Books I Read in 2005 - Final List

Author Comments: 

Comments invited.
Dates shown are the dates completed.
Most recent updates are shown in in blue text.
See also my list of &nbsp "'Books I Plan To Read in 2006 (in sequence)"

See also my list of &nbsp "Books I Read in 2004 - Final List"

See also my list of &nbsp "Books I Read in 2003 - Final List"

A total of 22 books this year, which is about average for me. I was hugely disappointed with the quality of the books that I read in 2004 - IMHO (for quality read 'my enjoyment'). Whilst there were a couple of good reads, I did not add a single title to &nbsp my list of all time favourites. &nbsp As a direct result of that I have been far more selective for 2005 and planned my list out very carefully in the hope that I enjoy that (reading) year a lot more. &nbsp (See below and my &nbsp Books I Plan To Read in 2005 (in sequence)). &nbsp Very deliberately I set my reading plans for 2005 at a modest level in terms of quantity, and I made excellent progress. Stephen Hawking's book completed (by 10th November) my planned list for 2005. In order to maintain the quality, I then moved onto borrowing from my list of &nbsp 'Books I Plan To Read in 2006' &nbsp (which I had to adjust accordingly), plus a few re-reads from my list of all-time favourites, such as Gertrude by Hermann Hesse, The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger, and The Pearl by John Steinbeck. &nbsp My planned list for 2005 was hugely successful - my best ever reading year without question, so I shall certainly continue with such planning. &nbsp Indeed, I have compiled my planned 2006 list with a very similar content, character, and sequence as this in the hope to replicate the enjoyment.

I have closely cross-referenced this list with my list of &nbsp "Books I Plan To Read in 2005 (in sequence)"


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. (FINISHED)
To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert Heinlein. (FINISHED)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. (FINISHED)
Northern Lights By Philip Pulman (The Golden Compass - first volume of "His Dark Materials" trilogy). (FINISHED)
Gateway by Frederik Pohl. (FINISHED)
The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill - Volume One "The Gathering Storm - From War To War". (FINISHED)
Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov (FINISHED - OUT OF SEQUENCE)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (FINISHED).
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pulman (second volume of "His Dark Materials" trilogy). (FINISHED - OUT OF SEQUENCE)
Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg (FINISHED)
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. (FINISHED)
The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill - Volume Two (of twelve volumes). (FINISHED)
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. (FINISHED)
(The Illustrated) A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking. (NOW FINISHED)
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pulman (third/final volume of "His Dark Materials" trilogy). (FINISHED - OUT OF SEQUENCE)


I suspect you won't be disappointed this year. What did you think of Gogol's "The Overcoat"?

See my comments below. &nbsp I thought 'The Overcoat' was OK until the protagonist
died after which it started to get silly.

Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Vasilevich Gogol &nbsp translated by Ronald Wilks
(finished 04-Jan-2005, but started in 2004) - 188 pages.
The first two (short) stories ("Diary of a Madman" and "The Nose") were both nonsense and unfunny. &nbsp 'Diary' had the potential to be a great novel, but it was too short and the madness in the protagonist developed too quickly to be engaging, and 'The Nose' was just plain stupid. &nbsp The third story "The Overcoat" was OK for the first three quarters, but then also started to get silly. &nbsp Clearly these were all intended to be satirical nonsense, but they just did not work for me. &nbsp On the other hand I'm probably not a good judge of literary humour because I didn't find Catch-22 or Don Quixote either very funny or particularly enjoyable, so what do I know? &nbsp The last two stories ("How Ivan Ivonovich quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich" and "Ivan Fyodorovich Shponka and His Aunt") were straight and I found them more interesting and worthy, particularly the latter. Rating: a generous 3 out of 5, rescued only by the last story (and some potential in the first), generous because I think giving half-marks in a five-star system is a cop-out.

