Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Books what I read this Year*

The Guardian Book blog recently ran a piece about the ubiquitous end-of-the-year book lists being the result of a universal need to create inventories. Well, I too have been seized by the need and to meet it I am going to inflict on you this list of books what I read (for pleasure not work) in 2007. Or the ones I can remember at least.

It wasn't an exceptionally good reading year to be honest. The best ones are at the top of the list, the bad ones are at the bottom, the middling ones are where you'd expect them to be.

Pay heed and you — unlike Ms Mac who didn't believe me — may save precious hours that would otherwise have been squandered wading through the codswallop that is Mercy.

The Stornoway Way, Kevin McNeil (I adored this book about Hebridean angst)
L'Elegance du hérisson, Muriel Barbery (about a dumpy, thinking concierge)
In the Country of Men, Hisham Matar (haunting)
Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America, Jenny Diski (puff, puff)
On the Atlantic Edge, Kenneth White (I like anything he writes)
One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson (Stories that fit inside each other and Edinburgh)
Hunting Down Home, Jean McNeil (Brilliant novel about an unhappy childhood in Canada)
Digging to America, Anne Tyler (adoption and "expat expat" communities)
Driving Over Lemons, Chris Stewart (Ah, Andalucia)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson (he still makes me laugh out loud)
Bruce Chatwin, Nicholas Shakespeare (the only biography I read this year, and the third I've read of Chatwin)
Restless, William Boyd (will no doubt make a good film)
White Ghost Girls, Alice Greenway (growing up in Hong Kong)
Bella Tuscany, Frances Mayes (I want to be Frances Mayes or at least live in her house)
The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger (I liked it despite the plot)
The Girls, Lori Lansens (tour de force novel about conjoined twins)
The Abortionist's Daughter, Elisabeth Hyde (why can't I remember anything about this?)
Miss Webster and Cherif, Patricia Duncker (old English woman meets enignmatic young Arab)
Ensemble, c'est tout, Anna Gavalda (liked the book more than the feelgood film)
Cleaver, Tim Parks (going mad in the snow in Austria)
Runaway, Alice Munro (Didn't realise this was a book of short stories until I got to "Chapter 2")
A Parrot in the Pepper Tree, Chris Stewart (more Andalucia)
The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society, Chris Stewart (even more Andalucia)
Me Talk Pretty One Day, David Sedaris (Funny, especially the father's food hoarding)
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday (strangely old-fashioned characters and not especially funny)
The Dead Heart, Douglas Kennedy (read this in French, put me off kangaroo meat forever)
Europa, Tim Parks (English teachers go on a romp to Brussels - not his best novel)
The Box Garden, Carol Shields (the only Carol Shields I hadn't read - hasn't aged that well)
State of the Union, Douglas Kennedy (just finished this, still digesting))
The Tenderness of Wolves, Stef Penney (elements of Brokeback Mountain in the snow)
Weekend, William McIlvanney (not his best)
Blood in the Water, Gillian Galbraith (detective novel set in Edinburgh)
Mimi's Ghost, Tim Parks (Emotionless Englishman in Italy)
My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult (more thought-provoking than I expected)
Moondust: In Search of the Men Who Fell to Earth, Andrew Smith (non-fiction for astronautaholics)
Touché :A Frenchwoman's take on the English, Agnès Catherine Poirier (quite clever, but more of a collection of newpaper columns than a real book)
The Night Watch, Sarah Walters (probably quite good but not my cup of tea)
Double Fault Lionel Shriver (really boring)
A Piano In the Pyrenees, Tony Hawkes (the I-bought-a-house-in-France genre is tired)
Long Way Round, Ewan McGregor (screams TV-spin-off)
The Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani (Little House on the Prairiesque)
The Five People You meet In Heaven, Mitch Albom (really sickly sentimental)
Bordeaux Housewives, Daisy Waugh (3rd rate expat chick-lit)
Merde Actually Stephen Clarke (3rd rate expat lad-lit, will never read the prequel)
Mercy, Jodi Picoult (should come with a health warning for Scots)

*that's an obscure Ernie Wise allusion.


Anonymous said...

Lesley, I honestly believe you have more books on your list than I have read in my entire adult life.
I mean I can read!
I just think it's incredible how many books you can devour over a very short period.
I'm a wee bit in awe!

Ms Mac said...

I read The Abortionists Daughter. The whodunnit about the abortionist what was found dead by the pool in a beautiful house in winter. Her daughter had just screamed at her that day that she hated her for not letting her have a convertible or something something.

Any bells?

Lesley said...

Ronnie: I should probably get out more.

Ms Mac: Vaguely. Can't for the life of me remember who dunned it though.

Antipodeesse said...

Little Billy Bryson is so wonderfully clever and funny that he should be allowed to elope with me as his reward.

spentrails said...

Tim Parks three times in a year and he doesn't merit being further up in the list?

Lesley said...

Spentrails: I loved the first couple of Tim Parks books that I read (An Italian Education etc.) but now I find them a bit laddish (A Season with Verona) and sometimes a bit too clever for their own good.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I agree with your comment against 'A Piano In The Pyranees' - the whole expat-out-in-the-for'n-sticks genre is getting swamped. Too many of them adequately written but relying on the novelty of living abroad to carry the whole concept, which doesn't work when the reader has gone through 20 others already. I enjoyed Christ Stewart's trilogy when I read it a while back, but I'm too jaded to enjoy it again right now....I hate that feeling.

Might I recommend some that I found a breath of fresh air?

1) Hokkaido Highway Blues - Will Ferguson.
- perceptive and irreverent account of an expat Canadian hitchhiking up Japan as a fond farewell before he leaves after working there for a decade. Very wise, agonisingly funny in places, and rather poignant.

2) Euridice Street - Sofka Zinovieff.
- for once, about an expat getting into the swing of urban life abroad, in Athens.

Kenneth White is simply brilliant. A magician.

Lesley said...

Mikeachim: Glad you like KW too. Am definitely going to look out for the two books you recommend. (The first one has a similar title to one of Ian Banks Esomething St)

Anonymous said...

re piano in the pyranees: even the piano in france theme has been done already! (cf The Piano Shop on the Left Bank)

re stephen clarke, the first one was actually quite good but he had nothing left by the time he got to the second one. and at this point it's just an obnoxious franchise, though probably more a result of his publisher's prodding than of clarke's motivation.

I don't know kenneth white; what kind of stuff does he write?

Lesley said...

Maitresse: Kenneth White writes poetry that develops the idea of "geopoetics", and what he calls "way books". He's Scottish but has lived in France for most of his life, in Paris, the Auvergne, the Pyrenees and now in Brittany. Used to be Professor of 20thC poetry at the Sorbonne. I'm sure you'd like him - start with "la Route Bleue" which won the Médicis Etranger sometime in the 80s. Actually maybe you shouldn't start with that, maybe you should start with something "japonisant" since you're in Tokyo, perhaps Le Visage du Vent de l'Est - very Tao.

Anonymous said...

Oh, great, thanks for the recommendation. I'll have to check him out.


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...