Posts Tagged ‘Try Books’

The Last Hundred Days (Patrick McGuinness)

February 22, 2012


In this book, our un-named narrator is a working-class ex-student from London who finds himself teaching English in Bucharest at the end of the Ceausescu regime.  He comes under the protection of Leo O’Heix, who combines the roles of academic, philanthropist and black-marketeer.  He makes some really rather good observations about the experience of being in Bucharest.  He has two Romanian girlfriends:  a bad one (Cilea) and then a good one (Ottilia).  He observes, but does not really take part in, some very Graham Greene plotlines about escapes that aren’t and a new regime to replace Ceausescu that isn’t really new, more the people that would have been squabbling over the succession anyway.

I didn’t find the book satisfactory, for a number of reasons.  The narrator is meant to be your working-class rebel and dropout, even jailbird, but he comes on very like a middle-aged professor of French.  On the one hand, the tells us what it was like instead of showing us how he came to realise it was like that, and on the other we have learned comments concerning Flaubert, Cuvier, mise-en-abime.  There is no sense of lived experience in the way that a young man going abroad for the first time would feel things, and indeed might even notice something about the face and body of his good girlfriend.

The good girlfriend Ottilia gave me the most problems.  She starts off presumably as an obstetrician when O’Heix’s secretary Rodica miscarries, and also refuses a bribe, an act of psychotic aberration in the circumstances.  We learn that she was at school with another character ten years ago, so she’s probably about 28.  She transforms herself into a surgeon to perform a miraculous operation on Leo when required.  At the end, she is able to pretend to be a Russian in both Russian and broken Romanian in attempting to get out of the country.  Such heroines may well be perfectly common in Romania, but if she sees anything in our hero the 21-year-old chancer (we learn that he’s two years younger than her step-brother Petre), then we need to be told what it is.

Then there’s the really quite well done backstory of the narrator’s difficult childhood with a brutal printworker for a father and a brutalised mother.  That’s a lot of print to prepare a throwaway remark about how he was one of the very few foreigners prepared for life in Ceausescu’s Romania…

I think a lot of the problem here is McGuinness’s attempt to both use and distance himself from his own experience.  His actual father worked for the British Council in Bucharest, which meant he met lots of interesting people and attended official gatherings (and got given a job teaching English).  What he clearly wanted to do was to write the typical poet’s book where a passive character wanders around witnessing and feeling, but then he also decided he needed to include his realistic experiences and a thriller plot and some lectures as well…

At one stage the bad girlfriend calls the narrator A gap-year deprivation tourist, which really only applies to the actual McGuinness, not his creation.

There’s a Romanian (newspaper) interview with Patrick McGuinness here, and I don’t think the commenters at the bottom are very pleased with him. You can get a Google translation here.

I was interested to see that he actually produced some poems to go with the novel (the way that Pasternak puts the ‘Poems of Yuri Zhivago’ at the end of Dr Zhivago) and then took them out.

Books in Some Charity Shops of South London: Part 1, Forest Hill

January 25, 2012

Since people very sensibly decline to lose all their money by opening a bookshop–secondhand or otherwise–in the vicinity of Brockley SE4, I’ve decided to undertake a desultory survey of what the local charity shops have to offer.  My first investigation took me to Forest Hill SE23.

The Red Cross shop at 6 London Road was the only one I could call readily to mind.  It turned out to have say 11 shelves of books, say 450 volumes in all.  I noticed about 6 titles that I would have bought if I hadn’t already read them.  I came nearest to buying The Child that Books Built by Frances Spufford, but at £1-50 it was rather expensive for the condition (heavily tanned pages).

Then completely by chance I came across the Aldlife shop at 81-83 Dartmouth Road.  I didn’t know there was a charity shop there and I didn’t know there was such a thing as adrenoleukodystrophy either.  Anyway, the shop had about 800 books, excluding the separate children’s section.  It also had a nice polished wooden floor to sit on while looking at the books.  There was one copy of Atonement (as against two in the Red Cross and a couple of interesting-looking books in German (surely you should have German books in Forest Hill).  The nearest I came to buying anything was The Richness of Life, a selected Stephen Jay Gould in one volume for £1–but it had too much bulk and too little content that was new to me.

