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Top fiction, et al, from 2010

January 2, 2011
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No. 1!

Well, 2010 is officially over so I reckon I can now safely present my top fiction of the year! As I listed my top Aussie reads in my last Monday musings post, this post will exclude Aussie writers. Partly for this reason, I’m not going to list the usual 5 or 10 here, but just those that rose to the top. What does it matter after all whether I list 7 or 10 or 13? The world will, in fact, still go round!

My top non-Aussie fiction of the year

In alphabetical order (with the title linked to my review):

  • Jorge Amado‘s Gabriela, clove and cinnamon. I  didn’t read a lot of non-English writers this year but this was one of them. Larger than life, and very colourful, it introduced me to a period of Brazilian history I knew little about and an author I’d like to read more.
  • John Banville‘s The infinities. I like Banville’s writing – this is my second of his. I particularly liked the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone of this one.
  • MJ Hyland’s This is how. This is cheeky I know as I also listed it in my aforementioned Australian Top Fiction list. She really isn’t Australian, so I reserve the right to list her here too!
  • Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall. One of my first reads of the year – and it got me off to a good start. I look forward to reading more Mantel in future, probably, the way I’m going, the sequel to this one.
  • David Mitchell’s The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet. This is probably the most controversial of my top reads for the year but I remain unapologetic about it. It wasn’t perfect but it was a thoroughly engaging read in a style that “mixed it up a bit”.
  • Haruki Murakami‘s Blind willow, sleeping woman. What can I say? I’ve scarcely met a Murakami I haven’t liked and this collection of short stories was no exception.

Some miscellaneous other “tops” of the year

  • The standout film for me this year was Animal Kingdom – but I did also thoroughly enjoy The King’s English which we saw just a couple of days ago.
  • My top short stories (excluding collections) were an older one, Kate Chopin’s Desirée’s baby, and a modern one, Nicole Krauss‘s The young painters.
  • The most intriguing piece of non-fiction writing I read this year was Alan Bennett’s The lady in the van.

So, that’s it. There were other tops of the year but, to take the advice of the immortal Mr Bennet, I have delighted you long enough and will now give you time to tell me your own favourites. But, before we get to that, I wish you all

a very happy 2011, full of brilliant books and delightful discussion (not to mention, of course, health, wealth and happiness!)

I thank you all for popping by my blog this year, and I particularly thank those of you who have taken the time to comment. I treasure every one of you and look forward to more interactions in 2011.

Now, your favourites?

36 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2011 1:40 am

    I have read and enjoyed all of the authors in your list except Joh Banville whom I read a long time ago and did not enjoy. Must try another book of his.

    • January 2, 2011 9:02 am

      Oh good, Tony … but then I always knew we were on a similar wave-length. Which Banville did you read? I’ve only read one other – The sea – and enjoyed it immensely, and I’ve heard several admire The shroud. That’s the extent of my knowledge of him.

      • January 2, 2011 12:18 pm

        Hmm, I like John Banville, (I loved The Infinities nearly as much as I loved The Sea) but I’d hesitate to recommend The Shroud. If I’d read that first I’d never have read another Banville (see http://anzlitlovers.wordpress.com/2009/02/08/shroud-by-john-banville/)
        1001 Books You Must etc recommends The Book of Evidence which I have on my TBR…

        • January 2, 2011 8:54 pm

          Ah, thanks Lisa … The shroud is probably one of those books I would never get to, so now I won’t feel too bothered by that! Instead, I’ll look out for the next Banville.

      • January 5, 2011 10:54 am

        Chalk me up as a big John Banville fan. I read all his earlier stuff in the early 1990s (hence no reviews on the blog) and for that period in my life he was my favourite author. If you only read one of his books, I would highly recommend The Book of Evidence.

        I’ve not read The Infinities.

        • January 5, 2011 11:31 am

          Thanks kimbofo. I shall add that to my list. I think my daughter has The shroud and she loved his writing too.

  2. January 2, 2011 3:39 am

    You know, I’ve not read Banville and have been sort of ambivalent about him but your endorsement is tipping me off the fence onto the must get around to reading him side! I love Murakami even though I’ve only read one of his books. I’m going to have to make it a point to read more. Happy New Year! I always enjoy stopping by your blog!

