I'm not going to comment on every book on my list, but there are a few that I would have loved to devote an entire post to, but didn't so will try to briefly deal with a couple of them.
The Medici Conspiracy was written by a journalist, is a true story of illegal art smuggling, and was about as boring as watching ticker-tape run. It ended up being a somewhat fascinating, appalling list of items stolen by the same 5 people. Although it easily could have dealt with fascinating questions such as 1. Who does this art belong to? 2. Does it matter that it was illegally excavated if museums end up with it anyhow? 3. Should museums be the cultural guardians of all antiquities? What would the value of having these items be more widely collectable be? 4. Questions of provenance and repatriation. Unfortunately, the book neither asked nor answered any of these. On the other hand Museums and American Intellectual Life was written by a historian, is about the development of museum theory in the late 19th C. early 20th C. and was fascinating and well written: the scope of understanding and implication is breathtaking and stimulating. I have quoted from it extensively in my Victorians post. I could go on and on, but won't. It's on my top 10 list of books that have brought about a sea-change in my mind.
The Glass Room. It's hard to know where to start with this one. This is one of the most well written, literary books I have read recently. The images are visceral, and the story odd and sad. I think what I loved most about this book is that the text itself was so violent and harsh, and the story was all clean lines, glass panels, and black marble. It's hard to recommend though because of one specific incident in the story that still brings bile to the back of my throat.
After I was introduced to British murder mysteries through Agatha Christie, I quickly moved on to Margery Allingham's hero Albert Campion. When these were made into BBC mini-series, I will admit here to all of The Internet that Campion was my first crush. It was so fun to re-watch these recently with BarkSavage and thought I would re-read them as well. Last year I made it through the first half of the Campion books--all set in the late 30s, and written about then as well. The stories are light, humorous, stylish, and a nice foil to the farcical PG Wodehouse Bertie and Wooster stories. What I did not realize in my earlier reading of the series was that Allingham continued the series after an almost 30 year hiatus. I have started in on these and was so interested to read them--they are really different in tone, still with the characteristic humor, but not the same light subject matter. They take place 20 years after the first books, so Campion has married and aged; he was in the intelligence service during the war. I love that she gave him a history, as she had as well. The tone is drastically different that the first set. It's fascinating to see her set the same society type dramas, but in the early post-war period. Her observations about the changes in society and how that affects the story really are so interesting. I love too that they were written close to that same time, so that the verisimilitude is exacting.
I'll include a quick example:
"She was neither drunk nor drugged, and indeed looked remarkably healthy and most unlikely to be the victim of some toxic condition, but everybody in the room recognized her typical symptoms with the same sense of dismay.
The breaking middle-class wife, driven by one of twenty possible shortcomings of her own or her husband's, strained by a speed of living for which she was not designed, and
permitted by the absence of any cast-iron code of manners to destroy them both by public attack, was a figure of the second postwar period. Melisande Mayo was a casualty as familiar and distinctive ti the group in the rectory as any gang of Mods and Rockers out for a bash, and the fact did not make her any easier to have about the house."
The Mysterious Benedict Society. A fun book, employing many of the now recognizable forms of a good adventure series: an odd assortment of outcasts or loners work together to solve the impossible threat to the whole world. Interestingly it crosses over to some of the themes in both The Mind Readers (Allingham) and The Shallows (Carr) in discussing the talents of children's brains, and the affects of radio waves (or other media) on them. I liked it enough to move on to the rest of the series sometime in the future.
I'll deal with Penelope Fitzgerald in another post...