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Old 14th Dec 2009, 14:05   #1
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Default Top 10 Books of 2009

I'm posting two lists, one for YA novels, since I read as many of those as grown-up books usually (though fewer this year which has been thin on the ground for superlative YA writing, I think). Only two books were , the remainder but all are either intensely enjoyable or memorable reads.

1. The Lay of the Land - Richard Ford Read at the start of the year and it ticked all the boxes.
2. The Changeling - Robin Jenkins Paddyjoe bookswapped this at the BDO and it was a perfect, compelling read.
3. Ford Madox Ford - Alan Judd A worthy biography of the man himself
4. Crazy Pavements - Beverley Nichols A pre-Vile Bodies veiled-gay examination of the corrupting Bright Young Things
5. Tender Morsels - Margo Lanagan Not to be included in the YA list but remarkably fascinating replay of Snow White & Rose Red in fantasy medieval landscape
6. The Book of Silence - Sara Maitland Made me think about 101 aspects of silence and their effect in and on our society - thank you, Quink.
7. The Lost Child - Julie Myerson
8. Sunset Song - Lewis Grassic Gibbon As a stand-alone depiction of the death of rural life, pre-and post-WW1, albeit poverty-ridden rural life
9. We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver OTT fable but a real thinker.

Two Re-reads Which Were This Year's
Red Shift - Alan Garner
Tess of the D'urbervilles - Thomas Hardy

Nine YA Novels of the Year (with space for an extra one to be read before the end of the month) - all approx ½

1. Percy Jackson & the Last Olympian - Rick Riordan Extra glowy points for making Hestia the Last Olympian.
2. Cosmic - Frank Cottrell Boyce For funny and rich father-son relationships
3. Butterfly - Sonya Hartnett For getting inside children's heads
4. Sapphique/Incarceron - Catherine Fisher For some spiffy world-building and a nerdy terminally-ill hero-in-disguise
5. Monster Blood Tattoo: The Foundling - DM Cornish For 10 years worth of world-building and a female character that doesn't make me want to kick her.
6. Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd For thinking about what is worth dying or lying for.
7. The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness Ingenuity and pace and a proliferation of genres fighting for dominance and losing out to an unfair clifff-hanger end.
8. Under the Autumn Garden - Jan Mark Deceptive insight into being ignored by family and adults, and solving problems the long, painful way round.
Currently reading: The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins | My reading list | My film list

Last edited by Colyngbourne; 14th Dec 2009 at 15:34.
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Old 14th Dec 2009, 14:38   #2
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

Funnily enough I was thinking about my 2009 Top 10 this very morning. With the caveat that there are still a couple of weeks to go, this is my list as it stands today:

1. The Yellow Wallpaper and Selected Writing (Charlotte Perkins Gilman) - An unjustly underrated writer - at least she is in Britain - from the turn of the century. Virago's edition (with intro by Maggie O'Farrell) collects her finest short stories plus selections from her autobiography. Sometimes she's funny, sometimes she's angry, sometimes she is heart-tuggingly sad. I heart her.
2. Someone at a Distance (Dorothy Whipple) - Kirsty's First Persephone Book. Gorgeous as a novel and gorgeous as an object. A simple story about a marriage falling apart told with such emotion and humanity that it made me shout out loud at the characters.
3. Perfect Happiness (Penelope Lively) - Like Dorothy Whipple, Lively takes a domestic situation - this time the death of a husband - and describes the fallout with such clarity that I shed real tears.
4. The Nether World (George Gissing) - 1889 novel set in the slums of London. Occasionally Dickensian in his characterization but with more fury at the conditions of the poor.
5. Prince Rupert's Teardrop (Lisa Glass) - Took a few pages to get my head around, but is ultimately a disturbing story about possible murder and definite mental illness. Didn't know which way was up by the end, but in a good way.
6. The Centre of the Bed (Joan Bakewell) - Joan's autobiography is as much women's social history as it is her personal story. I want her to adopt me as a grandchild.
7. Wise Children (Angela Carter) - She makes the ludicrous oddly believeable.
8. The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters) - Not half as bad as some reviewers have made out. She's a great storyteller, the characters were fully-rounded, and there was a twist in the last chapter that made me think differently about the whole novel.
9. The First Person and Other Stories (Ali Smith) - I read this collection at the beginning of the year, and I can still remember most of the stories with clarity - this is a good sign. Her best collection yet, I think.
10. Women Who Did (ed. Angelique Richardson) - short stories by men and women at the end of the 19thC and beginning of the 20thC centred around women's rights and feminism. Some stories pro-feminism, some decidedly anti-. A cracking collection.

