Friday, December 22, 2006

My year in books

In case you need some last-minute shopping inspiration, or maybe you're feeling at a loss regarding what to discuss with family members you see but once a year, I give you the highlights from among the books I read this year (with links to the interesting things I said about them!), even though I'm generally not given over to this sort of thing. But it was an exceptionally good reading year. I leave in the morning for a few days; maybe you'll have digested this by the time I return.

The good
Book I'm mostly likely to reread:
Middlemarch, George Eliot.

Book I'm most likely to recommend to the largest number of people:
Snow, Orhan Pamuk.

Book that I had very low expectations of but left me stunned (in a good way) (and which I'm likely to recommend to almost as many, but a different group of, people):
We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lionel Shriver.

Oh, and! The Intuitionist — that was pretty good, but I don't know what kind of clever category to make up for it, other than "every bit as good as trustworthy sources said it would be." And that Dumas book — that was pretty good, too — for being everything I've come to expect of Dumas.

Children's book that I first encountered this year and which continues to wow me:
Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson.

The bad
Book that was drastically overhyped, and which I hated:
Labyrinth, Kate Mosse.

Books I almost wish I hadn't bothered to read, almost (in addition to Labyrinth):
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke.
The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco.
The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
A Grand Complication, Allen Kurzweil.

Books I didn't much like that many people really, really like, which makes me wonder what the hell do I know:
Smilla's Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg.
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott.

Other books not nearly as good (by which I mean powerful and gripping — writerly skill is not in question) as I expected them to be:
Arthur & George, Julian Barnes.
Beyond Black, Hilary Mantel.

The ugly
And I mean that affectionately.

Most memorable scene from a book:
The unmasking of Toro, in Iron Council, by China Miéville, still gives me chills just thinking about it.

Book I'd most like to see filmed:
Iron Council, China Miéville.

Weirdest book (where weird is relative), which I'm still not sure what to make of (most articulate descriptor yet: "trippy"):
Light, M John Harrison.

Luckiest book find:
Horror at Fontenay, Alexandre Dumas, for the cover alone. (The same stories are contained in a relatively recent release, One Thousand and One Ghosts, which boasts being the first translation into English — I'm curious how it compares to my much older "adapted" text.)

The verdict
I read some really great books this year, almost all of them Napoleonic and swashbuckling in one way or another. Really. If you think about it.

Book that made me sit up and say "Why the fuck have I never heard of this book before?!":
The Slaves of Solitude, Patrick Hamilton. It seems they heard me in New York, though — NYRB Classics releases The Slaves of Solitude February 20, 2007! Buy one! Read it! Share my obsession!

Also, I have decided for myself that War and Peace is not the best novel ever written. Pretty good, but not the best.

My favourite reads this year (alphabetical by author surname, if you need to know), for reasons varied and complicated and not explained here:
Middlemarch, George Eliot.
The Dodecahedron, Paul Glennon.
Snow, Orhan Pamuk.

If I listed more, I'd have to list them all over again. Yes, The Dodecahedron. No, I haven't written a full review of it yet. Yes, actually, I do still intend to. No, I can't quite say why it feels like a favourite, which maybe has something to with why I can't write properly about it. I'm still digesting it. (Ah, bibliophagia!)

So there. Merry Christmas!


Diana said...

There's no blog which has me furiously opening up amazon tabs more than yours. I'm exhausted. :)

Merry Christmas, Isabella.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! I agree with almost all your verdicts on the books you mention that I've also read. I haven't read Labyrinth or Norrell/Strange, and from what I have read about them both I don't think I will.
On "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow", I did enjoy that, apart from the last part, which went totally off the rails. I've read a couple of Hoeg's subsueqent books also, but if you didn't like Smilla I wouldn't recommend them as they are quite good but not as good as Smilla.

Happy Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Hey, we share a 2006 Favorite! Hope you are having a good holiday.

Anonymous said...

I agree Middlemarch was wonderful, and Labyrinth was well, not (though I did read the entire thing...). My weirdest, though in a good way, read was Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat--weird. I plan on reading Dumas next year (actually very soon)--I agree swashbuckling reads are great. I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Isa!

Stefanie said...

Merry Christmas!

I agree with you on Light. Trippy barely begins to describe it.

SFP said...

Belated merry Christmas, Isabella. I'll definitely be ordering the Patrick Hamilton early next year based on your enthusiasm.

ram said...

Came here looking for Lessing fans, and you like Pamuk too, so off to check out your recommendations :).

litlove said...

This is a wonderfully organised list. I really must read some Patrick Hamilton, and have Orhan Pamuk lined up for 2007. I adored Middlemarch as well.

Linda said...

Harold and the Purple Crayon is a favorite here, too. :-)

Now I don't feel so bad postponing Little Women until next year.

Enjoyed reading your list!