Finally I visited the Sue Ryder shop at 30/32 London Road.  I knew the shop was there, but I’ve never been sure of the difference between Sue Ryder and Ann Summers.  This one had 10 shelves of books, say 400 volumes in all, and the shelves were equipped with speakers relaying music loud enough to stop me concentrating.  There were quite a few books in the might have bought category–it looked like someone from Try Books! must have been taking their discards there.  The nearest I came to came to buying anything was Self Help by Edward Docx at £ 3-95 for a bulky hardback (I think paperbacks were £ 1-45).  On further inspection, I found a shelf of travel guides hidden away beneathe the displаy of DVDs in another part of the shop.  No Ian McEwan this time, but plenty of Ngozi Adichie Chimamanda.  Like the Red Cross, this shop had a sign up saying they wanted more stock.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

January 21, 2012


Another Try Books! book and the general reaction was that people were disappointed and had hoped it was going to be more interesting.  The same reaction of general but reasonably mild disappointment is all I can remember from reading it when it first came out in about 2004.

The book is in principle about how the author set up a reading group with some of her favourite (female) students after being forced to leave her university position after the Islamic Revolution.  In fact a lot of it is about her life and experiences at various stages:  as  a student in the US; during the Islamic Revolution; during the Iran-Iraq War; and so on.

The Try Books! members complained there was too much about books and not enough story.  Personally, I thought that the points she had to make on literature were generally both interesting and sound; but I did wonder about the idea of lack of empathy being the great sin condemned in literature from which (by extension) novel readers were at least partially free.  The problem with this is that (for instance) by all accounts Stalin had a genuine love of Russian literature and was also a fine Georgian poet in his youth.  So I don’t believe it.  Nafisi rather approximately refers to Nabokov’s concept of aesthetic bliss, which in his thinking is a free-standing spiritual experience, and I think this is closer to what you can hope to get out of literature.

Along the same lines, on page 48 of my edition (as illustrated above) we find:  I had mentioned that Humbert was a villain because he lacked curiosity about other people and their lives. However, the Author’s Note at the beginning of the book starts off: Aspects of characters and events in this story have been changed…to protect individuals…from the eye of the censor…also from those who read such narratives to discover who’s who and who did what to whom, thriving on and filling their own emptiness through others’ secrets.

That’s interesting in a number of ways:  most obviously, we are left wondering whether curiosity is a good thing after all.  But more importantly the language is dreadfully inexact:  it should really be I have changed aspects…since it didn’t happen as some spontaneous process.  It’s not really the censor who goes through stuff that has been published looking for indication of people to punish.  In English, I think it should be filling emptiness with whatever.

There are many examples of not-quite-English:  In my memory the iron gate acquires an elastic quality [p29]–no, from what follows it remains entirely rigid, whatever else it might do.  Then Nassrin jumped in with a screed about one of the female guards [p211];  a screed is normally written, though it can also be spoken.  The female guards at the door, finding a blush in her bag…[p9] has a positively Lewis Carroll charm; presumably she means ‘blusher’ in place of ‘a blush’.  The air was mild, the trees a verdant green [p 339]–but ‘verdant’ means ‘green’; or perhaps ‘fresh green’.

None of this is so awful from someone whose first language is not English, but in her acknowledgments at the end Nafisi does in her own phrase wax lyrical about Joy de Menil and her meticulous editing.  One of these ladies has some explaining to do.

But my main problem with the book is that you have three levels:  the external events, the students and the books and they remain separate.  If you’re going to do do this kind of thing properly, you need to show the external events reflected in the characters and their relations with each other and how this affects their reactions to the books.  It doesn’t happen.  On the one hand, the attempt to obscure who these people actually were means that the reader never gets a clear idea of the different students in the book group while on the other I am too much of an academic:  I have written too many papers and articles to be able to turn my experiences and ideas into narrative without pontificating [p266].

