I read 24 books for a total of 7070 pages in 2023. That’s seven more books than last year, which is quite an outstanding result considering the seemingly unstoppable decline in book reading I have suffered in recent years. Most have been fiction books, and that’s something new and influential with the final result, as I tend to read non-fiction more slowly. The bad news is that I did not review most of the books I read this year, and that sucks. The last review was in August, a catch-up review of several books clearly showing I was in trouble.
Inspired by Adactio, I am considering a different, less demanding approach. Instead of one review for every book, I may post one general review at the end of the year. I plan to start the article with the first book of the year, keep it as a draft, update it with every new book I read, and publish it by the end of the year. Individual notes should be short, one or two paragraphs at most, maybe with a rating. This solution would reduce the number of book-related posts, also benefitting, I suspect, most of my readers. Also, this allows me to leverage a couple of new features on my website: the table of contents and active title links (which I can then use in my library page).
I might as well adopt Adactio’s scoring system:
- One star means a book is meh.
- Two stars mean a book is perfectly fine.
- Three stars mean a book is good—consider it recommended.
- Four stars mean a book is exceptional.
- Five stars is pretty much unheard of.
Most ratings would fall in the two- to three-star range.
I’m starting this year. When a previously posted, more detailed review is available, I’ll link it, and only repost the first paragrafe in this page.
The sorrows of young Werther, by J.W. von Goethe
(I dolori del giovane Werther, Einaudi, traduzione di E. Ganni)
“The first Dandy in European literature, Werther ignited the sensibilities of an entire generation, that of the Sturm und Drang, which made him a timeless hero of the rebellious culture that prefers the intensity of feeling to the aridity of reason”. To modern eyes, the reading is sometimes disturbing, preconfiguring Werther as the prototype of today’s stalker (he goes so far as to consider the suppression of the now unattainable love). Still, one has to refrain from judging a text out of the context and period in which it was written. The writing is superb, fluent, and accessible for a text published in 1774—Enrico Ganni’s Italian translation is excellent.
Happiness, as such by Natalia Ginzburg
(Caro Michele, Einaudi)
A mother already advanced in years but still young, and a son physically distant and even more distant in ideas, needs, affections, and sorrows. A son for whom the mother resents but from whom she cannot detach herself, and the last, unbreakable umbilical cord is made of letters alone. It is a novel of many scattered characters, divided by incommunicability and destined for loneliness. I was struck by the precise description of society and culture in the early 1970s (the novel was published in 1973) and the non-trivial (for the time) theme of homosexuality, treated effectively.
The ancient hours, by Michael Bible
(L’ultima cosa bella sulla faccia delle terra, Adelphi)
A few troubled characters move through the area south of the Appalachians, one of America’s poorest and most religious (evangelical) areas. Though tormented, the characters refuse to admit their defeats. They seek redemption in love in memory and drugs, trying to bridge frailties and family conflicts, coming to terms with God’s cumbersome presence, and accompanied by the feeling that they are moving forward but can only look backward. There is much poetry and poignancy in this beautiful and passionate tale. Micheal Bible is a talented writer who knows the places, culture and society he narrates, and it shows.
Milano calibro 9, by Giorgio Scerbanenco
(La nave di Teseo)
A collection of twenty-two noir tales about the ruthless Milan of the 1960s: the sacred triad of crime, sex, money, and power is present on every page. The characters in these tales are driven by aching and losing loves, vices and addictions, or fatal sexual attractions. The stories were originally published in weekly magazines that were then in vogue, first and foremost Novella 2000, of which Scerbanenco was a longtime editor. At the time, Novella 2000 was not the tabloid magazine we know today but a popular literature magazine (hence the name). Only some of the stories are captivating; some are not well written, and noir is not a genre that interests me, but I got this book to understand the literary Milan of those times better, and I got what I wanted.
Ferrovie del messico, by Gian Marco Griffi
If you are looking for adventure, you will find plenty and taste great literature with this novel. There are so many characters to follow between Asti, Italian Social Republic, February 1944 and then up and down the railroads of Mexico between the 1920s and 1930s, all rich and exciting, never flat or predictable, masterfully orchestrated by an author who manages to keep the events narrated in perfect balance between comedy and tragedy, never dull despite the length (824 pages). Gian Marco Griffi is the best modern Italian author I discovered this year.
ADHD workbook for adults, by Tara Wilson
(ADHD negli adulti, independently published)
A relative of mine was recently diagnosed with ADHD and this short introductory book allowed me to learn more about it. I didn’t find it particularly enlightening (much of what it contains can be found online), nor is the author particularly titled to talk about it (she is a professional coach), but perhaps because of this the content remains simple, and serve its purpose.