    • January 2, 2011 9:04 am

      Thanks Stefanie – and ditto re your blog. I must say that The infinities is a rather odd book, particularly in its tone but it is one of those books I read this year which had an ending which surprised, delighted and somewhat challenged. I liked it for that. Oh, and do read more Murakami (in your post-study state!).

  3. January 2, 2011 7:56 am

    I also love Wolf Hall, Jacob de Zoet, and Gabriela Cinnamon and Clove. I should probably check out some Banville one of these days…

    I wasn’t as fond of Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Have you read Norwegian Wood? I think that might be my fav Murakami, followed closely by Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

    Happy New Year!

    • January 2, 2011 9:07 am

      Thanks for commenting Colleen …Yes, I’ve read those two other Murakamis you list. Also After dark which is a mesmerising, atmospheric little one. I’ve also read his running memoir. What I haven’t read is the one many say is their favourite, and that is The wind-up bird chronicle. Re Blind willow … might it be because you are not so fond of short stories? Or is it just something about this one?

      I’m so glad responders here also liked Jacob de Zoet…

  4. January 2, 2011 10:01 am

    Great list, Whispering. I enjoyed your list of Aussie’s and this is an excellent follow-up. I see no reason you should be apologetic about including Thousand Autumns as I quite enjoyed it too. Also, This Is How was very good and also worthy of a mention. What has me most intrigued, of course, are not the books that I read and enjoyed, but the ones I have not read but sound irresistable.

    For my TBR, I am stealing Banville though I will start with The Sea (unless you think I should start with The Infinities). While I did read one of his Benjamin Black crime novels (meh), I have not read any of his “serious” stuff. I should.

    I should also read Murakami. Do you have a suggestion on where to start?

    It has been a pleasure to read your blog this past year. I wish you many happy returns. And not only out of selfish motives.

    • January 2, 2011 10:58 am

      Thanks Kerry.

      You are most welcome to steal Banville – and, I think that The sea is a good one to go with rather than The infinities.

      As for Murakami, that’s hard, and so let’s suggest the one that many people (including yours truly) started with, Norwegian Wood. Then, probably Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, or The wind-up bird chronicle (though I haven’t read it).

      Ditto re your blog … and thanks for your selfish motives. There’s nothing wrong a few well-placed ones after all!! I look forward to more bookish interactions with you in 2011.

      • January 2, 2011 1:01 pm

        I will start with The Seas and Norwegian Wood, then. Thank you!

  5. January 2, 2011 10:56 am

    And I meant to mention: If Nicole Krauss’s short story The Young Painters was a favorite for you, please read the novel from which it is excerpted (Great House). The novel is outstanding. At least, it is in my opinion.

    • January 2, 2011 8:51 pm

      Oh thanks Kerry. There were a couple of “short stories” I enjoyed last year that were, really, excerpts. This was one and I thought then that I’d like to read the book. I will certainly look out for it.

  6. January 2, 2011 11:47 am

    Once I’ve finished Love in a Cold Climate, and the several books I just ordered from Book Depository, I’ll have to remember to ask you for the Murakami short stories. It’s been too long since I’ve read something of his!

  7. January 3, 2011 3:58 am

    My favourites? The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth was the most perfect book I read. Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution and Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason were the smartest. (Kant’s work is well known; Arendt’s is a piece of socio-historical philosophy.) I came across a few good Selecteds: the Selected Poems of Geoffrey Hill, the Selected Short Stories of Alice Munro, Phillip Larkin’s Collected Poems, and The Diary of Samuel Pepys: a Selection. Georges Perec’s W or the Memory of Childhood might have been my favourite unread-before-2010 French book. (For the purpose of this list I’m ignoring re-reads.) Felix Holt, the Radical was my favourite George Eliot. I preferred it to The Mill on the Floss, Adam Bede, and Daniel Deronda (the Gwendolyn sections were excellent, but Perfect Mirah and the Prophetic Consumptive drove me nuts. Apparently Jews are dull as mud unless they are jolly East End pawnbrokers or theatre-Fagins. A strange lesson, thank you, Mary Ann. (Interesting correspondence between this and the book I’m reading at the moment, Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism. Arendt has a chapter on the social position of Jews in the 1800s.))

    Ten Anita Brookners in a lump. I won’t try to separate them. Ruskin’s Seven Lamps of Architecture.