The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck (finished 01-Feb-2005) - 476 pages.
Recommended to me by 1922 after a disappointing reading year in 2004.
This is a superbly developed saga of a decent and hard-working farming family struggling to survive in depression era Middle America. Forced to abandon their barren farmland, they migrate west to California in search of promised work and a dignified future. They encounter great hardship, a continuous grinding away at their self-respect, and a gradual fragmentation of the family life they regard as their primary reason to exist. The spirit of the strory is so well portrayed that you almost feel a part. It is not a quick read, the story develops slowly, the characters are real people, the dialogue is in dialect, but the overall affect grows slowly to an absorbing final 40 pages of pathos and unresolved despair. I loved it – highly recommended. A potential addition to my list of all-time favourites.

I'm very satisfied to see you liked (or should I rather say loved) The Grapes of Wrath. Truer words than your review above were probably never spoken about this masterpiece.

Thanks to you for bumping it to the top of my list of books to read.
For me, Steinbeck had a similar feel to Thomas Hardy - see my review of Jude The Obscure
My next read (after my current book) is Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles - some say his best.
I shall definitely buy 'East Of Eden' for a future read.

Thomas Hardy? ...Hmm, no, I've never read a book by him. Probably I should try...

Most of Thomas Hardy's major works have been turned into movies:
Jude (1996) - based on Jude The Obscure, starring Christopher Ecclestone, Kate Winslett.
Jude the Obscure (1971) starring Robert Powell.
Tess of the D'Urbervilles (1998) - BBC production starring Justine Waddell, Jason Flemyng.
Tess (1980) starring Nastassja Kinski, Peter Firth.
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) starring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terrance Stamp.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1998) starring Nathanial Parker, Nigel Terry, Jonathan Firth.
The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978) starring Alan Bates
The Mayor of Casterbridge (2003) starring Ciarán Hinds, Jodhi May.
The Claim (2000) based on The Mayor of Casterbridge, starring Peter Mullan, Milla Jovovich, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinski.
The Return of the Native (1994) starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Clive Owen.

1922: Have you ever come across the (Belgian) author Gerard Walschap and his novel 'The Man Who Meant Well'? I saw it as a BBC TV serial back in the 1970's, and despite it being subtitled I found it riveting and loved it, although I didn't realise that it was based on a novel or which author. I have since searched a few times in recent years for more information, in the hope that perhaps I could get to see it again, but without success.

I was browsing through the Amazon website a few days ago and came across the novel at a ridiculous price of $149 - it was the only copy available on either or, but following a search on AbeBooks I found a cheap copy, and although it wasn't clear to me whether or not it was an English translation, I took a chance and ordereed it (because it was cheap). It arrived on Saturday, in English, a 1975 edition, the cover includes: "Now a BBC TV serial ... a brilliant, deeply moving novel of rustic life in Flanders during the early years of this (20th) century. It has been compared - and rightly so - with the best of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence."

I am greatly looking forward to reading it, and may insert it into my list to read for 2005.

Walschap? Walschap? Hmmm... this name doesn't sound very familiar to me...

Wait. I'll check out my library's homepage...

They have got two books by him in the library: 'Denise' and 'Jan Houtekiet'.

Well, I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts about it.

BTW, $149? For a book? Is that the diamond-cover-edition?

Just someone trying to take advantage I think - it's the only copy available on Amazon.

Having finished my 2005 reading list, I took 'The Man Who Meant Well' by Gerard Walschap on holiday with me and read it in Corfu. I shall put my review below - rating 4 out of 5.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert Heinlein (finished 02-March-2005) - 445 pages.
Mostly a saga of a long-lived woman and her domestic life and many babies (written by a man), only in the last few chapters does it get vaguely interesting. The woman in question is Maureen Johnson, mother of Lazarus Long, who is father of the Howard families. Near the end, through time travel she is rescued from a natural (old-age) death by the families. She then goes back to World War I in an attempt to rescue her own father. Disappointing and forgettable.
Prequel to one of my favourite books "Time Enough For Love" by Robert Heinlein, which describes the long-lived adventures of Lazarus Long.

you should check out the Mayor of Casterbridge, Tom Hardy is so good.

Thomas Hardy is a (new) favourite author of mine. &nbsp I have added &nbsp 'Far From The Madding Crowd' &nbsp to my list of &nbsp Books I Plan To Read in 2006, &nbsp and I shall definitely get to 'The Mayor of Casterbridge' eventually.
I watched the new TV version/serial of The Mayor of Casterbridge at the end of 2003 and it was excellent.

