Books :: 2013

A re-read, but I'm so, so glad I did. I read Great House last year and have been hankering to go back to The History of Love ever since.
Every page, every word, is a wonder, and despite my burning envy of someone my age being such a phenomenal author I love this book.
There's a moment towards the end, the resolution of a seemingly very minor sub-plot, which I'd completely forgotten about and made me cry - as in, burst into tears cry - for the second time.
Shamefully I was unable to finish Murakami's 1Q84 ... I got 120 pages in and gave up!


And spent the next couple of weeks mesmerized by war, cancer and psychotherapy in The Delivery Room. Sounds engaging right?
Brownrigg is praised again and again in the reviews for the 'emotional intelligence' of this book, and because of this what should have been a deeply depressing novel was completely enthralling and compelling.
It's also very London-y, which I always love.

More tragedy, again astoundingly beautifully written. Francisco Goldman's tribute to his lost wife is spell-binding, and heart-breaking.
Read during a time which included opening old wounds about the loss of a childhood friend, coming to terms with a current friend's cancer suffering, hearing of a child drowning, horrific rape and murder stories happening all over SA, it makes no sense that this book gave me comfort and refuge from all this.
But it did.
Hoping to choose something a bit more cheerful for my next read though.

And I did! If dysfunctional family relationships and people setting themselves on fire can be regarded as more cheerful...?
Not as well-written as I'd liked (could've done with a tighter edit maybe?) but completely engaging about a family of performance/intervention artists with a particular taste for chaos.
Possibly appealed to me as I've never been sympathetic of the argument that it's 'for the art' - always seemed like a cop out to me.
Looking forward to introducing this one to book club tomorrow night. (Update: everyone who's read it so far is loving it!)

I'm a big Tim Winton fan. 'Dirt Music' being one of my favourites. But this, his first novel, sadly didn't enthrall me.
While passages in it are beautiful, and totally show the promise of the author he has become, it was a little too abstract for me, and the strong use of Australian slang a little alienating for someone who doesn't get it.

Loved this. Totally enthralling read with a very original plot loaded with fantastic detail.
I love novels which teach me about previously unknown topics (in this case the study of disease and pharmacology) while telling a good story.

I also loved that one of the central characters reminded me of a friend's mother-in-law and after the friend read it she agreed!

Another favourite author. I loved 'What I Loved' and I adored this too.
I love a novel with a quiet, unassuming protagonist surrounded by people in crisis - it's like the opposite of a blockbuster movie.
I am also always in awe when an author (similarly Nicole Krauss) can write a character of a different gender and age with such sympathy and insight.

Terrible cover, and I haven't seen the film, but another intriguing read from John Irving.
I always think of him as similar, but not nearly as good as John Updike, I wonder whether he's been compared as such before?
They have similar styles in characters and story lines, especially wrt marriage, but while I do think Updike is far better, I enjoy Irving's insights and style.
When I was finishing this, Charl was reading Girl with The Dragon Tattoo and we spent an entire Saturday reading on the couch and ignoring our kids. So liberating.

Then I read this. Having been to the concert earlier this year I was keen to learn more about the band - specifically why their career seemed to have been so up and done in the 90's specifically.
I got my answers on that and way more information on Kiedis's drug use and love-making style than I necessarily needed, but it was a fun read

Such a lovely little book. I had moments of real frustration as it seemed he and his wife would never communicate clearly (they do in the end) and the culmination of it all was a little weak, I did really enjoy this book.

I didn't 'love' this novel, I didn't find it particularly well written. But I was fascinated at how snide and cruel the corporate world can be, and how, as happens to the lead, if a superior at work takes a dislike to you they can essentially ruin your career, health and your life. This is a work of fiction, but I can totally see this happening irl.

It's a bit of a cheat to include this as I didn't in fact read it this year. I read it last year (and now remember really enjoying it at the time), but I've included it because ironically and hilariously I started reading it again the other week. Seems I'd totally forgotten having read it before. Hee hee.

I'm just about finished this ... and honestly I'm hurrying because I've a long anticipated read waiting for me. Like the other novel of his I've read, The Line of Beauty, this book is a bit of a puzzle because I'm not LOVING it, but I'm enthralled enough to complete it - which is rare for me these days. I've become really cut throat about not completing a read which isn't captivating.
But yet I've persevered, as I did with his previous one, because amongst the gay angst, upper class England angst, war angst, there's enough beauty in the writing and the characters to keep me interested.

Which brings me to my so-far Best of 2013. I LOVED this book. Here's the thing with me and Kingsolver. I didn't like The Poisonwood Bible (gasp!), I didn't like (or even finish) The Lacuna. But I loved Prodigal Summer and I adore The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. And I LOVED Flight Behavior.
The main character's musings on motherhood spoke to my soul, her failing relationship with her essentially sweet husband was heart-breaking and honest, the other female characters - her best friend and her mother-in-law - were fascinating. The science was poetic and sobering and the human-ness of it irresistible.
I'm very interested to see whether I read anything else as good this year.

I was looking forward to this after (surprisingly), my husband read it and loved it. The endorsement by Audrey Niffenegger helped too. But ... I didn't love it, and I shouldn't be including it here as I ended up not finishing it. I would have, but this came along ...

