My top 10 books for the 1936 Club

the 1936-club


For several years, Simon at Stuck in a Book, has been organizing club years, in which he encourages everybody to read books published in the same year.

For this year, he chose 1936. As I had a few titles from that year on my Classics Club list, I thought that would be a great way to work on my list.

I think the main idea is to draw a literary portrait of that year.
If you are curious, you can check on this Goodreads list or on this one (less complete, but you can compare with the books you have read), or on this wikipedia page (more complete I think) titles of books published that year.

It seems I have personally read 10 books published that year.
NB: For books translated into English, I am considering the year they were first published in their original language, not the year they were published in English

  1. Gone with the Wind
  2. The Joy of Cooking
  3. The Diary of a Country Priest
  4. A City of Bells
  5. Double Indemnity
  6. The Swedish Cavalier
  7. The A.B.C. Murders, by Agatha Christie
  8. Murder in Mesopotamia, by Agatha Christie
  9. Cards on the Table, by Agatha Christie
  10. A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’

And I have 3 on my TBR list:

  1. Jamaica Inn
  2. War with the Newts
  3. Death at the President’s Lodging (Sir John Appleby, #1)

I have read and reviewed four since January 1st, 2021:

click on the covers to access my reviews

  The ABC Murders Murder in Mesopotamia

  Cards on the Table A cat a man and two women

So now, to follow the rules for #1936Club, here are 2 fresh reviews:

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity,
by James M. Cain
Published in 1936
115 pages

I watched the movie years ago, but didn’t remember all of the story, and have completely forgotten the ending, which is a good thing, as I am told the ending of the book is different. They changed the ending in the movie, to go along with the movie codes of the time.

It’s basically the story of Walter Huff, a Californian insurance salesman always on the lookout for the ideal client for a perfect sale. He thinks Mr. Nirdlinger could be one. Until things don’t go exactly as planned.

What really struck me right away was the style. It’s a first person narrative that flows like daily conversation and inner monologue, with loose grammar. I think this raw style fits beautifully to tell that story, but it sounds quite modern for 1936.

There’s many a man walking around today that’s worth more to his loved ones dead than alive, only he don’t know it yet.
Chapter 1

The richness of the book is in the astute psychological study of the characters.
As an Orthodox Christian steeped in Patristics, I have to say this was also a perfect illustration of the functioning of what we call temptations and the passions. You just touch something lightly with your little finger (at that point, you still have the freedom to get away afterwards), but you linger on the feeling, and then before you know it, you are stuck in up to your elbow, and then with your whole body and soul (and it’s basically too late to unglue yourself from the situation).
For instance, when Huff meets Mrs. Phyllis Nirdlinger for the first time, he sees all the red flags and his intuition tells him to get out of there presto, and yet he sits down and starts talking.
All along, Huff almost seems to be dragged along by inner forces stronger than his conscious will. 

I knew where I was at, of course.  I was standing right on the deep end, looking over the edge, and I kept telling myself to get out of there, and get quick, and never come back. But that was what I kept telling myself.  What I was doing was peeping over that edge, and all the time I was trying to pull away from it, there was something in me that kept edging a little closer, trying to get a better look.

But that thing was in me, pushing me still closer to the edge.
Chapter 2

And at the same time, he is actively getting more and more willingly and creatively involved. But is he even smart enough to do that?

Of course, the suspense is extremely well done. The story could go into so many directions, as little by little, more characters get involved.
The ending the author chose seems consistent to me with the inner mechanism I have described above.

It’s ultimately a great study of double manipulation. 

The Swedish CavalierThe Swedish Cavalier,
by Leo Perutz
(Austrian novelist and mathematician)
Translated from the German by John Brownjohn
Published in 1936
192 pages
Historical fiction

This was a major surprise, and I am shocked indeed to see that none of my fellow readers at the Classics Club seems to have reviewed it. I don’t remember seeing this title on any book blog I follow. The reason why it was on my TBR is that I heard about it in 2016 in a French TV literary program. It was recommended by contemporary author Emmanuel Carrère.