Herewith an updated link to my list of &nbsp Books I Plan To Read in 2006.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (finished 30-March-2005) - 508 pages.
Brilliantly written, this is a superbly described story of a tragic life in rural England. Tess is a young, pretty, fresh-faced woman, hurt and tortured by two men and by the harsh, austere society in which she lives. Thomas Hardy's most striking, tragic and sympathetic character. Highly recommended: Rating 5 out of 5.

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) by Philip Pulman (finished 19-April-2005) - 399 pages.
Fantasy story in the tradition of C.S. Lewis, set at a cracking pace, eleven-year-old Lyra, living in a parallel universe to our own, embarks upon a journey to the Arctic to rescue her kidnapped friend and her imprisoned uncle, aided by friendly witches, an amoured bear, her daemon-soul, and her magic alethiometer (the 'Golden Compass'). The section where her soul is to be severed from her body is incredibly tense, this first volume certainly necessitates bringing forward volume two up the list in my sequence of books to be read in 2005. Targeted towards the younger reader, like Tolkien and C.S. Lewis it will be enjoyed by all (other than those perhaps who take exception to its counter-religious implications).
Recommended: Rating 4 out of 5.

Gateway by Frederik Pohl &nbsp (finished 28-April) - 313 pages.
Excellent, top-notch space opera, but interspersed by the protagonist undergoing therapy with a virtual-psychiatrist, which is a real spoiler to otherwise classic sci-fi.
Good: Rating 3 out of 5.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pulman. (finished 16-May-2005) - 341 pages.
Very good, part two of "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Marginally slower than the first volume, and slightly darker in tone. The first volume was primarily a straightforward romp, the second volume starts to develop into a tale with hugely profound implications to the meaning of life. Now able to switch from one universe to the next, Lyra continues travelling North in search of her father, assisted by Angels and witches, in a universe where the existence of mankind is threatened by Lyra's mother and the 'Spectres' she commands. (Spoilers deliberately omitted). Again, I might have to move volume three up the list in my sequence of books to be read in 2005. Very Good: Rating 4 out of 5.

I read 'The Subtle Knife' out of sequence, because volume one was so good. It should have bee read much later - between 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Tom O'Bedlam'.

The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill - Volume One (of twelve volumes) - "The Gathering Storm - From War To War" (finished 10-June-2005) - 358 pages.
Fascinating account of the lead up to WW II from the end of the first World War, the mistakes made in the treaty of Versailes and its implementation (and its non-implementation), the disasterous policies of disarmament and appeasement by the British and the French governments to avoid another war, their failure to check the rearmament and expansion of Germany by Hitler, the parts played by Italy and Russia and Austria and the USA, and the capitulation of the then powerful Czechoslovakian and Polish armies. Churchill's account seems to suggest with hindsight that he was one of the only people in the world who saw it coming, but he does a marvelous job of demonstrating proof positive the stances taken by all concerned with direct quotes from independent published sources of speeches and articles of the main protagonists (including Churchill). It was abundantly clear at the outbreak of war that there was only one man capable of leading the allies in the fight against the dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini, despite (or because of) his being frozen out of mainstream politics in the preceeding years. Not only was he in a unique position to write this account, but he had unique access to many sources of information and documentation when doing so. A slow read but fascinatingly good. Rating: 4 out of 5.

An incredibly important piece of literature. It is no wonder that Churchill was awarded the Nobel prize for literature - a more deserving work could hardly be imagined. I might have room towards the end of this year to also squeeze in the third volume.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (finished 27-July-2005) - 350 pages.
This is a garbled and confusingly told story of the very simple and very insular lives of two disparate households with totally miserable and unsympathetic characters, but it hooked me early on and the twists and turns of the tale absorbed me to the very last page. 

