Friday, 30 December 2011

It's usually a fair bet that I'll have read hardly any of the books touted in the Sunday papers as 'books of the year' but I've surprised myself this year, as for once I have read the most talked-about novel of 2011, A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan which won the Pulitzer prize. True to form, I didn't bother reviewing it here as it was a book group choice that I'd never have read except under duress. Consoling myself all the while by plotting the epic 19th century revenge I would wreak next time it was my turn to choose a book.
Those tricksy post-modern novels are not for me and I've just remembered Charlie's wonderfully succinct definition that encapsulates why they don't appeal.
But I read 88 books in 2011 ... so here's some that I did enjoy. I'm standing by my choice of Sebastian Barry and On Canaan's Side for best novel but my number one book of the year is actually non-fiction and it's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which left me reeling in admiration at Rebecca Skloot's skill in telling a story. (My non-fiction runners-up are Sky Burial, a heartrending, gripping account of a Chinese woman's 30-year search for her lost husband; and Just Kids, Patti Smith's very moving autobiographical memoir of her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe.)

My reading list this year has been rather top-heavy with books from Persephone ... only because I staggered home with a huge bag of them from a library that I rarely visit. Susan Glaspell is now among the front-runners for my favourite Persephone author and if I hadn't been so bowled over by Sebastian Barry, Fidelity could easily have been my novel of the year. Closely followed by Brook Evans. Hard to believe that Fidelity was actually written in 1915.

I don't read all that many books in translation but the most powerful novel that I discovered this year was the highly unsettling Brodeck's Report. From the French, as was my most chilling read of 2010.

As I've been compiling this list, I've realised that some of my best reads of the year have been very evocative of place. Willa Cather is one of my all-time favourite authors so, of course, I'm including My Ántonia. I was also engrossed by Corrag and, quite recently, The Blackhouse, both set in Scotland (perhaps no surprise, as both were recommended by Cornflower up in Edinburgh).

Hurtling through some other titles that I'd highly recommend: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell; Hostages to Fortune, another Persephone; and Mrs Parkington, which I discovered thanks to Rachel who wrote a much better review than I did.

I've also been re-reading some old favourites ... I don't know how many times I've read The House of Mirth but Lily Bart was as captivating this year as ever, and so was The Age of Innocence. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes was even better second time round. And life is quite long enough to read The Woman in White as many times as you please.

If anybody's interested, these were my books of the year for 2010.


Joan Hunter Dunn said...

Hostages to Fortune was the Persephone Secret Santa that I received. I knew my giver had chosen well but good to see that confirmed.

mary said...

I'd have been delighted to receive that as a gift, Joan. Well done, Santa!

StuckInABook said...

Your books of the year don't surprise me, since I spotted them throughout the year, but they do delight me. And remind me that I must read Henrietta Lacks, which I do have...

I do love reading Best Of 2011 lists on blogs (and avoid those in newspapers, since - unsurprisingly - they are all about books published, rather than simply read, in 2011.)

A Trifle Rushed said...

Mary, what a super list! One of my resolutions is to read more next year, and I will include some re reads I do love Wilkie Collins! I'm also enjoying Persephone's but wonder if it is partly the dove grey look, (I do love my green Viragos from the early 80s, sitting so beautifully on the shelf!)

88 seems a good number of books to aim for, (and I won't include cookery books).

Thank you for being so inspiring, Happy New Year, Jude x

mary said...

I think bloggers' lists are much better than newspaper lists, Simon. And Henrietta Lacks is as good as a novel!

88 was a nice symmetrical number, wasn't it, Jude! I wasn't aiming for it, that's just the way it came out.
I also love rows of grey (or green) covers but I've got pickier about Persephones, the first blind love affair is over and some that I read this year have left me cold. Always worth trying, though.
Hope you enjoyed the Ebay sloe gin!

Vintage Reading said...

Ooh I like Xinran, too. I mean to read Sky Burial. The Good Women of China was very good, too.

mary said...

I've not read the other one, Nicola. I'm glad that you've got over the problem with comments!

Eggs on the Roof said...

The first time I have ever, ever seen My Antonia - I don't know how to mark the emphasis on the first syllable, but you know what I mean - cited as a favourite. And I couldn't be more thrilled - it's one of my favourites too

mary said...

I love everything of hers that I've read, Charlie - The Professor's House is my favourite, but it's a close thing. I hadn't read My Ántonia before, and it's probably her best known - but I'm ekeing them out to make them last and still have a few to go.
PS the accent is alt/e ... took me ages to find it, too.

Cait O'Connor said...

Sebastian Barry is my favourite too - now I find nothing matches him which is a problem!

mary said...

He's a hard act to follow, Cait.