The foreword wants to present the story within a firm historical background, telling the reader this is based on the unknown memoirs published by Maria Christine von Blohme, whose father she only called “the Swedish cavalier”. His story, or the story of two men, then follows.

The first part opens in the cold winter of 1701, along the war-torn Polish-Russian border. By chance, a thief fleeing the gallows meets Christian von Tornefeld, a Swedish aristocrat and deserter (because he no longer wants to fight for foreign powers), now on his way to fight for his Swedish king Charles XII. But neither will reach his destination, and their fate is going to get inter connected in many ways, to the extreme that I will not specify here to avoid spoilers.

If Cain chose a rather modern style, Perutz did just the opposite, with a curious mix of genres (and it works superbly!): older style historical fiction, crime novel, and fairy tale (for instance with the secret powers of an arcanum, the character of the old miller, and the visits to the young girl at the end). It totally felt I was meeting with Don Quixote again. It has some of its humoristic passages (for instance with the thief giving his particular interpretation to what he sees in the fields, and then following that as reality), yet also dramatic scenes not unlike Dante’s Inferno (the bishop’s stamp-mill is even called the inferno; and there are a few final judgement scenes), and outcome that have made some critics compare it to Kafkaesque literature.
I often also felt I was inside a Bruegel painting!

The Swedish Cavalier has themes not uncommon to Double Indemnity, such as manipulation, deceit, and betrayal, but with a more metaphysical outlook, with moral values like courage and loyalty, an active conscience leading to thoughts of repentance, as well as aspects of redemption, totally absent in Cain’s novel.

This is a fascinating story in its form and content, and I highly recommend it.

My year 1936 recap over three continents:

A major American classic (and I am sorry, but if you plan on cancelling it, you have no idea what REAL culture and history are, and you might want to look into ways to get educated in the first place); a major French classic; a cookbook that is still used in many households; a charming and romantic British classic (at least that’s the memory I have of this book by Elizabeth Goudge I read in my late teens); three books by the queen of crime; a whimsy Japanese classic; and the two unique works (including one from Austria) reviewed here: all these attest to a rich and diverse year 1936, at least from I have read.


2021: February wrap-up

February 2021 WRAP-UP

Time flies! Which is a good thing, as it means we are getting closer to warmer days, and to getting a COVID vaccine.
I am very happy with my reading schedule these days, focusing more on my TBR. And with reviewing a lot of what I have been reading, mostly thanks to doing short reviews for my Sunday Post.
I hope this will allow me soon to catch up with reviews I was supposed to write in 2020.

📚 So here is what I read in February:

13 books:
9 in print 
with 1,759 pages, a daily average of 62 pages/day
4 in audio
= 24H06
, a daily average of 51 minutes

4 in nonfiction:

  1. In Praise of Shadows, by Junichiro Tanizaki – for The Classics Club,  the Japanese Reading Challenge 14, and the Books in Translation Challenge
  2. Le Jourde & Naulleau, by Pierre Jourde and Eric Naulleau
  3. The Book of Proverbs – audiobook, for The Classics Club and the Books in Translation Challenge
  4. The Book of Ecclesiastes – audiobook, for The Classics Club and the Books in Translation Challenge

4 in literary fiction:

  1. L’Anomalie, by Hervé Le Tellier
  2. Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, by Jeff Backhaus
  3. A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Junichiro Tanizaki – for The Classics Club,  the Japanese Reading Challenge 14, and the Books in Translation Challenge
  4. Encre sympathique, by Patrick Modiano

4 in mystery:

  1. Murder in Mesopotamia (Hercule Poirot #14), by Agatha Christie – for The Classics Club
  2. Dans l’oeil du démon, by Junichiro Tanizaki – for The Classics Club,  the Japanese Reading Challenge 14, and the Books in Translation Challenge
  3. Gone by Midnight, by Candice Fox
  4. La Vallée, by Bernard Minier – French audiobook

1 in poetry:

  1. The Half-Finished Heaven, by Tomas Tranströmer – for The Classics Club and the Books in Translation Challenge


   L'Anomalie Hikikomori


Classics Club: 20/137 (from November 2020-until November 2025)
Japanese Literature Challenge: 6 books 

Total of books read in 2021 = 26/120
Number of books added to my TBR this past month = 30


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Sunday Post #38


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Sunday Post #38 – 2/14/2021

Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by
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It’s a chance to share news.
A post to recap the past week on your blog,
showcase books and things we have received.
Share news about what is coming up
on your blog
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More snow, and another cold week, the last one it looks like. Hibernation with books is still my program. I finished five books this past week! Three had actually a lot in common.