The story begins by being narrated by Mr Lockwood who was a completely redundant character with no material bearing on the tale.  Lockwood is the new tenant at Thrushcross Grange, he arrives at nearby Wuthering Heights to introduce himself to owner of the Grange, Mr Heathcliffe. Here the story starts near the end of the tale.  Confusingly, Lockwood recounts the tale of Heathcliffe and Catherine as narrated to him by the real storyteller, the housekeeper-maid Mrs Dean, often called Ellen or Nelly.  It was not obvious (to me) at the beginning that Mrs Dean, Nelly and Ellen were different names for the same person.  Indeed, this oddity is repeated a few times throughout the book with Cathy and Catherine, Cathy sometimes being called Catherine, and Catherine sometimes being called Cathy, one being the soulmate of Heathcliffe and the other his mortal enemy.   And Heathcliffe has a son Linton who is often referred to as Mr Heathcliffe.  And there is another character sometimes referred to in the background named Kenneth, who at the beginning I thought might be a reference to the grim reaper because it seemed to me initially that he is only referred to if someone was in danger of dying, but it turned out later that he was the local doctor.  And the narration by Nelly/Ellen, via Lockwood, would sometimes recount events as told to her by others, effectively in the fourth (or fifth?) person.  Confused I certainly was, evidenced when I eventually realised who Kenneth really was half way through the book, I had to go back and start again from the beginning.  This slowed down my progress considerably, but helped me to confirm that it wasn't my own senility that brought about my confusion but that it was the writing. It would have been so easy for a more experienced author to give the characters more dissimilar names, but sadly WH was the first and only novel by EB. One of the most significant events in the book, Catherine giving birth to Cathy (or was it Cathy giving birth to Catherine?), crept up on me completely by surprise with no warning, not even a pregnancy.  Worse still, not only was the birth unexpected, but it led directly to the shocking death at the half-way point of one of the major characters of the book. 
All that said, I actually loved it. Rating: Very good but flawed: 4 out of 5.

Interesting reading. I think you would enjoy taking a Brontë course.

Have you taken such a course ? &nbsp I'm just a humble layman who hopes not to have to go on a course to understand each author I sample. &nbsp I suppose I've got it completely wrong, but nevertheless, I did enjoy it immensely.

I still have room for two or three additions to my list of books I plan to read in 2006, and I'm seeking recommendations. Which would you suggest (all are already on my bookshelf)?:
Jane Eyre,
Pride and Prejudice,
something by Dickens ('Hard Times' appeals to me), or
something like 'The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) or 'Wild Swans' (Jung Chang).

I already have 'A Tale of Two Cities' and 'Anna Karenina' on my 2006 list, and 'Rebecca' is on my list remaining for 2005.

Sounds like you have some good reading ahead of you!

I think you're right (in a way) about Lockwood, since he is a completely different animal from the rest of the people in that book--he's a little urbane, a little detached. But he's a necessary foil to Catherine and Heathcliff. That's why the depictions of home-life in the beginning have to be irritating and the Lintons have to be a little bit pallid and insular; it makes the stark reality of what Catherine and Heathcliff share more apparent. In short, the book is about life-long passion and what that might look like.

I felt the passion of the characters was extraordinary, and agree it was the heart of the tale and why I loved it, but I don't agree that Lockwood was necessary. &nbsp Why narrate the story through him? &nbsp The 'detachment' was negated by much of the story being narrated by Nelly Dean. &nbsp I very much appreciate your thoughts, and I genuinely seek recommendations for next year.

In Defense of Lockwood and Nellie, or The Two Witnesses, or A Question of Salt


Hard Times is hilarious and poignant, and I think someone involved in education would especially enjoy the satire. Here's a sample quote.

Jane Eyre is a much saner and more balanced book than WH, with more likable characters, if less wildly compelling. WH is like the ocean, JE like a sighting of land.

P & P remains my favorite Jane Austen, showing off all of her strengths, so I highly, highly recommend it.

I unfortunately don’t have anything to say about the two contemporary novels, since I read little that hasn’t been endorsed by 14,000 people speaking from different times and places, from both popular and critical arenas -- which means that I tend to stick to the classics. I'll be interested to hear what you think of them, if you do decide to take them on.

I've added Pride and Prejudice - thnaks.

Herewith an updated link to my list of &nbsp Books I Plan To Read in 2006.

Herewith an updated link to my list of &nbsp Books I Plan To Read in 2006.

