Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Existential Ennui Review of the Year: a Big Long List of the Books I Read in 2013

Well, thus far the Existential Ennui Review of the Year has turned into a wander rather further down memory lane than I'd intended – witness the preambulatory contextual rambles at the start of my posts on the ten best comics I read and the ten best albums I heard in 2013, which ventured far beyond 2013 to detail in tiresome fashion my personal histories with both comics and music. Rest assured, however, that there'll be none of that nonsense in this post, because we're back on more recognisable terrain here in the shape of the traditional – as in, including this post, I've rolled something similar out four years running now (twice in 2010, ridiculously) – big long list of the books I read this year.

As in previous years, the list is ordered roughly in the, er, order in which I read the books, and the title of each book links to whatever I wrote about it. Analysis (oh dear God) follows underneath the list.

Comeback (1997) by Richard Stark
Backflash (1998) by Richard Stark
Flashfire (2000) by Richard Stark
Unknown Man No. 89 (1977) by Elmore Leonard
Dominion (2012) by C. J. Sansom
Alys, Always (2012) by Harriet Lane
One Fat Englishman (1963) by Kingsley Amis
Call for the Dead (1961) by John le Carré
A Murder of Quality (1962) by John le Carré
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963) by John le Carré
The Boy Who Followed Ripley (1980) by Patricia Highsmith (reread)
Ripley Under Water (1991) by Patricia Highsmith (reread)
Ghostman (2013) by Roger Hobbs
My Enemy's Enemy (1962) by Kingsley Amis
Life After Life (2013) by Kate Atkinson
Dr. Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks (1964) by David Whitaker
A Delicate Truth (2013) by John le Carré
Flush as May (1963) by P. M. Hubbard
From Here to Maternity (1955) by Peter Rabe
Out of Sight (1996) by Elmore Leonard
Cuba Libre (1998) by Elmore Leonard
Get Shorty (1990) by Elmore Leonard (reread)
The Hunted (1977) by Elmore Leonard
Swag (1976) by Elmore Leonard
Stick (1983) by Elmore Leonard (reread)
LaBrava (1983) by Elmore Leonard
Road Dogs (2009) by Elmore Leonard
Valdez is Coming (1970) by Elmore Leonard
Gold Coast (1980) by Elmore Leonard
Fifty-Two Pickup (1974) by Elmore Leonard
Be Shot for Sixpence (1956) by Michael Gilbert
Out on the Rim (1987) by Ross Thomas
Deep Water (1957) by Patricia Highsmith
The Switch (1978) by Elmore Leonard
Count Not the Cost (1967) by Ian Mackintosh
A Magnum for Schneider (1969) by James Mitchell
The Man Who Sold Death (1964) by James Munro
A Slaying in September (1967) by Ian Mackintosh
The Sandbaggers (1978) by Ian Mackintosh
Our Man in Camelot (1975) by Anthony Price

I make that forty books in total, which is twenty-four fewer than I managed in 2012 and twenty-nine fewer than I managed in 2010, although only eight fewer than 2011. There is, of course, a very good reason for this – one which I trust and fervently hope will continue to have an impact on my reading for many years to come – and we should also bear in mind that I read quite a lot of comics too, so all things considered, it's really not a bad total. Obviously it's not quite the end of the year yet, and I do have a further four(!) books on the go, but I'd be surprised if I finish any of them before 2013 breathes its last. And even if I do, who's to know apart from me? It'll just give me a headstart on next year's total (which I suspect I'll need).

So, what can we determine from the 2013 list? Well, almost all of the books I read were novels, and even the two that weren't – Kingsley Amis's My Enemy's Enemy and Peter Rabe's From Here to Maternity – are still essentially fiction, the former a short story collection and the latter a fictionalised illustrated account of Rabe's wife's pregnancy. Just three were published this year – Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, Roger Hobbs's Ghostman and John le Carré's A Delicate Truth – and a further two – Harriet Lane's Alys, Always and C. J. Sansom's Dominion – were published into paperback this year (having been published in hardback last year) and so could still be considered 'new'. The rest were published across the preceding six decades – two in the 2000s; six in the 1990s; five in the 1980s; eight in the 1970s; eleven in the 1960s; and three in the 1950s. Almost all, however, were 'new' to me, with the exceptions of Patricia Highsmith's The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water and Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty and Stick, which I'd read before.

