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Wed, 17 Dec 2008 07:20
Each week we have a Tuesday Top Ten on our site where authors pick their top ten favourite books (in any category or none!) As we run up to Christmas, I thought I'd take a quick look back over 2008 and pick ten of my favourite books of the year.
In no particular order they are...
ABC3D by Marion Bataille
As I wrote in my review earlier in the year: "Who knew that a minimalist pop-up book of the alphabet could be quite so beautiful and stylish and so hugely popular?" A real treat.
The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross
Widely praised -- and rightly so -- Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise won the Guardian First Book Award and will, I'm sure, go on winning plenty of other prizes next year too. A gripping history of Twentieth Century music that explains why e.g. dissonance, serialism and minimalism made such an impact on our aural environment.
The Spire by William Golding
Everyone knows Golding's Lord of the Flies, but it is a book I dislike for a number of reasons -- and all those reasons have kept me away from Golding's other books for far too long. This year I read the superb, beautifully realised Pincher Martin, which I loved, and also The Spire which, if possible, I loved even more. A book about obsession and rapture, spirituality and blindness, about writing and about being human.
The Blue Fox by Sjon
Reviewing The Blue Fox on ReadySteadyBook, Sarah Hesketh wrote "Each word in its scarcity is loaded high with importance, so that your mode of reading changes and like the pastor tracking the fox, you pay close attention to every mark on the page. There are some lovely images too -- the sound of snowmelt passes for birdsong, the beard of one character, "tumbles from his chin like an ice-bound cataract," and the rhythm of each sentence is crafted by someone who is used to measuring syllables." A really lovely, odd little gem of a book -- that the cover looks like a photograph of one my own dogs doesn't hurt one wee bit either!
Miss Herbert by Adam Thirlwell
Frustrating and uneven, this is literary criticism, but not as we know it! Thirlwell takes us on a fascinating journey of the "left-field" novel from Sterne to Gombrowicz. Some of it reads like a pastiche of Milan Kundera, but there are enough interesting asides to make the whole piece worthy of any bibliophile's attention.
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
An idiosyncratic and highly personal study of "the mysteries of libraries, a thorough analysis of their history throughout the world and an esoteric, enchanting celebration of reading." Delightful.
Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano
Bolano is beginning to be a name to reckon with. Over the last five or so years the deceased Chilean author (1953-2003) has begun to garner quite a reputation. The publication of 2666 in the UK in January is set to be something of a major literary event. Nazi Literature in the Americas is very strange and quite difficult to categorise. It isn't a novel, much less does it present a story, rather it is the imaginary "biographical dictionary of American writers who flirted with or espoused extreme right-wing ideologies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries". Bolano's cod scholarship describes the life and works of his invented Nazis in some detail, listing their publications, desribing their influences, giving vivid accounts of episodes from their lives. And then we move along to the next writer! Their world is minutely realised, with the connections between some of the writers and their milieux carefully explained. The whole thing is quite baffling and yet totally gripping. You've never read anything like it.
Dostoevsky by Rowan Williams
The Archbishop of Canterbury takes time out of his busy schedule to write the best short overview of Dostoevsky you're every likely to read. (If you want to delve even deeper than this -- and it's unlikely you'd ever need to -- then only Joseph Frank's exhaustive work will do.)
Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker
A hugely important, if troubling book. Human Smoke makes us question our history (and question, too, whether Baker's pick 'n' mix methodology can itself be called history). But, disquieting though it may be, Baker shows that WWII wasn't a Good War and, especially in our troubled times, hearing any anti-war message, especially one as restrained and painstaking as this, is, surely, vitally important. Highly recommended.
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard
Provocative and funny, Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is actually far more scholarly than it sounds. It isn't a bluffers guide, but more a meditation on what reading acutally is. Playful, certainly, but still an essential read for all bibliophiles.
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