    • January 3, 2011 10:08 am

      Thanks DKS – you do make me laugh sometimes eg your comments Anita Brookner (I would find it hard separating her books too, much as I have enjoyed them) and on Jews. The Arendt chapter would be fascinating to read given all the rather complicated representations of Jews in the 19th century in particular. I should read Arendt … she was one of the reasons I though Hannah would be a good name for my daughter.

      You have tempted me with Dorothy Wordsworth. I am reading Alice Munro next, but not a Selected.

      BTW It’s fair enough to ignore re-reads, though I’d be happy to hear of them nonetheless!

      • January 4, 2011 6:56 am

        If I include rereads then Proust trounces Perec in the Favourite French Book category, and a Favourite Biography category has to be created for Peter Ackroyd’s Dickens. Gideon Haigh once grumbled in print about Australia’s lack of good biographies, and when I compare Ackroyd’s intelligent and rigorous work to Penne Hackforth-Jones’ dabbling Barbara Baynton I’m about ready to put my head through a wall.

        (Jenny Uglow’s Elizabeth Gaskell weren’t bad neither. I had almost no interest in Gaskell before I opened the book, but before I closed it I was chasing down Cranford at the library. What a great death that woman had. Sitting, chatting and laughing with friends, she hesitates, topples off her chair, and boom, like that she’s gone. Even better than dying in your sleep. Bit distressing for the friends, I suppose. Still!)

        The Wordsworth is a magical thing, very quiet, very natural, with the diarist showing an unforced and precise ecstasy at the sight of swallows or sheep or water. “We amused ourselves for a long time in watching the Breezes some as if they came from the bottom of the lake spread in a circle brushing along the surface of the water, and growing more delicate, as it were a thinner and paler colour till they died away. Others spread out like a peacock’s tail, and some went right forward this way and that in all directions. The lake was still where these breezes were not, but they made it alive.” She had a genius for words and phrases that were both right and simple. “The dead hedge round Benson’s field bound together at the top by an interlacing of ash sticks which made a chain of silver when we faced the moon.” I came to her by way of Kilvert’s Diaries, the work of an Anglican (I think) minister of the mid-Victorian (I think) age who admired her.

        Arendt has biases, but her intelligence is extraordinary. One of the reviews at Amazon calls her language heavy and impenetrable but this is rubbish. Any reader who can handle a long sentence (who doesn’t expect short declarative statements with no punctuation in them more exciting then a comma) should be fine.

        • January 4, 2011 10:24 am

          Thanks for a wonderfully fulsome response. Re biographers, I can’t help thinking that Ackroyd and Hackforth-Jones are rather poles apart in scholarship. I really should read the Ackroyd Dickens. I gave my mum his London book one year and she enjoyed it.

          Gaskell is a fascinating woman I think. I’ve read a few of her books – and they vary a bit in style/theme despite an underpinning interest in woman’s place in mid 19th century England. I have never read a biography of her, but with each book I’ve read I’ve read up a little more on her. I have, as a result, missed reports of her death. Great on, as you say, though wanting to be a kind person I think I’ll still opt for the in-my-sleep version if I’m given the choice…

          LOL re Arendt and her sentences. I reckon I could cope!

  8. January 3, 2011 9:15 am

    Murakami is weird but great.

    You must join this reading challenge!

    http://murakamichallenge.blogspot.com/

    • January 3, 2011 10:03 am

      Oh Isabel … thanks for this suggestion, though I probably won’t sign up as I can’t seem to cope with challenges on top of all my other scheduled reads. I belong to two f2f reading/literature groups, and a few online ones. They are challenge enough for me!!

      But I will check out the Murakami challenge and see how it’s going. I do have The wind-up bird chronicle in my TBR after all! Glad you like Murakami too!

  9. January 3, 2011 9:06 pm

    My favourite books of the year were more in the speculative fiction field, though David Mitchell’s Thousand Autumns… was a special treat. I also loved Kate Atkinson’s latest Jackson Brodie mystery Left Home Early, Took My Dog and Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are and Keith Richards Life – his magnificent, mind blowing autobiography.

    I read Wolf Hall last year and loved it. I have her novel about the French Revolution A Place of Greater Safety on my TBR pile after acquiring it with a Christmas gift voucher.

    Of the Science Fiction novels I read, I was blown away by The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacipalupi which tied for the Hugo Award with China Mieville’s The City And The City which I’ve just read and enjoyed enormously. Both were first class novels set in dystopian societies.

