I can’t prevaricate any longer. The cobwebs are starting to settle on the brain already and if I leave it much longer I will never remember my top books from 2015.
The outstanding book of the year was almost, but not quite, the last one I read – Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize-winning novel The English Patient. It’s a beautifully written story of four damaged characters who end up in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of World War 2. I enjoyed reading his most recent novel The Cat’s Table a few years ago but The English Patient was in a totally different league. Now I want to dig out the film version again ..
Other favourites from the year were: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton which has to be the most gloriously produced book I’ve experienced for many years. The cover design showing a miniature of the house that features in the book, was so delightful I went in search for some info on the illustrator and came across a fascinating little video about how a design company made the house. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac was my first experience of this author but will certainly not be my last. Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton was as moving on a re-read as it was decades ago when I opened the pages for the first time. Three discoveries came in the form of The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw and from the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar and The Redemption of Galen Pike, a tremendous short story collection by Carys Davies. I don’t usually care for short stories but Davies’ book knocks spots off all other collections I’ve read.
Were there any duds? Well yes, a few. Three were so bad I couldn’t finish them: In the Light of What we Know by Zia Haider Rahman; Between Tides by V.Y. Mudimbe and The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende.
That’s 2015 done.
What’s on the horizon for 2016?
Despite all the reading challenges I’ve seen in the last few weeks (I’ve been keeping a list here and it’s upwards of 30) I’m trying really really really hard to resist temptation. I like the idea of them but the reality is that I’m really hopeless at sticking with them. The minute I feel I have to follow a list, my interest in the books drops off markedly. Even if the title was one that excited me when I bought it, the minute it gets written on a list starts to make it feel too much like a chore or a ‘to do’ list for work. Hence why I managed just 8 out of the 12 books on the TBR Challenge I joined last year. I was all ready to join a Reading Shakespeare challenge but I’ve changed my mind.
I prefer the idea of reading projects rather than challenges. They somehow sound more relaxed and I can go entirely at my own pace. I have three on the go at the moment which are steadily making progress. I’m just over the half way mark with my Classics Club project, have read 27 of the 46 Booker-prize winners and novels from 30 countries around the world as part of my World of Literature Project.
2016 is going to be all about completion.
I plan to make it a year where I finish at least one of these (the Booker prize). I may even get close to finishing the Classics Club but I won’t make that a goal because I want space to be flexible, to go with the flow of whatever takes my fancy. I also want time to dip into a few short projects – Ali’s #Woolfalong reading project is perfect since I already have 4 Woolf titles in the bookshelves. Later in the year there’ll be a Reading Ireland month and a Spanish literature month which are already tickling my fancy. The beauty of these projects is that they’re short and free of pressure to read a particular number of books or to make lists in advance.
Here’s to a year of unconstrained delight……
An occasional round up of miscellaneous bookish news you may have missed (and often I missed them too)
As predictable as the ‘Must have Christmas gifts’ and the ‘get in shape for the beach’ feature articles, newspapers have started trotting out that annual stalwart: “must read books for your holiday.”
The Sunday Times “Suitcase Essential” feature listed 100 of what they claimed were the best books for the summer. The basis for their selection wasn’t explained but we had a variety of history, biography, memoirs, and science titles plus of course a fiction list. Out of the 50 fiction titles, they singled out five as ‘top choices’
- Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend which it described as “an addictive read”
- The Green Road by Anne Enright summarised as “a heart-wrenching novel about family secrets. The newspaper is tipping it for the Booker Prize this year.
- All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, described as “an exquisite nobel that feels wrenched from the author’s heart”
- Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster – considered a vivid description of small-town life. This is the only one I’ve read. I thought it was a superb study of how a recently widowed woman slowly claws her way back into some form of a life.
- The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – a “superb tale” according to the Sunday Times
- The Cartel by Don Winslow which is described as a superb thriller on a par with TV’s The Wire
Surprisingly given the amount of attention garnered by The Girl on the Train, this didn’t get a mention in the crime & thrillers category. It did however make the summer selection published recently by the Financial Times.
It’s interesting to see how different the two lists are in their selections. The FT selects two of the big stories from this year so far – Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins and Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in 10 years, The Buried Giant— though both are missing from the Sunday Times list. But the most significant difference is the selection of works in translation or by authors from outside the British/American camp. The Sunday Times manages just two as far as I can tell; The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara and The Mersault Investigation by Kamel Dadud, an author who seems to be creating rather a stir with his retake on Albert Camus’ L’Etranger. The Financial Times however gives us a special list of fiction in translation. The title that most caught my attention was Wolf, Wolf, by Eben Venter who provides a scathing perspective on the new South Africa. it could however be next summer by the time I get around to reading this…..
If you want to read the Financial Times list in full, click here
And this doesn’t help you fill up your bookshelves, you could always take a look at the list of upcoming new publications put together by The Millions.
Less than 3 percent of all the books published in the U.S. every year are works translated into English from other languages. Many are reprints of classics like Kafka or Tolstoy and others are often academic works.
Why don’t American readers have more of an appetite for foreign fiction? An article from The Beast tried to find an answer but discovered that while various theories have been put forward, it’s impossible to find a definitive answer. Is it the result of a lack of foreign language teaching in schools, the low percentage of citizens who hold a passport or the multi-cultured nature of the country?
It’s a question that could well be asked of readers in Britain. I don’t know the statistics but from my experience of book shopping both sides of the Atlantic, it’s easier to get books in translation here than in an American bookshop. That doesn’t mean the shelves are groaning with translated works (hence why I’ve struggled to get some of the titles on my Reading the Equator list) but there is more choice.
For those of you who hail from across The Pond, I’d love to know what your experience is if you have an interest in writers from other parts of the world. Do you feel constrained in your selections at all? What do you think of the theories in The Beast?