Sunday, January 09, 2011

Books, books, books

This is what I read this year. I suspect that the list is a little bit shorter than last year: that's what happens when you take your Macbook to bed on a regular basis..

A Quiet Belief in Angels, R.J. Ellory. I'm reading this at the moment. The writing is generally good, but I think that there's something slightly disturbing, perhaps even obscene, about making the deaths of little girls into something interesting enought to hold a reader's attention for a whole novel.

La carte et le territoire, Michel Houellebecq
My first Houllebecq and I was expecting something a bit more provocative. As someone says on p. 142: "Je m'attendais en vous rencontrant à quelque chose... enfin, disons, de plus difficile."

Noah's Compass, Anne Tyler
Not her best but still very readable. The main character is a man cheerful in the face of disappointment.

The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, Richard Holmes
Good for one page character sketches. What a dysfunctional lot they were.

Little Bird of Heaven
, Joyce Carol Oates
Takes place in '80s America but there's a definite '50s feel about it.

Inherent Vice
, Thomas Pynchon. This was a gift and I thought it would make better viewing than reading.

Outside in: Selected Prose, Alastair Reid
Inside Out: Selected Poetry and Translations Alastair Reid

I bought these two because I love Alastair Reid but unfortunately it turned out that I had read most of the contents already in other publications. Here's a wee taster of his poetry. This is originally a translation of a poem by the Mexican José Emilio Pachedo, but it's such a good rendering that it is Reid's voice one hears, and Scotland one imagines as the country.
I do not love my country. Its abstract lustre
is beyond my grasp.
But (although it sounds bad) I would give my life
for ten places in it, for certain people,
seaports, pinewoods, fortresses,
a run-down city, gray, grotesque,
various figures from its history
(and three or four rivers).
Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne , Kimberley Lovato. I was very pleased to get a copy of this book via This French Life. Beautifully illustrated with photographs of food, people and places in the Dordogne.

Doors Open, Ian Rankin. This was not an Edinburgh that I recognized

Queen Amang the Heather: The Life of Belle Stewart, Sheila Stewart. Fascinating peep into the lives of the tinkers — Scotland's travelling people — and their music. I really wished the book had come with a CD but there are online videos of Belle Stewart's singing.

The State of Me, Nasim Marie Jafry. I wrote about Nasim's book here. One of the best things I read this year.

Mother's Milk, Edward St Aubyn. A strange book in which the characters make strange decisions. Maybe I didn't get it because I didn't realise it was a sequel to a trilogy.

Bonnie Prince Charlie: Charles Edward Stuart - Tragedy in Many Acts, F.J. McLynn. I wrote about this book here.

Adultery and Other Diversions,
Tim Parks. I love almost everything that Tim Parks writes (I must read the latest, Teach Us to Sit Still, this year) and this is a great book of essays.

This is How
, M.J. Hyland. I might not have chosen to buy this had I not received it as an early review copy from LibraryThing. I enjoyed it, despite its bleakness. It's a bit like Albert Camus' The Outsider only set in contemporary GB.

Juliet, Naked,
Nick Hornby
Forgettable story of a man who adulates a reclusive rock star and his much cleverer wife.

Sharon Osbourne Extreme: My Autobiography Sharon Osbourne.
I'm not proud of having read this, not proud at all. It was in the bookcase in the villa we rented in Lanzarote and once I'd started reading it I just carried on in dreadful fascination. She really is a throughly unlikable person.

The Children's Book
, A.S. Byatt
I haven't finished this yet. I lost interest about a third of the way through.

True Detectives, Jonathan Kellerman

Wolf Hall,
Hilary Mantel
You've probably all read this too. I enjoyed it, but not enough I don't think to read the sequel when it comes out.

Kafka sur le Rivage
, Haruki Murakami
I loved the beginning of this novel and immediately raved about it to friends. Unfortunately, at around the halfway mark it went all Japanese magickyrealismy.

Shutter Island
, Dennis Lehane
Haven't seen the film, but the book is worth reading, especially if you're thick enough not to suspect the denouement - which I am.

The Piano Teacher
, Janice Y. K. Lee. About life in Hong Kong for an expat wife during turbulent times.

J. M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story Behind Peter Pan
, Andrew Birkin. Fascinating biography of the wee man.

(To reduce the boredom quotient, I've taken out all of the works read for professsional purposes - mostly criticism and biographies of RLS)

So that was the reading year that was. I'd love to hear if you agree or disagree with me.


Jordan said...

Love that Pachedo poem.

Anne said...

That is a VERY worthy list (other than whatshername). I thought "Mother's Milk" was pretty vile. Well written and all that but deeply distasteful characters who don't really DO anything other than whine. Good friend of mine loved it though. I also like Tim Parks and have read a lot of his stuff. Didn't think that this was his best work though - probably "A Season with Verona" was, I feel. What do you think? Enjoyed "Wolf Hall" but thought it was much too long. Have to say that I did enjoy "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen but that also was much too long. I enjoyed "Skippy Dies" by Paul Murray and the latest Kate Atkinson also. I really liked much of Helen Simpson's book of short stories "Hey, yeah, right, get a life". Most disappointing book of the year was probably "One Day". It wasn't bad but I expected so much from it because "Starter for Ten" was so excellent. Oh well.

Lesley said...

@Jordan Me too!

@Anne Yes, I love Helen Simpson too, and Kate Atkisnon although I haven't read the latest one yet. Everything Tim Parks does is different so there's never any chance of ever getting bored with him. The Verona book, however, is perhaps my least favourite although I certainly learned a lot about Italian football fans. I just didn't get the rationalisation of banal racism.

nmj said...

Hey Lesley, Thanks so much for including me here, I am honoured!

I just wrote a comment and lost it so will try and re-piece what I said before.

I realise that Wolf Hall is ambitious and brilliant, but for me it was too long - though I can't see how she could have made it shorter - but halfway through it began to feel like a chore and I had many breaks from it and was relieved when it was finished. I prob would not read the sequel.

Can you believe I have never read Ian Rankin?!

I read half of MJ Hyland's Carry Me Down a few years ago, I very much enjoyed her writing but the novel felt 'samey' so I couldn't finish. I would try her other novels though.

I have only dipped into Tim Parks' football book - on holiday in Italy ages ago! - but I would like to read more, he sounds v. interesting.

I blogged a few lines on Mother's Milk in 2006, I can hardly remember the book now but this is what I wrote then.

And I agree with Anne that perhaps One Day is overhyped, I enjoyed it as an easy, diverting read - and I would recommend it - but I wouldn't rave about it.

Okay, this is all I can recall from original comment. And I will def check out some of the other writers you mention that are new to me.

Lesley said...

@nmj I obviously missed the hype because I had never heard of "One Day" and had to google it.
I think you should definitely look into Tim Park's latest book Nasim. It's about coping with chronic pain.

nmj said...

I have ordered Tim from library, he is in demand - all 10 copies in Edin are out!

materfamilias said...

Not much overlap with my own reading list for last year -- something that always both heartens and overwhelms/discourages me in that there are obviously so many more worthy titles out there for me to discover and that I'll never have time to make a dent in the lists I'm adding to faster than crossing out.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I've read several of the same books. I've read the first 2 of Houellebecq and found both "pas terrible". Glad you've tried this latest one.
I'm currently reading "The pillars of the earth" in French. It's a good translation and the book's very interesting.
Happy January to you!

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