One of my courses dealt with this book. I was confused at first too, and I actually hated it. But after discussion I came to love WH.
Mr Lockwood underlines one of the main ideas of the book: the power of gossip. He tells us right off he went out looking for a story. Combined with the fact that he provides no information about himself, we can look at him as an unreliable narrator.
So we have an unreliable story that is being recounted from what Nelly tells him. It's also obvious through the book that Nelly changes and infringes the story. In some instances a conversation happened between two people that Nelly had no way of overhearing or knowing. The story seems confusing because it has been garbled by at least two unreliable characters. We're playing broken telephone with them!
"It would have been so easy for a more experienced author to give the characters more dissimilar names,"
True, it would have made reading a little easier, but I think that the repeating of names was done not to confuse us but to encourage us to compare the characters. It also adds humour.
Overall, I believe the most important thing to keep in mind is that the story is not being told by Catherine, Heathcliff or Linton, but by people who can only know pieces of the story at best. For example, Nelly likely doesn't mention the pregnancy to Lockwood because it would be unnecessary to explain "and then she was pregnant, and then the child Cathy was born..." She's more touching on the main points in the story than letting us go through it day by day.

BTW, I just finished Rebecca, and I thought it was fabulous.

I'm reading Rebecca now - fabulous it is.

Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg (finished 11-Aug-2005) - 320 pages.
Disappointing story from one of my favourite authors. It starts with the promising premise of dreams and visions being received all around a post-apocalyptic Earth about far-off utopia-like civilisations that might actually be real telepathic signals being transmitted through a crazy wanderer (Tom O’Bedlam). Overlong and repetitive, this needed to be half its length with a more potent ending.
OK but a stingey 2 out of 5.

Laughter In The Dark by Vladimir Nabokov &nbsp (finished 16-Aug-2005) - 187 pages.
I find with English translations of novels written in foreign languages that the translation feels a little stilted and inarticulate, which obviously affects my enjoyment of the writing itself and can sometimes also detract from the story. I realise of course that this is no-one's fault but my own for not reading in the author’s original language, but I'm very typically English in that respect and don't speak other languages at all well (an English trait - being insulated on our island). Later novels from Nabakov were written in English (after he moved to America). Thus I found the writing a very simplistic style, but the story is great (although unoriginal) about a wealthy middle aged man who becomes besotted with a young woman. This eventually leads to him losing his wife and child, his money, his happiness, his reputation, and his health. I have read elsewhere that the characters are skilfully drawn and complex, but I found the opposite. I thought that the complexity of the characters was only superficially portrayed, and that perhaps the story deserved a more epic treatment than these 187 pages could afford. Rating: A good story, but a stilted translation and superficial characters. 3 out of 5.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pulman &nbsp (finished 07-Sept-2005) - 548 pages.
Whilst volume one races along, and volume two is marginally slower, this final volume reverts back to lightening pace (with the exception of the final chapters), and it is just fantastic. Highly imaginative, there are a few incredible twists and turns in the plot. Lyra and Will abandon their destiny to try and save the universe from evil so that they can search for Lyra’s friend (Roger) and Will’s father, a journey which takes them to the world of the dead. The tale is fantastic and profound and this third volume could easily have earned 5 out of 5 but for the final chapters where it seems to fizzle out somewhat. Rating: Remarkable. 4 out of 5.

