Thursday, 31 December 2009

My best reads of 2009

The following, in no particular order, are the books that I most enjoyed reading during the course of the year. Some were recommendations, gratefully acknowledged, from other book blogs most notably Stuck in a Book and Random Jottings.

Paris in the Fifties by Stanley Karnow was one of those books that just gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling while reading it, so much so that, having borrowed it originally from the library, I went out and bought my own copy so I could keep it. Part biography, part travel book, part period piece, it is a loving and perceptive portrait of French life, culture and attitudes. A strongly nostalgic account of a bohemian, artistic, intellectual and above all affordable Paris which has, alas, long since vanished.

Swallowdale by Arthur Ransome, but I could just as well nominate any of his books, since I have embarked upon reading the whole series, only a few of which I read as a child. Magical stories told from a child's point of view but with adults participating willingly in the whole make-believe process where necessary. Sadly, modern standards make such childhood freedom of action seem even more of a fantasy than ever. Well-deserved classic status.

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler. The first of the Bryant and May mysteries. Impossible to describe, impossible to put down. Fowler is a wonderful writer, with evocative descriptions of a darkly tantalising London through the ages, woven into the story of a long and touching friendship. Start with this one, but read them all.

Richard Aldington and H.D. ed Caroline Zilboorg. Letters chronicling this brilliant but doomed relationship. I have written at length about Aldington already on this blog. Novelist, poet and biographer, he is shamefully neglected. He and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) were widely credited as the creators of Imagist poetry, and much admired by Ezra Pound and Ford Maddox Ford. Excellent commentary and introduction by Zilboorg.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, yes and the second one too. So much has been written about this great trilogy by Stieg Larsson that I have little to add. So rare to find such wonderful writing coupled with such gripping story-telling. I enjoy and admire Mankell, but this is even better. Looking forward to the third one.

Bad Penny Blues by Cathy Unsworth. See my recent post on this. I genuinely believe Unsworth is a major new talent.

Final Edition, by E.F. Benson. The very last thing Benson wrote, delivered personally to his publishers though he was mortally ill with cancer and knew he only had a few weeks left. The last volume of his auto-biography, surprisngly frank about relationships within his family, and written with a jaunty light-heartedness in the face of death.

It's Too Late Now by A.A. Milne. I have always disapproved of Milne's attacks on Wodehouse, which I thought were priggish and narrow-minded. This is a wonderful book, though, a charming auto-biography up to WWII.

Frost at Morning by Richmal Crompton. Justly famous for her William books, Crompton was an amazingly prolific writer and her novels deserve to be (much) better known.

Randall and the River of Time by C.S. Forester. See my separate post in the blog archive. Read this (and others) to show what a great writer he was above and beyond the Hornblower books.

The Last Great Frenchman by Charles Williams. An enthralling biography of de Gaulle.

Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung. Written by Jung himself and various collaborators. A new (i.e. non-Freudian) view of the part symbols play in dreams, and what insights these may offer.

The Egoist by George Meredith. There is a separate post on Meredith in the blog archive.

The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas, a lady despite the nom de plume, and an architect. Vintage and Harvill Secker have a lot of explaining to do for having translated and issued these wonderful books in totally the wrong order. Be warned: this is actually the first, despite having been published last (so far).

Stranger Than Fiction, by Jim Murdoch. See separate post. Dazzling follow-up to Living With The Truth.

The Leaf by Frank McGillion. See separate post. This Booker-nominated novelist deserves to be much, much better known. I recommend starting with On The Edge Of A Lifetime.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I think this one just sneaked into 2009 and, yes, it really is as good as everyone says it is.

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