Hikikomori   A cat a man and two women

Devils in Daylight  The Half-Finished Heaven      

📚 Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, by Jeff Backhaus
Published in 2013

As I am doing the Japanese Literature Challenge, I thought it was perfect timing to finally read this novel that has been sitting on my shelf for a while.
As shown in the title, it’s focused on a contemporary mostly Japanese social phenomenon: hikikomori. These people withdraw from society, seeking extreme degrees of social isolation and confinement.
In this novel, a wife is very concerned for her husband Thomas, who’s been a hikikomori in New York for three years. She hires Megumi, a young woman, a Japanese Korean immigrant, to try to help her husband reconnect with society. Megumi’s own brother also experienced this phase in his life.
The author is not Japanese, but still, I found something of the simple beauty and melancholy I often find in Japanese novels. It’s a powerful book about human relationships, about grief, about love.

Hikikomori p1We get to know little by little what led Thomas to that type of life.
Can Megumi’s life experience and knowledge of her brother’s issues help her come to Thomas’s rescue? And how will that impact her own life?
It’s a very deep book I think, that will stay with me. The ending was very satisfying. 

📚 A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Published in 1936
Translated by Paul McCarthy
Read for Japanese Reading Challenge 14, Books in Translation Challenge, and for The Classics Club

I have read four books by Tanizaki this year, and they are all very different, including a fascinating essay on Japanese aesthetics.
This one is about a love triangle involving a cat! And a cat with a lot of character, as any cat owner would expect!
Shozo has gotten rid of his wife Shinako. Possibly under the heavy influence of his mother, who had some personal interest in Shozo choosing another wife. Shinako is lonely and experiencing a complex range of feelings towards her ex.
Remembering the importance the cat Lily had in his life, she decides to ask for the cat to be hers.
Will she get the cat, that she originally hated for taking so much room in her former husband’s heart? How will she behave with the cat? What will Shozo do without his cat? And what about the cat herself, how will she react?
This is a neat small novel also about human relationships in all its complexities, including manipulation.
Shozo  appears as a weak character, always vacillating (why is there always so much vacillation in many Japanese classics I have read so far?). He appears even weaker when we eventually discover his real feelings near the end of the book.
The book has an open conclusion, which I thought worked well with the type of characters present in the novel.
Behind it all is also a lot of comedy.
I highly recommend it to lovers of Japanese literature or to readers who have never read a Japanese novel. It’s short and is quite representative of Japanese classics, I think. And of course, it’s a must for all cat lovers!

📚 Devils in Daylight, by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
Published in 1918
Read in its French translation, Dans l’œil du démon, by Patrick Honoré and Ryoko Sekiguchi.
Read for Japanese Reading Challenge 14, Books in Translation Challenge, and for The Classics Club

So after that, I right away read another book by Tanizaki, this time a mystery. I couldn’t find an English version at the ready, so I read it in French.
One day, Takahashi receives a phone call from his friend Sonomura. He says he found a note containing a secret code. Thanks to his knowledge of a similar thing in Edgar Allan Poe, he managed to decrypt the message, and knows that a murder is going to take place at a particular place.
He thinks this is pretty exciting and invites Takahashi  to accompany him to watch.
Takahashi knows his friend is kind of crazy, so he first thinks this is all an invention, but then little by little evidence piles up that this is for real…
This was a very clever short novel, again about human relationships and manipulation! Alongside an unhealthy kind of love.
I found some weird mix of language registers in the French translation, with some very literary passages along very informal or even slang. I cannot alas compare with the original version, nor with another translation, so I’m not sure if this is due to a bad translation.
Still, it’s a very good story with an unexpected twist.