If we were to divide the books into categories, twenty are what you could loosely term crime fiction; eleven are to a greater or lesser degree spy fiction; five are I suppose what you'd call literary and/or historical fiction; two are westerns; one is science fiction; and one would be categorised as humour. The author I read the most in 2013, appositely given that he passed away this year, is Elmore Leonard, by a wide margin: thirteen novels in total (including the two rereads). His nearest rival isn't, in terms of raw numbers, any kind of rival at all really – John le Carré, of whose novels I read four this year – while I read three books apiece by Richard Stark (alias Donald E. Westlake, who was my most-read author in 2012 and 2010), Patricia Highsmith (again including two rereads), James Mitchell (including one written under the pen name James Munro) and Ian Mackintosh, and two by Kingsley Amis.

Fascinating stuff, I'm sure you'll agree, but as the more attentive souls among you may have noticed, it tells us little to nothing about the books themselves. For that I'd suggest following the links to read whatever piffle I posted about each of them. And if you're curious as to which books I'd pick as my ten best of the year, all will be revealed in the final post not only in the Existential Ennui Review of the Year, but of the year.


  1. 40 books? Slacker! I radically improved my reading this year, from maybe 150 books to 260 books. But I don't have a baby.

  2. 260 books?! Good God. I don't think I could manage that even without a baby (and a comics habit). Apart from anything else I think I'd be sick of reading books by the end of the year, and that would mean the end of EE. Hmm; now there's a thought...

  3. My number improved mostly because I stopped reviewing every book I read. And I increased the number of books I read for work.

  4. Wish my list were so simple. I read over 100 books on average each year but 90% are books published prior to 1975 and most of them are under 200 pages. I expect my totals would be far less if I read only contemporary books. Do you ever NOT finish any books you start? I have a separate list of those. I abandoned 22 books for various reasons. So my actual list is 124 books attempted and 102 (so far) completed. Of those completed only 16 were published in 2012 or 2013.

    OH! and I have an entire box filled with new books (published this year) I purchased or received from publishers that I *still* haven't read. Guess you can see where my preferred taste lies.

  5. Hmm, I've managed 49 so far this year and a few short stories. I try and go for more literary short stories to make up for all the genre stuff I read. Why I should feel that way I don't know, weird justifications that don't mean anything.

    Amongst the novels a few Simenons, which is cheating really though I enjoy his stuff a lot. Started the year with a fine Alan Williams thriller and seeing it out with M John Harrison's 'Nova Swing'. Hopefully time for one more. Novel of the year: 'Falling in Place' by Ann Beattie. Or maybe 'Samaritan' by Richard Price...damn...

    Thanks for another excellent year's blogging.

  6. Nick, I usually don't read more than 50 books a year mainly because I'm a slow reader, I spend a lot of time playing chess, and I also read lots of comics, mostly vintage. I do have plans to read more novels of John le Carré and Elmore Leonard next year. Patricia Highsmith is also on my list. However, I have never read Richard Stark before and I may try a couple of his books.

  7. John: it's rare that I don't finish a book. It may take me a while in some cases – I've been known to stop if I'm not into a book at that precise moment and pick it up again six months later – but I usually get there. Aside from the four books I mentioned that I still have on the go, the only one I've essentially abandoned this year is Le Carre's Looking-Glass War, purely because I was Le Carre'd-out at that point. I'm sure I'll come back to it though. And hey: over 100 books! That's good going, irrespective of their length

    Chris: and thank you for reading. Not sure it's been all that excellent, but there were a few bits I was pleased with. What was the Alan Williams thriller you read? His daughter, Sophie, left a comment ages ago on this post.

    Prashant: with all that chess-playing and those comics, I'd say that 50 is a very creditable total. And I don't think any of us should give ourselves a hard time about how many books we have or haven't read; not that we do anyway, but I'd wager even my 40 is a bigger total than that achieved by yer average non-book-obsessed man in the street (or on the couch). Ooh, and if your reading year next year involves Le Carre, Leonard, Highsmith AND Richard Stark, you have quite the year ahead of you.

  8. Great list, and I've enjoyed reading your posts about many of these this year. Can't wait to see what you've got on tap for the next one.

  9. Thanks Kelly. Probably more of the same to be honest, but I've realised I'm not far off my 1000th post, so I'll have to think up something special for that.

  10. Sun King: The Williams novel I read was 'The Tale of the Lazy Dog'. It has a truly wonderful ending. Have his 'Beria Papers' lined up for soon.

    Enjoyed a couple of Norman Lewis' excellent thrillers this year as well, they seem completely forgotten compared to his travel books.

  11. I'm not familiar with Norman Lewis. I shall have to keep an eye out for his books.