Sunday, 17 December 2017

It's that time of year again - and as Cornflower has already shared her highlights of 2017, reminding me that I very much want to read E Nesbit's The Lark - here's my highlights, too, drawn from 74 books I've read this year - almost exactly the same as last year - though the proportion of non-fiction seems to have slipped from one-third to one-quarter. Anyway, that's the obsessive compulsive bit over and I promise you that my spice cupboard isn't arranged in alphabetical order, though I often wish it was.

For sheer fictional enjoyment, I'm recommending A Gentleman in Moscow which I still think would make a wonderful film. The Underground Railroad came close but didn't quite match it.

Bernard MacLaverty's Midwinter Break was profoundly moving but sad. It's the book I wanted to share but felt was rather too close to the bone for a gift to long-married friends, which of course is nearly everybody I know. Perhaps heart-wrenching is not right in your Christmas stocking.

Most interesting work of fiction was Cry, Mother Spain which taught me more about the Spanish Civil War than any hefty volume of history. It barely counts as fiction as it is based very closely on the life of the author's mother.

Despite my reservations about literary prizes, I see I've listed a Pulitzer winner and a Prix Goncourt. And I enjoyed the Booker winner Lincoln in the Bardo, too.  In fact, I'm amazed to see so much new fiction. Mrs Miniver's Rose Bowl Award for vintage fiction is being held over this year as there are no strong contenders, apart maybe from The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard which was an unexpected success at book group as I chose it, having read it more than 30 years ago, and then got nervous as I thought everyone else would probably hate it. I must have been so relieved when it sparked a good discussion last month that I never get around to writing about it.

My personal discovery of the year has been Edward St Aubyn and I have Dunbar at the top of my library pile.

Last but not least, non-fiction - and the book which took me out of my overly-easy-reading comfort zone (that'd be The Greedy Queen and Jane Austen at Home) was Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance - there's a review here - which by chance chimed in with my favourite film of the year, but that's for tomorrow.

Not quite the last, because there is one book that has kept me engrossed me for hours this year and how I wish I owned a copy;  it's available on-line but that does make for rather jerky reading. It's by my favourite 17th century cookery writer Robert May - whose recipes always work - and who has sadly been forgotten by all except obsessives enthusiasts like me. He's very good on pies and I do love a pie.

And whoops, I nearly forgot what was possibly the most gripping read of the year , This House of Grief by Helen Garner. I thought I'd posted about it but if I did, I can't find it. There's a review here and it's definitely 5* from me.


Mac n' Janet said...

I just read Hillbilly Elegy and was quite taken with it. My Mother has hillbilly roots and I could so identify with parts of the book.

Mary said...

It could only have been written by someone from that background, Janet. I'll be interested to see the film whenever it happens.

Gina said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I like the sound of A Gentleman in Moscow and Midwinter Break.

Lesley Anne said...

Thank you for those recommendations, I have only managed to read about half as many books as you this year, so I am impressed! The House of Grief definitely sounds like one worth following up. Hillbilly Elegy is on my pile of to be read books. You and I have discussed the poignancy of Midwinter Break. I very much enjoyed Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny, which deals with same essential issue of life and marriage being a series of compromises in a lighter and funnier, but perhaps less true way. (It is a book I have been able to gift to others). My pick of the non-fiction I have read is Beyond the Northlands by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough, (what a super name) which deals with the rather arcane issue of the extent to which Viking sagas reflect actual Viking voyages of exploration. That sounds dry, but it is written with an extremely light touch and is genuinely interesting to someone who bought it on a whim, with no real knowledge of the sagas themselves.

Thank you for your blog, I really enjoy reading it, although I don't often comment. I constantly envy your access to obscure foreign films and London exhibitions. All the best for Christmas and the New Year.
Lesley Anne

Cosy Books said...

A colleague of mine has read the same number of books as you this year. She spends lots of time at the hockey rink, but her daughter's not very happy that her nose is in a book rather than watching her play.
Edward St. Aubyn, you say...would I like his books, Mary?

Veronica Cooke said...

I have read a couple of Edward St. Aubyn previously but not his two latest. I have requested the 'Underground Railway' from the library. I haven't read any of the others although I am curious about 'Lincoln in the Bardo'...

I haven't totalled my reading this year yet; trying to finish one more before the festivities begin but I do know I seem to read less than I did when I worked! I used to average about 100 per year then but in my first year of retirement (March,2014) I only managed 57!

mary said...

That's what's happened to me, too, Veronica; I easily used to read 100-120 books when I was working longer hours. Maybe I made better use of time because it was more precious? But I go out far more than I used to, perhaps because I have more energy!
I wasn't at all sure I'd like Lincoln in the Bardo and rather surprised myself.

Darlene, you deserve a good book if have to watch hockey! I'm not sure whether you'd like St Aubyn; beautifully written, but quite gritty in terms of child abuse. Not a comfort read! They're very short, why don't you try one?

Thank you, Lesley Anne. I'm glad you enjoy it. And thank you for those suggestions, too.

A Gentleman in Moscow was lovely, Gina - I felt bereft when I finished it.