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Notable reads for 2011

December 31, 2011

I’ve been wondering whether to jump on the “Best of” bandwagon and, if I did it, how to do it. Then today I read Lizzy Siddal’s (love that name!) list and decided that I’d follow her lead and use categories rather than go for a simple Top Ten (or whatever) which always feels fraught. I know Lizzy’s not the only one to use categories but hers was the one that inspired me today.

However, for my categories I’m going to use book reviewer cliches since, of course, I never use them in my reviews!

Some mosts

  • Grittiest: Joyce Carol Oates’ Beasts for confronting sexual predation on multiple levels.
  • Most thought-provoking: André Gide’s The immoralist for, well, making me think.
  • Most rivetting: Lloyd Jones’ Hand me down world because even though I guessed the set up fairly early on I still wanted to know how it was going to play out.
  • Most haunting: Horace Walpole’s The castle of Otranto. What else? Case dismissed.
  • Most lyrical: Alan Gould’s The lakewoman for its mesmeric, poetic, romantic sensibility.
  • Most unflinching: Mario Vargas Llosa’s no-holds-barred The feast of the goat about the last days of the Trujillo regime … it was an apposite read given the events of the Arab Spring
  • Most powerful: That would have to be the power couple, Franklin and Eleanor: An extraordinary marriage, by Hazel Rowley
  • Most poignant: Jay Griffiths’ A love letter from a stray moon for being fiery, passionate and poignant all in one.

And, to be fair about it, a couple of leasts

  • Least epic: Jane Austen’s The Watsons. After all, how could an unfinished Jane Austen come even close to being epic?
  • Least nuanced: Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler question, though perhaps there’s nothing more nuanced than the substitution of “Finkler” for “Jew”?

There aren’t many Aussie books in this list, but that’s because I focused on Aussie highlights in this week’s Monday Musings. To include them again would be like double-dipping, wouldn’t it?

And now over to you … what were your most notable reads for 2011?

Oh, and Happy New Year to you all … may the reading gods smile kindly on you in 2012.

45 Comments leave one →
  1. January 1, 2012 12:38 am

    a interesting way of choice your reads of year may steal it next year sue ,Llhosa is a writer I like must read another of his soon and feast of goat is one I ve not read ,all the best for the coming year stu

    • January 1, 2012 1:02 am

      You’re welcome to steal it Stu! All’s fair in blogs and war! This was my second Llosa … and I’d like to read more.

  2. January 1, 2012 1:09 am

    I’ve forgotten everything I was going to say in this comment because now all I can think of is you giggling hysterically while reading out that certain passage from The Finkler Question in the car…

    • January 1, 2012 2:25 pm

      I’m glad you’ll have that to remember me by … even if it’s to laugh more at me than at the book!

  3. lizzysiddal permalink
    January 1, 2012 1:29 am

    I like how you’ve done this! 😉 Haven’t read a single one though I do have the Lloyd Jones in the TBR.

    • January 1, 2012 2:28 pm

      Well, thanks for the inspiration … and do raise Jones in your pile – maybe it will fit a 2012 challenge!? It’s a great story and fascinatingly told.

  4. January 1, 2012 1:46 am

    Nice way of listing your “bests,” Sue. I’ve read a couple you’ve listed – Beasts certainly was “gritty,” I also rather appreciated The Immoralist although I can’t say as I “liked” it. And I certainly agree with your assessment of The Feast of the Goat. Haven’t read the rest of them.

    • January 1, 2012 2:35 pm

      Thanks bekah. I read Beasts, The immoralist and The feast of the goat with the online groups of course but travel and parental sickness impacted on my reading in a big way so I’ve completely lost it with those groups for months now. I will try to get back because I’ve missed some worthwhile books I know.

  5. January 1, 2012 2:43 am

    I also read Feast Of The Goat this year, and I can’t tell you how much I loved it. Also, War Of The End Of The World, which is gruelling but rewarding, and Death In The Andes, likewise. I think he has a new one upcoming in the new year..?