Lady Audley’s Secret (Mary Elizabeth Braddon)

December 21, 2011


Another Try Books! book, and one chosen by Judy’s daughter Jessica, who turned out to be doing a Ph. D. on Victorian novels (though not this one).

To start with, I was very despondent.

At the beginning of the book, Braddon describes a large house in the country in such a way that I couldn’t visualise it at all.  There was one room going off on a tangent from another–how?–a tangent touches  a curve in one point.  I think she meant the walls weren’t at right-angles.  Then there were the dreamy melodies of Beethoven and Mendelssohn–with the single exception of the Moonlight Sonata that’s hard to fit to Beethoven–presumably she was thinking if anything of that and Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Then we had the plop of the trout in the fish-pond.  Trout live in running waterCarp live in fish-ponds.

I had also gathered from the rather good introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics edition that this was going to be a book where the action flowed from the demands of an elaborate and artificial plot, not from the characters themselves.

But I thought it would be impolite not to make an effort for our visitor, so I adjusted my expectations and soldiered on.

Once I’d done that, the experience was enjoyable.

Wikipedia has a plot summary and some other interesting information about the book here and an article about ME  Braddon here.

I think the thing that makes the book interesting is that Lady Audley undergoes very much the same experiences as her creator–broken family, people going off abroad, being left to fend for oneself from an early age, de facto bigamy, a wife put in madhouse, dreadful secrets that must be hidden from the world–but they appear in a different pattern, the way that things do in a dream.  The interest comes from the tension between what MEB probably wanted to write and what the strictly moralistic book market of her time would allow.  Or to put the same point another way:  ME Braddon’s attitude to Lady  A is conflicted–she can’t find a way of making her safe–which means the book is more than a collection of stereotypes.

The book did have the vigour and breadth we associate with Victorian novels–Robert Audley gets on the train and goes somewhere and questions  different people from different social classes and you felt this was the kind of thing the author had lived, not just sat in a study with a neurasthenic imagination for company.  As Stephanie pointed out, the corollary was that sex was unfortunately absent–strangely so in the story of an adventuress making her way by her feminine wiles.

Maybe that was why Lady Audley–a 20 year old woman–is represented as being unable to walk the three miles there and back to arsonise Castle Inn. She cannot have a real  body at all,  so as not to imperil the morals of a mass audience.

We were scandalised by the author’s description of her as stupid when she’d brought to fruition a number of ingenious plots and managed to deceive all around her.  (The only stupid thing she did was not to go armed when Robert Audley was preaching at her and get rid of the useless bastard.)  Of course, she did GO MAD IN CAPITAL LETTERS towards the end, but that was just Braddon looking for the way  to put her back in the box.

There were issues of continuity throughout the book, caused by it having been written in a tearing hurry for serial publication.  She couldn’t make up her mind whether Lady Audley’s father was a Lieutenant or a Captain, and I’m sure he changed from being an army officer to a naval one in the course of the book.  Then there were the words she used like lymphatic that she didn’t know the meaning of.  Phoebe Marks was Phoebe Marks before and after marriage, but that could just have been your normal rural inbreeding.  I thought that Robert Audley and George Talboys had been together at Eton because it was the only school ME Braddon had heard of, but Jessica said it was more likely the only school the  readers had heard of .

I hope you can take the happy ending for the good and punishment for the wicked–‘I have to say this but you don’t have to believe it’.

Robert Audley ends up marrying George’s sister Clara, seemingly on the grounds that she looks like George, as well as having internalised patriarchal values in obeying her father and devoting herself to finding her brother.  At least that lends a pleasingly homoerotic tinge to the Teddington menage-a-trois at the end.

I was disappointed nobody complained about  the heroine being condemned for abandoning her son when she makes complicated arrangements for having him looked after while good guy Robert Audley merely has to give him dinner, take him down the road and put him in a school!