The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill - Volume Two (of twelve volumes)
"The Gathering Storm - The Twilight War" (finished 02-Oct-2005) - 332 pages (including Appendices).
A quicker read than Volume One, this is a well written but compelling and fascinating account of the first months of the war, 'the Twilight War', written by a man in a totally unique position to write such an account (Roosevelt and Hitler were both dead). This is as good an account as you could possibly imagine in your wildest dreams. Brimful of documentary evidence of every significant incident in the war, memos from the Prime Minister (Chamberlain) to Churchill (and back), orders from Churchill to the Admiralty, (extracts from) speeches, statistics compiled by Churchill's own newly-formed naval statistical unit - which he subsequently developed with a much wider brief when he became Prime Minister, and supplemented by a series of Appendices and minutes of seemingly mundane documents that have incredibly significant and fascinating historical value. You can feel Churchill’s frustration of waging a war with decisions continually delayed by months through consensus and committee (the War cabinet). This volume ends with the fall of the administration and the King asking Churchill to form a new government. Churchill alone decides to make his new government a coalition of the main parties, but I somehow suspect that the forthcoming struggle will not be waged through consensus.
Excellent, as good as it gets: Rating 5 out of 5.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro &nbsp (finished 16-Sept-2005) - 245 pages.
Winner of the 1989 Booker Prize, Ishiguro is brilliant at portraying character and circumstance. It is written (by a Japanese man) in the most formal and perfect of English I have ever read. It is the narrative of an English butler in the twilight of his life (the remains of the day) beginning to suspect that his years of self denial and unrequited love, due to his dedication to his profession and loyalty to a former employer who is now disgraced as a pre-war appeaser of the Nazis, may have been a worthless life. A gentle and thought provoking story, this might just cause you to consider your own priorities, relationships and values.
Brilliantly written: Rating 4 out of 5.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier &nbsp (finished 13-Oct-2005) – 367 pages.
Reminiscent in some ways of Wuthering Heights I thought (see my review above), except without the same passion, but nevertheless a fabulous and superbly written tale without the flaws. It is a spellbinding and darkly atmospheric tale of love and mystery, it will hook you from the start, develops slowly and then picks up pace and includes a bewildering climax.
Fabulous. Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Man Who Meant Well by Gerard Walschap &nbsp (finished 30-Oct-2005) - 220 pages.
I first saw this as a TV serial on the BBC back in 1975, and despite it being subtitled I found it riveting, even then as a teenager. After many years of (intermittent) searching I recently found an English translation of the novel on AbeBooks. The cover reads "Now a BBC TV serial ... a brilliant, deeply moving novel of rustic life in Flanders during the early years of this (20th) century. It has been compared - and rightly so - with the best of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence." I read this whilst on holiday in Corfu.

Coming from a poor country background, from the age of eight Thys has had one idealistic vision - wherever injustice appears he strives to see his own brand of (natural) justice prevail. Now grown up he becomes separated from his childhood sweetheart and one true love (Rosa) and marries her simple sister (Collette) in order to rescue her from a cruel family life. His life swings from poverty, repeated tragedy, horrifying injury, and plain bad luck, he endures only through his unrelenting generosity and selflessness. Eventually he wins through to be reunited with Rosa and die a wealthy patron and heroic figure. This is a truly wonderful story, partly let down only by an uninspired translation. Very good: Rating 4 out of 5.

Written in 1935 by Belgian author Gerard Walscap, this translation is by Adrienne Dixon.

Thanks, I too saw that BBC production of "The man who meant well" and I guess I was only 10 at the time, but it had really fixed an extremely strong impression upon me. I even remember the 'look' of the production (something dark and earthy, like a Rembrandt. Ever since, I thought it was called the man who loved to love? Anyhow, I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Anthony - email:

It's definitely worth a read. Were you able to find a copy ? It seemed to be unavailable on Amazon whenever I was searching, and I eventually got it from Abebooks, but now it seems that there are plenty of copies available on Amazon in the "used and new" section priced down to £0.59p.

Gertrude by Hermann Hesse (1910), translated by Hilda Rosner - (finished 04-Nov-2005) - 158 pages.
Kuhn is an average music student (violin), but an aspiring composer, then he is crippled in a moment of youthful horseplay. Self-conscious of his lameness and shy with women, he falls for Gertrude, the daughter of a music patron. Kuhn writes a song that captures the imagination of a famous young opera singer, Heinrich Muoth, whom he befriends. After introducing them Muoth and Gertrude begin an affair and marry. Contemplating suicide, Kuhn's career as a composer then begins to accelerate whilst he watches Gertrude and Muoth slowly destroy one another, with Muoth eventually committing suicide. This is a beautiful story, beautifully translated, about unrequited love and the self-destructive nature of sensitive and vulnerable musicians. I first read this in 1975, it is a re-read from my list of &nbsp all time favourites books. &nbsp I read this whilst on holiday in Corfu. &nbsp Beautiful. Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is the beginning of a new reading project I have been contemplating over the last few maonths, that of re-reading some of my favourite books. I shall probably try and limit this to one re-read per year, because there are too many other unread books that I would also like read.