    • January 1, 2012 2:38 pm

      Oh does he, Mark? I’ve only read Aunt Julia and the scriptwriter besides this one, but would willingly read more. Have you read Jorge Amado … who was one of my favourites from last year?

  6. January 1, 2012 3:42 am

    I was viewing your list thinking that I hadn’t read anything, and then I came to The Finkler Question. Didn’t read that either, but I tried No More Mr Nice Guy and couldn’t finish it.

    • January 1, 2012 2:39 pm

      LOL Guy … fascinating how we have quite a bit in common I think in reading tastes – despite your crime reading (!) – and yet rarely read the same things.

  7. January 1, 2012 6:04 am

    The Castle of Otranto made my year end list too! It was such a hoot. I liked your category listings 🙂 Happy New Year! May it be filled with lots of excellent reading!

    • January 1, 2012 2:41 pm

      Oh, it was a hoot wasn’t it Stefanie? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it … it helped that it moved along fast I think. And back atcha re re the New Year. (My son is heading over your way in a few days for just a few days … he’s going to be cold but he’s got his big duckdown jacket he bought in Japan).

      • January 2, 2012 4:39 am

        I hope your son has a nice trip! We’ve had an unusually mild winter with no snow on the ground until about an inch last night. Still, it will be cold coming here from summer! He’s welcome to look me up if he needs anything!

        • January 2, 2012 10:41 am

          Thanks Stefanie … he should be right but it’s really nice knowing there’s someone there. (You would like him I think … he’s fun company).

          We had one of our coldest starts ever to summer this year … but even that is probably not a good preparation for Minnesota. He did live for three years in a mountain town/village north of Nagano in Japan so at least he is familiar with real cold … Keep snug!

  8. January 1, 2012 10:16 am

    I enjoyed your end-of-the-year wrap, including that I have read three of the books on your list. I am very pleased to see both The Immoralist and Beasts get shout outs. I love those books and make an interesting pair.

    As for The Finkler Question, I still cannot decide whether it is “Least Nuanced” as it seems to me, or if the nuance simply misses me. Or, maybe, it seems so nuanced to me that I have trouble deciding what Jacobson was getting at.

    I’ll give you a preview of my own list with a “funniest”: The Golden Calf by Ilf and Petrov. A great comedy team follows up their first hilarious early-Soviet smash, The Twelve Chairs, with this equally brilliant skewering of everything from the Soviet system to life. It is funny on more levels than anything I have read since, well, The Twelve Chairs. Beckett’s Murphy maybe gives it a run….

    Great list and Happy New Year!

    • January 1, 2012 2:46 pm

      Thanks Kerry … love your comments on The Finkler question … I enjoyed throwing it there in the mix! And thanks for contributing yours … I don’t read a lot of funny books so will keep an eye out for this one.

  9. January 1, 2012 10:16 am

    ‘Fraid I only read one page of The Finkler Question before abandoning it!

    Happy New Year!

    • January 1, 2012 2:51 pm

      Oh well, each to their own eh, Nicola? It’s one of those books that divided readers isn’t it? And a Happy New Year to you too.

  10. January 1, 2012 1:33 pm

    I hated the Finkler Question, but did read the whole ghastly lot of it. Found it unbearably smug.

    My top reads of 2011 were

    Reamde by Neal Stephenson – a 1000 page thriller, an extremely entertaining page turner with Russian gangsters, Jihadists, hackers, MI5 agents, online gamesters and a bunch of really engaging heroes.
    .
    A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – a very clever, interlinked collection of short stories revolving around the music industry.

    The Dervish House by Ian McDonald – a fast paced, multi faceted science fiction novel set in a future Istanbul.

    Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward – has to be the most confronting novel I read this year, about a poor black family in Mississippi in the days leading up to and after, Cyclone Katrina. Astonishing writing!

    Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine – a moody dystopian novel involving a very strange circus travelling through a post apocalyptic world.

    1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – it’s by the Japanese master of the mysterious, enough said.