High, by Erica Fatland
(La vita in alto. Una stagione sull’Himalaya, Marisilio)
Himalayan fiction has accustomed us to stories of climbers tackling Everest and travelers seeking spiritual experiences in Buddhist monasteries. But what do we know about the people living in that region? Erica Flatland tells of the peoples, cultures, and societies that have inhabited the high areas in the Himalayas since time immemorial, and to do so, she takes a long, slow journey through these remote areas, encountering characters and places full of stories to discover. High is an excellent reportage that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Codice Jury, by Jury Chechi
Jury Chechi won the Olympic title in the rings at Atlanta in 1996 and was third at Athens in 2004. Chechi’s bronze resulted from his attempted comeback into the sport at 35, well above the average age of a male gymnast. Even at 54 (his current age), he’s astoundingly in shape. He’s one of my idols. The news that he authored a book on calisthenics primarily dedicated to older adults couldn’t be ignored by me. I recommend this work if you’re starting and looking for guidance, motivation, and solid routines, not so much for the expert.
The Passenger, by Cormac McCarthy
In the middle of a cold night in 1980, Bobby Western dons his wetsuit and dives into the black depths of Mississippi Bay. There, he catches sight of the outline of a plane with nine bodies in the cabin, their eyes empty and their arms outstretched in an icy embrace. What happened to the phantom’s tenth passenger? It sounds like a thriller and is also that, but also much, much more. The author’s classic themes are all present, only disguised in a story that is only seemingly and partially different. The Passenger requires commitment and concentration: there are many closed discussions, varied and more or less recurring characters, numerous flashbacks and juxtapositions, but it is amply worth it.
McCarthy’s final diarchy consists of this work and its natural continuation, Stella Maris, centered on Bobby’s schizophrenic sister, Alice. Together, the two volumes make a modern masterpiece.
Stella Maris, by Cormac McCarthy
In The Passenger, we hear the story of Bobby Western, salvage diver, physics expert, former race car driver, and grieving brother who is still in love with his beautiful sister who killed herself. This very sister is the protagonist of Stella Maris, the book’s title being the name of the psychiatric facility she admitted herself to. The text is set in 1972, and here (spoiler alert), we discover that ten years before The Passenger events, Bobby was in a coma after a car accident and brain dead. The doctors wanted Alice to agree to stop life-support. Mind-blowing. The whole text comprises seven sessions with her therapist, Dr. Cohen, rendered in pure dialogue and, therefore, more linear than The Passenger. Stella Maris can be read without its companion, but I would not advice doing that.
Born to run 2, by Chris McDougall and Eric Orton
I’ve been back to running after a long hiatus, and this book helped me get back on track with the right, lightly-hearted approach. The fundamentals are solid (the barefoot-like technique is the way), the 90-day training plan is a good platform, the nutrition hints are remarkable, and I appreciated the injury-treatment segments. There’s too much chitchat for my liking, though, with many stories, anecdotes, and non-technical, gospel-like content. Some chapters are unattractive to the experienced runner (running with dogs, the music while running debate, and training with scooters?). This book targets the newcomer and the veteran runner switching to the barefoot technique. The first book in the series, Born to Run, was the commercial hit introducing barefoot running to the masses. This one is trying to be both a sequel and something different that can live independently. Meeting all these goals was a complicated bet.
Blind’s man bluff, by Susan Sontag
(Immersione rapida, Net)
This book made a lot of noise when it came out in 1998. Back then, most of the events narrated were unknown to the general public. The cold-war stories contained within are as enthralling as spy, maritime and Cold War stories can get. This book is still relevant today, as it does an excellent job of recounting the Cold War craziness and revealing how close humanity got to shooting his own feet, and we never knew.
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
(Cime Tempestose, BUR)
What a weird work of fiction. I was expecting the usual romantic story between noble landowners in late 19th-century England, full of heartbreak and probably opposed by their respective families, the difficulties of rural life, or both. I found myself immersed in a much darker, twisted and sick version of the story, in which every single character is flawed, and there is not a single light of hope. A few weeks passed since I read it, and I’m still trying to come to terms with it. This book was well ahead of its time (1847) and still challenges the readers today. As I read, I could not help but think, “What kind of sick author would write a thing like this?” Emily Brontë’s life was not easy, and many experiences of her and her family percolated in the novel in one way or another. I found an [excellent review] on Goodreads, and I’m using it as a guideline for pondering this novel. For as an oddball as it is, this book is a must-read.
L’umanità è un tirocinio, by Domenico Starnone
Getting to know my beloved Starnone better through the literary fascinations that turned him on, the sharp reflections on authors and texts, and his very personal “shattering” of articles representing a lifetime’s thoughts on writing and writing was terrific. “The texts collected here owe what little good they possibly hold to the forty-five years of passionate, enjoyable daily conversation with Anita; time has passed too quickly.” It was not an easy read, mainly because most of the mentioned texts I had never read before, but worth it. My to-read list has surely grown much longer now.