📚 The Half-Finished Heaven, by Tomas Tranströmer
Published in 1962
Translated by Robert Bly
Reading for Books in Translation Challenge, and for The Classics Club

And now to something totally different, a small collection of poems by Tomas Tranströmer, a Swedish poet who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2011.
I forgot how I ran into him, and decided to give it a try.
I like his style, sometimes containing obscure images, but very evocative of nature and its impact on people.
If you wonder about Vermeer’s painting on the cover, it’s because Tranströmer wrote a whole poem inventing a scenario around it.
Here are a few poems I really liked:


🎧 And I listened to the Book of Proverbs, for my project to relisten to the whole Bible.


Gone by Midnight Encre sympathique

  Jourde & Naulleau La Vallée

It feels so good to be up to date with review copies and reading challenges, and to take time to read books from my shelves, or just any book that strikes my fancy of the moment

📚 Gone by Midnight, by Candice Fox
Published on March 10, 2020 (US publication)

I discovered Australian thriller author Candice Fox fairly recently. After Crimson Lake and Redemption Point, I’m glad I can finally read book 3 in the series, which seems to be just as good.

“Crimson Lake is where people with dark pasts come to disappear—and where others vanish into thin air…
Four young boys are left alone in a hotel room while their parents dine downstairs. When Sara Farrow checks on the children at midnight, her son is missing.
Distrustful of the police, Sara turns to Crimson Lake’s unlikeliest private investigators—disgraced cop Ted Conkaffey and convicted killer Amanda Pharrell. For Ted, the case couldn’t have come at a worse time. Two years ago a false accusation robbed him of his career, his reputation, and most importantly, his family. But now Lillian, the daughter he barely knows, is coming to stay in his ramshackle cottage by the lake.
Ted must dredge up the area’s worst characters to find the missing boy. The clock is ticking, and the danger he uncovers could well put his own child in deadly peril.”

📚 Encre synpathique, by Patrick Modiano
Published in 2019

I fell in love with Modiano‘s style back in 1978 with Rue des boutiques obscures (Prix Goncourt – translated as Missing Person). Since then, after reading several more of his novels, I got sometimes tired of his style, with so many characteristics common to all his novels.
Still, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014. And some of his later novels had even sometimes elements closer to the mystery genre, like Pour que tu ne te perdes pas dans le quartier, translated as So you don’t get lost in the neighborhood).
A French student of mine really enjoyed his latest book, and she managed to convince me to try it. I am obviously reading it in French, but it was translated in English (Invisible Ink) in 2020 by Mark Polizzotti.

“The latest work from Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, Invisible Ink is a spellbinding tale of memory and its illusions. Private detective Jean Eyben receives an assignment to locate a missing woman, the mysterious Noëlle Lefebvre. While the case proves fruitless, the clues Jean discovers along the way continue to haunt him. Three decades later, he resumes the investigation for himself, revisiting old sites and tracking down witnesses, compelled by reasons he can’t explain to follow the cold trail and discover the shocking truth once and for all.”

📚 Le Jourde & Naulleau, by Perre Jourde and Éric Naulleau
Published in 2008

Unfortunately, this book will probably never be translated in English, and it would remain totally obscure for readers not familiar with contemporary French authors.
It is actually a totally hilarious pastiche on a famous collection of French literature textbooks, les Lagarde & Michard, that generations of French students studied with. it consists in 6 volumes, one on the Middle Ages, then on 16th, etc., until the 20th century. These books were published between 1948 and 1962. They are the most printed  French textbooks, with over 20 million copies, and are now available as ebooks.
Each volume presents the important literary movements of that century; biographies of the main authors, with excerpts of their works, notes, explanations and assignment questions for students.
So Jourde and Naulleau decided to follow that format to “analyze” low quality contemporary French authors. They also added answer keys to some of their questions. It is really totally hilarious, very disrespectful as the French know how to do. I laugh aloud at every page.