    Daughter of Smoke And Bones by Laini Taylor – an engaging young adult fantasy novel, with an original concept that involves a war between angels and demons.

    Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – SF young adult novel, a sort of boys own adventure set in a dystopian future.

    Zoo City by Lauren Beukes – yet another dystopian setting, it’s a gritty noirish mystery, this time in a future South Africa.

    The Monkey’s Wedding and other stories by Joan Aiken. Very funny, quirky and absolutely entertaining collection by noted, alas now late, children’s book author. I’ve been a great fan of both her adult and children’ s books for decades, so I’m delighted that her estate is keen to reissue her old novels and stories. She wrote the best Jane Austen sequels of all.

    Honorable mentions:

    The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
    The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
    The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
    The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
    The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

    And many others that have kept me amused throughout the year.

    • January 1, 2012 2:56 pm

      Great list Anne. I’ve heard a bit about the Jesmyn Ward, and I’d really like to read the Jennifer Egan. I’m still thinking about Murakami as I do tend to like his work.

      I should read some adult Joan Aiken. I probably will never read her JA sequels but if I were to get into the sequels she would be top priority because of her overall reputation as a writer. That said, I might read the PD James book this year because it was given to me for Christmas and, again, she’s a reputable writer.

      • Glenda permalink
        January 1, 2012 9:24 pm

        Hi Sue – have just finished Death at Pemberley and kept asking myself all the way through whether you would like it! I think you will. Won’t say anything else so you come to it without any preconceived ideas!

        • January 1, 2012 9:53 pm

          Oh thanks Glenda for popping in to tell me … I’ll try to read it soon … I assume it’s a pretty quick read?

  11. January 1, 2012 3:01 pm

    Yes, I read Death Comes To Pemberley, an interesting take on Pride And Prejudice in a criminal investigation setting. Rather fun, though by no means great literature.

    • January 1, 2012 3:05 pm

      I’m considering it for my mountain read (we go to the mountains when everyone else goes to the beach!)

  12. January 1, 2012 5:04 pm

    Gummie: Just got a copy of A Visit From the Goon Squad (a present). Have you read any Helen Simpson?

    • January 1, 2012 6:01 pm

      Oh, lucky you Guy. A friend of mine got a copy for Christmas too … I might have to lean on her! No I haven’t read Helen Simpson … which one do you mean?

  13. January 2, 2012 3:43 am

    Gummie: I just watched Under Capricorn (Hitchcock) which you might enjoy–although not his best and not gothic enough. But it’s based on the book by Helen Simpson. I doubt I’ll read it but she sounds like an interesting character who died very young.

    • January 2, 2012 10:44 am

      I guessed that was the Helen Simpson you meant – an Aussie and originator of the Hitchcock story. There’s apparently an English Helen Simpson too. I’d probably not chase the book either but wouldn’t be averse if I came across it. I’ve seen many Hitchcocks but I don’t think I’ve seen that one. Good?

      • January 3, 2012 7:50 am

        It was interesting more than anything else–it started off with strong gothic overtones (convict servants being held down and beaten, Ingrid Bergman drunk, bonkers and very possibly an old hooker) but then it verved away from this into a rather tame drama.
        Oh well. Still I had to see it.

        • January 3, 2012 10:13 am

          You did, Guy. BTW I checked Project Gutenberg Australia which I mentioned in an older Monday Musings post: if the spirit ever moves you, they have a few works by Helen de Guerry Simpson including Under Capricorn (which I don’t think was its original title). Maybe I should read IT for Australian lit month.

  14. January 2, 2012 7:35 am

    I’m feeling awful! Haven’t read any of these! Although I did read T.C. Boyle’s The Women and loved it to bits. As well as Robin Black’s If I Loved You I Would Let You Know.

    Always so late to the table!

    Have a great reading year in 2012 Sue. Ciao cat

    • January 2, 2012 10:47 am

      I do like Boyle so can imagine liking The women, Catherine. Have you read anything else by him. I think I’ve heard of that Black title but I wouldn’t have remembered the author’s name – and that’s naughty of me as I tend to focus on author names rather than titles. After all, they’re the important ones, aren’t they!