Whoops! My internet connection was interrupted before I had the chance to correct (and finish) this. In point of fact I have re-read three books this year (Gertrude, The Catcher In The Rye, and The Pearl), because I had already finished my planned reading list and did not want to disrupt my 2006 plan too severely. My re-read plan shall continue, in principle, to be one per year.

(The Illustrated) A Brief History Of Time by Stephen Hawking &nbsp (finished 10-Nov-2005) - 244 pages.
This is an excellent effort to explain in layman's terms the complexities of the universe, relativity, space and time, black holes, quantum physics, particle physics, string thoery, Newton, Einstein, Heisenberg, etc. This book seeks to increase scientific literacy for ordinary people like me. Only someone who fully understands these concepts could describe them so clearly in a relatively easy to understand manner. It is packed full of simple diagrams helping to illustrate the thoeries described. He even attempts to find a place for god in the scientific universe. First published in 1988, I read the tenth (illustrated) 1996 edition with an additional chapter.
Excellent. Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951) (finished 22-Nov-2005) - 220 pages.
A re-read from 1987 from my list of all time favourite books. &nbsp What can I add that hasn't already been said about this masterpeice of American literature. J. D. Salinger paints a very vivid and bleak picture of the world. The brilliance of this book is not in the plot, because there isn't one, or in the writing, which is very stylised and real, but in it's study of the human condition. The story follows troubled 16-year-old Holden Caulfield over three days in New York after being thrown out of yet another school, as he shares his depression and cynical views on life, family and friends. To him everyone is either phony or they are boring, but he is always lying about himself or pretending to be older and he doesn't realise that he is as phony as he claims everyone else to be. He sees himself as "the catcher in the rye", there to rescue others from becoming phony. There are times that you really feel for Holden and other times you hate him. This book perfectly captures the confusion and feelings of adolescent angst. An amazing book. Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Second World War by Winston S. Churchill - Volume Three (of twelve)
"Their Finest Hour - The Fall of France" (1949) &nbsp (finished 05-Dec-2005) - 310 pages (including Appendices).

This volume concentrates on the tragic bungling of the defence of France. Churchill lays the blame at the door of the French government (rather than the military), plus the Belgians and the Americans, and excuses the British, but as British Prime Minister at the time he would have to. To commit more resources to the defence of France would have left Britain unacceptably exposed to invasion.

It also describes the gradual strengthening defence of the home front and the decreasing likelihood of a successful German invasion of Britain. Additionally, this volume includes the seemingly-impossible but incredibly inspirational successful evacuation of 330,000 men from Dunkirk. Churchill describes it as like a victory, but also warns against such sentiment 'wars are not won by evacuations'.

This volume is agonising because of the futile attempts to defend France and in Churchill's attempts to excuse any British culpability. It is rescued by the the incredibly moving description of the events at Dunkirk.
Perplexing. Rating 4 out of 5.

My review above may be slightly misleading. Britain did commit hundreds of thousands of troops, hundreds of aircraft, and a significant proportion of the navy, but France needed more. The USA were too slow to provide any material assistance, weapons, ships etc, and the tactics of the Belgians helped neither themselves nor the allies.

Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke (2002) (finished 12-Dec-2005) - 220 pages.  
When I begun reading this the first few pages felt like a self-conscious disaster from a Hollywood ego with creative aspirations, but as it progressed beyond the first chapter I became more engrossed with the style of writing and realised many similarities with The Catcher In The Rye. It reads very much like it could have been written as a sequel to Catcher In The Rye. The writing style and dialogue are very similar. Jimmy Heartsock is Holden Caulfield wihtout a doubt. He is impulsive and immature, continually undergoing mental reassessment. Imagine Holden Caulfield twelve years older and in the army - he goes AWOL. Imagine Holden Caulfield in love - he cannot show his feelings, he gets his girlfriend pregnant, ditches her, then agonises over his mistake and goes after her. This is Jimmy Heartsock.