We were entirely supportive of Lady A and her decision to sell her fanny in the best market she could find–what was she supposed to do, starve?  Any guilt lay with George Talboys (who abandoned her) and Sir Michael Audley (who married a woman more than thirty years his junior–put him on the Sex Offenders’ Register is what I say).  If only she’d carried a concealed weapon and made away with Robert Audley during one of his interminable preachy addresses to her…

Jessica  helpfully explained that this book started off the Novel of Sensation, so called because the genre was so exciting it caused uncontrollable physical reaction in the readers; and that it was thought alarming because mistresses and their maids ended up reading and enjoying the same books.

The Night Watch (Sarah Waters)

August 20, 2011


Try Books! greeted this book with relief and gratitude: a real novel at last, with a variety of characters and settings and some lovely instances of detailed evocation.  These included a properly respectful and detailed attention to South London, for instance Our lady from Forest Hill on the books of the marriage agency where Helen and Viv work.

I was also very glad to see some structural adventure:  the story is told in three parts that take place in 1947, 1943 and 1941 and which are set in London. The main characters are Helen, Julia and Kay; three lesbians, who found that wartime gave them more freedom than they expected.  Especially I suppose Kay, who worked in an ambulance unit during the Blitz.  We also meet Viv, a straight woman in a hopeless affair with a married and worthless affair and Duncan her brother, who has been in prison for a nameless and awful crime.  It’s fascinating to see the characters at the beginning and see these strange holes in their lives and wonder how that happened, and then as you go back to 1943 and 1941 you find out.

There are some lovely set-pieces:  Helen and Viv climbing out of their office window to smoke in the sunshine; typists in the Ministry of Food; a candle factory for the insulted and injured; Viv’s bungled abortion which completely terrified me.  I’m not so sure about the coup de foudre where Julia and Helen realise their feelings for each other when they visit St Dunstan-in-the-East during a bombing raid.

The main story, working forward chronologically, is that first of all Kay and Julia are together, then it’s Julia and Helen after Kay has rescued Helen from a hole in the ground; and at the end Kay is on her own and given to solitary wandering of the streets while it looks like Julia is going to leave Helen for Ursula, who works at the BBC.

Kay is a bit given to programmatic utterances.  At the end she tells the trapped Helen We never seem to love the people we ought to, while near the beginning she explains Sometimes I go through the films twice over.  Sometimes I go in half-way through, and watch the second half first, I almost prefer them that way–people’s pasts being, you know, much more interesting than their futures.  As the other characters remorselessly point out, she plays the true man’s part–she rescues both Helen and Viv and indeed gives Viv a ring to make it seem she’s married, and in the end she ends up with nothing.

We had some discussion about who we identified with, and who we felt the author identified with.  We generally felt the answer to the second question was Helen, since we learned more about her inner life and quite a lot of the action was presented in terms of how it affected her.

The names are interesting:  ‘Kay’ is really the letter K and so short for Kate or something.  Helen and Julia begin with H and J, so we have H J and K.  Where is ‘I’ then?  The author has hidden herself.   It seems that Julia is going to leave Helen for Ursula–‘you’–outside the circle of ‘I’.  Also ‘Viv’ like ‘Kay’ is a pet name–I don’t think we ever find out whether she’s a Vivian or a Vivienne or what.

What’s the point of Viv and Duncan in this story?  It’s clearly something about love and the way time acts upon love–Viv used to love Reggie and now they just go through the motions, while Viv and his friend Alec seem to have had a mutual crush before the unmentionable thing and all the blood.

I’m inclined to think that in line with Kay’s pronouncement above Kay and Viv are meant for each other but it can never happen.  Kay needs a wife and Viv needs a husband.  Kay not only rescues Viv but also gives her a ring.  They are the characters who are known by pet names.

Whatever her full name might be, ‘Viv’ certainly originates from the Latin for ‘to live’.  She and her brother are both associated with blood.  So it looks as though they are on the side of life, while the lesbian characters are condemned to sterility.  It’s hard to believe that Sarah Waters consciously intended that.

