1. Ulysses and Us: The Art and Everyday Life in Joyce's Masterpiece, by Declan Kiberd. He argues that Ulysses is a fun book, a popular fiction, and easy to read. I won't give away my copy to anyone, which you can take as an endorsement.
3. Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel. I found this a difficult book to get a grip on. To my eye, most of the pages were a kind of empty. Can you explain to me what made this book good? The first page has a sentence like: "Any sadness I might have felt, any suspicion that happiness or understanding was unattainable, seemed to find ready encouragement in the sodden dark-red brick buildings and low skies tinged orange by the city's streetlights." That's not, to my ear, an ugly sentence, but what's in it?
4. The Thirty Years' War, by Peter H. Wilson. I read about one-third of this lengthy and clearly written Belknap Press book. After a while I realized I was learning what the War wasn't (not the beginning of religious toleration, not the beginning of the modern nation-state, etc.), but not what the War was. I guess I'll never know.
5. Danube, by Claudio Magris. Now this is a splendid travel book.
I'm also enjoying A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book, which has beautiful language and creates its own world; still, I can't find the thread of the plot at p.100. And the new Pamuk (which I'm still reading, very slowly) remains sublime and it is becoming one of my favorites.