      And I wish you a great reading and WRITING and publishing year.

      • January 3, 2012 3:43 am

        Boyle: I read Water Music and it was spectacular crazy and gorgeous. I studied African colonial history so it was thrilling all the way. Also The Tortilla Curtain, more subdued and contemporary, still remarkable. I’d love to read more of his work.

        • January 3, 2012 10:16 am

          Thanks Catherine. Tortilla Curtain was my first … and in fact I read it twice because I read it while living in the US and then recommended it to my reading group here. I’ve also read Drop City which was fine but didn’t have the same punch – and I’ve read some short stories. I’d definitely read more. Water music sounds a possibility.

  15. January 3, 2012 1:27 pm

    Thanks G

  16. January 4, 2012 5:22 am

    I know I want to read Vargas Llosa eventually, but I’m not sure which one. i really liked your review of “The feast of the goat”. Happy 2012 & Happy Readings!

    • January 4, 2012 10:51 am

      Thanks Alex … he’s well worth reading, though I’ve only read two of his to date. Happy New Year to you too. (How’s that Jane Austen shelf going?)

  17. January 5, 2012 1:46 pm

    Hi Sue

    Apart from The Watsons, I haven’t read any of these, but I love your list of blog cliches. I want to put them together in one review.

    • January 5, 2012 2:17 pm

      Go for it Elizabeth … Lisa wanted to do it too! (PS Am currently reading an Aussie woman for your challenge AND kimbofo’s Australian Literature month.)

  18. January 6, 2012 1:28 pm

    Notable reads, oh — well — categories —

    A book written by a poet and the book was not poetry
    The Collected Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill

    A book written by a poet who was not Geoffrey Hill, and it was poetry
    Ours, by Cole Swensen
    or
    Fernando Pessoa and Co.: Selected Poems, ed. and tr. by Richard Zenith

    A poetry anthology
    Dreaming the Miracle: Three French Prose Poets: Max Jacob, Jean Follain, Francis Ponge. Translated by various people.

    A book written by Hannah Arendt
    The Origins of Totalitarianism

    A book about Proust
    Competition here, but possibly Jean-Yves Tadié’s biography, which was translated from French into English by Euan Cameron.

    A book by Victor Hugo
    William Shakespeare

    A book written before 1800
    Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur

    The sunniest book
    The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton

    A ghost story or horror novel
    The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

    A book by Anita Brookner
    Look at Me

    A diary or memoir
    The Diaries of John Ruskin 1835 – 1847

  19. January 6, 2012 2:48 pm

    Now, there are some very cheeky categories! And the only one I’ve read is Look at me by Anita Brookner. I really must read more of her as it’s been a while. I’ve read a Jackson short story and feel I should read a novel … as for the others, well, all in good time!! Thanks for joining into the spirit of the thing (I think – cheeky as you are!)

    • January 6, 2012 4:22 pm

      It was the only way I could think of to get some of the books I wanted all in the same list. (Laziness! I picked the books and then I chose the categories. A book of essays edited by Harold Bloom wanted to kick out Tadié but I wouldn’t let it. Victor Hugo’s Shakespeare had competition from Toilers of the Sea and The Man Who Laughs. Yambo Ouologuem’s Bound to Violence would have won the Most Unflinching category if I’d had one.) Look at Me was my second-last Brookner. Then there was Altered States and then nothing more. I’ve finished her. I’ve run out of Brookners. And she’s said she’ll never write another one. If I ever want to read her again I’ll have to reread or else look for her nonfiction art criticisms. I can remember a time when she seemed bottomless. There would always be another Brookner. And now, not.

      • January 6, 2012 9:46 pm

        And why not I say? We can make the rules and we can break the rules … but, what, no more Brookners. Just as well I haven’t read them all yet, not by a long shot, but I’ve read several and will hopefully read more … there’s nothing wrong with re-reading otherwise. I do it all the time with my Austens.

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