Sunday, December 11, 2011

My Favourite Books Of 2011

I read 52 books this year which is a little bit above my normal average. I've posted my 10 favourites below. Not on this list are the new books by Dec Burke, Stu Neville, Eoin McNameeJohn McFetridge, Brian McGilloway, Gerard Brennan and Ken Bruen which I read in manuscript last year and which were are all absolutely brilliant. (If you're not reading Irish crime fiction because you don't read crime fiction, man, are you missing out on where the real talent in Irish writing is these days.) (McFetridge, although a Canadian, counts because his antecedents are from that apocalyptic hell hole known as Larne). Also not on my list are the audiobooks I listened to this year as you can very often get a good book ruined by a bad narrator or a mediocre book elevated by superb narration and its sometimes hard to figure out whats going on. (Maybe I should do a top 10 audiobook list?) Ok, enough blather, here's my top 10.
10. World War Z - Max Brooks. I'm not really into zombies but this book had its moments of fun and fright. 
9. Hollywood - Charles Bukowksi. I'm not really into Bukowski either but boy is this novel hilarious. As good a satire of Hollywood as you'll read anywhere and it's all actually true. 
8. The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5 - Christopher Andrew. All you ever wanted to know about British spies in the twentieth century. Except for the stuff that's been redacted. What's been redacted? Well we don't know because it's been redacted. 
7. The City and the City - China Mieville. Two cities in Eastern Europe share the same geographic area. A detective from one is trying to solve a murder that may have been committed in the other. It gets weirder.
6. Arguably - Christopher Hitchens. The polemicist and rabble rouser's best collection of essays yet. Probably his last. 
5. Master and Commander - Patrick O'Brian. This is the fourth time I've listened to this book and it's still fantastic. (Ok, so I'm breaking my self imposed audiobook rule already but this is the exception that proves the rule). One of the reasons I hated the film of M&C was the fact that it entirely missed the point of the novel which is about friendship and loyalty in the aftermath of the great 1798 rebellion in Ireland. I like the audiobook narrated by Patrick Tull, others rave about David Case.
4. The Rest Is Noise - Alex Ross. A history of classical music in the twentieth century by the New Yorker's music critic.
3. If Not Winter: Fragments of Sappho - Anne Carson. Carson translates all the bits of Sappho that have turned up over the centuries. Somehow the ellipses are as beautiful as the bits that have survived. 
2. Conquest of the Useless - Werner Herzog. Herzog's account of the making of Fitzcarraldo in the Peruvian jungle. It was a nightmare and he knew it was going to be a nightmare which makes the nightmare all the more interesting. 
1. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet - David Mitchell. I think this might have appeared on my list from 2010 also as I read it right at the end of the year. Mitchell's best book since his masterpiece, Cloud Atlas. The Dutch and the Japanese misunderstand each other in eighteenth century Nagasaki. There's a love story, a naval battle and the greatest Go game in the history of literature.