Though I continue to be a voracious reader, I can’t recall liking many new book releases this year. Most of the books I loved, such as Scott Alarick’s Revival, were all released in years gone by. Even the few novels that stood out (The Interestings, The Curiosity, Eleanor & Park and Donna Tartt’s much-hyped The Goldfinch) proved to be ultimately disappointing. I did, however, greatly enjoy three new poetry collections and two very unusual novels:
“A day like a day in summer. Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples nearly mauve on the gravel paths. And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer. It does me no good; violence has changed me. My body has grown cold like the stripped fields; now there is only my mind, cautious and wary, with the sense it is being tested. Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer; bounty, balm after violence. Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields have been harvested and turned. Tell me this is the future, I won’t believe you. Tell me I’m living, I won’t believe you.”
Louise Glück is a Pulitzer winner and critically acclaimed poet, but I only recently became a fan. I can’t say I love all her work, which is collected here in one volume, but she does have a very powerful and evocative voice at times. I especially like her Persephone-themed poetry originally published as the book Averno, which is included in this volume.
William came, and sat opposite. Leonard pushed a glass of wine towards him.
‘Scotland was difficult,’ Leonard said, in answer to the unasked questions. How was your trip? How have you been? He knew William would never ask. ‘I wish you’d been there, William, at least for a visit.’
No response, but then it hadn’t been a question, so he continued as if unperturbed. ‘Mind you, if you had come what would you have found? Me drinking wine too early in the day and watching films and scratting through boxes of things in the attic, like a weird animal. I can’t say I’ve really been in possession of myself.’
‘I don’t know what that would mean anyway. To be in possession of oneself.’
William smiled with intrigue as he said it.
This one may end up being higher on my list, but I’m not quite finished with it. All is Song was originally released last year, but the paperback was released in 2013. I only obtained a copy of the book myself last summer when I traveled to Ireland and it had been lost in my bedroom book pile until this month. It seems to have become a tradition for me to purchase Samantha Harvey books in Ireland, as they are difficult to find in local bookshops and they are so lovely I cannot bear to order them online. Much like Harvey’s previous novel, The Wilderness, All is Song is an exquisitely well written, somewhat cerebral read about an unusual male character. But the plot is quite different, this time examining the complicated relationship and philosophical discussions between two brothers after their father’s death as well as the controversy surrounding one of the brothers, a retired professor.
“I fear the past is a brushfire
and I am a prairie. Now that I have what I asked for
I see that I should have been more specific.”
If you think poetry is boring and old-fashioned, I highly recommend this very modern collection of verse by relatively new poet Leigh Stein. Published by the small press Melville House, Dispatch From the Future is a fun, clever, quick read — though by no means lacking in substance or feeling.
From: Soo-Lin Lee-Segal
To: Audrey Griffin
I heard Bernadette tried to run you over at pickup! Are you OK? Should I come by with dinner? WHAT HAPPENED?
From: Audrey Griffin
To: Soon-Lin Lee-Segal
It’s all true. I needed to talk to Bernadette about her blackberry bushes, which are growing down her hill, under my fence, and invading my garden…
I usually hate literary gimmicks, but I adored this novel told in the form of found correspondence, report cards and other documented “evidence” as well as the fragmented memories of the teenage protagonist regarding the disappearance of her notoriously eccentric mother, Bernadette. It’s poignant, hilarious and totally unique. I can’t imagine how anyone will make a successful film of this book, but apparently one is in the works.
“And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon?”
Sharon Olds is my poetry idol. Her 1987 book, Gold Cell, opened my eyes to the world of modern poetry and taught me that poetry could be (and convey) so much more than mere pretty words. She takes confessional poetry to entirely new, eloquent, gut-wrenching levels. Her post-divorce collection, Stag’s Leap, is perhaps her most personal to date. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year.