The overstory, by Richard Powers
(Il sussurro del mondo, La nave di Teseo)
I found it overly dull and did not finish it. Strange, because it sounds like a book I’d love. Maybe I’ll try again in a few years.
La mossa del matto, by Alessandro Barbaglia
Alessandro Barbaglia’s La mossa del matto (The fool’s move) tries to be three things in one: the life story of chess champion Bobby Fischer, a reconciliation dialogue between author and father, who died too soon, as well the tracing of a daring parallel between Fischer’s relationship with Russian champion Boris Spasskij and that of Achilles and Ulysses of Homeric memory. In our neck of the woods, we say that too much is crippling, and this work runs the risk. More here.
Disasters, by Daniil Charms
Daniil Charms was considered a children’s author and could not stand children all his life. While his whimsical fairy tales populated illustrated books and magazines, giving him something to live on in the silence of his room, he also feverishly wrote tales for adults, equally imaginative but inhabited by an excruciating melancholy, as in fairy tales went wrong. More here.
Land and sea, by Carl Schmitt
(Terra e mare, Adelphi)
Land and Sea is an essay in short story form written in 1942 by Carl Schmitt. Subtitled “A consideration of world history told to my daughter Anna,” this essay recounts and summarizes the geo-historical-legal evolution of our planet since the discovery of the New World. The originality of the work lies in the author’s identification of the Earth-Sea dichotomy as the driving force of human history. More here.
Medieval callings, by Jacques Le Goff
(L’uomo medievale, Laterza)
Medieval Callings comprises eleven essays by internationally renowned medieval historians. Somewhat deceptively, only Jacques Le Goff’s prestigious name appears on the front page, as he authored the introductive essay and handpicked and curated the collection. Each piece presents a nuanced profile of a significant social or professional Middle Ages group. Warrior knights, monks, high churchmen, criminals, lepers, shepherds, artists, and prostitutes, all prominent figures of medieval society, are depicted here with great detail. More here.
Being wolf, by Kerstin Ekman
(Essere lupo, Iperborea)
I saw a wolf: that’s the phrase Ulf, a hunter and former forestry inspector now in his seventies, has been brooding, unable to confess to anyone since he spotted a majestic specimen at dawn on the first day of the year. Something clicks inside him, and Ulf, one of the most respected men in the village in deep Sweden where he lives, feels an increasingly solid and intimate connection with the creature. They both are hunters and loners, but why does he feel like an intruder? More here.
No sleep till Shengal, by Zerocalcare
Zerocalcare is an Italian cartoonist whose strips, especially in the form of illustrated books, have surged to an iconic level in the last decade. His drawing is excellent, but it is with his writing that, I think, he conquered fame. His stories are fun to read and yet profound and vibrant, all at the same time. Also, he often touches on themes nobody else covers, at least not in the comics world. It was the case with Kobane Calling: Greetings from Northern Syria, his graphic reportage from Syrian Kurdistan and the Syria-Turkey border. The author visited the area with other volunteers to support the Kurdish resistance. I think Kobane Calling did a lot in raising awareness of the Kurdish situation, at least here in Italy (an English edition was published too.) More here.
Red Mars, by Kim Stanley Robinson
(Il rosso di marte, Fanucci)
Regarding space-related topics and scientific research, Casey Handmer’s blog is one of my references. So when Casey started his Mars Trilogy Technical Commentary and I learned about Kim Stanley Robinson’s masterpiece, I was instantly intrigued. In Casey’s opinion, KSR’s Mars Trilogy is “one of the finest works of literature ever composed.” It took a couple of weeks of futile resistance before I gave in and ordered the first book in the series, Red Mars, a 420 pages tome that attempts to depict a scientifically credible human colonization of Mars. More here.
Sanguina ancora, by Paolo Nori
Sanguina Ancora (Still Bleeding) is not a biography but a passionate and informative tribute to Dostoevsky. The nonlinear, not literary style works and the continuous back and forth between Dostoevsky’s epic and the author’s own experiences as a scholar and Russian literature enthusiast is probably a good idea as it helps stress the actualness of Dostoevsky’s opus. More here.
Uomini, boschi e api, by Mario Rigoni Stern
“I wish everyone could listen to the song of the partridges as the sun rises, see the deer on pastures in spring, the larch trees reddened by autumn on the edges of rocks, the darting of fish among the clear waters of streams, and the bees gathering nectar from the flowering cherry trees. In these stories, I write about village places. These natural environments are still livable, about the beautiful social insects that are bees, but also about ancient jobs that are slowly and inexorably disappearing.” More here.Join the mailing list or subscribe to the RSS feed. Follow me on Mastodon or X.