I enjoyed Sweet Tooth, but I kept wanting more, and by the time I ended it I felt profoundly depressed. Ian McEwan's last 3 novels have all been let downs for me (On Chesil Beach, Solar - eeuww - and now this). Where is the brilliance of Saturday and The Innocent and, one of my favourites, Black Dogs?
Someone said don't try and read too much into it, just enjoy the read. I did enjoy it, but actually I expect more from McEwan, I really do. I hope he gets back there in future novels.

A South African read, which I quite enjoyed. A murder mystery with a distinctly local flavour. No great work of literature, but fun.

This was fun. A Canadian novel on loan from a friend just returned from living there. A bunch of misfits trying to make it work on a little plot of land in rural Canada. Very amusing about all kinds of things - farmers markets, blogs, alcoholism (yes, really), serious children and grumpy old men. I loved it.

David Benioff is one of the writers for Game of Thrones which we've been embroiled in this year (who hasn't right?), and this novel was as compelling as the series. Serious subject matter, and based on fact, loosely it's the story of his grandfather's experience in besieged Leningrad during WW2, it was very beautifully written, with lots of humour despite the mostly horrific circumstances.

Another re-read. After The Sorrows of an American I was hankering to re-read this, my favourite Siri Hustvedt novel to date. I can't say I loved it quite as much as the first time, but I'd forgotten huge tracts of it so was thoroughly engrossed again. And as with the first read, the descriptions of the art, the research and the sheer cerebral magnitude of her writing was awe-inspiring.

I bought this off the school sale, mainly because the favourable write-up on the front was by a friend and novelist I respect. 
It was a bit of a tedious read though. I dislike novels where I keep wanting to tell the protagonist off for the stupid decisions they insist on making. Also, I think I'm too young to appreciate oldies having wild and adventurous sex. The eeuuw-factor was high. I put it straight into the donation bag for a local charity book store as soon as I'd finished it.

What a book. Heart wrenching. I LOVED Sense of an Ending last year but I think this is my best of his so far. The first half is about hot air ballooning - yup - and the second about the grieving process he went through/is going through after his wife of nearly 30 years died of cancer. 36 days from diagnosis to death.
I can't even.
So astoundingly gracefully written.

Another local novel, this one about a young doctor working in public hospitals in Cape Town. Utterly devastating as I know all of that is complete truth - the dysfunction of our hospitals and many aspects of our society. But led by such an inviting main character, and so very Cape Town in other ways. I laughed and I wept.

22 and a half books so far this year (I only read half of Night Circus). Considering how little time I think I have available to read, I'm a bit impressed with myself!

A long read, but a great one. Back and forth from the beginnings of Mormon polygamy to the modern day repercussions thereof. Very compelling characters.

This gal's on fire at the moment. South African, but the novel's set in the States, a time-travelling serial killer thriller of terrifying note. The book topped JK Rowling's Casual Vacancy on a British Top 10 book list shortly after it came out and Leonardo DeCaprio's production company has picked up the movie rights. All rightly deserved. So proud.

Turgid. Sad. Some of the reviews said 'funny', but I never found that page. But then I finished it, and these days that means there must've been something I was getting from it.

My second Nicole Krauss of the year and not one I'd read before. I adored it. Not as much as Great House or The History of Love, but as with those her poignant writing and ability to draw a character in such multi-hued detail is astounding.

After loving Flight Behaviour I went on a bit of a Barbara Kingsolver retrospective. This has always been one of my favourites of hers and I enjoyed it even more the second time round. She writes such excellent characters too, and with such sensitivity.

The saddest book I read all year. And I read some sad stuff. Someone cursed this by telling me it would be my 'read of the year' (so naturally I felt opposed to it) and no, I'd never call it that. I was compelled, I was saddened, I was intrigued by the South African connection in the story, but the characters weren't readable enough for me, and I think that's the one conclusion I've come to in my reading this year. In books, as in life, I'm interested in the people.

So back to Barbara and one of my favourite of her characters. The Bean Trees is her first novel and I can only imagine the excitement of those who were first to read the manuscript and surely know that here comes a great writer.

And then this. I think this may usurp Flight Behaviour for my book of the year. A woman's story of investigating and exploring her mother's life after her death, travelling back to South Africa to meet her mother's siblings and scratch beneath the surface of the stories her mother told her as a child. Discovering terrifying details about her mother's childhood and how vastly it contrasted with her own. Such honesty and clarity in the writing, such a subtle and gentle revelation of some pretty hardcore stuff. LOVED this.

I'm a Lionel Shriver fan and this one didn't disappoint. 'Literary gold' - I can't say it better than the Daily Mail.

Too Jodi Picoult really but I had a cold so it seemed as good a way as any to pass time on the couch.

Magnificent, wonderful read. A totally fresh take on the old fairy tale (which I've always loved). I was apprehensive at first as I find remote, snowy landscapes quite forbidding and claustrophobic, but this was gorgeous.

Mad novel in style of TC Boyle ... a fun read.

And at the same time (to intersperse the madness) Quiet - nonfiction, but very readable, novel on introverts. I don't think I am one, but it's always good to know what to look out for right?

I think that's 36 books? Plus another couple that I started and didn't finish. Not too shabby for someone who never thinks she makes enough time to read ...

1 comment:

library dragon said...

have just made a list of those authors that are new to me and I'm off to my favourite secondhand bookshop!