Other main characters from CITR also make an appearance: Holden's sister appears as Jimmy's girlfriend Christy, and Holden's dead brother is also present as Jimmy's dead father who committed suicide. The story is told in the first person narrative from both the perspective of Jimmy but also of Christy in crucial episodes. They ocasionally do stupid things and hurt one another, they find difficulty expressing themselves clearly, they are afraid for the future, for their marriage and for parenthood. Exactly like CITR the story is told over a few days, with no plot, highly stylised writing, and it's strength is in it's study of the human condition. The dialogue between Jimmy and Christy is exceptional. A real discovery. Highly recommended.
Amazing writing: Rating 5 out of 5.

Jimmy Heartsock:
He (the chaplain) told me that the definition of grace is the ability to accept change. I needed to start calculating my masculinity not by the amount of pussy I could grab, or how many girls I could bang, but by how true I could be with one girl. How infrequently I could lie. How often I could show up when I was needed. How willing I was to love the life I had rather than covet the life of others. UNQUOTE

I think that The Pearl is overall a good and easy read, far from being as touching and profound as The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden.

Yet again I am in agreement with you - see my review below. A quick and easy read, good, but I hoped for better.

East of Eden is on my list for 2006. It was to be my first read for the year, but when I realised it was over 700 pages I decided on something less ambitious to start with.

Yeah, 700 pages is indeed quite a bunch. But believe me you won't repent afterwards.

I think I'll start my reading year 2006 with Macbeth. One of the many classics of English literature I haven't read.

See my list of &nbsp Books I Plan To Read in 2006. &nbsp I shall start 'Pride and Prejudice' tomorrow on the train to work. &nbsp East Of Eden is second on the list so I shall get to that later in January. &nbsp Have you read 'The Winter of Our Discontent' by John Steinbeck. &nbsp I'm considering it for a future read, perhaps after 'Of Mice and Men'.

I read Macbeth in my early teens as a school assignment, but that was before I started to take reading seriously.

No, I haven't read The Winter of Our Discontent yet. There are still many books I have to read by Steinbeck, such as Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, Travels with Charley: In Search of America or In Dubious Battle.

BTW I'd really like to see the books you plan to read in 2006, but somehow I cannot open the link.

OK, that link works. Thank you.

BTW how was your reading year 2005 in general?

P.S.: Do you already know this website?

I added some general comments at the top on my reading year. I found that planning ahead for 2005 was incredibly successful - my reading list was one of the highlights of the whole year. The plan was so successful that my planned list for 2006 follows a very similar content, character, and sequence in the hope to replicate the enjoyment. Additionally I now have very similar plans for 2007 and 2008 virtually completed, although I prefer to keep them highly flexible to enable additions and deletions which helps to reduce the frustration of having too many books on my wishlist. I shall post both the 2007 and 2008 plans here shortly.

I have not seen that website before but it seems to have very limited comments, reviews and ratings. I prefer Amazon.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck (1945) &nbsp (finished 19-Dec-2005) - 91 pages.
I wanted to squeeze in an extra title before the year-end, and selected this short novel from my bookshelf. This was a great disappointment in comparison with The Grapes of Wrath which I read earlier in the year. I had read this before during my early teens as a school assignment, and I vaguely recalled the story but not the writing.

Poor Mexican pearl-diver Kino finds an exceptional pearl that he dreams can bring great fortune and happiness for him and his family, and perhaps even his community. He dreams that his baby can now grow up with an education. Kino hopes that the pearl will change his life for the better, but it changes only for the worse. The greed, envy and ultimately evil that it provokes is the ruin of his life and that of his family.

Prior to this Steinbeck had been writing film scripts, and initially this was an idea for a movie. The writing I found reads a little like a script, descriptive and one-paced without passion. However, there is little dialogue. Kino is uneducated, tongue-twisted and inarticulate Steinbeck deliberately adopts a unique writing style for this work, creating moods and replacing dialogue with ‘songs’ which are ill-described. He was supposedly reading folk-tales in Spanish as he started writing the Pearl, according to the Introduction . . . ‘looking for a tonal base allowing him to adopt the resonance of the Spanish language but in the English that his readers expected’.

The story is an interesting allegory of good and evil, but the writing I found unsatisfying.
Good but I expected better. Rating 3 out of 5.