“…Fforde’s writing is at its best when there’s a darker edge to his satirical fantasies. Happily, he is back in top form with Shades of Grey, the story of a Dystopian society ruled by a “Colortocracy.”“
“…O’Farrell’s eloquent prose combined with the depth of her characters and her unique method of weaving subtle mysteries into emotional dramas have made her my favorite living author.“
“…The Unnamed has restored my faith in the modern novel…literally follows a man who can’t stop walking. Tim Farnsworth was a happily married man, father, and successful lawyer whose life is dismantled by his own body.“
“…Simonson has managed to write one of the sweetest, most heartwarming love stories I’ve ever read without ever falling into the trap of sappy sentimentality – all the while tastefully and humorously tackling such weighty issues as racism, nationalism, religion, family dramas, class distinctions, and the sharp difference in how various cultures can perceive a shared history.“
“…Ford’s writing style brings it vividly, beautifully to life. The love story is touching without being overtly sentimental, the hurtful consequences of war and prejudice are subtly portrayed without being graphic or disturbing, and the inaudible soundtrack of 1940s jazz woven throughout the story gives the novel a palpable atmosphere of sophistication and elegance.“
In addition to my usual year end lists, I’m also doing decade lists. Following are my favorite books that were released between 2000-2009. It turns out my two favorite books of the early aughts – Douglas Copeland’s Girlfriend in a Coma and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – were released in the mid-1990s. Oh well. With one exception, I only included books that were newly released in this decade…
10. Ian McEwan: On Chesil Beach
This unique little novella is probably not one that I would re-read, but I did like it enough to buy it after I’d checked it out from the library. There was just something so elegant and insightful about its painfully realistic depiction of an inexperienced couple’s awkward wedding night in 1962.
9. Lin Enger: Undiscovered Country
2008 was a very good year for novels. As I said in my review: “Undiscovered Country is a modernized retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in small town Minnesota.” I still think it’s a shame a certain bloated, boring copycat Oprah book club selection stole the attention and praise this novel rightfully deserved.
8. Maggie O’Farrell: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
I summed it all up in my review: “Irish author Maggie O’Farrell has quickly become a favorite writer of mine. Her new novel The Vanishing Act Of Esme Lennox is a beautifully written, enthralling piece of Gothic fiction that effortlessly weaves together the emotional and riveting threads of one family’s multi-generational tale. “
7. Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness
One of the most unique books ever written. I would have put it at #1, except it’s too painful for me personally to ever re-read. As I said in my review, “Harvey’s beautiful, intelligent prose weaves the frayed threads of Jacob’s turbulent life and decaying mind together to create a magnificent tapestry of tragedy and hope.”
6. Emma Forrest: Namedropper
Compared to the rest of the list, this book probably ranks higher for nostalgic value than the quality of the novel itself. It’s a fun read about the loves and semi-adventures of vivacious, melodramatic, Elizabeth Taylor-obsessed Viva, including her encounter with an ill-fated indie musician that was inspired by Jeff Buckley.
5. Lee Maynard: Crum
Most of the world may not know who local writer Lee Maynard is, but he is known in West Virginia as the infamous author whose book Crum has been banned in various bookstores throughout the state. The book fictionalizes and scandalizes portions of Maynard’s adolescent years in Crum, WV. It’s been called an Appalachian Catcher in the Rye, but I think it’s far superior.
4. Robert Cremins: A Sort of Homecoming
This book was originally released in Ireland in late 1999, but the paperback edition wasn’t released in the U.S. until 2000. It was Brendan‘s favorite book then, and I read it when we were living in Ireland during the summer of 2000. I agreed with Brendan’s assessment that the novel perfectly and humorously captured the real Dublin of that time.
3. James Long: Ferney
I’m cheating a little here, as Ferney was originally released in the late 1990s. But the edition I bought and read this year was a 2001 reprint. As I said in my review: “Ferney is a tale of immortal love trapped within the confines of mortal flesh…the narrative is intricately and intelligently crafted.” This is one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about long after I finished it.
2. Mary Ann Shaffer: The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society
This delightful little book is one that I expect to read over and over again throughout my life. I said in my review: “I found myself cheering for these fictional people I had unwittingly become so invested in. “.
1. Markus Zusak: The Book Thief
As I said in my original review, “The Book Thief is one of the most brilliant and emotional books I’ve ever read. The book is narrated by the personification of Death, and tells the story of nine year old orphan Liesel Meminger in World War II era Germany..” It was #1 on my 2008 book list, and I think it will eventually be considered a classic.