Youth (J M Coetzee)

June 22, 2011


When we discussed this at Try Books!  people said it was very well-written, but many were severely irritated by the unsympathetic protagonist and so found it hard to enjoy the book.  Although brevity also counted in its favour.

The book is a fictionalised memoir of Coetzee’s time at university and as a young man in London and Bracknell.  He certainly spares no pains in making the protagonist antipathetic, and succeeds admirably.

My own reactions were rather more complicated.  I certainly enjoyed the classical economy with which he shows us the hero doing something and you see him and his setting and his relation to his setting without it all having to be spelled out in painful detail.  But on a second reading I found the repeated questionings about the nature and mission of the artist a bit deadening and distancing.

Coetzee lived the experiences he described in the first person and the past tense, but he describes them in the third person and the present tense.  This both distances them and prevents easy identification (third person) and holds them in front of your eyes so you can’t get away from them or put them in perspective (present tense).

Try Books! wanted to know what the point of the book was.  My first answer was that it was a kind of anti-Bildungsroman, or a satire on the genre.  Instead of the hero experiencing inner growth as the result of his experiences and so becoming an artist and getting the girl, he feels lonely and miserable and unable to cope.  And doesn’t write anything.  Moreover, instead of the eternal feminine drawing him upwards, the idea of the one woman with whom he will be consumed in mutual passion makes it impossible for him to have a normal relationship with real women.

But I’m not sure it’s only the young Coetzee who is being shown up.  If you consider the actual biographical facts presented here, the hero supports himself through university, lives with a woman a decade older than him, has sex with what seems to be rather a lot of women, successfully establishes himself in a new country and works at the cutting edge of technology with the cleverest men of that country, completes a higher degree…That’s all rather imposing, but we don’t see it–it’s hidden in plain view.

So who’s inadequate now?

Perhaps he’s still the same old clever young man saying I’ll show you all these things and you won’t see them, because you’re stupid and I’m not.

Day After Night (Anita Diamant)

May 20, 2011


This book unleashed a storm of indifference and fierce consensus at Try Books!

It was the story of four Jewish women in a British detention camp in Palestine after the end of WWII, and people found that they couldn’t remember which was which.  In fact, they said that almost anyone else would have been more interesting than Zorah, the embittered Pole; Leonie the chic Parisienne; Tedi, the tall blonde from Holland and Shayndel the ex-partisan.  We would have been more interested to learn about Esther, the Polish woman pretending to be a Jew so she could continue to take care of her murdered employer’s little boy; Bryce, the conflicted camp commander; Tirzah, who seemed to be preparing for the role of a (Biblical) Esther or Judith, and then didn’t do anything…Also and equally either our heroines’ back story or what happened to them next would have been more interesting.

As it was, they sat around on their fannies eating until the Palmach rescued them and that was about it.  Maybe there should have been some recipes included?  The errors in and and about Hebrew weren’t really interesting, just stupid.  It had the insipid taste of a Young Adult book–there was nothing there that a YA would have found hard to understand, in spite of Leonie’s backstory in a wartime brothel.  And that seemed bizarre to me–her family is taken and the local tobacconist’s wife just happens to have a brothel waiting to receive her?  With three ‘nieces’ already?  That seems a bit much even for France.

The plain plodding uninspired unflavoured exposition of the story deprived it of nearly all savour.  We did wonder why she had bothered, since Primi Levi had already done the same kind subjects–displaced and liberated Jews beginning to be alive and wondering what was going to happen to them–infinitely better.

But I don’t think it was a case of offensive exploitation of the Holocaust, and there was some mild enlightenment on the early days of the Jewish State on offer.  Maybe some recipes would have made it more interesting?  Perhaps not…

So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.

On clustering ‘Try Books!’ people

May 4, 2011

Agglomerative clustering: better with left-click

We can also look at grouping people based on the ‘distances’ between their scores.  The distances are going to be a mixture of how people felt about the books and what their scoring conventions are:  if A and B both use 5 to mean ‘not very good’, 7 to mean ‘OK’ and 8 to mean good, then the distances are going to mean something real, while if B indicated ‘not very good’ by 3, ‘OK’ by 5 and 9 to mean ‘good’, then a lot of the distance between them will be down to  different conventions.  We are also confine to a subset of members such that everyone shares at least one scored book with each of the other members (or we’ll end up dividing by zero).  The subset presented here isn’t the only one possible.

