Friday, 2 January 2009

My Favourite Reads of 2008. . .

Happy New Year!
I spent the day tidying up my apartment, ostensibly because my mother was coming for lunch, but also to start the year somewhat fresh and clutter free. And it was time to dust the bookshelves. Then I went through my reading diary for 2008. I finished 109 books last year, somewhat shy of the 125 I had hoped to complete but several of the books were over 800 pages so I'm not going to beat myself up about it. As I look over the list, I realize I've read mostly contemporary and new fiction (nothing wrong with that, I enjoyed most of it) but didn't tackle anywhere near the number of classics, books about Woolf, books set in the period of Woolf's life, Viragos, Persephones, and books about WWI that I've been madly collecting over the last few years. And they're now glaring at me from their shelves. So these are what I'm determined to focus on in 2009.
But I read some terrific books last year and here are my top 10 favourites (in alphabetical order by author - I just can't pick the best of the bunch)

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
This should have won the Man Booker prize. One can quibble about the ending, but I didn't see it coming and I was so enthralled in the story that I didn't even think to question it when it did arrive; I was completely caught in a narrative spell the entire time.

2666 by Roberto BolaƱo, translated by Natasha Wimmer
One can't help but admire the immense writing skill behind this - a very long, but entertaining, thought-provoking and original novel.

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
Probably the most beautifully sustained writing of any novel I read this year.

A Strange Eventful History: The Dramatic Lives of Ellen Terry, Henry Irving and their Remarkable Families by Michael Holroyd
One of the last books I read this year and I'll blog about it in more detail soon, but these lives were fascinating and I can only remain awed and grateful for the years of research this book must have entailed.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal
Just a perfect little gem about the wonders of childhood, the experience and wisdom of aging, and everything in between. This is a book I know I'll return to many times in the future.

Here at the End of the World We Learn to Dance by Lloyd Jones
Two interconnected love stories spanning the world and decades. I am now hooked on Argentinian tango music.

In Spite of Myself by Christopher Plummer
What a storyteller - this book made me laugh and laugh, sometimes with an almost prudish horror and ultimately with delight. Plummer is a great writer as well as being a terrific actor.

Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge, translated by Richard Greenman
I've always been fascinated by the interwar years, spies and the complicated relationships - political, personal, and ideological - that people had with communism, especially during the 1930s. This powerful novel was horrifying and unputdownable.

Between Each Breath by Adam Thorpe.
Thorpe is one of my favourite British writers who has a real ability to make readers feel morally uneasy about the smugness of our comfortable lives. This novel is about a frustrated composer and his guilt over sponging off his wife's money; his problems only escalate when he has an affair while visting Tallin, with an Estonian waitress. It's a novel about creativity and music, and the re-evaluation of one's life and values, and the writing is just so beautiful. Here is one of my favourite passages:
It's as if walking without looking where I was going - walking backward, heels first, virtually improvising - I have suddenly turned my head. I very much like what I see stretching out in front of me. It was always there too, I just didn't realize it. It just needed a turn of the head.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
2008 was definitely the year to finally read this masterpiece as I also managed to watch Sergei Bondarchuk's 7 hour plus 1968 film version all in one day at Cinematheque, and I also saw the Canadian Opera Company's production of Prokofiev's opera this fall. I was surprised by how immensely readable and gripping this was.

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