Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Books Of The Year

Its been another great reading year for me: so far I've got through 54 books in a lot of different genres and categories and by luck (or good choices) very few of them have been terrible. The ones below are those which I gave an 'A' grade to in the little book journal that I've been keeping since 1994. As usual I'm going to do a separate list for crime fiction novels later in December and I think that this year I'm also going to do a separate list for science fiction because I read a surprising number of great sci-fi novels. If I had to say one bad thing about the year's reading it would be a lack of a decent history book; all the big history books that came out this year were disappointing (to me, anyway) and felt like a retread of earlier books and ideas. Anyway here are the books that got 'A' grades in my journal in the chronological order in which I finished them: 

Arguably - Christopher Hitchens He's still wrong about the invasion of Iraq and his bizarre hero worship of the less than saintly Thomas Jefferson but he's right about so many other topics and his writing style is masterful. Hitch we miss you. 

Post Office - Charles Bukowski For those of us who have worked in a post office this book will give you chills of recognition and maybe a laugh or two.

Platform - Michel Houellebecq The funniest book I read all year. Its about sex tourism in Thailand from a French misanthrope novelist who lives next door to Shannon airport because its so wet, dark and miserable there. 

The Collected Essays Of George Orwell 1400 pages of amazing stuff. A must read for the serious bibliophile.

The Art Of Fielding - Chad Harbach Best debut novel I read all year. A wonderful book about baseball, friendship, love and loss. 

Lassie Come Home - Eric Knight I read this to my daughter Sophie and I have to say that the book just knocked my socks off. This is an intelligent, gripping wonderful children's novel with terrific adventure and character development. And unlike that awful Black Beauty with its talking horses, Knight actually gets into the mind of Lassie in a very convincing manner. 

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel I give up on this novel for 3 years but when I finally started it again I read the whole thing in three frenzied days. A masterpiece. 

Bring Up The Bodies - Hilary Mantel Mantel's Thomas Cromwell is one of the greatest characters in modern fiction. Smart, cunning, irreverent, compassionate, deft, ruthless. . .you run out of superlatives describing this sixteenth century badass. 

The Red Queen - Matt Ridley Sexual selection and evolution explained in a witty and erudite book.

HHhH - Laurent Binet The assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague by the Czech underground as told in a very French dry, clever and postmodern manner. 

High Fidelty - Nick Hornby Took me a LONG time to come round to Nick Hornby but this book is a deserved modern classic that dares to suggest that - gasp - men have feelings too. If you're thinking of getting someone Telegraph Avenue as a Christmas present, don't do it, get them this instead.

Cooking With Fernat Branca - James Hamilton Paterson Did I say that Platform was the funniest book I read all year? Ok, thats only because I forgot about this. This is at least as funny as Platform and the "UFO" scene had me in tears...

Why Does the World Exist - Jim Holt A nice exploration of cosmogony and existentialism in a clear style without any footnotes. Nothing particularly new here but its good to see a popular book talking about these themes.

The Fortress Of Solitude - Jonathan Lethem I've had a while to think about this book now and my opinion hasn't changed. The best novel I read all year and a strong contender for the best American novel of the century so far.