And I’m also into French with my current audiobook, a very popular author of thrillers, but that I had not read yet:

🎧 La Vallée, by Bernard Minier
Published on April 2, 2020
Not yet available n English

In the middle of the night, police inspector Martin Servaz receives a phone call from a woman asking his help. The weird thing is that she disappeared eight years before and he had not heard from her ever since.
I just listened to a passage taking place close to and in a Cistercian monastery. That was unexpected and neat, as I’m very familiar with that milieu.


Maybe this book, or the one I received this past week,  see below.

A Fine Line

📚 A Fine Line, by Alan Burns
Published in 2017

Dan Burns in an Illinois Chicago author I met at a couple of events. I liked his style in his short story collection No Turning Back, so a few years ago I bought this one, a thriller.

“A Fine Line is a story about Sebastian Drake, a struggling writer working out of a dilapidated apartment in the city and trying to come up with his next story idea. Drake receives an unexpected visit from a man interested in hiring him for a project and who thinks he has just the solution to Drake’s writing challenges. He also thinks that Drake’s past and secret life with a shadow government organization is a valuable asset.
His proposition to Drake is simple: become a hired agent to investigate a cold murder case involving one of Chicago’s most powerful political families. The job comes with a decent paycheck, all the support he might need, and the types of real life experiences that can form the basis for great fiction stories.
This is a story about a man with a new lease on life, a man who leads a dual existence. By day, he is an aspiring author. By night, he is a rogue undercover and unknown vigilante. His biggest challenge is keeping intact the fine line of reality and fiction.”


The Hunting Gun The Waiting Years

Two Japanese classics, surprised? lol . Two famous authors I have not read yet.

📚 The Hunting Gun, by Yasushi Inoue
Published in 1949

“The Hunting Gun, set in the period immediately following WWII, follows the consequences of a tragic love affair among well-to-do people in an exclusive suburb of the great commercial cities of Osaka and Kobe. Told from the viewpoints of three different women, this is a story of the psychological impact of illicit love. First viewed through the eyes of Shoko, who learns of the affair through reading her mother’s diary, then through the eyes of Midori, who had long known about the affair of her husband with Saiko, and finally through the eyes of Saiko herself.”

📚 The Waiting Years, by Fumiko Enchi
Published in 1957

The beautiful, immature girl whom she took home to her husband was a maid only in name. Tomo’s real mission had been to find him a mistress. Nor did her secret humiliation end there. The web that his insatiable lust spun about him soon trapped another young woman, and another … and the relationships between the women thus caught were to form, over the years, a subtle, shifting pattern in which they all played a part. There was Suga, the innocent, introspective girl from a respectable but impoverished family; the outgoing, cheerful, almost boyish Yumi; the flirtatious, seductive Miya, who soon found her father-in-law more dependable as a man than his brutish son…. And at the center, rejected yet dominating them all, the near tragic figure of the wife Tomo, whose passionate heart was always, until that final day, held in check by an old-fashioned code.
In a series of colorful, unforgettable scenes, Enchi brilliantly handles the human interplay within the ill-fated Shirakawa family. Japan’s leading woman novelist and a member of the prestigious Art Academy, she combines a graceful, evocative style that consciously echoes the Tale of Genji with keen insight and an impressive ability to develop her characters over a long period of time. Her work is rooted deep in the female psychology, and it is her women above all-so clearly differentiated yet all so utterly feminine-who live in the memory. With The Waiting Years, a new and important literary figure makes her debut in the Western world.



📚 The Future of Buildings, Transportation, and Power, 
by Roger Duncan and Michael E. Webber
Published in July 2020

I featured this book a few weeks ago, and ended up winning the giveaway! Sounds really fascinating.

“The evolution of buildings, transportation and power will determine how our future looks and feels, and in the book Roger Duncan and Michael E. Webber argue the Energy Efficiency Megatrend will shape our future technology.
Buildings and vehicles will evolve into sentient-appearing machines such that we will be living, working and moving about inside robots. Buildings may develop personalities and the transportation system will have any manner of vehicle available at a moment’s notice. This complex, interconnected system will be powered by the clean and efficient conversion of fuels and energy flows that surround us.”


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  • 2/16: Top Ten Tuesday, with Purple, Yellow, and/or Green Book Covers
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