Anyway, the diagram above shows  the results of agglomerative clustering, while the one below shows those obtained from divisive clustering.

Divisive clustering: left-click advised

These two look reasonably similar, which is reassuring.  There are two stable lower-level groups in Candida/Aruni/Jo/Rob and Judy/Jane.  It’s not clear what the higher-level structure here means, but then the original ‘distances’ are not so easy to interpret either.  Apart from Judy/Jane, we don’t see that much association between the people who in theory come together, nor is there much evidence of solidarity amongst the token males.

Finally, we can consider multi-dimensional scaling:


This also displays the grouping Candida/Aruni/Jo/Rob, who must win a prize for being consistent agreement under a variety of analyses.  Otherwise there’s not a great deal of easily-interpretable structure!

More about ‘Try Books!’ books

May 1, 2011

Dendrogram: May be improved by left-click

Following on from the previous question, we can consider the how the books read by ‘Try Books!’ are related to each other:  Can they be divided into groups such that the members of a group are like each other and unlike the members of other groups?

The data is limited, but we can try the following approach.  Imagine books X and Y.  Person A marks X as 5 and Y as 7; Person B marks X as 8 and Y as 9; person Z marks them both as 6.  Then we can define a ‘squared distance’ between the books as (5 – 7)^2 + (8 – 9)^2 + (6-6)^2 = 4 + 1 + 0 = 5.  Since there are 3 observations here, we can derive an ‘average distance’ as (5/3)^0.5 = 1.29.  We can derive ‘average’ distances between all the books assessed in the same way, and apply some standard techniques to dealing with those distances.

One approach is to use clustering (agglomerative hierarchical clustering in this case) to produce a dendrogram as above.  The most obvious remark here is that the main branching is between The Resurrectionist and the rest.  Perhaps this is not too surprising.

Multidimensional scaling 'map': Left-click again

Another approach is to use multidimensional scaling, where we try to place the points on two dimensions in an arrangement that is consistent with the distances we have derived between them.  This time, not only is The Resurrectionist on its own in a corner, but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies doesn’t have any friends either.   There are some clusters to be seen, but it’s not clear how many of them have a natural interpretation.  It’s interesting to see that If This Is A Man and The Master and Margarita have ended up together when they both feature on for instance Le Monde‘s 100 Books of the Century.

What books does ‘Try Books!’ like?

April 23, 2011

Primo Levi: Hors de concours?

We have been asked which books Try Books! has actually liked most, leaving aside matters of explanation and prediction.  The data we have is here.

At first sight, the easiest thing to do is just to take the mean for each book.  This is a little optimistic:  on the one hand, one is assuming that the difference between ‘1’ and ‘2’ is the same as the difference between ‘7’ and ‘8’ (interval scale), and on the other hand it may be that some people consistently give higher or lower scores than others.  One can also use the median, which does at least do away with the need for assuming an interval scale, but still leaves one vulnerable to who has rated which book.

Another way of looking at the problem is to see how a book compares with others marked by the same person, and treat the comparison as a kind of match.  So imagine 5 people have rated both book A and book B, 3 people have marked A higher than B, one has given the same mark, and two have marked B higher than A.  Then A has a score of 3.5/5 = 0.7 from this ‘match’ and B has a score of 1.5/5 = 0.3.  One can combine the scores over all the ‘matches’ each book has ‘played’ in to come up with an overall score for that book.

Two problems remain here:

i)  a book may have ‘played’ in matches with books that are significantly better or worse than the average, this decreasing or increasing its score;

ii)  we are assuming that a reader’s judgments are consistent over time; that is, a ‘9’ now can be directly compared with an ‘9’ a year ago.

The second of these is in principle unavoidable.  We can tackle the first by using a kind of rating system, so that a book gets more credit for ‘playing’ a stronger ‘opponent’.