I do, of course, reserve the right to alter this should I read something in the next two weeks that blows any of these out of the water.
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Old 14th Dec 2009, 15:30   #3
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

Two lists: one fiction, one autobiographical (I've read an awful lot of memoirs this year):

Fiction (in no particular order):
1) Old School - Tobias Wolff. My introduction to Wolff. Grabbed me immediately and kept me guessing. Brilliantly written.
2) Summertime - J.M. Coetzee. I read a lot of Coetzee this year, but this is the one that I've already returned to and reread. It's a book that engages with everything that should matter to writers: textual authority, the power relationship between a writer and his subject or characters, how ideas live in the real world and the autonomy of fiction.
3) Oblivion - David Foster Wallace. Great collection of short stories focusing Kafka's eye on the worlds of contemporary advertising and magazine publishing. Funny, horrific and tragic.
4) Money - Martin Amis. 'Voice' novel par excellence. Incredibly manages to elicit sympathy for its grotesque leading man.
5) Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov. I loved the layers to this book. It's enjoyable as a satire of academic commentaries, but tragedy, compassion and grief are all lurking in the folds. The long poem at the book's centre was great, the links to Nabokov's personal life enticing.
6) Possession - AS Byatt. I skimmed the poetry in this one, but the properly Victorian plot and the brilliantly drawn characters wouldn't let me put it down.
7) Siegfried - Harry Mulisch. What if Hitler had had a child? Mulisch explores evil in a suspenseful narrative.
The Lonely Londoners - Sam Selvon. Melancholy, funny story about life in 50s London for immigrants from the Caribbean. Really pleasurable read.
9) Revolutionary Road - Scalpel-sharp dissection of marriage and vanity. Which you've all already read.
10) Colony - Hugo Wilcken.

1) Not Entitled - Frank Kermode. As well as being a great literary critic, he's an immaculate prose stylist. This memoir of his childhood, army service and after manages to be incredibly detailed. Apparently he has 'total recall' (according to a mutual acquaintance).
2) Dreams From My Father - Barack Obama. This man can do anything. Either a really honest account of the formation of his mind and politics, or a cynical distortion that imagines his own journey through the archetypes of Black America. It think it's the former. Terrible title, though.
3) Confessions - Jean Jacques Rousseau. Doomed first attempt to portray a man as he really is. Toe-curling in places, laugh-out-loud in others. If you want to know about the frequency with which the influential Romantic made water, his preference for sado-masochistic sexual practises, his addiction to masturbation or his many persecutions, read it. It doesn't skimp on the details.
4) Father and Son - Edmund Gosse. Gosse writes about his relationship with his father, an evangelical Christian natural scientist and member of the Royal Society struggling with the contemporaneous emergence of Darwin's theories of evolution. Philip Henry Gosse was the first to try and unite science and religion and claimed that fossils predating Genesis were a test of faith. Moving and historically informative.
5) This Is Not About Me - Janice Galloway. Crystalline recollections of a tough childhood in Scotland.
6) Little Wilson and Big God - Anthony Burgess. Brilliant chronicle of working-class intellectual blagging, crapulence and teaching in Malaysia.
7) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers. Charming rage, formally inventive. Made me nostalgic for the Real World season two.
Conundrum - Jan Morris. Former James Morris tells the story of his journey from public school ultra-male (army, conquering Everest) to transexual female by way of a backstreet operation in Casablanca.
9) Speak, Memory - Vladimir Nabokov. Memories of childhood organised round themes and interests rather than the impulse to confess. I learned more about butterflies than about VN.
10) To Jerusalem and Back - Saul Bellow. High-brow pro-Israeli propaganda describing the Nobel-laureates visit to the country in 1976. For all its ethical failings, it's very well-written and gives the Israeli version of a history I was only previously familiar with from the other side.

Disappointment of the year: Native Son - Richard Wright. David Mamet's pick for the Great American Novel fucks it all up in the pedantic final third. Brilliant for two-thirds, however.

Edit to say: I forgot to put Tobias Wolff's two memoirs in the second list. But they both belong there, somewhere near the top.
2011/ 2010/ 2009/ 2008

Last edited by fanshawe; 14th Dec 2009 at 22:18.
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 17:12   #4
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

Originally Posted by Colyngbourne View Post
Two Re-reads Which Were This Year's
Red Shift - Alan Garner
Tess of the D'urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
Colyngbourne, do red stars mean wonderful, terrible or re-read?
Currently reading The Twyborn Affair, Patrick White
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 17:19   #5
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

Interesting lists. Fanshawe, thanks for reminder of Harry Mulisch who I put on my list of TBR authors some months ago - having not read any of his books - but have since forgotten. Must make new list for 2010.
Currently reading The Twyborn Affair, Patrick White
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 19:05   #6
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

Originally Posted by Twinkle Toes View Post
Colyngbourne, do red stars mean wonderful, terrible or re-read?
They mean wonderful; stunning. And they were re-reads, which all the other books on my lists weren't.
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Old 15th Dec 2009, 19:28   #7
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

This has not been the most satisfying year of reading I've ever experienced. Very few 's, and no 's. A lot of 's, though, and I had a hard time whittling those down. So what I did was, I went with a top 13 list, because what can you do to me? Nothing.