    As usual I read a great many books, and in general liked them all even if I can’t bring them to mind at present. I don’t read badly written novels, but do like them to have an edge.

    • January 3, 2011 10:11 pm

      Thanks so much Anne for joining in the discussion and sharing your reading likes. I have been hearing a lot of good things about Kate Atkinson’s mysteries – and would try them if I got the time to squeeze them in somewhere – and a friend was just yesterday talking about the Keith Richards autobiography. It sounds fascinating.

      BTW, I do pop by your blog every now and then, but am not usually qualified to talk about the concerts and racing carnivals you describe. I enjoy popping by nonetheless. I wish you more great carnivals and concerts in 2011!

  10. January 4, 2011 11:15 pm

    Jacob de Zoet als made my top-10. I really need to read Wolf Hall. Most people seem to love it.

    Have a great year!

    • January 5, 2011 12:21 am

      Thanks for popping by … I’ve met one keen reader who didn’t like Wolf Hall but he’s fairly rare I think. Give it a go if you can – would love to see what you thought. Jacob de Zoet is fascinating I think to people with an interest in the Netherlands and Japan – and I have some connections (besides certain bloggers!) with both.

  11. January 5, 2011 5:59 am

    I reckon you could too. I’m just blowing off steam about that review. Here’s this dense, thorough, humane book, and this subhuman doofus gives it one star, not because he disagrees with her, or thinks her research is inadequate, or for any other good reason, but because he can’t handle her sentences.

    Sample!

    “Property by itself, however, is subject to use and consumption and therefore diminishes constantly. The most radical and the only secure form of possession is destruction, for only what we have destroyed is safely and forever ours. Property owners who do not consume but strive to enlarge their holdings continually find one very inconvenient limitation, the unfortunate fact that men must die.”

    Not hard to understand at all. Pff to that reviewer.

    • January 5, 2011 9:03 am

      Oh that’s very straightforward BUT how cruel of you choose that particular para? It’s an issue that is confronting me rather at present, as I am realising mortality is a very real thing and wonder what good really are all the possessions I have loved in the past, that connect me to people, that satisfy my aesthetic sense (and that complicate my life inordinately). I am steeling myself this year to make major inroads… Arendt is only too right!

  12. January 5, 2011 10:58 am

    You’ve already seen my list, but I love the sound of everything on yours. I have Wolf Hall ready to go on the Kindle… I’ve read a couple of her previous novels and really loved them. Her memoir is also extraordinarily good. (Reviews of these are on my blog.)

    Would you believe I have never read any Murakami ! I have Norwegian Wood in my TBR — been there about 5 years I think! Is there any particular title you’d recommend I start with?

    • January 5, 2011 11:35 am

      I look forward to your review of Wolf Hall when you read it. Now, here’s a challenge for you. A member of my local Jane Austen group read Wolf Hall on the plane flight between here and London a few months ago. Apparently all around her were fascinated by her progress and cheered when she finished it. I’m not sure I could read such a book in one sitting like that!

      As for Murakami, everytime people ask me that question I usually say Norwegian Wood, and since you already have it, why not start with it? It’s a good intro to his tone and style, I think.

      • January 5, 2011 12:43 pm

        That sounds like a great challenge, particularly as I can never sleep on planes!! And Wolf Hall sounds infinitely better than Bryce Courtenay’s Jessica which I read between Oz & London on a flight in 2005. It got a two-star review on my blog, but boy, that review gets more hits than anything else I’ve ever written!!

        I’ll make a note to read Norwegian Wood when I’m back in London — provided I can find my copy!

        • January 5, 2011 9:19 pm

          LOL kimbofo. It’s interesting what gets the most hits on our blogs isn’t it? It often isn’t the post that we think is really what we are about.

          I do hope you can find your copy of NW.

  13. dr mum permalink
    January 9, 2011 12:40 pm

    I read Jacob de Zoet and found it unputdownable. Easy immersion into a multilayered tale thick with diverse and fascinating detail. Just up my street. Wholely recommend.

    • January 9, 2011 5:52 pm

      Thanks for popping by Dr Mum. I’m gal dyou liked it. Multilayered novels like this can be great to read can’t they … they get your brain going!

Trackbacks

  1. 2010 Reading Roundup. « Hungry Like the Woolf

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