As a sharing caring type of person I think it’s only right that I share the reading highlights of my year so you can enjoy some reading of your own this festive season break, with some helpful information to guide you on your way. Whether you spend your idle hours on a beach, in the back yard, cosy in bed or around a fire, a book is always a handy companion.
My 2013 list is gleaned from this year’s reading – both new titles, and beloved old favourites.
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
A bit of a modern Candide: to wit, a road trip of troubles and twists and turns, where everything turns out more than all right in the end, where the past travels alongside the present and we see Alan Karlson’s amazing adventures then and understand why he doesn’t sit still for long now. The bad guys aren’t really all that bad, and our hero, has had and continues to have a large life. A man who blows things up for a hobby and a living he ends up – a bit like Forest Gump – meeting some of the most unlikely people of history, playing a key part in the Spanish revolution, the Chinese revolution, meeting presidents and despots before landing in Bali, after his simple but daring escape from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. It is a lot of fun and a welcome alternative to the Scandi-noir infecting our bookshops and on-line retailers.
Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
Like many others I fell in love with Mantel and Cromwell in Wolf Hall and couldn’t wait for this book. As compelling and well written, as detailed and convincing as the first, it is un-put-down-able. I’ve always loved the Tudor period and with Mantel you DO feel as if you are there, at court, in the streets, roaming Europe. I can only agree with others: she is a master story teller, a wonderful weaver of wicked words that make the less than appealing Cromwell a man to be admired, a man I wish I’d known. Bring on the next one!
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn
This is one disturbing book with one of the most sinister characters in fiction – forget Cromwell and his Machiavellian scheming, Amy Dunne is beyond bad, she is one evil sick woman. Just be grateful she is the product of Flynn’s imagination. Having said that, the book is terribly well written: you’re sucked in by the voices, by the diary and the events and when it twists, as you know it must, you feel as if you’ve been punched. I’m not sure about the ending, it seemed to flag a little but the portrait of marriage, of how we feel about ourselves and our beloved rings terribly true.
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
One of the most lauded Young Adult fiction novel of recent years, this is a smart book, a non-sentimental exploration of teenagers with cancer and yes, there is death. It is a testament to Green that when Augustus Waters dies it is not a schmaltzy scene but one of restraint and reverence. No parent wants to even think of their child dying so bits of this book are a bit hard as a mother. Hazel-Grace our prime death-candidate tells the story and her love with Augustus. She moves from self-pity to defiance and back again and she certainly suffers, but quite stoically really. My daughter wasn’t happy with how rude she was to her parents, especially at her age, even given her condition. Augustus’ death seemed a trite contrived, perhaps a bit sudden, but the characters and the vitality of the writing are Green’s strength. A good book, but I think it’s over-hyped. However…
Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan
This is the better book of the two. I fell in love with the writing and the characters – Will Grayson the first and Tiny Cooper will live with me forever. Jane is pretty good too and although Will Grayson the other began as winy self-piteous, pain in the arse (like too many kids I’ve taught) with all his ‘problems’ he does grow through his knowing the other Will Grayson and his love affair with Tiny Cooper. This is almost the definitive book about teenage love, romance and relationships – be they straight or gay. The truth in this book is in the insights about being and becoming, the conflicts and contradictions within us that we can’t really explain to ourselves let alone others. I love that the central relationship is the friendship between Will Grayson and the amazing – truly one of the best characters in fiction – Tiny Cooper who is gay, a massively huge football player who is so out there on all levels that you have to love him. This is a great book, insightful, exceptionally well crafted and satisfying. Read it now.
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
I gave up YA series at the end of Harry Potter when I couldn’t face the final in her epic series. The over-written indulgent pedestrian story finally did me in. But I have returned to stories of ordinary kids with extra-ordinary powers with the Percy Jackson books. I’m on my third this Christmas. They’re fun, they’re well written, albeit not in the same class as John Green, but the plotting is sound, the characters good and you’re taken along on a good enjoyable romp through modern America, home of the new centre of the world and so Olympus is now above the Empire State Building, of course. But the conceit works and it’s fun, if you know your Greek Myths to hunt the Gods and Goddesses, spotting the monsters in their modern guise. I think it’s a bit naff that our modern heroes – half gods, half mortals – are the ADHD, OCD troubled kiddies in our midst. I can only guess that my antipathy to that is being a cynical old teacher and the idea that labels give us excuses and now labels make us special. Still Riordan is/was a teacher and he’s got many things right and the sales to prove it. Accuracy note from my very own Pallas-Athena – the goddess was a virgin Goddess so she really wasn’t in the business of shagging around and having little Halflings of her own…
And you could do worse that read Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, or John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire.
So to this Christmas
I have begun The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and will see how that goes. I like the opening, atmospheric, good characters, strong writing. But a bit big and heavy in my hands, sad to say.
I’ve also returned to Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville, having been inspired by a lovely piece of writing by a dear friend of mine I have returned to this book from the past: a Vogel winner (Oz new writing prize) from the 1980s and am pleased to say that it is standing the test of time very well. Which sadly, Howard’s Way by EM Forster did not.
I have two Percy Jackson’s – The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth – for the lighter, quick reading moments. And I’m waiting for the Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pacol to be on Amazon so I can sink my teeth into that.
So, make sure that as well as indulging in lovely food and wine and good company you indulge yourself with a good book or two. Reading really is one of life’s best simple pleasures. (Images courtesy Google Images)