The table below shows the RATING, SCORE, MEDIAN and MEAN for those books where sufficient data was available.


If This Is a Man / The Truce 94.63 0.95 9 8.92
Skin Lane 86.12 0.86 8.75 8.63
The Boy with the Topknot 83.43 0.85 9 8.64
A Prayer for Owen Meany 77.16 0.77 8.75 8.38
This Thing of Darkness 72.98 0.73 8 8.2
The Help 67.47 0.7 8 8.05
Bad Science 66.55 0.66 7 7.29
Brooklyn 63.83 0.65 7.25 7.13
Family Romance 63.02 0.64 7.75 7.44
The Master and Margarita 62.66 0.63 7 6.5
Star of the Sea 60.35 0.6 7.75 6.75
Death and the Penguin 59.25 0.58 7.5 7.31
Moby-Dick 56.1 0.54 6.5 6.5
After You’d Gone 54.87 0.53 7 7.33
American Wife 53.51 0.54 7.5 6.8
One Day 52.53 0.56 7.5 7.41
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle 49.95 0.52 7 7.29
Norwegian Wood 48.87 0.47 7 6.94
The Reluctant Fundamentalist 48.29 0.48 7 7
Complicity 47.01 0.46 6.5 6.39
The Shadow Of The Wind 44.3 0.45 6.5 6.61
The Story of Forgetting 43.56 0.43 6 6.34
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 43.55 0.43 5.5 5.17
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories 42.2 0.4 5.25 5.42
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher 36.92 0.38 6.25 6.08
The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling 35.98 0.38 6 6.2
The Monkey Wrench Gang 34.74 0.38 6 5.81
Legend of a Suicide 31.43 0.32 6 6.28
In Search of the Missing Eyelash 25.58 0.23 5 4.78
The Fall of the Imam 21.72 0.2 6 5.4
Me Cheeta 12.88 0.11 5 4.5
The Resurrectionist 12.08 0.1 2.75 3.42
Human Traces 11.66 0.12 5 4.63

It may be simpler to consider the ranks given by the different measures:


If This Is a Man / The Truce 1 1 1 1
Skin Lane 2 2 3 3
The Boy with the Topknot 3 3 1 2
A Prayer for Owen Meany 4 4 3 4
This Thing of Darkness 5 5 5 5
The Help 6 6 5 6
Bad Science 7 7 13 11
Brooklyn 8 8 12 13
Family Romance 9 9 7 7
The Master and Margarita 10 10 13 19
Star of the Sea 11 11 7 17
Death and the Penguin 12 12 9 10
Moby-Dick 13 14 19 19
After You’d Gone 14 16 13 9
American Wife 15 15 9 16
One Day 16 13 9 8
The White Woman on the Green Bicycle 17 17 13 11
Norwegian Wood 18 19 13 15
The Reluctant Fundamentalist 19 18 13 14
Complicity 20 20 19 21
The Shadow Of The Wind 21 21 19 18
The Story of Forgetting 22 23 23 22
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies 23 22 28 29
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories 24 24 29 27
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher 25 25 22 25
The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling 26 27 23 24
The Monkey Wrench Gang 27 26 23 26
Legend of a Suicide 28 28 23 23
In Search of the Missing Eyelash 29 29 30 30
The Fall of the Imam 30 30 23 28
Me Cheeta 31 32 30 32
The Resurrectionist 32 33 33 33
Human Traces 33 31 30 31


The different methods here give pretty consistent results.  The biggest differences observed are for The Master and Margarita (up 9 places for RATING as against MEAN) and One Day (down 8 places).

It is clear that people make If This Is A Man the best book here–the question is whether it should be judged on the same basis as the others.  One could also object to Skin Lane on the grounds that it is an earlier book I just happened to have recorded the data for.  That would leave The Boy with the Topknot as uncontroversial champion.

Sathnam Sanghera: Uncontroversial

As for the books at the bottom of the list, some of them are just not very good…