1. The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth
2. The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore
3. The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford
4. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
5. The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
6. The Grifters by Jim Thompson
7. Zeroville by Steve Erickson
8. The Hustler by Walter Tevis
9. Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano
10. Pontypool Changes Everything by Tony Burgess
11. The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald
12. Tower of Glass by Robert Silverberg
13. The Mourner by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)

This feels like an odd list to me, but what the hell.
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Old 16th Dec 2009, 4:11   #8
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

bill, I'd noticed on your palimplist where the Roth was one of the few you accorded five stars this year, and for months I've hoped you'd name it as a favorite. A wish granted. Truly think it's one of his finest, but I brought Sabbath's Theater from the library and am ready to sashay the year out on another high note.
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Old 16th Dec 2009, 8:19   #9
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

What a dreadful year ... I've been reduced to including titles in this, just to make up a Top Ten ... Okay, maybe I'm tight fisted with stars, but just giving a book more stars doesn't make it any better, does it?

2010 had better be an improvement ...
  1. Red Shift by Alan Garner. Brilliant novel that defies description. Three stories, where love and violence coincide, across centuries intermesh and repeat, around the same Cheshire locations.
  2. Hitler: a Study in Tyranny by Alan Bullock. The first full biography of Hitler largely based on Nuremburg testimony. Extensive, detailed, enthralling, though hardly uplifting.
  3. The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy. Sequel to American Tabloid, exploring the decade between the murders of Jack and Bobby kennedy. Contains all Ellroy's good and bad points in abundance.
  4. The Wild Palms by William Faulkner. A convict accidentally escapes from the pennitentiary, while two lovers drift aimless to disaster. Two novellas exploring freedom and compulsion. Initially unconvincing, ultimately riveting.
  5. Baghdad Burning by Riverbend. Iraq after invasion, told with wit and rage by a blogger who has been silent for almost 2 years. Prescient.
  6. Germinal by Emile Zola. French miners strike against their apalling work conditions. Disaster ensues. Over-wrought and bathetic, but still powerful.
  7. Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad. Off kilter tale of crime and punishment, set in Tsarist Russia and Geneva, as an embittered student is forced to infiltrate a revolutionary group.
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In a reversal of prior experience: first half drags, second soars. But too much of his supposedly luminous tale is just a an endless recitation of odd stuff happening.
  9. Big Muddy by B.C. Hall & C.T. Wood. A modern Mississippi journey. Worthy, but lacks the detail to match the scope of the project. The book I'm most interested in re-reading, which is why it makes the list.
  10. Towards Another Summer by Janet Frame. Autobiofictography. A childhood that veered between desperate poverty and imaginative nightmare is described brilliantly, but the adult present, played as a comedy of manners, is unsatisfying.

Last edited by lurgee; 16th Dec 2009 at 21:40.
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Old 16th Dec 2009, 12:58   #10
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Default Re: Top 10 Books of 2009

The Classicheavyweight

Lawrence Durrell
Umberto Eco-The name of the rose
Isaac Bashevis Singer - The Slave
Mika Watari
-Nuori Johannes
Evelyn Waugh-Brideshead Revisited
Miklos Banffy-They were found wanting
Marguerite Yourcenar-A coin in nine hand
Marguerite Yourcenar-Alexis-Le coup de graceRomain Gary-La vie devant soi(Momo)

Tha all American boys

Richard Yates-Revolutionary roadPhilipe Roth-Americain Pastora
Jim harrison-A good day to die
Larry Brown-Father and son

The odd ones
Pierre Michom- The origine of the world
Alberto Moravia-Two-a phallic novel
Torgny Lindgren-The way of the snake
Arto Paasilinna-The year of the hare
Penelop Fitzgerald-The Blue flower

The Fictional Non fiction
Amin Maalouf
-Identités Meurtières
Joane Didion-
The year of magical thinkingBruce Chatwin-In Patagonia

Good fun
Richard Stark
-Comebackand all the Westlake really
Chester Himes-Real cool killer
Patrick Rambaud-The exile


Jacques spitz
-the eye of purgatory
Colm Toibin-The master
Per Petterson-Out stealing Horses
Charif Majdalani-The history of the big house
my painting

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