reading more of him, I hope, in the new year. I only discovered him because I watched a Binet interview and he recommended him. They’re both terrific. I tried to read La septième fonction du langage (too many scenes with Foucault…) and didn’t make it to the end. I do have his latest in the TBR and hope the brilliance of HHhH isn’t his only readable book!

      Always love to see a post from you, dear Sunita! All the best in the new year for you and the H.! Happy travels, happy reading! (We have great walking trails in Quebec 😉

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      1. That’s the Binet I got halfway through! I have a pretty high tolerance for Foucault, although I do remember that overload. I read Vuillard’s more recent book when it came out and it wasn’t as good but it was still interesting.

        Walking trails in Quebec sound lovely.

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        1. Oh, I was deeply amused by Foucault’s attitude toward Barthes and I did like the two leads as the detecting team. I probably dropped it because my focus was too taken up with work, but I do hope to finish it. I’ll definitely be reading Civilizations and I’d like to also read the latest Goncourt winner, L’anomalie. LeTellier speaks perfect English: I heard an interview with him and it sounds good.

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          1. We should do a L’Anomalie readalong, because I’ve wanted to read it too. I got it out of the library and then had to send it back because I didn’t get to it. My French isn’t good enough to read it in the original, but there is an English translation.

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  12. We talked so much we ran out of nested comment space! Slog is just my speed. We can find a time when we both have space in our schedules and take it from there. It will be fun. 🙂

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  13. Well hello and what a great list! I’m so glad that you have had a good reading year. Like you, it’s been a good reading year for me too, and a bad one for blogging (and SM in general).

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    1. It has been a good reading and taking a nice long break from blogging has made it fun again. Since giving up SM, that’s been a great boon to reading…could there be a connection??! LOL!

      Happy, healthy new year to you and the H. and the boys!!

      Liked by 1 person

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